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Pa. lawmakers still haven't finished the budget

Plus, why supporters say a bipartisan softball game matters more than ever.

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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.

September 28, 2023 |
Past due, hot tickets, inside baseball, case dismissed, false pretenses, detention suit, secret meeting, and Amazon allegations.


Pennsylvania's state budget is still unfinished nearly three months past the fiscal deadline, and hundreds of millions of dollars for the state's poorest schools, student mental health grants, and more remain in limbo.

State House lawmakers returned to Harrisburg on Tuesday for the first time since passing the main $45.5 billion budget bill in July. But both chambers have yet to agree on code bills that would authorize state spending on a number of key programs, including priorities held firm by Democrats.

Stephen Caruso and Kate Huangpu report the House's Democratic majority has yet to put forth its own legislation, but that may change.

Also this week, Caruso reports consumer advocates are concerned about a pair of bills that would institute ticketing reform in Pennsylvania on the heels of a summer of extreme sticker shock for concertgoers.

Critics say the bills, inspired by Taylor Swift's latest tour and surrounding ticket-sale shenanigans, may reinforce Ticketmaster’s monopoly on the live events industry and hurt concertgoers' ability to buy and sell tickets to their favorite shows on the secondary market

"Pennsylvania's bill, it's using the term speculative ticketing, but honestly, it's just another way of pushing anti-competitive provisions under the guise of protecting consumers from deceptive behavior."

—K.J. Bagchi, VP of technology policy at the Chamber of Progress, a tech trade group, on Pennsylvania's Taylor Swift-inspired ticketing reforms

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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

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» 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 Thursday, Oct. 5 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 on Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg. Spotlight PA is co-presenting this event with Color & Culture, a Pennsylvania marketing firm. Tickets are now 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
» Judge tells Pa. county to accept in-person votes from residents who cast flawed mail ballots
» Jailbreaks in Pennsylvania are not as common as recent events imply

Why supporters say this bipartisan softball game matters more than ever

With the Pennsylvania Capitol’s green dome looming across the Susquehanna, some 70 state lawmakers clad in orange and blue played a friendly game of softball Tuesday evening at Harrisburg’s FNB Field.

Even on a dark, rainy fall evening, the mood at the Capitol All-Stars Game was light. As Mrs. T’s Pierogies mascots goofed around in the stands and on the field, roughly 100 family members, staffers, lawmakers, and lobbyists enthusiastically cheered on the two bipartisan teams named after Pennsylvania’s favorite regional slang terms — Yinz and Youse.

In a Harrisburg that’s never been more divided, supporters of the Capitol All-Stars Game say it provides a rare chance for legislators from across the state and political spectrum to have some uncomplicated fun.

“It's really just our kind of foundational belief that the legislators deserve a platform to just be people,” game co-founder Corinna Wilson told me. 

Tuesday’s game marked the seventh contest, which was first held in 2013. Two years were canceled due to budget disputes during the Tom Wolf administration — Wilson said it was “kind of universally agreed on by everybody … that it's not attractive to play a game when there's no budget” — and 2020’s edition was canned due to COVID-19. 

Wilson and her friend Lynn Deary came up with the idea in 2012 over lunch at a diner steps away from the Capitol.

Deary, who owned a legislative tracking company, and Wilson, who was then vice president of programming at the Pennsylvania Cable Network, thought they should bring some fun and levity to the halls of the Capitol.

They looked to Washington, D.C., for inspiration. Since 1909, congressional lawmakers have played a baseball game against each other on partisan teams. 

To make the Pennsylvania version more inclusive and less hostile, Deary and Wilson made some tweaks. Instead of baseball, they decided on a slow-pitch softball game. They also ditched Democratic and Republican teams in favor of bipartisan, bicameral squads. The players are drafted by legislative leaders who serve as team captains.

As a baseball aficionado — my Twitter followers have suffered through many all caps exclamations praising New York Yankees backup catcher Kyle Higashioka — I can’t recommend the quality of play. There are no 100 mph heaters or 450-foot home runs. It’s a beer league softball game. Literally. Yuengling is a sponsor, Wilson said.

So are Essential Utilities, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and trade union LiUNA, which all have a keen interest in legislators’ official activities. 

Sponsors make in-kind donations such as beer and uniforms, or contribute money to run the event, said Wilson, who runs her own lobbying firm. The dancing pierogies were there at the behest of state Rep. Tim Twardzik (R., Schuylkill), a member of the “T” family. 

Some money also comes from spectators’ tickets. Any unused funds go to two statewide food bank associations, Hunger-Free Pennsylvania and Feeding Pennsylvania — $500,000 in total, after this year’s game, according to Wilson. 

As a watchdog reporter, I’m skeptical of having corporations and other groups with business in front of the legislature pay for lawmakers to play baseball.

Wilson hears me out but slightly disagrees.

“The sponsors are sitting in the stands and the members are in the dugout,” Wilson said. “I mean, the members come in the back gate, everyone comes up the front gate. This is not a cocktail party.”

She’s right about that. Spectators are close enough to heckle the players, but the lawmakers are in their own world throughout the game.

When the umpire, state House Parliamentarian Dave Brogan, made a bad call, the benches erupted in “point of order.” Regardless of party or chamber, they exchanged back slaps and encouragement when a teammate made a good play or committed a grievous error. And just like in Little League, at the end of the game, the teams lined up and exchanged high-fives before posing for a group photo.

“The politics can be rough and things can get tense,” Wilson said. “It's just a good thing to have a moment to be together as human beings and just do something positive together.” Stephen Caruso, Spotlight PA

🏆 SEVEN QUESTIONS: Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news this week? Prove it with the latest Great PA News Quiz: Amtrak addition, Taylor Swift-inspired legislation, 2024 bids, and toy riots.
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaCOP CASE: A Philadelphia judge this week threw out homicide and other charges against Officer Mark Dial, who fatally shot Eddie Irizarry, 27, in a scrutinized traffic stop last month. Police initially said Irizarry lunged at officers with a knife. Video showed otherwise. But Judge Wendy Pew said because Irizarry had a knife in his possession, Dial had reason to fear for his life. Dial is being recharged by the DA's office, per Axios.

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaTROOPER CHARGED: A suspended state trooper is charged with official oppression, false imprisonment, assault, and other counts after investigators say he had a woman he was in an extramarital relationship with involuntarily committed for five days, all under false pretenses, via FOX43. Ronald Davis, 37, of Dauphin County claimed the woman told him she was suicidal. Prosecutors say that was a lie.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaCOUNTY CLASH: Allegheny County Council this week voted 9-4 (with two abstentions) in favor of suing the county over its plan to reopen a juvenile detention center with a controversial nonprofit at the helm, PublicSource reports. One councilor said their authority had been usurped. The $73 million contract is with Adelphoi, which runs other facilities and has had employees accused of sexually abusing minors.

MONEY MAN: Staff for U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R., Pa.) documented many of his social events in April 2022, but not a meeting with a donor who served time in federal prison for fraud and conspiracy. LNP (paywall) reports Adam Kidan has put nearly $250,000 toward the Lancaster County congressman's campaigns and claims a steering committee role. Constituents could see it as a barrier to trust, one expert said.
AMAZON ANTITRUST: Pennsylvania has joined 16 states and the Federal Trade Commission in a sweeping antitrust lawsuit against Amazon. The suit, filed by the FTC and 17 attorneys general, accuses the e-commerce giant of using "punitive and coercive tactics to unlawfully maintain its monopolies," and says the company's practices affected customers and third-party sellers on the site.


» AP: Dems turn to unusual wedge issues in state treasurer bid

» CAP-STAR: Planned Parenthood targets Pa.'s high court race

» INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS: Critics counter Pa.'s hydrogen hub hype

» WAPO: UAW strike gets support from red, blue voters in purple Pa.

» WHYY: Kenney vetoes supervised injection site ban, override looms
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FRUIT SALAD (Case No. 219)How much is the pear if: Apple = 40 cents, Banana = 60 cents, Grapefruit = 80 cents, Pear = ?? cents.
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