State Roundup: National Conventions Wrap up as Harrisburg Looks Ahead
President Barack Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
HARRISBURG – The Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., dominated the political arena this week, from first lady Michelle Obama on opening night to former President Bill Clinton’s 48-minute speech on Wednesday, wrapping up with President Barack Obama on Thursday.
And Pennsylvania delegates were in the thick of it throughout the week. Gov. Ed Rendell also was in attendance, as was U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwatz, D-District 13.
Back in Harrisburg, it was business as usual while the General Assembly gears up for its brief session beginning Sept. 24. While some new laws passed in early summer are beginning to take effect, thoughts are turning to what measures lawmakers will be setting up for next session
Former Gov. Ed Rendell warned the Pennsylvania delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., that the presidential race is not over in the Keystone State, despite reports this week that Republicans were pulling advertising out of the state.
Most polls show Democratic President Barack Obama with a 5- to 10-point lead in Pennsylvania, but Rendell said the GOP might be laying a trap in the hopes that Democrats will slack off in efforts to secure the state’s 20 electoral votes for Obama.
“If they decide to come in and blitz the last six or seven weeks, they can do it if they want,” Rendell said. “All of a sudden that 9 point lead becomes a 6 point lead becomes a 3 point lead.”
The Associated Press reported this week that two key Romney groups — political advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC — have pulled their television advertising in Pennsylvania after spending about $20 million here.
But Rendell said nothing in politics is a sure thing.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us here,” said Rendell, who also is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Democrats are not alone in hoping the race in Pennsylvania will tighten in the final weeks of the campaign.
While Republicans disagree with Rendell “on nearly every political matter, his political instincts on our state’s competitiveness in the presidential race are correct,” Valerie Caras, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said Thursday in an emai.
Back in Charlotte, Democrat delegates spoke of their desires to expand the federal government while voters who once supported Obama question his stance on foreign policies this time around.
Three Commonwealth Court judges in Harrisburg will decide Sept. 12 if Libertarian Gary Johnson can be on the presidential ballot this November.
Last week, volunteers from both the Republican and Libertarian parties wrapped up a process of checking more than 49,000 signatures for validity. Under state law, third parties must have more than 20,600 signatures to qualify for a spot on the statewide ballot this year. But the Republican Party challenged the Pennsylvania Libertarian Party’s drive, prompting the signature reviews.
The Libertarian Party estimates it has some 16,000 signatures that are considered valid, leaving the fate of Johnson’s candidacy in the hands of the judges.
Valerie Caras, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said duplicate signatures and those of dead voters were uncovered in the review process, along with signatures of people not registered to vote.
“Our view as a party is we continue to stand behind the objection to the petition based on the fact that there (are) just serious, serious problems with them, and it’s clear, blatant fraud in some cases,” she said.
A review of the attendance records of all of Pennsylvania’s 19 sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives shows none have perfect attendance for recorded votes, according to statistics from GovTrack.us.
And while most representatives from the Keystone State hover near the national median — missing 2.4 percent of eligible votes — there are a few outliers.
The representatives cite various reasons for missing votes, including being in their home districts, illness or personal matters.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-District 2, tops the list. Fattah missed 8 percent of votes in his 16-year career in Congress, or 923 out of 12,206 votes.
“Congressional duties include more than just voting, and at times he has made the tough decision to miss a procedural vote in order to strategically promote and advance the interests of the region,” press secretary Ron Goldwyn wrote in an email.
As of Sept. 1, the state’s Department of Revenue requires certain online retailers to collect state sales tax. The deadline stemmed from increased enforcement the administration announced in December.
The sales tax applies to consumer transactions with online businesses with a “physical presence” in Pennsylvania. The physical presence includes distribution centers, staff or delivery trucks that come into the state, and those who advertise with in-state entities using sales- or clicked-based compensation methods.
The state is determining which companies do fall under the newly enforced guidelines.
If the state finds a retailer who isn’t collecting the tax and should be, it can issue an assessment, audit lien or referral to a collection agency or the Office of Attorney General.
The state said it doesn’t have a total of how many businesses have complied so far. But it expects to collect more than $42 million this fiscal year from the 6 percent sales tax.
Efforts to increase funding for Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges are stuck in a governmental traffic jam in Harrisburg.
State senators from both sides of the aisle said this week that they had transportation near the top of their priority lists for the abbreviated fall session that convenes Sept. 24, with a goal of approving a transportation funding package early in 2013
But Gov. Tom Corbett is still stuck in neutral.
Steve Chizmar, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said this week that the governor has no timeline for moving on transportation issues.
“The administration continues to look for a solution that is going to be the best choice for all of Pennsylvania,” he said.
Driving while using a cell phone or other hand-held device could be a no-no in Pennsylvania.
House Appropriations Minority Chairman Rep. Joseph Markosek, D-Allegheny, announced Thursday that he plans to introduce a bill in the fall session making it a crime.
Drivers caught using phones would be fined $50, or $100 if driving in a school zone, work zone or highway safety corridor, according to current draft legislation.
“Our current ban on texting while driving is a step the right direction, but it is woefully inadequate to protect people from drivers distracted by handheld devices,” Markosek said in a statement on the legislation.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation estimates that 58 people were killed last year in more than 14,000 distracted-driving car crashes.
If the law passes, Pennsylvania would join 10 other states with similar bans, including New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Maryland.
August revenue collections come up short
Revenue collection is just under where the state projected it would be, according to figures released by the Department of Revenue Tuesday.
The state collected a total of $1.8 billion in August, around $32.3 million less than the administration projected.
Year-to-date collections total $3.6 billion. That figure is $33.2 million below the state’s estimate.
Some of the gap came from lower sales tax collections than the state anticipated. Sales tax receipts totaled $722.8 million in August, which was $35.6 million below estimate.
Collection in personal income tax and corporation tax revenue both helped bolster figures by coming in higher than projected. Personal income tax collection totaled $763.7 million, $13.7 million above estimate.
Corporation tax revenue was $10.2 million above estimate for a total of $59.1 million.