After Texas, clergy gather to protest gun violence. How much is enough? | Wednesday Morning Coffee

The Legislature’s utter inaction on the most basic constraints on gun violence is one of the great moral failures of governance of the last decade

May 25, 2022 7:22 am

(Photo via Getty Images/Colorado Newsline.)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The state Legislature returned to town this week after an extended, primary season break. And its return for the three days’ worth of voting sessions that wraps up today brought with it another familiar rite of spring: The budget rally.

Almost hour on the hour this week, advocates for a host of causes have held events on the Capitol steps, in the building’s ornate Main Rotunda, in its more workmanlike East Rotunda, and, seemingly, every space in between, to plead their respective cases to lawmakers, the public, and the press.

The end goal? Hopefully a slightly larger piece of the budgetary pie when the Republican-controlled General Assembly and the Democratic Wolf administration reach a deal on a final spending plan on, or before, midnight on June 30, when the current fiscal year blinks out of existence.

Thus, at midday on Tuesday under heavy gray skies constantly threatening rain, did advocates for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities make their pitch for more money to fund programs, and to raise wages for workers who make a little less than $15 an hour, in the hopes of heading off an ongoing staffing crisis.

“Our workforce is just about depleted,” Charlie Barber, of the Harrisburg-based Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association, said. ” … the turnover rate has hit as high as 130 percent, and our vacancy rate is 24 percent.”

Lawmakers and other industry advocates followed Barber to the microphone, each amplifying the other’s message in the hopes that it would reach the right set of ears, and that, somehow, its priorities would be included in the final spending document.

As I’ve noted before, thanks to robust tax collections, Pennsylvania is swimming in cash this budget season.

The multi-billion dollar cushion has been a source of optimism for the advocacy community. In it, they rightfully see a chance for priorities that have been too long overlooked to be funded at the levels they should.

But, as I’ve also pointed out, to the extent that more cash can make passing a budget easier, it also can make it exponentially harder, given the Legislature’s Republican majority’s traditional proclivity for socking away cash.

But this year is an election year, which could smooth the path — unless, of course, it doesn’t.

Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his final budget address to a joint session of the state House and Senate on Tuesday, 2/8/22 (Commonwealth Media Services photo).

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who’s heading into his final budget season at the helm, and who is quite clearly operating with one eye on history, has said that not spending the state’s robust surplus would be “irresponsible.”

Late on Tuesday afternoon, the progressive Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center dropped a statement effectively high-fiving the administration on its previously stated position.

“Pennsylvania’s financial outlook for 2022/23 just got better… AGAIN!” the think-tank breathlessly intoned, as it ran down the last couple of months’ worth of tax collections, predicting that the state could have a surplus of as much as $15.3 billion by the end of June.

Earlier this month, when the April revenue collections were made public, legislative Republicans sounded their traditional note of caution.

“The benefits of any surplus dollars and remaining federal funds should be cautiously appropriated to mitigate against a looming economic downturn and related revenue shortfall, especially when the artificial means by which the federal government has propped up the economy are no longer in place,” House GOP spokesperson Jason Gottesman said in a statement.

State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, speaks during a rally in the Pa. Capitol rotunda on 9/17/19. He is the House sponsor of legislation authorizing an extreme risk protection order law in Pennsylvania, which proponents say will reduce firearms deaths (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).

Meanwhile, quite irrespective of the fiscal jockeying for position between the administration and the Legislature, rally season rolls on today —  but with the shadow of tragedy hovering over it.

At 1:30 p.m., the Black clergy of Philadelphia, and other faith leaders will gather in the Capitol Rotunda to call for an end to violence. On any day, it would carry an undeniable urgency, given the gun violence that unfolds every day on the streets of Pennsylvania’s cities and towns.

But, hours after least 21 people — most of them children — were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the rally has taken on a heartbreaking relevance.

On Tuesday night, Wolf said he’d ordered the commonwealth’s flags to fly at half-staff in honor of the dead — again, nearly all of them children.

“I’ve ordered PA flags on commonwealth facilities, public buildings and grounds to fly at half-staff out of respect for the victims of the tragic shooting in Texas,” Wolf said on Twitter. “… [First Lady] Frances [Wolf] and I are praying for the families and the community.”

The Legislature’s utter inaction on the most basic constraints on gun violence is one of the great moral failures of governance of the last decade.

Here’s hoping they listen — really listen — to what these people of faith have to say this afternoon, and that they keep the image of these children in their hearts — as they’re once again called to action.

GOP U.S. Senate hopefuls David McCormick (L) and Mehmet Oz (R) | Capital-Star photo collage by John L. Micek

Our Stuff.
Pennsylvania voters still don’t know who won last week’s Republican U.S. Senate primary. And as the contest likely heads toward a recount, state election officials have instructed counties to process — but not count — ballots returned without a postmark in anticipation of litigation in the tight raceMarley Parish reports.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its COVID-19 vaccine guidance to include expanded eligibility for booster doses. Cassie Miller has the latest.

People who live with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve the same shot at living and working in the communities they call home as their neighbors. But the only way that will happen is if state lawmakers honor their commitment to fund the programs that support them, and pay a living wage to the people who provide those services, advocates said as they rallied on the Capitol steps on Tuesday. Story from me.

The U.S. Supreme Court has handed a small, but potentially significant, victory to a fast-food worker from Iowa, our sibling site, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning: Pennsylvania residents recovering from substance use disorder deserve safe, supportive housing, state Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith writes. And Pennsylvania voters sent a pretty clear message of change (not all of it positive) in last week’s primary election. Opinion regular Fletcher McClellan sifts through the results.

(c) Scott Van Blarcom –

The court fight over ballots in Pennsylvania’s Republican U.S. Senate race has split the GOP, the Inquirer reports.

Will his recent stroke impact Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman’s ability to campaign? The Post-Gazette takes up the question.

PennLive takes a look at where Gov. Tom Wolf’s push for direct aid payments to Pennsylvanians currently stands.

A second baby formula shipment will come through the Lehigh Valley, the Morning Call reports.

Philadelphians should brace themselves for a bad hurricane seasonWHYY-FM reports.

A state Senate committee has approved a bill banning transgender women from women’s interscholastic sports, WESA-FM reports.

Enrollment is dropping in Erie’s public schoolsGoErie looks at what’s happening.

The pandemic may be waning, but Americans are still working from home more than a third of the time, reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The House and Senate both come in at 11 a.m. today.
9 a.m., Main Rotunda: Lead Free PA on protecting kids from lead poisoning.
10 a.m., Media Center: Rally for Medicaid postpartum coverage and maternal health care.
10 a.m., Main Rotunda: Pa. Arts Advocacy Day
10 a.m., East Rotunda: YMCA Advocacy Day
11 a.m., East Rotunda: Lyme Disease poster contest winner is announced
11:30 a.m., Capitol Steps: Workers rally for better nursing homes
11:30 a.m., Main Rotunda: Rally for Community Health Care Providers
12 p.m., East Rotunda: March on Harrisburg again calls for a legislative gift ban
12:30 p.m., Main Rotunda: Teach Pa Mission to Harrisburg event
1:30 p.m., Main Rotunda: Black clergy of Philadelphia, other faith leaders call for an end to violence in a rally that just took on even more heartbreaking relevance.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
7:30 a.m.: Reception for Rep. Rob Kauffman
8 a.m.: Reception for Rep. David Zimmerman
8 a.m.: Reception for Rep. Doyle Heffley
8 a.m.: Reception for Sen. Jim Brewster
8:30 a.m.: Reception for Sen. Wayne Langerholc
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out an utterly ridiculous $8,000 today.

As of this writing, Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s some new music from former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher. From his solo record of the same name, it’s “Everything’s Electric.”

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The New York Rangers evened up their playoff series with the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, winning 4-1 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.