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|Spending plan, cancer cluster, 'historic' challenges, official misconduct, pot shops, Hershey's goes vegan, and Happy Valley's first Wawa.|
Gov. Josh Shapiro delivered his first budget address on Tuesday, unveiling a $44.4 billion proposal with $1 billion in new spending for students and schools, permanent state funding for public defenders, and an expansion of a shrinking property tax and rent rebate program for older residents.
The first-term Democrat's pitch — spelled out in an 90-minute speech to a joint session of the state legislature — would keep spending relatively flat, representing a 3.6% increase over the current fiscal year.
Citing "conservative" future revenue estimates, Shapiro said his plan attempts to preserve Pennsylvania's flush coffers to avoid tax increases or budget cuts while continuing to fund a number of pandemic-era policies.
Read Spotlight PA's full report: Shapiro's $44.4B budget pitch keeps Pa. spending relatively flat, preserves some pandemic benefits.
THE CONTEXT: Tuesday's speech kicks off months of public hearings and private meetings between the executive branch and the legislature.
The deadline for a spending deal is June 30.
Republicans control the state Senate, and Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the state House.
Some of Shapiro's big proposals will likely have wide bipartisan appeal, such as raising the income threshold for a state property tax and rent rebate program for seniors from $35,000 to $45,000 a year.
But his call to increase basic education funding by $567 million, for example, could prove trickier to navigate, with some Democrats and public school advocates saying the proposed hike isn't enough to address broad and "unconstitutional" funding disparities.
Shapiro also wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, something Republicans in the legislature have long opposed.
|NOTABLE / QUOTABLE|
"What do you do with a movement of 2.2 million? We're keeping it alive."
—State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) saying he's eyeing a run for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey's seat in 2024; Mastriano lost last year's governor's race
VITAL DATA: Join us during Sunshine week on Thursday, March 16 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on health care reporting in Pennsylvania, how we fight for open records, and your rights under the Right-to-Know Law. Register here and submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
|The mighty Susquehanna near York, via Julie J. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.|
|TOXIC TURF: The deaths of six former Philadelphia Phillies due to a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer prompted calls for an investigation. The Inquirer (paywall) tested the turf from the old Veterans Stadium where the players worked and found 16 different forms of the toxic "forever chemicals" known as PFAS. While the findings aren't conclusive, toxicologists called them concerning.|
STAFF CUTS: Penn State is forecasting job cuts amid a structural budget deficit. WPSU reports at least one college, the College of Engineering, is bracing for an unknown number of layoffs. A spokesperson said the College of Engineering's "historic" budget challenges mean "it will be impossible to avoid some layoffs." Spotlight PA's Wyatt Massey reports unit budget cuts are also looming.
SPECIAL INQUIRY: The National Transportation Safety Board is opening a special investigation into Norfolk Southern's safety practices after a string of derailments, including last month's toxic crash near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw is set to testify before a U.S. Senate panel tomorrow. He's also being subpoenaed by a Pennsylvania Senate committee.
'DUE PROCESS': State House Speaker Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) told WITF she can't force Democratic state Rep. Mike Zabel to resign over accusations of sexual harassment. Asked if she's avoiding calling for his ouster because it could disrupt the party's one-seat majority, McClinton said she's respecting "due process." An ethics committee is expected to look into the allegations.
CANNABIS MEMOS: Co-sponsorship memos circulating in the state House and Senate propose selling legalized recreational cannabis in state-owned liquor stores, something former Gov. Tom Wolf proposed in 2020. Current Gov. Josh Shapiro has publicly backed legalizing adult-use cannabis here. It's unclear if these specific proposals would have his or the legislature's support.
TV CAMEO: The Inquirer (paywall) says ABC's Abbott Elementary may have taken a swipe at Jeffrey Yass, Pennsylvania's richest man who spends big to curry political support for alternatives to public schools.
SENATE BABY: State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D., Montgomery) welcomed her daughter into the world on Monday, making Cappelletti the first Pennsylvania state senator to give birth while holding office.
IN EXILE: A Sudanese poet living in exile in Pittsburgh publishes her debut poetry collection this month and is using her full name for the first time. WESA profiles "Something Evergreen Called Life" by Rania Mamoun.
GOING WEST: Wawa is planning to launch its first location in Centre County — across the street from a Sheetz in Benner Township.
PLANT-BASED: Hershey's is rolling out a vegan version of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The chocolates are made with oats instead of milk.
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