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Roe at risk, seat flippers, and record-breaking revenue

Plus, mapping Pennsylvania's abandoned railroad lines.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 4, 2022
Battleground state, flip score, record revenue, no backsies, fact-check, auto-PILOT, and a new kind of track list. Oh hey! It's Wednesday.
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The U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority is prepared to strike down Roe v. Wade in what would be a landmark decision turning states like Pennsylvania into primary abortion-access battlegrounds. 

In Pennsylvania, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy, but Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg want more stringent limits. Possibilities include a "heartbeat bill" that would ban the procedure after a doctor identifies a fetal heartbeat, usually around six weeks.

And that has exponentially raised the stakes of this year's race for governor, as Republicans look to secure a government trifecta and Democrats look to secure a firewall against further GOP-led restrictions.

Spotlight PA reports that what happens in Pennsylvania if Roe v. Wade is overturned largely depends on who the next governor is.

Term-limited incumbent Tom Wolf, a Democrat, tweeted Monday that he would veto any future attempts to curtail abortion rights statewide.

The lone Democrat running for his seat, Josh Shapiro, said the same.

Meanwhile, all nine candidates in the Republican primary for Wolf's seat would sign new restrictions into law, some without any exceptions.

THE CONTEXT: There is a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade protections in federal law and it passed the U.S. House in September. 

But NBC News reports there are two U.S. Senate Democrats — Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — who have withheld their support. Casey on Tuesday expressed "serious concerns" about Roe v. Wade being overturned but did not endorse a specific legislative response.

"If this draft opinion becomes the final opinion of the court, I have serious concerns about what overturning almost 50 years of legal precedent will mean for women in states passing near or total" bans, Casey added.

Pennsylvania does not have a so-called trigger law that would rein in abortion access as soon as Roe is overturned. That means abortion would remain legal here post-Roe until the state adopts new restrictions.

There is also a lawsuit pending before the state's Supreme Court that could ultimately enshrine the procedure as a protected right under the state constitution's equal protection clause.

The suit, filed by abortion providers against the state Department of Human Services, argues that by denying coverage for abortion, Pennsylvania's Medicaid program is engaged in a form of sex discrimination.


"Our path forward imagines a future without antisemitism, because we know all too well the pain and devastation it causes."

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers unveiling a new design and mission for the Pittsburgh synagogue where 11 people were killed in an antisemitic attack in 2018
» A complete guide to the May 17 primary, including how to vote, find your polling place, understand mail-in ballots, and more

» A guide to the overlooked race for Pa. lieutenant governor

» Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor

» Big donations to GOP guv hopefuls: Who gave and how much?

» See how much cash Josh Shapiro has raised in the governor's race

» More election coverage

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election and voting coverage now.
» PRIMARY PRIMER: Join us Thursday, May 5 at 6 p.m. via Zoom for a free Q&A on Pennsylvania's candidates for governor, how they plan to lead, and how to spot misinformation. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
Small things at Springton Manor Farm, courtesy of @mar_sees_life. Have a cool Pennsylvania pic you'd like to share with the whole state? Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
FLIP FACTOR: Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat remains the most likely in the nation to flip, CNN reports. That would mean a handoff from Republican to Democratic control in this case. The May 17 primaries here will set the stage for a must-win general election in November for both parties and reveal how competitive that contest might be, CNN adds. The primary is also a gauge on the power of Trump's endorsement — as seen in Ohio's primary election on Tuesday.

BIG MONEY: Pennsylvania collected $6.5 billion in revenue in April, the largest single-month total in state history and $1.8 billion more than predicted. But PennLive reports it's unlikely to make easy work of ongoing budget negotiations. Gov. Tom Wolf says the windfall should be used to support his plan, which includes a historic investment in public education and a corporate net income tax reduction. Republicans, meanwhile, are preaching caution amid warnings of a fiscal cliff.

NO REFUND: Philly and its parking authority have resolved an $11 million dispute with the city's school district. On-street parking revenue is split between the city and its public schools, but the parking authority said it overpaid the school system by $10.8 million in 2020 and needed that money back. Controversy followed and the authority now says it's made unspecified adjustments to pension and health-care benefits for retirees and no longer needs to recoup the cash, per Chalkbeat.

FILM-CHECK: A new movie from conservative filmmaker and 2020 election denier Dinesh D'Souza suggests Democrat-aligned ballot "mules" were paid to illegally collect and drop off ballots in states like Pennsylvania. The AP fact-checked the claim and says it's "based on false assumptions" about cellphone tracking data and the reasons someone might be dropping off multiple ballots, which is mostly illegal here but not necessarily indicative of fraud, officials note.

EDS AND MEDS: Controllers for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are making the case for a voluntary payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) program that would raise millions annually off of tax-exempt nonprofits like Pitt and UPMC. Using Boston's PILOT program as a guide, the officials predict millions in additional revenue each year. In semi-related news, Pittsburgh is scrapping a guaranteed basic income pilot program because it can't be bankrolled by COVID-19 relief dollars.

THE BLOODLINE: The Post-Gazette traced the roots of Pittsburgh's first Black mayor, Ed Gainey, back to Virginia, the cradle of American slavery and a land some of Gainey's ancestors left for the northern city he now leads. But for modern-day relatives still in Virginia, the "losses outweigh the victories."

UNPERMITTED: The ACLU of Pennsylvania is suing Harrisburg, alleging the city's "burdensome and expensive" permitting process amounts to an unconstitutional restriction on public gatherings, per Capital-Star.

TRAIN TRACKS: There are abandoned rail lines scattered across Pennsylvania, and someone is compiling them in an interactive map because Pennsylvania loves its railroads, even after they're gone.

MAY FOURTH: A 90s-era, Star Wars-themed Pepsi machine in Pittsburgh has been repaired and restocked in honor of May Fourth — the film franchise's unofficial holiday, WTRF reports. The machine is a fan favorite.

FLYOVER COUNTRY: I'm currently using this slow-moving, hypnotic drone video of Harrisburg at dusk to lower my blood pressure and I've never felt better. Thanks as always for reading. See you back here tomorrow.

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: Spring things
Yesterday's answer: Pollination

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Briann M., Bonnie R., John A., Mike B., Elaine C., Judith D., Don H., Kevin M., Wendy A., Ted W., Ed M., Karen G., Susan D., Suzanne O., Al M., Kim C., Vicki U., Diane P., Doris T., Mark O., Craig W., Daniel M., Deb N., Catherine B., Patricia M., Bruce B., Heidi B., Susan R., Jodi R., Bruce B., Karen W., Jude M., Mark C., Jim A., Tish M., David W., Beth T., Bette G., George S., Fred O., Susan N.-Z., Irene R., Andrea S., Fred H., Bill S., Sandy B., Georgann J., Elizabeth W., Pat B., Kimberly S., Dianne K., Jill A.-S., Eddy Z., Ruth M., James B., Becky C., Starr B., Lewis M., Deb S., John H., John P., Cathy S., and Doris B.
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