President Donald Trump’s sixth week in office, balancing the Pennsylvania budget, Pittsburgh news, and more …
In the sixth week of President Donald Trump’s administration, another tweet storm rained down, conjured up by none other than the president himself, who accused — with no proof — former President Barack Obama of wiretapping his phones. Obama, through a spokesman, immediately denied it. Which created a week-long distraction that parsed every word in every tweet the president composed, and had the White House ducking and weaving like Muhammad Ali.
Then came the president’s newly revised travel ban, which didn’t go over too well with Hawaii, which became the first state to file a motion for a temporary restraining order blocking the ban. New York and Washington followed suit, a hint that more challenges could mount.
Nevertheless, the order is having its desired effect. Fewer refugees have received confirmation to travel to the U.S. The State Department has reduced the admissions ceiling to 50,000 refugees — half of what was planned for fiscal year ending in October.
The Republicans’ promise to repeal and replace Obamacare also made strides this week. Two key House committees have approved a Republican proposal to revise the Affordable Care Act, giving the bill its first victories amid a backlash that both Republican leaders and President Trump are trying to tamp down.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania grappled with its own budget challenges.
How to fill the budget gap?
First, the good news: Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed plan includes a $100 million boost for general education funding, which returns the allocation almost to its 2011 peak.
The Department of Community and Economic Development, which oversees a wide array of state programs, from workforce development to tourism, suffered a 9 percent decrease in its overall budget, though the department would get more than a $6 million increase in tourism.
Now, the not-so-good news:
Pennsylvania’s current budget has a $100 million hole that state lawmakers intended to fill with some kind of gaming revenue.
But that money never came through.
Even so, Gov. Tom Wolf’s spending plan for the next budget year optimistically calls for $150 million in even more unspecified gaming money, and lawmakers don’t seem to be close to a consensus on what to do.
And, there is still uncertainty over how Trump’s policies will affect state agency budgets.
With the Trump administration proposing to cut the EPA’s budget by about 25 percent, according to recently leaked documents, state environmental budgets could be impacted as well.
Meanwhile, some wealthy towns in Southeastern Pennsylvania have balked at a proposed per-person fee for relying solely on the State Police for public safety.
Across the state, 67 percent of municipalities — including Lower Macungie — tap the State Police for some safety needs; more than half have no local police force.
At the center of the Wolf administration’s cost-cutting efforts are the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole. One of the most drastic moves to lower corrections spending is the planned closure of Pennsylvania’s oldest prison, SCI Pittsburgh.
Corrections Secretary John Wetzel anticipated that will save a little over $80 million. But Wetzel’s view has clashed with other lawmakers, particularly Republicans who say the proposed measure will endanger the state.
Steel City news
With no exceptions, the $1 million Safe Water Plan will distribute water filters to Pittsburgh residents to reduce exposure to lead. People living within the city’s boundaries are eligible to receive one, regardless of income level, whether they rent or own, or who their water provider is.
While it’s a start, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said this is not a long-term solution.
Pittsburgh also became the only Pennsylvania city listed in 100 Resilient Cities, an initiative created by the Rockefeller Foundation to prepare urban areas to weather the shocks and stresses of the 21st century. Throughout a process that took more than a year, Pittsburgh identified racial and socioeconomic inequity, aging infrastructure, public health, and severe weather events as the city’s greatest weaknesses.