This week’s focus was going to be on the crushing ineptitude of the federal government vis-à-vis its criminally glacial response to the worsening humanitarian crisis facing the 3.4 million US citizens of Puerto Rico.
But then a couple things happened. First, the island’s plight has reached above-the-fold status, enough so that real movement of aid and resources is happening – more than a week after Hurricane Maria hit, but still…
Concurrently, our self-inflicted statewide crisis continued to metastasize in a way markedly less leisurely than previously seen during the three months the commonwealth has been operating without a balanced budget.
Despite missing Medicaid provider payments and being downgraded by Standard & Poor’s last week, there was still no appreciable movement to come up with a revenue plan that could make it out of both chambers intact until a tentative last-minute deal on a pie-in-the-sky plan to drive revenue from expanding gaming in the state. Despite widespread bipartisan opposition to video gaming terminals, online gaming and “mini-casinos,” an agreement on this revenue stream is apparently enough to get the GOP majorities in the House and Senate back on track.
However, it appears increasingly likely that whatever form the final budget agreement takes, it will be lacking a severance tax on gas drillers – again, something that every other state in the country in a similar situation has in place. Indeed, if we are to go by what GOP Sen. Scott Wagner said during a York 912 Patriots meeting earlier this month, the tax shouldn’t be part of any agreement because of the damage it could do to his gubernatorial aspirations. “I told Stan" – Rep. Stan Saylor, chair of the House Appropriations Committee – "at a meeting three weeks ago – he was sitting like 15 feet away from me,” Wagner said. “I said, ‘Stan you cannot let this severance tax get through so that it gets to the governor’s desk because if that happens, the governor is going to get reelected. Stan, you take that to the bank.’”
At least Wagner was focused on the budget in some way, which is more than can be said of some of his GOP compatriots. While the future functionality of schools, nonprofits and pretty much everything else you can think of that requires state funding continued twisting in the Harrisburg wind, freshman Sen. Mike Regan was working on a crucial non-binding resolution condemning the NFL for its “anti-American demonstrations” in support of minorities receiving better treatment from law enforcement. And 106 GOP House members found the time to support a voter intimidation bill masquerading as legislation for statewide poll-watching – right before adjourning for the week so as not to have to consider the severance tax.
Public schools: Granted, this is a conditional win for school districts looking to force the state to live up to its constitutionally required responsibility to ensure fair funding, but the fact that the PA Supreme Court ruled that the Commonwealth Court must reconsider the schools’ position is a step in the right direction to close the funding gaps that lead to the digital divide and other inequities.
Octavius Catto: The 19th-century civil rights and sports pioneer became the first African American to have a statue placed on city property this week.
Josh Shapiro: The AG continues to make headlines, this week by announcing a lawsuit against three drug treatment centers linked to the late Rep. Allen Ertel and administrators of those facilities are accused of cooking the books to embezzle funds
Jim Kenney: While he gets props as one of the driving forces behind the overdue tribute to Catto, news this week that the Philadelphia mayor has fallen woefully short on his promise to make the city more bike-friendly – only two out of his promised 30 miles of protected bicycle lanes have come to fruition – hands him the L.
The PA LCB: How do you turn a monopoly on the wildly lucrative wine and spirits market into a money-losing venture? Just ask the fine folks in charge of the Liquor Control Board, who managed to turn in a net $114 million loss for fiscal 2017.
The taxi industry: Here’s the brutal downside to the headline-friendly “disruptor” palaver bestowed upon Uber and Lyft: Since the rideshare industry came online in Philadelphia, the price of a taxi medallion has dropped from $475,000 in October 2014 to just $10,000 in July of this year.