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How Shapiro wants to fix Pa.'s road money conundrum

Plus, Pa.'s largest coal-fired power plant announces closure.

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Your Postmaster: Spotlight PA Staff
Wednesday, April 5, 2023
Fiscal conundrum, coal case, Trump reactions, Philly primary, huge sums, ancestral remains, and why the beer is free at Primanti's today.
Pennsylvania roads and bridges are among the nation's most deteriorated, but billions of dollars that could have funded related repairs have for years gone to prop up State Police operations instead.

In his first budget proposal as governor, Democrat Josh Shapiro aims to resolve the longstanding fiscal conundrum via the creation of a new restricted bank account for State Police with a set amount of tax revenue that would automatically be allocated to it each year without debate.

Some GOP lawmakers have criticized the plan, arguing this style of "autopilot" budgeting makes state finances less flexible and more opaque. But supportive Democrats see an opportunity to link the fund's creation with a long-sought requirement around racial data gathering from traffic stops.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Shapiro’s proposed Pa. State Police fund saves road dollars but raises accountability concerns.

THE CONTEXT: At the moment, $900 million of the roughly $1.4 billion State Police budget comes from the state's General Fund, while the rest comes from the state's gas tax-fed Motor License Fund, which is primarily meant to be used for infrastructure spending.

From 2011 to 2017, $4.2 billion that could have gone toward repairing hundreds of structurally deficient bridges around the state went to State Police operations instead — diversions that drew renewed scrutiny following the collapse of Pittsburgh's degraded Fern Hollow Bridge in 2022.

Critics of proposed fixes like the one being floated by Shapiro say restricted funds allow for less legislative oversight year over year while reducing the amount of flexible money lawmakers have to set their priorities.

Among the supporters of Shapiro's plan: the state troopers union, which says a dedicated revenue stream will keep State Police funding stable.

"I will come to the table, in whatever form is ultimately asked of us, and we’ll work together, because I know we have the same goals."

—Incoming Pitt chancellor Joan Gabel on unionized faculty who have yet to secure a full contract and have protested the pace of negotiations
» How Spotlight PA will cover Pa.'s 2023 primary election

» A guide to Commonwealth, Superior Court candidates

» A guide to the Pa. Supreme Court candidates

» Guía completa de los candidatos a la Corte Suprema del Estado

» Court decision does little to clear up ballot curing confusion

» Why independents can't vote in Pa. primaries (Spotlight PA archives)

» How unequal policies disenfranchised Pa. voters in 2022

» Register to vote in the May 16 primary here; deadline May 1

» Request your mail ballot for the May 16 primary; deadline May 9

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election and voting coverage now. Become a sustaining monthly donor and get your gift matched 12X! 
Spring sights at Hershey Gardens, via @jan.schwartz3. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A monarch butterfly flies toward a purple flower.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.POWER DOWN: Pennsylvania's largest coal-fired power plant says it will shut down in June. The Homer City Generation plant cites, among other factors, a loss of profitability due to unseasonably warm winters and Pennsylvania's contested push to cap power plant emissions via the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI supporters say the program could have offered safeguards for Homer City's impacted workers.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.TRUMP CHARGES: Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty in New York on Tuesday to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The response from Pennsylvania elected officials followed party lines. But The Inquirer (paywall) reports that while the allegations have turbo-charged Trump's 2024 fundraising, GOP insiders in pivotal Pennsylvania aren't convinced it will pay off here.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.MAYORAL GUIDE: The Inquirer has a customizable guide to the Democratic candidates running for Philadelphia mayor, a race often decided in the primary phase. It includes helpful "consider voting for if..." and "consider voting for another if..." framing for each candidate. Billy Penn reports that six weeks out, Cherelle Parker is gathering the lion's share of endorsements from the region's current elected officials. 

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.TRAIN LOBBY: Norfolk Southern has spent huge sums on lobbying and political donations, including more than $5.4 million spent in Harrisburg since 2007, City & State reports. The influence that affords is being freshly tested on the heels of February's toxic train derailment near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, with state and federal lawmakers now looking to heighten safety rules and hold the company accountable. 

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.ANCESTRAL REMAINS: Penn State's Matson Museum of Anthropology plans to return the ancestral remains of nearly 50 people to at least a half-dozen Native American tribes this year, CDT (paywall) reports. ProPublica has a guide to other Pennsylvania institutions that have failed to return such remains despite a federal law that called for their repatriation in indigenous communities.

OFF THE TEAM: Carson Briere, son of Flyers GM Daniel Briere, has been kicked off Mercyhurst's hockey team after video showed him pushing a wheelchair down the stairs at an Erie bar. He's also criminally charged.

IT'S OFFICIAL: Voters have named the Primanti Brothers sandwich the "Coolest Thing Made in Pennsylvania" over Mrs. T's Pierogies. The Metaverse didn't even make it past round one of the tournament.

FREE FISH: Trout season got underway over the weekend. According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website this year's "fish-for-free" days, meaning without a license, are May 28 and July 4.

KEPT KOSHER: Passover starts today. It's the first for Josh Shapiro in the governor's mansion, where he's keeping a kosher kitchen.

FISH HOAGIE: Find out why The Inquirer (paywall) is calling a "Muslim fish hoagie" of fried whiting, melted cheese, and raisins a game changer.

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. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Meritocracy

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Elaine C., Wendy A., Starr B., Don H., Susan N.-Z., Vicki U., Susan D., Barbara F., Ada M., Jon W., Kimberly D., Burnetta S., Dianne K., Jim A., Sarah B., Dennis M., John H., David W., Bill S., and Daniel M.
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