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Windfall fuels calls for poverty-minded Pa. budget


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 8, 2021
Budget plan, audit origins, life hacked, misinformation feed, 2A rally, police misconduct, and enlisting an army of angry birds. Today is Tuesday, all day.
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Higher-than-expected tax revenue and billions in federal aid have Pennsylvania lawmakers sitting on a small fortune as budget talks wind down — a prospect that seemed unimaginable months ago in the throes of a pandemic-driven downturn. 

Pressure is growing to use that $10 billion windfall to help poor Pennsylvanians, including those still reeling from the economic fallout.

Under the banner of the Poor People’s Campaign, more than 50 protesters marched to the Capitol Monday and laid out their vision for a "just and moral Pennsylvania budget," Spotlight PA reports.

Priorities include restoring cash benefits for adults called General Assistance, expanding the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and hiring additional unemployment staffers to manage the crush of claims

"What we are saying is that the budget needs to reflect the needs of over five million people in Pennsylvania that are poor or near-poor," Nijmie Dzurinko, co-chair of the Pennsylvania Poor People's Campaign, said. "It's not about left or right. It's about right and wrong."

THE CONTEXT: With less than four weeks left to deliver an on-time budget proposal, Democrats want the state to spend big, while Republicans prefer to pump the brakes.

Central to that partisan debate is the unexpected surplus, now set to exceed $3 billion, and another $7 billion in federal coronavirus relief money.

"We're not used to this, but we have money, we have plenty of money,” Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) told the Associated Press.

Still, plenty of potential sticking points remain.

The surplus has led Wolf to apparently abandon a personal income tax overhaul, but the governor still wants more than $1 billion in new aid to public schools.

Lawmakers may also need to replace $4 billion in one-time cash, much of it federal coronavirus aid, that they used to prop up the current $36.5 billion budget, per the AP.
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"The mule's out of the barn, and he's trying to protect himself. It changes absolutely nothing."

—Attorney Milton Raiford on Allegheny County DA Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s reversal of a policy that punitively forbade plea deals for Raiford's clients
VACCINE UPDATE: Less than a quarter of Black Americans have received a COVID-19 shot, less than any other racial or ethnic group, Politico reports. A similarly stark divide has presented itself in Pennsylvania, where Spotlight PA reported in May that just 4% of people who received a vaccine outside of Philadelphia were Black. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING: Join Spotlight PA for a live interview and reader Q&A with Sen. David Argall at 1 p.m. June 18. RSVP for FREE »
Stepping stones lead the way at McCormick Park in Mechanicsburg. Thanks, @iamyolimar, for sharing. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
AUDIT ACCOUNT: The playbook for Arizona's calamitous election audit was written in Pennsylvania, where the Washington Post confirms reporting of a preceding and similarly secretive recount effort. The Post says the groundwork was laid by a group of state senators here — one with increasingly close ties to former President Donald Trump — who "quietly targeted at least three small counties, all of which Trump won handily." 

PARKING HACK: A Pennsylvania woman is leading a multi-state class action lawsuit against a parking app plaintiffs say failed to prevent a data breach that put millions of users' private information at risk. Per Georgia's Daily Report, the Atlanta-filed suit claims the information is already for sale on a Russian crime forum, months after a hack of the cash-free parking app ParkMobile, which is in use in cities across Pennsylvania.

HOAXED: A state prison guard from Clearfield County named Kyle Dixon died from COVID-19 in January. But even as the virus ripped through the Dixon family, killing Kyle, hospitalizing his sister, and sickening seven others, the pull of misinformation and conspiracy theories remained just as strong, WITF reports, even inside the hospital room. 

GUN RALLY: An annual pro-gun rally drew enthusiasts and militia members to the state Capitol Monday to cheer on bills that would loosen concealed carry rules in public and make it harder for cities to enact their own gun law reforms. The AP reports organizer and state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler) said the crowd was much smaller than years past.

CASE TAMPERING: A state police corporal has been arrested for covering up the DUI arrest of a trooper's father, FOX43 reports. Court records say Cpl. Jennifer Ruhl changed details in the case file, lied about being at the scene, and said the driver wasn't impaired when a blood test showed he was. The toxicology report also disappeared.
BEACH NEMESIS: The generational struggle to dodge pushy seagulls at the Jersey Shore has a powerful new ally: no-nonsense birds of prey. WHYY has a story and video about the hawks, falcons, and solitary owl taking names and keeping food-crazed gulls at bay on the boardwalk this summer

DO THE DOYO: Tiffany's Bakery in Philadelphia has steamed-not-fried doughnuts called "doyo," pronounced "dough-yo." With up to 50% less fat than the regular kind, you might be wondering how they taste. Billy Penn says like a Tastykake donut with "fruit flavors [that] really come through."

SEARCH PARTY: A bigfoot "hunt" sets off in Cameron County next month with 'squatchers looking for four-foot-plywood cutouts of the mythical creature hidden at historical and natural sites across the rural county. WTAJ says "hunting licenses" cost five dollars each and are on sale now.

INTERNET GIVETH: I was thrilled to find striking trail cam photos of a faceoff between a bald eagle and coyote attributed to Pennsylvania on Reddit. But my too-good-to-be-true hunch led me to a reverse image search where I found the same pics (here and here) linked to British Columbia.

#TWINNING: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is a man with few doppelgängers, or so we thought until he and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) both showed up to work in matching black blazers. Hopefully, someone is writing a Harrisburg-set reboot of the 1988 comedy "Twins" as we speak.
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Yesterday's answer: Summertime

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