Moody’s Lowers Pa. Debt Rating

State Capitol in Harrisburg

The state’s fiscal rating has been cut.

Nobody liked the state’s new budget: Moody’s on Monday cut Pennsylvania’s debt rating to Aa3 — citing its disapproval of gimmicks used to balance that budget, as well as the continuing long-term specter of pension obligations hanging over the state’s financial future.

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Convicted Legislative Leaders’ Portraits Now Have Plaques Explaining Their Crimes

The portraits of three former Pennsylvania legislative leaders at the state Capitol now have plaques detailing their convictions. This includes Philadelphia’s John Perzel, who was House Speaker from 2003 to 2006, pleaded guilty to corruption charges, served time in prison, and was paroled earlier this year.

Three former House speakers and one former Senate president pro tempore now have plaques noting their corruption below their official Harrisburg portraits. The whole thing started with GOP Sen. Scott Wagner, who won a special election as a write-in in May. He quickly introduced a bill that would remove the portraits of convicted lawmakers from the Capitol.

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Corbett Exercises Line-Item Veto on Pennsylvania Budget

Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday announced he was exercising a line-item veto on the Pennsylvania budget. He’s decided to battle with the legislature, saying it “refused to deal with the biggest fiscal challenge facing PA: our unsustainable public pension systems.”

“I am forcing mutual sacrifice with the general assembly though the gov’s ability to line item veto and hold spending in budgetary reserve,” Corbett added. Corbett cut $72.2 million in spending overall.

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Hite Sets Aug. 15 Deadline for Cigarette Tax

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

OK: William Hite can wait to Aug. 4 to find out if Philly will get a $2-a-pack cigarette tax to fund its schools. But he can’t wait much longer.

The city’s school superintendent said Wednesday that if no tax passes by Aug. 15, he’ll begin layoffs and consider delaying the fall start of classes.

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For Schools, “A Vortex of Political Hell”

Every so often, when Mayor Nutter opens his mouth, a little gem tumbles out that captures matters perfectly. Yesterday, it was a five carat diamond.

“We are caught in a vortex of political hell with no way out,” Nutter told reporters. Later, he mentioned ping pong.

At issue is the cigarette tax for city schools, which is a questionable policy on its own, but also the closest thing the district has right now to a lifeline. Yesterday morning, it looked like a lock. But that was before the State Senate voted to put its growing feud with the House of Representatives and the tender concerns of the tobacco lobby ahead of the School District of Philadelphia and its 191,000 students, adding a five-year sunset provision to the tax and putting its final passage at risk.

How did this happen? Didn’t the Senate approve the tax sunset-free on June 30?

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Cigarette Tax Delayed to August 4

The Pennsylvania House will reconvene Aug. 4 to consider approval of a bill that includes authorization for a cigarette tax to fund Philly schools, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said late Wednesday morning.

That’s later than Philly officials — who have been pushing for immediate passage — will like, coming just weeks before schools are set to re-open in September. But the spokesman, Stephen A. Miskin, said: “It gives us the time to work out what’s to be done.”

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Cigarette Tax Stalled; School Funding in Danger

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

This is why you don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched: Yes, both the Pennsylvania House and the Pennsylvania Senate have given approval to bills allowing Philly to raise its cigarette tax by $2 per pack to fund local schools — but they haven’t approved the same version of the bill so far. And that’s turning out to be a big problem.

The House version ran into a Senate buzzsaw on Tuesday — with the upper chamber balking at adding provisions in the bill that would allow some Pennsylvania cities to raise their hotel taxes. Senators began amending the House bill (it now includes a five-year sunset provision on the cigarette tax) but it’s uncertain the House will return from its break to pass the revised version — which, if not would leave Philly in limbo — or whether, in fact, it would approve those revisions: Certainly, it seems House Republicans will resist approving the additional hotel taxes. Which means getting the two chambers to back the same bill may be difficult.

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