State Budget Headed to Governor Tom Corbett’s Desk

Just 3 hours and 10 minutes before the start of the new fiscal year, lawmakers in the state House of Representatives voted to approve a nearly $28.4 billion General Fund spending plan. That sends the budget to Governor Tom Corbett’s desk for his signature just before the clock strikes midnight.

Earlier Sunday, the budget passed the state Senate on a 33-17 vote. In the House, the final tally was 111 to 92. Most democrats opposed the plan on the basis of the education line items, but Republicans pointed to a late deal to increase funding to the embattled Philadelphia School District, where a $300 million deficit stands to result in thousands of layoffs. House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph (R-Allegheny) pointed out that the total increased state aid package to Philadelphia will help make up about $190 million of that shortfall.

The new budget spends about 2.3% more than the current year’s budget. That includes about $40 million more for public education than was proposed by Governor Corbett in February. The budget includes increases for early childhood education, including Pre-K Counts and Head Start.

Still unresolved as of late Sunday night: the issues of transportation funding, alcohol sales expansion and pension reform. Back room meetings, negotiations and deal-making did not result in breakthroughs on those topics this weekend, but lawmakers have scheduled more session time in the coming week, a rare move given that passage of the budget typically signals the end of the legislature’s work for the summer.


UPDATE: Governor Tom Corbett has signed the budget bill



Stevens Confirmed for Supreme Court

The state Senate has unanimously confirmed Judge Correale Stevens to take a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Stevens was nominated by Governor Tom Corbett to fill the seat of former Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who is currently appealing her conviction on corruption charges related to the use of taxpayer-funded staff for campaign purposes.

Stevens’ nomination had sailed through committee and faced no serious opposition. He heads to the state’s high court carrying the endorsement of both parties in the Senate. Democrat John Yudichak called Stevens “uniquely qualified,” and said they shared the sentiment that “public service is paramount to partisan pursuits.”

A graduate of Penn State University and the Dickinson School of Law, Stevens has served as President Judge on the state Superior Court since 2011. He’s also been a county judge and a State Representative.


BLOG SERIES: The Gettysburg Campaign – June 30, 1863

In recognition of the approaching 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, PAMatters is sharing daily observations of noted historian  Mark Nesbitt, who brings you the personal stories of the boys and men who were marching into history in the summer of 1863…

Visit Mark’s blog at for more Gettysburg stories…

June 30 Gettysburg Campaign: Pay Day

This Tuesday, the last day of June, was the day Franklin Horner and his fellow Union soldiers mustered for pay. They took up the line of march at 7:00 a.m. and marched until 7:00 p.m. covering some 20 miles. As they passed through several towns they uncased the colors—their flags—and had their bands play martial music.

Thomas Ware began their march about 9:00 a.m. It was a short day ending at 1:00 p.m. stopping to camp in the town of Fayetteville. His comrades gathered a large amount of cherries, which were in season in Pennsylvania and, as he put it, “We made fences fly…” for firewood, of course. He has some time to write a letter home.

Horner casually mentions that they marched twenty miles this day, but it was probably one of the hardest marches he’s had to make. They are on the move for twelve hours, which means a lot of it was stop and go before they could go into camp and take a long rest.

Since it is the end of the month, there are some administrative duties each company has to take care of. They determine how many men are present and accounted for so that they can requisition money from the government to pay them for their service. In the Union army, pay was $13 per month.

The end-of-the-month muster also gives us a general—but not specific—idea of the troop strengths at the time. When historians analyzed the muster records, they felt confident in determining the number of soldiers present on July 1, the opening of the Battle of Gettysburg. But there are variables: men get sick overnight, or drop out of the ranks marching the next day. In addition, the muster rolls give only an approximate number of combat troops. There were thousands more non-combatants, from teamsters to farriers to personal servants to “camp followers” who accompanied the armies and remained behind the lines during combat. The total number of human beings being drawn to this part of Pennsylvania as if caught in a whirlpool may never be known; but it certainly was more that the 97,000 Union and 75.000 Confederate combat troop figures we used in the National Park Service.

Once again, the Federals are marching an inside arc to the Confederates’ sweep northward and eastward. The rebels had been reported in York and so Horner’s unit is sent toward the east, always trying to be the buffer between the enemy and their capital. Music playing and flags flying while marching through northern towns were more for the civilians’ benefit than the soldiers. Horner, who had lived through the bloodiest single day in all of American History at the Battle of Antietam, knows he is headed toward yet another, and potentially bloodier battle with one of the finest and most deadly armies on the face of the planet; one that had already whipped his army more than once before. The cheering civilian residents of the towns may not have exactly inculcated Horner and his fellow veterans with confidence.

Perhaps because of the extra free time he has thanks to a short march, Ware’s thoughts turn homeward and he records in a sort of code that he has been using, that he wrote a letter to “J. B. F.” Throughout his diary, Thomas Ware uses his alphabet code to record letters he sends to someone at home. Could it be that he has a sweetheart in Washington, Georgia?

This night, Ware and Horner are only thirty-seven miles apart, a day’s march for each of these American enemies to a collision-point.

Capitol View from East Wing

Why Republicans Need Democrats Today

Pension reform is on the back burner and a deal for the state budget appears to have been reached. That leaves alcohol privatization/expansion and transportation funding as the two remaining major issues lawmakers were planning to deal with before their summer break. (Yes, Medicaid expansion is also back on the table).

It’s the transportation package that is now on life support. One might wonder how this is possible given Republican across-the-board control of the House, Senate and Governor’s office, but the GOP is fractured, especially in the House where Conservatives led by Butler County’s Daryl Metcalfe came out against the transportation plan late this week. They objected to motorist fees and other charges they deemed a pseudo tax increase.

That means House Speaker Sam Smith and Majority Leader Mike Turzai have to find Democrat votes in the chamber if transportation funding is to become a reality, but this is a little more complicated than a simple vote whip. Democrats in the House, knowing they have some power in their hands for the first time since the GOP took control of the chamber several years ago, are leveraging their position in an attempt to derail any alcohol privatization or expansion plan. Publicly, Democrats say they won’t support the transportation plan because it is inadequate. Privately, reports have surfaced that Democrats received emails this weekend from unions representing state store workers urging them to hold out on transportation in order to kill alcohol privatization.

And the chess match continues.

Transportation funding was arguably the most critical of the major issues lawmakers were expecting to address on this final week of June, the funding especially important given the deteriorating state of the Commonwealth’s roads and bridges.

With the state budget seemingly wrapped up, lawmakers could elect to remain in Harrisburg beyond Sunday to try to work out their remaining issues. Governor Tom Corbett also has the power to call for a special legislative session if he wants to force lawmakers’ hands on any or all of the remaining unresolved issues.


BLOG SERIES: The Gettysburg Campaign – June 29, 1863

In recognition of the approaching 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, PAMatters is sharing daily observations of noted historian  Mark Nesbitt, who brings you the personal stories of the boys and men who were marching into history in the summer of 1863…

Visit Mark’s blog at for more Gettysburg stories…

June 29 Gettysburg Campaign: Confederate Army in Scotland

Franklin Horner had orders to march at daylight, but because of the Union troops concentrating in the Frederick, MD, area, his unit did not get started until 1:00 p.m. They marched about 10 miles and went into camp at 11:00 p.m.

Thomas Ware’s regiment, along with the 17th Georgia and other from the division were sent to destroy four miles of railroad north of Chambersburg, a place called Scotland Station. They tore up all the rails and burned the ties and a substantial bridge along the way, then returned to their camps. He writes of the “Q Masters” (Quartermasters) continuing to gather up all the horses and beef cattle they can find. Some of his comrades see the finer horses in the area tied up in the woods in an attempt to hide them from the round up.

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday: When Horner and the men of the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves are attached to the Fifth Corps, they also find that they have a new commanding general for the entire army. Major General George G. Meade, formerly commander of the Fifth Corps, was ordered to replace Major General Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac.

For Meade it is a dubious distinction. To go from commanding a corps to an entire army in the midst of an active campaign and the invasion of the north by the enemy threatening to capture his home state’s capital is a lot to put on any commander’s plate. Overnight he goes from commanding one corps to commanding eight times that many men, all needing to be fed, supplied with enough ammunition and supplies in case a battle looms, and ordered where to march without impeding one another to intercept the greatest threat to the nation’s security in its history. Interestingly, either Horner hasn’t heard or he’s more concerned with his own sore feet, or where he’s going to get his next meal, but he doesn’t even mention the change in high command in his diary entries.

Though Horner only marches 10 miles this day, it takes 10 hours to do so. It was stop and go, apparently because of the concentration of Federal troops attempting to stay between the invading Confederates and Washington. The good news is that the Union army is taking the “inside route” while the Confederates swing wide to the north and east and must march farther.

(Taking a short break to speak and sign at the Adams County Winery’s 150th Anniversary Commemoration day. I’ll be right back!)

(Did you miss me? What a great day. Gorgeous weather in the beautiful mountains near Cashtown. Spoke to a BUNCH of interesting people. Saw some old friends from the Licensed Battlefield Guides. Thanks, Rob, for a well-done event. Okay. Back to the blog….)

Railroads are historically protective of their right-of-ways, some of which were established in the early 19th Century, so it’s easy to find some of the places Ware mentions along the railroad north out of Chambersburg, since they haven’t changed much in 150 years.

The railroad bridge at Scotland, PA, is made of stone and concrete now, but does rise some fifty feet above the river, as Ware records about the old wooden bridge.

In an interesting sidelight, Scotland, PA, is the ancestral home of my wife Carol. It wasn’t until her mother Phyllis told me that the Chambersburg Country Club property included the building that had been her ancestor’s home that we made the connection between Thomas Ware, a soldier I chose somewhat randomly to write about and our relationship by marriage. The subject of my book on this day marched past the farm of my future wife’s ancestors 150 years before.

Under the (Capitol) Dome

The wheeling and dealing continues this weekend as House and Senate leadership try to get on the same page with each other and the governor’s office in setting up the new state budget and tackling other issues such as liquor sales expansion and transportation funding.

Pension reform may be the odd issue out when the dust settles from this busy weekend in Harrisburg, but it’s an issue that can be picked up again when lawmakers return from the summer recess in September. As the weekend dragged on, it was becoming evident that the House and Senate were tying the alcohol and transportation issues together in a give and take deal to bring both to successful votes.

The latest liquor plan would not be as extensive as the outline Governor Tom Corbett delivered to lawmakers back in February, but it would expand sales of wine and spirits to venues beyond the traditional state store, including restaurants, beer distributors, convenience stores and supermarkets.

Still, Senators seemed poised to only send the liquor plan to the state House if House members in return send a transportation bill back their way. As the budget deadline countdown nears the 24-hour mark, it’s still unclear if there will be anything but a state budget coming out of all the weekend trade-offs and posturing.

Speaking of the budget, a spending plan just over $28.3 billion for Fiscal Year 2014 is taking shape, and it could include $122 million more for public education. That’s more than originally proposed by the Governor or the state House of Representatives, which passed its budget plan earlier this month.

The budget deadline is midnight Sunday night.


Pennsylvania Liquor Store

Senate Inches Toward Liquor Reform

After months of hearings, public rhetoric and legislative wheeling & dealing, the state Senate passed an amendment to the House liquor expansion bill early this morning.

Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi says his amendment would allow beer distributors to sell wine and liquor, while also paving the way for convenience stores and gas stations, as well as supermarkets that meet certain requirements similar to existing laws regarding beer sales. The bill would also allow the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to lease the wholesale end of the liquor business for up to 10 years.

Pileggi introduced the amendment after privately securing the votes needed for passage.

Debate on the amendment did not begin until well after midnight, with the amendment vote coming after 1am. The amended legislation now goes back to the Senate Appropriations Committee and is expected to come back to the Senate floor this weekend. Both the House and Senate are scheduled to be in session throughout the weekend heading up to the state budget deadline Sunday night.

Such late-night votes had become taboo in recent years, dating back to the highly controversial 2005 legislative pay raise that outraged voters and cost several high-ranking lawmakers their offices. Several Democrats criticized the timing of the vote.

The amendment passed 27-23.


BLOG SERIES: The Gettysburg Campaign – June 28, 1863

In recognition of the approaching 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, PAMatters is sharing daily observations of noted historian  Mark Nesbitt, who brings you the personal stories of the boys and men who were marching into history in the summer of 1863…

Visit Mark’s blog at for more Gettysburg stories…

June 28. Gettysburg Campaign: Marching to Stop the Rebels

For Franklin Horner, the campaign has begun in earnest. Starting at 6:00 a.m. they march until 1:00 p.m. and encamp near Buckeystown, MD. Horner writes that they have joined up with the Army of the Potomac’s Fifth Corps.

For Thomas Ware, just north of Chambersburg, PA, it is a welcomed day of rest. He writes about the “soldiers taking evry [sic] thing. Camps full of chickens, butter & milk. Our mess had a chicken stew, cherries in great abundance…can get almost any thing at your own price.” He records what a rich country it is north of the Mason-Dixon line and how thickly settled it is. “People all Dutch…Our army living all-together on what we capture. Our advance infantry at or near ‘Harrisburg.’”

The last two days for Ware have been eye-openers. His comments yesterday concerning how many young men in Chambersburg are not in the army must make him realize that there is an abundance of manpower in the north. Even during this huge Confederate invasion, they haven’t been called upon to serve. As well, today’s observations about the agricultural riches in the area must be a harbinger of the importance of making this a successful campaign and a short war, since it appears that the north’s resources are vast.

His comments about the people all being “Dutch” refers to the fact that this part of Pennsylvania was settled by German (“Deutsch”) immigrants. This area and the area to the east are still populated with Hollabaughs, Weikerts, Trostles, Spanglers, Culps (and Kulps) and even a Stoltzfus or two.

My narrative in 35 Days to Gettysburg for this day covers the organization Horner and the men of the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves just joined. It is a template for the way both armies are organized. The 12th Pennsylvania Reserves is a regiment that joins four other Pennsylvania Reserve regiments to form Fisher’s Third Brigade. Two brigades (the First and Fisher’s Third) made up General Crawford’s Third Division. Three Divisions made up the Fifth Army Corps. Finally, the Fifth Corps (pronounced “core”) was one of seven army corps (plus a cavalry corps) that made up the 97,000 man Army of the Potomac.

The same regiment-brigade-division-corps-army organization was employed in the 75,000 man Confederate Army with a few minor differences.

I use all figures guardedly. These are the figures we used when I worked for the National Park Service, and I’ve heard different ones from historians since. The point is, nobody knows for certain.

We used the figure 620,000 men dead from both sides after the four years of Civil War. We used to say that more Americans died in the Civil War than in the Spanish-American War, WW I, WW II, Korea, and Vietnam all added together. We’ve had some wars since, but as if to make the Civil War our most horrible conflict in perpetuity, a historian re-analyzed the census figures and upped the death figure to 850,000.

To make that more relevant to modern times, recall that the country was about one-tenth the size it is today, so you must multiply either of those figure by ten to accommodate for the century-and-a-half of growth. Imagine if one of our four-year wars today cost eight MILLION five hundred thousand American lives. Figures that large are almost too big to wrap your head around. But if you boil is all down to individuals, the tragedy on a family-to-family basis is incalculable.

Radio PA Roundtable – June 28, 2013

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, the budget deadline looms! Lawmakers have until Sunday night to wrap up their spending plan and decide whether or not to address the major issues of transportation funding, alcohol privatization and pension reform. Also, amidst all the budget week hype, two state lawmakers knocked heads over the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting, commentary and analysis on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

Metcalfe vs. Sims: The Budget Week Undercard

State Representative Brian Sims is an openly gay member of the state House of Representatives, and on Wednesday he took to the House floor to speak about the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling invalidating key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

House members are granted the privilege of speaking on any subject they wish under “unanimous consent,” meaning no other lawmakers object. Sims was 9 seconds into his remarks when unanimous consent was withdrawn by at least a handful of lawmakers, who at that time, rejected requests to name themselves. One of those lawmakers would later be revealed to be Conservative Butler County Republican Daryl Metcalfe, who would tell a Philadelphia radio station that he objected because Sims’ words would represent an “open rebellion to God’s laws.”

On Thursday, Sims got another chance to speak and requested that Metcalfe be reprimanded for his actions.

“My understanding of the rules of this body is that I could never call another member a bigot, a homophobe or a racist, nor would I. But I do ask that this body recognize that the language that was used against me as a member does not live up to the standards set by this body,” Sims said in his remarks.

No immediate action was taken and Sims was told that his complaint would be more appropriate for the Ethics Committee.