Politics & Government

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

Panel Passes New District Map

Oct 31, 2011

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission voted Monday 3-to-2 in favor of Republican-designed preliminary plans for the 50 seats in the state Senate and 203 in the House. Democrats say the proposals are politically partisan and hope they'll change before the final plan is adopted in the coming months.

The Senate plan moves Democratic incumbent Jim Brewster's 45th district from McKeesport to Monroe County in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Politicians and Educators Debate Voucher Vernacular

Oct 31, 2011

In the state legislature, debates regarding school vouchers that could allow students to escape Pennsylvania's worst-performing public schools, word choice matters. What some politicians may refer to as "failing schools," most educators prefer to call "underperforming" or "low-achieving."

Education professionals say the "failing" is too definite a label on a school whose students may have performed poorly on tests for a wide range of reasons.

Wagner and Howard vie for County Controller

Oct 31, 2011

The two candidates for Allegheny County Controller frame the race as a contest between competing visions of the office and its role in local government.

Bob Howard (R-Marshall) touts his 34 years as an accountant and controller at PPG Industries, and his accounting degree from Penn State, as qualifications for what he says is a highly technical job that requires specialized education and experience.

Redistricting Committee Submits Rough Map

Oct 31, 2011

A preliminary plan to redraw state House and Senate district boundaries could be approved Monday.

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission, chaired by a nonpartisan judge and the leaders of the four legislative caucuses, is scheduled to vote on proposed redistricting maps.

Senate GOP spokesman Erik Arneson said one or two state Senate districts will likely need to be moved from west to east.

Research Group Cautions About Red Light Cameras

Oct 27, 2011

With the state legislature debating possible expansion of red light cameras from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and 18 other Pennsylvania cities, Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG) warns of their ineffectiveness.

PennPIRG's program associate Alana Miller said the private companies who are contracted to operate these cameras have goals to generate revenue rather than promote safety.

Republican County Executive candidate D. Raja has released eight policy packages during the campaign, and now has released a plan he said he'd implement immediately if elected.

"One, assemble the best team there is, that's the first thing I would do," said Raja, "the second thing I would do is meet with all the department heads in Allegheny County and work out the metrics we want to publish and on the first day of my administration that is what I'd roll out."

Those metrics would include economic prosperity, which he said he'd measure by keeping track of unemployment.

Allegheny County Council members William Russell Robinson and Amanda Green Hawkins will introduce a motion calling on Chief Executive Dan Onorato, County Manager Jim Flynn and Allegheny County Chief Public Defender Michael Machen to meet publicly with the council about the system.

This follows a scathing report from the ACLU claiming that Allegheny County fails to provide adequate legal representation to poor criminal defendants. Robinson said with thousands of people in the county depending on the legal representation, this poor level of service is unacceptable.

Obama: Tough Choices Must be Made

Oct 11, 2011

President Barack Obama met with his Jobs Council in Pittsburgh on Tuesday before making a campaign-style stop at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) hall on the South Side, where he called on the U.S. Senate to pass his American Jobs Act.

The Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council has denounced state lawmakers' efforts to change the state's prevailing wage law.

Frank Sirianni is President of the Council. He called the package of bills supported largely by Republicans a stunt that mocks prevailing wage law and hurts workers and taxpayers. Proponents argue that the law costs taxpayers money.

"That is simply not true. Getting rid of prevailing wage is simply a way to cut construction workers' wages in the state of Pennsylvania," Sirianni said.

Pittsburgh City Council may vote to shut down operations of the Municipal Courts Building this fall, a move that could save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

Council Finance Chair Bill Peduto said Pittsburgh must stop operating a building that's used only by other government bodies for their court systems, and the city should sell it if possible.

With a Second Avenue address next to the Allegheny County Jail, Peduto said the building isn't exactly prime real estate for businesses, so he doesn't have any potential buyers right now.

Raja: Drink Tax No, Parks Drilling Maybe

Oct 6, 2011

Allegheny County Executive candidate D. Raja said he would definitely eliminate the County's 7% drink tax in his first budget if he is elected in November. Raja made the statement while releasing his taxing plan Thursday morning outside of the Convention Center.

Raja said the drink tax kills or hobbles local bars and restaurants. He said the drink tax, along with the rental car tax, also makes it harder to attract lucrative convention traffic.

In the ongoing tit-for-tat between the two Allegheny County Executive candidates, Democrat Rich Fitzgerald has released his plan for development at Pittsburgh International Airport. The short document released Wednesday by Fitzgerald focuses on three major efforts.

Marcellus Shale Drilling

Throughout the primary, Fitzgerald has called for Marcellus Shale drilling on airport land. His most recent position paper remains consistent with that, with a few amplifications.

Another Republican Challenger For Casey

Sep 27, 2011

The leader of the Armstrong County Tea Party announced his candidacy in Pittsburgh Tuesday for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Bob Casey (D-PA). Tom Smith, a former coal company owner, is conducting a two-day cross-state tour to unveil his campaign.

Fitzgerald Wants Government Transparency

Sep 26, 2011

The Democratic nominee for Allegheny County Executive wants to put government spending and contracts online to make it easier for taxpayers to see where the county spends their money.

City Maintains Control of Pension Plan

Sep 19, 2011

State officials announced Monday that Pittsburgh's pension fund is above the required percentage needed to keep it under city jurisdiction. The state Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC) said it would take over administration of the fund if it was not above 50% of the amount owed by January 2011. City Council passed a bailout December 31st of last year that included $735 million in parking tax revenue to bolster the fund over 31 years.

How Would Electoral Vote Change Impact Campaigning

Sep 15, 2011

A plan to split Pennsylvania's electoral vote would mean presidential candidates next year will need to focus on winning individual congressional districts, not just the statewide popular vote. That has political strategists considering how the plan will be a game-changer for their line of work.

An audit from the Pittsburgh Controller's office recommends the city improve its accounting of employees who work in parks partially funded by the Regional Asset District.

Controller Michael Lamb said the accounting problem is that annual RAD funding pays the salaries of 65 workers at four city parks, but sometimes those employees work on non-RAD projects. Lamb said that's offset by city-paid employees working on duties meant to be funded by RAD, but the administration doesn't have the records to prove it.

Santorum Picks Up Support in PA

Sep 7, 2011

Pennsylvania State Senate Republicans are sounding their support for Pennsylvania's former U-S senator, Rick Santorum, as he makes a bid for the party's presidential nomination. This week Santorum gathered endorsements from two key G-O-P senators.

According to a study from the Commonwealth Foundation, average prices for top-shelf wines and spirits out of state were found to be significantly cheaper than in-state options. The vast difference in price and selection has led to illegal bootlegging, which could potentially cost Pennsylvania millions of dollars annually.

Perzel Admits Guilt in Legislative Corruption Probe

Aug 31, 2011

Former Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel today pleaded guilty to eight counts of conflict of interest, theft and conspiracy as part of a deal to cooperate with prosecutors in the ongoing investigation of legislative corruption. Perzel, who served more than 30 years in the House before being defeated in last November's election, had originally been charged with 82 counts. His plea agreement includes charges he used House Republican technology and staff for campaigns and fund-raising and also stole state money to pay for vendors contracted during campaigns.

Pennsylvania's Top Elections Official Favors Voter ID at the Polls

Aug 24, 2011

A member of the Corbett administration is voicing her support for a state law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls. Carol Aichele, the commonwealth's Secretary of State, said her department aims to protect every Pennsylvanian's right to vote.

If a voter ID law is passed and signed, a person would only be able to cast a ballot, in person or by mail, after proving three things: U.S. citizenship, residency in Pennsylvania and that he or she is 18 years or older. "The voting requirements are pretty … pretty generous," said Aichele.

Council votes yes on drilling ban ballot question

Aug 1, 2011

After prolonged debate Monday morning, the Pittsburgh City council took a 6-3 vote to place a question on the November ballot asking city residents if they want to essentially ban Marcellus Shale drilling and other activities within city limits.