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Tax cut eyed as Pa. gas prices hit record high

Plus, six Philly cops racked up 173 lawsuits and millions of dollars in legal settlements.


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March 10, 2022
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Gas tax, misconduct pay, working theory, Thomas trial, one-percenters, 'tranq' tracking, and make-believe Zillow listings. It's Thursday. Welcome. 
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Republican legislative leaders want to temporarily lower Pennsylvania's gas tax with prices at the pump reaching record highs amid war in Ukraine and expected to rise further under a related ban on imports of Russian oil.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) plans to introduce legislation that would cut the state's 57.6-cents-a-gallon gas tax — the nation's highest, per the AP — by a third through the end of the year.

The plan would tap $500 million in federal COVID-19-relief dollars to fund the State Police (though Capital-Star reports some restrictions may apply) and a $650 million PennDOT bond for bridge and road repairs. Gas taxes are a source of revenue for the State Police and the state's highway system.

Gov. Tom Wolf, meanwhile, joined other governors in urging Congress to suspend the federal 18.4-cents-a-gallon gas tax through 2022.

THE CONTEXT: Combined, Corman says the state and federal cuts would reduce taxes paid at the pump by Pennsylvanians by nearly 50%.

Critics say there is no guarantee the savings would be passed on to consumers and that cuts could be politically difficult to undo

Pennsylvania's average price hit $4.31 per gallon on Tuesday. The national average was $4.17, an all-time high, but not when adjusted for inflation.

Reached by the Capital-Star, a spokesperson for Wolf — no fan of the state's gas tax himself — pointed to his joint letter to Congress and the $500 million in direct relief payments to qualifying households in his budget plan. 


"Any system can be improved. ... But imperfect is not unconstitutional."

—Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a defendant in Pa.'s landmark school-funding trial; watch closing arguments here at 9 a.m.
» FOR THE RECORD: Join us Wednesday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. ET via Zoom as our reporters and other experts discuss Pennsylvania's open records law, how it impacts Spotlight PA's coverage, and how you can use it, too. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org
A pic taken at Sand Island Park in Bethlehem, courtesy of Fran F. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
LEGAL SETTLEMENTS: Six Philly police officers generated 173 lawsuits that cost the city $6.5 million, the Washington Post found. Some 50 additional lawsuits are pending, many alleging misconduct dating back more than a decade, a legal department spokesperson added. The city paid $136 million in settlements between 2010 and 2020 overall, 59% involving officers named in multiple payments.

'ELECTORAL POWER': A Republican challenge of Pennsylvania's court-ordered congressional map invokes the "independent legislature" theory, a reading of the Constitution that Politico says stems from the 2000 election recount in Florida and argues legislators have ultimate control over elections in their states. The role of courts in the process is at issue. Republicans remain focused on reining in that power.

TRIAL TIMING: A trial date has been set for the suspended Somerset County district attorney charged with sexually assaulting a woman at her Windber home. Jeffrey Thomas' trial is set for June 7-14 in Somerset County Court, where he previously tried cases as the county's top cop. The Daily American reports there's a possibility Thomas will ask for the jury to be brought in from another county or for the trial to be moved.

MEDICAL FEE: The price of medical care and a college education would go up in Pittsburgh under a city councilor's plan to impose a 1% tax — or "user fee" — on each to generate an estimated $50 million annually for infrastructure upkeep. It's unclear, however, if Councilman Ricky Burgess' plan, proposed on the heels of a high-profile bridge collapse, is legal, WESA reports. A similar local effort was stymied 13 years ago.

'TRANQ' FINDS: More than a quarter of people who died of a drug overdose in Philadelphia in 2020 had a little-known animal tranquilizer called xylazine or "tranq" in their blood, a UCLA study found. The Inquirer reports the drug is used to extend the effects of opioids, like fentanyl, and has been linked to skin infections and harder-to-reverse overdoses. Philly's prevalence was the highest of 10 cities studied. 
LEGAL HISTORY: A former Pittsburgh defense attorney known for ads touting his ability to "think like a criminal" has been sentenced to five years in prison for large-scale marijuana distribution. TribLIVE reports Daniel Muessig doesn't agree with the law he broke but takes responsibility for breaking it.

ROOM SCROLL: City & State poses and answers the question: What would Zillow listings look like for Pennsylvania's state Capitol and other landmarks, both real and imaginary? Here are the "HarrisburGTV" offerings.

HIGH ROLLER: The real 120-foot roll of paper containing Jack Kerouac's original On The Road manuscript lives with NFL owner Jim Irsay, who paid $2.43 million for it in 2001. A homemade version lives in Windber.

UNLOCKED: The love is gone on Pittsburgh's Clemente Bridge, where crews began removing thousands of "love locks" placed there by pedestrians over the years. The bridge is being repaired. The locks will be turned into art.

ARACHNOPHOBIA: Point: Joro spiders are as big as the palm of your hand and they're coming to the East Coast this spring (maybe)!! Counterpoint: They're harmless to humans and might even be an ecological asset.
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: Temperature
Yesterday's answer: Fahrenheit

Congrats to our daily winners: Wendy A., Kenneth J., Don H., Patricia M., Bruce B., Suzanne O., Karen W., Craig W., Susan N.-Z., Ted W., Mike B., Matt P., Kim C., Thomas B., John B., Pat S., Elaine C., Sandy B., Bruce T., Daniel S., Steve D., Mark C., Keith F., Vicki U., Doris T., Katie W., Al M., Virginia C., Carol T., Fred O., James B., Janet C., Marty M., Deborah S., Starr B., Dianne K., Jeff G., Johnny C., Daniel M., Marisa B., David W., David S., Sandy S., Margaret D., Elizabeth W., Bill S., Michael H., Keri L., Judith D., and Bob S.
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