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Shapiro unfazed by sports ticket ethics concerns

Plus, GOP targets Penn over antisemitism questions.

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Friday, December 22, 2023
In today's edition: Transparency concerns, vacant offices, task force, and PPE becomes trash. We're off on Monday for the holiday. See you on Tuesday. 
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Gov. Josh Shapiro plans to continue accepting perks like tickets to sporting events from a nonprofit that receives state money, despite concerns he may be violating his own gift ban. 

The nonprofit in question is Team Pennsylvania, a public-private partnership that says it works to improve the commonwealth’s “competitiveness and economic prosperity.”

This year it paid for tickets and lodgings for Shapiro, a Democrat, to attend the Super Bowl in Arizona, and funded his tickets to a Philadelphia Phillies playoff game and a Penn State football game. 

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Despite ethics concerns, Shapiro will keep accepting tickets from a group that gets state money.

THE CONTEXT: One expert told Spotlight PA earlier this year that taking tickets from Team PA could conflict with Shapiro’s gift ban, which bars executive branch employees from accepting goods or services, like tickets, from any “person or entity” that “has financial relations with the Commonwealth.”

Team PA receives money from the commonwealth. Just this year, the nonprofit was awarded $1.8 million in taxpayer money from three new contracts, including $1.2 million to study hydrogen technology. The rest is to develop an economic development plan for the state.  

The gift policy Shapiro signed doesn’t say who is supposed to monitor staffers and officials for potential violations.

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"I think I would regret it forever if I didn’t say something before the window of attention closes."

—Kinnan Abdalhamid, a Haverford College junior who is Palestinian-American and was shot in a potential hate crime in Vermont, on his calls for his school to back a ceasefire in Gaza.

A snowy scene in Huntingdon County, via James G. Have a Pennsylvania photo to share? Send us photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.VACANT OFFICES: Voters participate in local elections to pick who they want to represent them in government, but when a seat on a municipal governing board is vacant in Pennsylvania, the public has little to no say in who fills it, Spotlight PA and the Centre Daily Times report. That situation played out at least 28 times from 2020 to 2022 in Centre County, the news organizations found.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.TASK FORCE: Pennsylvania House Republicans have formed a task force aimed at compelling the University of Pennsylvania to address concerns about antisemitism, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. A letter from state House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) suggests that the caucus will continue to block funding for Penn's veterinary school until demands are met.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.
ONE OF A KIND: The state Senate has authorized a performance audit of Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a one-of-a-kind tax incentive program aimed at attracting developers to the city, the Morning Call (paywall) reports. No other municipality in Pennsylvania has a NIZ, which was created by former state Sen. Pat Browne, a Republican, more than a decade ago.
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.TAX HIKE: Westmoreland County homeowners will see their property taxes rise 32.5% next year, the biggest increase in more than two decades, TribLIVE reports. Commissioners said raising county property taxes, as well as levying a new tax, is necessary to cover general operations and pay down growing debt.Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.DRILLING DROP: Natural gas companies drilled 102 new wells between July and September this year, 56 fewer than during the same period in 2022, StateImpact PA reports. Natural gas prices are also falling, because of the amount of product on the market.
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
PROV > PGH: PublicSource examines how Providence, Rhode Island, was able to secure $220 million worth of voluntary payments from local universities as Pittsburgh struggles to get tax-exempt nonprofits to pay up.

THROWN AWAY: States including Pennsylvania are throwing away their PPE stockpiles as masks and other protective gear expire, the AP reports.

ALL CLEAR: Pennsylvania State Veterinarian Alex Hamberg has given Santa's reindeer a clean bill of health as they prepare to deliver Christmas presents.

MALL MAN: Leo Karruli bought the Johnstown Galleria for $3 million in an online auction last year. The Inquirer (paywall) looks at his efforts to bring it back to life.

COAL COUNTRY CHAMPAGNE: WVIA recently talked to Coal Country residents trying to keep boilo alive. PA Local recently examined how to make the regional drink.
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: Pipsqueak

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