Pension costs are pegged to climb by more than 40 percent in each of the next two state budgets. Local governments—from Scranton to Harrisburg—face significant fiscal challenges. Public education funding is also under stress and the state’s higher education system faces a possible strike by professors.
Pennsylvania’s auditor general recently invoked a looming “financial cliff” to “sound the alarm,” as the Reading Eagle (via AP) reported, “over the rising debt piling onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.” Chances are, this won’t be the last time a “cliff” is invoked by a politician or government official “sounding alarms,” and reporters here must be ready to help readers navigate that rhetoric and understand where alarm is actually warranted—and why. (See this piece by CJR’s Greg Marx on problems with the “fiscal cliff” metaphor.)
5. Vice Squad. Finally, reporters should stay on top of developments related to the state’s lottery, liquor stores, and increasing reliance on casino gambling.
Some lawmakers are interested in farming out the state’s lottery, a cash machine that earmarks its net proceeds toward programs for senior citizens. It’s unclear how much traction this will gain.
The privatize-it train has already left the station over the state’s monopoly on liquor sales. The battle has a wide range of advocates—smaller government types, wine connoisseurs, and more—but unionized workers have been pretty successful in keeping the effort at bay.
Meanwhile, five companies are battling over a second Philadelphia casino location, with some wanting the city itself to get into the act. Pennsylvania was slow to the casino gambling table, seeing them grow in bordering New Jersey, Delaware, and West Virginia first. But it’s now a $3 billion business and climbing. The gambling industry’s a player here.
Here’s hoping Pennsylvania’s political media meets the many reporting challenges ahead. Pennsylvanians are counting on it.