Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Onorato: Financial Crisis Not An Immediate Concern

Allegheny County's investments are safe for now, according to Chief Executive Dan Onorato. He says the financial crisis is not causing any immediate problems for the county's pension fund. But he says he hopes the downturn won't last long. Onorato says the county borrows money about every two years for capital projects, and the financial crisis could impact that borrowing in the future. Onorato says the county is monitoring the situation daily.

Counties Differ on "Passive Electioneering"

Allegheny County voters have been free to wear campaign t-shirts, buttons and stickers at the polls. But voters in Butler County have not. The Department of State recently issued a memo that says so-called "passive electioneering" is okay as long as voters don't do anything else to try to influence other people's votes. But ultimately, it's up to individual counties to decide how to interpret the state's ban on electioneering.

Regis Young, that county's Director of Elections, says he thinks wearing campaign paraphernalia at the polls is electioneering. Elections judges there have often given voters a jacket to put over campaign t-shirts or asked them to remove buttons. He says it hasn't been a big problem in the past.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato says it's not okay for poll workers to wear partisan attire, but he doesn't think what voters wear is a big issue. Like Young, he says it hasn't been a big source of conflict. But two poll workers in Allegheny County are suing over the State Department memo, arguing it's illegal.

Point State Park Fountain Turned Pink

October 1st marks the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness month and as a way to kick it all off, the Point State Park fountain at the culmination of the three rivers was today turned pink, the familiar color of the Breast Cancer Coalition. The pink fountain event in the city was part of a state-wide movement in which fountains in Harrisburg and Erie were also turned pink. Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Commission for Women Leslie Stiles says she hopes the pink fountain will remind people of those women who died from breast cancer, those are fighting it currently, and those lives that will be saved in the future. A conference was held also across from Point State Park at the Riverwalk near Heinz Field. Much of the discussion there and for all of breast cancer awareness month focuses on education and encouraging regular testing. Currently breast cancer is the leading cancer among Pennsylvania women.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Carnegie Mellon builds new Computer Science Complex

A new computer science complex at Carnegie Mellon University is to open by July of 2009, said Computer Science Associate Dean Guy Blelloch. There will be two buildings to make up 200,000 square foot complex. It will hold 15 new classrooms and assist in connecting the main campus and west campus at CMU. Blelloch said it is the biggest building to be built on campus in decades.

The two buildings are named after the primary donors. The Bill and Melinda Foundation gave $20 million, and the Hillman Foundation gave $10 million. The complex project totalled approximately $100 million. A bridge named after the late Randy Pausch will connect the two buildings. A topping off ceremony to commemorate the placement of the highest steel beam of the building is to take place this afternoon.

Ribbon Cutting at new Greyhound bus station

This morning's ribbon cutting marked the grand opening of the new Greyhound station, and also opened almost 1000 new parking spaces. The Grant Street Transportation center will not only house the Greyhound bus station, but will also have two parking garages to accommodate business relocations to downtown and relieve parking pressure from the Strip District surface lots. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says it will be a gateway from the Strip District to downtown, and the project will key into the revitalization to Downtown Pittsburgh. Ravenstahl says weekday parking rates are 20 percent cheaper than the average price charged by prvate vendors, and 37 percent cheaper for event parking rates.

The center is located between the Convention Center and the Strip District.

Plan Calls For More Digital Billboards

The Active Network is a consulting group based in California that was hired by the city to draft a plan to raise private dollars for the city through partnerships. The Network's plan includes giving a bank exclusive rights to put ATMs on city property, giving exclusive rights to a beverage and food company to operate vending machines on city property, having an official telecommunications provider for the city, and licensing 15 big electronic billboards on city property.

The plan is being reviewed by a panel that includes city councilman Bill Peduto who says the plan is a good start but the idea of 15 big electronic billboards would create a "blade runner effect" of over saturation. Peduto said he would like to see more digital advertising just not more digital billboards. Peduto wants something similar to what he has seen in New York city where small digital advertising monitors are present in bus stops, taxi cabs and some elevators. Peduto is not totally against digital billboards, but he wants to see them used in a way that is respectful to the city's architecture and history. He said some places would be perfect for digital billboards. The plan estimates $4 million in revenues by 2011, but Peduto was more modest in projecting half a million dollars to $2 million annually.

Firings Draw Protests from Some North Siders

Some North Side residents say the staff members of their neighborhood group were unjustly fired. A new group called Concerned Members of the Central Northside Neighborhood Council is protesting outside tonight's Board of Directors meeting. CNNC's Executive Director and Community Organizer were fired last week.

In May, seven new CNNC Board members were elected on a platform to improve accountability. Instead, the Concerned Members say the new Board has voted against measures that would promote diversity and inclusiveness. One of those measures was an application for a tax credit that would allow the neighborhood to build 34 affordable rental units on sites scattered throughout the North Side. Meanwhile, the Concerned Members say the Board has approved more upscale housing. The Concerned Members also say they're concerned about recent opposition to the Salvation Army's efforts to provide more social services in the North Side.

October Deadline For Stimulus Check

Anyone who files for an income tax extension has until October 15th to file a return. Usually that is about 10-percent of the Pennsylvania’s taxpayers. This year the number was just 8-percent but IRS spokes person David Stewart says there are an estimated 178-thousand citizens who do not usually file any tax return who need to meet the October 15 deadline if they want to get their economic stimulus check. About 18,700 of them are in Allegheny County. Stewart says many of those who have not filed are social security or V-A benefit recipients who may not have seen a tax form in years. The stimulus payment forms are on the IRS web site and at IRS field offices. It takes 8-12 weeks to process the request.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Islamic Center of Pittsburgh to Hold Humanity Day Event

The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh will be holding its 14Th annual humanity day event on Sunday, September 28Th. The event is free to the public and anyone is welcome. The event is being held to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. The event is meant to build bridges between area Muslims and non Muslims. The Islamic center will also be receiving a proclamation by the city for their efforts on humanity day, and will also be giving out awards to members of the community who have worked to better life for members of their neighborhood.

New Energy

Volatile oil prices, debates over global warming and talk of energy independence have all come together to heighten worldwide interest in renewable energy. DUQ's Mark Nootbaar reports companies and unions in Pennsylvania are trying to make sure they are ready to capitalize on that growing demand for years to come.

Listen to the full-length story here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

McKeesport Bridge is Newest Link in Trail

A bridge in McKeesport is part of the newest segment in the Great Allegheny Passage, a trail system that will connect Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. The Riverton Bridge once connected U.S. Steel's blast furnaces in Duquesne with the company's operations in McKeesport. The former railroad bridge now has decking, ramps and railings that will make it suitable for pedestrians and bicycles. The bridge will be open October 4th for Pittsburgh's 250th birthday celebration, but will close again afterward while construction wraps up.

The bridge will be the second-longest on the Great Allegheny Passage. The oldest is the Salisbury Viaduct in Somerset County.

Work on the Great Allegheny Passage has been underway since 1975. All of the remaining segments needed to complete it are in Allegheny County. The county has secured the right-of-way to all but a half-mile section of riverfront at the Sandcastle waterpark at the Waterfront. County Chief Executive Dan Onorato says negotiations continue.

Study Finds Healthcare Costs Increase Significantly More Than Wages

Families USA, a non-profit organization for health care consumers, today released a report comparing the average cost of health care in Pennsylvania to the median income. The findings show that from the year 2000 to 200, health care costs have increased by 86.2 percent while earnings rose by only 13.4 percent. Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack says that the most disconcerting part is that Pennsylvanians are paying more for health care and receiving less coverage. He says that health care costs were already an issue and that when the economy took a downswing, the situation has taken a turn for the worse. The report also cites a study that found that more than half of bankruptcies are due in part to health care costs. Currently the number of uninsured non-elderly Pennsylvanians is about 1.2 million--11.3 percent of the non-elderly population.

PA Treasurer: State Should Weather Financial Storm Well

Pennsylvania Treasurer Robin Wiessmann went before lawmakers this week and told them to prepare for a “sustained economic downturn.” However, she says while there are problems in the financial markets there is not an economic crisis because the fundamentals of the economy are good. She says the problems are mostly in the financial system. That is very different than what the country was experiencing just before the great depression.

She says Pennsylvanians should be concerned but not panicked. She says everyone should review their family budgets, look at any investments they have and not spend more then they need to spend. She says while in office she has tried to make sure the state’s investments are diversified and spread over several institutions so she thinks the state will come through the troubles on Wall Street well.

Wiessmann has asked for representatives of all state agencies and departments that deal with investments to meet to talk about making and managing those investments. She says in the past none of those groups spoke about investment strategies and goals.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Nader Rally Held at Pitt

The University of Pittsburgh today played host presidential candidate Ralph Nader as he held a press conference and rally on the campus. Nader, a member of the Green Party, spoke adamantly about breaking away from a two-party electoral system and aimed at inspiring students to become more civically responsible. Nader also discussed current platform issues including the financial crisis, health care, and local issues including Bonusgate and the proposed lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He says he is satisfied that the Democrats who kept his name from the 2004 Pennsylvania ballot are now being prosecuted for their actions. He also says that he is strongly opposed to a turnpike lease. The latest polls show Nader with about 4 percent of the vote.

Onorato Plans To Lower Drink Tax In 2009

County Executive Dan Onorato says when he presents his budget proposal to county council he will recommend the drink tax be lowered starting in 2009. County Council member Jim Burn will introduce legislation needed to reduce the tax, but drink tax opponent Kevin Joyce says the proposed reduction is not an acceptable compromise. Onorato says any revenue that exceeds what is needed to fund the port authority will be used for infrastructure needs in the county.

The drink tax is currently on pace to exceed the proposed amount of revenue, Onorato said when he came up with his figures for what he felt the tax would bring in he wanted to be fiscally responsible and not over estimate the figures. The $2 a day car rental tax will not be changed for 2009.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Medicare Rules to Blame For Low Research Rates

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh has confirmed the long held belief in the medical community that Medicare recipients are not taking part in clinical cancer treatment trials as often as the patients or researchers would like. Nearly all Medicare HMO enrollees are asked to pay for 20-percent of their treatment costs if they choose to enroll in a cancer treatment trial. Researchers Chyongchiou Lin and Dwight Harrin say that extra cost discourages participation. Nearly two-thirds of cancer patients are age 65 and older but less than a third of those enrolled in clinical trials were over 65. They believe that hurts the validity of some studies and slows the overall progress of cancer treatment research. The researchers hope individuals will lobby lawmakers to ask for the experimental treatments to be covered. Harrin says because the treatment is “experimental” is not a good reason to put the extra burden on the patients. He says it has been well documented in the past that patients enrolled in clinical trails get better care, better follow-up care and frequently better outcomes.

Coalition Calls for Economic Recovery Package

A coalition of unions and other groups says the federal government needs to step in to help states like Pennsylvania, which is looking for ways to cut expenses in a slow economy. The Save Our States Coalition says if the government can afford a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, it should be able to spend about $50 billion on things like higher Medicaid reimbursements, home heating aid, and extended unemployment benefits.

Governor Ed Rendell has said the state is looking for about $200 million in cuts in response to lower-than-expected revenues. David Fillman with Save Our States says cutbacks at the state level will trickle down to local communities and their residents, denying them important services at a time they're needed most.

City of Pittsburgh's 2009 Budget Announced

The 2009 Pittsburgh City Budget was released today with an expenditure amount of $439.9 million, up about $16 million from 2008. Projected revenues also are expected to increase from $436.8 million in 2008, to $443.4 in the coming year--all without a tax hike. The city expects revenues to exceed expenditures by about $3.5 million. This money will be used as part of a plan to reduce Pittsburgh's debt by 40 percent over the next 5 years.

The budget also cuts 65 vacant city administrative positions and plans to put 40 more police officers on the street by training civilians to fill administrative duties formerly held by officers.

It also plans on $2.4 million in casino revenues. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's Chief of Staff Yarone Zober says in the future, Pittsburgh can likely count on $10 million annually from the casino, but because of the delays in construction, it will likely deliver far less in 2009.

In an effort to control unfunded pension, the budget also ups the mandatory minimum payment to the city pension fund by 15 percent.

The Mayor is also currently negotiating payments in lieu of taxes for the Pittsburgh Non-Profit Service Fund and he is confident that their three-year commitment will be of equal or greater value than it has been in the past.

The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA), a state oversight group, has 30 days to request changes to the budget before it is presented to City Council November 10th.

Salt Prices Jump for Pittsburgh

A shortage of rock salt and an increase in fuel prices are leading to a 25% increase in what Pittsburgh is paying for road salt this year. Pittsburgh Public Works Director Guy Costa says if the region has a normal winter that will mean an extra $600,000 that will have to be added to his budget. He says he has already started to talk to the Mayor’s office about the need. Costa says to help conserve salt his crews will put out fewer salt boxes, increase the time between applications and make sure the spreading devices are well calibrated so no salt is wasted. Most of the salt used in Pittsburgh is shipped in from Louisiana.

Monday, September 22, 2008

CMU Energy Forum

United States Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez spoke with various company CEOs from Westinghouse Electric, Equitable Resources and Plextronics Inc. at Carnegie Mellon University in a forum about what innovations are needed to harness new energy. Gutierrez says there is a tremendous amount of work that is being overlooked. With over 200 million gas stations in the United States, the country cannot simply convert from fossil fuels to renewable energy overnight. Gutierrez says changing energy needs to be looked at in the long term. However, to get to the future, the United States must use a broad range of sources that include offshore drilling and nuclear power as options.

State Department of Environmental Protecton To Hold Public Hearing

The Department of Environmental Protection will be holding a public meeting on Tuesday September 23rd in Robinson Township to discuss the proposal by Reaxis Inc. to build a new reactor. Reaxis wants to build a 3,200-gallon fiberglass reactor that would emit 260 pounds of hydrogen chloride over a 12 month period. Similar power plants can emit 20,000 pounds of the same gas over the same period. The proposed plant would cut down on emissions by using an associated scrubber to clean the reactor. The public hearing is the final part of the process for Reaxis to have the plant approved by the DEP.

Same Sex Amendment Discussed

About 400 Pennsylvanians will gather at CMU and three other sites across the commonwealth Saturday to talk about a same sex marriage amendment to the state constitution. The participants are taking part in a "deliberative poll" run by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Center for Deliberative Democracy. Deliberative democracy is based on the idea that citizens will become informed on all topics before casting votes but center co-director Robert Cavalier says people rarely have the time to devote to such an endeavor. He feels one answer is a deliberative poll where a representative sampling of the community agrees to meet on a given day to discus a topic. Information is sent to the participants beforehand and then experts are available to answer any questions that may arise from moderated discussions. Cavalier says at the end of the day the participants are polled and the results will be sent to lawmakers in an effort to help them better understand what an informed electorate has to say on the subject rather than just a random sample of those answering a phone poll who may or may not fully understand all of the issues. Cavalier says it took several months just to create background materials that fully describe the positions of each side in a way the average citizen can understand.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Counties to Decide on Political Attire at Polls

The Pennsylvania Department of State isn't calling it a reversal but rather a clarification. The department's Bureau of Elections says it will be up to the elections boards in each county to decide whether to allow voters to cast their ballots if they are wearing garb that supports a candidate such as t-shirts, hats and buttons. Last week the Department of State said it was sending a directive to the boards of elections in all counties instructing them to allow people wearing partisan items to cast their votes. This stemmed from a request from the American Civil Liberties Union for a clarification of the definition of "electioneering" in the Pennsylvania Election Code. Voters in Mt. Lebanon and Ardmore complained they were either turned away from the polls or told to remove or cover up the partisan apparel. The A.C.L.U. believes it is a free speech rights issue.
Department of State spokeswoman Rebecca Halton says the state cannot dictate to the county boards what to do on this matter, it can only offer guidance. Halton says the department believes that wearing such items is "passive electioneering" and is legal. However, county election bureaus should not allow people to try to actively influence other voters.
Robert Gleason, chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, says allowing the counties to make different decisions could create "chaos."
Two Allegheny County pollworkers, Richard Kraft and John Dickinson filed suit in Commonwealth Court challenging the Department of State's decision to allow each county board of elections to determine how to handle the matter. Mr. Dickinson refused to comment to WDUQ.

Pittsburgh Adopts Boston Model for Fighting Crime

Pittsburgh is adopting what Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says is a proven model for fighting violent crime. It was developed in Boston. Some call it the "Boston Miracle" because gun violence dropped there 70 percent. The architect of the plan is Professor David Kennedy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. He says it’s not about devoting more resources to the problem; it’s about structuring them in a different way. He says in most cities, small street groups are responsible for the majority of violent crime. Kennedy’s model focuses on confronting them directly. He says part of the challenge lies in enlisting people who street criminals trust, like their families and older ex-convicts who can tell them about the potential consequences of making poor choices.

Hotel Workers At Renaissance Hotel Get First Union Contract

Workers at the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel ratified their first union contract. The union reached a contract after a year of negotiations, and a 6 year battle for union recognition. When the hotel was opened in 2001 workers signed an organizing agreement with hotel operators, then many signed union cards which led to the protracted legal battle. The contract brings workers wages and benefits within range of other unionized hotels in the city. Members of the union will receive improvements in the quality of health insurance coverage and a reduction in worker co premiums. as well as wage increases, hourly employer contributions to retirement plans, and enhanced job security.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Land Conservation Conference in Pittsburgh

About 1,700 land trust officials and land conservationists are gathering in Pittsburgh for the next 4 days for "Rally 2008," the Land Trust Alliance's Annual National Conference. Roy Kraynyk, executive director of the Allegheny Land Trust, says while land conservation efforts are growing nationally and in this region, it's always an uphill battle. He says the issues include funding but it ultimately comes down to the owner. Kraynyk says the biggest problem is if the owner doesn't want to sell a tract of land for conservation or prefers to see to a developer. He does believe the public's mindset is changing...that instead of looking at a piece of land and wondering about the next mall or housing development, more people are looking at the greenspaces as "natural infrastructure." One of the major issues to be discussed during the conference is pending federal legislation to improve tax breaks for owners who promise not to develop their farms and forest lands.

Thousands In Pittsburgh Area Still Without Power

Four days after winds gusting up to 79 miles per hour tore down power lines throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania, about 25 thousand homes and businesses are still without electricity. Duquesne Light says about 11,000 customers are still without service. Those in the Point Breeze, East Liberty, Oakland and Squirrel Hill sections of Pittsburgh plus Wilkinsburg and West Homestead should be restored by 11 o'clock tonight. A Duquesne Light spokesman says northern and western Allegheny County and Beaver County continue to have the largest numbers of customers still experiencing outages. The utility projects power will be restored to them by late Friday.
Penn Power reports about 11,500 customers in the Pittsburgh region still without service. The company is bringing in supplemental line crews and hopes to have everyone restored by Sunday morning.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Call To End PAT's Monopoly Over Allegheny County

State Representative Mike Turzai, a Republican from Bradford Woods, has introduced a bill that would eliminate the monopoly the Port Authority has over Allegheny County public transportation. The measure would allow for private transportation companies and other regional transportation agencies to provide services in the county. Turzai says the reason the Port Authority has had problems is because of bad management and no competition to drive them to provide good services. Turzai added that even though privatized transportation would result in higher fares for riders it would result in less tax payer funded subsidies for the the Port Authority.

Monaca-Center Merger Approved

The first ever voluntary merger of Pennsylvania school districts was completed today when the state Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of allowing two Beaver County schools to join. The consolidation of Monaca and Center School districts will officially begin July 1, 2009. Board of Education spokesman Michael Race says the merger will benefit both students--by providing better academic programming--and the taxpayer by cutting costs within the district. Race also says the Board would like to see other small districts take the same action. Some other schools have already begun the merger process, he says, but did not specify which ones.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

State Grants Help Expand Nursing Schools

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has handed out $750,000 in grants to nursing schools across the state in an effort to boost capacity. The Rendell administration has been trying to increase the number of nurses in the state for years through financial and other incentives to students. A recent study found many nursing schools in Pennsylvania have admissions waiting lists so the latest round of 14 grants is aimed at helping schools expand. Duquesne University’s nursing has received a 50 thousand dollar grant to hire a simulation technology expert. Simulation technology uses mechanical dummies to simulate situations nurses will face after graduation. All of the grants must be matched by local funds.

Allegheny Green Team Formed

County Executive Dan Onorato has formed the “Allegheny Green Action Team” and filled it with business, community and environmental group leaders. Onorato says he will also hire a sustainability manager using foundation grants to make sure the suggestions generated by the team are instituted. Onorato says the sustainability manger will also work with all department heads to find ways to green up their operations while staying within their budgets. He says the county will also focus on preserving green space and promoting sustainable development. Onorato says he hopes that by leading by example the county will encourage municipalities and individuals to consider the environment when making decisions.

Top Scholar to Speak at Pitt

The University of Pittsburgh's Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership will present a lecture Thursday, September 18th by Alice Eagly, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University and one of the nation's top scholars on gender and leadership. Eagly's speech is titled "Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership." The professor is well-known for her shift of the metaphor describing women's quest for leadership from the "glass ceiling" to the "labyrinth." Eagly says the truth of the matter is that there is no single impetus such as a glass ceiling to women's leadership, but that there are multiple obstacles. The lecture begins at 4:30 on Thursday and is free to the public, but preregistration is requested.

State College Campuses Going Smoke-Free

The Pensnylvania State System for Higher Education is not taking any chances with the state's new smoking law. John Cavanaugh, chancellor of the fourteen state owned universities says they are abiding by the letter of the law and prohibiting smoking on all campuses, including outside buildings, at sports events and in parking lots. Some student smokers are protesting the restrictions, and spokesperson Kenn Marshall says there's always an adjustment period when new rules go into effect. He says he the state health department is responsible for enforcement and that they will focus on educating students about the new rules.

New House Resolution Would Reform How Bills are Considered

A new state house resolution (HR 851) seeks to reform the way bills are introduced and considered in the legislature. A group of bipartisan lawmakers say they're fed up with watching key issues get bumped down the priority list and Representative David Steil says only 10 to 15 percent of around 3,000 bills get considered during a legislative session. He says that's because committee chairmen and those who schedule floor action don't want to deal with important and controversial issues.

Under the proposed rules the number of bills that could be introduced by a member would be cut down to eight, with exceptions, and lawmakers would be allowed to fast track two of those bills to committee for consideration and a vote. Steil says this reform could ensure that meaningful legislation gets discussed and considered in the legislature.

Lawmaker Calls for Stricter Illegal Worker Law

State Representative John Galloway, a Democrat from Bucks County, is offering legislation that would require employers to be more responsible for who they hire. House Bill 2202 would make employer's verify their worker's eligibility through the E-Verify Program run by the Department of Homeland Security. The measure would also punish those employers who knowingly violate the bill through revocation of licensing and registrations to conduct business in Pennsylvania. Moreover, the bill would disallow government entities from contracting any company that does not comply with the law. Galloway says that in these tough economic times the government must do everything it can to ensure that legal Pennsylvania citizens have the opportunity for a secure job. Galloway's bill was modeled after the Legal Arizona Workers Act which has survived federal court challenge.

PASA Food Week to Highlight Local Produce

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) will hold its annual Local Food Week this month from September 21-27. The showcase and celebration of locally grown food comes at the peak of the growing season and will feature a variety of events including farm tours, local food sampling, and the opportunity to thank local farmers for their food and hard work. Local Food Week Coordinator Mia Farver says the week is a celebration of local food for those who eat it regularly and an opportunity to promote local food to those who do not buy it. She says that if every family spent $10 more on local food per week, that would amount to $15 million put into our local economy each week, and $700 million a year. For a complete list of events visit the Buy Fresh, Buy Local website at www.buylocalpa.org.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Genetic Mutations may have link to Transplant Rejection in Patients

Transplant rejection may be linked to a genetic mutation found in some recipients, according to a recent study at Children's Hospital. Principal Investigator Dr. Rakesh Sindhi says these mutation can better predict who will experience rejection before having a transplant. These are all genes that "you and I carry," Sindhi explains, but certain ones may prove to have this correllation.

In the future, these predictions will provide more personalized anti-rejection treatment for patients. Those who carry the mutation will receive heavier medication does, while others who do not will receive the normal amount. Once more studies are done on genetic mutation, and FDA has approval of the technique, Sindhi says doctors can begin practicing the new treatment.

State Health Care group presents to state Republican caucus

The Health Care for all Pennsylvania group says with three million residents who are uninsured or are under insured, the state is in the midst of a health care crisis. The group is supporting a Pennsylvania House Bill, the Family and Business Health Care Security Act, to establish a single-payer health insurance program for state residents.

Its Executive Director Chuck Pennacchio says health care is a non-partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike want to find the best method to provide people with high quality health care that is also affordable.

Pennacchio says 31 percent of health care costs go to bureaucratic waste and inefficiencies. By changing the current health care system, the state will be able to create more jobs, cut taxes, cut auto insurance rates and lower medical malpractice insurance because all of these things are linked.

For more information about Health Care for all Pennsylvania and House Bill 1660, go to http://www.healthcare4allpa.org/.

Both Drink Tax Referenda Stay Off Ballot

Both proposals on Allegheny County's drink tax should be left off the ballot, according to President Judge Joseph James. One referendum was proposed by the group Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation (FACT), many of whose members are bar and restaurant owners. That proposal would lower the drink tax from its current 10 percent to 0.5 percent. Carlton restaurant owner Kevin Joyce says FACT always believed this case would have to be settled in the Commonwealth or state Supreme Court, and his group will appeal. He says bar and restaurant owners estimate they will lose $70 million this year because of the drink tax. They believe they have been unfairly targeted as a revenue source for the Port Authority.

The other referendum thrown off the ballot was drafted by the county Council. It would ask voters whether they would prefer higher property taxes to a drink tax. Council President Rich Fitzgerald says his constituents have told him overwhelmingly that they prefer the drink tax. He says if both referenda stay off the ballot, that's fine--he says the important thing is that voters not be asked to lower the drink tax without accepting that the county has to raise revenue some other way.

Drink tax collections so far this year have been higher than expected. Fitzgerald says as the Council prepares to enter budget talks, it will consider whether the tax should be adjusted. But he also says some expenses have been higher than expected, as well--like fuel.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Union Rejects Fact Finder Report

The president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 85 says the terms of the fact finder’s report would set them back 50 years. Union President Pat McMahon says the three percent raise is not even enough to keep pace with inflation. He says making it even worse on the members’ budgets was the recommendation that they increase their contributions to healthcare premiums while reducing coverage. McMahon says the suggestion that union members reach age 60 and accumulate 30 years of service before retiring is a “Slap in the face.” He says his members know the next contract will not be as good for the members as the one that expired this summer but they are not willing to go this far “over night.” McMahon says he wants the riders to know that there are no plans for a strike at this time. He says he hopes the authority will enter into good faith negotiations. As long as there is progress he says he will keep the bussing running.

Doug Shields Wants Investigation Into Ford Settlement

Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields has sent a letter to United States Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan and Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett requesting an investigation into the settlement of former Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford. Shields says the accusations against the city's administration are damning, and need to be explained. He says he is upset that the taxpayers have to foot the bill for a settlement that is "paying people to shut up about what's going on in these organizations." As a part of the settlement, Ford has agreed not to say anything else about his allegations against the city unless under subpoena.

Onorato Announces Funding For River Trail

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato has announced a $25,000 donation from the St. Margaret Foundation for a 32-mile riverfront trail along the Allegheny River. The trail will connect to the Erie-to-Pittsburgh Greenway, and the Mainline Canal Greenway, which extends all the way to Harrisburg. The trail will take a few years to complete as different townships and municipalities work on obtaining land and constructing the trail.

PAT Board Votes Yes on Contract Terms

The board of the Port Authority of Allegheny County has accepted the fact finders report setting up terms for a new labor contract. The old deal expired this summer. Members of the board say while the deal is not perfect it does for the first time deal with some of the long-term retirement and legacy costs. Pat CEO Steven bland says the real benefits are not seen for years to come when retirement and other savings begin. He says in the short term there are still real issues the board will have to deal with through cost savings and revenue stream increases. Bland and board member Eddie Edwards both stressed that if the union rejects the deal it would mean the talks are back to square one. They stressed that the report would not be used as a starting point for negotiations. At the same time the board voted on an outline of procedures to take if there is a strike. Chief among them is a total shutdown of service. The Union will announce its decision later today.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Onorato Urges PAT and Union To Accept Recomendations

The Port Authority Board and Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union have until Saturday to accept or reject the contract recommendations of fact finder Jane Rigler who was appointed by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.
Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato urged both sides to accept the proposed contract which he says is an important step to getting the transit agency "off the bankruptcy track." Onorato says the fact finder's report addresses for the first time long-term legacy costs which he called a "ticking time bomb." The recommendation would trim those costs for pensions and health care by 40% over the long term.
The fact finder recommended 3% annual pay hikes for the 2,300 union drivers, mechanics and supervisors for the next 3 years. Union employees currently contribute 1% of their base wages toward their health benefits but that would go up to 3% in phases, which is the same level that non-union PAT employees contribute. The recommendation also calls for an end to a $500 a month pension supplement for employees who retire early. Possibly, the most controversial provision from the union's point of view would be employees with 30 years of service and who retire before age 60 would have to contribute the same 3% toward health care. Retirees under 65 who have 25 to 30 years service could retain health care coverage but would have to pay PAT 100% of the cost.
Onorato says the union's possible interest in continuing to work under the old contract which expired June 30 "is not an option." He says the transit agency cannot afford it. But Onorato warned that even if the factfinder's report is accepted, that is not the end. PAT must evaluate routes and get rid of underused ones while establishing routes to underserved communities.

Northside United Runs into Police

Representatives from Northside United rallied outside the Continental Real Estate offices in Homestead Thursday but were turned back in their attempt to deliver a stack of letters signed by north side residents. The letters, addressed to various elected officials, noted that continental had acquired land on the north shore from the Stadium Authority for an outdoor theater and hotel at below market rates and then asked the state for money to help develop the land. It then called on those lawmakers to pressure the company to negotiate a community benefits agreement. When the protesters tried to deliver copies of the nearly 90 letters police and private security turned them back. After some shuttle diplomacy using a security guard as a messenger the letters were accepted. Security guard Brian Taylor told the protesters the office was now a different division of Continental that dealt with office furniture rather than real estate development. Northside united co-chair Sam Williamson says he is concerned that the real estate division has apparently moved back to Ohio. He says despite that, the company has not heard the last from his group. Continental did not return calls seeking comment.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

CMU Working On Trucks That Drive Themselves

Carnegie Mellon University is working with Caterpillar Inc. to develop autonomous versions of large-haul trucks used in mining operations. CMU has won national honors for creating vehicles that can drive themselves in an urban environment. CMU's Robotics Institute will adapt its research for trucks that will be used for loading and dumping of mining materials. A CMU professor says the project should lead to improved safety and productivity in mines. The trucks are expected to be introduced for use in 2010.

Base Year Goes Before State Supreme Court

Judge Stanton Wettick ruled that the use of a base year as a means to assess properties is unconstitutional if the law does not include a mechanism to trigger a reassessment. Lawyers representing home owners argued that the law should include either a set number of years between reassessments or a specific mathematical formula to figure deviation of real home values compared to assessed values. Appellee Don Driscoll says right now property owners have no way to demand a reassessment without hiring a lawyer and filing suit. He says that is too high of a burden. Allegheny County Solicitor Mike Wojcik argues that as numbers become more “out of whack” elected officials will do the right thing and reassess to head off any litigation. However other counties in southwestern Pennsylvania are still working on base years that are more than 30 years old. It is unclear when the court would rule but if it upholds the lower court decision it would force nearly every county in the state to reassess baring action from the state legislature.

Open Records Request Goes to State Supreme Court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case seeking to make cell phone records from former Pittsburgh City Council members Len Bodack and Barbara Burns public. A Tribune Review reporter asked for the publicly paid cell phone records of all council members in 2003. Some complied but Len Bodack and Barbara Burns did not. The city argued that the numbers that would be on those records were private and should not be published. The argument is that the publishing of those numbers could have a chilling effect on a citizen want to make contact with a lawmaker. The city used the example of a constituent complaining to a council member about a crack house. When the house is raided those arrested could find out who the councilman was talking to and bring harm to that individual. Lawyers for the paper say the council members had the opportunity to redact any sensitive numbers but would not be able to make a good argument before the court to keep calls to country clubs and travel agencies out of the public eye. Both Burns and Bodack have since been voted out of office.

Onorato Wants Natural Gas Drilling In County To Be Organized Effort

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato wants to form a committee composed of himself, County Council and the Airport Authority to determine how best to approach the possible drilling of natural gas in the county. Onorato says he has been approached by companies already interested in drilling at the airport and on other county-owned land.

The Airport Authority had been seeking bids to drill for natural gas on the property they lease from the county. Onorato put a stop to the bidding because he says the county owns that land, and will take the lead on negotiating drilling contracts as well as determining how the revenue will be used.

Onorato said this is a great opportunity to add revenue to the county, and possibly the airport.

New Moon Road May Help Attract Jobs

The extension of a road in Moon Township will bring jobs to Allegheny County, according to local and state officials. County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Pennsylvania Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Yablonsky were among those who held a ribbon-cutting on the Cherrington Parkway extension today. Since the extension is still largely surrounded by open land, the ribbon was held by two people while others cut it.

Extending Cherrington Parkway provides access to about 60 acres of land that the county is making "shovel-ready" for new development. That means things like installing water and sewer service. Research by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development indicated that the county lost 4,000 jobs over an 18-month period because of a lack of shovel-ready land.

Earlier today, Onorato and Yablonsky attended a groundbreaking in South Fayette Township, where a former brownfield will become the site of the Newbury development. It will include shops, about 200 homes, and 130 acres of open space. The first homes are expected to be ready sometime next year.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

City/County Merger gets Quiet Hearing

Despite gathering at least 25 signatures to call for a public hearing on the possibility of a city county merger only 6 people took to the lectern Tuesday to voice their opinion. Among them was great Pittsburgh League of Women Voters President Suzanne Broughton whose group supports a merging of the city and county while leaving school districts and the other municipalities intact. She says one major concern is making sure voting districts are drawn to ensure good representation for everyone including minorities. Pittsburgh Democratic Committee Chair Barbara Ernsberg presented a long list of reasons why she feels the merger would be ill advised. She says she does not want the city’s elected offices to be eliminated. She also says she sees no real pension and debt solution, fears a weakening of minority representation and is worried about a loss of city identity. She also is worried that boards created to protect citizens such as the citizens police review board and the zoning board would be eliminated because there is no equivalent at the county level.

Motznik Wants $2 Million to Pave Streets

Pittsburgh Councilman Jim Motznik wants to make sure the city finishes its plan to resurface 50 miles of city streets. He's introduced a measure to add more money to the paving budget. Motznik says the money for the program ran out with about six miles left to be paved, and all six miles are in his district. The funds ran out as the price of oil, and thus the price of asphalt, increased. Motznik says he has spoken to the mayor about re-allocating $2 million in unused capital funds. He says the money is not being taken from other unfinished projects.

Green Jobs from $100 Billion Investment

A new report indicates that a $100 billion investment over 2 years in clean energy could create 2 million new jobs in the United States. The study was compiled by the Center for American Progress and the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst for a group of labor and environmental groups including the United Steelworkers of America, the Clean Air Council, Sierra Club, PennFuture and PennEnvironment.
Bracken Hendricks of the Center for American Progress says the projected 2 million jobs are four times the amount created by a similar investment in the oil industry and 20% more than by a taxpayer rebate. Hendricks says they believe that Pennsylvania's economy would get a $4 billion infusion from such an investment and 86 thousand new jobs.
Joe Minott of the Clean Air Council says they propose the investment be in six green infrastructure priorities: retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency; expanding mass transit and freight rail; constructing "smart" electrical grid transmission systems; wind power; solar power; and, next generation biofuels.
Hendricks says there is a misconception that green jobs involve dislocation and retraining. He says the vast majority of the new jobs created would be the types already being done by millions of Americans: electricians, carpenters, machinists, mechanics, metal fabricators and software engineers.
Hendricks says old legacy industries like steel can benefit from investments in clean energy because it takes 26 tons of steel to build one windmill.
The environmental/labor coalition suggests the $100 billion could come from direct appropriations, tax credits. loan guarantees and mostly from auctioning carbon permits under a global warming cap and trade system.

Challenge Filed to Drink Tax Petitions

Citizens Against Raising Taxes on Property (CARTOP) will challenge the petitions filed to put a question reducing Allegheny County’s drink tax from 10 percent to 0.5 percent. The challenge must be filed by 5:00pm Tuesday. CARTOP President Shawn Flaherty says the petitions included names like Steelers Mascot Steely McBeam and signatures from people who do not live in Allegheny County. He says of the more than 44,000 signatures submitted, only 16,000 are valid. That would be well below the 23,000 needed. Flaherty says his organization is ready to go before a judge and point out every signature that is invalid. A three-judge panel threw out both drink tax referendums, but that decision has been appealed.

Inventory Taken at Episcopalian Diocese in Preparation for Secession Vote

A neutral, court-appointed party will take inventory at the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh as it prepares for a secession vote on October 4th. Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside began arguing against a potential secession in 2005. Since then, that congregation has led a minority of churches against Bishop Robert Duncan's plan to leave the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion for the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in South America, a much more conservative following. Spokesperson Rev. Peter Frank says the diocese is concerned with ensure that each side is treated "fair and equitably." The disagreement between Calvary and the diocese is over specific doctrine and sexual ethics.

Carnegie Museums Take Over Three Rivers Arts Festival

Citing financial distress, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is taking control of the Three Rivers Arts Festival ahead of the event's 50th anniversary next year. Betsy Momich, Director of Communications for the museums says they've already eliminated the festival's top two administrative positions and will be conducting a review of its finances. Momich is not sure what this means for the festival's independence from the museums in the future. Over the past two years the event has struggled to find a venue as its traditional home at Point State Park has been under construction.

Monday, September 8, 2008

State Clarifies Electioneering Law

The Pennsylvania Secretary of State has clarified a law that prohibits electioneering at the polls. Electioneering laws were made to prevent people from intimidating voters into changing their vote at the polls. The ACLU of Pennsylvania contends that vagueness in the law led some poll workers to bar voters who wore shirts or buttons that identified who they were supporting. The Department of State says voters can wear any type of political clothing they like to the polls. However, if you are working at the polls or conducting exit polls, you will not be allowed to wear garments that identify your political preference.

Smoking Ban Modifications to be Introduced

When the smoking ban goes into effect Thursday it will carry exemptions for bars that derive less than 20-percent of revenue from food, casinos and a list of other establishments. At the same time the law prohibits counties and municipalities other than Philadelphia from enacting tougher bans. State Representative Chelsa Wagner says she will introduce legislation to give Allegheny County 90 days to pass a tighter ban and Representative Dan Frankel says he will introduce a bill that would allow any local government to enforce tighter laws. He says he knows some bar owners will complain but the health of workers and residents outweighs the business interests. This summer the house did pass a law with fewer exemptions but it was scaled back in conference committee. Wagner and Frankel say they feel there is now the political will in both chambers to tighten some of those loopholes. Frankel says since the state failed in its duty to protect the health of Pennsylvanians local governments should be given the ability to do it right.

Shuman Center Transfers to Begin in October

The first transfer of residents from the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center in Lincoln-Lemington to the Auberle Home in McKeesport will most likely occur in October, when facilities will be ready to receive up to 24 young people awaiting their juvenile court hearings.

Shuman Executive Director Jack Simmons says transfer selection criteria have been crafted with the goal of assuring the safety of both residents and the community. Only younger, low-risk, first-time offenders will go to Auberle, where there is less security. Juveniles who have escaped from other facilities or stand accused of serious offenses will not be eligible.

Although housing some residents at Auberle may save money in the long run, Simmons says the primary reason for the move is to address overcrowding at Shuman, which has been a long-standing problem.

The Shuman residents transferred will be in the charge of Auberle employees, but their regimen will be identical to that at Shuman, according to Simmons.

Water plan gets hearing

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has been working on a new State Water Plan for several years and is now set to hold a series of information sessions and public hearings. The first will be held Monday Sept 8 at the seven fields community center. It will focus on the Ohio River watershed. The plan looks at what resources the state has right now and what demand is expected to be as far as 30 years out. The plan deals with drinking water, industrial needs (including navigability), and recreational needs. The plan can be found on line at the DEP web site and public comment can be made there.

Deluca looks to cap State Rep.'s income

State Representative Tony Deluca has introduced a measure to amend the Pennsylvania state constitution to limit the amount of money a state lawmaker can earn outside of his or her state salary. The measure caps earned income at 20-thousand dollars a year on top of the 76-thousand dollar pay for a state representative. He says being a state rep. is a full time job and if a member of the house is working outside of the office they will be neglecting some aspect of their duties. He says it will also help to eliminate any conflicts of interest. He says people running businesses, practicing as lawyers or engaged in some other job, tend to vote for measures that help that profession. Deluca says the 20-thousand dollar cap is high enough to keep people from complaining that they can not make enough to run for the position while at the same time it is low enough that it will not take away too much of the lawmaker’s time.

Allegheny General Hospital Combats Hospital Acquired Catheter Infections

Allegheny General Hospital is the only health care provider invited to share its success in combating hospital-acquired infections at a national summit in Washington, D.C. on September 9th and 10th. Medicare will soon deny payment for such infections, which cause thousands of deaths and cost billions of dollars every year.

Dr. Jerome Granato, Medical Director of the Coronary Care Unit, says the Toyota Production System used by industry revealed that variability in catheter insertion by doctors and catheter care by nurses was leaving room for error. Standardizing the process led to a decline in infections.

With the challenge of new doctors and nurses constantly joining the large teaching hospital, Dr. Granato says the training process is also crucial. Basic and renewable training and certification, as well as surveillance for adherence to approved procedures, has led to zero infections in some units and near zero in others.

The Allegheny General protocols for preventing catheter infections are now being applied to other types of hospital-acquired infections, and other health facilities can access them free of charge.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Property Tax Appeal Before PA Supreme Court

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato says the county is ready to make its case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on the base year tax system. Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick has ruled the base year system is unconstitutional but Allegheny County appealed. Allegheny County uses 2002 property assessments as a base year for real estate taxes. About a dozen other counties use a base year assessment. Onorato criticized school districts for challenging the base year system. He says the districts want higher assessments which would mean more tax revenues without having to raise the tax rate. Onorato says even if the State Supreme Court rules against the county, he will go to Harrisburg to seek a new law to allow base year systems.

Hookah Study

A recent study at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School shows that Pitt students who try hookah smoking is as about as common as students who try cigarettes. However, it is not a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. University of Pittsburgh Professor Dr. Brian Primack says its aesthetic appeal, the social atmosphere, and the misconception that it is a safer practice all contribute to its popularity. However, Dr. Primack says hookah smoke produces more toxins than cigarette smoke. One study showed that one water pipe session produced 46 times more tar than one cigarette. Another consideration to this study is that people usually share a water pipe and smoke less frequently, while some cigarette smokers go through 20 cigarettes or more each day.

The statewide smoking ban to take affect next Thursday may make hookah bars even more popular, since these establishments can apply for exemptions. Traditional bars that do not rely on tobacco for revenue will not be able to apply for such an exemption.

Northside United files Lawsuit

Members of the Northside United group chanted, "This land is our land, its not yours! No secret meetings behind closed doors!" in front of the Pittsburgh City-County building this morning. The neighborhood group is filing suit against the Stadium Authority to block the sale of 2 parcels of land near Heinz Stadium on the North Shore. One tract would go to Continental Real Estate to build a Hyatt Hotel and the other tract to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Continental to build and amphitheater.
Northside United Co-Chairman Michael Glass said the land was sold for one-tenth of its assessed value. He said they are suing because the Stadium Authority Board violated the Sunshine Act because it did not publicize the meeting at which the sales were approved. Glass says the sale was also illegal because Continental's option on the land had expired. Northside United is trying to negate the deal but in the meantime is trying to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement with Continental if the sale is upheld.

Wecht to Stand Trial Again

Former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht will stand trial again on theft and fraud charges, but there will be a different judge presiding. Wecht is accused of using his county office to benefit his private pathology practice. The first trial on 41 felony counts ended with a hung jury and U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab declared a mistrial April 8. The defense argued that a second trial would be double jeopardy. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that although Judge Schwab did not follow proper procedures in declaring the mistrial, that was not enough to dismiss the charges. The appellate court did order that Judge Schwab be removed from the case and another judge assigned. U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, whose office is prosecuting Wecht, issued a statement saying that her office is pleased the Court of Appeals concluded that the double jeopardy clause does not preclude a retrial in the case.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Obama Back in PA

While Senator John McCain was getting ready to accept the Republican Presidential nomination at the convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, Democratic nominee Barrack Obama was back campaigning in Pennsylvania.
Obama discussed his plans on the economy and green power today at a hydro-electric plant in York.
After taking a walk through the Voith Siemens plant, Obama spoke to workers about his plans to increase green energy production in the United States.

"We can't drill our way out of the problem. And that's where this facility comes in. We've got to learn to harness clean renewable energy and it means hydro."

Obama then told workers that it was hydro plants like theirs, along with solar, wind and geothermal resources that would solve America's energy problems. But the Democratic Senator may be a tough sell in Republican-leaning York County. Plant machinist Lee Wallis says although he thinks the Obama's energy plan would be good for the company, he hasn't decided yet who he's voting for.

"It's nice that he's concerned, and that he chose us to come here. It seems like he is interested and cares about what we do here, so maybe that does help a little bit with that decision."

The York stop was part of a two-day swing through the state.

Push for Kinship Care

Pennsylvania family court judges and social workers are in training this week learning new ways to find permanent families for abused and neglected children.
The kinship approach to foster care begins with a computer search to locate as many as 40 extended family members and friends; adults who may be unaware that a young relative is in need. Youth expert Kevin Campbell says the next step is a big family meeting.

"Where we want to make sure that all the family members who have been able to come are fully informed about what's been happening with the young person and not just what happened in the past but what we are worried about for the future for that young person."

State Supreme Court Justice Max Baer is backing the change that gets extended family members to step up and make a plan for a vulnerable child.

"That's a model alternative to saying to the child we're sorry there is no one to take care of you so we are going to send you 75 miles away to this foster family that we are going to pay, until they disappoint you, then we are going to move you to another family."

Fifteen Pennsylvania counties have plans to adopt the kinship approach to foster care. In the latest report from Allegheny County Children, Youth and Families, as of June 1, 2007, the county had 7% of children inf shelter foster care, 47% in kinship placement, and 29% in homes where the foster parents are not related to the foster children.

Gang Awareness Summit

Hundreds of law enforcement officials at the federal, state and local levels along with social service providers and community leaders are wrapping up a 3 day conference in Cranberry, Butler County later this afternoon on dealing with the increase in violent crime associated with gang activity in the region.
Tom Fitzgerald, U.S. Marshal for Western Pennsylvania, says gang activity tends to come in waves and right now it's on the increase. Fitzgerald says gangs are becoming more sophisticated and evolving "It's not the gangsta rapper you see on T-V." He says the gangs are of all types...white, African-American and Latino and they are spreading into the suburbs. Fitzgerald says law enforcement has to work more closely with community groups to deter young people from joining gangs. One such group is the Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania. Mike Hepler is the President and C-E-O. He says they are "tired of young people getting swallowed up by the streets." Hepler says young people are being pulled in one direction by the streets and in the other direction by organizations like his. He says they don't win all of the battles but they do win most of them with the help of law enforcement.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

U.S. Youth Suicide rates spike in 2004

After declining U.S. youth suicide rates from 1996 to 2003, the numbers increased 14.5 percent in 2004. A Carnegie Mellon statistics professor is trying to understand why. Dr. Joel Greenhouse says the jump was first looked at as an statistical anomaly. Common risk factors such as substance abuse and the use of firearms have not changed in 10 to 19-year-old youths.

However, one possible influence is the Food and Drug Administration's "black box" label on antidepressants, initiated in 2004. Others include the increased use of internet social networks and increases in suicide among U.S. troops. Suicide statistics declined in 2005, but Dr. Greenhouse says those rates are still well above the previous regression.

Specter on McCain's Chances in PA

Pennsylvania's senior U.S. Senator Arlen Specter says the Republican Party has a "little healing" to do at its convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Specter told DUQ that the whole party has to pull together but in order for John McCain to win, the Republicans must appeal to independents and Democrats. Specter says he has high regard for Democratic Presidential nominee Barrack Obama whom he calls "a phenomenon as an orator and campaigner" but he says it comes down to McCain's experience. Specter says both McCain and Obama have a shot at winning Pennsylvania and he believes the four suburban counties around Philadelphia could be key to a McCain victory in Pennsylvania.

PA Sends Help to Gulf Coast

Emergency and rescue workers from Pennsylvania are in Louisiana and Mississippi this week as the Gulf Coast rebounds from Hurricane Gustav.
The state Bureau of Emergency Services sent 250 people and 60 ambulances to help.
Before Gustav hit, Pennsylvania Strike Team members evacuated patients from Louisiana hospitals. Then, while Gustav touched down on Monday, the group took shelter about four hours away. Joe Schmider directs the Pennsylvania E-M-S. He says Tuesday the emergency workers moved on to Thibodaux, a small bayou city in southeastern Louisiana.

"Where they are going to triage, transport and treat patients that are coming in. They are setting up and waiting on patients coming in. There is a command system down there and they are apart of that, this is their mission right now to set this receiving center up."

He says Gustav's force and damage was far less than predicted, so it's unclear how many patients will need the care, medication and natural-disaster assistance the team is trained to provide.
Schmider says the effort will cost about 2 million dollars, money that will likely be reimbursed after Louisiana receives federal assistance.
A Pennsylvania-based -- federal urban search and rescue team is also in the Gulf Coast, helping out in Pearl, Mississippi.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

CLPGH Gets Grant to Digitize

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has picked up a 600-thousand dollar grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to tackle a massive digitizing project. The money will be used to first catalog and then digitize the library’s iron and steel collection. The materials dating back to the 1800’s are housed at the Allegheny depository on the north side. Library director Barbara mistick says the more than 400-thousand pages in the collection need to be preserved because the space is not climate controlled and already about 20% of the collection is “too fragile to touch.” Once the items are digitized they will be put on line where readers can add annotations to the collection. Along with books about steelmaking the collection holds catalogs from area steelmakers.

Duquesne City School Teachers Strike

Classes are canceled indefinitely in the Duquesne City School District after teachers struck today in a dispute over salaries. The dispute is over a wage re-opener not the full contract. The teachers union wants a 19% pay hike this year. The Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which is the governing body for the distressed district, has offered 3%.
Butch Santicola, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, argues that even with a 19% increase, the Duquesne teachers would still be the lowest paid in Allegheny County. But, A-I-U Solicitor Bill Andrews says that Duquesne is the only bankrupt district in the county and is 1 of the 2 poorest districts in the state. Andrews says giving a 19% salary hike will hinder achieving the goal of a viable district. The two sides are waiting for a state mediator to call them back to the bargaining table.

Elections Board Tosses Ballot Questions

The Allegheny County Elections Board has eliminated two ballot measures dealing with the 10% drink tax enacted this year to subsidize public transit. Three county judges ruled that questions were not legal because only County Council can lower or raise taxes. The judges heard the case because the Elections Board' regular members had declared positions on the ballot measures and recused themselves. The proposed referendum by opponents of the drink tax, Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation (FACT), would has asked voters to reduce the tax from 10% to point-5 percent. Another referendum put forth by Democrats on Council would have asked voters if they wanted to eliminate the drink tax in favor of higher property taxes. Kevin Joyce, a board member of FACT, says the county code indicates that only Council can raise or lower property taxes but doesn't mention other levies like the drink tax. Joyce says their next step is to appeal to Common Pleas Court.

PA Delegation at GOP Convention

The Republican National Convention gets back to normal today after a truncated version yesterday because of concerns over Hurricane Gustav striking the Gulf Coast. Pennsylvania's delegates and their colleagues from across the nation are to hear today from President Bush, via satellite from the White House, plus former Senator Fred Thompson and Senator Joe Lieberman, who 8 years ago was the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee.
Pennsylvania's 74 member delegation is composed of 61 elected directly by voters, 10 chosen by the Republican State Committee, the national committee man and national committee woman, and the chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Party. The chair is Robert Gleason, Jr. He says Pennsylvanians side with John McCain on many issues and that a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters will switch sides and vote Republican in November.
Geneva McKee is retired as Monroeville's tax collector. She's excited to take part in her first national convention. She says McCain has the right experience but it will take a lot of hard work to get the word out about McCain's positions on the issues.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Biden Cancels Appearance in Parade

Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden canceled plans to appear in Pittsburgh's Labor Day parade. Biden says he did so out of respect for people affected by Hurricane Gustav. He kept on his schedule an appearance in Scranton later in the day. Several other public officials participated, including Governor Ed Rendell and U.S. Senator Bob Casey.

Western Pennsylvania native Richard Trumka also marched. He's the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO. He says Labor Day takes on a special significance during a presidential election year.

Pittsburgh's Labor Day parade is one of the nation's largest. It was expected to draw around 60,000 people.

Pittsburgh Promise gets new Director

A former Presbyterian minister and founder of The Pittsburgh Project officially take the post of Executive Director for The Pittsburgh Promise. Saleem Ghubrill says he will be more than just a fundraiser. He says he wants to make sure the students are not just being offer money to college but also an education that will allow them to succeed when they get there. Pittsburgh Promise offers scholarships to Pittsburgh Public school students. The money is meant to be “last mile funding” after all other sources are exhausted. Pittsburgh Promise is currently in the process of raising 90 million dollars to match a challenge gift.

PPU Teacher/Blogger in MN

A Point Park University faculty member is in Minnesota this week teaching mass media students about political coverage. While Associate Professor Anthony Moretti is there he is also writing a blog. The blog will focus not on the speeches (when they resume) or policy announcements but on the other things that are happening in and around the convention center. Things he says the major media outlets will not be covering. He says there are other outlets for people to hear the speeches so he will focus on things such as rallies, the media tent and traffic jams. Items he thinks will give the readers a flavor of what is happening in St Paul. Moretti is at the convention as part of a fellowship with the Washington Center for Internships and Seminars Program.