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Democrats claim they have won the Pa. House

Plus, Pennsylvania is squandering its potential to be a hotbed for innovation.


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—Colin Deppen, Investigator editor
This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

November 17, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
House control, paper shortage, independent leagues, faculty questions, lagging innovation, PSERS suit, full power, and new hires.

With two tight races set to decide control of the Pennsylvania state House, attorneys for Democrats and Republicans were scrutinizing dozens of provisional ballots for defects this week, Katie Meyer reports.

Adam Bonin, who represents the Democratic candidates in both suburban Philadelphia races (HD142 and 151), said Republicans are leading the efforts to disqualify ballots but that Democrats are also filing challenges to throw out GOP votes.

He characterized those challenges as an effort to maintain parity. A lawyer for one of the GOP candidates "strenuously disagree[d] with the characterization that our challenges are along partisan lines.”

Democrats said last week that they believe they have won control of the chamber for the first time since 2010, and the party doubled down on that claim Wednesday, declaring victory in the 151st District.

The Associated Press has yet to make a call in either race.

Also this week, Carter Walker of Votebeat reports Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce will investigate a paper shortage that impacted balloting there in last week's election and drew national scrutiny.

One week later, the cause is still unclear. 

Finally, Colin Deppen reports in collaboration with Defector on why some minor league baseball teams in Pennsylvania didn't benefit from this past summer's highly touted minor league unionization effort.

It's a look at what could be the next frontier in baseball’s labor reckoning — and why experts say it probably won’t.


"As a general rule you’re going to make less money, have less job security — you are probably going to work in the offseason to support your baseball habit, is the way people have put it."

—J.J. Cooper, an editor for Baseball America, on the conditions facing players for independent, minor league teams.


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» Hundreds of Penn State faculty are publicly and privately questioning university leadership
» Government and elected officials deal with service funding questions as Centre Region grows

3 takeaways from a new report on Pa.’s lagging innovation efforts

Pennsylvania is squandering its potential to be a hotbed for innovation and largely failing to convert cutting-edge research at its top-ranked universities into high-paying jobs in those fields, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution.

Advanced industry jobs in Pennsylvania grew by roughly 11% between 2010 and 2019, lagging states with similar demographic trends and industry sectors like Indiana, Massachusetts, and Michigan, the Brookings report found. 

The findings of the Washington, D.C.-based think tank echo those of a study commissioned by the state last year, which warned that while Pennsylvania still ranks in the top third of states on several key innovation indicators, moving “sideways” isn’t enough to keep the commonwealth competitive with other regions. 

Here are three key takeaways from the Brookings report. 

A lack of innovation affects the whole state. The creation of high-tech jobs might seem like an issue that’s most relevant to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and State College, where the state’s powerhouse research universities are clustered. 

But spurring innovation is vital for the state’s economy as a whole, the report’s authors argue. Reversing Pennsylvania’s brain drain and creating new jobs in high-paying industries would attract and retain younger workers, moves that could help stem population loss. And advanced industries that spend a lot of money on research create a lot of spin-off jobs, boosting the state’s economy in other areas.

Funding hasn’t rebounded from the 2008 recession. Pennsylvania was one of the first states to seriously invest in connecting universities with industry, but funding for the state’s core programs — like the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, which funds tech startups — was cut significantly in the wake of the 2008 recession and lawmakers never fully restored it, the report found. That represents a drop from roughly $90 million per year in the 2000s to $45 million in the current fiscal year. 

Other states are spending a lot more. In recent years, Pennsylvania’s per capita spending on innovation programs has been roughly one-fifth of Ohio’s, the report found. 

Few Pennsylvania governors have made innovation a top agenda item. While other state leaders have announced ambitious agendas to encourage innovation, Pennsylvania’s have mostly treated the issue as an afterthought, researchers said.

“Other states and their governors have been all over this,” Mark Muro, one of the report’s co-authors, told Spotlight PA. “Pennsylvania has been somewhat overshadowed.” 

The state doesn’t regularly publish documents outlining its innovation strategies, and since 2010, governors have often kept a low-profile on the issue. “Pennsylvania’s main innovation programs are mostly adrift, without either adequate funding or high-level advocates in government,” the report concluded. 

The incoming administration represents a chance for a reset. 

During his campaign, incoming governor Josh Shapiro spoke about the need for a “comprehensive strategy for fostering innovation” and proposed creating “innovation hubs” to support new companies. 

Fostering innovation is “really core for Pennsylvania’s economy,” said Robert Maxim, another of the report’s authors. “This can be a real bipartisan issue moving forward.” Charlotte Keith, Spotlight PA

Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaPSERS SUIT: The Inquirer (paywall) reports Pennsylvania's $70 billion public school employee pension system has agreed to “commence litigation” over a consultant's report that exaggerated the system’s profits and touched off a federal investigation. The pension system, known as PSERS, won't say who it's planning to sue, but The Inquirer said the agency’s longtime investment consultant is one possibility.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaFULL POWER: Shell on Tuesday announced that it has commenced operations at its ethane cracker plant in Beaver County. The plant will convert shale gas into plastic pellets called "nurdles," the building blocks for a vast array of consumer products. Inside Climate News reports that environmentalists, worried about pollution, are calling on the state to end related subsidies — but the opposite is happening.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaNEW HIRES: Central Bucks School District has hired former U.S. Attorney and GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill McSwain to review a discrimination complaint filed by the ACLU of Pennsylvania over school LGBTQ policies deemed dangerous by experts. McSwain and former federal prosecutor Michael Rinaldi are set to perform an internal investigation into the complaint and contested rules.

WHISTLEBLOWER SUIT: TribLIVE has new details on a lawsuit filed by the former chief of staff for state Rep. Eric Davanzo (R., Westmoreland), who says she was wrongly fired for reporting mold in a district office. "Show me one building from the 50s that doesn’t have a trace of mold in it, what’s next, The asbestos floor tile adhesive? It’s not going to end," Davanzo allegedly said by email. 

CASH-STRAPPED: Chester has filed for bankruptcy, and the local water authority's solicitor is raising the alarm. Chester Water Authority solicitor Francis Catania says the state-appointed receiver who filed for Chapter 9 on behalf of the city wants to privatize the CWA, a move all but certain to raise rates. The receiver says monetization must happen — but he is open to it remaining in public hands, per Delco Times.

» AP: House impeaches Philly prosecutor over policies

» CITY & STATE: What Mastriano said (and didn’t) in his concession

» INQUIRER: Immigrants sent by Texas gov. arrive in Philly (paywall)

» MORNING CALL: Did hospital bid-review panel actually meet? (paywall)

» TRIVLIVE: Ward makes history as 1st female pro tempore of Senate

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

IN COMMON (Case No. 173): What do the letter T and an island have in common?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Snow. (Find last week's clue here.)
Congrats to Jon N., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Michael H., Jeffrey F., George S., Ed M., Annette I., Donna D., Tish M., and Mary B.
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