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Next week, Pennsylvania lawmakers will try to end nearly six months of partisan deadlock on the last pieces of the state’s $45.4 billion budget — all before a leaky roof shuts down the state House for months.
The stakes are high.
While Gov. Josh Shapiro’s signature on the spending plan in August has allowed much of the state’s spending to continue, partisan disagreements over the code bills that direct spending have left funding for libraries, community colleges, and nonprofits in legislative purgatory.
“We cannot leave Harrisburg next week without addressing some of the things that must be taken care of,” Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) told Spotlight PA this week. “And I don't believe that we will.”
Read Spotlight PA's full report: A leaky roof is about to close the Pa. House for months. Can the legislature finish a budget first?
THE CONTEXT: The impending closure of the House chamber is thanks to what state House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) said was a “severe” leak requiring “weeks of scaffolding preparation, site evaluation, and hopefully remediation and renovation to the areas affected.”
The repairs mean the legislature will be unable to send any bills to Gov. Shapiro until the chamber reopens in mid-March.
The closure will also coincide with the resignation of a Democratic representative who won a judgeship this November, which will cost the chamber’s Democrats their one-vote majority until at least February.
Rank and file Republicans have criticized Democrats’ construction timeline as a little too politically convenient, and GOP Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R., Indiana) quipped, “You would think if I-95 could be opened in 12 days they can fix a water leak in a shorter period of time than 12 weeks.”
The biggest lingering code bill conflicts are over schools. Democrats are pushing for more funding for public education programs, while Republicans want to bolster a state tax credit program that funds private school scholarships. (More on that subject below.)
|NOTABLE / QUOTABLE
"We have a lot of things to consider, and we respect what happened, and we'll move forward. We always do."
—Former Philadelphia labor leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty following his conviction Thursday on more than 60 counts, including conspiracy, embezzlement, and wire and tax fraud in a closely watched federal trial
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» BOILO BASICS: Join us Thursday, Dec. 14 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free Q&A and demo on one of Pennsylvania's signature adult beverages, boilo. As a bonus, try your hand at some Pennsylvania wintertime trivia in the last half hour for a chance to win Spotlight PA swag. Register for the event here and submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Allegheny Mountains in Bedford County from Lookout Point on Mount Ararat, via Bill M. Have a Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
|UNDER PRESSURE: UPenn’s Board of Trustees chair was expected to speak with President Liz Magill about stepping down amid blowback over her congressional testimony on campus antisemitism this week, CNN reports. Magill has walked back some of those remarks as criticism mounted from elected officials and university donors. Some students and staff protested outside her office Thursday.
PROBLEM POLICIES: Gov. Josh Shapiro supports private school vouchers and has called them "unfinished business" following a related budget concession. But The Education Voters of Pennsylvania advocacy group says these school choice measures need more scrutiny because a similar school choice program, which gives tax breaks to companies that fund private school scholarships, sends kids to schools with policies that could be used to discriminate against them.
MIND THE GAP: MANHUNT TACTICS: The ACLU is suing the city of McKeesport and several police over a chaotic 2020 manhunt and claims of rampant Fourth Amendment violations. Via WESA: The suit asserts the manhunt targeted Black residents of McKeesport with abusive tactics, such as brandishing firearms, demanding entry into homes at gunpoint without a warrant, and using excessive force during traffic stops.
Philadelphia's income gap is getting wider, new U.S. Census Bureau figures show. The Inquirer (paywall) reports the city's wealthiest neighborhoods make $100,000 a year more
than five neighborhoods on the lowest end of the income scale. Roughly $87,000 separated both ends of the spectrum 10 years ago. The city's median household income is rising. Racial disparities remain.
OVERASSESSED: Cambria County and one of its school districts have to repay millions in tax revenue to a company whose power plant property was overassessed. Legal action is possible. Now, residents of the school district, Central Cambria, are pressing officials on how they never questioned the amount until it was appealed, all while opposing connected plans to close a local elementary school.
|🏆 PA POP QUIZ: Did you stay on top of the news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Sworn in on banned books, Fetterman’s troll target, and an Amtrak revival.
|MILEAGE MOUNTAIN: An update to WHTM's recent story on state Rep. Pat Harkins (D., Erie)'s taxpayer-funded mileage reimbursements: The station says Harkins, who acknowledged a problem, was reimbursed for travel nearly every day since 2018, including holidays and weekends.
RETURN OF RICK: Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) is back in the presidential mix in Iowa, more than a decade after his improbable caucus win over Mitt Romney there. Politico reports his takes are in high demand.
'ZOMBIE MALL': The Berkshire Mall in Wyomissing is a shadow of its former self. But Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports the owners, like mall owners elsewhere in the U.S., are set on keeping the "zombie" alive.
GO-AHEAD: A recent zoning decision is a major step forward for plans to redevelop Allentown's former state hospital site — a criticized project pushed through by a former state senator and helmed by one of his friends.
SAFE CROSSINGS: Pennsylvania will receive $840,000 from the federal government toward the development of wildlife corridors offering animals safe passage over highways and fewer collisions, via Capital-Star.
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