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The billionaire spending big on Pa. court races

Plus, millions for EMS providers caught up in budget battle.

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.

October 5, 2023 |
Campaign finance, additional charges, voter ID, EMS budgets, shrink state, greenhouse policy, Krasner costs, false report, and back to work. 


A political group almost entirely funded by Pennsylvania's richest resident has contributed one out of every three dollars raised this year by candidates running in critical statewide judicial races.

The group, Commonwealth Leaders Fund, has spent over $2.7 million, the vast majority to support the Republican candidate for state Supreme Court.

Also this week, the Office of Attorney General has brought additional charges against Herm Suplizio, the suspended city manager for DuBois. Many of the new charges relate to a bag containing nearly $94,000 in cash that was delivered to City Hall in early May.

And finally, expanded voter ID requirements are back on the table, this time as part of a bill to move the date of Pennsylvania's 2024 presidential primary


"Even in the 2024 election, there may be more of a [turnout] bounce because of the pivotal nature of Pennsylvania in the electoral college."

—Charles Stewart, a professor of political science at MIT who studies elections, on the possible impact of automatic voter registration here

At Spotlight PA, we put voters front and center in our nonpartisan election coverage. Get all the information you need to make an informed vote this September by visiting our Election Center website

» Complete guide to the candidates for Pennsylvania Supreme Court

» Complete guide to the candidates for Commonwealth, Superior Courts

» What to know about the judicial retention questions on Pa. ballots

» Una guía de los candidatos a la Corte Suprema del estado

» Una guía de los candidatos a la Commonwealth y las Cortes Superiores

» SPECIAL OFFER: Support Spotlight PA's nonpartisan election reporting and for a limited time, all new monthly donations will be matched at their full-year value — that's 12x your gift.
» STORY FEST: Spotlight PA is participating in Philly Story Fest, a first-of-its-kind festival that brings together storytellers from across the city on one stage. Join us TONIGHT from 7-10 p.m. at the Bok building in South Philadelphia (1901 South 9th St.). Tickets are $25 and available here.

» PATH TO EQUITY: Join Spotlight PA for its first in-person summit next Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg. The event will focus on the state's rapidly growing communities of color, why they are not yet proportionally represented in positions of power, what obstacles exist in terms of their engagement, and the vital importance journalism plays in this equation. Tickets are on sale at this link until sold out.

» ELECTION 101: Join Spotlight PA’s government reporters Kate Huangpu and Stephen Caruso on Thursday, Oct. 12 from 6-7 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free panel on Pa.’s 2023 judicial candidates. Register for the event here and submit your questions to
» Top Shapiro staffer was accused of sexual harassment before resigning
» Automatic voter registration in Pa. draws GOP lawsuit threats, but little action
» Pa. budget chips away at $1.4B backlog for parks, forests

Millions for EMS providers caught up in budget battle

A prolonged legislative fight over education is blocking $20.7 million in funding that cash-strapped emergency medical services providers say is desperately needed to keep them afloat.

The main budget bill passed by both legislative chambers and signed by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro this summer includes a $20.7 million allocation to increase reimbursements for ambulance services. But it’s one of roughly a dozen line items for which spending can’t begin until the legislature passes code bills to direct it. 

The EMS funding is a fraction of the $45.5 billion budget lawmakers passed this year. It’s not especially controversial, even among Republicans usually wary of new spending, as some of the need is concentrated in rural, conservative areas. 

“It is very frustrating because for every month that goes by the legislature does not help EMS, another EMS agency is in danger of closing,” said Heather Sharar, who heads the Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania. “We need sustainable funding.”

The code bills are stalled amid a conflict over education funding. In June, the GOP-controlled state Senate passed a budget they negotiated with Shapiro that included $100 million in taxpayer dollars for private school vouchers. State House Democrats balked, and Shapiro changed course and vetoed vouchers from the budget bill. 

There has been little movement in the standoff since. 

The state Senate recently advanced a bill that would enable some uncontroversial spending, including the EMS money, along with a second measure that funds vouchers and includes some stalled Democratic priorities. But the Democrats who control the state House have remained adamant that they want to pass one bill that includes their priorities and doesn’t include vouchers.

The delay is a big deal for Sharar and others concerned about keeping ambulance services afloat. 

There are several EMS business models around the commonwealth: nonprofits, municipally-owned services, and for-profits. All get mileage reimbursements through Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurers, as well as via direct payments from uninsured patients. 

There’s little up-to-date state or federal data on how much of an ambulance trip these reimbursements cover. Still, Sharar said reports from EMS providers are consistent: “Medicare does not cover the cost. Medicaid does not cover the cost,” she said. 

One EMS agency estimated at a county meeting that it loses $120 every time one of its ambulances responds to a call, according to an anecdotal report from earlier this year by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

The new funding in the budget would boost Medicaid reimbursements to be comparable with Medicare, plus eliminate a rule that stopped EMS providers from billing for the first 20 miles an ambulance traveled. 

Sharar and EMS providers have already said the money (and another increase in reimbursement rates last year) isn’t enough to offset issues in the industry, which is notorious for its low wages. 

“You could go to work at Arby's or a Sheetz and make as much as an EMT,” Sharar said.

But it’s better than nothing, she added. 

“I see agencies that are struggling,” she said. “I have members that are writing to me, ‘What's going on? Are we going to see anything?’ And I can't speculate because the legislature isn't moving the meaningful legislation that we need. So it is — it is frustrating.” Katie Meyer, Spotlight PA

🏆 SEVEN QUESTIONS: Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news this week? Prove it with the latest Great PA News Quiz: State park shortfall, McCarthy votes, and a megadonor’s money trail.
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaSHRINK STATE: Rural Pennsylvania's population will continue to shrink and the commonwealth's growth will slow through 2050, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania reports. The legislative agency projects a 5.8% rural county population decline and slower statewide growth over the next 30 years than what was seen between 2010 and 2020. One expert said it means "significant economic and workforce pressures" ahead.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaGREENHOUSE POLICY: A secretive task force appointed by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro to review a contested greenhouse gas reduction strategy for the state didn’t reach a consensus, the AP reports. The Shapiro administration said it will review the group's recommendations as it awaits a pending court decision regarding the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. 

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaKRASNER COSTS: The taxpayer-funded tab for Pennsylvania’s stalled, GOP-led impeachment effort against progressive Philly DA Larry Krasner stands at $3.3 million, and two law firms — Harrisburg-based Saxton & Stump and Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates — have raked in the lion’s share, the Legal Intelligencer (paywall) reports. A court ruling stopped the impeachment in January. An appeal is in the works.

FALSE REPORT: Cybersecurity company XRVision claims an attorney for Fulton County, Pennsylvania, requested a falsified report on voting machines used in the 2020 election there, Erie Times-News (paywall) reports. The suit was filed in Michigan against pro-Trump lawyer Stefanie Lambert, her law office, and Pennsylvania businessman and pro-Trump fake elector Bill Bachenberg, who allegedly bankrolled the effort.

BACK TO WORK: More Philadelphia police officers are returning to work after The Inquirer (paywall) reported widespread abuse of an “injured on duty” system. The outlet’s initial investigation found 11% of Philadelphia’s total police force — 652 people — was too hurt to work by the fall of 2021, all as officials warned of staffing shortages. Now, weekly injury lists include 300 fewer officers than before.


» AP: Pa. could go after lottery winnings of turnpike toll scofflaws

» ABC27: State Police apps increase after dropping college requirement

» APPEAL: Solitary unit pushes people to suicide, lawsuit alleges

» PUBLICSOURCE: National cash pours into Allegheny County AG race

» WESA: Nursing homes prepare for a season of COVID, flu, and RSV
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HUNGER GAME (Case No. 220)What do you buy to eat but never consume?
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Last week's answer: 40 cents, or 20 for each vowel. (Find last week's clue here.) 

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