PA Week in Review: Bridges get restricted, Democrats look to 2014

MAN WITH A PLAN: PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch says the state will put new or reduced weight restrictions on 1,000 bridges in the coming months.

By PA Independent Staff

HARRISBURG – With more than a month until lawmakers are due to return to Harrisburg, late August is consumed with efforts to keep prominent policy discussions alive and a tendency to look ahead to the much-anticipated gubernatorial election in 2014.

PennDOT adds restrictions to 1,000 bridges

Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch announced new and lower weight restrictions for 1,000 bridges Thursday, as state lawmakers continue to ponder the passage of a $2 billion transportation infrastructure package funded by increased taxes and fees.

MAN WITH A PLAN: PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch says the state will put new or reduced weight restrictions on 1,000 bridges in the coming months.

Schoch said the move was made necessary by the age of Pennsylvania’s infrastructure and the General Assembly’s inaction on road and bridge funding. Opponents of additional spending said the maneuver was nothing more than a political stunt.

It will take a few months for PennDOT to post the new weight restrictions on all the bridges, though a full list is now available online. About half of the bridges on the list already have some sort of weight restriction, but the other half will be restricted for the first time, Schoch said.

Conservatives say make changes to transportation rules to save money

As lawmakers continue looking for ways to provide more funding for transportation infrastructure in Pennsylvania, some conservative Republicans are pushing back against the Corbett administration’s plan to raise taxes and fees on Pennsylvania drivers.

One idea: repeal the state’s prevailing wage laws that require higher costs on road and bridge projects.

The prevailing wage is favored by unions because it ensures higher pay for their members on public jobs. Union officials say the wage mandate ensures public projects get the highest priority and the best workers, but conservatives see it as an unnecessary extra cost for the state.

PennDOT has an annual budget of about $7 billion – and about $3.8 billion of that is used for road and bridge projects – so anti-tax Republicans say the department should be able to reallocate spending and prioritize bridge projects before asking for higher taxes.

Should Democratss put a woman on top of 2014 ticket?

State Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said last week the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial effort could benefit from having a woman on the top of the ticket.

TWO LADIES: Can either U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, left, or former DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty, right, capture the same wave that Kathleen Kane rode in 2012?

No woman has ever topped a major party ticket in Pennsylvania gubernatorial history.

“We’re excited about our prospects in the southeast. I think there will be a lot of activity in the southeast during the gubernatorial race next year,” he said. “I think if you have a woman running against the governor, I think that creates significant contrast for folks.”

In short, Democrats want to recreate the wave that took Kathleen Kane from relative unknown to state attorney general during the 2012 election cycle. Kane got more votes than anyone in the state — even Barack Obama — last November, so it’s easy to see why the party would like to recreate that situation.

In the crowded Democratic primary field, there are three women: U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Montgomery; Kathleen McGinty, a former secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection; and Jo Ellen Litz, a Lebanon County commissioner.

PLCB returns to municipalities come in

More than 1,400 municipalities in Pennsylvania will soon see paychecks totaling more than $2.4 million from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

MERLOT MONOPOLY: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has a monopoly on all liquor and wine sales in the state.

MERLOT MONOPOLY: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has a monopoly on all liquor and wine sales in the state.

These are payments municipalities get from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board– based on how many liquor licenses exist within their borders.

Privatization plans like those proposed by House Republican Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, would have created a structure licensing the retailers who would take the place of the PLCB’s Fine Wine and Spirits Stores — in addition to the already-licensed bars, restaurants and beer-selling grocery stores. A later plan sponsored by Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Montgomery, included $8,000 permits for liquor and wine sales, or $4,000 for either type of product.

Whether such licenses would make up for the money the PLCB returns to the state every year became an issue in the debate. Liquor privatization stalled in the Senate in June, with few to no visible signs of progress over the summer.

Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican caucus which supports privatization, said privatization plans could mean license fees go elsewhere. The fees are turned over to the municipality for law enforcement purposes, but there’s no way to ensure that’s happening, as no local reporting requirement exists.

PA’s biggest charter school slammed in new audit

Pennsylvania’s auditor general said he found several instances of “significant noncompliance” with laws at the state’s largest charter school, Chester Community Charter School.

CHESTER CHARTER: The school was criticized this week by a new state audit, but the school says they have everything in order.

CHESTER CHARTER: The school was criticized this week by a new state audit, but the school says they have everything in order.

The Delaware County school disputes those findings, accusing Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a first-term Democrat, of acting with a political agenda.

The audit, released Wednesday, cited 11 findings relating to improper payments received by the charter school and sloppy reporting and record-keeping. DePasquale said the school improperly received $1.2 million of state tax dollars through lease reimbursements. Under state law, charters can get reimbursements for leasing public or private facilities.

In this case, the audit found, payments from 2008 through 2011 were for a building the school’s founder owned. It also describes property transfers as “questionable,” involving lease arrangements between parties with interests in the school.

But CCCS denies it was involved in such an agreement, and contends the payments were proper when the DOE signed off on them.

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