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20 questions for Pa. politics in 2020

  • Ed Mahon

 Ian Sterling for WITF

The answers to some of these questions will affect millions of people across Pennsylvania (and, from a certain point of view, potentially billions around the world).

But answers to others are a little more personal — helping me decide what I’ll listen to and eat while travelling across Pennsylvania in what’s sure to be an event-filled election year.

1. Will Erie County get its own community college? Many community leaders there say the county of about 272,000 people in northwestern Pennsylvania needs an affordable higher education option in order to meet the demands of employers, lift people out of poverty and compete with other regions. The state Board of Education delayed action this year and now plans to hold a hearing in March.

2. Will Donald Trump win Erie — and Pennsylvania — again? It is one of three counties that flipped for him in 2020, along with Northampton in the Lehigh Valley and Luzerne in the northeast. John Fetterman, then the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, told me in 2018 that Erie might be the state’s most critical bellwether county.

3. Will opportunity zones —  a federal tax credit that Erie boosters have big hopes for — make a difference for eligible communities in Pennsylvania?

4. What should I order from New York Lunch in Erie on my next trip back to the city? Right now, I lean toward a Double Greek Cheese Burg.

5. How will the ongoing rollout of Pennsylvania’s new voting machines go? For that question, I’ll turn to my colleague Emily Previti.

6. Will Pennsylvania matter in the Democratic presidential primary? Voters here don’t get their say until April 28, long after caucuses and elections in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states.

7. Should I make the switch to Disney+? Rolling Stone TV critic Alan Sepinwall created this very handy guide to the streaming wars. It reminded me of the best kind of voters’ guide ahead of elections. You might be wondering what this question is doing on this list, but if Pennsylvania DOES matter in the Democratic nomination campaign, then I imagine the life of every reporter in the state will be busier and thus relaxation choices are even more important.

8. How will Pennsylvania’s economy hold up? The state reached a record low unemployment rate this year. That kind of good economy means revenue is generally better for state government, and it could be a big boost for President Trump next fall.

9. Will some of the lowest paid teachers see a raise? Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf proposed raising the minimum teacher salary to $45,000 a year. It wasn’t a particularly expensive idea for the state (about $13.8 million per year), although some school district leaders and lawmakers worried about the ripple effects — i.e. that raising salaries wouldn’t be sustainable in the long run. Wolf’s proposal didn’t get very far, despite some Republican support. Nationally, teacher pay is an issue in the presidential race — with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont saying all starting teachers should earn at least $60,000 a year.

10. Will lowest paid workers get a raise? Raising the minimum wage, along with implementing a severance tax on natural gas drilling, is one of the issues that Wolf has pushed for each year. The Senate in December passed a bill to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.50 an hour, although its prospects in the House are unclear.

11. What’s going to happen with Pennsylvania’s big school funding lawsuit? A trial is scheduled for the summer of 2020. The plaintiffs, representing families from a diverse group of school districts, allege that the state’s funding system for schools leads to underfunding and disparities that penalize students in low-wealth districts. WHYY has been covering the case thoroughly.

12. Will Pennsylvania pass a “red flag” law, allowing courts to temporarily take away someone’s gun rights? WITF’s Katie Meyer and I have written a good bit about the debate over this issue, and one of the major backers of the effort, state Sen. Tom Killion, is one of the dwindling number of Republican lawmakers in the Philly suburbs.

13. What’s going to happen with Philadelphia’s new red flag law? City Council in November passed an ordinance allowing courts to temporarily remove someone’s gun rights — despite a state preemption law banning local governments from regulating firearms, as The Philadelphia Tribune reported.

14. Will the new Democrats majority in Delaware County mean big policy changes? I grew up in Springfield, Delaware County, which seemed like the Republican-est part of a Republican stronghold, so I’m personally curious.

15. What changes are coming for Pennsylvania newspapers in 2020? Gannett/GateHouse merger this year means several newspapers in south central Pennsylvania (including one where I used to work) now are part of the same company that owns the Erie Times-News, Pocono Record and others. Meanwhile, journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently launched a “byline strike,” the latest development in an ongoing dispute there.

16. What are the hosts of “Binge Mode” going to tackle next? This podcast, which has taken very deep dives into the Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Star Wars universes, is a delightful listen during long car rides to Erie and other parts of Pennsylvania.

17. What’s going to happen to Jovan Weaver? I learned about him from  WHYY’s “Schooled” podcast, which described how Weaver grew up poor in Philly and “went from potential casualty of the streets to principal of one of (the) city’s most needy and controversial elementary schools.” Then, after the podcast came out, Weaver was charged with vehicular homicide and evidence tampering.

18. Will Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s efforts to treat unassembled gun parts the same as working firearms survive a legal challenge? This month, he said convicted felons and others banned from possessing guns could face charges if police catch them with parts that could be easily turned into a gun. The National Rifle Association opposes the move, and some gun parts manufacturers and a gun rights group are suing the state police over the implementation of the policy.

19. How many bills will the governor veto this year? Wolf vetoed four bills this year — fewer than most of his time in office. (He vetoed nine in 2015, plus a line item veto; eight in 2016; three in 2017; and five 2018.)

20. How much is PA Post reporter Joseph Darius Jaafari going to love jumping into the Susquehanna River on New Year’s Day? He pledged to do it if PA Post hit one of its benchmarks on the way to raising $20,000 for our NewsMatch campaign. We hit that mark. But we haven’t hit the overall goal yet. Please consider donating.

Follow Ed Mahon on Twitter @edmahonreporter.

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