Gov. Tom Wolf to Lawmakers on Budget: “The Time for Games Is Over”

Gov. Tom Wolf talked doom and gloom at today’s annual budget address.

“Pennsylvania now faces a $2 billion budget deficit,” Wolf told a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate today in Harrisburg. “This deficit isn’t just a cloud hanging over Pennsylvania’s long-term future. It is a time bomb, ticking away, right now, even as I speak. If it explodes – if the people in this chamber allow it to explode – then Pennsylvania will experience a fiscal catastrophe the likes of which we have never seen.”

Budget problems have been exacerbated this year because the state is currently operating on a partial budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year. A full budget is more than 200 days late. Wolf focused more on chiding the legislature than on his plans for the new budget, though he did release a 900-page budget at the same time as his speech.

“The time for games is over,” Wolf said. “And now it’s time to finish the job we should have finished last year. … I can’t accept – Pennsylvania can’t afford – another irresponsible budget that ignores the fact of this fiscal crisis and pretends our problems don’t exist.” Read more »

Pa. Opts Out of Standardized Testing — For Now

Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday signed a bill that delays implementation of statewide standardized testing as a graduation requirement until the 2018-2019 school year.

The Keystone Exams were to become a graduation requirement in 2017, but the prospect had drawn increasing opposition from educators and parents as the date drew near — with a fear that implementation would drive down graduation rates: Statewide, the passage rate so far has been just 54 percent; last year, NPR reported that four out of five Philadelphia students would be unlikely to meet the standard.

“While we should have high academic and educational standards in the commonwealth, there have been issues with the implementation of the Keystone exams, which is why I am signing a bill to delay their use as a graduation requirement,” Wolf said in a statement announcing the signing. “My administration is currently engaging teachers, administrators and students, community leaders, stakeholders and advocates from around the state to develop a comprehensive school accountability system that will support schools and help Pennsylvania students succeed.” Read more »

Wolf Administration Defends Response to Storm That Left Hundreds Stranded

Members of the Temple women's gymnastics team stuck on Pennsylvania turnpike

Members of the Temple women’s gymnastics team show off their provisions. They were stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for more than a day. (Photo: @TUWG)

The administration of Gov. Tom Wolf is defending its response to the storm that left hundreds of travelers stranded overnight on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

More than 500 cars, trucks and buses — including vehicles carrying Duquesne University men’s basketball team and the Temple University women’s gymnastics squad — got stuck on the turnpike Friday as the storm set in, with snowfall reaching near three feet in some areas.

“Despite the historic and daunting conditions of the storm, there were no fatalities or major injuries … due to the response of local and state responders who worked tirelessly to check on vehicles and keep drivers safe,” Mark Smith, a special assistant to the governor, said in a Sunday afternoon blog post.

He added: “Considering the low temperatures, heavy snowfall and number of vehicles trapped, this is a true accomplishment for those first responders, many of whom were from fire departments and other local agencies.” Read more »

This Report May Make You Look at the SRC Differently

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Gov. Tom Wolf wants to shut down the School Reform Commission and return Philadelphia’s public schools to local control. Former Mayor Michael Nutter is also on board with the idea. And last year, city voters approved a non-binding referendum calling on the state to ditch the SRC.

Does the evidence show that is the best arrangement, though? The Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative compared Philadelphia’s setup with that of 15 other big-city school districts. The report laid out a few important findings that both advocates and critics of a proposed local board should keep in mind: Read more »

Johnny Doc: “I’m Getting Out of Politics a Little Bit”

John Dougherty | Photo by Jeff Fusco

John Dougherty, head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council. | Photo by Jeff Fusco

John Dougherty is such a big deal that he doesn’t need the Democratic City Committee anymore. The electricians union boss tells Citified he has stepped down as leader of the First Ward in South Philadelphia.

“I’m getting out of politics a little bit,” he said. Read more »

This Winter You’ll Be Able to Track PennDOT Snow Plows

Remember this?

If we ever get snow this winter — a big “if” — techies and good government types have a special treat waiting for them: They’ll be able to track PennDot’s snow plows in real time.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced the new program Monday morning. Computer users will go to to track the location of more than 500 PennDOT plow trucks and more than 200 contracted rental trucks as they work to clear state roadways of snow. Read more »

Supermarket, Shopping Center to Northeast Philly After $12.5 Million in Tax Credits

(Photo via PlanPhilly.)

(Photo via PlanPhilly.)

The Wissinoming neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia is getting a new $29 million shopping center that will include a ShopRite supermarket and space for retail stores and restaurants, according to Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

Called the Shoppes at Wissinoming, the 110,000-square-foot project at Harbison Avenue and Tulip Streets is being helped along by $14.5 million in new markets tax credit financing as well as a $5.5 million tax credit from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. and a $2 million equity investment from Chase. Read more »

A Modest Proposal to End State Budget Impasse: Fire Half the Pa. Legislature

harrisburg in half

I’ve got a solution to the ongoing budget crisis in Harrisburg — let’s tear down the General Assembly and start over again.

Let’s abolish the Pennsylvania House, govern the state with a unicameral legislature elected from our current Senate districts, and make our state government finally, belatedly effective.

It’s an extreme solution, sure, but the problem is extreme: We start 2016 without 2015’s budget work complete. And it’s not like this is a new problem: Tom Corbett’s run of on-time budgets aside — his only real accomplishment — late budgets occur so often that they appear to be a feature, not a bug, of Harrisburg governance. There is zero reason to believe this year’s budget process, due to start in just a few weeks, will go any better than last year’s. Read more »

Wolf Calls Republican Budget “Ridiculous” “Garbage.” Promises Line-Item Veto

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Wolf says he is rejecting parts of a $30.3 billion state budget plan that's already a record six months overdue, but he's freeing up over $23 billion in emergency funding.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Wolf says he is rejecting parts of a $30.3 billion state budget plan that’s already a record six months overdue, but he’s freeing up over $23 billion in emergency funding.

Last week, in a pre-Christmas shocker, the state’s Senate — contrary to reports that they’d reached an agreement with Gov. Tom Wolf on his “framework” budget — reversed course and signed off on the House’s “stopgap” version of the state spending bill. When Wolf’s swift response did not include the word “veto” (he’d previously promised to strike down the stopgap version should it make it to his desk), many wondered if the state’s protracted, damaging and — let’s be frank — embarrassing budget standoff had finally ended.

Not so fast! In a statement yesterday, Wolf showed his veto pen is not just for show. Read more »

Pa. Waits for Wolf Budget Decision

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf's hopes of ending Pennsylvania's 99-day-old state budget impasse were dashed Wednesday when nine of his fellow Democrats joined all House Republicans to vote against his revised plan to raise billions in income and gas drilling taxes.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.

Gov. Tom Wolf could decide today whether to end the state’s months-old budget impasse — or whether to extend it into the New Year, AP reports. Read more »

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