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Dark money group applies school voucher pressure

Plus, Dems lose their Pa. House majority again.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Thursday, July 20, 2023
Voucher wars, no majority, housing crisis, land use, aging population, official handoff, and a rare newspaper agreement is ending in York.

A shadowy group of donors is applying pressure to Pennsylvania lawmakers over publicly funded private school vouchers, an issue that has imperiled and delayed this year's budget deal and roiled the Capitol. 

The group, Commonwealth Action, is using ads to target state House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D., Montgomery) and Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro. The latter abandoned his school voucher push, promising a related line item veto to secure budget deal support from wary House Democrats.

Commonwealth Action is incorporated as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization and allowed to accept unlimited sums of money from corporations and individuals without divulging those donors. 

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Dark money group puts pressure on Pa. lawmakers after Shapiro vows voucher veto.

THE CONTEXT: Aaron McKean, a legal counsel for the nonpartisan watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, said groups like Commonwealth Action often operate as a "smokescreen" for wealthy special interests.

Though it is not stated on the group's state incorporation paperwork, Commonwealth Action is linked to an established conservative organization in Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Foundation, which declined to share information on the secret donors behind the voucher push.

And while it's not clear how much money Commonwealth Action has on hand, it has spent $36,000 since July 6 on ads targeting Shapiro and Bradford on the issue — an unusual level of advertising during budget negotiations, per Muhlenberg College political science professor Chris Borick.

Read more, via Spotlight PA archives: 'School choice' advocacy in Pennsylvania is overwhelmingly funded by a single man.


“Due to exigent circumstances, the following evictions scheduled for this week cannot proceed at this time. ... we will get back to you."

A note from the Homeowners Association of Philadelphia on Wednesday's pausing of evictions by for-profit landlord tenant officers after a string of shootings; the sheriff's office will continue serving evictions
Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania: The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now to Spotlight PA.
» Abortion rights advocates frustrated with Pa. Dems, via Inky (paywall)

» School funding in jeopardy as budget impasse lingers, via WHTM

» The 'haves and have-nots' of the budget delay, via PennLive (paywall)

» Davis to head Pa. House Dems' campaign arm, via @StephenJ_Caruso

» Funding for Reading LGBT center stripped, via Reading Eagle (paywall)

A thunderstorm in the distance, as seen from Kahle Lake in Clarion County and documented by @johnmcculloughphotography. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A lake at night with a high cloud in the distance being illuminated by a lightning strike.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.TIED HOUSE: The Pennsylvania House is tied again 101 to 101 after the Wednesday resignation of state Rep. Sara Innamorato (D., Allegheny), Spotlight PA reports. Democrats had a one-seat majority in the chamber and Innamorato, who is running for Allegheny County exec, initially said she'd wait to step down. The special election to fill her reliably Democratic seat will take place in September.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.HOME HUNTS: Pennsylvania already faces a shortage of affordable housing in places like Cumberland County and the Lehigh Valley. Bloomberg reports that developers say it's likely to get worse in the coming years, with construction costs, interest rates, and inflation driving forecasts of a crash in the supply of new affordable housing by 2025 — just as cities like Pittsburgh look to close the gap.Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.TO THE BANK: Another tool in Pittsburgh's affordable housing (and anti-blight) efforts, the city's eponymous land bank, has been incredibly slow to get off the ground. After nine years in existence, the land bank has only just sold its first property. PublicSource reports millions of public dollars may be shifted away from the initiative, even as a new state law and a pending municipal agreement expand its abilities.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.SENIOR STATE: Pennsylvania's population is older than the national average, and Axios reports that could fuel worker shortages for years to come — especially in the health care sector as demand for its services grow. Axios, citing a Penn State study, says the population of Pennsylvanians aged 65 and older ballooned between 2010 and 2017 and far outpaced the growth rate of the state's general population.Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.AG TAKEOVER: Warren County District Attorney Rob Greene says Warren County Prison staff might be charged with criminal negligence following Michael Burham's escape from the facility, and he's asking the state attorney general’s office to take over the inquiry. Among the factors behind his request, per the AP: Greene said he considers many jail staff in the small county his friends, and he’s on the prison board.
Investigative journalism that gets results: Spotlight PA's vital work depends on you. Donate now.

JOA VENTURE: A rare joint operating agreement between York County's Daily Record and Dispatch newspapers, one of the last of its kind in the United States, will end next June, YDR (paywall) reports. What exactly it will mean for the respective newsrooms likely won't be clear for months.

MEDIA NEWS: Pittsburgh news site The Incline has gone from five employees to none, and its flagship hyperlocal newsletter is being generated elsewhere in the country as a cost-conscious owner "reassesses" the outlet's future, the Pittsburgh Independent reports.

SWIFTONOMICS: May was the strongest month for hotel revenue in Philadelphia since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and Taylor Swift's Eras Tour is a big reason why, Philly's Federal Reserve Bank reports. Pittsburgh says the tour generated $46 million in impact there.

BUS FAIR: Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron, in a paywalled column, calls Philadelphia's new plein air Greyhound bus "station" — quote marks are hers — a humanitarian disaster and a municipal disgrace.

TOLL HIKE: A 5% toll hike on the Pennsylvania Turnpike will take effect in January, WHTM reports. The most common passenger vehicle toll will go from $1.80 to $1.90 for E-ZPass and from $4.40 to $4.70 for toll-by-plate.

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 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.
Yesterday's answer: Antiseptic

Congrats to our daily winners: Eric F., Craig W., Julie K., Jody A., Barbara F., Jon W., Kimberly D., Don H., Becky C., Kim C., Elaine C., Stacy S., David W., Bob C., Dennis M., Elizabeth W., Tom M., Jane R., Wendy A., Dan A., Susan N.-Z., William Z., and Daniel S.
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