New Jersey, Pennsylvania Really, Really Stink at Pension Funding

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New Jersey and Pennsylvania have America’s most-underfunded public employee pension systems, says a new report from the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. In fact, the report suggests, the two states have fallen so short of making the annual required contributions to the funds that they’ve managed to separate themselves from the pack.

Political battles are being waged in both states over how best to deal with the underfunding — Chris Christie versus the teachers unions in New Jersey, while House Republicans in Pennsylvania say pension reform must be part of any budget deal with Gov. Tom Wolf — but the report traces the underfunding back to the flush days of the late 1990s. Read more »

School Funding Suit Against State Advances Despite Promises From Wolf

It’s time for Pennsylvania’s courts to force the state legislature to properly fund state schools, attorneys representing a coalition of money-hungry school districts argued today before the Commonwealth Court at Harrisburg.

“We argued today in court the schoolchildren of Pennsylvania have an enforceable right to be heard,” said Maura McInerney, an attorney for the Education Law Center, which helped bring the case. She spoke during a conference call after the court appearance. “The court,” she said, “has a vital role to play in enforcing the state constitution.” Read more »

Diaz: Replace SRC With Parent-Led Board

Nelson Diaz at his campaign launch. | Photo from Diaz's Facebook page.

Nelson Diaz at his campaign launch. | Photo from Diaz’s Facebook page.

Mayoral candidate Nelson Diaz is proposing to scrap the School Reform Commission and replace it with a parent-led school board to make major decisions for the Philadelphia school district.

Diaz pitched the idea at a meeting of Pennsylvania House Democrats Monday at Warren G. Harding Middle School, NewsWorks reports. Read more »

More Sting Charges Expected

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The “double-dog dare” continues to backfire on Kathleen Kane.

Nearly a year after the attorney general invited Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams — one of her loudest critics — to try to prosecute the “abandoned sting” of corrupt Philly lawmakers she had decided not to prosecute, despite having recordings of those lawmakers accepting gifts that were never reported to the state. Williams gleefully accepted the offer and not long after started cranking out the prosecutions.

He’ll add three more names to that list today at a news conference where he’ll announce charges against “two current and one former” state representatives. He did not name them, but the Inquirer and Daily News identified the three as State Reps. Louise Williams Bishop and Michelle Brownlee and former State Rep. Harold James, all Democrats from Philly. Read more »

Christie’s Presidential Climb Gets Steeper

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Chris Christie’s not-quite-formal presidential campaign is finding its pathway to winning election just a little steeper every day. The latest bad news comes from the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

“Only 32 percent of Republican voters said they could see themselves supporting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, versus 57 percent who could not,” NBC News reports. Read more »

50 Years After Bloody Sunday, a Push for Racial Fairness in Sentencing

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I caught up with State Sen. Vincent Hughes on Sunday afternoon by phone — he had spent the weekend in Selma, Alabama, joining the 50th anniversary celebration of the “Bloody Sunday” march that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and was driving with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to the airport to return home.

“Pretty powerful,” Hughes, the Philadelphia Democrat, told me. “Pretty powerful to stand on the same ground where, 50 years ago, people were beat in the head … just to secure the right thing, was just a powerful thing.”

“People took charge of their own destiny, and they changed the country in a meaningful way,” Patrick added. “That’s an important lesson about the power we have when we look up instead of looking down.” Read more »

Report: Feds to Charge N.J. Senator with Corruption

Courtesy of the Office of Sen. Menendez

Courtesy of the Office of Sen. Menendez

Attorney General Eric Holder has signed off on charges against New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, CNN reports. The report, which cited sources briefed on the case, says federal prosecutors allege Menendez used his office to “push the business interests of a Democratic donor and friend in exchange for gifts.”

Menendez, a Democrat who served in the House from 1989 to 2006, was appointed to the post in January of 2006 after New Jersey Governor-elect Jon Corzine vacated the seat. He won re-election twice: Over Thomas Kean in 2006 (53-44 percent) and Joseph Kyrillos in 2012 (59-39 percent).

But a grand jury has been investigating Menendez since at least 2013, when news broke that the feds were interested in his dealings with Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen. Read more »

Sestak Announces Challenge to Toomey

Joe Sestak, the former congressman who beat then-U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in the 2010 Democratic primary before losing the general election to Pat Toomey, announced Tuesday he’s taking another shot at the U.S. Senate seat.

The announcement came outside Independence Hall on Tuesday. After that, AP reports, Sestak began a very long walk. Read more »

Pa. Senate Eyes Low State Vaccination Rate

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Remember that Pew study showing Pennsylvania has the second-lowest vaccination rate in all the 50 states? The news didn’t go over so well in the Pennsylvania Senate.

The chamber’s Committee on Public Health and Welfare this week gave approval to a resolution calling for a study on how to increase youth vaccinations in the state. “According to the Pennsylvania Immunization Coalition, approximately 23 percent of 2-year-olds in Pennsylvania are not up-to-date for the currently recommended vaccines,” Sen. Shirley Kitchen, a Philadelphia Democrat, said in a memo sponsoring the resolution. “The goal of this staff study is to improve public health by addressing issues that affect youth vaccination within our Commonwealth.
Read more »

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