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How a landmark court case is shaping Pa. budget talks

Plus, I-95 crash wasn't company's first.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2023
Funding fix, overdose study, I-95 scrutiny, Gab evidence, wastewater plan, stepping down, and UPenn's 'wildly popular monk class.' This is PA Post.

Months after a Commonwealth Court judge ordered Pennsylvania's legislature and governor to fix an unconstitutional school funding system, the ruling is influencing state budget negotiations now in the homestretch. 

A full fix isn't in the cards for this year's spending plan, but the February court ruling is influencing budget talks, with House Democrats passing an amended budget bill with more education spending and Republicans resisting the underlying rationale (flush state coffers) over future recession fears. 

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Pa. budget 2023: How a landmark school funding lawsuit is shaping negotiations.

THE CONTEXT: The numbers involved are big and highly contested — public education advocates have argued it’ll take at least a few billion dollars in new funding to satisfy the conditions of the ruling, on top of the $7.9 billion Pennsylvania spent on basic education this fiscal year. 

In his initial budget proposal, Gov. Shapiro pitched a roughly billion-dollar increase to education funding over last year, including $567 million more for basic public school education — an 8% bump that outpaces inflation. 

House Democrats, in a 102-101 party-line vote, passed an amended version of Shapiro's plan with roughly $900 million in additional spending, most of it going to schools and related expenses.

State Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R., Armstrong) called the roughly $46 billion House-approved plan "an impossible number," adding that he's unsure the June 30 deadline for a budget deal will be met.

More, via WHYY: What it's like to attend an underfunded Pa. school.


"We have way more important things to do than to entertain the ideas of nine year olds."

State Rep. Russ Diamond (R., Lebanon) on environmentally friendly "Skip The Straw Day" legislation inspired by fourth graders
» Pa. House panel advances minimum-wage hike bill, via PoliticsPA

» Pa. House passes bill to cut state cell phone taxes, via @JanMurphy

» More on the push to cut those cellphone taxes, via CNHI

» Plan to end TeleFile worries Amish taxpayers, via PennLive (paywall)

» Doyle earns Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame spot, via Roll Call
Investigative journalism that gets results. Spotlight PA's vital work depends on you. Donate now.

At the Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens in Devon, via David G. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.

A deep purple bed of flowers in bloom.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.OVERDOSE RATES: A Brown University-linked study ties police seizures of opioids to a doubling of overdose deaths in surrounding communities, "possibly by leading people ... to take greater risks when they tried to restore their supply." In Pennsylvania, a tug-of-war is brewing over opioid settlement windfalls between harm reductionists and more traditional War on Drugs enforcement mindsets

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.I-95 UPDATES: A tanker truck company linked to the fiery crash that brought down a section of I-95 in Philadelphia on Sunday was involved in a similar incident in 2015 a few miles away, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. Reporters found the company, TK Transport of New Jersey, was “not authorized” to haul hazardous materials — including gasoline — across state lines in 2015 and it still wasn't as of Sunday.
  • RELATED: U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg says I-95 collapse could cause supply chain headaches, via the AP.
  • Shapiro's I-95 disaster declaration will expire in matter of weeks under GOP-led, voter-backed constitutional amendment, via ABC27.
Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.TREE OF LIFE: The death penalty trial of admitted Tree of Life gunman Robert Bowers continued Tuesday with a focus on his use of the social media site Gab for conspiratorial and antisemitic posts that included memes of swastikas, Holocaust references, pictures of Adolf Hitler, and more, WESA reports. Gab CEO Andrew Torba was questioned Monday, per the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.WELL PIVOT: Pennsylvania General Energy has called off its plan to convert an old natural gas well in Indiana County to take wastewater from nearby fracking operations because the well was prone to leaking into the local water supply, Inside Climate News reports. The well will be plugged instead. Residents who fought the initial plan for years are positioning this as a community-action success story. 
  • RELATED: Faced with a fracking waste reckoning, many experts say unpopular injection wells are the safest alternative, via ICN
Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.SET TO RETIRE: Edward Cunningham is retiring as Elizabethtown's police chief, weeks after he admitted to making an obscene gesture at a police officer from another department, something Cunningham told LNP (paywall) he did all the time. Cunningham was off-duty at the time of the incident and returning from a hockey game where he said he'd had one beer. His unexpected retirement is so far unexplained.
Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania. The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now.

BIRD ROUTE: PublicSource explains how a magnolia warbler, after journeying across the Gulf of Mexico and most of the U.S., was equipped with a tiny cuff in the woods of Pittsburgh that could help scientists save local ecosystems along the route. The data gleaned hold critical ecological insights.

STRIKE WATCH: The pro-proletariat People's World, successor to the Daily Worker, says workers at Erie's Wabtec plant, formerly a GE locomotive plant, could strike and set a precedent in the process. Here's what the company is proposing in its "best and final offer," via Erie Times-News.

'MONK CLASS': U Penn professor Justin McDaniel’s wildly popular “monk class," formally called Living Deliberately, requires its 14 students to “observe a code of silence, abstain from using all electronic communications, and limit their spending to $50 a week," CNBC reports.

STAMP SHOW: A postage stamp series on iconic American waterfalls, formally launched yesterday, includes one from Ricketts Glen State Park in Luzerne County. The stamps are for sale online and at post offices.

JUBILEE DAY: The Jubilee Day street fair returns to Mechanicsburg in Cumberland County tomorrow. Organizers say it's the largest and longest-running one-day street fair on the East Coast, per PennLive (paywall).

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: Recalcitrant

Congrats to our daily winners: Tracy S., Joel S., Craig W., Susan N.-Z., Don H., Barbara F., Jon W., Carol S., Susan D., Marty M., Stacy S., Ted B., Kimberly D., Julie K., Jim A., Elaine C., Emerson W., Nancy S., Dennis M., Sandra H., George B., Dianne K., Janice H., Tom M., William Z., Vicki U., David W., James B., Bob C., Johnny C., Wendy A., Kim C., Dan A., John P., Dan A., and Doug W.
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