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Key Pa. senator eyes Trump-backed election audit


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 18, 2021
PSERS breakdown, audit chances, budget choices, recovery hit, same-sex ruling, food fight, and all things Juneteenth. It's Friday, aka Saturday Jr.
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The scandal involving Pennsylvania's Public School Employees' Retirement System, or PSERS, is as sprawling as it is complicated.

It has money, power, infighting, lawsuits, power struggles, an FBI kickback-and-bribery probe, and did we mention the money? Some $64 billion in assets total. 

In an effort to cut through this very dynamic news story, we put together an explainer with answers to key questions like: What is PSERS? Why does it exist? How did the scandal start? Why is the FBI involved? And who's on the hook for all of this money? Spoiler alert: It's mostly you, the taxpayer.

Here’s our quick rundown of what you need to know about the PSERS scandal — and why you should care.

THE CONTEXT: The PSERS pension fund has long been scrutinized for its largesse and general lack of transparency. 

But its current troubles really started in March, when the board acknowledged it had endorsed inflated figures for investment returns just three months prior, a mistake it blamed on a data error with seismic ripple effects.

That faulty board vote kicked off a scramble to correct the error and make up for missing money, which quickly dovetailed with an FBI probe focused on the fund's investments, real estate holdings, and more

Dissident board members have also pushed for a leadership purge, so far unsuccessfully, citing the ongoing scandal and a slew of management mistakes.

Spotlight PA will continue to cover this story. Past coverage is archived here.
Our reporting has one purpose: to make Pennsylvania a better place.

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"We have a great bill that addresses election issues which voters support! No one wants to actually compromise."

—State Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) airing his displeasure with Gov. Tom Wolf's response to a GOP election reform bill Wolf calls 2020 "retaliation"

VACCINE UPDATE: If you're concerned about limited reports of heart inflammation in youth who receive a COVID-19 vaccine, NPR explains the risks and says most patients with symptoms — typically chest pain and shortness of breath — recovered quickly. 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. today! RSVP for FREE »
A sunny photo of the Italian Water Garden at Longwood Gardens in Chester County, courtesy of @zees_plantsndecorSend us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
2020 VISION: The Pennsylvania state senator in charge of overseeing elections tells the Capital-Star a forensic audit of Pennsylvania's 2020 election is a "very real possibility" amid a Trump-fueled push to relitigate the most litigated election in U.S. history. David Argall (R., Schuylkill) said subpoenas for ballot information are under consideration already. Argall will join Spotlight PA for a live interview and reader Q&A at 1 p.m. today.

BUDGET BLITZ: With weeks left before the state budget deadline, Pennsylvania lawmakers are trying to figure out what to do with billions in federal pandemic relief and surplus state tax dollars. While that sounds like a good problem to have, the windfall has brought its own complications, touching off what the AP calls a blitz of often competing requests and reaffirming the divergent fiscal priorities of each party.

INSULT TO INJURY: Pennsylvania restaurants were blindsided by the sudden end of to-go cocktails and outdoor dining this week, collateral damage in a partisan push to rollback Gov. Tom Wolf's pandemic-era emergency order. "We're still trying to recover from revenue lost over the past 15 months,” a bartender told The Inquirer. "Taking away those extra opportunities makes getting back in the black much more challenging."

KEY DECISION: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against Philadelphia's decision to stop working with a Catholic social services group that refused to certify same-sex couples as foster parents. Reuters reports the 9-0 decision could have far-reaching consequences for First Amendment claims that run afoul of anti-discrimination policies. It also confirms the high court's increasingly expansive view of religious rights.

RAW DEAL: Federal officials want to seize and condemn thousands of pounds of meat from a Lancaster County farmer who's gone toe to toe with federal food safety officials for years over their attempts to curb his unlicensed sales of unpasteurized and raw food products. Prosecutors say Amos Miller has shown a “singular, historic willingness to flout democratically enacted federal food safety laws," per LancasterOnline. 
JUNETEENTH DAY: Tomorrow is Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S. or, more accurately, when word of that ending finally reached enslaved people in Texas, years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. But, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. explains, slavery didn't really end on Juneteenth, and the vestiges of a nation's original sin did not go quietly

YES VOTES: A bill naming June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a federal holiday, became law this week with the support of every Pennsylvania lawmaker and President Joe Biden. Now that it's official, WHYY reports West Philly wants to host the nation's official Juneteenth party. Juneteenth has been a state holiday in Pennsylvania since 2019.

RAIL STOPS: Harriet Tubman fled slavery in Maryland for relative freedom in Philadelphia. When she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, the York Daily Record reports Pennsylvania played a key role on her journeys rescuing some 70 people in total, many family members, from bondage.

PA ABOLITION: Pennsylvania officially abolished slavery in 1780, but forced labor continued for at least another 60 years here. The Inquirer says that's because state lawmakers never put forth provisions emancipating those already in bondage, allowing guises of the institution to survive.

EVENTS CALENDAR: Juneteenth events are being held across the commonwealth this weekend, from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, State College to Erie, Williamsport to Bethlehem, and beyond. If you're planning one of your own, Afroculinaria explains the significance of red-hued menu items.
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: Irrefutable

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