Week in Review:Voter ID law dead for now; cheating scandal in Philly

By PA Independent Staff

Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID law is dead, at least for now.

Gov. Tom Corbett announced Thursday that the state will not pursue an appeal of a Commonwealth Court decision that struck down the law that, while never actually implemented, would have required that voters show identification before casting their ballots.

“The Commonwealth will not pursue an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn the Commonwealth Court’s decision to enjoin Act 18’s photo identification mandate,” Corbett said in a news release.

“Based upon the court’s opinion, it is clear that the requirement of photo identification is constitutionally permissible. However, the court also made clear that in order for a voter identification law to be found constitutional, changes must be made to address accessibility to photo identifications,” Corbett said.

LOOKING BACK: Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID law is dead, at least for now.

Corbett maintained that a photo ID requirement is “sensible and reasonable” and indicated his administration would work with the Legislature to address issues surrounding the law — but not right now as lawmakers grapple with a difficult budget.

Democrats extolled Corbett’s decision and chided him for pursuing the law in the first place. The law was based in politics and meant to suppress voting, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said in a statement.

“The Corbett administration wasted time and money in the pursuit of this law and the court actions that resulted from its passage. Taking away the right to vote is a very serious matter and that is what the court addressed,” Costa said. “The right to vote deserves to be protected and participation should be preserved.”

Cheating scandal erupts in Philadelphia schools – but not among students

A principal and four elementary school teachers in the School District of Philadelphia were charged Thursday after they were alleged to be involved in a standardized test cheating scandal.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who announced the charges, said the five individuals were “allegedly perpetuating a culture of cheating” for five years.

“The alleged misconduct by these educators is an affront to the public’s trust and will not be tolerated,” Kane said.

Evidence was presented before a statewide investigating grand jury that Evelyn Cortez, Jennifer Hughes, Lorraine Vicente, Rita Wyszynski and Ary Sloane, all of Cayuga Elementary School in North Philadelphia, allegedly changed student answers, provided answers to students and improperly reviewed test questions prior to administering the PSSA.

Pennsylvania’s inspector general has been investigating cheating at 11 Philadelphia schools, while the school district itself has been looking into 19 schools, with probes pending at 22 others. Cheating was found at 13 schools, and 69 current and former employees were implicated in district investigations.

Report says Internet gambling could bring big bucks

A report released Wednesday indicated Pennsylvania could bring in millions in new tax dollars if it legalized online gambling, but there’s no guarantee thus far that lawmakers will try to use it as a money maker in next year’s budget.

State Senate Majority leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, hasn’t taken a firm stance on Internet gambling, but said the issue deserves a “serious look.”

While the state already has collected the “low-hanging fruit” with casinos that offer slots and table games, Internet gambling — or iGaming — would offer the most potential of new gambling revenue streams, said Stephen Mullin, president of Econsult Solutions, the firm that assisted the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee with the report.

Tax revenue from iGaming could hit about $70 million in the first year and more than $110 million annually in the years after, Mullin said.

Rating agencies issue warnings to PA

During the past two weeks, all three major credit rating agencies have issued stern warnings to Pennsylvania policymakers in advance of the coming budget season.

Two of them, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, say they may be forced to reduce Pennsylvania’s credit rating, making it more expensive for the state to borrow money on the bond market, unless state lawmakers address structural problems in the state budget this year.

The agencies are most worried about Pennsylvania’s $48 billion unfunded pension liability, which is split between the State Employees Retirement System and the Public School Employees Retirement System.

The state has not adequately funded either system in a decade, and the long-deferred costs are causing serious problems. The state spent $1.5 billion on pensions this year — less than half of what is required to keep the plans solvent — and that total is expected to jump to more than $2 billion in the 2014-15 budget.

Pensions might be the biggest, but they are far from the only concern for the state’s credit rating.

“The budget is not structurally balanced and relies on one-time savings, deferrals and other measures that add uncertainty,” warned Standard and Poor’s in an April 28 report calling for “a concerted effort to bring revenues and expenditures into alignment” in Pennsylvania.

Budget woes threaten governor’s education plan

A $600-million shortfall could jeopardize Corbett’s plans to spend more on public education next year.

In his proposed fiscal 2014-15 budget, Corbett called for $387 million in new spending on schools, mostly in the form of targeted grants. But last week, the Independent Fiscal Office last week projected a year-end deficit of $608 million.

While that likely will complicate next year’s budget – and the priorities attached to it – the administration is sticking to its guns for now.

“The governor continues to emphasize the importance of education and increasing student achievement,” said Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Hearing to explore Kane’s impeachment turns messy

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s quest to impeach Kane, the state’s attorney general, quickly turned into a lopsided affair, when Democratic lawmakers on the House State Government Committee walked out of Tuesday morning hearing on the matter.

That left just Metcalfe, R-Butler, and his fellow Republicans to hear from a contingent of conservatives largely critical of Kane, the first Democrat to hold the position since it became an elective office in 1980.

Metcalfe has been clamoring for impeachment since last fall, citing Kane’s “misbehavior” in office. He’s focused mostly on Kane’s refusal to defend a legal challenge to Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage because she believes the state law “wholly unconstitutional.”

Democrats see it as a partisan witch hunt.

“Impeaching for political reasons is never a good idea,” said state Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia. “Using this committee and this Legislature to settle political grievances is even worse.”

Quick hits

Philly residents worry about impact of three new district high schools

Credit report shows Philly school budget puts enrollment in danger

Prescription drug-monitoring bill clears state Senate

Dems make another push for Medicaid expansion

Stilp hijacks natural gas rally

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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