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Wolf steers extra $40M to state-related universities

Plus, why we waited to publish details on potential sexual extortion of PSU athletes.

A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 25, 2022
Pitt boost, editorial decision, Mastriano movie, divestment plan, referendum push, corporal charged, and meet the Doan Gang. It's Monday.

Gov. Tom Wolf plans to quietly give Pennsylvania's four state-related universities, including Penn State and Pitt, a one-time, $40 million boost using stimulus money that he has the sole power to direct.

Wolf's decision comes on the heels of failed budget-season attempts by opponents of abortion access in the state House to block funding for the schools over Pitt's use of fetal tissue in scientific research.

State Rep. Jerry Knowles (R., Schuylkill), who led that effort and was already frustrated that Pitt received its usual appropriation, compared the extra money from Wolf to "poking somebody in the eye."

"Pitt is probably laughing their ass off at us right now because they got their money," he added, as reported by Spotlight PA. 

THE CONTEXT: In previous years, funding the state-related universities was a pro forma vote that elicited little controversy in the legislature. But starting in 2019, some Republican lawmakers began to use talking points from anti-abortion advocates to attempt to block Pitt's appropriation.
This year's now-completed budget was delayed by a week as state House Republicans tried to withhold funding from the four schools — Pitt, Penn State, Lincoln University, and Temple University — unless they swore under oath that they do not engage in research using fetal tissue. 

As the June 30 budget deadline came and went, the state House took a different approach, advancing a clean version of a bill to fund the universities and adding a fetal tissue research ban to unrelated legislation.

Wolf signed the clean funding bill into law, and the other legislation is stalled in the state Senate. The four universities receive hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year to subsidize in-state tuition discounts. 

The $40 million Wolf is giving the schools on top of their usual appropriation comes from a discretionary pot that was given to him by the Republican-controlled General Assembly as "pandemic response" money.


"This rapid turnaround surge — we were not prepared. We were prepared for West Virginia, but not Ohio."

—Dr. Sheila Ramgopal, of Allegheny Repro in Pittsburgh, where demand for abortion services is surging as states ratchet up restrictions post-Roe

» BUDGET BREAKDOWN: Join us Tuesday, July 26 at 6 p.m. on Zoom for a free breakdown of Pa.'s multibillion-dollar budget and how it will impact you. Register for the event here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org.

Sunset from Oak Ridge in Dallastown, courtesy of Anne G. Send us your Pennsylvania pics, use #PAGems on IG, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
PSU PAUSE: On July 15, a story broke about a reported sexual extortion plot targeting Penn State athletes. Spotlight PA, part of the push to make public details of the alleged scheme, decided against immediately publishing a story on the findings. A new piece explains that decision, one rooted in the sensitive nature of the case and unanswered questions about what happened and how officials responded.

IRS CALLS: Amid criticism and questions over his ties to the founder of a social media platform beloved by far-right extremists — a founder known for amplifying such views himself — GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano is at the center of a new controversy, per The Inquirer: this one involving a Camp Hill church, a screening of a Mastriano documentary, and a flurry of complaints to the IRS.

IN PROTEST: Lehigh County wants to divest from Wells Fargo over the bank's donations to groups that support anti-abortion politicians, per Bloomberg. The county has reportedly already begun the divestiture process and plans to pull a total of $145 million in taxpayer dollars from the bank. Wells Fargo has donated large sums to groups that in turn back GOP candidates who support curbing abortion access.

VOTER DRIVE: A group of Washington County residents, thwarted in a bid to have the county's 2020 election reviewed, says it has gathered 2,100 signatures in support of a ballot question that would let voters decide whether the county continues to use electronic voting machines, per the Observer-Reporter. Officials say the effort misinterprets state law and would need way more signed supporters.

CRUELTY CASE: A Pennsylvania state trooper has been charged with animal cruelty for allegedly ramming his patrol vehicle into a horse that was on the loose in Chester County and pinning it to the ground where another trooper euthanized the animal. Police say the horse had been hit by another driver minutes earlier, per Fox29. Corporal Michael Perillo has been suspended without pay as the case progresses.

COLLEGE MONEY: Pennsylvania's network of state-owned universities wants to boost enrollment by 20% over the next several years. Higher Ed Dive reports the state's demographics will be a headwind.

FARM CLUB: Twitter user @Christz9 noticed banana peppers growing in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen. Turns out they're growing a lot more than that, per MLB.com, and some of it is being fed to fans.

ANTI-ARENA: Not everyone is jazzed over plans for a new, $1.3 billion Sixers arena in Center City, Philadelphia. A coalition of community members in nearby Chinatown, for example, is adamantly opposed.

DOAN GANG: A historian believes he's found the secret Bucks County hideout of a colonial-era Quaker family-turned-British spies and bank robbers, via WFMZ. Some call it "the greatest American story never told."

MOVIE EXTRA: Northumberland's Point Drive-In Theatre may be back next year, with the owner telling The Daily Item that plans to turn the land, which he doesn't own, into a solar farm are moving slower than expected.

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.
*This week's theme: The internet

Friday's answer: Metamorphosis

Congrats to our weekly winner: John W.

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Michelle T., Don H., Al M., Susan D., Susan N.-Z., Elaine C., John P., Becky C., Lynne E., George S., Stanley P., James B., Sharon P., Dianne K., William S., Ted W., Bill S., Karen W., Margaret Mary H., and Nancy S.
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