Politics & Government

We cover politics and government with an eye to providing to voters clear, in-depth, nonpartisan information. 

Capital and R-Cap Budgets Get Tighter

Dec 28, 2011

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's budget boss has put the state on warning that he will be tightening oversight of a program long derided for spreading pork-barrel spending throughout the state.

The Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program, or R-Cap, became a rallying point for conservatives in 2010 when then candidate Tom Corbett ran a campaign ad highlighting a 10-million dollar R-Cap grant to build the Arlen Specter Library at Philadelphia University. Many have argued that the grants are driven more by politics than by an effort to create jobs and support communities.

Job Growth is Altmire’s Focus in 2012

Dec 27, 2011

Congressman Jason Altmire (D-PA 4) plans to focus his attention on creating jobs in his district when he returns to Washington D.C. in January.

"Western Pennsylvania is ahead of the game," said Altmire. "That's why we have an unemployment rate that's below the national average. There are still places that are struggling and we have work to do, but I think we are uniquely positioned to take advantages of our resources and grow in a way that the rest of the country will be a little bit jealous of."

Onorato Proud of County Executive Legacy

Dec 25, 2011

Outgoing County Executive Dan Onorato may have failed in his 2010 bid for the governorship, but he said his time in Allegheny County's highest office was a success.

His eight-year record of keeping county property taxes level was besmirched a bit when Allegheny County Council passed a 21% property tax hike this December, a fact about which Onorato seems displeased.

Democrats: Corbett Budget Still Flawed

Dec 21, 2011

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett released his mid-year budget assessment on Tuesday, and Democrats quickly seized the opportunity to criticize the administration. The Governor says that the state is headed toward a $500 million dollar shortfall in the 2011-2012 budget, and he predicted a $750 million dollar hole in the 2012-2013 budget if no changes are made. Democrats countered by saying that Corbett is leading the state in the wrong direction.

Shields Leaves City Council

Dec 20, 2011

Doug Shields has been working in city government since 1992, a time when Nirvana still toured, George H.W. Bush sat in the Oval Office, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wasn't yet 13 years old.

Shields, who's leaving his post as Councilman after eight years on the job, started as an aide to then-Councilman Bob O'Connor, who would later be elected as mayor.

Ironically, it's O'Connor's son, Corey, who will take Shields' place.

New Pennsylvania Congressional Districts Headed to Governor’s Desk

Dec 20, 2011

A bill that would redraw Pennsylvania's U.S. House Districts has been passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on a 136-61 vote. Supporters say it is a fair way to divvy up the state but opponents say it is gerrymandering at its worst.

"All along Democrats simply asked for participation and inclusion in a process to draw lines, which we hoped would invite inclusion of all constituencies as opposed to lines being drawn in a partisan attempt to consolidate power," said Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn.

Democratic Representative Jesse White of Cecil was shocked by the new Pennsylvania House district map passed by the Reapportionment Commission.

"About a half hour before the vote — what's being referred to as the 'stealth plan' — a map that no one had ever seen before on the Democratic side, that came out of nowhere was quickly voted on, on a party line vote," said White.

New Congressional Map Pits Critz and Altmire

Dec 14, 2011

A proposed map of Pennsylvania's 18 new congressional districts drawn by Republican state lawmakers would shift Scranton and Wilkes-Barre into a Democratic-held district in the eastern half of the state, and force Democrats Jason Altmire and Mark Critz to run against each other in the western half.

The map was released on Tuesday. A vote on it is scheduled for Wednesday in the Pennsylvania Senate. Wednesday is the last voting day on the Pennsylvania Senate calendar until 2012.

A Pittsburgh Councilman is urging the city's administration to speak out against state-level bills that would supercede Pittsburgh's ban on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

Councilman Doug Shields said that he plans to introduce a resolution denouncing Senate Bill 1100 and its House companion, and he wants the mayor to do the same.

The two bills are meant to homogenize Marcellus Shale drilling rules across Pennsylvania by preventing municipalities from enacting bans or zoning laws that restrict where industry-related infrastructure can be located.

Community Group Opposes Voter ID Bill

Dec 13, 2011

The Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) is calling on the state Senate to defeat House Bill 934, which would require Pennsylvanians to present a government-issued voter ID before casting their ballots. Current law asks voters to present a form of identification when voting in their polling place for the first time. They include utility bills, fire arms permits, bank statements, and other forms with an address on it.

Panel Okays Remapping of Legislative Districts

Dec 13, 2011

Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate might file a court challenge to the redistricting plan approved on Monday by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. The four legislative caucus leaders, Senators Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware County) and Jay Costa (D-Allegheny County), Representatives Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County) and Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny County), plus retired State Superior Court Judge Stephen McEwen, comprise the committee.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Delay Release of New Congressional Borders

Dec 12, 2011

State and congressional lawmakers were supposed to offer the public its first glimpse at new boundaries for the commonwealth's congressional districts, but it's going to take them a little longer to strike a deal.

The meeting was cancelled less than two hours before its scheduled time.

Discussions over redistricting are ongoing, according to the state Senate GOP spokesman, who said that his caucus is "optimistic" that the proposed maps will be unveiled on Tuesday.

Pennsylvania Democratic Leader Blasts Redistricting Process

Dec 9, 2011

Jim Burn, chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, railed against the redistricting process today. The General Assembly is responsible for redrawing congressional districts in Pennsylvania, which is losing 1 seat in the U.S. House of Representative, from 19 to 18.

Burn says that the redistricting process has been secretive.

"Our concern is the Republicans, who are controlling the process, have done this in such a fashion that we will not see these new districts until the very last hour, which will stifle debate or discussion," said Burn.

Following a hearing on the ongoing dispute between the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Highmark, State Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Pittsburgh) said that legislative action needs to be taken to rein in non-profit organizations that, he said, are clearly driven by profit.

Fontana introduced a bill that would require some larger non-profits to pay real estate taxes on the assessed value of land owned by their organization. A similar bill was introduced a couple of years ago, but didn't go anywhere because of fears about how it would affect smaller non-profits.

State lawmakers and child advocates gathered in Pittsburgh on Friday to push for a law that would further crack down on child predators, by mandating certain government officials to report the locations of known abusers.

The proposed state legislation is named for Alicia Kosakiewicz, who was lured and abducted from her Pittsburgh home by an internet predator in 2002. He took her to Virginia, where he held her captive and repeatedly sexually abused her. Now in her early 20s, she's traveling around the country, pushing for a law to crack down on such predators.

State Commission Digs Deeper into Liquor Sales

Dec 2, 2011

Liquor sales will be included in the items of interest for a commission charged with examining which state services could be better handled by the private sector, though that doesn't mean that the liquor privatization proposal will move any faster this year.

The bill to close the more than 600 state liquor stores and sell some 1,200 private liquor licenses has the support of the House Majority Leader and Governor Corbett. But, even proponents say that the proposal's prospects for passing this year are dim.

Mayor Defends Plan to Borrow $80 Million

Dec 1, 2011

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl stood behind his $467 million operating budget proposal this morning, despite city council criticism of his plan to borrow $80 million over two years for capital improvements.

Councilman Bill Peduto has said that he wants to know what specific improvements that money will be funneled towards before accepting the largest bond allocation in Pittsburgh's history.

Ravenstahl said that his operating and capital budgets need to both pass unchanged.

State Senator Runs For Pennsylvania Attorney General

Dec 1, 2011

Montgomery County Republican John Rafferty has thrown his hat into the ring for a state row office that has been held by the GOP since it was made an elected post in 1980. The state Senator says that he is running for Attorney General, the state's top law enforcement official.

"I believe that the Republicans are often looked at as the 'law and order' party. And that bodes well for attorney general candidates or district attorney candidates. And I continue to carry that mantra and that banner as we go forth in this election," said Rafferty as he announced his candidacy.

The Pittsburgh City Council started the 2012 budget process on Tuesday with an overview from City Council Budget Director Bill Urbanic. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's $467 million budget doesn't include any tax hikes or layoffs, but does propose borrowing $80 million over the next two years for capital improvements. Urbanic said that this is the largest bond allocation in Pittsburgh's history. Many council members expressed concern about that proposal.

Democrats Roll Out Anti-Romney Videos Online

Nov 28, 2011

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party has unveiled two videos targeting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that are available online immediately.

Party chairman Jim Burn says that their 30-second ad shows how Romney has taken different positions on the same issue. The short clip, available on YouTube and on some local cable and broadcast outlets, parodies a movie trailer of "two men trapped in one body," showing clips of Romney arguing for and against healthcare reform and abortion.

A political analyst does not expect any more "name" candidates will emerge for Pennsylvania's April Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

Former State Representative Sam Rohrer of Berks County was the latest to join the fray when, last Tuesday, he announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination to take on U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA).

Electoral Reform Might Be Stalling

Nov 24, 2011

The Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Leader is backing off a proposal that threatened to upset how Pennsylvania's electoral votes are allocated. Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester County) has signaled that his electoral reform proposal can wait until after the Legislature passes other top-priority bills.

In the wake of the alleged sexual abuse cover-up involving a former Penn State football coach and the University brass, a Pittsburgh state lawmaker hopes to learn from the tragedy and urges state government to create a special committee to investigate.

Governor Corbett's National Profile Rises in Wake of Penn State Scandal

Nov 15, 2011

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett's national profile is on the rise as he addresses the ongoing scandal involving Penn State and former Nittany Lions Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

The governor isn't known for shooting the breeze with reporters at every opportunity, which might be the most talked-about difference between him and his predecessor, Ed Rendell. Corbett may not be a natural media hound, but he has fared well over the past week under the national spotlight.

Four weeks after the state oversight panels approved it, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl presented his 2012 Operating Budget to City Council on Monday. The $467 million spending plan is 3.7 percent higher than this year's budget, but calls for no tax hikes nor layoffs.

Under the requirements of Act 47, the mayor delivered his 2012 budget to the state-appointed Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority on September 23, which then approved it 4 weeks later.

Republican D. Raja accepted defeat in the race for Allegheny County Executive. He addressed a crowd of supporters in Greentree, thanking them for their support and acknowledging the challenge he faced in a county where registered Democrats far outnumber registered Republicans.

Incumbents Fare Well in Pittsburgh School Board Races

Nov 9, 2011

Mark Brentley will be entering his fourth four-year term as the Pittsburgh School Board member in District 8 with Tuesday night's win. He beat Rosemary Moriarty, a retired principal. The incumbent gather 60% of the vote. Brentley said that his concerns are the district's budget and ensuring that all children in the city have the same opportunities.

Democrats Hold Allegheny County Row Offices

Nov 9, 2011

Democrat Chelsa Wagner claimed victory in the County Controller race over Robert Howard with 61 percent of the vote. It was one of two Allegheny County Row office races that were contested.

Wagner said her new role brings the potential to make changes.

"I think that the power of this office [is] where you have access to the different departments through the audits that you're doing, through seeing every contract in county government. You really are perhaps in one of the best positions to help effectuate policy," Wagner said.

O’Connor Wins Council Seat

Nov 9, 2011

Corey O'Connor, the 27 year-old son of the late mayor Bob O'Connor, defeated Republican opponent Josh Wander to win his father's old District 5 city council seat. O'Connor received 78 percent of the votes, leaving Wander with only 20 percent.

O'Connor said that it is an honor to be representing his father's district. "It was 20 years to this week that he was elected city councilman in 1991," said O'Connor. "And just to see my family here, our friends, people that were with my dad on his very first campaign — it's just very humbling that we sort of came full circle."

Incumbent Futules Retains County Council Seat

Nov 9, 2011

Councilman Nicholas Futules will retain his District 7 council seat, the only contested County Council seat in this fall's election, with 56 percent of the vote. Futules topped GOP candidate Mike Dell of Plum.

Futules says that he plans to continue to work closely with the other council members, and outlined some of his goals shortly after declaring victory.