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Wolf's budget plan: legal weed and gas tax


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Tom Lisi
January 29, 2021
Budget proposal, community college, central site, soft landing, delayed justice, no doses, kids with COVID-19, double masking, and pandemic pets. It's Friday.

Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled his budget priorities Thursday, many of which he's unsuccessfully pushed in previous years.

At the top of the list is raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour, then gradually to $15. The Democrat also again called on the state legislature to legalize recreational cannabis and pass a new tax on natural gas production, this time to pay for workforce development efforts.  

Wolf is set to kick off negotiations with lawmakers next week when he formally (and virtually) delivers his budget address.

THE CONTEXT: While the situation may not be as dire as feared, Wolf and lawmakers in the GOP-controlled General Assembly will still face a deep deficit and tough decisions when they pass the budget this June.

Last spring, lawmakers passed a stop-gap budget to wait for the state's financial picture to become clearer. Ultimately, they propped up the budget with $1.3 billion in federal COVID-19 aid. 

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) called Wolf's proposal "as disappointing as it was unsurprising."

"The governor and his administration should have no other top priority than getting Pennsylvanians vaccinated," he said in a statement.


"The fact that it is affordable is really the reason why a community college is so important to have in our region."

Meghan Beck, of the Susquehanna Valley Community Education Project, on the push to establish a community college in the central region of the state
VACCINE UPDATE: More than 678,000 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Thursday, the state Department of Health reports. Gov. Tom Wolf said supplies are expected to increase by 16% in the coming weeks. You can regularly check Spotlight PA's vaccine provider map and easy county-by-county provider listing.
POST IT: "Reflections" of Pittsburgh. Thanks for the shot, @barkandshutterSend us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
CENTRAL SITE: Pennsylvania does not have a centralized scheduling system for vaccine appointments, unlike neighboring New York and New Jersey, Spotlight PA reports. Would one make the process easier for frustrated residents?

SOFT LANDING: Former House Minority Leader Frank Dermody may have lost his election, but he has a cushy new job: a seat on the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, TribLIVE reports. The gig comes with an annual $145,000 salary.
DELAYED JUSTICE: Philadelphia criminal court judges are still seeing a fraction of the caseload they did before the pandemic, causing a backlog of more than 13,000 cases, The Inquirer reports. It's leaving some people stuck in jail for months before prosecutors have to present any evidence of a crime.

OUT OF THE LOOP: Primary care doctors with private practices in Pennsylvania have yet to receive any vaccine doses to offer their patients, the Courier Times reports. "I do not understand why pharmacies are placed over physicians to deliver the vaccine," one doctor said.

COVID IN KIDS: Pennsylvania doctors in January have seen a higher number of children needing hospitalization due to COVID-19, PennLive reports, and there is a growing body of research that the disease can cause organ inflammation rather than acute lung problems.
TWO MASKS BETTER THAN ONE: As the new coronavirus variant spreads, a growing number of health experts are urging people to wear two masks. That includes Philadelphia's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley. The best combo? A surgical mask and cloth one.

DID YOU HEAR THE NEWS? Scientists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Indiana University of Pennsylvania are part of a team that has traced the evolution of mammals back 200 million years. They did it through the fossilized ear bones of flying squirrel-like creatures that lived in the time of dinosaurs.

PANDEMIC PETS: Some Northeastern Pennsylvania animal shelters are seeing jumps in dog adoptions, a lack of demand for cats, and more economic reasons for why people need to surrender their pets.

A DAY AT THE PARK: A by-appointment drive-up vaccine site at Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom smoothly delivered 1,000 shots to people 75 and older in a few hours. The Lehigh Valley Health Network said it's planning to do more clinics, but needs additional doses. 

TAKE A (SHORT) HIKE: Being outside is supposed to be one of the few pandemic-friendly activities, but the nonprofit that manages the Appalachian Trail is urging hikers who want to make the whole 2,100-mile journey from Georgia to Maine to postpone their plans. That's because the long-haulers often rely on communal shelters on the trail to get sleep, and they can get pretty crowded.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Gregarious 

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., David I., Jill G., Mary Ellen T., John C., Neal W., Bob R., Steve D., Joel S., Kim C., Becky C., William W., Patricia R., Bill C., Ron P., Tish M., George S., Heidi B., James Z., Carol D., Jessica K., Chris M., Jill A-S., Bruce F., Dianne K., David W., and Suzanne S.
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