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Court throws lavish, taxpayer-funded birthday bash

Plus, why some Republicans aren't voting for the party's guv nominee.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 23, 2022
Taxpayer tab, new polling, suburban showdown, Perry pushback, campaign stops, trooper crash, and the spammiest state. It's Tuesday.
Pennsylvania's Supreme Court threw itself a lavish 300th birthday party with your money, LNP (paywall) reports.

According to the outlet, taxpayers were charged at least $147,000 for a multiday celebration of the high court in Philadelphia in May.

The fête was marked by catered luncheons and dinners, swanky hotel stays, a $1,500 cake, $37,000-a-day buffet tables, and more.

"It's an example of tone deafness at a time people are struggling with inflation and the economy," good-government advocate Tim Potts told LNP. 

Others said the days-long event included symposium panels with educational value in a not-so-extravagant location.

"If you had the event in Honolulu, that would clearly be over the top," Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, told LNP, adding, "I think a lot of things in state government better fit my definition of a boondoggle."

LNP reports redactions in the receipts it obtained from the event mean the $147,000 figure is almost certainly a conservative estimate.

THE CONTEXT: LNP's reporting comes with state lawmakers and judges set to receive potentially historic pay raises that are drawing scrutiny.

The annual raises, which are tied to inflation under a decades-old state law, could be the largest ever, based on current projections. 

Under the last raise (or cost-of-living adjustment), which took effect this year, taxpayer-funded pay for state Supreme Court justices was upped to $227,080, while Chief Justice Max Baer — the highest-paid state official who is eligible for the hike — saw his salary grow by $12,000 to $233,688 total. 

Lawmakers — who agreed to pause the automatic pay hike in 2020 — are set to see their base wages eclipse $100,000 in 2023. While they can return their pay increases, Spotlight PA found that very few actually do.

"TV is still king when it comes to gaining votes in a Senate race. Elections aren't won and lost on Twitter."

—Jacob Rubashkin, of the nonpartisan political analysis site Inside Elections, on the role of social media in Pennsylvania's marquee election races

Thank you to the hundreds of dedicated Spotlight PA members — old and new! — for helping us reach our match goal during our Week of Giving last week.

We deeply appreciate your generosity, which will enable us to continue producing nonpartisan accountability journalism and driving meaningful impact in Pennsylvania. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

If you missed the campaign but still want to support Spotlight PA's vital work, you can make a tax-deductible gift here.

With gratitude,
Christopher Baxter
Editor in Chief, Spotlight PA

A red-winged blackbird in goldenrod, via @johnmcculloughphotography. Have an image to share? Send us your photos or art, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
POLL PICTURE: A new Trafalgar Group poll shows tighter races for U.S. Senate and governor than a GOP firm's polling did last week. The latest survey has Democrats Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman up by four and five points in races for governor and U.S. Senate, respectively, per ABC27. Disclaimer: Polls are snapshots, not predictions. PoliticsPA's polling average has Fetterman up by 9.7 points.

SWING VOTERS: Doug Mastriano may have a suburbs problem. With suburban voters, particularly women, expected to play a pivotal role in November's midterms, WHYY reports the GOP nominee for governor's hardline stance on abortion is driving some — including two-time Trump voters — away. One such voter, Stacy Naulty of Montgomery County, told WHYY, "I think he's too far conservative."

HOUSE RACE: U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) has featured heavily in ongoing investigations into coordinated efforts by lawmakers to overturn President Joe Biden's 2020 victory. Democrats are using that to their advantage as they work to unseat Perry, a five-term incumbent, in Pennsylvania's redrawn 10th Congressional District, PennLive reports. RealClearPolitics rates the race as "likely Republican."

KEYSTONE STOPS: Former President Donald Trump will rally for his Pennsylvania election picks at the Mohegan Sun Arena near Wilkes-Barre on Labor Day Weekend, WNEP reports. Current President Joe Biden is headed for Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 30 to tout his administration's latest effort to reduce gun violence — a trip that was originally slated for July but postponed when Biden tested positive for COVID-19.

FATAL CRASH: A Pennsylvania State Police trooper remains on active duty after a fatal off-duty crash in Salem Township on Aug. 17. Authorities say the trooper, Tyler J. Strini, 27, of Homer City, failed to slow down for stopped traffic in his BMW. TribLIVE reports one person waiting at a red light on Route 66 was hit from behind and later died. Pennsylvania State Police are in charge of the investigation.

AFGHAN EXIT: One year has passed since the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan and U.S. forces withdrew. WESA spoke with an Afghan journalist in Pittsburgh who is helping other refugees resettle there.

FLY FRIENDS: The New York Times (paywall) profiled some of the people who are resisting calls for violence against the spotted lanternfly. As we reported, Harriet Campbell of Plymouth Meeting definitely isn't one of them.

FAIR FOLK: Centre County's Grange Fair is billed as the last tenting fair in the country — picture a county fair crossed with a campground. WJAC has a glimpse inside some of the cool makeshift abodes.

SPAM CALLS: We're number one ... in spam calls, according to a new survey of adults nationwide, via PennLive. In other news: We've been trying to reach you about your car's extended warranty.

FAST FACTS: If you don't know Pennsylvania's official dog, official insect, official tree, or state motto, @PennsylvaniaGov has you covered.

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. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

*Bonus: Guess this week's theme on Friday for an extra chance at swag.
Yesterday's answer: Secondhand

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Chuck M., Michelle T., Elaine C., Don H., Ed R., Janet C., Susan N.-Z., Becky C., Jill M., Susan D., Tom O., Paul F., Marty M., John F., Becca S., Barbara F., Judith D., Dianne K., George S., Heidi B., David M., David S., David W., Steve H., Bill S., Myles M., Mike B., James B., Nancy S., John P., Doris T., and Sharon P.
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