Monday morning, hundreds of students from the PA State System of Higher Education descended upon the Capitol to urge legislators to reliably and responsibly fund the system’s 14 schools. Not-so-fun-fact, PASSHE is funded by the state at the same level as it was in 1997, which doesn’t sound like so long ago until you realize that many of today’s PASSHE students weren’t even alive in 1997.
Governor Tom Wolf delivered his second budget address to the General Assembly this week. No, last year’s budget isn’t quite done but the state Constitution mandates that the Governor give an address and boy, did he give one. Wolf held nothing back, and at one point encouraged members who are unwilling to compromise to go find another job. Ouch. Between the barbs, he discussed the urgent need to address the $2 billion structural deficit and improve the state’s credit rating. The meat of the budget proposal itself was released later and includes a diverse revenue plan: an 11 percent increase in the PIT, an expansion of the sales tax, new taxes on casino promotions, an additional $1 per pack tax on cigarettes, a new tax on smokeless tobacco and a tax on crossing the street. Ok, we made the last one up but you can imagine how well the proposal was received by House and Senate Republicans. They held their own press conference after the address where they donned stickers declaring themselves the protectors of taxpayers. We’re all just getting along so nicely.
New taxes aside, there was another sticky wicket in the Governor’s budget proposal - $814 million siphoned away from Motor License Fund (a constitutionally protected fund to finance transportation projects) to the State Police. The appropriation from the Motor License Fund now makes up nearly two-thirds of State Police funding. Troopers have said that the money is used for highway safety purposes, but if 5,000 troopers were spending two-thirds of their time patrolling the highways, we’d all have gotten a few more speeding tickets.
Schools and nonprofits are saying that they expect the budget process to be “convoluted” – which we will declare is the understatement of the Wolf Administration thus far.
And what would a week in Pennsylvania be without confusing news about the Attorney General? On Wednesday, the Senate moved forward with its constitutionally-questionable authority to directly remove a public official from office. The procedure has not been used since the 1800s, and requires a two-thirds majority of the full Senate for removal. After hours of debate, the vote failed mostly along party lines. So, Kane lives to see another day.
Meanwhile in the other side of the building, the House voted in hugely bipartisan fashion to move forward with impeachment. Representative Todd Stephens will chair the process. You may recall that Representative Stephens was briefly in the race to replace Kane; he bowed out of the primary, but apparently continues on in the quest to remove Kane from office, one way or another.
With all of this impeachment business going on and competing budget press conferences, statewide movement on marijuana legalization hasn’t moved an inch – but here in Harrisburg, Mayor Eric Papenfuse announced his intent to loosen penalties on individuals caught with the pots. He follows the model of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh which have made small amounts of possession more of a parking ticket situation than a criminal charge, but if you’re carrying enough weed to roll more than 60 joints, you’re still in big trouble.
In other drug news, under the Wolf budget proposal, the Department of Human Services would receive new monies to fund new programs to combat the opioid crisis plaguing the state. We have no snark for this; it’s a good move.
Dorney Park made a hare-brained and offensive move when they refused to re-hire a man due to having special needs. The man had worked at Dorney Park for years and was beloved by attendees and other staffers, and all were outraged when the news reached social media. In support of this young man, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 moved its annual picnic away from Dorney Park. Thank you, officers! The park has since offered to rehire the young man.
Mere months before states were required to submit individualized plans to comply with the Clean Power Act, the Supreme Court halted the EPA action. Nearly half of these United States sued the federal government for what they called an unconstitutional power grab, and the Supreme Court agreed to freeze the regulation while lower courts finalize the appeals process. Given the timeline for appeals and the election, we may see an entirely new EPA administration and new rules, or no rules.
Before you start celebrating at your coal-fired power plant, Governor Wolf announced that Pennsylvania will continue along with its compliance plan for the EPA standards in the event that the rules are upheld in lower courts. And the beat goes on….
While we puttered away here in our Pennsylvania bubble, New Hampshire made some major changes in the presidential primaries. On Monday night, New Hampshirers decided overwhelmingly that they like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a near-20 point walloping, winning nearly every demographic but ultimately leaving the state with the same number of delegates as Clinton. Small-D democracy is at its best in the super delegate system. The primary moves along to South Carolina next, and then Super Tuesday is upon us and the road the nomination promises to be a little bumpier for Clinton than everyone predicted less than a year ago.
The Republican field has narrowed from 200 candidates to 198 when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former HP executive Carly Fiorina dropped out of the race, both failed to make a dent in the electorates of Iowa or New Hampshire. Sayonara!
For We Can’t Make This Up news, we remain in the presidential race where Senator Ted Cruz pulled a campaign ad because one of the actresses from the spot has a resume in soft-core porn. The weirdness of the situation is compounded by the fact that the exact same thing happened to Governor Tom Wolf in 2014. Who knew there were so many porn actors trying to make it in political acting?
PSA: If you haven’t purchased a Valentine’s Day gift for your beloved yet, get them a bouquet of Dorito’s roses. It’s a thing.
So, that’s what passes for news in these parts. We’ll be back next week, but in the meantime follow us on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and in real life.
The Triadvocate is a publication of Triad Strategies, LLC, a bipartisan lobbying, public affairs, strategic communications, grassroots advocacy, issue management consulting firm located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh