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Surplus spending, Senate reruns, and prohibited acts

Plus, the U.S. Senate recount results are in.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 9, 2022
Budget talk, fallback plan, J6 hearing, recount rebuffed, legal pressure, crimes (re)code, and Dock Ellis Day. It's Thursday. Thanks for checking in.

With weeks left before the June 30 deadline, Pennsylvania's budget sprint is gaining speed and lawmakers are signaling potential areas of agreement around a lingering source of Capitol contention: what to do with billions of dollars in remaining stimulus funds and surplus tax revenue.

Republicans in the majority, citing warnings about a looming fiscal cliff, have resisted largely Democratic calls to dip into the reserve. The GOP succeeded in getting a large share of the money squirreled away during last year's budget talks and later criticized Democratic attempts to tap it.

But that resistance appears to be fading. With $2.2 billion in remaining stimulus money, and at least $4.9 billion in surplus tax revenue, Republicans are signing on to or offering up projects as ways to spend some of the windfall. Insiders note that related talks are still preliminary.

"We move forward trying to identify areas of agreement first, and then we'll identify areas of disagreement and try and work through those," House Appropriations Committee Chair Stan Saylor (R., York) said.

THE CONTEXT: One area with bipartisan support is spending on the environment, including clean water projects, land preservation, and overdue repairs to state parks. Lawmakers are also considering putting some of the money toward the state's lagging Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

Other issues that are getting GOP attention include more state funding for child care and pre-K, nursing homes, and housing. 

Progressive lawmakers have been building bipartisan support for a broad housing plan known as the Whole Homes Repair Fund, which would use stimulus money to provide grants to homeowners and landlords alike to make renovations big and small. State Sen. David Argall (R., Schuylkill) also wants to help developers afford more costly building materials.

Top budget negotiators say nothing is yet concrete. Insiders question whether an election year spending spree could pass muster with more conservative lawmakers in the state House, especially with dissidents potentially empowered by the recent election losses of key figures.


"There are a lot of indications of an influx of new faces, the likes of which I haven't seen in 30 years. Whether that translates into a new direction remains to be seen."

Former Allegheny County Democratic Committee Chair Jim Burn on the crush of young progressives looking to overhaul the organization
» THE AD BLOCK: Join us Tuesday, June 14 at 6 p.m. ET, for a free Q&A on the uneven rules and flaws of the state's medical marijuana program. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
The red barn at Dauphin County's Shank Park, via Robert N. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
SENATE RERUNS: The recount results for Pennsylvania's Republican U.S. Senate primary are in and barely shifted from the original totals. The more than $1 million recount determined that Mehmet Oz eked out a victory over David McCormick by 951 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast, the AP reports. But Politico reports McCormick is already eyeing a run for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey's seat in 2024.

PUBLIC HEARING: The congressional committee investigating the U.S. Capitol attack will begin detailing its findings in a televised public hearing airing on most major networks at 8 tonight. A second hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on June 13. The investigation continues, often without the cooperation of House Republicans like U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.), who is sought for questioning by the Democrat-led panel.

RECOUNT REQUEST: A group of Lycoming County voters wants a 2020 election recount, citing their own crowdsourced evidence. But the county is unswayed and uninclined to accommodate their "extraordinary request," via the Sun-Gazette. At the state level, a push to inspect Fulton County's 2020 election machines, spearheaded by state Senate Republicans, remains mired in the courts, per WITF.

PARTY PRESSURE: Democratic state lawmakers have filed six discharge resolutions for anti-gun violence measures that have sat in committees under the legislature's Republican majority. The resolutions would fast-track related bills (listed here) for floor votes. All have stalled in the Senate's Judiciary Committee, one of two where Democrats say the GOP has mounted a gun law blockade, via Capital-Star.

UNANIMOUS VOTE: Pennsylvania's House voted unanimously on Wednesday to erase "homosexuality" from the list of prohibited sexual acts in the Crimes Code, per the AP. The vote came one week into Pride Month and one day after the state Senate advanced a ban on trans athletes in women's sports. A similar restriction on trans athletes is pending in the state House. Gov. Tom Wolf opposes both.

PUMP PRICES: The average price of gas passed $5 a gallon in Pennsylvania this week, per KDKA-TV. State proposals meant to help alleviate pain at the pump, including direct payments and tax cuts, have gone nowhere.

CAMPAIGN SCHEDULE: Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman could be off the campaign trail until July, wife Gisele Fetterman tells CNN. Meanwhile, Fetterman's first general election ads are airing in markets statewide and on networks like Fox News, Politico reports. 

SEEKING TREATMENT: State Rep. Matthew Dowling (R., Fayette) is seeking help for "alcohol issues" that he says "came to a head" over the weekend. According to police, Dowling rear-ended a car twice on Saturday, and TribLIVE reports DUI charges are possible. Dowling assumed office in 2016.

DEFENSE FUNDING: Pennsylvania is the only state that doesn't fund public defense, instead leaving it to counties. That could change under a bipartisan proposal being eyed for introduction by state Sens. Pat Browne (R., Lehigh) and Vincent J. Hughes (D., Philadelphia). Here's the memorandum

NO HITTER: Sunday marks 52 years since Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitched a no-hitter while on a hefty dose of LSD. Ellis (aka Ellis, D.) recounted the experience in vivid detail during a radio interview a year before his death. His play-by-play was wonderfully animated by James Blagden.

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: English words with Greek origins
Yesterday's answer: Narcissism 

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Becky C., Irene R., Don H., Michelle T., Elaine C., Doris T., David S., Diane P., Susan N.-Z., Vicki U., Jude M., George S., James B., Susan D., Jim A., Nancy S., Dianne K., Steve H., Johnny C., Kimberly B., Bill S., David W., Myles M., Suzanne S., Kimberly S., Kim C., and Mike B.
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