PA Capitol & COVID-19 Weekly Report: All Eyes On Pennsylvania – Please Stand By
Pennsylvania voters will be the center of attention this week as the Keystone State lives up to its nickname in the Presidential race.
But also at stake is control of the state Senate and House as well as the redistricting machinery that will draw state and Congressional voting districts for the next 10 years.
One way you know both parties think the legislative races are important is by fundraising.
According to PA Capital-Star, the four Senate and House Republican and Democratic campaign committees have raised a record $35.4 million to pour into legislative races over the last two years. And there’s one reporting period left. Read more here.
$25 million of the $35.4 million was raised in the five months leading up to Election Day.
House Democrats raised a record $12.8 million, the most of any of the legislative campaign committees. House Republicans raised almost $6 million.
The Senate Democrats raised almost $4 million and Senate Republicans $2.2 million.
This is all in addition to what individual candidates raise and what independent PACs spend.
Republicans have controlled both the Senate and House since 2011.
Please Stand By
Because Senate and House Republicans and Gov. Wolf could not agree, counties can only start processing the close to 3.1 million mail-in and absentee paper ballots at 7:00 a.m. on Election Day, meaning the new catch phrase for election results in Pennsylvania will be “Please Stand By.”
Nearly all counties will start processing mail-in ballots on Election Day, but seven counties– Beaver, Butler, Cumberland, Franklin, Greene, Mercer and Montour– have said they will wait at least to the next day, further delaying voting results.
The official Department of State Election Results website will not only report the results from people who voted that day, but there will also be blocks for the number of mail-in votes and provisional ballot votes.
They will also track how many mail-in ballots have not yet been tallied.
And, there’s another wrinkle that could delay final results.
When the U.S. Supreme Court last week decided not to expedite a hearing on a Republican lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s three day extension for counting mail-in ballots postmarked on Election Day, it left open the option of hearing the case after all the ballots are counted. Read more here.
As a result, the Department of State has told counties to keep ballots received after the deadline on Election Day separate, but still count them, against a time in the future whenever the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear the merits of the challenge.
Even though the state must certify election results by November 20, those results may not be final, pending the outcome of this, and probably other legal challenges.
Democrats, in particular, are very worried, for obvious reasons. Read more here.
A Conservative Republican group also decided last week to continue their lawsuit against Philadelphia and two other Pennsylvania counties for accepting grants from nonprofit groups to help run their elections by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case. Read more here.
The group said in its original filing in federal court they were afraid the grants would help progressive candidates defeat Republicans.
By The Numbers
Pennsylvania now has 9,082,139 registered voters with 4,228,978 registered Democrats; 3,542,420 registered Republicans; 911,488 registered independent; and 399,253 registered other– including the “Jedi” Party.
A total of 3,095,829 mail-in and absentee ballots have been approved statewide. As of Friday, 2,236,162 ballots, or approximately 73 percent, have been returned to counties.
Of these ballots, 1,499,062 are Democratic; 502,687 are Republican; and 234,413 are other parties or no affiliation.
Gov. Wolf and Department of State Secretary Kathy Boockvar both said in response to questions last week Pennsylvania is ready for civil unrest around the election, if it comes. Read more here.
They pointed to a multi-agency team made up of the PA Emergency Management Agency, State Police and National Guard that are coordinating with county emergency and election officials to respond to a variety of election security issues. Read more here.
Erie County Tuesday took steps Tuesday to address voter intimidation at the polls by banning gatherings of two or more voters openly carrying guns near polling places and forcing armed residents who aren’t voting to keep their distance. Read more here.
White supremacist and militia groups have been active in the Erie region.
In Pennsylvania, voters are legally allowed to carry guns into the polls.
The shooting last week of Walter Wallace, Jr., a Black man with a history of mental health issues, in Philadelphia by police has reignited– literally– the civil and police justice issue and rioting in that city. Read more here.
Gov. Wolf signed a Disaster Emergency Proclamation Wednesday and sent in the National Guard to help restore order. Read more here.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Philadelphia police are seeking $14 million to buy tasers for its officers [Read more here] and the Philly City Council voted to ban the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters [Read more here].
Last week was also the second anniversary of the Tree Of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh that left 11 people dead and others wounded [Read more here]. The man charged with this crime said he wanted all Jews to die [Read more here].
For those voting in person on Election Day, the Department of State and the Health Department reminded voters to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and allow for social distancing when entering polling places. Read more here.
Voters will not be turned away from the polls if they are not wearing a mask, but it is strongly encouraged.
Poll watchers and other authorized representatives, however, must follow masking and other requirements within the polling place, unless they are exempt from the face covering order. Read more here.
Statewide Percent Positivity 5%+
With new COVID cases now steadily reported at 2,000 or more a day, last week the statewide percent-positivity indicator jumped from 4.2 percent to 5 percent. Five percent and above is bad. Read more here.
In spite of the dramatic increase in new cases, state officials are saying they are not considering a new shutdown, “at this time,” but are saying don’t celebrate the holidays with anyone outside your household. Read more here.
Driving the statewide increase in percent-positivity indicators is a growing list of counties also at 5 percent or above, including– Huntingdon (12.0 percent), Bradford (11.2 percent), Lawrence (9.0 percent), Lebanon (8.7 percent), Westmoreland (8.4 percent), Perry (8.2 percent), Bedford (7.6 percent), Luzerne (7.5 percent), Schuylkill (7.5 percent), Tioga (7.2 percent), York (7.2 percent), Indiana (7.0 percent), Lackawanna (7.0 percent), Venango (7.0 percent), Mifflin (6.8 percent), Armstrong (6.7 percent), Berks (6.6 percent), Cumberland (6.6 percent), Montour (6.3 percent), Philadelphia (6.1 percent), Franklin (6.0 percent), Elk (5.9 percent), Washington (5.9 percent), Mercer (5.6 percent), Dauphin (5.5 percent), Susquehanna (5.5 percent), Blair (5.3 percent), Clinton (5.3 percent), Clarion (5.1 percent), Northumberland (5.1 percent). Read more here.
The Department of Health did not make any changes last week to the list of 31 states they recommend travelers self-quarantine when they return.
Lebanon County RTK
The Wolf Administration has appealed the Right To Know request made by Rep. Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon) for the data used by the Administration to delay the reopening of Lebanon County until July during the original COVID mitigation measures. Read more here.
You will recall Lebanon took steps to reopen businesses in defiance of the state’s COVID restrictions and Gov. Wolf withheld federal CARES funding from the county as a result. Later the Administration and the county came to an agreement that released the funds. Read more here.
Lebanon County has the fourth highest percent-positivity number in the state at 8.7 percent.
COVID-19 Death Toll
The number of deaths from COVID-19 increased from 8,654 on October 24 to 8,812 on October 31. The number of people testing positive for the virus went from 192,622 on October 24 to 208,027 on October 31.
Note: The Department of Labor and Industry did not update unemployment claims for last week on its website.
LCB Waives Fees
On Wednesday, the state Liquor Control Board waived $27.7 million in 2021 licensing fees for restaurants and bars providing some relief to those businesses impacted by the COVID pandemic. Read more here.
But, bar and restaurant owners last week again called on Gov. Wolf to ‘Let us do our jobs,’ saying the fee waiver is too little too late. Read more here.
For the record, Gov. Wolf called for the Senate and House to use a portion of the $1.3 billion in federal CARES Act money still sitting in the state’s bank accounts toward the relief of small businesses, but there was no action on legislation. Read more here.
Budget? What Budget?
The Independent Fiscal Office Thursday released its latest state revenue estimate for FY 2020-21 revising it upward by $650 million to $36.52 billion. The official Governor’s Budget Office estimate was $34.631 billion.
The IFO said its revision is largely driven by sales and use tax collections, which have substantially outperformed expectations (+$580 million) for the first four months of the fiscal year.
The corporate net income tax estimate is $3.31 billion, an increase of $120 million from the IFO’s official estimate. Compared to the prior fiscal year, year-to-date collections through October are down roughly 5.2 percent, after accounting for the extended TY 2019 due date that shifted some prior year collections to the current fiscal year.
Notably, the IFO cautioned state revenues could be affected in major ways by several factors that are now ‘unclear’–
— Ending of the renter eviction ban on December 31;
— Whether or not the federal Paycheck Program Program Loans are counted as income by the IRS– $21 billion was given to Pennsylvania businesses through this program;
— 450,000 fewer jobs in the state reducing labor income by $25 billion
— Whether or not there is a new federal stimulus package or new COVID business closures
— Long-term unemployment is a ‘major concern’
Wolf Signs 26 Bills
On Thursday, Gov. Wolf signed 26 bills into law on a variety of subjects, including expanding the state’s clean slate law, support for sexual assault survivors, mental health parity and for veterans. Read more here.
Thankfully, we won’t have any more polls to report after this, since the only one that counts is what happens on Election Day. But here are last week’s–
Now, if you believe betting odds are a better predictor of the Presidential race since people are putting their own money down, the latest from Real Clear Politics has Biden at 64.4 and Trump at 34.6. Read more here on odds.
Click Here for a Forbes article on the accuracy of betting vs. polls in political races.
Rendell To New Zealand?
Fmr. Gov. Ed Rendell said Thursday if President Trump wins the election, he may consider moving to New Zealand. Read more here.
“I want to look into moving to New Zealand,” Rendell told WHYY News and StateImpact Pennsylvania. “They have a nice woman president, she seems to be very able. New Zealand, I saw ‘Lord of the Rings.’ New Zealand’s a beautiful country.”
We’re not quite sure which side these comments will help.
The Senate and House will not be back in Harrisburg until November 10. When they do return, they will not only have to deal with the aftermath of the election– if the results are known– and the state budget, but also leadership elections.
Elections for leadership of each caucus in the Senate and House as well as the Senate President Pro Tempore and House Speaker are traditionally held right after Election Day and with the participation of newly elected members.
The Senate President Pro Tempore and House Speaker need to be in place in case legislative business comes up during December and the start of the new legislative session January 1.
New members of the Senate and House officially start their terms– and their first pay period– on December 1. But, the official swearing in day isn’t until January 1.
The Senate and House typically don’t name Committee Chairs until mid to late January and the remainder of Committee members until sometime later.
While the mechanics of all this reorganization for the General Assembly is straightforward, people could spin out all sorts of scenarios if the formal election results are delayed by court challenges and a dozen other things happen.
It’s best not to think too hard about that… until it happens… and the way this year is going, it will.