Few Issues Resolved at Brief Hearing

Joe Amendola

Joe Amendola

All the major pre-trial issues remain in play, as Jerry Sandusky’s defense lawyer will argue for the charges to be thrown out at a later date.  “Those motions and those issues are still very much at issue here in the case,” attorney Joe Amendola told the media following a brief hearing in Centre County Court. 

State prosecutor Joe McGettigan suggests that the defense team’s pre-trial tactics have been lengthy and pointless.  But Amendola responds that, “If the Commonwealth had been more specific, we probably wouldn’t be here today.” 

Joe McGettigan

Amendola wants many of the charges thrown out based on a lack of specifics from the Commonwealth.  It’s a notion that state prosecutor Joe McGettigan steadfastly denies.  “We have provided voluminous specificity as to the acts with which he is charged,” McGettigan told the mass of reporters who gathered at the courthouse in Bellefonte.    

A few of Jerry Sandusky’s pre-trial motions were withdrawn on Thursday, including a request to suppress statements Sandusky made to authorities in 1998 and a request to suppress intercepted phone conversations Sandusky had with two of the alleged victims.  Amendola tells reporters that both pieces of evidence will actually help the defense at trial.    

The 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky – a once iconic assistant football coach at Penn State – remains on house arrest following his November arrest on 52-counts of child sex abuse. 

Amendola says his client’s spirits are high, and Sandusky looks forward to spending the Easter holiday with most of his family.  McGettigan says the Commonwealth looks forward to the victims getting their day in court. 

Right now it looks that that will happen in early summer, as jury selection is slated to begin on June 5th.

Jerry Sandusky Pre-Trial Hearing Today

    The key principles in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case are gathering in Centre County today for a pre-trial hearing on a variety of issues, including a defense request to dismiss all charges against the former Penn State assistant coach.

    With the trial still two months away, more than 100 journalists have gathered at the Centre County Courthouse for today’s hearing. Jerry Sandusky is expected to be in the courtroom for the proceeding. Some of the key disputes to be discussed today include how much information the state will have to turn over to the defense in advance of the trial and what evidence will be admitted in the case.

    Sandusky is charged with more than 50 counts of child sexual abuse against at least 10 young boys over more than a decade. He is currently under house arrest and awaiting his trial in June.

Lawmakers Prepare to File Lawsuit Against Commonwealth Over Education Funding Formula

Rep Rosemary Brown

Rep Mario Scavello


Some lawmakers are getting ready to take the state to court to challenge the school funding formula.   Representatives Mario Scavello and Rosemary Brown, who represent parts of Monroe and Pike Counties, are initiating the suit.  They have backing from colleagues in other areas of the state that are seeing growth. 

The suit will challenge the hold harmless provision.  Since 1991, it has required that school districts get no less money than the year before, regardless of student population.  The lawmakers say that has been hurting growing districts, while benefitting districts with shrinking student populations.  

Representative Brown says enough is enough; it’s time this outdated formula is challenged.    She says she will not accept that it can’t be changed. She says realtors are having trouble selling homes because of property taxes.

Representative Scavello says the school property tax rates in his district have made people prisoners in their own homes.  He cited an example he’s often repeated- a home bought for 250 thousand dollars five years ago, that’s worth 150 thousand dollars today and has an 11 thousand dollar property tax bill on it. He says the Pocono Mountain School District last year raised taxes per house between 400 and 500 dollars.  He says we just can’t continue to do things like this.

Representative Scavello says he’s paying the legal fees out of his own pocket.

Brown and Scavello had support from other lawmakers in districts facing similar problems.  Representative Ron Miller (R-York) says they’ve tried to change the education funding formula in the legislature, but it’s “very hard to convince people to take money from their constituents to help ours.”

Representative Stan Saylor (R-York) agrees.  The house majority whip  says people aren’t willing to give up money that flows into their school districts and keeps their property taxes very low.

Representative Scavello says there will be a taxpayer from every school district involved in the suit and he expects it will take 90 to 120 days before the suit is filed, to allow time to gather all of the information. The suit was announced at a news conference.


Drivers License, PennDOT

PA Poised to Opt Out of REAL ID

Pennsylvania could soon become the 16th and largest state to opt out of the federal REAL ID Act.  Under REAL ID, state-issued drivers’ licenses would have to meet certain federal criteria.  PennDOT would also be required to store copies of its license holders’ identifying documents, and link its databases with those of DMVs across the country. 

“REAL ID, with the nationwide database, would really create a gold mine for identity thieves,” says ACLU of Pennsylvania legislative director Andy Hoover.  He also complains that the federal law would turn state-issued drivers’ licenses into de facto national ID cards. 

Congress enacted the REAL ID Act of 2005 in response to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations for more secure standards for identification.  The report cites that, “All but one of the 9/11 hijackers acquired some form of US identification document by, some by fraud.” 

The Department of Homeland Security has extended the implementation deadline to January 15th, 2013, but the ACLU of PA’s Andy Hoover says REAL ID cannot function without state participation. 

REAL ID is not a new issue under the state capitol dome. The House passed a bill to block REAL ID in 2008; the Senate passed one in 2010, but time ran out in both of those legislative sessions.  This year’s bill (SB 354) passed both chambers with broad, bipartisan support.  Governor Tom Corbett is expected to sign it.

PA Budget Debate

Tax Freedom Day Arrives April 17th Nationwide, a Day Later in Pennsylvania

The Tax Foundation has calculated this year’s Tax Freedom Day and it’s April 17th, the same day as the deadline to file your state and local income taxes.   

Tax Freedom Day is the point at which you’ve satisfied your total tax burden. It differs for each state, but the national date this year is four days later than last year.  The Foundation says the later date is due to mainly to increased federal personal and corporate income tax collections, due to the rebounding economy.

Dr. William McBride, an economist with the Tax Foundation, says Americans will pay more in taxes in 2012 than they’ll spend on food, clothing and housing combined. 

McBride says if you added in federal deficit spending, Americans would have to work 27 more days to cover that bill. He says Tax Freedom Day would have been three days later this year, if it were not for the extension of the payroll tax holiday.

McBride says the total tax burden varies by state, but residents face a higher total federal tax burden.  He says it takes on average 69 days to pay the federal tax burden and 38 days to pay the state and local tax burden.

Tax Freedom Day falls in Pennsylvania on April 18th.    The earliest Tax Freedom Day in the U. S. was in Tennessee on March 31st and the latest is in Connecticut on May 5th.


State Revenue Picture Brightens

Vincent Hughes

State Sen. Vincent Hughes

General Fund collections lagged expectations in each of the first seven months of the fiscal year.  The state got a reprieve in February, when the state collected $15-million more dollars than expected.  March was an even better month for the Commonwealth, as the Department of Revenue reports that collections topped expectations to the tune of $95-million. 

Governor Tom Corbett’s February budget addressed was based on an estimated year-end shortfall of $719-million; the year-to-date shortfall currently stands at $387-million.       

“We believe the deficit is probably going to be closer to $300 – $350-million dollars,” says Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Vincent Hughes. 

Senator Hughes tells Radio PA that he’ll be keeping a close eye on revenue collections this budget season.  “I think it’s going to change over the next days and weeks, as we go forward,” Hughes says, “thereby creating new revenue for us to reinvest in the people of the Commonwealth.”

Senate Democrats view a revised revenue estimate as one of the keys to restoring cuts to educate, human services and other funding priorities. 

Last month, Governor Tom Corbett told us that it was too early to revise the revenue estimates.  We’ll check in with him again this week on the April edition of Ask the Governor.

New Voter ID Requirements?

One-on-One with Steve Welch, Republican for US Senate

Steve Welch

Steve Welch

Steve Welch isn’t your typical Washington politician.  The Republican State Committee-endorsed candidate knows what it takes to build a business from the ground up. 

An engineer by degree, Welch started several successful companies in southeastern Pennsylvania and believes too few members of Congress have actually done anything in the private sector.  “They’re career politicians that have run for office after office,” Welch says, “and they just don’t have the frame of reference to understand how their decisions are affecting entrepreneurs and small business owners.” 

Upon a follow-up question, Radio PA learned that Welch supports both term limits and a lifetime ban on Senators and Congressmen serving as lobbyists.  “I think going to Washington should be a privilege to serve, it shouldn’t be the road to riches that it really has become,” he explains.

Republicans are at a 1-million voter disadvantage in the Keystone State, but Welch believes they can grow the party by focusing on the values of a smaller government, personal responsibility and family values. 

Welch was first drawn into politics in the wake of the trillion dollar federal stimulus package of 2009. He even left his job for six weeks in 2010 to work for now-Senator Pat Toomey’s campaign, serving as a surrogate speaker to business groups. 

But Welch says there is misinformation being spread about some time he spent as a registered Democrat in the mid-2000s.  Here’s what he had to say about the issue:WELCH

Radio PA has reached out to all five candidates running for the GOP nomination for US Senate.  We’ll continue to post updates here from all that respond, and run our full interviews on Radio PA Roundtable.