Keystone Crossroads

Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival? explores the urgent challenges pressing upon Pennsylvania's cities. WPSU and three other public media newsrooms in Pennsylvania are collaborating to report in depth on the root causes of our state's urban crisis -- and on possible solutions. Keystone Crossroads offers reports on radio, Web, social media, television and newspapers, and through public events.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

 

State legislators are again discussing bills that would make it easier to sue municipalities over local firearms ordinances that conflict with Pennsylvania law.

The measures would require courts to award plaintiffs legal fees, even if they lose the case.

Predecessor legislation had the same provisions for court costs — for pretty much anyone, regardless of whether they own a gun or had even been to the town with the contested rules.

Ed Zurga / AP File Photo

 

The suit alleged the school’s practices violated the Equal Education Opportunity Act. A federal judge agreed, as did an appellate panel.

So what were the practices?

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

 

When playing the slots in Pennsylvania, casinos and gamblers aren't the only ones making money.

The state collects 54 cents for every dollar a player loses in a slot machine.

The state uses most of that money, about 34 cents, for reducing property taxes. The state's horse racing industry gets 11 cents and 5 cents goes to a state economic development trust fund. The remaining 4 cents is split among the communities that host the casino.

Gene J. Puskar / AP File Photo

 

This week, former Penn State University president Graham Spanier is in court for his role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. This trial is one of the final chapters in a legal saga that has stretched since Sandusky was arrested in 2011. 

But outside the courtroom, the effects of Sandusky's actions are still being felt statewide.

 

Both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are in the midst of multi-year building booms. More than 4,000 apartment units were built in the two cities last year.

For many years in Pittsburgh, new apartment buildings weren’t a priority: the city had plenty of available housing stock and, despite a steady flow of college students, fairly pedestrian demand. But in 2012, 958 new units were built. The next year, that number jumped to 3,227 and hasn’t fallen below 2,100 since, according to Jeff Burd, president of Tall Timber Group, an information service for the construction industry.

Jon Elswick / AP Photo

 

On Thursday morning, President Donald Trump released his "skinny budget," an outline of his proposed federal funding allocations. As promised, it was skinny in every sense of the word — Trump hopes to scale federal funding way back, cutting programs and positions across the board. 

Charles Reed / AP

 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been increasingly present in multiple Central Pennsylvania cities in recent weeks.  The activity has been affecting entire communities, according to advocates and attorneys in the area.

"This is not just happening once per month, this is happening every single day," says Gloria Vázquez Merrick, director of the Latino Hispanic American Community Center in Harrisburg, where she says knows multiple families with one or both parents now detained.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

 

Bob Gradeck can’t stand the term “data-driven.”

It might seem odd that the project director of the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center would recoil at a data-centric phrase, but Gradeck sees data as tools and not answers.

The WPRDC is the repository for more than 150 data sets from Pittsburgh and Allegheny County government, as well as organizations throughout the region.

 

Imad Ghajar and his wife Marwa Hilani were born in Aleppo, Syria, met there, and didn't have plans to leave.

Then the war happened.

"Even in the schools, there wasn't security," Marwa, 37, said recently, through a translator, at her family's new home in Lancaster. "In the middle of the day, there would be a bomb, and someone would die. The area was not safe ever."

The dust from the explosions also made their daughter's asthma worse, and it was increasingly difficult and dangerous to get her treatment.

 

You're invited to join Keystone Crossroads at the second annual Urban Ideas Worth Stealing conference. We'll discuss revitalization of our state's cities and towns in sessions on topics including:

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

Over a decade ago, Hazleton tried to stem the tide of immigrants flooding the city by prohibiting residents from employing, housing or selling anything to unauthorized immigrants. The ban never went into effect and was eventually struck down by the courts, costing the city $1.4 million in legal settlement fees. And it didn't stop Latino immigrants from settling in Hazleton: the city is now over 50 percent Latino. 

Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool image via AP

 

President Donald Trump called for “a new program of national rebuilding,” in his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.

Trump said he would push forward with his plan to invest $1 trillion to replace the country’s crumbling roads, bridges, and airports. Some Pennsylvanians saw the president's proposals — though short on details — as reason for optimism.

“I was very encouraged,” said David Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association.

Keith Srakocic / AP File Photo

 

Pennsylvania's Democratic Governor Tom Wolf gave the Trump administration a tip of the hat at the National Governors Assocation meeting in Washington, D.C. this past weekend.

"I think the adminstration's focus on infrastructure is important because we have a lot of catching up to do," said Wolf at a panel discussion with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. "By some estimates $4 trillion nationally."

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

When Scranton entered distressed status, Bill Clinton was running for president — for the first time. Kris Kross just started to wear their jeans backwards, and Barcelona was hosting the Summer Olympics. This reporter wouldn't be born for another three months.

Now, 25 years later, it's time for Scranton to get out.  

Expiration date: Dec. 2017

 

Pennsylvania’s congressmen and senators are home this week for the district work period — regularly scheduled days when they leave D.C. to tackle constituent concerns. If representatives don't schedule town halls, sometimes constituents will.

At a people’s town hall in Washington, Pa., near Pittsburgh, an audience of about 45 listened to Leeann Howell talk about how repealing the Affordable Care Act would affect her. Howell said without the ACA, she’d have to quit her job in order to be her son’s 24-hour-nurse.

Margaret Krauss / WESA

 

Marian Spotts and her husband, Phil, rode a bus with other Trump supporters 350 miles from Erie County, to Washington, D.C. for Inauguration Day earlier this year.

After Trump’s speech, we asked Marian for some feedback.

“Very plainspoken,” she said. “And spoken to the Americans that wanna hear some encouraging words. So, yeah, it’s an encouraging time.”

Marian says immigration is an important issue for her.

Joseph Kaczmarek / AP Photo

 

More than 3,000 bridges throughout the state have been deemed structurally deficient.

Heart palpitations, sweating, dizziness. For some people, crossing a bridge induces the same physiological responses as those experienced by an animal frozen in fear, said Dr. Rolf Jacob, a professor of psychiatry at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh.

“Just like having fear of flying because the airplane could crash, some people might avoid bridges because they are concerned about its structural safety,” he said.

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

  

Brian Davis is well-known around campus, and not just because the Penn State junior is always wearing a suit. He’s triple majoring and double minoring, is actively involved in organizations across campus and has the ear of the University’s president.

 

But that’s not where his story begins.

 

Alex Brandon / AP Photo

 

Pennsylvania wasn’t among the states where large-scale immigration enforcement took place last week, but communities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have reported raids.  

On Wednesday morning, the City of Philadelphia tweeted on its official account, “City is working to gather info on how many people have been impacted by increased ICE enforcements,” and gave the number for a hotline created by New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith immigrant justice organization.

Margaret J. Krauss / WESA

 

When Alhena Torres turns on her car, a gentle rumble of pop music spills out of the speakers. She used to listen to the news while she drove, but after the first few weeks of the new administration in Washington, she says music has felt like a better option.

“Sometimes I’m just sad and disappointed,” she said, pulling up Google maps on her phone and plugging in an address.

Torres drives all around Pittsburgh for work, a cleaning business she started in 2015.

“I like organizing and fixing things,” she laughed.

Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo

 

Albert Boscov led the largest family-owned chain of department stores in the country, Boscov's, for nearly six decades. He announced that he had late-stage pancreatic cancer on Feb. 1. On Friday evening, he passed away at his Reading home, surrounded by his wife, Eunice, and their three daughters. 

Photos courtesy of Seminary Ridge Museum

 

School communities throughout the state have gone through painful changes in recent years, as long-established school buildings have been closed and students sent to new locations. Shifting demographics, diminishing resources, and the costs of maintaining large and aging facilities have all contributed to the steady stream of school closures – even when those buildings had historic backgrounds and architectural importance.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

For months now, Governor Tom Wolf has been promising a radical departure in his budget proposal for next fiscal year.

On some counts, he delivered on Tuesday.

Gone from Wolf's plan are the broad-based taxes the Democrat attempted to pass in his last two budgets. Instead, the proposal is balanced largely on a little more than $2 billion in efficiency savings.

"Harrisburg," Wolf said in his address at a joint legislative session," has been living beyond its means. Households can't do that, and neither can we."

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

The Municipal Sanctuary and Federal Enforcement, or SAFE, Act would restrict state funding for communities where law enforcement agencies don't cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The bill would require municipalities to prove they're complying with the law  when submitting applications for certain state grants, loans and economic development and other programs.

More than$1.3 billion could be affected, according to estimates from legislation sponsors.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

 

Communities patrolled full-time by Pennsylvania State Police,  instead of local officers, would pay $25 per resident under the budget proposed for next year by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Troopers are solely responsible for policing more than half the state's municipalities, home to 21 percent of Pennsylvania residents.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

 

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority issued an advisory to nearly 100,000 city residents to boil water before using it. While PWSA found no contaminants, lower than normal levels of disinfection were found at a reservoir supplying much of the central and eastern parts of the city.

The Highland Park Reservoir water is treated with microfiltration, but an additional chlorine treatment ensures redundancy, making sure all pathogens have been removed. Lower than normal levels of chlorine triggered the advisory.

Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

 

 

Walk around the offices of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, and you'll find plans to do good behind every door. There's a food bank, a land bank, a work skills class, and programs to assist with affordable housing.

Executive Director Alan Jennings pokes his head into an empty classroom packed with chairs.

"This is a community room where we hold, in this case, home ownership seminars," said Jennings. "We have some 75-plus people who will be here tomorrow, learning how to become first time home buyers."

Keith Srakocic / AP File Photo

 

 

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) announced Thursday that State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh will shut down by June 30, 2017.

As the state faces a $600 million budget gap this year alone, DOC said the most effective way to cut costs is to close prisons. Falling rates of crime, incarceration, and recidivism means inmate populations are down, and allows this reshuffling of inmates, said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel.

Emily Cohen / Newsworks

 

At 5:30 in the morning of November 9, 2016, Natasha Taylor-Smith crept into her 13-year-old daughter's bedroom. 

She picked up her daughter's smartphone, typed "CNN.com" into the browser and saw a large picture of now-President Donald Trump.

Taylor-Smith put down the phone and woke her daughter up.

"As soon as she opened her eyes, she says, 'Did Hillary win?' and I said, 'No,'" Taylor-Smith recalled. 

Her daughter gave her a confused look. 

"'Donald Trump's going to be our president?" she asked.

"Yes," Taylor-Smith replied.

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