Tue. Feb 7th, 2023

The FBI search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida mansion has made the most headlines this week, but Pennsylvania lawmakers are also finding themselves drawn into investigations.

On Wednesday, PennLive reported that the FBI delivered subpoenas to several Republican state representatives’ and senators’ Harrisburg offices.

The lawmakers’ names haven’t been confirmed, and as of Friday, GOP spokespeople said they had no evidence that members were targets.

That news came shortly after the revelation that federal agents had seized U.S. Rep. Scott Perry’s cellphone as part of an ongoing investigation. Perry, R-10th District, later stressed that he isn’t the target, telling Tucker Carlson of Fox News: “I heard from my attorneys, who talked directly to the Department of Justice, who said that I, their client, am not a target of this investigation.”

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

Federal investigations around the electors — and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol building — have drawn in many GOP politicians, although none have been charged or explicitly named as targets.

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

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

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

“The Democrats just go too far. I see it in Pennsylvania, we’re seeing it in Washington, D.C., and we saw it in Florida last night,” he said.

Rep in last push to change school funds

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

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

Calling the plan “critically important” in a memo to colleagues this week, Ryan said: “Shifting to a sales/income tax eliminates the regressive school property tax and will serve to eliminate 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 goes to the public for a ballot referendum. GOP lawmakers have proposed several constitutional changes in recent months, in part to avoid a Democratic governor’s veto.

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

The bill — which Ryan proposed using as a replacement law if his amendment passes — would replace property taxes with a 2% sales tax and a hike in personal income tax. Certain retirement income would also be taxes 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 drawn controversy.

Supporters and opponents of the state’s funding formula sparred in court for months this year, in a case that goes back nearly a decade. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued that the funding formula violates the state constitution’s promise of equal protection, with poor districts getting less than their fair share.

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

Democrats celebrate close victory

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

The Inflation Reduction Act — named amid concerns about soaring prices — includes a scaled-down version of much of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

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

“We’re currently living in a moment when once-in-a-lifetime storms are happening every couple of months. Severe weather conditions are now the norm. While hurricane remnants are flooding the Vine Street Expressway in Philadelphia, out west states are on fire and lakes are disappearing in the worst drought in a millennium,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in a news release after voting for the legislation. “It’s well past time we take bold action to address the climate crisis.”

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who is set to leave office this year, called the plan a “partisan tax-and-spending spree.”

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

Republicans voted in lockstep against the bill, with the final Senate vote 51-50. In the House last year, every Republican voted in opposition while only one Democrat broke ranks to join them.

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

Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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