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Pa. has an infrastructure problem

Plus, CDC says some fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 28, 2021
The ticket to ride, mask shift, siege case, audit experts, home alone, road fees, and a Civilian Conservation Corps for the 21st century. Welcome to Wednesday.
JOIN US: Today we're hosting a virtual Q&A about the millions of mostly hidden taxpayer dollars lawmakers spend on personal accommodations (register here); and next Thursday — we changed the date — we're hosting a virtual panel about rental assistance in Pennsylvania as a federal COVID-19 eviction ban comes to an end (register here).
In order to replace Pennsylvania's gas tax and bankroll a much-needed upgrade to its highway system, the Transportation Revenue Options Commission is expected to release a report this week that will recommend charging motorist fees based on how much they drive, according to the Associated Press. 

Ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf in March, the report will likely recommend raising billions of dollars with a vehicle-miles-traveled fee, as well as corridor tolling, goods deliveries fees and fees for less energy efficient vehicles.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, (R., York) predicted that the Republican-controlled legislature won't make any decisions this year or next, especially given the state of the economy. 

THE CONTEXT: Pennsylvania has the fifth-largest, state-maintained road network and the third-highest number of bridges in the country, according to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian.

But the agency has an $8.1 billion funding gap, and its infrastructure is mostly sustained by state and federal gas taxes. 

So many stakeholders are involved in state talks that it can often prevent potential resolutions from maintaining momentum. Earlier this year, for example, the agency proposed tolling nine interstate bridges, and was met with immediate pushback by a key Republican lawmaker, according to The Center Square. 

Meanwhile, the state will hear today the Biden administration's plans to fill the gaps.
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

And Spotlight PA is answering the call in a bold new way.

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If you value our vital investigative journalism, make a contribution of any amount and become a member now. 

"If we have a conservative who replaces a liberal Democrat, which I would call Gov. Wolf, then this has the ability to become state law."

—State Rep. Chris Rabb (D., Philadelphia) on what Pennsylvania's upcoming gubernatorial election could mean for teaching race and racism in schools
VACCINE UPDATE: U,S, Justice Department lawyers say federal law doesn't bar public agencies and private businesses from COVID-19 vaccination requirements. President Joe Biden is also expected to announce vaccine mandates for federal employees and contractors this week. Those who don't meet it will have to submit to regular testing and take protective measures. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
>> THE HIDDEN TAB: Join us today at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A about Pennsylvania lawmakers spending millions of taxpayer dollars on personal accommodations, and how these expenses are obscured from the public. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.

>> HOUSING PENNSYLVANIA: Join us Thursday, Aug. 5 — we've changed the date — at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free panel on everything we know about rental assistance as the federal eviction ban lifts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

A beautiful newt found in Parker Dam State Park near Penfield. Just one example of the summer wildlife in the area. Thanks for another photo, Don H.! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
MASK SHIFT: The CDC is now recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission rates amid climbing case counts nationwide. Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. counties, including seven in Pennsylvania, are seeing substantial or high transmission rates currently, per WTAE. Gov. Tom Wolf said he has no plans to renew state mask rules and is focused on the vaccine.

CAPITOL CHARGES: A Lancaster County man who boasted of macing police at the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol is now facing federal charges, Fox43 reports. Agents detained Samuel Lazar — a regular at "Stop the Steal" and "Reopen Pennsylvania" rallies — outside his Ephrata home on Monday. Separately, a Democrat-led House committee charged with probing the violent attack held its first hearing on Tuesday.

AUDIT OUTLOOK: With a Trump-backed audit of Pennsylvania's last two elections being pushed by a Trump-aligned state senator, City & State asked three Pennsylvania-based experts about what makes a good audit, what makes a bad one, what audit abuse looks like, and what this audit, in particular, might do to the public's already fragile and misinformation-scarred faith in our electoral process

HOME BUY: Residents of the View Gardens apartments in McKeesport say conditions have only gone downhill since the complex was bought by one of the nation's largest banks, Pittsburgh-based PNC. PublicSource says health violations and 911 calls have surged in the years since the sale. PNC says the pandemic delayed an action plan. But residents are demanding better from an owner with $500 billion in assets.

ROAD STOP: President Joe Biden will visit the Allentown area today as he works to drum up support for a nearly $1 trillion federal infrastructure plan being debated and negotiated by lawmakers. Biden will be at the Mack Trucks manufacturing facility in Lower Macungie Township, per the AP. 

TICK TACTICS: This warm weather is primetime for ticks and more now than ever as COVID-19 keeps people outdoors, and Pennsylvania leads the country in Lyme disease, according to The Morning Call. Here are some helpful reminders for preventative care, via the Wolf administration.

CCC SEQUEL: U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) wants to resurrect The Civilian Conservation Corps — President Franklin D. Roosevelt's monumental, Depression-era economic stimulus project — to tackle 21st century issues like climate change, economic instability, and racial injustice, per WESA.

SEE THE BEAUTY: The Philadelphia's Museum of Black Joy is a digital showcase with snapshots of Black happiness that relay the depths and triumphs of generations past. Andrea “Philly” Walls, the creative force behind it, told The Inquirer Black joy itself is the ability to reimagine "experience, bodily suffering, and still dance, and still sing."

RIVER RIDE: For the first time in years, the Pittsburgh river cruiser known as the Gateway Clipper will return to the Armstrong County portion of the Allegheny River for two tours and a dinner cruise on Oct. 9. TribLIVE says it's a portion of the river "known for its wild beauty and scant development." 

EXTRA LIFE: After a Reddit-fueled short squeeze sent its stocks and name recognition soaring, video game retailer GameStop is reviving its physical stores. Jilted workers aren't sold, with one in Pittsburgh telling Reuters: “I would like to see them succeed. At the same time, get out if you can.”
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: Incalculable

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Susan F., Michelle T., Susan D., Don H., Mary Ellen T., Doris T., Diane P., Elaine C., Susan N., James B., Chris R., Suzanne S., Myles M., Lex M., George S., David I., Daniel B., Dianne K., Carol D., Barbara A., Perry H., Dennis M., Beth T., David W.


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