Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Shopping Expected To Decline

With the economy faltering many experts are predicting that holiday sales will be flat this year, but Dr. Audrey Guskey, marketing professor at Duquesne University, is predicting that sales will be down 4% from last year. Guskey is predicting a strong black friday but a weaker than expected holiday shopping season for retailers. Guskey feels that the economy and families planning on spending less this year on gifts will result in the decrease. She says that this year it is chic to be cheap as opposed to years past when many gift givers wanted to buy expensive or hot ticket items. Guskey is expecting all forms of retail from apparel to electronics to gift cards be down in sales.

Group Wants Charity Not Shopping On Black Friday is holding their first annual "Great American Sleep-in" in which they want Americans to sleep in on black Friday as opposed to shopping. The effort is a part of a project to increase philanthropic activities during the holiday season. Globalgiving understands that people are spending less this holiday season and suggests that families don't go and buy that extra present but instead make a donation to a worth charity that will have a positive impact on the lives of people who are less fortunate.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Poll Shows Tough Times in PA

A new poll shows Pennsylvanians think the economy is the number one issue in the state and it is not looking good. The Quinnipiac Polling Institute found 53% of residents expect to spend less this year, while 43% say they'll spend about the same. In the meantime 54% of voters say they are worse off economically than they were a year ago, and they're not optimistic about the future. 23% say they'll be worse in the next 12 months. For those looking to retire the future looks a bit bleak as well. 73% of those who have a 401K or some other type of private retirement plan say they have lost money. There is some hope in the poll. Pollster Clay Richards says 62% of the respondents say they expect the economy to improve by the end of president-elect Barack Obama's first term. However, at the same time they were less sure about his ability to solve the nation's economic crisis. Just 38% say that he can do that.

Johnstown Garage to be Demolished

Johnstown’s city manager says he will be choosing a company to teardown the Washington Street parking garage Friday. Portions of the garage are second and third floors collapsed early Tuesday. No one was hurt but there were about 20 cars inside the structure. Beginnings Inc. and Blaine Boring’s Chocolates remain closed because of their proximity to the unstable structure. The demolition project is expected to take about a month. The top three floors of the garage have been closed since 2003 when inspectors found sagging floors and failing concrete.

Southside Residents to Rally

Residents of the Southside will be rallying in front of the UPMC Southside hospital to protest its closing. The community members want input into the decision regarding the closing. They are sending postcards to UPMC officials and City Councilman Bruce Kraus who represents the Southside will be meeting with UPMC officials to deliver 500 letters from Southside residents regarding the hospitals closing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pittsburgh International Airport to Lower Raise in Fees For Airlines

After raising fees to airlines only a month ago the Pittsburgh International Airport will reduce the fees slightly. After finding over $3 million in savings the airport will lower the raise in landing fees, terminal fees and ramp fees. The rates will still increase for all airlines but will be lowered by 4.4 percent. The fees the airlines pay are partially reimbursed at the end of the year by the airport. The savings found by the airport were a result of lower fuel costs.

Washington County Told to Reassess

Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell has ordered Washington County to launch a countywide property reassessment. The ruling comes out of a suit filed by two school districts claiming the 1985 base year had become too inaccurate to be used. The judge gave the County Commissioners 10 months begin the work. County Board of Commissioners Chair Larry Maggi says the board is considering appeal options. He says the reassessment would cost millions of dollars and could become moot if the state passes new property tax legislation or if a court case involving Allegheny County’s use of a base year assessment results in all base year systems being deemed unconstitutional. The judge did say in her order that if the legislature acts before the ten months elapse the county would not have to launch the reassessment.

Cultural Trust Takes Control of Three Rivers Arts Festival

The Pittsburgh cultural trust says it will work closely with the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh to produce 2009 Three Rivers Arts Festival without a hitch. Trust President Kevin Mc Mahon says that will mean a lot of work in the next 7 months. He says the Trust will use the 2009 event as a time to gather input from the community as to what they would like to see in future events. Mc Mahon says the trust has gotten into the business of running other community events like First Night and the Children’s Festival and has built a certain level of competence. He says they will work to make the arts festival a self sufficient event but he knows that will require the involvement of sponsors and the foundation community. The festival was first held in 1959.

Healthcare Options

The state legislative session ended this month before lawmakers took votes on a long list of healthcare reform bills. DUQ's Mark Nootbaar takes a look at where the debate is headed.

Listen to the full-length story here.

PA pension Funds Slip

The slipping financial markets have taken their toll on the state’s pension funds. The state employees' pension fund lost $4.3 billion dollars from July through September and the state teachers' fund lost eight billion during the same period and nearly 17% in the last year. Officials say those numbers could get worse. Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System Spokesman Robert Gentzel says the losses were in line with what other pension funds are reporting for the same period. Lost revenues will have to be made up by taxpayers if the losses aren't turned around quickly - which given the current volatility of the financial markets, Gentzel says, doesn't appear likely.

PAT and ATU 85 reach deal

The heads of The Port Authority of Allegheny County and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 have reached a tentative contract agreement. The current contact expired in June and the authority had planned to implement a new contract next month. Union Leadership had said that would amount to a lockout and the system would be shut down. AFL-CIO leaders had called for authority CEO Steve Bland and ATU 85 President Pat McMahon to Washington over the weekend to begin hashing out a new deal. The AFL-CIO reportedly initiated "shuttle negotiations" with the two sides not meeting face to face for several days but still moving forward on a list of issues. Bland says the negotiations benefited from being outside of the county. The 2,300 union mechanics and drivers are expected to be presented with the details of the deal soon and the PAT board would follow with a vote later. Pension and benefits were among the major stumbling blocks during the negotiations with the authority saying it had to get "legacy costs" under control and the union saying it needed to protect its retired members and those looking to retire. Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato has not said if the terms of the deal are enough to get him to release millions of dollars in poured drink and car rental taxes he has been holding. He has said he will release them when the authority gets its financial house in order.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Knoll Honored at St. Paul Cathedral

Mourners honored Lieutenant Governor Catherine Baker Knoll today at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland. Knoll died earlier this month following a four-month battle with neuroendocrine cancer. Her son, Charles Albert Knoll, says her death came much more quickly than anyone expected. He says his mother had talked about running for governor in 2010. Barring that, he says she wanted to go to law school. Charles Knoll says his family has received countless letters and e-mails wishing them well, including one from President-elect Barack Obama.

Governor Ed Rendell says many people know the accomplishments of Pennsylvania's first-ever female lieutenant governor. As treasurer, Knoll began the Tuition Assistance Program. But Rendell says many people don't know that Knoll started many TAP accounts herself by donating funds for children across the state.

Muslim Women in Pitttsburgh

Muslim women in the Pittsburgh area discuss raising families, being empowered and living their faith at a regional conference held in Pittsburgh. DUQ's Alexandria Chaklos reports.

Listen to the full-length story here.

Gasoline Break In Murrysville

Route 22 in Murrysville is closed in both directions between school road and the Cozy Inn cutoff because of a ruptured gasoline line. The break is near the Hoss' Restaurant. Some buildings in the area have been evacuated including the Highlands Nursing Home. Westmoreland County Emergency Management officials are monitoring the situation.

The Franklin regional school district's website says they are working with Murrysville Fire and Police. According to the website Newlonsburg and Heritage elementary and middle school staff and students are being moved to the senior high school. Bus drivers are being called in and dismissal will be from the senior high school starting with senior high school students. Then the Heritage and Newlonsburg elementary students will be dismissed. Sloan will dismiss at its normal time, parents are asked not to come to the campus. Only Emergency vehicles and personel will be allowed on the senior high campus.

Environmental offcials estimate about 800 gallons of gasoline has gotten into Turtle Creek. Authorities are still determining what caused the gasoline line rupture.

Number of Patients Declining in Specialty Hospitals

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council released a report today that said there are fewer patients being treated at Pennsylvania's rehabilitation hospitals and long-term acute care hospitals. The report cites the enforcement of a federal rule as a primary reason. The rule, passed in May of 2004, requires 60 percent of all patients at rehabilitation hospitals to be treated for one or more of 13 specific conditions. These conditions include brain injury, major trauma and neurological disorders.

Containment Council Spokesperson Joe Martin said the rule was passed to be more cost-efficient. He said many patients who are turned down from rehabilitation hospitals are turning to general hospitals as an alternative. General hospitals give care at a cheaper cost than the rehabilitation and long-term acute care hospitals. More than 50,000 were discharged from these specialty hospitals in the 2007 fiscal year.

Pittsburgh Text Messages

Local tourism agency Visit Pittsburgh has gone one step further into the technology-enhanced world. Their newest initiative, "Pittsburgh Txts," lets visitors and residents register to receive text message updates on their cell phones about exciting events happening in Pittsburgh and its countryside.

To sign up for the texts, cell phone users can text "PghEvents" to 86631. Once registration is confirmed, weekly updates are sent each Thursday, with only standard texting rates that apply.

State Budget Cuts Could Raise Local taxes.

When Pennsylvania's county commissioners met in Harrisburg yesterday they warned state budget cuts could result in higher local taxes. Somerset County Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes says state and federal funding reductions for human services - including child welfare and assistance to seniors – will force local taxpayers to make up the difference. She says, "We are at the point of crisis in our human service system, where we are seeing the development of waiting lists, literally, in many of our counties mine included, for seniors who are waiting for home-based services, for seniors who are waiting to get baths." The county commissioners are calling on Pennsylvania leaders to fund state mandates, avoid further cuts and enact a law that would allow counties to impose an income or sales tax to help cover the lost federal and state funding. Currently counties are only allowed to tax property unless the state has given specific approval for other taxes such as Allegheny County’s poured drink tax.

Raises for PA Lawmakers and Judges Draw Ire

Despite a looming $2 billion dollar state budget shortfall, Pennsylvania lawmakers and judges will get raises next month. The raise comes in the form of a cost of living adjustment. Eric Epstein of the reform group Rock the Capitol says lawmakers should suspend what he calls "stealth pay raises." He says it is, “like stealing your children's savings bond. Right now everybody has to save, everybody has to sacrifice and it has to begin at the top.” Lieutenant Governor and Senate Pro Tem Joe Scarnati says He plans is to meet with the leaders of the three other legislative caucuses and then begin talks with the administration. He says, "I think we can put everything on the table and not take anything off of the table at this time. This is a critical time; this is probably one of the worst economic spirals downward in decades that Pennsylvania has seen."

Pittsburgh Celebrates 250Th Birthday

Pittsburgh is celebrating its 250th birthday this yearTuesday November 25th is the anniversary of the city's actual birthday. On Nov. 25th 1758 General John Forbes and his colonel George Washington rode in upon the smoldering ruins of what had been the French Fort Duquesne. Since 1758 the city we know as Pittsburgh has undergone some slight name changes. German settlers are responsible for the burgh on the end of Pitts, and the U.S. Government even removed the H on the end of Pittsburgh for 21 years before the city petitioned the Government to have it put back.
50 years ago during the 200th birthday the point, where Fort Duquesne once stood, was cleared of its industrial construction and railroad tracks to become what is now Point State Park.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vital Traffic Ramp Opens

A vital ramp for area commuters has now opened to traffic. The ramp connects southbound I-79 to the outbound Parkway West. It used to be a hassle to get from one route to the other.

"If you wanted to go from the inbound Parkway West to northbound I-79 or from southbound 79 to the outbound Parkway West, you essentially had to take Steubenville Pike, which is Route 60, through a lot of traffic signals and winding roadways down to the Crafton interchange, get onto 79 and then take I-79 to the Parkway West," said Penn Dot Spokesperson Jim Struzzi. The ramp is a part of the $67.5 million "missing ramps" project. Another ramp that connects the inbound (eastbound) Parkway West to northbound I-79 will not open to traffic until Dec. 9.

Allies Bridge Opens

A new and improved bridge making up a section of State Route 885, along Boulevard of the Allies, has opened. The old bridge closed to traffic in January to begin a $29 million replacement project. The new bridge is constructed with eye-pleasing details that include 14-foot eagles carved into the abutments and curved bridge girders.

"When people are coming into Oakland for the first time, as they travel up Forbes, they'll be greeted with a nice, new, artistically pleasing bridge rather than the old, rusted, decaying bridge that used to be there," said PennDot Spokesperson Jim Struzzi. He said the bridge will be convenient for city commuters and trucks alike, as it has no weight restrictions. Struzzi estimated almost 30,000 vehicles will cross the bridge daily.

Allegheny County Department of Human Services Expects Federal Funds

Every year, federal funds ranging from $612,000 to $625,000 come through FEMA to support food and shelter programs in Allegheny County, with about half the funds going to each category. Rich Venezia of the Department of Human Services says this year's allocation is not yet known, but the need is greater than ever because foreclosures, unemployment, and food prices are all on the rise. He says the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is having a hard time keeping up with the needs of the 200-plus food pantries it supplies.

Any non-profit agency in Allegheny County can apply for funds through the United Way. The County Volunteer Board considers about 35 to 40 applications a year.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Body of Lt. Governor To Be Laid Out In Pittsburgh

The body of Lt. Governor Catherine Baker Knoll will be laid out at Saint Paul Cathedral on Sunday November 23rd. The viewing will be open to the public who wants to express sympathy to the Lt. Governors family. Public figures are not normally laid out in the Cathedral but the Bishop David A. Zubik contacted the family to express his sympathy and offered his services because of the Lt. Governors religious activity.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Plans to Connect Trail Near Convention Center

The Sports and Exhibition Authority has announced plans for a riverfront park at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center that will fill in a missing link. Lisa Schroeder, executive director of the Riverlife Task Force, told DUQ that this project will connect the trail in all directions from the Point to the Strip District. Schroeder says this is a particularly difficult project because of the steepness of the bank, building it under a cantilever, creating a platform extending 25 feet into the Allegheny River to provide a dock for the Gateway Clipper Fleet, and still protecting the river habitat. Schroeder says trail projects along the rivers are "growing exponentially." $2.3 million must still be raised for the $8.5 million project. The Sports and Exhibition Authority hopes to begin construction next summer.

Tech Job Growth

A new report by The Technology Collaborative indicates net job growth in Pennsylvania's robotics and digital technology industries. David Ruppersberger, president of The Technology Collaborative (TTC) told DUQ News that in the fiscal year that ended June 30 early stage digital and robotics companies created 343 new jobs and lost 99 for a net gain of 244 new positions. Ruppersberger says the net growth was slightly ahead of the previous year but the 99 lost jobs were more than projected but considering the slowdown in the economy, "it shouldn't be a surprise." He says the Collaborative focuses on technology companies that make devices: advanced electronics, robotics (including robots used in sewers and in hospitals), cyber security and embedded systems.
Ruppersberger says projections for the current fiscal year are mixed with some companies cutting back and others "hiring aggressively." He says they also look at the creation of new digital technology companies in Pennsylvania and there were 8 new firms in the last fiscal year but the tight capital market could affect their sustainability and growth.

Former EPA Administrator Speaks in Pittsburgh

Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman says she's optimistic about what an Obama administration will do for the environment. She says he's committed to regulating greenhouse gases, even during the economic slowdown. Whitman says the country has lacked a national policy on energy and the environment for more than a decade, and it's hindered some efforts to deal with global warming. For example, some businesses have been slow to accept sustainability principles because they have to navigate different regulations in every state. Whitman says some businesses are playing the waiting game to see which of those regulations become the national standard.

Still, she says businesses are embracing sustainability. Alcoa, for example, is working toward using only low-emission or zero-emission vehicles. Whitman says other businesses are beginning to see the potential for improving their image as well as saving money through smaller efforts like allowing employees to telecommute and the purchase of energy-saving lighting.

Whitman was the keynote speaker today at Duquesne University's Sustainable Business symposium.

Council Members, Public Mull Over Lost Gun Ordinance

Pittsburgh City Council today held a public hearing on a proposed ordinance which would require gun owners to report a lost or stolen weapon to police within 24 hours. The legislation is part of an effort to reduce the straw purchasing of firearms. Several community members offered their insight on the bill including Mary Beth Hacke whose son was killed by a stray bullet from an illegal firearm. She says some action must be taken to prevent firearms from falling into the wrong hands.

Council seemed to be in support of the ordinance. However, Councilman Ricky Burgess cautioned that the measure, if passed, would not likely take effect immediately and instead land council in court. He says passage of the ordinance would be a "symbolic movement" intended to incite state action on the issue.

The city of Philadelphia is currently engaged in a legal battle over an identical bill in which the court is trying to determine whether the local ordinance can supercede state law, which dictates all handgun legislation. Previously, a state bill similar to the proposed Pittsburgh and Philadelphia ordinances, was voted down in the House.

The council ordinance is to be voted on in committee on Monday, and a final vote on the bill is slated for Tuesday, December 2nd.

Sex Offender Ordinance Enacted

A sex offender residency law in Allegheny County was enacted as a safeguard against sexual assault by strangers. Now the measure is being suspended while the ACLU files suit charging that it’s counterproductive and unlawful. DUQ's Larkin Page-Jacobs reports. Listen to the full-length story here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Propel Pittsburgh Commission Makes First Recommendations

A commission made up of young people in Pittsburgh is presenting its first set of recommendations tonight. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl created the Propel Pittsburgh Commission in April 2007. The goal was to help keep young people in Pittsburgh and given them more of a voice in city government. The commission is open to Pittsburgh residents between the ages of 20 and 34.

Alik Widge serves on the commission's Diversity, Outreach and Civic Engagement Subcommittee. He says its biggest recommendation is that the Mayor's office and City Council convene a summit on immigration. Widge says the city ought to do as much as it can to attract immigrants. He says current efforts are fragmented. Another recommendation calls for a "college plunge," or efforts to "crack the bubble" around Pittsburgh universities in order to get more college students engaged in the city. Widge says one possibility would be a service-learning day involving all local universities to get students out into city neighborhoods.

Widge says the commission has had its ups and downs. He says one reason it hasn't issued recommendations before now is that fewer people are showing up to meetings. Widge also says the Mayor's office gave them little guidance at first, so they spent about a year trying to figure out what they were and weren't allowed to do.

University of Pittsburgh Students Deliver Letter To Governor

Students from the University of Pittsburgh delivered a letter to Allen Kukovich, the director of the Governor's southwest office. The letter asks that instead of giving four million dollars to Continental Real Estate and the Pittsburgh Steelers that the money be put instead into the states higher education budget. Recently the University of Pittsburgh found out the state was cutting 7.25 Million dollars from their budget. The students collected approximately 250-300 signatures.

Many PA foster care children lack permanent homes

About 1,700 children who have been in Pennsylvania's foster care system for more than 17 months are remaining in the system without being adopted. That is one-third of the children in foster care. Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children CEO Joan Benso says this is a problem because this means that many of these children are left without a permanent family to rely on. However, Allegheny County is not the same way because the county goes beyond what is required by law in order to find homes for foster children. Benso says according to state and federal law, foster care cases need to be reviewed every six months. Allegheny County reviews their cases every three months. Therefore, they move quicker through the process to identify needs. Benso says the county provides a good model for the state.

House Republicans elect Turzai to party whip

Representative Mike Turzai, of Bradford Woods, has been elected to the No. 2 GOP post as party whip. He was previously caucus policy chair. He replaces Schuylkill County's Dave Argall, who is seeking the party's nomination to run in a special election to the late state Senate.

House Republicans also have Representative Sam Smith, of Punxsutawney, returning to his post as minority leader. Former House Speaker John Perzel, of Philadelphia, lost his bid to unseat Mr. Smith.

House Dem caucus takes mostly Eastern PA leaders

Of seven democratic leaders running the 104-member caucus through 2010, the only western Pennsylvanian is Mr. Bill DeWeese, of Waynesburg. His role as party whip is one step down from his previous role as majority leader, which he has led the Democratic caucus since the 1990s. This demotion was to avoid a rift in the caucus because of his associations with those indicted in the Bonusgate legislative corruption scandal.

Allegheny County has no one leading the caucus, although county legislators will still head important committees, including transportation, finance and consumer affairs. Power has shifted to Eastern Pennsylvania Democrats because of gains made on Election Day. Democrats won six House seats from Republicans, including five in the southeast and one in north-central Pennsylvania. Representative Paul Costa of Wilkins was surprised that someone from Allegheny County will not be represented as a leader in the caucus. He said they should be staying as far away from Bonusgate as possible, "but the majority of our colleagues didn't agree."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

PennDOT Promotes Smart Development

Transportation projects that make communities more walkable, livable and sustainable may be eligible for funding from a new state program. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is offering a total of $60 million through its Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative. PennDOT District Engineer Dan Cessna says the goal is to link transportation with land use planning in order to prevent roads from becoming more congested. He says that could mean projects that promote pedestrian safety, such as painted crosswalks. Or it could mean the development of a more grid-like traffic pattern to help take cars off of congested main arteries.

Cessna says PCTI is an example of a shifting paradigm at PennDOT. He says the agency has been trying to move in the direction of smart growth and flexible transportation options. Still, some smaller municipalities may find it difficult to take advantage of programs like PCTI. Royce Lorentz, a Slippery Rock Borough Councilman, says his municipality has a major transportation need but lacks the necessary resources because of its small size. PCTI, for example, is a reimbursement program. That means municipalities have to spend the money first, and then wait for a check. Lorentz says the project he has in mind would cost about ten times his borough's annual budget, so it's hard to find that kind of money to spend upfront.

The short application window may also be difficult for smaller municipalities with limited resources. PCTI was announced a couple of months ago. The deadline is December 15th.

Duquesne University Holds Panel Discussion on Homelessness

Duquesne University today held a panel discussion on homelessness in Pittsburgh. Panel members included Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Tonya Payne, Executive Director of Healthy Teens Tom Baker, Executive Director of Pleasant Valley Men's Shelter Michael Gleason, and Erica Smith of Community Human Services. The discussion focused on calls for service, asking students how they could better work to solve the problem of homelessness in Pittsburgh. Duquesne University Assistant Director of Student Activities and Volunteers Coordinator Alia Pustorino-Clevenger says students already demonstrate a willingness to volunteer and help out in many ways. Site Coordinator for National Student Partnerships Colin White says students already work with local organizations to help the homeless. The panel discussion also briefly discussed the causes of homelessness.

Point Park University Flips Switch on New Lawrence Hall Illumination

Point Park University, along with Duquesne Light, tonight will flip the switch on a new illumination of Lawrence Hall. Duquesne Light provided the university with a $100,000 grant as part of its Power of Light program to illuminate the historic downtown edifice. Point Park University spokesperson Mary Ellen Solomon says the new lights accentuate the art deco style building and demonstrate an effort towards economic development in the downtown area. The new luminaries will first be turned on at a ceremony at 6 p.m. tonight.

New Military and Family Courtesy Center Opens at Airport

The Pittsburgh International Airport today unveiled a new Military and Family Courtesy Center, a space specifically designed for families of those in the military to say goodbye to their loved ones before they embark on their tour of duty. At the suggestion of the Airport Ambassador program, a group of about 75 volunteers who help people navigate the airport, the Allegheny County Airport Authority transformed an old phone room into the new Courtesy Room. The room is now complete with furniture and patriotic artwork. Airport Authority spokesperson JoAnn Jenny says the room allows families an extra half-hour together and gives them a private place to say goodbye. The Courtesy Center was formally opened today with a grand ceremony and ribbon cutting by Brad Penrod, Airport Authority Executive Director with members of the military and local politicians in attendance, as well.

State Implements New Child Care Regulations

A new set of rules from the Department of Public Welfare is changing the way Pennsylvania's child care centers operate. The new regulations were developed over a three year period with input from providers, advocates and members of the General Assembly and replace rules last drafted in 1994. The updated guidelines include: new health and safety requirements, recognition of children with special needs, improved facility compliance standards, mandatory training for new providers and increased communication between parents and providers regarding child development. In addition, the Department of Health has updated regulations bringing the immunization requirements at child care facilities in line with national standards.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Festival of Lights to Be Carbon Neutral

Thanks to a donation by Sustainable Pittsburgh and Native Energy this years festival of lights at Hartwood Acres will be carbon neutral. The event produces 303 tons of carbon emissions each year. Thanks to the purchase of carbon offsets, the event will be carbon neutral. Carbon offsets are an investment into clean energy resources and development. The festival of lights begins on November, 21st and will last through January 4th.

Food Banks Seeing More People In Need

Local area food banks are seeing an increase in those who need assistance and a decrease in the amount of support they are receiving. With the holiday season on the horizon food banks are preparing for a still greater increase in need. As the winter comes along and heating needs become a priority and gift giving expected with the holidays many families become strapped for cash and rely on food banks. The area food banks want to encourage those who can to continue giving so that those who are less fortunate can receive the aid they need.

Oil and Gas Contributes $7.1 Billion to Pa Economy

Pennsylvania's oil and gas industry is a sure thing in a time of economic uncertainty. That's according to Katie Klaber, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Economy League of Southwestern Pennsylvania. A new study by her group says oil and gas companies contribute $7.1 billion annually to Pennsylvania's economy. The industry employs 26,000 people, and the average annual salary for those jobs is $63,000. Oil and gas companies also pay more than $200 million annually to Pennsylvania landowners in the form of lease agreements and royalties.

The number of new oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania tripled between 2000 and 2007. In the last several months, there's also been renewed interest in the state's Marcellus Shale formation as a source of natural gas. Klaber says it's too soon to say how that might affect the state's economy. But she says the state could miss out on an opportunity if regulations and tax laws discourage companies from expanding their operations. She says the state should be working to encourage business while also addressing concerns about the environment.

State Department of Aging Offers Open Enrollment In Medicare Plan

The Pennsylvania Department of Aging will be holding local enrollment meetings for the federal Medicare Part d prescription drug plan. The open enrollment period lasts until Dec. 31st and will not come around again until next November. The meetings are run by counselors who are familiar with the medicare program and who can help people identify which plan is right for their specific needs. The meetings are being held locally from November 18th through December 4th.

PNC Purchase of National City Questioned

The sale of National City Bank to Pittsburgh based PNC Financial Services Group is getting closer scrutiny from several Ohio lawmakers. They want to know why National City's application for federal bailout funds was rejected and why PNC used part of its bailout dollars to purchase the ailing Cleveland-based bank. The $5.6 billion deal is scheduled for completion by year's end. Congressman Steve LaTourette plans to use a House Financial Services Committee hearing Tuesday to ask the Treasury Department to give $3.5 billion to $4 billion to National City. LaTourette, Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Senator Sherrod Brown also want to know if the Treasury Department could have bolstered confidence in the bank by providing bailout money.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pittsburgh Casino Now Has Official License

The owners of Pittsburgh's casino now officially have a slots gaming license. Mary DiGiacomo Colins, who chairs the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, formally presented the license today in a brief ceremony outside the casino's construction site on the North Shore.

Holdings Acquisitions Co. LP says construction is on time and on budget, despite the slowing economy. The casino is expected to open in August. Construction will continue through the winter. Next month, crews plan to wrap the casino's steel frame in a "skin" that will allow them to work on the interior of the building while avoiding the elements.

Casino owners have set up a website where they have begun posting jobs. As of today, only six jobs have been listed on, but more will go up next year. Most line positions are expected to be posted in the spring.

Scarnati to Serve as Senator and Lieutenant Governor

State officials are making plans for a public swearing-in ceremony for Pennsylvania's new Lieutenant Governor, Joseph Scarnati. But there's some controversy over whether he should retain his Senate seat while serving in the administration. Republican Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says he doesn't see a problem with him serving two branches of government simultaneously. But Franklin and Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna says "there is potentially a conflict between his concerns about representing the interests of the state as lieutenant governor on the one hand and the interests of his constituents." Scarnati's duel role is not without precedent; Senator Bob Jubelirer took over as Lieutenant Governor when Tom Ridge left for Washington.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Arena Runs $31 Million Over Estimates

The final development agreement for the new arena has come in nearly 11-percent over original estimates. The arena for the Penguins was originally projected to come in at $290-million. Now that about half the bids are in, the number has grown to $321 million. Of that $31 million increase the Penguins will be responsible for 15 and a half million, the state10 million and the Sports and Exhibition Authority’s share comes in at 5 and a half million dollars. SEA Executive director Mary Conturo says there is a possibility that the additional money may not be needed thanks to overruns built into the estimate. She says the SEA will cover its costs through ticket surcharge funds, parking garage construction cost savings and income from bond fund investments. The city and county have also agreed to loan money to the authority if needed. Any additional construction cost overruns will be the Penguins responsibility. The approval of the amendment also locks the penguins into a 29-and-a-half year lease. Penguins CEO Ken Sawyer says the arena, in the final design, allows the team to do everything it set out to do with the new facility including the number of seats, the number of suites, flexibility for multiple uses, a ballroom overlooking the city and state-of-the-art video and audio equipment. He says this “keeps the Penguins in Pittsburgh forever.”

Remembering Catherine Baker Knoll

Politicians, friends and constituents are mourning the death of Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Catherine Baker Knoll. Mrs. Knoll died last evening at age 78 while being therapy for an infection after receiving chemotherapy treatment. The lieutenant governor was diagnosed in July with neuro-endocrine cancer.
Catherine Baker Knoll was born in the Pittsburgh suburb of McKees Rocks in 1930 and went to St. Mary's Catholic High School. After high school, she went to nursing school and then on to Duquesne University to study history and eduction. She won 2 terms as Pennsylvania Treasurer in 1988 and '92. In 2002, she beat out 8 other candidates in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor and then went on to win that office as Governor Ed Rendell's running mate to become the first woman to hold the post of lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania.
Governor Rendell called Mrs. Knoll a "passionate public servant" and a "wonderful governing partner."
State Representative Don Walko of Pittsburgh's Northside said that Mrs. Knoll had an uncanny ability to connect with residents and lawmakers and when she would see Pittsburghers visiting the Capitol, she would always invite them into her office.
Representative Tom Petrone is a lifelong friend of the lieutenant governor and he told DUQ News that shortly before she was diagnosed with cancer, Knoll and Petrone were in Atlantic City in July to see Mickey Rooney perform. Petrone says that Rooney and Mrs. Knoll were friends of many years and that the actor acknowledged her from the stage and after the show they went backstage to talk with Rooney.
The governor has ordered that flags at commonwealth facilities be flown at half-staff.

New System Notifies Crime Victims

Allegheny County has a new system for notifying crime victims when perpetrators have been released from jail. SAVIN, or Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification, will call or e-mail victims who have registered with the system. Victims can also contact the system at any time, 24 hours a day, to check on the status of a particular inmate. B.J. Horn with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency says having that extra reassurance can be the difference between sleeping through the night and pacing the floor.

Horn says SAVIN also notifies victims sooner than previous systems did. SAVIN contacts victims within 15 minutes of an inmate's release. SAVIN also allows people other than victims to register with the system. Horn says that sets up a bigger safety net to make sure victims are notified and have time to prepare if they're concerned about their safety.

People notified by SAVIN are also given contact information for the Center for Victims of Violent Crime, which can provide extra assistance.

For now, SAVIN applies only to inmates incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail. The state hopes to have SAVIN set up statewide for all state and county facilities next year.

SEA Says MBE/WBE Numbers Are Up.

With more than half of the contracts already awarded for the construction of the new arena the Sports and Exhibition Authority says it will exceed goals set by the city for minority and women owned business participation. Of the 160-million in contracts awarded, 24% have gone to minority owned businesses and 6% were awarded to women owned businesses. Senior Diversity coordinator for the SEA Clarence Curry says he hopes that number will grow slightly as the remainder of the contracts is awarded. The city had asked for 18% minority and 7% women owned participation. The SEA had set a goal of 25% and 10%. Curry says those numbers are better than similar projects and better than the numbers for the two North Shore stadiums. Curry says they were able to get the higher numbers by working with contractors throughout the process and the board as it awarded the bids. He says the numbers for the amount of contracts to firms actually doing the work on the arena compared to suppliers is also better than it was for the stadiums.

Allegheny County Use of Force Working Group Reconvenes to Discuss Tasers

The Allegheny County Use of Force Working Group heard testimony today from two representatives from Taser International, a major marketer of the conducted energy devices. Peter Holran and Jay Kehoe told the panel how tasers work, what risks are involved in using them, and the success of properly implemented taser programs. Holran says tasers emit a high voltage electric current on the same wavelength as those produced by the brain to cause neuromuscular incapacitation. Kehoe, who has personally been tazed 28 times, compared the sensation to muscle cramps of the whole body. Both company representatives agreed that the purpose of the taser is not to inflict pain on an individual but to incapacitate them until an officer can subdue the suspect.

Kehoe says the tasers come equiped with a laser sight for aiming accuracy, a camera which records from the time the safety on the gun is disengaged until it is re-engaged, and an automatic five-second run time of the electric pulse. The tasers also keep a computerized record of the time, date, and outside temperature of the time they are fired and release a receipt that shows the serial number of the cartridge fired. Kehoe says these components are in place to protect against allegations of improper use.

Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams spoke about the medical effects of taser usage. He says that the concept of the taser seems harmless, but cautions about the unknown risks of taser effects on an intoxicated individual.

The Working Group will continue to meet over the next several months, until it comes up with a recommendation for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala about the use of tasers in local police forces. Currently, about 46 police departments in Allegheny County use tasers as a means to restrain suspects.

Children's Launches Public Phase of Campaign

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh has raised $65 million toward its $100 million fundraising goal. Today, it took its capital campaign public. Some of the hospital's young patients attended today's kickoff ceremony, including six-year-old Acacia Puelo of New York. She received a multi-organ transplant at Children's as a newborn after 98% of her small intestine had to be removed. Today, Children's CEO Roger Oxendale says Acacia is healthy, and you would never know by looking at her that she had the life-saving surgery.

Oxendale says it's hard to know whether the slow economy will put a damper on the capital campaign. Children's hopes to raise another $15 million for the campaign by the end of June.

Science Center Breaks Ground on New SportsWorks

The Carnegie Science Center has broken ground on its new SportsWorks facility. It will open next Labor Day weekend. Favorite exhibits like the bounce trampoline, climbing wall and human gyroscope orbitron will return. New exhibits will include a simulator that allows visitors to take a ride through the human body, a racetrack where people can compete against an Olympic sprinter, and an activity in which people can compare their heartbeat with those of other animals.

Ann Metzger is the Science Center's Acting Co-Director. She says the new SportsWorks will have more of a focus on health and fitness in addition to sports. Metzger says the Science Center decided a couple years ago that it wanted to help spark interest in sports medicine careers, since that's a developing sector in the local economy.

SportsWorks has been closed since August. Its former building was sold to the Port Authority for a new light rail station on the North Shore.

Catherine Baker Knoll Dies

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Catherine Baker Knoll has died at the age of 78. Knoll had been fighting neuroendocrine cancer for months. Governor Ed Rendell says at the time of her death Knoll was surrounded by her family at National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C. Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, Knoll will be replaced as Lieutenant Governor by the Senate President Pro Tempore, Joseph B. Scarnati III (R-Jefferson). Knoll was the first female lieutenant governor. Before that she served two terms as State Treasurer where she is said to have been proud of her creation of the TAP 529 Pennsylvania Tuition Account Program, which has since been renamed 'nowU.' She also ran an unsuccessful campaign in the 1994 democratic gubernatorial primary. The daughter of a McKees Rocks baker Knoll began her career in politics working for the party at various levels while also working as a schoolteacher.
Knoll's late husband, Charles, was a U.S. Postmaster. She is survived by her four adult children, Charles, Mina, Albert, and Kim Eric.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Port Authority Offers Information Regarding Alternative Transportation Options

The Port Authority of Allegheny County has updated their transit information website to contain information regarding alternative transportation options should their union employees decide to strike on Dec. 1st. The website contains information about car pooling and pass fare reimbursement. The Port Authority is hopeful that the union decides to not go on strike but is prepared if they do walk out.

Group Wants An End To Torture

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture and The American Friends Service Committee met with aides to Sen. Bob Casey and Sen. Arlen Spector. Their meeting was a part of a nation wide effort to bring the issue of torture to the new Congress and President. The groups want President-Elect Obama to institute an executive order banning torture as well as Congress instituting a select committee of Congress that would investigate claims of torture and hand out punishments. The efforts of the groups are geared toward spurring action in January as opposed to when the Senate reconvenes this month.

8th Annual STOP Convention Tomorrow at Petersen Events Center in Oakland

Students Together Organizing Prevention, or STOP, will draw 3000 students from 37 school districts, along with administrators, school board members and social service agencies. Skits will be used to illustrate problems and stimulate discussion.

Richard Garland, an expert on youth violence with Allegheny County's Department of Human Services, is one participant who will present students with tools and tactics of peer-to-peer mentoring to deal with the problems they face, which include drugs and alcohol, intimidation, date rape, and a multitude of threats from the internet, like predators, ID thieves, and cyberbullies.

State Senator Jane Orie, convention host and co-founder of the group, says some students and their parents are unaware that the information provided on My Space and personal web pages can adversely affect students' employment and educational opportunities.

Orie says students face the same dangers, whether they're in urban, suburban or rural districts, and empowering them to solve problems is more realistic than relying on adults alone.

PA Grows and Allegheny County Shrinks by 2030

Allegheny County’s population is expected to continue to decline over the next 20 years according to the most recent projections from the Pennsylvania State Data Center at Penn State University. From 2000 to 2030 Pennsylvania is expected to grow 7.4% making it a small growth state like many in the northeast. In the same period Allegheny County is expected to loose 11.6% of its population. However, the study shows the Hispanic population in the county will grow by 136 percent and the African American population will grow by nearly 11 percent. Another area of growth for Allegheny County is its senior population with those over 65 growing by 20 percent from 2000 to 2030. Data Center Director Sue Copella says not all of southwester Pennsylvania is shrinking. Washington County will reverse the trend of population loss over the last three decades and butler and Westmorland counties will also see growth. The state as a whole is also seeing minority populations growing faster than non-minorities with Hispanics showing the largest growth at 184% and African Americans growing by 26.6% moving that minority from representing 10% of the population in 2000 to 12% in 2030.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pittsburgh Honors Veterans

The city of Pittsburgh today honored local service members with the annual Veterans Day Parade. Veterans young and old marched along the parade route to cheers and applause from the crowd. Jack Denk, a Vietnam War Veteran, says many parades come through Pittsburgh, but none are as important as the Veterans Day Parade. Area high school marching bands and local politicians also joined in the parade, including Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Pittsburgh City Councilmen Doug Shields and Bruce Kraus, State Senator Jane Orie, and Congressman Mike Doyle.

Pitt Prof: Mentoring is Key Organizationally

University of Pittsburgh associate professor Audrey Murrell has a new book on effective mentoring and gave a noon-time lecture on the subject today. She says there are some myths about mentoring. First, there is no one perfect mentor for any employee. She says people need to have a variety of mentors. She says she has also found that while some people have an affinity for finding mentors of the same race or sex, that is not an indicator of how successful a mentoring relationship will be. She says studies show that you are doing yourself a disservice if you only link up with mentors of the same race or sex.

Murrell says a variety of studies show mentoring programs are extremely important to the life of an organization and to an individual’s career. She says among the things a good mentoring program can do for a company is develop leadership and innovation while retaining organizational knowledge. She says any mentoring program must include both formal and informal mentoring relationships, and they must be both inside and outside an organization.
Murrell says mentoring can be done in both large and small organizations. She says it may be even more important in smaller organizations, because they rely so much on personal relationships. She says most people do not understand how powerful mentoring is and how under-used the tool has become.

One Hill Coalition to Receive Honor

The One Hill Coalition is set to be honored on Wednesday, November 12th, at the 36th annual Thomas Merton Award Dinner. One Hill will receive the New Person Award for its work in reaching a Community Benefits Agreement with the Pittsburgh Penguins concerning the construction of their new arena. Set to accept the award is Carl Redwood, organizer and leader of One Hill. The New Person award is given once a year to a person or group who has demonstrated exceptional qualities of community involvement. Melissa Minnich, spokesperson for the Thomas Merton Center, says the award is quite prestigious. Malik Rahim, a community organizer from New Orleans who created Common Ground Relief in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, will receive the Thomas Merton Award, as well.

Rendell Wants Healthcare Session.

Governor Ed Rendell wants state lawmakers to come back for a lame duck session to hash out a response to what he says is a critical healthcare problem in the state. The governor says two uninsured Pennsylvanians are dying every day because they don't have access to healthcare and he wants the state to do something about it. Leaders of the Senate Republican caucus have said in the past year they will not return for a post-election session. They say those so-called sine die session have been rife with political mischief. Rendell is asking that they reconsider saying they should come back, "With the assurance that we would limit the return to only healthcare issues." Senate Republican Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says it's the wrong time for the state to enact a new healthcare program. "Now that the Democrats have a majority in the House, a Majority in the Senate, and the White House they are in a position to lay out what their proposals are with the problems we have nationally with the cost of healthcare and access to healthcare." Said Pileggi. In addition, Pileggi says it would be best to allow the 35 new members elected to the assembly last week to weigh in on the issue in January.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Officials Of Orthodox Church Meeting In Pittsburgh

Members of the Orthodox Church are convening in Pittsburgh this week to elect a new Metropolitan. The meetings are being held in the Hilton hotel and will have members of the church coming from as far away as Alaska, Canada and Mexico. The election process of a Metropolitan is similar to that of the Pope in that there are no formal candidates. Electors write down a name on a ballot, and if no one receives a two-thirds vote, then the top two names go to a final vote.

Pennsylvania judges testify in fraud case

Several state judges, including Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, Superior Court President Judge Kate Ford Elliott and Erie County Common Please Judge Michael Dunlavey took the stand on Monday in the trial of retired Superior Court Judge Michael Joyce. All of the judges who took the stand say they remember Joyce complaining about neck and back injuries. Joyce is accused of defrauding two insurance companies out of $440,000 by allegedly faking or exaggerating injuries in a 2001 fender bender.

Fourth Annual Report on Public School Progress

Community advocate A+ Schools has provided more data in the community report this year. This includes how students performed on the PSSA's according to race, income status and special education status. The expanded report also includes teacher attendance rates and graduation rates. A+ Schools Executive Director Carey Harris says the report shows improvements in elementary and middle school PSSA scores from four years ago. However, she says improvements are still needed in student behavior and racial disparity. For instance, schools with a higher percentage of white students also had a higher percentage of students whose GPA met eligibility requirements for a Pittsburgh Promise scholarships. Harris also reveals there is no correlation between good grades and high graduation rates, which she says people may think there would be a correlation between those two things.

A+ Schools is sending the report directing to city households with children enrolled in Pittsburgh Public Schools, and to those with children ages five and under.

Hill Residents Review New Kuhn's Proposal

Hill District residents have reviewed a new proposal for a Kuhn's supermarket. Carl Redwood with the One Hill Coalition says about 70 people gathered over the weekend to get a look at changes Kuhn's made to its original proposal.

Kuhn's now plans a stand-alone store; previously, it proposed the store as an anchor for other retail shops. The Kuhn's grocery would still be much larger than a Save-a-Lot that's been proposed for the same site on Centre Avenue. The Kuhn's would also offer other amenities like a pharmacy and bakery, while the Save-a-Lot would not. Redwood says Hill residents would prefer a full-service grocery store.

Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority will meet Thursday to choose between the two proposals.

Suspicious Bag at T-station Held Clothing

A person passing through the Steel Plaza T-station noticed an unattended bag and called 911 today forcing the Port Authority to close the station and stop all traffic from the south hills at the First Avenue station. The City of Pittsburgh bomb squad x-rayed the small black soft-sided wheeled-suitcase and found nothing suspicious. The bag was opened and found to contain clothing, books and some pencils. Police are trying to figure out who owns the bag. The bag was deemed suspicious because was it was in an out-of-the-way place where people would not usually congregate. Pittsburgh, Port Authority and University of Pittsburgh police all responded along with city fire fighters and EMS crews. Detective Sheldon Williams says everything went has it should. He credited that in part to a drill held in the station by Region 13 just a few months ago.

Budget Trumps Election in November

Now that the election is over, state legislative leaders are refocusing attention on the state's looming budget crisis. Tax revenues were down nearly $300 million dollars - or about 15% -- for the month of October and that is not the first month of lower than expected revenues and is not expected to be the last. State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says he expects to meet with representatives from the other three legislative caucuses soon to hash out an agreement on budget cuts. He says, "I think that all of us agree that tax increases in an economic downturn when people are losing their jobs and struggling to meet their ordinary expenses [would be a] burden on those individuals." Governor Rendell has the final say on state expenditures, and has already announced $350 million dollars in spending cuts following the October report. Pileggi says that won't be enough to cover what could be a $1.5 to $2 billion dollar shortfall by the end of the fiscal year.

Fight for Legislative Leadership Begins in Harrisburg

All four state caucuses will hold elections later this month and they are expected to be more volatile than ever. Republican Caucus spokesman Steve Miskin says current Minority Leader Sam Smith helped GOP candidates take four previously Democratic seats in western Pennsylvania, and helped to stop other Republican seats from being lost. But for a caucus hoping to retake what was a one-seat Democratic majority in the House, coming up with a net loss of two seats could spell trouble for Smith, especially if former Philadelphia leader John Perzel attempts a coup. There is another challenge to leadership involving a lawmaker closer to home. Representative Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods is running for House Whip, which is the number two spot. Currently that post is held by Schuylkill County's Dave Argall - who may be looking to a Senate run in the special election to replace the late Senator James Rhoades in the same region.

Friday, November 7, 2008

State Supreme Court To Hear Drink Tax Referendum Appeal

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided to hear an appeal by the anti drink tax group FACT. The appeal will consider the legality of a voter referendum to lower the drink tax from 10% to 0.5%. Kevin Joyce, Owner of the Carlton Restaurant downtown and FACT member feels that since the court is going to actually hear the appeal that it will in fact find the referendum legal.

Light Up Night Is November 21st

Pittsburgh's 48Th Light Up Night kicks off on Friday November 21st. Fireworks will be at 9 P.M. at point state park. Market square will also be hosting light up night festivities. There will be a scavenger hunt sponsored by UPMC Diabetes Center. Saturdays in the city will begin November 22ND with free horse drawn carriage rides and a downtown holiday film festival to be held at the Harris theatre. Saturdays in the city will run until Dec. 20Th. There will also be way finder banners to allow for visitors to get around without getting lost.

South Butler Teachers Reject Latest Offer

Another negotiating session will take place today at 5 o'clock, but union spokesperson Butch Santicola says he's pessimistic about a settlement because the school board has indicated it will not compromise on its latest salary offer, and health care is still an open issue as well.

Santicola says the factfinder last spring recommended, and the board at one time accepted, a salary figure 1% higher than what the board now calls its final offer. Misinformation from the board has turned the public against the teachers, according to Santicola.

Local Government Academy Adds New Program

With 2008 elections barely over, the Local Government Academy says it's not too early for people interested in politics and public service to look into the process of running for office. Starting in January, "Contemplating Governing", a new program, will be offered in Greentree, Butler Township, and Greensburg.

2009 is a local election year; candidates can start circulating and filing their nominating petitions on February 17th for the May primary election. Executive Director Susan Hockenberry says for 25 years the Local Government Academy has helped newly elected officials transition from candidates to public servants, but the new program will target potential candidates.

Participants should not expect advice on campaigning, though, because the academy, which serves the 10-county region of Southwestern Pennsylvania, is non-partisan.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Allegheny Conference Wants to Improve Competitiveness

At its annual meeting this evening in Pittsburgh, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development will outlines its short-term and long-term goals and strategy for the region. Conference C-E-O Mike Langley told DUQ News that over the last 9 months they’ve held 15 to 20 roundtables with business, institution and foundation leaders in the 10 county region and they’ve arrived at a common theme: work on the issues that are hampering the area’s competitiveness in the global economy, and more effective promotion and marketing of the region.
Langley says there are four main competitiveness issues: 1)governance could be more effective if there wasn't so much fragmentation: there are 500 municipalities in the 10 county region; 2) the need for improved transportation infrastructure; 3)making the business climate more friendly through tax and regulatory issues; and, 4) keeping more students in the workforce when they graduate by introducing them to careers earlier.
Langley says if they address these concerns it will be easier to market the region and there will be a better chance at having sustained prosperity and a better quality of life.

"Core" Municipalities Talk Cooperation

A new effort to encourage regional collaboration focuses on the city of Pittsburgh and the 35 municipalities it borders. The Congress of Neighboring Communities, or Connect, met for the first time last week. They were brought together by David Miller, who directs the Innovation Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Miller says the grouping makes sense because Pittsburgh's neighbors depend on the city more than municipalities that are located further away. He also says the Connect group has 60 percent of Allegheny County's population and 90 percent of its jobs, so working together should give them a strong voice in leveraging state and federal resources.

Connect puts all municipalities on an equal playing field. Miller says municipalities outside the city have a strong record of intergovernmental cooperation, from councils of government to some shared services like police. But the city of Pittsburgh is still relatively new at this, and Miller says city representatives acknowledged they have a lot to learn from their neighbors.

A committee is now setting goals for Connect, and Miller says he hopes to hold an actual congress with all of the municipalities in April or May.

Impact of Incarceration on the Community

Re-integrating prisoners back into society is perhaps the most important function of the corrections process. That's according to Kenneth Houston of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Houston was one of many speakers at a conference today on how incarceration affects communities sponsored by the Pennsylvania Prison Society at Duquesne University. Panelists discussed the need for inmates to learn skills in prison that will help them get a job and stay out of trouble once they're released. A Department of Corrections study from 2002 found that nearly half of prisoners are re-incarcerated within three years of their release. Debra Germany, executive director of Divine Intervention Ministries, urged that more funding be provided toward re-entry education. William DiMasico, executive director of the Prison Society, says to help the community, there must first be assistance to keep together the families of the prisoners. In the United States, 1 out of every 100 adults is in prison.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Early Voting In Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania State Representative Eugene DePasquale is writing legislation that would allow for early voting in the Commonwealth. Rep. DePasquale said that yesterdays long lines served as more proof to him that Pennsylvanians need more options when it comes to voting in elections. He said early voting is needed because Americans are not living the same lifestyles that they were 50 years ago. He also thinks early voting will increase voter turnout and participation. He has not finished drafting his legislation and has not spoken with his colleagues about it but Governor Rendell has supported the concept of early voting in the past.

Smoking Ban May Be Working As Intended.

The statewide smoking ban in Pennsylvania is not two months old and at least one organization thinks it is starting to work. Smoke Free Allegheny Executive Director Cindy Thomas says the state has already received some complaints and sent out warning letters. She says when Smoke Free Allegheny made a few spot checks at private club bingos to help with the education process, they found that the ashtrays were gone and the no smoking signs were posted. In Allegheny county 396 bars applied for an exception based on revenues for food 20-percent. 361 were approved by the state. Additionally 97 liquor licenses holders in the county applied under the type two exception which allows facilities with physically separate bar and restaurant facilities to obtain an exception for the bar area. Thomas says it looks like about two thirds will be approved by the state. She says Allegheny County was used as a pilot area for those exceptions. She says now that tobacco free has done the inspections and reported back to the state the department of health will move forward on inspecting the rest of the state.

AFL-CIO Cites Strong Union Support As Catalyst For Obama Win

The AFL-CIO released some information regarding exit polling from the Presidential Election. According to President John Sweeney the AFL-CIO played a huge role in electing Barack Obama. Statistics show union members and families of union members voted heavily in favor of President Elect Obama. In all categories presented to the media union affiliated voters supported Obama over McCain. Two of the most drastic examples are union members voted 67% for Obama and 30% McCain, and seniors gave McCain an 8% lead while union seniors gave Obama a 46% lead in their demographic.

Dist. 12 Goes to Murtha Again

Congressman John Murtha beat his Republican challenger by a much wider margin than would have been expected just a few days ago. In his victory speech Murtha admitted he neglected his campaign this year and fell behind in the polls. That is until the last 10 days when he and his campaign volunteers came roaring back with mailings, rallies and door-to-door campaigning. He says he told the story of how he has been able to deliver federal money to the district over the last 34 years for economic development and public works projects. Murtha says he learned his lesson and will not negelect his campaign again. Opponent Bill Russell says his campaign was proof that one person can make a difference in politics and he says he came a long way against an entrenched incumbent in a year that not many Republican challengers had much luck. Russell says he will continue to fight over the next two years for issues important to him including fights against gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research. He has also vowed to run again in 2010. One of the strongest arguments against Russell was that he moved to the area for the first time in the last two years. He made the move after retiring from the army. Murtha says he is looking forward to working with a Democratic president and overwhelmingly Democratic congress to restore the nation’s “credibility.” He says it will be a tough two years, full of hard votes, but he is ready to take on the job.

McCord Celebrates Win in Pittsburgh

Democrat Rob McCord will be Pennsylvania's next Treasurer. He defeated Republican Tom Ellis and Libertarian Berlie Etzel. McCord will take over for Robin Wiessmann, who was appointed to the office after Bob Casey was elected to the U.S. Senate. Wiessmann agreed not to seek a full term in office.

McCord spent Election Night in Pittsburgh, even though he's from Montgomery County. He says he's worked in Pittsburgh and has strong ties to his party's union base. After thanking supporters at the IBEW hall on the South Side, McCord cautioned that they have a lot of work to do. He says he wants to help families and especially women who have been hit hard by the poor economy. McCord also says he wants to take a hard look at state spending in order to avoid a tax increase next year.

Revenues this fiscal year have so far lagged behind projections. Governor Ed Rendell has ordered state agencies to cut spending, but some state leaders fear a tax increase may be the only way to balance the budget unless the economy improves.

Auditor General Wagner Wins Another Term

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner has won another term. He won about 59% of the vote, defeating Republican Chet Beiler and Libertarian Betsy Summers. Wagner, a former state senator and Pittsburgh City Council member, says he plans to continue working on exposing waste in state government. He cited audits into the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), which revealed lavish spending on retreats for board members and bonuses for staff members.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

University of Pittsburgh Researcher Shows New Understanding Of Schizophrenia

University of Pittsburgh researcher Bita Moghaddam has identified a region of the brain that responds to more than one type of anti psychotic drug during treatment of Schizophrenia. The research studied the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain that has been found to cause symptoms of Schizophrenia. Current treatment of the disease has been around since the 1950's, and even though this new research doesn't bring about any new medications it can lead to a new understanding of the disease and may lead to new medications. Current medication treats neurotransmitters that are releasing dopamine improper levels. the medications regulate the release of those chemicals. The study found that a chemical called Glutamate can also cause symptoms of Schizophrenia when not regulated well.

Transit Union Discusses Possible Work Stoppage

The Port Authority's transit union says there could be a work stoppage December 1. Patrick McMahon, President of Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, says there is a very strong possibility of a work stoppage because the Port Authority is forcing the union down that path. He says December 1, 2008, is the date that the authority wants to impose a contract on the workers. McMahon says if anything would happen on that date, the union believes legally it would be a lockout on behalf of the Port Authority. He says that's because PAT changed the terms and conditions of employment.

McMahon says the union is looking into its legal options and seeing how they will address this. He says the Port Authority has "painted the union into a corner" where it looks like they'll be forced into a work stoppage. But he says Local 85 has some charges filed with the State Labor Relations Board and they are looking into some kind of court action if the Port Authority goes through with imposing a contract on the drivers. McMahon says the union has written a letter to the Port Authority and its legal counsel explaining that they don't believe there is an impasse and they should probably get back to the table for a resolution to their contract dispute. But according to McMahon, "the Port Authority is not interested in doing that." McMahon says he intends to schedule a meeting soon with the union leadership.

Steve Bland, the Port Authority's CEO, says any work stoppage would be the union's choice, not his. He says a strike would "blatantly and callously disregard the needs of our customers and the community at large." Bland disagrees with McMahon's contention that the contract that will be imposed December 1st amounts to a lockout. He says the new contract gives drivers a 70-cent increase in wages and allow the agency to cut costs in the long-term. Regarding additional bargaining, Bland says the Port Authority has offered to discuss terms of how to implement next month's contract but has heard no response from Local 85. The Port Authority's board voted last month to impose the contract after Bland said negotiations had reached an impasse.

Groups Get Funding to Get Out the Vote

Pennsylvania voters are expected to turn out in record numbers, fueled in part by some groups that have been calling, knocking on doors, and providing incentives for people to go out to the polls.

The group Pennsylvania VOICE has awarded more than $40,000 in grants for get-out-the-vote efforts. Just Harvest, an advocacy group for low-income residents in the Pittsburgh area, has operated a phone bank for about a month. Co-Director Joni Rabinowitz says her group began its "Just Vote" initiative to give low-income people more of a voice in politics. Just Harvest has helped to register new voters and distributed a newsletter with information on how the election process works.

The Mon Valley Providers Council has also made phone calls to remind people to vote. It has also distributed pledge cards to try to get voters to commit to showing up on Election Day. The organization is also providing a continental breakfast on Wednesday to anyone who voted.

Other groups that received get-out-the-vote funding include the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and Planned Parenthood Association of Pennsylvania.

Passive Electioneering Policies Still Differ

Some Pennsylvania voters who wear campaign t-shirts and buttons to the polls will be asked to remove them or cover them up. The Department of State calls the wearing of campaign attire "passive electioneering," and says it's allowed under Pennsylvania law. But a memo from the department also says it's up to each county to determine how to interpret Pennsylvania's ban on electioneering.

Washington County once barred voters from wearing campaign paraphernalia at the polls, but its Board of Elections decided to allow the practice after the Department of State issued its memo. Other counties like Butler that have long banned passive electioneering say they will continue to enforce their policies. Some elections judges bring jackets that voters can wear over their campaign attire. Other counties, like Allegheny, have long allowed voters to wear whatever campaign paraphernalia they want.

Other people inside polling places, including election workers and watchers, are not allowed to wear campaign paraphernalia.

Western Pennsylvania counties that allow "passive electioneering":

Western Pennsylvania counties that bar "passive electioneering":

Voters Will Decide Whether to Borrow for Water, Sewer Repairs

Pennsylvania voters will decide on Election Day whether the state should borrow $400 million for water and sewer infrastructure repairs.

John Schombert is Executive Director of the 3 Rivers Wet Weather Demonstration Program, which has worked with Allegheny County municipalities to coordinate their repairs. He says the bond issue would be good for the state because it would let municipalities borrow money for the repairs at lower rates than they could get on the commercial bond market. The alternative, he says, would be higher water and sewer rates. With an estimated $70 billion in repairs needed statewide over the next 20 years, Schombert says rates are bound to go up anyway--but the bond issue would make those increases less extreme.

Matt Brouillette, President of the Commonwealth Foundation, says the bond issue isn't necessary. He says the state could find the $400 million it wants to borrow if it reprioritized its spending. Brouillette says lawmakers have approved borrowing for pork-barrel projects when fixing the state's aging infrastructure should have taken greater precedence. He also says the borrowing comes at a bad time, since the poor economy has made lenders more hesitant. The Commonwealth Foundation estimates that the total cost of the bond issue will be closer to $620 million.

State Data Center Releases Population Projections

The Pennsylvania State Data Center at Penn State Harrisburg has released its projections for state population projections over the next 12 years. The data estimates population figures through 2030 using the year 2000 as a base. The report is projecting that the state will see an increase in population by 7.4% with an increase in the elderly population. In regards to Allegheny County the center is projecting further population loss but an increase in minorities. Most notably the Hispanic population is expected to more than double from its 2000 numbers. The areas around the state expected to see a population increase are the eastern and southern edges of Pennsylvania that touch the borders of New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ravenstahl Gives First Glimpse Of Son

Three days after the birth of their first child, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and his wife Erin released photos of Cooper Luke Ravenstahl. The baby was born at 9:24 a.m. Friday weighing in at 7 pounds 14 ounces and 21 inches long. Mayor Ravenstahl called it the happiest day of his and his wife's lives... "Erin and Cooper are healthy and doing great."