Episode 47: Dang property taxes!


The Morning Call’s Steve Esack recently co-authored a series investigating Pennsylvania’s little-discussed Clean and Green program, which essentially shifts property tax burdens off large landowners and onto regular homeowners—particularly in rural areas. (You should read it).

We’ll discuss why the heck this policy exists, and how the billions and billions of dollars it functionally reroutes play into the commonwealth’s already-fraught property tax landscape. Plus, we’ll answer a bunch of questions WITF listeners and readers have submitted over the past few weeks.

Steve and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Liz Navratil also recap a number of new developments in two of Pennsylvania’s highest-profile stories of the moment: the ongoing battle over the state’s redrawn congressional map, a lawmaker’s domestic violence allegations against a fellow caucus member.

Episode 46: Small races writ large

Pennsylvania had an election this week.

Though it was only a special election to replace a resigned congressman in a single district, it received wall-to-wall national coverage. Like several other small or special contests this year and last, PA18 is seen as a signifier of how well democrats will do in this year’s midterms.

Also, for better or worse, it’s seen as a referendum on President Trump.

The AP’s Marc Levy joins us for a look at what we can actually take from Democrat Conor Lamb’s (apparent) victory in a district that was seen as safe for Republicans. We’ll discuss why the commonwealth’s voters are unique, which outcomes might actually translate to future elections, and why the race had much more to do with unions than it did Donald Trump.

Plus, we’ll recap the other major thing that happened this week: state Rep. Tarah Toohil has gotten a restraining order against fellow GOP Rep. Nick Miccarelli, after alleging he abused her when the two dated. It’s a situation that—as far as anybody has been able to figure out—is totally unprecedented.

State House Sound Bites Podcast: NPR | iTunes | Google Play

Episode 45: Guns, guns, guns

In the wake of the Florida shooting that killed 17 people, lawmakers around the country have been grappling with how—or if—to reform gun laws.

Pennsylvania’s own US Senator Pat Toomey found himself in the thick of the conversation this week as he proposed moderate gun reforms to President Donald Trump, and was then immediately undercut as the president suddenly sided with Democrats on the issue.

PennLive Opinion Editor John Micek joins us to unpack the slew of gun proposals floating around, plus recap a debate he moderated between Pennsylvania’s three GOP candidates for governor.

And bringing another angle to the gun story is Paula Knudsen of L&P’s The Caucus.

She and colleague Brad Bumsted recently wrote about the general nonchalance lawmakers and other state employees appear to have about concealed weapons being carried in the state Capitol building—and the concerns some people have raised about that.

Episode 44: Let’s sue the court

In a little bit of a departure, this show was recorded live as an episode of Smart Talk, WITF’s morning radio show, on Thursday, February 23. We’re cross-posting because it covers all the important redistricting news we would have discussed on the podcast anyway, and who wants to be redundant?

WITF’s Scott LaMar, Emily Previti, and Katie Meyer (plus Common Cause PA’s Micah Sims) discuss the congressional map the state Supreme Court drew this week, and the subsequent fallout from Republicans.

We’ll talk you through the many political ramifications of the court’s new map, and the legal intricacies of various plans to try and stop it from being implemented.

Just a note, the episode was recorded before the Senate GOP filed a second lawsuit against the court, so you’ll only hear us talking about one. But you can catch up on the most recent details here.


State House Sound Bites Podcast: NPR | iTunes | Google Play

Episode 43: What does ‘fair’ even mean?

It’s been almost a month since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared the commonwealth’s 2011 congressional map an unconstitutional Republican gerrymander and ordered lawmakers to redraw it in time for the 2018 election.

And as the February 19 deadline approaches for the justices to select a replacement, the contentious saga might be coming to an end.

Or not.

Probably not.

Lawmakers ended up not being able to compromise on new districts, which led to House and Senate Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Democrats, Governor Tom Wolf, Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack, and others all submitting totally separate proposals to the court.

The court might pick one of those, or modify one to fit its (sort of vague) criteria for fairness. Or it might draw its own.

If that latter option happens, GOP leaders have promised to sue in federal court.

The PLS Reporter’s Jason Gottesman stops by to discuss the various ways this might all play out, and to explain why everything about this case seems so frustratingly subjective.


Episode 42: Making it up as they go along

By the time you listen to this podcast, there’s a good chance that things will look a bit different.

All week, we’ve been waiting to see what the state legislature will do to respond to the state Supreme Court’s declaration that Pennsylvania’s congressional maps are unconstitutional, and justices’ subsequent order for lawmakers to redraw them by February 15.

The deadline for the General Assembly was even tighter; they had to submit new maps to Governor Tom Wolf by February 9 (the day we recorded this podcast).

As of the recording, we knew only that the legislature would not have time to vote on the new map, so its presiding officers—House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati—planned to collaborate on their own maps and submit those to the governor, without a vote.

PennLive’s Wallace McKelvey and Liz Navratil of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Philly Inquirer join us to discuss all the potential outcomes, and the political, legal, and practical implications of this strange situation.

Episode 41: More fights about redistricting

Yes, this is the third podcast in a row that has focused on the fallout from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declaring the state’s congressional maps unconstitutional. And yes, we still have a lot more to say about it.

This week saw more volleys back and forth between legislative republicans and the court, and perhaps most importantly, resulted in the Senate GOP refusing to hand over documents the court ordered from them, arguing that the court is undermining the legislature’s authority.

Perhaps it’s obvious, but when one branch of government stops respecting the authority of another, it’s possible there could be real harm done to that government’s ability to function.

Capitolwire Bureau Chief and columnist Chris Comisac joins us to give a conservative perspective on what’s going on, and helps pick through the implications and potential outcomes of this thorny situation.

Just a note, this podcast was recorded before we got word that the legislature is calling for Justice David Wecht to be disqualified (they’re arguing he has previously expressed strong opinions about gerrymandering, which should mean he can’t rule in this case). If you’re interested in learning more about that, check WITF’s news feed for more coverage.

Episode 40: Unconstitutional maps, uncertain future


Today’s podcast was recorded live as an episode of Smart Talk, WITF’s morning show. That means it’s twice as long, and features listener calls and emails.

It features Keystone Crossroads’ Emily Previti and Marc Levy of the Associated Press, who help us break down the biggest issue in Pennsylvania (and one of the biggest issues in the country) this week: the PA Supreme Court’s decision to rule the commonwealth’s congressional maps unconstitutional.

The ruling stunned many lawmakers, who now have just a few weeks to draw and pass totally new maps. A number of them have said they don’t think they’ll make the February 9th deadline, in which case the court says it will choose a new map.

A group of republicans has already filed with the US Supreme Court for a stay on the decision. And meanwhile, the state court still hasn’t provided its full opinion, explaining why exactly the maps aren’t constitutional.

State House Sound Bites Podcast: NPR | iTunes | Google Play

Episode 39: Redistricting, races, and the return of the legislature

Lawmakers have been on vacation from Harrisburg for over a month, but next week they’ll return to start off their 2018 session. Jason Gottesman of the PLS Reporter and City and State PA joins us to run down a list of their top priorities—from overhauling the tax code to shrinking the state House.

But before we can talk too much about what’s to come, we also have to note that a bunch of important things happened this week too. For one, the state Supreme Court heard and is now deliberating on a prominent gerrymandering case; if they rule the state’s congressional maps unconstitutional, the legislature could be forced to totally redraw the lines in the coming weeks.

Donald Trump also paid PA a visit in support of GOP congressional candidate and state representative Rick Saccone. Plus, Amazon put two Keystone State cities (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) on a short list of possible locations for its highly sought-after second headquarters.

Episode 38: Farm Show fever

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is in full swing, and we had planned to do a very Farm Show-centric episode. But as someone probably once said, state politics operates on its own mystical schedule, so lots of other unexpected stuff happened this week as well.

Therefore, Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer columnist John Baer and Paula Knudsen, a reporter for L&P’s The Caucus, join us to discuss it all. We’ll recap the governor’s state of emergency declaration over the opioid epidemic, and break down a major federal court decision saying Pennsylvania’s congressional maps are legal, despite their partisan qualities.

We’ll also discuss some prominent lawmakers who may be running for higher office, Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack’s contribution to the gerrymandering discussion, general palace intrigue, and yes, the Farm Show—including some of John Baer’s best anecdotes from his many years accompanying politicians to the event.