HARRISBURG (AP) – The latest push to resolve Pennsylvania’s 3-month-old budget impasse is going before state lawmakers in the form of a proposal by Gov. Tom Wolf to raise billions in new taxes. The state House plans to take up Wolf’s tax proposal today with an initial vote that will test support for the proposal. Wolf wants to increase spending on education and human services by increasing the personal income tax rate by 16% from 3.07 to 3.57% and imposing a new severance tax on natural gas drilling. This is on top of the current impact fee imposed on natural gas. The governor’s goal is to raise $1.4 billion for the current fiscal year and $2.4 billion next year. There’s considerable Republican opposition to imposing new broad-based taxes. The governor has been working to secure the dozens of GOP votes he’d need for passage.
HARRISBURG (AP) – An audit of Pennsylvania’s Department of Education shows that its “master plan” that’s supposed to be a road map for statewide education policy has not been updated for 16 years. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released the audit today. The Democrat is blaming “misguided leadership” on the department’s board for failing to update the plan since 1999 and says that’s left the state without a strategic plan for dealing with the difficult issues facing public schools. In a written response, Board of Education Chairman Larry Wittig acknowledged the need for an updated plan, but said the board has strived to meet its obligations despite limited resources and the Legislature’s imposition of many new responsibilities. Wittig says DePasquale’s charge of “misguided leadership” seems to be an opinion, not a fact supported by objective evidence. State Education Secretary Pedro Rivera says the department generally agrees with the audit’s findings and recommendations. He said education resources were inadequate during most of the five-year period covered by the audit, which was primarily during former Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration.
HARRISBURG – Two Lancaster County lawmakers announced they have introduced legislation to statutorily create Pennsylvania’s Office of Inspector General to provide for the office’s appointment, term, power, and duties. Sen. Ryan Aument and Rep. Mindy Fee say currently, the Inspector General is a cabinet-level official who is appointed by, and reports to, the Governor. The post was first created in 1987 by Executive Order under Gov. Bob Casey. The mission of the office is to prevent, investigate, and eradicate fraud, waste, abuse, and misconduct in the programs, operations, and contracting of executive agencies under the Governor’s jurisdiction. Pennsylvania is among a small minority of states that does not have a separate statute providing for the appointment, term and duties of the Inspector General. The bill requires that the Inspector General be nominated by the Governor and confirmed by two-thirds of the Senate. The legislation also sets forth that the Inspector General would serve a term of 6 years and could serve no more than 2 terms and only be removed from office for cause. The Inspector General would also make regular reports to the General Assembly concerning problems or deficiencies relating to the administration of a program or operation in an agency. Finally, the bill includes important whistle-blower protections that will continue to encourage Commonwealth employees who report – in good faith – fraud, waste, misconduct or abuse.
HARRISBURG – The PA House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee approved legislation that would create an agricultural pilot program for industrial hemp research. House Bill 967 would permit industrial hemp to be grown or cultivated in special programs administered by the Department of Agriculture or institutions of higher learning focused on research and development. The 2014 federal Farm Bill allowed industrial hemp to be grown in pilot programs reserved for universities and state departments of agriculture. Pennsylvania law, however, has not caught up to federal developments. Pennsylvania once led the nation in industrial hemp production, and the plant was widely grown in the United States for use in many products. In an attempt to fight marijuana use, the federal government outlawed industrial hemp in the 1930s. The measure now advances to the House floor.
HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania motorcyclists can now show their support for veterans by purchasing newly authorized “Honoring Our Veterans” special fund registration plates for motorcycles. The plate features the standard registration plate design in blue, white and yellow with an image of the American Flag and a Bald Eagle with the words “Honoring Our Veterans” at the bottom of the plate. The plate is available at a cost of $35. Fifteen dollars from the sale of each license plate goes to the Veterans’ Trust Fund administered by the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The fund supports and assists Pennsylvania veterans and their families through grants to veterans service organizations and other charitable organizations. Motorcycle owners can apply for a plate by visiting the PennDOT website at www.dmv.pa.gov and clicking on “Registration Plates”.
HARRISBURG (AP) – Gov. Tom Wolf is pursuing an increase in the state’s personal income tax and a new extraction tax on natural gas drilling in an effort to solve the state’s 3-month-old budget impasse. Basic details of the proposal Wolf will formally submit later today also include cuts for seniors and disabled people in property taxes, according to an administration document obtained by The Associated Press. Wolf says the new money will close the deficit and add about $400 million for basic education. Republican leaders have offered to hold a vote as a way to show the governor’s proposal for higher taxes lacks sufficient support in the Legislature. The state income tax rate would increase from 3.07 to 3.57%. Wolf won’t say whether he’s been able to attract any support from Republican lawmakers for the tax plan he supports. Wolf yesterday warned that steep education funding cuts are inevitable if he can’t persuade enough lawmakers to back higher taxes. Republican lawmakers say taxpayers are paying plenty in taxes.
HARRISBURG (AP) – The air war is about to begin in the election campaign for three open seats on the PA Supreme Court. Commercials for Democrats Kevin Dougherty and David Wecht are scheduled to begin airing on broadcast TV today. Wecht is a state Superior Court judge from Pittsburgh, while Dougherty is a Philadelphia judge. The other candidates are Democrat Christine Donohue, a Superior Court judge, and three Republicans: Superior Court Judge Judy Olson, Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey, and Adams County Judge Mike George. Philadelphia Judge Paul Panepinto is running as an independent.
EAST LAMPETER TOWNSHIP – Lancaster County authorities are search for a thief. On Sept. 8 and 10th, a man stole over $200 worth of ties from Kohl’s at 2350 Lincoln Highway East in East Lampeter Township. The neck ties were then returned at the service desk for gift cards in the same amount. Photos showing the male suspect can be seen below. A silver Honda was used during the theft and subsequent fraud. If you recognize the suspect, contact East Lampeter Township Police at 717-291-4676.
MANHEIM TOWNSHIP – Lancaster County authorities made an arrest after a fatal Manheim Township shooting. At 1:47 a.m. Monday, officers responded to a report of gunshots in the 600 block of Martha Avenue in the vicinity of Francis Avenue. Police found 21-year-old Nicholas Vassallo of Lancaster lying along the roadway. Vassallo was transported to Lancaster General, where he died shortly after his arrival. Investigators developed information which identified 18-year-old Robert Peters IV of Kirkwood as a suspect. Peters was charged with criminal homicide. He was denied bail and committed to Lancaster County Prison. Police say incident was not random and appears to be drug related.
LANCASTER – Lancaster Police are investigating a stabbing that occurred in the 400 block of Lafayette Street. Officers responded at 12:50 p.m. Monday and found a 30-year-old man who was unresponsive and bleeding. The unidentified victim was rushed to Lancaster General where he died. Police are interviewing a person of interest. They say it was not a random incident and there is no threat to the community. Anyone with information is urged to call Lancaster Police at 717-735-3300 or Lancaster City-County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-322-1913.