In case you missed it: This week’s best reads from Pa. cities

    High school exchange: Kensington Health Sciences high school students tour the athletic facilities at Methacton High School.

    High school exchange: Kensington Health Sciences high school students tour the athletic facilities at Methacton High School. (Kevin McCorry/ WHYY)

    Tracking Trump’s impact on Pennsylvania. 

     The Trump Tracker

    President Donald Trump has been busy over the last six days.

    He signed an executive order seeking the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. That was a major campaign issue for a lot of Pennsylvanians. Though the order was vague on actionable steps, it has governors of cash-strapped states concerned. 

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    Trump also reversed an Obama-era policy that helped first-time homebuyers get loans. The program helped lower-income families, young people and those with poor credit buy homes with lower down payments. 

    The President signed an executive order stripping federal funds from sanctuary cities — places that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities — and increasing the power of ICE agents in the field. This order comes as Pennsylvania lawmakers try to similarly remove state funds from these municipalities, most of which are unwilling to cooperate due to the liability the it assumes when detaining someone on behalf of ICE.

    Trump has often touted his plan to restore the nation’s infrastructure, an idea that has bipartisan support. What isn’t clear is how he will pay for it. His strategy is to bring private funding to the table, which may result in the average consumer feeling a little nickle-and-dimed. Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey spoke this week about the need for an infrastructure funding plan “both parties can support.” 

    The 2016 election is still reverberating in parts of Pennsylvania. National media outlets have identified Luzerne County as a place to visit to understand how Trump swung Pennsylvania — and the nation — red. And women across the state are showing up to learn how to run for office themselves, inspired in part by the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. 

    Prisons versus schools

    Pennsylvania is facing a $600 million budget gap this year alone, which means things are going to have to get cut. This week, the cut was in prisons. 

    On January 6th, the state Department of Corrections issued a list of five state prisons, from which two would be closed by the end of June. In the lead-up to that decision on January 26th, the communities that host the prisons and the corrections officers who work there spoke out against the closure plan. Legislators that represent those areas held a hearing to ask Wolf to pump the brakes. 

    In the end, only one prison was selected to be closed: SCI-Pittsburgh. SCI-Pittsburgh is known for having a mental health and addiction treatment unit, but the property is also the most valuable and most likely to be repurposed for a profit. 

    When Governor Wolf initially announced the closure plan, he said he was choosing “to invest in schools — not prisons.” Wolf has tried to push school funding plans through the legislature and budget process with limited success. 

    Due to a reliance on property tax, Pennsylvania has a long way to go in fairly funding schools. As an example, look at Kensington, a poor, inner-city Philadelphia district, compared to Methacton, in Montgomery County. Students from the two districts recently met to discuss the funding issue and see how the other half learns. 

    One way to change this imbalance would be to eliminate the property tax as a way to fund schools. A bill has been proposed to do just that in the legislature, though it’s not clear how much support it would get. 

    All politics is local

    Right before the inauguration, mayors from all over the country came together for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The big topic: how to continue to build strong cities despite decreased access to state and federal funds. 

    Some cities are working to forge new partnerships outside the realm of government. Others are leveraging grants to fuel necessary small businesses. 

    And others, like Philly, are forging ahead without a partner. Philadelphia is the first city in the nation to prohibit employers from asking about an applicant’s wage history, in an attempt to close the pay equity gap. Cities across the country are looking to Philly to see how this plays out. 

    And in not so good news: two elected leaders in Pennsylvania are paying for their crimes. Former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed sentenced to two years of probation and fines after pleading guilty to stealing artifacts that belonged to the city. And former Philadelphia State Rep. Chaka Fattah started his ten-year federal prison sentence this week on charges of rackateering. 

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