Happy Friday, everyone.
1) Given the recent attention paid to ethics – what with Gov.-elect Tom Wolf forbidding members of his administration from accepting gifts and the announcement of charges against two Philadelphia lawmakers for accepting too many – Lloyd Smucker his compadres in the General Assembly should have much tougher rules about accepting gifts. The Republican state senator from Lancaster County said he is set to introduce a ban of nearly all gifts for public officials and employees in Pennsylvania; the sweeping ban would include local government employees as well The AP notes that stuff like this has been proposed before, but Mr. Smucker's proposal might have some momentum behind it. And we'll be genuinely curious to see what kind of public support this gets.
2) It's probably not necessary to justify shameless self-promotion, but in this case, the public discussion of ethics in government comes at a perfect time. Once you're done with Early Returns, you'll want to head over to the P-G's main site and take a look at the ongoing series on ethics and government. Our Joe Smydo started on Thursday with a look at legislators whose committee appointments might pose conflict-of-interest problems; in today's story, he looks at the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of the state's ethics commission. And if you're curious about how the committee appointments of your favorite legislators might dovetail with their outside business interests, you'll want to take a run through the accompanying interactive.
3) The latest charges against the two Philly-area state representatives were brought by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams – and not state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who refused to follow up on the investigation after deciding the evidence didn't support further action. Ms. Kane took heat for that decision then, and she's weathering more for it now, notably from U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the dean of the state's Congressional caucus and the chairman of the Philly's Democratic committee. Kane wasn't the party-endorsed candidate in the Democratic primary in her first run for the AG's chair, so she may not be too worried about support for her 2016 re-election bid. But holding on to that office without the backing of Philadelphia's most powerful Democrat would be a chore.
4) Mayor Bill Peduto's first budget made nearly everyone on Pittsburgh City Council happy – hello, Darlene Harris – but it remains to be seen if Mr. Peduto's spending plan will gain the support of the perpetually grumpy Intergovernmental Cooperation Board, which is scheduled to vote on the budget today.
5) We're about to begin the last weekend before Christmas, so we're not especially focused on what we're supposed to be doing, and getting through four of our alotted five things on point seems to be good enough. How we're going to finish instead: Spend a good bit of our Friday going through the Munchies, the 2014 Best of Munch awards. And with references to many of our favorite things – Rochester's Hollywood Gardens, Slice on Broadway, The Pub Chip Shop and a Phish song set halfway between Erie and Pittsburgh – why not?