HARRISBURG – The new year began with most eyes on Washington, D.C., as Congress tried to hammer out a last-second deal to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but Pennsylvania was making news as well.
Gov. Tom Corbett decided to sue the NCAA over the fines and penalties assessed by the collegiate athletic association on Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, and lawmakers elected in November were officially sworn in during a New Year’s Day ceremony marking the start of the new session.
Corbett sues NCAA over Penn State sanctions
Gov. Tom Corbett filed a lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of the state of Pennsylvania in federal court this week, arguing that the collegiate association overstepped its own rules by assessing a $60 million fine and a series of sanctions against Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
After months of research and deliberation, as well as discussions with alumni, students, faculty, business owners and elected officials, Corbett said he has concluded that the NCAA’s sanctions were “overreaching and unlawful.’’
In the lawsuit, the state argues that the NCAA sanctions threaten the state’s economy, citing a study that says Penn State football generated $161 million in business during 2009 and helped create 2,200 jobs.
In a statement, the NCAA said they were “disappointed by the governor’s action” and said lawsuit was without merit.
Under state law, a governor is allowed to file a lawsuit directly without going through the state attorney general’s office, which in this case had a potential conflict of interest since it conducted the investigation that eventually led to the NCAA sanctions in the first place.
Some have accused Corbett of flip-flopping, since he said in July that the sanctions were part of the “corrective process” the school needed to undergo.
The move doubles as a political maneuver for Corbett, who may be attempting to win back support from Penn State alumni who turned on the governor after the Sandusky scandal and helped to elect the first Democratic attorney general in Pennsylvania history in November when Kathleen Kane largely ran on a platform promising to review Corbett’s handling of the case.
Corbett denied any political motivation for the lawsuit and said Kane was not involved in the planning of the suit.
No changes at the top for legislature
There were no change in the top leadership ranks of the state House and state Senate as new members were sworn in to begin the two-year legislative session on New Year’s Day at the state capitol.
Members re-elected Speaker of the House Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, to a second term as the head of the state House. Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, each were elected to second terms as the chiefs of their respective legislative caucuses.
In the state Senate, President Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, will lead the chamber for a fourth consecutive session, while Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, and Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, will continue to serve as floor leaders.
While Democrats won all five statewide elections in November, they were unable to topple the GOP’s hold on both chambers of the state legislature, meaning the next two years will begin in much the same way as the last two years – with Republicans holding all branches of state government.
Committee chairmanships were also announced this week.
State Rep. Steve Bloom, R-Cumberland, will soon introduce legislation to eliminate the inheritance tax on business assets, including real estate, for children, siblings or other relatives of a decedent.
All too often, Bloom said, family-owned businesses may not have the cash to pay the inheritance tax bill. This means family members inheriting a business are faced with selling off assets or taking out a loan to cover the tax while keeping the business in the family.
A Department of Revenue analysis of Bloom’s proposal shows that exempting family businesses would create a loss of $9.9 million in taxes in 2013-14, and $11.3 million the next year. By 2017-18, that figure would be around $13.4 million, as over time inflation would increase asset values.
Bloom said he supports other efforts to eliminate the tax, but he hopes to chip away at it over time.
“If we can’t eliminate it, at least we can make progress towards lessening its impact,” he said.
For the second year in a row, state Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, introduced the Taxpayer Protection Act, which would create a budgetary cap linked to population growth and inflation.
The concept is modeled after the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a controversial state spending cap policy known as TABOR. It’s only been enacted in Colorado, where it was later suspended.
Folmer said his legislation would create a spending ceiling, helping to manage the tax climate and improve business growth.
“I believe you can either grow government or grow business, the two don’t seem to match,” he said.
Folmer points out that Pennsylvania is in the minority of states that has no formal controls on budget growth. The only requirement is that a balanced budget be passed before July 1.
Pennsylvania already is on the path to reigning in its state spending. In the previous two budgets, the state kept growth under the rate of inflation, while in years past it was two or three times that, according to Folmer.
Armed guards may soon patrol outside Pennsylvania’s public schools, and the teachers may be armed, as well.
A pair of Republican lawmakers in the state House are working on legislation to make Pennsylvania schools safer. But while all sides agree on the need to improve school safety, some worry about bringing guns into schools, regardless of the lawmakers’ intent.
State Rep. Greg Lucas, R-Erie, plans to sponsor legislation that would make it legal for teachers and school administrators to carry weapons in the classroom, provided they are licensed to carry a firearm and have valid and current certification under state law.
“As we consider ways to improve school safety, I believe we have to consider trusting school personnel to serve as a first line of defense. We trust them to protect our children every day. I think we need to offer them the tools to carry out that sacred trust,” Lucas wrote in a memo being circulated among members of the state House this week.
Pennsylvania has more than 3,000 public school buildings spread across 500 school districts.
Gun control advocates said they were concerned about the possibility of accidents if guns were allowed in the classroom, and worried that students might be able to gain access to those firearms.
Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more news.