Investigations reach Pa. policy | News, Sports, Work

FILE – A bicyclist walks past the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on March 22, 2021.

The FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate made the most headlines this week, but Pennsylvania lawmakers also find themselves embroiled in investigations.

On Wednesday, PennLive reported that the FBI had sent subpoenas to the offices of several Republican state representatives and senators in Harrisburg.

The names of the lawmakers have not been confirmed, and as of Friday, GOP spokesmen said they had no evidence members were targeted.

This news came shortly after the revelation that federal agents had seized

cell phone of U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, as part of an ongoing investigation. Perry later emphasized that he was not the target, telling Fox News’ Tucker Carlson: “I have heard from my attorneys who have spoken directly with the Department of Justice, who have said that I, their client, am not the subject of this investigation.”

Federal officials are reportedly investigating a list of voters arranged by Trump allies during the 2020 election. Weeks after then-candidate Joe Biden won the November election, a group of Trump supporters — including some prominent political figures from Pennsylvania — signed form, indicating that they would serve as alternative voters who could help flip the race to Trump.

The federal probes into the voters — and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol — have drawn many GOP politicians, though no one has been charged or specifically named as a target.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Fayetteville, the GOP nominee for governor, reportedly appeared briefly this week before a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 incident. Mastriano spoke with the FBI earlier this summer.

While little remains publicly known about the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home or the ongoing investigations in Pennsylvania, conservative candidates have attacked the investigation as politically motivated.

Speaking to the right-wing news station Newsmax this week, Mastriano attributed the investigations to Democratic opponents, though he provided little to support the claim.

“Democrats are just going too far. I see it in Pennsylvania, we see it in Washington and we saw it in Florida last night,” he said.

Representative in the latest push to change school funds

A state lawmaker is working to overhaul the way public schools are funded with a proposed constitutional amendment that could eliminate property taxes and replace them with sales and income taxes.

Congressman Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, has long worked to change the state’s school funding system, which relies on local property taxes. Ryan is due to retire this year, but he is proposing a definitive constitutional change that would transcend his legislative career.

Call the plan “critical” in a memo to colleagues this week, Ryan said: “Moving to a sales/approach tax eliminates the regressive school property tax and will serve to remove barriers to home ownership.”

Ryan’s amendment would have to clear several hurdles: The General Assembly would have to pass it in two consecutive sessions before it could be made public for a referendum. GOP lawmakers have proposed several constitutional changes in recent months, in part to avoid the Democratic governor’s veto.

Ryan already proposed a package in February to change the way Pennsylvania funds its schools, with co-sponsors including Rep. Bud Cook, R-Clover Hill.

The bill — which Ryan has proposed be used as a replacement law if his amendment passes — would replace property taxes with a 2 percent sales tax and an increase in the personal income tax. Some retirement income would also be taxable under his plan.

“The time is now to save the Commonwealth from financial bankruptcy and its residents from homelessness,” he said.

The school funding system has long caused controversy.

Supporters and opponents of the state’s funding formula have been fighting in court for months this year in a case that dates back nearly a decade.

Plaintiffs in the suit argue that the funding formula violates the state constitution’s promise of equal protection, with poor areas receiving less than their fair share.

Commonwealth Court judges heard closing arguments in that case last month.

Democrats celebrate a close victory

Democrats in Congress spent the past week celebrating a key legislative victory, with hundreds of billions of federal dollars earmarked to promote renewable energy and combat the effects of climate change.

The Deflation Act — named amid concerns about rising prices — includes a watered-down version of much of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

The bill includes new fundraising taxes along with tax credits to encourage Americans to buy electric vehicles. Money is also earmarked to promote more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly appliances and power generation systems.

“We’re living in a moment now where we have once-in-a-lifetime storms every few months. Severe weather conditions are now the norm. As hurricane remnants flood Philadelphia’s Vine Street Freeway, western states burn and lakes disappear in the worst drought in a millennium.” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said in a news release after the vote on the legislation. “It is long past time to take bold action to tackle the climate crisis.”

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, who is due to leave office this year, called the plan a “partisan taxation and spending.”

The bill also expands certain forms of health coverage and aims to reduce the federal deficit.

Republicans voted consistently against the bill, with the final Senate vote being 51-50. Last year in the House of Representatives, every Republican voted in opposition, while only one Democrat split to join them.

Pennsylvania’s delegation was split perfectly along party lines, with only Perry not voting.

Ryan Brown covers state politics for Ogden Newspapers, owner of the Sun-Gazette.

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