July 7, 2023

They had one job. Basking in the warmth of a budget surplus, with general agreement on most of the Commonwealth’s priorities, the executive and legislative branches of state government still were not able to do the one thing they are required to do – produce a budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year by July 1.

The sticking point was a $100 million line-item for a private-school tuition voucher initiative that Republicans wanted and Governor Shapiro agreed to, but was blocked by House Democrats. Shapiro backed off his support of the voucher plan, igniting a finger-pointing free-for-all about who was at fault. And there is still work to do.

Now for a bit of procedural mumbo jumbo: the budget bill must be blessed by the Senate before it goes to the governor for final approval. The Senate is not scheduled to reconvene until Sept. 18. Shapiro has already asked the Senate to return and finish the budget work. We shall see.

Speaking of the aforementioned budget surplus, it weighed in at $1.3 billion in the recently ended fiscal year, 3.1% more than projected.

U.S. employers added 209,000 jobs in June, the Labor Department reported this morning. The unemployment rate was 3.6%, compared with 3.7% in May. It was the 30th consecutive month of gains in American payrolls, but the June figure represented a continued cooling of the labor market.

A rash of shootings as the U.S. celebrated the Fourth of July is spiking fears in communities across the country and highlighting the challenges police face in preventing such violence as temperatures warm and festivities move outside. In Philadelphia, where five people were killed, Mayor Jim Kenney once again called on national lawmakers to address the problem.

Russia’s war in Ukraine reached the 500-day mark last weekend, a grim milestone for a conflict that rages with no end in sight. Ukraine’s government and its Western supporters hope a broad counteroffensive launched last month will change the battle lines and return Russian-occupied areas to Ukrainian control.

U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman are supporting a proposed federal rule aimed at providing more information to emergency service personnel who respond to the kind of toxic train spills that upended the lives of thousands of people in or near East Palestine, Ohio, earlier this year.

Note to whoever lost a small baggie of cocaine in the White House West Wing this week: the U.S. Secret Service would like a word with you. The baggie was discovered in a high-traffic area, where everybody from White House staffers to tour-takers matriculate. Republicans pledged to launch an investigation.

There has been lots of chatter recently about how Pittsburgh elected officials have veered to the left, politically speaking. Indeed, there is evidence this is true. How did it happen? Here’s how NBC sees it.

The U.S. Department of Transportation will send more than $2.2 billion in grants to state, tribal and local governments under a grant program that was expanded under the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law. The $2.26 billion for 162 projects provides funds for each of the 50 states, two territories and the District of Columbia.

A new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranks states on how effectively they’ve used policies and investments to promote adoption of electric vehicles and achieve broader electrification in the transportation sector. PA ranks 16th.

Threads, a text-based app built by Meta to rival Twitter, went live this week. The app, billed as the text version of Meta’s photo-sharing platform Instagram, became available Wednesday night to users in more than 100 countries — including the U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada and Japan. There were no updates on the Musk-Zuckerberg cage match.

State Sens. Dan Laughlin (R – Erie County) and Sharif Street (D – Philadelphia) introduced a bill this week that would allow those 21 and older to use recreational marijuana in the state. The measure would include provisions for enforcement of DUI and pursuit of illegal markets, as well as deterrence efforts to keep marijuana out of the hands of children and ban any marketing toward children, according to Laughlin and Street’s co-sponsorship memo.

Our Shameless Client Plug goes once more to our pals at Penn State, whose efforts resulted in the Commonwealth receiving an additional $117 million in federal funding for broadband internet service, bringing the total state grant up to $1.2 billion. The wizards at Penn State Extension developed a mapping analysis that supported the additional funding.

In our We Can’t Make This Up segment, we visit bucolic Lancaster County, where Manheim Township police officers proved to be… well, ham-handed in their efforts to capture a 200-pound pot belly pig that had been on the loose in the township for several days. The officers finally prevailed and, after not being able to ascertain where the pig had come from, saw that he was taken to an animal sanctuary, where he joins four other pot bellies and will live stress-free for the rest of his days. And kudos to the officers, who acknowledged that, “yes, we see the irony in three cops chasing a pig.”

And that’s what passes for news and entertainment around these parts this week. Join us back here again next week, and have a relaxing weekend!