Monday, February 5, 2007

Whither SEPTA?

The announcement by Sen. Fumo -- on the eve of Gov. Rendell's budget address - that he would be stepping down as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee raised immediate questions about the fate of public transit funding in the state budget.

As budget negotiations get underway, addressing massive transit and highway funding gaps is among the certain sticking points. Fumo has championed an increase in the state's real estate transfer tax as the way to solve the transit crisis.

A Pittsburgh lawmaker, Sen. Gerald Lavalle, takes over as the ranking Democrat on the committee.

But who will fight for SEPTA?

Fumo may have demoted himself to a rank and filer, but his spokesman Gary Tuma says he will continue to work for the interests of Philly and that includes finding a SEPTA solution.

"I know in my heart I have not done anything illegal"

In what he described as the most difficult speech he ever had to deliver, Sen. Fumo acknowledged minutes ago on the Senate floor that he would be indicted as part of a federal investigation this week and said he would temporarily step down as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

His voice sometimes cracking, Fumo told Senate colleagues that he has cooperated in an "intensive federal investigation" and despite that was subject to "threats, intimidation and frequent leaks to media...intended to embarrass me."

Fumo said, that federal prosecutors will claim assets of the non-profit group that he controlled "Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods" were misused for personal and professional gain. "I am not guilty of these accusations," he said, and vowed to fight the allegations "head on."

Fumo said Sen. Gerald Lavalle (D., Allegheny) would take on the role of acting minority chairman of the Appropriations Committee "until I am vindicated." Fumo, with his staff standing behind him, said he would continue to fight to improve conditions for the poor, the elderly and children as a "rank-and-file member of the Senate."

Fumo Floor Antics

Hardly a Capitol wallflower, Sen. Fumo is known for taking center stage on the Senate floor to spout off on the Iraq War (hates it) and, sometimes, to bash fellow lawmakers. In an infamous 2004 debate over a gambling bill, Fumo let loose on then President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer (R., Blair) calling him a "faggot." He later apologized.

Senate Recess

1:24 p.m. Senate Democratic and Republican leaders requested "brief" caucus meetings off the floor. Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, who presides over the chamber, called for a recess. With no bills scheduled for a vote, it was unclear what the subject of the caucus meetings might be.

Fumo Expected to Speak

The Senate convenes this afternoon amid anticipation about remarks from Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.)

Fumo, who may be indicted on federal obstruction charges as early as tomorrow, is expected to inform his colleagues about the investigation on the Senate floor.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"Andy Hardy" Spotted at Capitol

An unusual celebrity sighting at the Rendell inaugural: Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney, bundled up against the cold, was among the 1,500 spectators today.

Why was Rooney in Harrisburg? Turns out he's a longtime pal of Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll. But that's not his only connection to PA. The famed child star of stage and screen ran Mickey Rooney's Tabas Resort in Downington for many years.

"PA Poised for Greatness"

12:02 p.m.

In a brief inaugural address, Gov. Rendell sketched the outline of an ambitious second term agenda, one that he promised would focus on providing affordable health care for all and ending the transportation funding crisis.

But, saying he agreed with voters that the political process needs reform, Rendell made a new vow for his second term: to champion proposals to bring more openness to government, restrict campaign contributions, institute merit selection of appellate court judges and limit terms for lawmakers.

Rendell delivered his speech, only ten minutes long, wearing no overcoat despite biting winds.

It was all over by 12:23 p.m. Longtime political observers gave Rendell points for brevity and said it was the shortest inauguration in 40 years.