Rush hour fees, supplemental appropriations and more | Five for the Weekend

By: - February 29, 2020 6:30 am

Fasnachts (© Malgorzata Kistryn –

Happy weekend, everyone!
If like me you enjoyed one-too-many Fasnachts (doughnuts) on Fat Tuesday, there’s good news – tomorrow is leap day, so there’s an extra gym day in 2020 to shed the guilt and the pounds. Leap day’s origins are the subject of our trivia question this week – take a look below:

  • What civilization introduced the first leap day? (Answer below – no cheating!)

In this week’s news:

As always, the top five stories from this week’s news are below to help you stay current.

Cheers to a leisurely weekend,
Cassie Miller | Associate Editor

Trivia Answer: 
The Romans were the first to implement a leap day into their yearly calendar. Julius Caesar introduced the first leap year around 46 B.C., but his Julian calendar had only one rule: Any year evenly divisible by four would be a leap year. That created too many leap years, but the math wasn’t tweaked until Pope Gregory XIII introduced his Gregorian calendar more than 1,500 years later.



1. Could charging Pa. motorists for rush-hour driving pay for infrastructure? PennDOT wants to find out

Officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation told a House panel this week that they’re studying a congestion fee as a solution to the state’s constant search for cash to fund highway and public transit investment.Acting PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian told the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday that the agency had received federal go-ahead to study tolling drivers for using highways during rush hours.

“We’re in good shape. We can do the study … [and] make a decision if we want to proceed,” Gramian told the committee.

She said the study would focus on four corridors — around Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and in the Lehigh Valley.

In an email, PennDOT spokesperson Erin Waters-Trassat said the department was expecting to use federal and state dollars to conduct the study.

2. What are supplemental appropriations? The Pa. budget battle you’re not hearing about

On Feb. 4, Gov. Tom Wolf rolled out a $36.1 budget proposal for fiscal 2020-21 that calls for a $200 million college grant program, a $15 an hour minimum wage, and new spending on gun violence reduction efforts.

He’d barely finished speaking when Republicans who control the state House and Senate started poking holes in his spending proposal.

But going on in the background is another, equally important fight over spending in the budget year that hasn’t even ended yet.

State spending has exceeded the $34.5 billion that lawmakers and the Democratic administration agreed on for the 2019-20 budget year, which ends on June 30. And as a result, the administration is going back to the well, and asking lawmakers to authorize an additional $588 million to cover the shortfall (The new budget year starts on July 1.)

3. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, an ‘extremist,’ and challenger Timko, a ‘clown,’ face off in intra-party brawl

A messy primary fight between a former congressional hopeful and an arch-conservative Harrisburg veteran is brewing north of Pittsburgh.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, is mostly known for inducing rage in liberal circles for inviting white nationalists to his committee and hosting climate skeptics. But the 11-term western Pennsylvania lawmaker’s antics have provoked an intra-party challenge this spring.

Air Force veteran Scott Timko, a 54-year old from Metcalfe’s hometown of Cranberry Township in Butler County, filed paperwork this week for the April 28 Republican primary.

Timko told the Capital-Star this week that Metcalfe’s “grandstanding” has made enemies in the red-tinged district.

“Conservative is one thing, but extremism is another thing,” Timko, a pilot and restaurant owner, said. “Quite frankly, Daryl is an extremist and I don’t think extremists serve their constituents.”

4. A western Pennsylvania school district ran out of paper. That’s everything you need to know about school funding in Pa. | Analysis

PITTSBURGH — The news started as a morning tweet on Valentine’s Day that easily could have gone unnoticed: Katie Couch, a school counselor at the Sto-Rox school district tweeted that the district had “completely run out of paper for the rest of the year.”

The Sto-Rox superintendent told the Tribune Review that the “surprising” shortage was due to “a conservative spending budget.”

How it came as a surprise to anyone is a bit puzzling: look at the number of Sto-Rox teachers who posted requests for paper for their individual classrooms on Donors Choose, a Go-Fund-Me site for “public school teachers in need of funding.”

One reads:

“I teach in a low-income Title I school district where 100% of students receive free breakfast and lunch. Despite the daily struggles many of my students face, they come into my class knowing they can set their baggage aside for a while and just be a regular kid in fifth grade.”

When I saw Couch’s tweet, I felt confident two things would happen: first, that the generous people of southwestern Pennsylvania would step up to help, and second, that the local news media would focus on that generosity and turn this into a “feel-good” story (more on that in a second).

5. Pa.’s Fitzpatrick leads U.S. House in bipartisanship, new rankings show

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, lives and breathes bipartisanship, down to the color of his clothes.

Earlier this month, the two-term lawmaker from suburban Philadelphia donned a purple tie and joined a group of Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House to listen as President Donald Trump delivered the annual State of the Union address.

The color of Fitzpatrick’s tie symbolized his belief in the value of compromise and consensus, and the lawmakers he sat with were fellow members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group working to find common ground in an era of extreme partisan gridlock.

Fitzpatrick, who serves as vice chair of the caucus, leads the way in bipartisanship in Congress, new rankings show.

Last year, he signed on to more bipartisan bills than any other member of the U.S. House, according to a recent report card by, a nonpartisan organization that tracks government data and statistics.

Of 867 bills he cosponsored last year, about 81 percent were introduced by members of the other party — a higher percentage than all 435 other lawmakers scored (the list also includes nonvoting House members).

And that’s the week. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. We’ll see you all back here on Monday.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.