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|Inflation checks, out-and-in, sporting bans, cruelty laws, pregnancy support, straw guns, and Pittsburgh bans plastic bags. It's Wednesday.|
|U.S. inflation jumped 8.5% in the past year, the fastest pace since 1981, and Gov. Tom Wolf has joined governors in other states in proposing direct payments to help residents cope with rising costs.|
"The cost of everything from gas to groceries is rising, and for Pennsylvanians living paycheck to paycheck that can mean painful decisions," he said.
Wolf is proposing a sprawling, $1.7 billion relief package, $500 million of which would be used to send checks of up to $2,000 to households earning $80,000 or less. The plan includes millions more for small businesses, property tax relief, health care, and climate change bulwarks.
But the source of that money is a major budget-season sticking point. Wolf's plan relies on billions in unused American Rescue Plan Act funding that Republicans helming the legislature — who would have to sign off on his proposal — say they want to save for future economic turbulence.
THE CONTEXT: Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre), confirms Wolf's plan is a no-go.
"The governor, legislative Democrats, and candidate Shapiro have put forward three different ways to spend the federal funding," Gottesman said by email. "They aren't on the same page. They have no unified plan, they have no unified vision, they just have cannon fodder for press conferences."
At the same time, the most powerful Republican in the legislature, Senate President Jake Corman (R., Centre), is proposing lowering the state's gas tax to ease pain at the pump. His pitch would tap $500 million in ARP money to fund State Police — a primary beneficiary of diverted gas tax revenue. However, it's unclear if ARP rules would allow this.
Corman's office declined to comment on Wolf's direct payment plan.
While Pennsylvania's coffers are uncharacteristically flush thanks to large infusions of aid money and higher-than-expected tax revenues, there are competing forecasts about how long that cushion might last.
Most Republicans say saving the money is long-term thinking and spending it shortsighted. Democrats argue the human need is there and that the ARP money must be spent by 2024 or go back to the federal government.
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|NOTABLE / QUOTABLE|
"I don't see us recovering as quickly. My concern is we are putting too much assumption that the next two and a half years are going to work really, really well and all these kids are going to pour back from the charter schools."
—Sto-Rox school board member Tyler Kochirka doubting the viability of a recovery plan reliant on the return of 110 charter school students
Correction: Yesterday's edition referred to Frank Snyder in this space as the president of the PA AFL-CIO. He is incoming president and set to take office June 1. Snyder is currently secretary-treasurer for the chapter.
|» BROKEN RULES: Join us Wednesday, April 20 at 6 p.m. EST via Zoom for a free discussion on Pa.'s medical release law for state prisoners, who the law impacts, and the strain it places on people in prison, their families, and taxpayers. Register here and submit questions to email@example.com.|
|The Scottish Rite Cathedral in Harrisburg, via Robert N. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.|
|RACE DAY: Senate President Jake Corman (R., Centre) is staying in the race for governor after reports he was ending his lagging bid. The about-face came hours after former President Donald Trump publicly dressed down another candidate in the GOP primary, former federal prosecutor Bill McSwain, calling him a "coward" who didn't do enough to help overturn Pennsylvania's 2020 election results. |
TRANS BAN: A bill banning transgender women from competing on women's high school and college sports teams in Pennsylvania was passed by the state House on Tuesday. Capital-Star reports four Democrats voted in favor of the bill and one Republican voted against it. The bill is headed to the Senate, where a companion bill advanced out of committee this week. Gov. Wolf has vowed to veto both.
FARM HARMS: Acts of animal cruelty documented at a Chambersburg dairy farm by an undercover animal rights activist could set a new legal precedent for anti-cruelty crusaders, Vox reports. Pennsylvania's anti-cruelty statute exempts "normal agricultural operations," and police declined to prosecute the Chambersburg farm. But then Pennsylvania's Superior Court delivered a potentially seismic ruling.
POSTPARTUM: New Pennsylvania mothers who are insured through Medicaid will now have coverage for a year after giving birth, rather than 60 days, per WESA. Medicaid covers people with higher incomes during pregnancy, but most states kick them off soon after giving birth. The American Rescue Plan Act let states extend that limit and Pennsylvania, where Medicaid covers nearly a third of births, did.
IRON PIPELINE: A straw-purchasing scheme that funnelled hundreds of guns from Georgia into Pennsylvania, where some were recovered at Philadelphia crime scenes, has led to 11 arrests, among them an Atlanta rapper who cited a lax system of checks at Georgia gun stores where the firearms in question were purchased. Georgia has long been a leading exporter of illegal firearms to other states.
|BAG BAN: Pittsburgh is the latest Pennsylvania city to ban single-use plastic bags. Council approved the rule on Tuesday. It will take effect in one year at all city businesses, per KDKA-TV. Customers will have to bring their own bags or pay 10 cents for a paper one. Takeout orders will be in paper, too.|
TROUBLED WATER: Philly high school student Hanna Roemer-Block won $250 and an honorable mention in C-SPAN's StudentCam contest for her video on pollution in the Schuylkill River. Chalkbeat has the full story.
WATCHDOGS: Pennsylvania is one of 31 states that saw a recent rise in statehouse reporters, a Pew Research Center study found, via Axios. The study mentions Spotlight PA. You can support our work here.
MEDIBLES: Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program already sells edible forms of cannabis, but a bill introduced in the state Senate would legalize THC-laced food products, like candy, via Pittsburgh City Paper.
STORM SYSTEM: There were 49 tornadoes in Pennsylvania in 2021. Storm-chasing Millersville University students and faculty hope their research will improve tornado warnings across the northeastern United States.
Unscramble and send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.
M L A U E A C I T MYesterday's answer: Surfactants
*This week's theme: Spring cleaning
Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Don H., Susan D., Bette G., Susan N.-Z., Kimberly S., Pat B., Deb N., Elaine C., Chris H., and Dianne K.