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Shapiro breaks with Wolf on bridge tolling plan

Plus, McCormick and Oz are in a virtual tie.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 20, 2022
Toll takers, continuing count, Perry's opponent, COVID cases, banned books, financial fraud, Philly's MVP, and 🌷 a Spring bonus. It's Friday. 
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Democratic nominee for governor Josh Shapiro is breaking with outgoing Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf over the latter's plan to add tolling on nine bridges statewide in order to raise money for their upkeep. 

In an interview with the Courier-Express newspaper in DuBois, Shapiro said he was "absolutely opposed to tolling the North Fork Bridge and the other bridges across Pennsylvania," saying incoming money from the federal infrastructure law should be used to fund repairs instead.

Wolf and PennDOT have been looking for alternative sources of repair funding as needs mount and gas tax revenue continues to decline. Their plan to toll nine bridges has prompted significant pushback and a lawsuit that saw the plan temporarily halted by a Commonwealth Court judge this week.

Shapiro's Republican opponent in the governor's race, Doug Mastriano, is also against the plan and has backed legislation that would stop it.

THE CONTEXT: PennDOT says the tolling plan would provide a dedicated funding source for each bridge, collect more money from out-of-state travelers on state highways, and leave more money for other projects.

The agency also acknowledges that the tolls could be avoided, possibly funneling large volumes of traffic into surrounding communities.

A GOP-led legislature in 2012 approved the creation of PennDOT's Public-Private Partnerships (P3) board, which ultimately approved the plan. But resistance has mounted in the year since the bridges were chosen.

The lawsuit, one of two brought by opposed municipalities, argues that the process violated the 2012 law that created the P3 board and that there was insufficient opportunity to provide local feedback. 

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"They take the generators on trailers and plug them into their gas well, run the generators and mine bitcoin. And the problem with these is, they're on wheels, and they didn't apply for a permit. They just showed up one day with the trailers and plugged them in."

Rob Altenburg, of the PennFuture Energy Center, on the off-the-grid bitcoin mining operations that are feeding off stranded Pennsylvania gas wells
Photog @mar_sees_life says horses always make a landscape look better, and we agree. Have a cool photo of your own to share? Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
LONG HAUL: Vote counting in Pennsylvania's Republican U.S. Senate primary reached a third day on Thursday, with David McCormick and Mehmet Oz still neck and neck. Former President Donald Trump wants Oz, his pick in the race, to declare victory, but Oz has held off. The candidates are separated by just over a thousand votes with thousands of ballots left to tally. The race remains close enough to trigger an automatic recount. Here's a look at what's slowing the final results.

VERSUS PERRY: Shamaine Daniels has won the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania's 10th congressional district and will face Republican incumbent Scott Perry in the fall, PennLive reports. Daniels is an attorney who has served on Harrisburg city council since 2013. Perry has come under increased scrutiny for his prominent role in former President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Perry was among the lawmakers who voted against certifying Pennsylvania's results.

COVID COUNTS: Pennsylvania's health department announced a weekly total of more than 27,000 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, a 23 percent increase from the week before and the highest total seen here since February, TribLIVE reports. The rise comes as health officials warn of a possible summer wave driven by omicron subvariants. Masks are now recommended for nearly a third of Americans. The U.S. has surpassed one million COVID-19 deaths.

POLICY RIFTS: The Central Bucks School District is embroiled in controversy once again, this time over a push to eliminate library books that include depictions of sex acts, The Inquirer reports. One retired teacher said titles like A Tale of Two CitiesRomeo and Juliet, and The Odyssey would be barred. In related news: WHYY reports the district has also made classes about puberty optional and virtual after criticism over a directive that discounted gender identity in student groupings.

FRAUD SCHEME: A trio of Texans behind a Pittsburgh-area nonprofit called "Helping Others in Need" has admitted the enterprise was really just a scheme to defraud federal low-income meal programs and help themselves to $4 million in taxpayer money, the Post-Gazette reports. Tanisha Jackson, 49, her daughter Paige Jackson, 30, and Charles Simpson, 44, have now all pleaded guilty to related charges. The paper says federal sentencing dates have yet to be scheduled. 

UKRAINE AID: The U.S. Senate has approved $40 billion in addition military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and both of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senators — Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey — voted yes.

PHILLY'S MVP: Joel Embiid is officially (and finally) an MVP – just not that MVP. Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution on Thursday that names the Sixers center the "Most Valuable Philadelphian," via @anna_orso. 

BACK TO WORK: John Fetterman is set to return to his duties as lieutenant governor next week, per Capital-Star, days after having a pacemaker implanted following a stroke that paused his U.S. Senate campaign.  

FLOOD FINDS: Next month marks 50 years since Hurricane Agnes hit Pennsylvania and the National Weather Service wants your remembrances for a website about the "once in a lifetime flood."

RUN, RUN: Congrats to Gary Martin, a Bucks County high school senior, who has broken a 57-year-old track and field record and become the first Pennsylvania student to run a mile in less than four minutes.

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: Time
Yesterday's answer: Bicentennial

Congrats to our daily winners:  Elaine C., Craig W., Michelle T., Bonnie R., Vicki U., Doris T., Marty M., Myles M., Kimberly S., Jodi R., Judith D., Susan N.-Z., Dianne K., Don H., Julia P., James B., Steve D., Mike B., Kimberly D., George S., Deborah S., Beth T., Lauren R., Tish M., Bill S., Karen W., Alice B., Steve H., Kim C., Elvino M., Joel S., and John P.
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