News & Brews August 27, 2021

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PA schools try to figure out how to spend $7 billion

Earlier this summer, the Commonwealth Foundation pointed out that more federal COVID aid to PA went to schools than to healthcare. Now, school districts are trying to figure out how to spend $7 billion in federal funds. Of course, the hitch is that this is one-time aid, so in theory, school districts should not use it to create new recurring expenses. We’ll see how well that works out.

Legislature responds to Wolf’s call for school mask law

In response to Gov. Wolf’s call for the Legislature to return to session to pass a statewide school mask mandate, yesterday Senate and House leadership sent a letter to Wolf reminding him of his previous position that mask decisions should be left to local school districts, reissuing a yet-unanswered request that the Wolf administration provide more detailed data regarding COVID infections statewide, and reiterating their position that masking decisions should be made locally. (Relatedly, here’s a great little video montage of Wolf’s previous position on statewide mask mandates, current up until this week, apparently.)

Looking at the election audit kerfuffle

Spotlight PA looks at the recent upheaval among state GOP lawmakers over conducting a forensic audit of the 2020 election. You’ll recall that late last week, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman removed Sen. Doug Mastriano from overseeing the audit and replaced him with Sen. Cris Dush. The story shares some theories of what’s behind the shakeup.

Analysis: Earmarks in state budget hit all-time high

Our 2021-22 state budget includes approximately $5.5 billion in earmarks and fund transfers, marking an all-time high, according to an analysis from the Commonwealth Foundation (CF). While most of this was due to the windfall of federal COVID funds, state earmarks also hit a high. CF explains, “When solely accounting for state money, 85 earmarks account for $193.5 million in spending—this is a 62% increase from the 2020–2021 Fiscal Code, a 314% increase from 2019-2020, and a 558% increase from 2018–2019.” And for a much more in-depth look at the actual earmarks, including a database (scroll down for that), click here.

Q&A with PA GOP gubernatorial candidate Jason Richey

The progressive Pennsylvania Capital-Star sat down with Allegheny County attorney Jason Richey, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor. The conversation covered taxes, transportation, the 2020 election, and more. Read the piece here.

Lawmakers oppose planned Medicaid change

The Inquirer reports that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are opposing a plan by the Wolf administration “to change who conducts physical assessments of elderly and disabled Pennsylvania residents when they apply for at-home services under Medicaid.” Under the proposed change, local agencies would no longer conduct the assessments, and instead they would be conducted by the Virginia-based Maximus, Inc., which currently handles the financial side of collecting info from individuals and enrolling them in the program if they qualify. As an aside, the Inky calls this a “rare bipartisan move,” but as House Speaker Bryan Cutler explained earlier this year, 622 of the 650 bills the House passed last legislative session had bipartisan support. So while hot-button issues can often cause disagreement, Democrats and Republicans actually do come together on lots of things.

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