Crime and policing, presidential elections and, yes, the budget.
Budget impasse? More like budget is passed
It finally happened. After nine months of waiting, Pennsylvania has a budget. But like the series finale of a show that should have been cancelled seasons ago, this gripping political drama ended a bit half-heartedly. After promising not to sign the compromise budget, Governor Tom Wolf instead let it pass into law without his signature, releasing $6 billion of funding that had been tied up in the budget impasse.
A reunion episode may be in the works, though: Wolf has promised to veto the fiscal code, which serves as the road map for spending that $6 billion. Without a fiscal code, well … we don’t yet know what happens without a fiscal code. But there could be serious implications for education spending, the issue that Wolf most hoped to reform with this budget fight. School districts are postponing plans to close temporarily, but many, from Reading to Carbondale to Allentown, say the sense of uncertainty hasn’t gone away.
Law and disorder
A lot of news around crime and policing this week.
A new report shows that some Philadelphia’s police may be a little too eager to stop and frisk, whether or not they have a legal right to. The city’s stop-and-frisk program has been under federal supervision since 2012, and compared to a year ago, not much has changed. In Philadelphia 200,000 people were stopped in 2015, and only one out of every 81 frisks produced a gun. The city is 43 percent African-American, but 77 percent of frisks involved African-American residents.
Police commissioner Richard Ross said, “There’s some work for us to do.”
Not to fan the flames of a Philly-Pittsburgh rivalry, but there may be lessons to be learned in the western half of the state. The number of complaints filed against Pittsburgh police officers is down 43 percent since 2013. The city attributes the declines to better training, and has seen improvement in all four major areas that tend to get complaints: conduct toward the public, inappropriate conduct, neglect of duty and use of force.
There are policing challenges in smaller towns and boroughs in Pennsylvania as well. A mishandled internal affairs investigation in the borough of Sunbury has revealed a surprising lack of written policies to govern the police department. Turns out, for small police departments on tight budgets, that can be fairly normal. And while a lack of written rules doesn’t always lead to poor behavior, it can allow the thinking, as one expert says, that if a rule’s not written down, you don’t have to follow it.
The Pennsylvania State Police has also been rocked by scandal recently. Early this year, 29 cadets were released from the state police academy due to cheating allegations. There is an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation and the PSP Commissioner has called for the Office of the Inspector General to launch an outside audit. Former cadets allegedly involved in the cheating scandal spoke to Penn Live about a culture of “dysfunction” inside the academy.
It’s a bad time for bad news as the PSP is facing a looming officer shortage. Nearly 40 percent of current troopers are eligible for retirement in the next four years, and recruitment of new cadets hasn’t kept pace. As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports, the number of people served by state police has increased by 90,000 while the number of officers has declined 17 percent. That’s only expected to get worse over the next few years.
Lead laws and more
While Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder testifies in front of Congress about his knowledge of the Flint lead-tainted water crisis, legislators and council members across Pennsylvania are conducting their own investigations into what can be done about the continuing problem of lead poisoning.
The Philadelphia City Council heard from the city’s department of health and environmental groups. And a bipartisan group of state representatives proposed three new laws they’d like to see in Pennsylvania, including universal testing of children under the age of six. Not to be outdone, Senate Democrats released a package of five new bills, including a lead task force and increased testing at schools and daycare centers.
Some of that legislation talked about testing water and pipes for lead leaching into the water. Experts say that’s a lot harder than it sounds: we don’t yet have a way to identify which homes have lead pipes without testing every individual home. Even if your city’s water system passes all the lead tests, your home could still have lead-tainted water coming out of the tap.
Ready or not, here it comes: the Pennsylvania primary is April 26. Are you registered to vote? You can do it online now, so you really have no excuse anymore.
Usually, the Pennsylvania primary’s late date means the presidential nominees are a given by the time we get to the polls. But this year … could be Pennsylvania’s year to shine. There likely won’t be a GOP candidate with a decisive delegate lead by April 26, and the Dems could also still be locked in a contentious battle.
In case you don’t understand Pennsylvania’s complicated delegate process (which you’d need an advanced political science degree to fully grasp), Dave Davies at WHYY explains the GOP system. And you can hear from two Penn State students running to represent their candidate of choice at the conventions.