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Wolf concedes criticism of vaccine rollout 'deserved'


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 12, 2021
Wage forecasts, 'deserved' criticism, shutoffs on, eviction activity, vaccine delivery, and the disappearance of a Pennsylvania lake. Happy Friday.

Gov. Tom Wolf is once again calling for an increase in Pennsylvania’s "embarrassingly low" minimum wage, this time against the backdrop of a historic economic downturn that has decimated Pennsylvania’s buying power, disproportionately impacted low-wage workers, and driven a similar — albeit so far unsuccessful — “Fight for $15” at the federal level.

But while the context has changed, Spotlight PA reports the arguments against a state minimum wage hike largely have not, as demonstrated by a sometimes contentious state House Commerce Committee hearing convened on Wolf’s proposal Thursday.

Testimony about the proposal — Wolf wants incremental increases from $12 per hour on July 1 to $15 per hour in 2027 — included evidence that higher wages would trickle down to businesses and the state's own coffers, benefitting large swaths of Pennsylvania's workforce. There was also less-encouraging forecasting that found inexperienced workers may find fewer openings and rural areas with a greater share of small, regional employers could see harsher side effects.

THE CONTEXT: Will Wolf's proposal pass in a Republican-controlled legislature? It seems highly unlikely.

Republican opposition to minimum wage increases continues to focus on what businesses might have to do to offset those higher costs. In the middle of a pandemic-related recession and costly pandemic-related business restrictions, the GOP's reluctance appears only to have heightened.

It’s also a question of how much and how fast. Wolf’s current proposal starts at $12 an hour, while a $9.50-an-hour proposal passed the Senate in 2019 with only seven Republicans in opposition.

And just yesterday, Sen. Dan Laughlin (R., Erie) said he will introduce a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by next year. 


“[The family wants] sweeping reforms to prevent such an excessive show of force and tragedy like this in the future.”

—Attorney Jordan Strokovsky on a $475,000 settlement between Pennsylvania and the family of a man who was crushed beneath a bulldozer commandeered by state police
VACCINE UPDATE: Nearly one in 10 people in the U.S. — some 33.9 million — are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the CDC reports. President Joe Biden has also directed states to open vaccine eligibility to all adults no later than May 1. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing
» Redistricting in Pennsylvania: Join us at 5 p.m. March 16 for a Capitol Live by Spotlight PA expert panel on redistricting, gerrymandering, and its impact on Pennsylvania communities. RSVP NOW »»

» Government transparency: Join the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition at 11 a.m. March 16 to discuss transparency in the Keystone State. RSVP NOW »»
POST IT: Thanks, @melody_sorber, for this scenic shot of the Susquehanna Riverlands nature area. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.

MEA CULPA: Facing sustained criticism of his administration's COVID-19 vaccine rollout — some from within his own party — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf acknowledged shortcomings in a press conference Thursday, adding of the pushback, "I think it's deserved." The York Daily Record reports Wolf was responding to Johns Hopkins research that puts Pennsylvania's vaccination rate slightly below the national average. But Wolf also maintained that slow growth in the federal supply was to blame.

UTILITY SHUTOFFS: A statewide pandemic-inspired freeze on utility shutoffs that's been in place since the pandemic began will expire March 31, The Post-Gazette reports. That means utility companies will be able to resume shutoffs for non-paying customers as soon as April 1. The Pennsylvania Utility Commission says new, extended payment plan options are meant to keep that from happening. Nearly 1 million Pennsylvania utility customers were past due on their bills as of January.

EVICTION CAPITAL: Allegheny County’s eviction hotspot is a sprawling suburban apartment complex run by a Philadelphia-based landlord, where tenants are scrambling as a loophole-heavy federal eviction ban nears its end, PublicSource and WESA report. The complex makes up just 0.5% of the county’s rental units but nearly 4% of its pandemic-era eviction cases. The news outlets spoke with five tenants who face eviction and found all were less than two months behind on payments.

VACCINE MACHINE: A small pharmacy in Montgomery County is drawing national headlines for the pace of its vaccination effort. Skippack Pharmacy in Schwenksville and its Superman-suit wearing owner, Mayank Amin, have single-handedly vaccinated more than 3,000 people since early February, Reuters reports. Obviously not every provider has been so prolific, and vulnerable seniors statewide tell The Inquirer the strain and urgency of the vaccine hunt is starting to take a toll.

INSURRECTION CHARGES: Federal authorities have unsealed their case against a Pennsylvania man they say is seen in viral video digging through official documents on the floor of the Senate during the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol siege. Dale “DJ” Shalvey, a woodworker from Washington County, was charged Feb. 12, TribLive reports, but his case file was only unsealed this week. Authorities say Shalvey is the man in the green helmet seen at the 5:10 mark in this video captured by a reporter at the scene.


IMITATING LIFE: There are lessons on Black liberation to be learned in “The Inheritance,” a new film based on Ephraim Asili’s formative years as an activist in West Philly. “To this day, [...] many things that have helped me get through hard times were things that I’ve learned from MOVE,” Asili told The Inquirer, referring to the Black liberation group whose West Philadelphia rowhouse was bombed by police in 1985. The film is slated for virtual release today. 

TIME MANAGEMENT: The clocks will spring forward Sunday, and Pennsylvania lawmakers are debating whether that should ever happen again, The Morning Call reports. A proposal from Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R., Lehigh) would opt Pennsylvania out of the spring-forward and fall-back ritual, citing the "unnecessary stress [it adds] to our lives."

LEAKY LAKE: There's been a break in the case of Crawford County's disappearing lake. A sudden and very dramatic drop in Woodcock Creek Lake's water level baffled everyone, army engineers included, earlier this week. The Erie Times-News reports frozen equipment regulating outflow at a nearby dam was almost certainly to blame, and the lake is now rising again

TIL: Someone actually planned to build a sports stadium *on top* of the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. The renderings, courtesy of regional economist Chris Briem's Twitter, are marvelous. So is the story of the Brentwood businessman — and possible aspiring magician – behind the whole scheme.

TAKING A TOLL: Congratulations to the Pennsylvania Turnpike for being named the most expensive toll road in the world by Budget Direct, and condolences to anyone who has to drive across it at $112 each way.

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: Vociferous

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Dixie S., Susan D.,  Becky C., William M., Keith F., Fred O., Robert K., Kirsten S., Neal W., Irene R., Christine M., Yvette R., Jessica K., Beth T., Kim C., Bill C., George S., Joel S., Adrien M., Debbie D., Kerri G., Ann P., Suzanne S., Theodore W., Dianne K., Carol D., Steve D., Dennis M., Lance L., Karen W., Jill A., Patricia R., Christopher R., Steven Z., Mary Kay M., Bob R., Rick D., and David W.
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