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Disputes emerge as Pa. budget deadline looms

Plus, Pa. lawmakers advance East Palestine rail safety bill.

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Monday, June 12, 2023
Sticking points, rail safety, gun rally, map ruling, indictment response, state intervention, and I-95 collapses in Philly. Welcome to the week.

In the homestretch before a June 30 state budget deadline, Spotlight PA reports Pennsylvania lawmakers appear split over how much of the state’s multi-billion surplus to invest in public services — a fundamental divide that must be resolved to move forward on the spending plan.

But the disconnect over spending isn’t the only potential hurdle.

Read the full report: Disputes over education spending, cash reserves emerge as Pa. budget deadline approaches.

THE CONTEXT: Last week the Democratic-controlled state House passed an expanded version of Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget plan that adds hundreds of millions of dollars in education spending. It also, like Shapiro's original proposal, continues a number of pandemic-era social-safety-net programs without raising new revenue.

Democrats point to higher-than-expected tax collections and the state's well-fed reserves and rainy day fund, while Republicans say they remain concerned about the possibility of future recessions and related revenue hits.

The amended budget plan, passed by the state House in a party-line 102-101 vote, faced immediate opposition from Republicans in control of the state Senate, where the budget bill is now headed.

Also looming: Another politicized fight over funding for state-related universities on the heels of last year's dispute over fetal tissue research at Pitt that contributed to a blown budget deadline.

This year, Spotlight PA reports, the hardline conservative Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus is threatening to hold up the slice of money slated for Penn State over gender care provided to minors by Penn State Health.


“All workers deserve a voice in the workplace, and journalists are no different.” 

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre offering support to striking journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other outlets after the administration crossed Insider's picket line last week
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Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.RAIL SAFETY: Pennsylvania lawmakers are advancing East Palestine-inspired legislation that supporters say would improve rail safety standards and increase corporate accountability. But the legislation already faces quiet resistance from the industry and its allies, Spotlight PA reports. State regulators, meanwhile, are uncertain about their capacity to enforce its requirements.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.GUN RALLY: The Right to Keep and Bear Arms rally returns to the state Capitol at 11 a.m. today on the heels of the formation of the first-ever Second Amendment Caucus in the Pennsylvania Senate. The rally also follows narrow passage of two gun safety bills in the Dem-controlled state House. Democrats say they're making progress on others, but the path through a GOP-helmed state Senate is in question. 

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.SCOTUS RULING: On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Black voters who said Alabama's congressional maps violated the federal Voting Rights Act by concentrating their political power in one district. Widener Law Commonwealth Professor Michael Dimino told Capital-Star the ruling could have ramifications for Pennsylvania's 2031 redistricting cycle and majority-minority districts here.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.UNDER INDICTMENT: Former president and 2024 candidate Donald Trump has been indicted again, this time federally. The Inquirer (paywall) says only two of Pennsylvania's Republican delegates in Congress — there are eight total — came to his defense. In Harrisburg, Republican leaders were even more quiet. Pennsylvania's Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, have seized the moment.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.COUNTY BACKLOG: The state Department of Human Services is stepping in to address a backlog of 356 child welfare reports in Blair County, the Altoona Mirror reports. County officials blamed a worker shortage. State employees assigned Monday to begin full-time on-site work in the county office are in addition to the state employees who last year began meeting on a weekly basis with county CYF personnel.
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COMMUTER DETOUR: Commuters should avoid I-95 in Northeast Philadelphia after part of the road collapsed from a truck fire burning underneath it on Sunday. (Language warning: Footage of the fire and wreckage is astounding.) There were no immediate reports of injuries. Repairs will likely take months.

PRIDE MASS: A solidarity mass for the LGBTQ+ community at Duquesne University’s chapel was canceled amid pressure from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. The diocese said it received multiple threats and hundreds of messages denouncing the event. There are no plans to reschedule it. 

BIDEN RALLY: President Joe Biden is returning to Philadelphia on June 17 to hold a rally with union members. The location has yet to be announced. This marks his first rally since announcing his reelection bid in April.  

CLASS (TAYLOR’S VERSION)Swifties can test their knowledge of their favorite music artist in a college class. Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University offers a three-credit course called “Taylor Swift Through the Eras.” Those who missed out on taking it last time can take it in the fall. 

REAL ID: The process of getting your REAL ID just got easier. In addition to your social security card, PennDOT is accepting a W-2 form, a 1099 form, or a pay stub to verify your identity. By May 2025, a REAL ID is required to board a domestic flight or enter a federal building or military base.

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.

Friday's answer: Circumspect

Congrats to our weekly winner: John P.

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Elaine C., Stacy S., Don H., Vicki U., Craig W., Eddy Z., Lynne E., Susan D., Bob C., Barbara F., Craig E., Kim C., Carol S., Karen W., Jon W., Susan N.-Z., Elizabeth W., Daniel S., David W., Dianne K., Wendy A., Dennis M., Stanley J., William Z., Tom M., and Joel S.
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