State Lawmakers to Return Monday

The 2013 summer break hasn’t been what state lawmakers usually hope for when they head back to their districts. State House members have already returned to the Capitol once, and now they’ll be back for another summer encore on Monday.

The issue bringing lawmakers back to the hill deals with the state Fiscal Code. The state budget was passed and signed on June 30th, but lawmakers left the Fiscal Code unfinished, and since that is the mechanism that gives the state authorization to spend the money in the General Fund budget, it must be passed in order for government operations to continue to run.

Democrats say this delayed action on the Fiscal Code means Governor Tom Corbett and Republican leadership can no longer claim to have passed and signed three consecutive “on-time” budgets, but that argument is largely semantic. The Fiscal Code was held up over last-minute changes involving payday lending statutes and posturing by the House and Senate, which have been at odds over several high-profile issues this year despite both being under the Republican flag.


Pennsylvania Attorney General Bows Out on DOMA

It’s the state Attorney General’s job to defend the constitutionality of PA laws in court when they are challenged. Such a challenge is now underway by the ACLU regarding Pennsylvania’s version of DOMA – the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans gay marriage in the Commonwealth.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane says, however, she will not defend that law on behalf of the state, instead turning the case over to Governor Tom Corbett’s lawyers. Kane says she believes the law to be unconstitutional and therefore cannot ethically defend it. She says any lawyer – herself included – has a fundumental obligation to withdraw from a case when there is disagreement with the client.

Kane says her office is empowered to turn cases over to the Governor’s Office of General Counsel and have them litigate cases when the Attorney General determines that is in the best interest of the Commonwealth.

Kane’s announcement Thursday drew praise from the left, as supporters of gay marriage gear up for the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Commonwealth, but state Republican Chairman Rob Gleason had a different take:

“The people of Pennsylvania elect citizens to carry out constitutional responsibilities based on the tradition that no one is above
the law,” Gleason said in a relased statement. “It is unacceptable for Attorney General Kathleen Kane to put her personal politics ahead of her taxpayer-funded job by abdicating her responsibilities.”


Christman Blog: I Hate to Say I Told Ya So, But…

Two weeks ago, I asked you to watch the state legislature during their frantic week-long sprint to the state budget deadline. And, I asked you to remember…

So what happened? Well, we did get a budget, but that was the one thing lawmakers had to accomplish by law. That on-time budget will be the headline on most of the junk mail your local lawmaker sends you the rest of this year (you’re paying for that postage, by the way).

But was the budget on time? As we head into the second week of July, lawmakers have yet to approve key portions of the fiscal code, the set of laws that allows the state to spend the money it approved on June 30th. The House and Senate have been engaged in a skirmish likely stemming from leftover hard feelings from the votes that did and did not take place in the final week of June.

As for the other issues that week, let’s take a look at how these high-paid lawmakers handled the big issues…

Transportation Funding: FAIL
This one is especially concerning given the fact that it’s a crisis that has been building for years and it’s a matter of public safety for every Pennsylvanian who gets into a moving vehicle that touches Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges. Not only did lawmakers fail to act, the transportation funding plan became a pawn in chess game, apparently being held up by lawmakers who had their own personal agendas.

Pension Reform: FAIL
Did this one ever really have a chance this spring? It looked like lawmakers were just going through the motions down the stretch and never expected this one to gain traction.

Liquor Privatization / Expansion: FAIL or SUCCESS (depending on your position)
Again, did we really think this had a chance? It seemed like the unions were calling the shots all the way on this one, and when push came to shove, Republicans were accusing Democrats of holding up transportation funding in an effort to kill alcohol privatization…all at the behest of, you guessed it, the unions.

Remember that a lot of work goes into doing nothing in Harrisburg, so the coming three month vacation is a welcome respite to most of your lawmakers. Hopefully they’ll use that time to plan ahead for fall and show us a little more than they did in the spring session.


(Brad Christman is the News Director for Radio Pennsylvania and has covered 19 state budgets)


Radio PA Roundtable – July 5, 2013

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, all the ramifications from last weekend’s legislative activity on the state budget and the other major issues Governor Tom Corbett put on lawmakers’ plates this year (HINT: they didn’t eat their vegetables). Also, the governor and the head of a major union are pointing fingers at each other. Who’s right? Who’s wrong?

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:

BLOG SERIES: The Gettysburg Campaign – July 3, 1863

In recognition of the 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…

July 3 Gettysburg Campaign: Not Just a Summer Job

Unlike a lot of people, I can actually tell you where I was 50 years ago at this very moment.

I had begged my father to take my family to Gettysburg for the 100th Anniversary of the battle. I had discovered Gettysburg and the American Civil War just a few short years before, after a day trip there from Breezewood, PA, where we were staying. After that trip I had read McKinlay Kantor’s children’s book on Gettysburg. My folks realized that studying the Civil War was a much better alternative than some of the things I could have gotten into, so every Christmas or birthday I would receive Civil War books. By the time the Gettysburg Centennial rolled around, I had watched the television special on Mathew Brady’s photographs of the war and the fictional series of two brothers—one Yank, one Reb—from Harpers Ferry, called “The Americans.” I was primed.

My dad displayed fatherly logic when he said that Gettysburg would be so inundated with tourists that we wouldn’t be able to get a motel room. I was relegated to spending the anniversary at our home in northern Ohio, 300-some miles away.

National Geographic Magazine had put out a special for their July 1963 edition about the Battle of Gettysburg. There was a map inside that had a timeline for the battle. So, I know that at exactly this time, 50 years ago, I was on our living room floor reading about the great cannonade that preceded the grand assault known as Pickett’s Charge.

We did go to Gettysburg the next year, and subsequent years, sometimes twice a year. My parents enjoyed the quiet of the small town and the feel they got from the lush farm fields. The almost spiritual hold the town had on us was palpable. I remember driving other places and my parents saying, “Doesn’t this remind you of Gettysburg?”

I moved to Gettysburg the summer before my senior year in college. I was tired of working in construction for my dad, so I applied to the National Park Service for a seasonal position. To my amazement, I got it. I don’t know who made the decision that Mark Nesbitt, English Lit major at a small college in Ohio would make a good park ranger/historian, but it changed my life.

I remember all the good people I worked with that first summer. We were stationed at an outdoor post—Little Round Top, The Peace Light, The Angle, the National Cemetery, or doing Living History—for half the day. The other half we were indoors, introducing the programs in and around the Visitor Center, which was the new Cyclorama building. Everyone feared Little Round Top in the afternoon because there was no shade. Doing Living History, dressed as a Civil War soldier, and giving the story in first person, was great because you could really see the people respond emotionally to history.

I gave my talk as a young Confederate, vowing that I was fighting and would die for a man that didn’t even know my name—General Robert E. Lee. I remember after one talk an elderly southern gentleman, tears streaming down his cheeks, trying to give me a five dollar tip—which we could not accept—and telling me that I reminded him of his grandfather, a veteran, who had in his old age said the very same thing.

I’ve written to the moment, 50 years ago, when I read that Pickett’s Charge began their march across the fields toward their dissolution in a black-powder cloud tainted crimson. Twelve thousand men and boys stepped off and began taking casualties from Union artillery on Little Round Top almost immediately; the Union gunners said it was as easy as target practice.

They reached the stout post and rail fences that lined both sides of the Emmitsburg Road. They tried to break down the fences, but they wouldn’t give, so they began to climb them. Federal infantry, crouched behind a stone wall atop Cemetery Ridge, stood and cut loose a volley. Confederates toppled from the fence. They continued to take volleys, marching up the gentle slope, until they were about 50 yards away, then ran up to the stone wall. Brigadier General Lewis Armistead shouldered his way to the front of the crowd and realized they could not stay in this position. His old black hat was on top of his sword, giving his men a rallying point, making himself a target as well. He shouts, “Give them the cold steel, boys! Who will follow me?” and hops over the wall. Some 3-400 men follow him. This moment is considered, arguably, the “high tide of the Confederacy,” the closest they will ever come to victory in their four year struggle for independence.

The Confederates are driven back from the wall and withdraw to the Emmitsburg Road, then to Seminary Ridge. About twenty minutes to cross; ten minutes of fighting, and twenty minutes to return. Fifty minutes and two-thirds of the original 12,000 become casualties. Some accounts say that you could walk from the stone wall to the Emmitsburg Road without stepping on the ground once, if you chose to use the bodies as grisly stepping-stones.

Some Pennsylvania Budget-Related Business remains unresolved

The state senate reluctantly agreed with one budget-related bill, but has sent a second one back to the house after making a change.   Now the house must decide whether to return to session after starting its summer break.

A senate committee stripped out non-binding language in the fiscal code bill added by the house dealing with payday lending.  That means the house must concur before that bill can go to the Governor.

The senate reluctantly approved the public welfare code, even though the house removed Medicaid expansion language. Senator Pat Vance expressed her disappointment and said she would try again in the fall.    But Vance and other Republicans said there are other important provisions in the bill that need to be sent to the Governor.

A spokesman for House Republicans says they are trying to see what impact the vote on the fiscal code will have and if there’s a need for the chamber to return to session.  Right now, the house is not scheduled to return until September, nor is the Senate.

The main general fund budget was passed over the weekend and signed into law before the start of the new fiscal year.