Friday, July 31, 2009

Fort Pitt Museum to Receive Gift

The Friends of the Fort Pitt Museum will mark the end of a 40-year association with the museum by giving it a significant original work of art.

Donn Neil, President of Friends of the Fort Pitt Museum Commission, says it's a bittersweet occasion.

"It's sad that we're going to lose our association with the museum," he says. "Yet all of the contributions that we've made in the way of artifacts and documents are there, and we hope they remain there. And now this crowning gift of the wonderful John Buxton painting."

John Buxton, a local artist who has commissioned a historical painting at the Fort Pitt Museum before, is now going to work on a large dramatic piece on Fort Pitt and the American Revolution. Neil says it should be completed in about five years, just in time for the 250th anniversary of the historic event.

PNC Starts Slow Move to New Building

PNC is ready to open the first portion of its new 23-floor $200 million building downtown. Starting Monday, customers will be able to use the new “flagship” bank branch on the fifth avenue side of the still being completed building. Eventually the structure will host PNC corporate offices, Reed Smith law firm offices, 28 condominiums, and a hotel. PNC Director of Corporate Real Estate Gary Saulson says all of those tenants will strive for different LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System) certification that fit their specific industry or use. Bank branch employees will even be asked to be more environmentally conscious by making small personal changes such as drinking out of reusable mugs rather than disposal Styrofoam cups. Reed Smith will move in at the end of August while PNC plans to move over operations in the first quarter of 2010. Saulson says the company will immediately expand to fill the vacant space I its current buildings. The 185-room hotel will open by January and the park at the corner of 5th and Liberty will open before the G20 summit in September. Saulson says even the park will be environmentally friendly by using native plants and environmentally friendly benches and lighting. The condos are being sold and finished with the expectation that all the work will be done in the next 12 months. A “local” coffee house will take up the rest of the ground floor retail space. Saulson says he feels the building has served as a catalyst for other development downtown including the Piatt Place development, the new YMCA and the retail and residential work on Market Street.

Pirates Make 7 Trades Leading Up To Trading Deadline

Since June 3rd The Pittsburgh Pirates have made over a half a dozen trades involving 10 Pirates Players. The trades in chronological order are:

June 3rd

The Pirates traded outfielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, right handed pitcher Charlie Morton, and left-handed pitcher Jeff Locke.

At the time of the trade the Pirates promoted 2005 1st round draft pick Andrew McCutchen from class Triple-A Indianapolis.

June 30th

The Pirates traded outfielder Eric Hinske to the New York Yankees for outfielder/catcher Eric Fryer and right handed pitcher Casey Erickson.

The Pirates then promoted outfielder Garret Jones from class Triple-A Indianapolis.

Later in the day the Pirates traded outfielder Nyjer Morgan and pitcher Sean Burnet to the Washington Nationals for outfielder Lastings Milledge and right handed pitcher Joel Hanrahan.

July 22nd

The Pirates traded first baseman Adam LaRoche to the Boston Red Sox for shortstop Argenis Diaz and right handed pitcher Hunter Strickland.

July 29th

The Pirates traded shortstop Jack Wilson and pitcher Ian Snell to the Seattle Mariners for first baseman Jeff Clement, shortstop Ronny Cedeno, right handed pitchers Aaron Pribanic Brett Lorin and Nathan Adcock.

Later in the day the Pirates announced the trade of second baseman Freddy Sanchez to the San Fransico Giants for right handed pitcher Tim Alderson.

July 30th

The Pirates traded left handed pitchers John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Chicago Cubs for infielder Josh Harrison and right handed pitchers Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio.

The Major League Baseball trading deadline is July 31st at 4:00pm

PA Soldiers Losing State Stipends

The effect of the commonwealth's ongoing budget impasse is being felt as far away as Iraq. A significant number of Pennsylvania National Guard troops deployed there are state employees.
They've been getting a 500-dollar stipend from the commonwealth each month but like all other government payments, that's been halted. The last checks, until a spending plan is passed, went out a week ago.
Sergeant Robert Meghahen a corrections officer from Altoona, says he's thankful he's receiving full military pay during the impasse...

"Like right now, I know?I feel it's going to be passed by the time I get back to work. And it's not going to have that big of an adverse effect on me, the state budget, but I'm just really concerned about my friends who have kids and mortgages and stuff."

Sergeant Richard Snyder of Lebanon, who works for PennDOT, says the budget negotiations and possible layoffs leave him uneasy...

"I'm already having a hard time even though I'm making pretty good money now with my family. But I have five kids to support, so what's going to happen when we get back?"

Soldiers are regularly checking the news to keep up to speed with negotiations.
Many of them say they blame Governor Rendell for the impasse, and are angry their friends and co-workers aren't getting paychecks.
Rendell would not definitively say whether the stipends would be restored in a temporary "bridge" budget he could sign next week.

Bickering Cuts Short Conference Committee Meeting

It's not clear when the six-member legislative conference committee to discuss the state budget will meet again. The panel's second meeting in as many days was marred by more partisan sparring and no progress toward a spending plan for Pennsylvania.

The session at the Forum in Harrisburg was typified by this back-and-forth between Evans and Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi, who challenged House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans' leadership of the panel...

"And if you want to have two separate sets of rules, say it plainly./Debbie, could you please begin and explain to us about education?/Representative Evans, you just completely ignored my questions and comments. Is there a particular reason for that?/I don't have an answer to you, Senator Pileggi. You wanna, Debbie, join/I just think it's highly highly improper the way this committee's being run today."

The two sides could not even agree on where to begin. Democrats on the panel say the initial focus of the panel should be on budget cuts put forth by the Republicans, while Republicans say the Democrats should lead off by talking about how they'd support their spending proposal. House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans called an end to the session, saying he wanted to meet with Governor Rendell. The governor will meet this afternoon with Evans and Pileggi.

ACLU Wins Lawsuit Against Port Authority

Federal Judge Terrence F. McVerry ruled yesterday that the Port Authority of Allegheny County can not refuse to accept an advertisement aimed at informing Pennsylvanians of an ex-felons right to vote. In 2006 the Port Authority rejected an ad from the Pittsburgh League of Young Voters claiming that the agency would not run noncommercial or political ads. Judge McVerry ruled that since the Port Authority is a government agency they must respect the first amendment rights of the League and that refusing to run the ads was "viewpoint discrimination."

ACLU attorney Jon Pushinsky who worked on the case said that the Authority will now have to accept payment for an ad from the League of Young Voters and pay damages to the ACLU and the League. Pushinsky also said that the ACLU will seek to petition the Port Authority for counsel fees, costs and expenses due to the lawsuit. Pushinsky added that if the Port Authority were a private business then they would have had the right to refuse to run the ad.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Signs, Ads, Web. Bayer Helps Promote Region

Bayer Corp says it will do its part to help promote the region during the G20 summit in several ways. Bayer has already committed $35,000 to the Allegheny Conference to help build a good image of the city but it is also launching the website that will serve as a source of information for international media on the region and its businesses. Company spokesperson Bryan Iams says as the media contact for a German Company with its US headquarters in the Pittsburgh region, he is already fielding calls from international media. He says they want to know how long Bayer has been in Pittsburgh, why it calls Pittsburgh home and what he sees in Pittsburgh’s future. He says he is always proud to tout the region’s great universities, strong work ethic, low cost of living and high quality of life. Bayer will also be the first to display a welcome to Pittsburgh sign being designed by the Allegheny Conference. It will be placed near Bayer’s 150-foot sign along the parkway west and will be of a similar scale. The Allegheny Conference is still determining the message the sign will carry and its design. The design will eventually be made available free of charge to any company that wants to display it but those companies will have to print and erect the signs at their own expense. Iams says Bayer will also have a special G20 ad at the Airport and special messages on the company's Mt. Washington sign.

Conference On Worker Owned Companies To Be Held At Duquesne University

On July 31st through August 2nd The Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy will be holding their 5th annual biennial gathering. This years meeting will be titled "Democracy Works: Worker Cooperatives, Labor Solidarity, and Sustainability." The focus of the conference will be finding ways to spur worker-owned business cooperatives.

Mary Hoyer, lead organizer of the conference, says that cooperative business ventures are better for local economies because larger numbers of people are able to share in a company's profits.

Speakers at the event will discuss how employee-owned companies have been affected by and responded to events in the history of capitalism that have caused downturn in economies.

The event will be held at Duquesne University.

Credit Union Freezes Payless Payday Program

The Pittsburgh-based ACBA Federal Credit Union suspended its Payless Paydays loan program almost as quickly as it was initiated because of the overwhelming response by state employees in Allegheny County.
Under the Payless Paydays program, state employees could receive no-interest loans equal to the amount of their regular paycheck. CFO and Assistant Manager of the program, Linda Iddings says the credit union will remain committed to those who applied before July 24. Loans must be paid back within 60 days of approval of a state budget, or can be paid back over the period of a year with low-interest.
The five employees of the credit union, including Iddings, initially set out to give state employees “what they deserve.” Due to Pennsylvania’s budget stalemate, most state employees have received partial or no paychecks the last two paydays. Most will get nothing in their pay envelope tomorrow. Iddings says, “there are a lot of great state employees out there, and if nothing else, they deserve respect. That includes being paid for good days of work.”
Though the program has been suspended, Iddings says it is only temporary until either the credit union employees can financially, physically and emotionally get themselves together, or until the legislature and governor come up with a budget plan. She says ACBA cannot continue to borrow money from the corporate credit union, and with thousands of potential loan requests tomorrow, the program had to be put on hold.

Duquesne Lessens Carbon Emissions

Duquesne University has announced results of its second greenhouse gas emissions inventory, which says the school has reduced students’ individual carbon footprints by more than thirteen percent in 2008. 4.0 metric tons of emissions are released by each student annually, down from 4.6 per student in 2006. Native Energy of Vermont says the average American household emits 10.8 metric tons per year.

Duquesne professor and principal investigator of the study Stanley Kabala says compared with other schools of similar size and location, Duquesne is looking good. He says figures of those schools range from four metric tons of carbon released per year to over ten metric tons emitted annually.

Kabala says the decrease in emissions was in large part due to the university’s reliance on renewable energy generated on campus. Other contributing factors include regular maintenance of heating and cooling systems and sealing windows and doors of school facilities. Kabala says off-campus transportation to ball games and other extracurricular activities account for a large part of the university’s emissions. He says more energy saving ideas, like a shuttle bus to the South Side and on-campus solar panels, are up for consideration.

City-County Merger Study shows No Economic Development Benefits

While local leaders like Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl support a city-county merger because of increased economic development, a recent study by a Ball State researcher says there aren’t such benefits.

Dagney Faulk, research director at Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research, says statistics from three consolidated areas that merged in the mid 1990s show no signs of increased economic development, although supporters often use that aspect as a primary argument. She says the study focused on the change of total employment and the change in the number of businesses established before and after a merger, and there were not any visible differences.

However, Faulk says this doesn’t mean there aren’t any benefits, citing increased accountability, lower cost of government and increased citizens’ satisfaction.

Beaver County To Close Juvenile Center

Beaver County is closing its juvenile detention center because of the costs to the county to operate the facility. Currently the county budgets $2.1 million annually for the centers operations. Before making the decision to close the facility the county had explored renovating the building but decided that it was cost prohibitive. Children being housed in the facility will be sent to Steubenville, Ohio. The children who are in the facility because of the need for safe shelter will be sent to three Pennsylvania based facilities. Employees of the center who are facing termination will be given a severance package and the county's junior probation officers will move into office space at the county courthouse.

State Workers Not Getting Paid

Phil Pierre of Morningside is a law clerk for Commonwealth Court in The Pennsylvania Judiciary. He has worked there for ten years.

He got his last paycheck at the beginning of the month. It was seventy percent of what it should have been. Since then, he has not been paid. None of his colleagues, including the judge he works for, have gotten a paycheck. Morale is low, he says.

This is a regular occurrence, he said, since the budget is never passed on time, but it has never lasted as long as this. He has canceled a summer vacation, shut down his cable television, put off certain payments and borrowed money from family members.

The workers do get paid retroactively.

The state fiscal year starts on July 1st but the budget was not completed in time. It is still not done.

Governor Ed Rendell has said if a new budget is not in by Monday he will ask the House to approve the Senate-passed budget and send it to him. He'll then veto most of it except funds for "general government operations." This will allow the state's 77,000 workers who have been paid partially or not at all to receive their back pay.

Pierre says he makes considerably less than he could in the private sector and is considering looking for a new job.

Budget Conference Panel Off to Slow Start

A legislative conference committee holds its second meeting today as it works toward a new budget for Pennsylvania. The 6-member panel met yesterday for the first time, but made no measurable progress...failing to agree on a total spending figure, on whether the panel should have a chairman, and even on which budget bill to use as a starting point.
Yet another friction point emerged when House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans said the conference committee's work should focus on spending and not revenue.

"What I sense as the mission of this conference committee is to try to reconcile the investment priorities we sent over to the Senate, which the Senate didn't agree with, and the Senate amended it, and then we non-concur, you insist on your amendments. And nowhere was there anything discussed about taxes."

Republicans including Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman countered that revenue projections are needed in order to set a spending amount.

"It would be sort of silly to's $35 billion worth of investments, we love them all, these are all great, they do wonderful things. Well jeez, we only have $27 billion to pay for it. Now what are we gonna do?"

As the committee met, Governor Rendell told reporters he may ask the state House as soon as Monday to send him the budget passed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
He says he'd ratify the portions related to core government functions, then line item veto the rest of it.

"The reason that I am lining out every line other than those that are essential to government operations is simply because I don't want anybody to think that this is a potential final budget. It isn't."

But it would, he says, allow state workers to start getting paid again starting a week from tomorrow.

Panel Proposed to Focus On Cost-Cutting

A pair of Republican lawmakers are calling for a bipartisan cost-cutting commission to look at ways to trim state spending in Pennsylvania.
Senator David Argall of Schuylkill County says the proposal would lead to the appointment of a panel from the public and private sectors to go through the budget line-by-line, agency-by-agency. He says it's a way to better control costs and avoid future tax increases...

"The goal right now is to get it up and running and if it indeed provides the kind of cost savings that we believe are available, if it proves itself again, I wouldn't be surprised that it would be sticking around for quite a while."

Argall says by ensuring the majority of the commission will be from the private sector, a completely different perspective may be brought to the process and more unnecessary spending will be eliminated.
Republican Representative Julie Harhart of Northampton County plans to introduce a similar measure in the House.

Where Do Strykers Go When They Get Sick?

Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade who are injured or sick make their way to a squat building at Camp Taji, Iraq. It's just down the road from the base's dining facility. It's the home of the unit's medical team, nicknamed "Charlie Med." The team is more likely to treat the flu than it is a combat wound but they are always ready to answer the call. However Scott Detrow reports that does not keep hem from have a wheelchair race or two on the slow nights. Listen to a longer version of the story here. To here all the stories in this series click on the "IRAQ EMBED" Label below.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rendell Gives Budget Conference Committee a Deadline

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell says if the 6-member House-Senate Conference Committee does not reach a budget agreement by Monday, he will ask the House to approve Senate Bill 850. That's the $27 billion Senate Republican budget plan...

“I intend to approve only the funds that are necessary for the operation of government services and for public safety. I will veto all other line item appropriations,” Governor Rendell said. “I do not consider Senate Bill 850 to be a budget; it is simply a bridge to allow us to pay state workers and ensure the continued efficient operation of state government -- nothing more.

Rendell says he can't approve SB 850 in its entirety because he believes the funding levels are insufficient for core state programs including public education, health care and economic development.

“I remain resolute in my commitment to enact a final budget that adequately funds programs that educate and support the children of this state, and continues to protect our older and disabled citizens, but in doing so I will not allow state employees to suffer any longer. They’ve done nothing wrong."

Rendell says state workers and their families should not have to undergo further financial stress. The governor says this is not a stopgap nor is a solution to the budget crisis but rather a bridge.

Secured Handbill Ordinance

Pittsburgh City Council is reconsidering an ordinance that would enforce handbills such as advertisements be secured in doors or placed on stoops, rather than thrown into yards. The alteration would also include private properties. City Councilors Theresa Smith and Patrick Dowd voted no on the amended bill.

City Council President Doug Shields says the bill is reasonable.

“[The advertisers] certainly don’t want to offend the customer by creating a nuisance. I don’t see where these places any undo burden on anybody,” he says.

However, while Smith says the intent is good, she refuses to vote on it because the ad distributor Pittsburgh Mailing will be in her district.

“I’m not going to do something against a business that’s moving into my district that will employ people all across the city of Pittsburgh,” she says.

States' Stimulus Websites Graded

A Washington-based nonprofit has released a study ranking each state on the transparency and efficacy of its stimulus-tracking website. Good Jobs First says Pennsylvania’s site was the sixth-best in the nation with a 50 percent score; Maryland came out on top with 80 percent, while Illinois and Utah were tied for 50th place with zeros.

Lead author Philip Mattera says since states must report stimulus money usage to the federal government in any case, there’s no reason they can’t effectively share the information with their citizens. Much of that data required by the federal government, like figures on job creation and private construction contracts, was lacking from most states’ websites. He says a software company called ESRI has a very effective stimulus tracker template that they’ve offered to the states for free; however, few states have taken advantage of this.

Mattera says the study probably gave the sites more points than an average user would – researchers gave credit for information even if it was “buried” beneath odd file formats and hard-to-reach websites. Good Jobs First hasn’t notified state governments of their findings, but Mattera says other nonprofits from each state are bound to do so.

Forrest Wood Cup

The 14th annual Forrest Wood Cup, also known as "the preeminent world championship of bass fishing", is taking place in Pittsburgh this weekend, beginning on July 30. FLW Outdoors spokesman Jeff McCoy says there are a total of 154 competitors in two categories, professional angler and amateur angler. He says the championship is going to have a two-day preliminary session and a two-day final event. On July 30 and 31, the championship will include all competitors, and the top 10 in each category with the heaviest catches will go on to the final round in regulation boats on August 1 and 2. The second round will be what counts toward the $1 million grand prize. Since increasing the grand prize to $1 million in 2007, more than 60,000 attendees over the four-day tournament have shown up each year.

Study: Trying Kids as Adults Expensive, Ineffective

A new study from the University of Texas at Austin says underage offenders sentenced as adults are more likely to return to prison than those tried as juveniles. Lead author and public affairs professor Michele Deitch says in Pennsylvania, current law allows kids’ cases to transfer to adult courts, and from there, harsh mandatory sentences can victimize juveniles. She says theoretically, a seven-year-old convicted of murder would serve life without parole in an adult prison. Not that it would definitely be a long term; Deitch says she found that imprisoned children are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than their adult counterparts.

Deitch says as a compromise between a fair punishment and protecting kids, many states have introduced ‘blended sentencing.’ “Typically, it will be a juvenile sentence combined with a suspended adult sentence, and when the kid reaches the age of majority in that state, they go back before the judge, who gets to take a second look at them and figure out, ‘Did they get a chance to rehabilitate? Did they take advantage of programmatics, opportunities in the juvenile prison?’” says Deitch.

She says the blended method would be more effective than the state’s current system, because kids who go through the adult system have a higher recidivism rate and are more than twice as expensive to house. Deitch says this needless waste of taxpayer money is exacerbated by the lack of severity of many kids’ crimes. “Almost half of them are there for property offenses or even public order offenses, so these are not necessarily the headline-worthy cases. We’re finding extreme arbitrariness, unpredictability and even racial disparities in decisions about whether a child should be transferred to an adult court,” says Deitch.

She says lawmakers need to recognize there are middle-ground solutions. “We could still recognize that children are children, and that they have the potential to change and rehabilitate, and that they’re not as blameworthy as adults, and so we shouldn’t be posing as harsh sentences on them,” says Deitch.

Angry State Workers Call On Lawmakers to Pass Budget

State workers say they're running out of money because of the lack of a budget in Pennsylvania and hundreds of them took their message to lawmakers.
State employees representing at least eight unions turned the steps of the state Capitol into a sea of green shirts. They wielded signs emblazoned with pointed slogans that all go back to one central message: pass a budget.
The workers won't see another paycheck until a spending plan is passed.
David Fillman, executive director of AFSCME Council 13, says something's wrong when public service workers have to wait in line at local food banks.

"Brothers and sisters, you're public employees, you're the best and you do the job the best you can. Now these clowns behind us should be doing their job so you get paid!"

Roni Hamiel, secretary-treasurer of S-E-I-U Local 6-68, says the employees are tired of being used as pawns.

"Some legislators say that they don't support the stop-gap legislation or other means to pay our state workers while the budget agreement is being worked out because that would remove an incentive for passing the budget. What kind of message is that?"

Governor Rendell has said a state court decision last year prevents him from paying employees.
Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Bill George says the timing of Rendell's move toward a stop-gap budget plan is no coincidence with a federal probe under way into "payless paydays."

"I think he knows that here in the next ten days there's gonna be a legal battle and there may be an injunction from a federal judge somewhere that would push him to do that anyways."

Governor Rendell has asked employees to keep working so government can remain open, with a promise that workers will collect back pay once a budget is in place. Because of their pay cycles, most state employees received at least a partial paycheck either July 17 or July 24. But starting July 31, there will be no pay for the vast majority of state workers
With the state budget impasse entering its fifth week with no sign of a pending agreement, thousands are wondering how many payless paydays are in store.

Tolling I-80 Fight Might be Back

Despite being turned down the first time, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission plans to reapply for approval to toll Interstate 80. Last September, the Federal Highway Administration denied a request to convert I-80 into a toll road, noting proceeds could not be used to fund improvements on other highways as had been proposed by the governor. Officials from the Turnpike Commission and PennDOT recently met with their federal counterparts to talk about a new plan. Commission spokesman Bill Capone says one of the main issues discussed in that session was the fair market value of I-80. He says, “They wanted to see more supportive information in terms of the way those rental they were arrived at in terms of is it the appropriate amount of rent for leasing I-80 from PennDOT." Capone says the commission is working to satisfy that and other concerns, and plans to resubmit its tolling application – perhaps within months. Opponents of tolling I-80 say it would hurt local economies and put a strain on other roads. They insist there are better options for raising cash for construction projects.

Surplus Hospital Equipment goes International for Reuse

When imagining a hospital, one may visualize an emergency room, crowded with patients waiting in chairs, and receptionists fingering through medical files behind desks or in filing cabinets. However, this is not necessarily the case for hospitals in developing countries. Global Links Deputy Director Angela Garcia says the kinds of equipment that the old Children's Hospital in Oakland have in surplus, like waiting room chairs, filing cabinets, and desks, are sometimes limited or nonexistent in hospitals in countries like Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras and other developing countries. She expects between 25 to 30 truckloads of this basic but essential equipment to be refurbished and sent to places where it is needed.

Making Your Phone Sound Like Pittsburgh

The ringtones people use on their cell phones can say something about their personalities, maybe their musical tastes. One artist has created ringtones from the sounds she’s heard around Pittsburgh. And she’s made them available for free online. DUQ’s Katherine Fink spoke with artist T. Foley.

Listen to the interview here.

Check out the ringtones on T. Foley's website, You can also find information there on how to make your own ringtone.

Foley is nearing the end of her ringtone project through the group deeplocal, but she may continue it in other cities. She's planning to travel to Berlin to pursue a separate project, but may record tones while she's there and compare them to what she's found in Pittsburgh.

(Photo credit: Larry Rippel)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Council Discusses How to Keep Summit Non-Violent

Pittsburgh City Council held a post-agenda meeting regarding the G20 summit today. The goal was to learn what the city should do to prevent violent protests and injuries to peaceful protesters.

Sam Rosenfeld is the chairman of The Densus Group, a consulting firm that specializes in crowd management and public order. He says a key to limiting liability costs and injuries is avoiding mass breakups of protests and targeting specifically any protester who is engaging in violence. City Councilman Bill Peduto expressed his concern for city residents after finding fliers that have been posted in his council district that advocate opposition to capitalism and the G20.

Also at the meeting were representatives from the Pennsylvania ACLU and National Lawyers Guild, who talked about the history of G20 events and other large-scale meetings and conventions. Heidi Boghosian of the National Lawyers Guild told the Council that if police are present in full riot gear, protesters are more likely to feel threatened.

But Councilman Jim Motznik says he doesn't want to send police into the streets unprepared. Rosenfeld agrees, saying there will be a small group of protesters who only want to destroy the city and cause violence. Rosenfeld says while opening a dialogue with protesters is a good step to ensure peaceful protests, small pockets of people will try to cause the police to react violently. He says identifying those protesters quickly will be the best possible way to ensure that no peaceful demonstrators are injured or arrested.

Casey Capitolo, a social justice advocate, submitted a petition for a public hearing today to open a dialogue between City Council and the groups that have planned on protesting or holding marches. Capitolo says the vast majority of protesters that will be present for the G20 do not want to incite any violence, but just want to be heard.

Business Told to Draw Up G20 Plans

Pittsburgh and Allegheny County public safety officials are urging business and residents to build emergency contingency plans in the weeks leading up to the G20 summit. Leaders from the world's 20 most powerful economies and the European Union will come to Pittsburgh September 24th and 25th for two days of meetings. Along with the security demands that comes with 20 world leaders gathering in one place, the G20 events always attract throngs of protesters who have in the past forced the closure of entire city blocks. Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss says the city is going to do everything it can to protect downtown residents and businesses as well as the G20 participants but everyone needs to understand that there will be some disruptions. Roads will have to be closed from time to time and extra security will have to be in place throughout the area. He says the contingency plans are not just about moving operations out of the golden triangle. He says managers need to think about getting employees to work and make plans for the possibility that they will not be able to get deliveries or make shipments. Huss says the city will not write the contingency plans for the businesses but they have offered up some help at the website He says going through the process is as important as having a final plan in hand, because it gives managers a better understanding of the details and builds in more flexibility. That flexibility may be key to any plan. Huss says not all security plans will be known until just before the event and others will not be released until the last moment to ensure tighter security. Allegheny County Emergency Services Director Bob Full says all businesses should have a contingency plan in place. He says if the G20 is the impetus then all the better.

Study Says Blood Sugar Control Key to Type 1 Diabetes

A joint University of Pittsburgh/Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) study indicates that early control of blood sugar levels dramatically reduces a Type 1 diabetes patient’s chances of heart, kidney, or nervous system complications. Co-author and Pitt professor of epidemiology Dr. Trevor Orchard says cases treated within six years of diagnosis were the healthiest, but patients at all stages responded to blood sugar regulation. He says the study reveals that fewer than one percent of those getting glucose control had vision or kidney problems.

Orchard says one of the main reasons they published the 30-year study results was to hopefully lower insurance premiums for Type 1 diabetes patients. “Patients with Type 1 diabetes are being penalized because of the poor experience that would have existed in previous studies,” says Orchard.

Independent Jumps on Mayoral Ballot

Franco “Dok” Harris, son of the former Steeler great Franco Harris, is running for mayor of Pittsburgh. Harris says his campaign will be clean, and that he will set federally suggested campaign contribution caps on his race. He says he will focus on the issues, especially those of the city’s illegal gun trade and aiding entrepreneurs. Harris says the city needs to end the political cronyism that defines the current administration. His ideal is to make Pittsburgh the “city of yes.”
There are 2 other candidates on the ballot for the mayoral election in November: Democratic incumbent Luke Ravenstahl, who also won the Republican nomination in the May primary, and independent Kevin Acklin, an attorney from Squirrel Hill.

Tour of The Rivers Casino

Executives from The Rivers Casino and The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board gave media a tour of The Rivers Casino, which is scheduled to open on The North Side on August 9th.
The casino will have four bars, five restaurants and three thousand slot machines.
It is expected to make between $360 million and $425 million in its first year, more than any other casino in the state.

August Repairs to Limit McArdle Roadway

Pittsburgh’s McArdle Roadway will see its inbound, downhill lane closed this August, from Grandview Avenue on Mt. Washington to the Liberty Bridge. From Monday the 3rd to Friday the 21st, a contractor will be clearing debris, repairing retaining walls, and performing other maintenance in preparation for the winter. Drivers will need to take Bailey Avenue through Knoxville and into Allentown, says Public Works Project Manager Fred Fischer. From there, he says, motorists can get onto Arlington Avenue and follow signs into the city. The detour route will have appropriate signage. The uphill, outbound lane will remain open.

Rendell Requests Federal Reassessment of Storm Damage

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials will return to western Pennsylvania Thursday and Friday to reconsider the state’s plea for national assistance after two series of bad storms last month. Damage in Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties will be reassessed, and the Governor also asked FEMA representatives to survey damage in Erie County a first time, after a record rainfall there.

Spokesman Maria Finn of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency says her department only gets assistance through the federal government, making a FEMA disaster declaration a necessity to help beleaguered homeowners. Finn says since the first assessment, many more citizens have stepped forth with damage reports. She says infrastructure probably wasn’t damaged enough to warrant a public grant, but property damage claims could be handled individually if FEMA reverses its denial of a major disaster declaration.

Finn says all damage reports help add to the state’s case, no matter how small. She says anyone with damage should immediately report it to their local emergency management agency, which they can find in the phone book.

DEP turns down Water Permit

The state Department of Environmental Protection turned down an application for a local bottling company to draw water from a Laurel Hill Creek tributary. Regional DEP spokesperson Helen Humphreys says if they had approved the application for Cooper Springs Trout Hatchery, it would have drained 40 percent of the water from Shafer Run, which is unacceptable. Cooper Springs now has the option to either appeal the DEP’s decision within 30 days, or reapply for the water permit. Humphreys says unless the results change significantly, they will not approve. Laurel Hill Creek was recently listed as one of the nation’s 10 most endangered streams by nonprofit American Rivers, and a bottling company on a tributary would put significant strain on wildlife.

Public Hearing For U.S. Steel Coke Batteries Scheduled

The Allegheny County Health Department will hold a public hearing on July 29th at 6:30 p.m. at the Clairton Municipal Building regarding the proposed installation of a new coke oven battery for the U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works. U.S. Steel has postponed the actual installation of the batteries for now because of economic concerns but plans on finishing the project once the economy rebounds. U.S. Steel must shut down six of their older batteries as mandated under a consent order and agreement. Anyone wanting to testify at the hearing must register by 4 p.m. on Tuesday the 28th.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Rendell Still Pushing, Republicans Resisting, Tax Hike

With a new budget nearly four weeks late, Governor Rendell says he's looking into various options that could allow the commonwealth to pay its bills on a short-term basis.
Expressing growing frustration over the stalled budget talks, Rendell says his staff is exploring ways that he could invoke a stop-gap spending plan possibly as early as mid-week.

"The employees would get paid, our vendors would get paid, we'd be able to keep open all of the facilities that are in danger of closing, and I think that it is time to do that."

House minority leader Sam Smith of Jefferson County says House Republicans could agree with such a temporary plan provided it's simply designed to keep the government going...

"But a stopgap could be characterized as just one-twelfth, you know, pro-rated per over the last year's spending and we can't agree to that kind of a stop-gap."

That's because Republicans want the new budget to be less than the past fiscal year's spending plan.
Pressure is mounting from state workers, with the largest group of employees to date, some 33-thousand, facing a payless payday this Friday.
Rendell says he agrees with Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi's assessment that little progress is being made -- but he faults Pileggi's caucus, the Senate Republicans, for refusing to budge from their opposition to a tax increase.

"There's a lot of pain out there, and it is time for them to experience some pain, too. It is time for them to get off of artificial spending numbers when we've cut almost $3 billion out of our state spend. It is time for them to look at reasonable revenue increases."

But House Minority Leader Sam Smith insists Republicans will not budge in their opposition to a tax hike...

"A tax increase is a tax increase in this atmosphere...any one of them is going to be detrimental to the people of Pennsylvania and to the economy of Pennsylvania. I would probably suggest that the P-I-T may be the worst of them all."

The governor says his administration offered up another 277-million dollars in cuts over the weekend.

Study Supports Marcellus Drilling

Supporters of proposed Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling unveiled a study composed by Penn State University researchers. Associate Professor of Natural Gas Engineering Robert Watson helped author the report and says one of the major concerns surrounding the drilling – water – is not an issue of great impact. Watson says water used to drill wouldn’t pollute groundwater and would represent only a small amount of the state’s total consumption. Watson says that gas could be “the biggest thing since steel” for the Commonwealth, if we play our cards right by leasing state gamelands to drillers and not taxing extractions. He says the industry created by Marcellus Shale drilling could last 100 years.

State Representatives Tim Solobay and Brian Ellis, who co-chair the House Oil and Gas Caucus, say the governor’s plan to tax drilled natural gas would harm, not help, state revenues. “We don’t believe the numbers he’s projecting of how much we would collect are accurate, because we don’t believe we’d get the growth that he anticipates,” says Ellis. They say the jobs created by the wells would extend past drillers – transportation, management, and professional experts would be necessary employees as well, they say, further stimulating the state’s job market.
Governor Rendell has proposed taxing gas extraction from the shale formation to help balance the budget. An administration spokesman says the tax would not negatively impact drilling interest because other states have already imposed taxes on the drilling.

Meantime, the public interest group PennFuture says the study released today is "replete with fuzzy logic and even fuzzier math.”

President and C-E-O Jan Jarrett says the the study's main finding that a severance tax would drive up the cost has a very basic flaw....“There is no cheaper gas anywhere, with or without a severance tax. Pennsylvania’s natural gas deposits have a huge competitive advantage, with higher Btu ratings than supplies elsewhere, and reduced delivery costs, since the gas is close to lucrative northeast markets. And I don’t care how much they dress it up with a study, this fact cannot be denied."

Jarrett says there's no indication that the tax will harm the industry..."Pennsylvania is 15th out of 32 gas-producing states, nearly all of whom have a severance tax. The gas is here, and the industry will drill where the gas is."

PA Commission For Women Holds Rally In Harrisburg

The Pennsylvania Commission for Women held a rally in Harrisburg today to discuss how proposed budget cuts will affect many services that people use. The rally, attended by the Governor, featured dozens of supporters who showed their support for funding for programs such and teen pregnancy education, public libraries, childcare, and screenings for breast and cervical cancer. The commission has already prepared for a cut in funding of 25% and is preparing for more cuts.

Patrick Dowd Wants $1 Million In Debt From Iron City Brewing

Pittsburgh City Councilman and Water and Sewer Authority Board Member Patrick Dowd has put forth a resolution calling on Iron City Brewing to pay $1 Million in debt to the authority. Iron City Brewing had an agreement with the PWSA that would have eliminated the payments owed to the authority but Dowd says they have not fulfilled their part of the deal.

Stipulations in the agreement called on Iron City Brewing to update its keg line, keep jobs in Pittsburgh and improve its heating system. Dowd says that when they moved to Latrobe they violated the agreement and he doesn't believe that they have upgraded their keg line to standards that are acceptable.

Dowd says that before he can collect the money owed to the authority he hopes to gain the support of the Mayor and the other members of the PWSA board.

Public Hearing On Development Policies Held In City Council

Pittsburgh City Council today held a public hearing regarding city development policies. Speakers at the hearing spoke in favor of community benefit agreements for publicly subsidized developments. At the heart of the issue is the construction of a hotel in the North Shore by Continental Real Estate which purchased the property between PNC Park and Heinz Field for less than market value and is not working with the North Side to create a community benefits agreement.

Those in attendance spoke of the need for legislation that requires all publicly subsidized development projects to require CBA's. The Mayors administration has said that the CBA forged with the Hill District during negotiations for the new hockey arena was an isolated case and would drive developers away if it were to become a requirement.

Supporters of a CBA said that it is only fair for a developer to give back to the community that it is in.

Keystone Opponents Blast Latest Format

State Senator Jane Orie (R) of Allegheny County led the charge today for a plethora of opponents to the newly re-proposed Keystone Exams. The graduation exams have been frozen in place by the state legislature and lawmakers of both parties show no sign of agreeing to the tests’ latest format, which they say has incorrectly been called a compromise.

Orie says even Governor Ed Rendell, the Keystone Exams’ prime sponsor, says the current PSSA graduation tests are working because of their flexibility. “You can remediate, you can intervene, and you can improve test scores, and we’ve been saying that all along. When you look at this, it leaves you to question why in God’s name, when we’re finally making progress with these PSSAs, are we now gonna take our children and use them as lab rats and implement a whole new test?” says Orie.

North Allegheny School District Superintendent Patricia Green says the state isn’t prepared to start these tests – pre-testing, a safety net for failing students, and ways to deal with resultant dropouts are all “hidden costs” that will add to taxpayers’ burdens. She says her district achieves high scores by emphasizing good teaching, not more tests, and the government would be better to put their money toward the former.

State Representative Bill Kortz (D) of Allegheny County added his voice to the dissenters, along with a letter from the local branch of the NAACP. The letter says the latest proposition might “provide the power to discriminate against citizens.”

City Youth Work Program Twice as Big

The Pittsburgh Summer Youth Employment Program marked its midway point today by taking Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on a tour of several work sites across the city. The program gives city youth 6 weeks of employment from July 6th through August 14th. They are paid minimum wage while working in mostly public works-type jobs but City Acting Personnel Director Judy Hill Finegan says this year some of the participants are working “white collar internships.” With 554 participants, the program is twice the size it was last year. The expansion comes with the help of federal stimulus finds. Finegan says the $1.6 million in stimulus funds had to go to disadvantaged youth, the $500,000 from the city was used for projects that could attract block grant funds and $150,000 from the Pittsburgh foundation was used to fill the gaps. Students were chosen using a lottery system from all city zip codes. Finegan says not only do the participants get to put more than one thousand dollars in their pocket but they also walk away with work experience and a “Jumpstart Success” certification. The certification is preapproved by the PA Department of Education and the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board and recognized by employers across the state. She says the certification process includes education on how to be a good employee. It touches on everything from showing up on time and listening to making a good representation of your self and building interpersonal relationships. About a third of the stimulus money will be held back for a work preparation program for 22-24 year olds later this year.

Bill to Crack Down on Meth Labs

A Pennsylvania House Committee has approved a Senate-passed bill to crack down on methamphetamine production in the state. The House Judiciary Committee okayed SB 125 which would strengthen the state's controlled substance law by adding a provision to make the possession of ephedrine, pseudophedrine and other substances, with the intent to produce meth, a crime.
Committee member Representative James Casorio of Westmoreland County says this will make it much more difficult for criminals to obtain the ingredients needed to produce the drug. "This is an important step in turning the tide on ridding many of our neighborhoods and protecting nearby residents from the dangers of illegal meth labs."

State Senator John Gordner says his bill would bake it a second degree felony if someone is caught operating a meth lab, and a first degree felony if the lab is within 1,000 feet of a day-care center, school, playground or university. Gordner says it's very expensive to clean up after a meth lab explosion so his measure orders the lab operators to pay restitution to anyone harmed in the production at the meth lab.

Climate Change Released

Warm weather and more precipitation may be in store for Pennsylvanians over the next century. A study conducted by Penn State researchers examined the affects of climate change on areas including agriculture, forests, snowfall, and ozone concentrations.
Jim Shortle, a professor of Agriculture and Environmental Economics, says global warming could have both positive and negative effects on human health...

"Warmer weather will influence the level of certain kinds of air pollutants like ozone that could be harmful to people. On the other hand, warmer weather could reduce certain kinds of cold weather diseases."

Shortle says the research looked at long-range changes, and not so much year-to-year fluctuations.

"Weather is always variable, and so you're going to experience variable weather no matter what. So really when you think about climate change, what you need to think about is what the averages of weather are going to be."

The study was conducted for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Specter Returns Campaign Contributions

The Arlen Specter campaign gave back nearly 225-thousand dollars to campaign donors in the second quarter of this year.
Pennsylvania's senior U-S senator made good on a promise to honor requests from anyone who asked for a refund following his switch from the Republican to the Democratic party in late April.
Christopher Nicholas, Specter's campaign manager, says about two-thirds of the refunds went to people who submitted requests while the rest was automatically refunded to Specter's former Republican colleagues.
Nicholas notes requests from many people could not be honored.

"They'd given money to the state Republican party or the national Republican party and assumed it went to us. So we had, like I said, more people claiming they had given us money than had actually given us money who were looking for refunds -- not that anyone was trying to rip us off, they were just confused about where their money went and who it went to."

Nicholas says campaigns are used to people asking to have their donations refunded.

"Not just in one kind of rush after a specific big news announcement. So, federal campaigns are always giving refunds for those various reasons. This one got more visibility because Senator Specter made the offer publicly and explicitly."

Nicholas adds that while the campaign refunded 225-thousand dollars in the last quarter, it took in nearly one-point-seven-four million dollars. He says the stream of refund requests has "dwindled down to pretty much nothing."

PA National Guard Looks For Buried Weapons in Iraq

Communicating and cooperating with the Iraqi Army is one of the main challenges members of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigrade are facing during deployment. Brigrade members are about 6 months into a 9 month tour in Iraq. Scott Detrow, who reports for WDUQ, WITF in Harrisburg and other Pennsylvania Public Radio stations, is embedded with the brigade for three weeks. For this story, he accompanied a platoon, plus some Iraqi soldiers as they searched for buried weapons. Listen to the report.
Photos: top left: Sergeant Michael Raley outside Iraqi Army barracks; center left: Soldiers wait with Iraqi Captain Abbas; bottom left: Captain Abbas questions Iraqi woman.

Listen to an interview with Brigade Commander Colonel Marc Ferraro

Listen to a report by Scott Detrow as he undergoes training at a camp in Georgia to prepare to be embedded with the Stryker Brigade

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Last Check for PA State Workers Until New Budget

Friday was the last payday for about 44,000 state employees because of the budget stalemate. They received about 20% of their usual paychecks. They won't be paid again until Pennsylvania has a new budget.
However, the ACBA federal credit union provided hundreds of state workers in Allegheny County with interest free loans to make up the difference in the paychecks. Under the Payless Paydays Program, workers who get the loans have 60 days after a new budget is in place to pay back the loans interest-free.
Unlike many state employees in California who are being forced to take furlough days, the Pennsylvania state employees will receive back pay for their work, once a budget is passed.

Day Care Center Closed

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare has shut down the Walnut Grove Christian Day Care Center in West Mifflin for what it calls "gross incompetence, negligence and misconduct." Tuesday morning, four toddlers, ages 3 and younger, wandered about 200 yards away from the center. They were found on the side of a busy Buttermilk Hollow Road by 2 passing truckers. State inspectors this week visited the day care center and found a hazardous construction site just outside the building that the children walked through, and they said the center was understaffed. The center can appeal the shutdown order.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Emsworth, Dashields Main Lock Chambers Reopening

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has reopened the main chamber of Dashields Lock and Dam on the Ohio River. Crews are currently refilling the dewatered Emsworth main chamber which is to be reopened Sunday at 11 p.m.
The 100 foot by 600 foot main chambers at both Dashields and Emsworth Locks and Dams were closed since July 6th to make critical repairs to the lock structures. The small chambers at each facility remained open during that time. Crews repaired three 110 to 125 ton miter gates in the main lock chambers at Dashields. These are the large gates that open and close when vessels move through the locks.
At Emsworth, workers repaired the main chamber's deteriorated emptying valves that are used to lower water levels in the lock.
District Engineer Colonel Michael Crall said "it's not easy keeping these aging structures operational. The facilities are more than 80 years old.

Ferlo Asks for Public Forum Before G20

State Senator Jim Ferlo of Allegheny County says he’s applied for a permit to host a day-long public forum at Point State Park September 23, the day before the G20 summit begins. The event would bring together many religious, political and community organizations who have opinions about the G20 and related issues that they would like to make public. Ferlo says because of the Market Square construction, and restrictions in Mellon Square, Point State Park was the obvious choice.

The senator says the area’s recently renovated “living room” won’t be damaged by the proposed gathering. “I would suggest there’s probably more damage or abuse during a social regatta event than something that would be a large, mass gathering involving the politics and the policies of the G20,” says Ferlo.

Ferlo says he plans to speak at the event, addressing the need for “blue-green jobs” and his concern for the country’s economic direction and waning middle class. The senator continues to express concern about hiring and training out-of-state police officers for the summit.

Quecreek Mine Visitors Center Sneak Peek

While the permanent Quecreek Mine Visitors Center won’t be open in time for the anniversary of the rescue this month, curious visitors will have the opportunity to catch a sneak peek of the construction site. Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation President Bill Arnold says they hope to complete the outside of the building by the July 25 anniversary, and have a limited engagement on that day or through the weekend to show the building’s progress. Inside, models will be displayed of the three-dimensional statues, by Bally Design in Pittsburgh, showing visitors the final goal they hope to reach with the next capital campaign. Arnold says he hopes to see the visitors center to open by the rescue’s 8th anniversary next summer. However, the opening is dependent on the amount of funds raised through the capital campaign. Arnold reminds visitors that until then, the temporary visitors center is still open to the public on a full-time basis. The temporary building was used during the rescue.

Rally Held At PPG Plaza

The Three Rivers Center for Independent Living held a rally at PPG Plaza today to commemorate the anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as to celebrate the defeat of a proposed Pennsylvania budget that contained cuts in funding to persons and organizations with disabilities.

Those who attended the rally showed their support for the elimination of budget cuts to those who are disabled by pointing out the long term costs that are incurred when those who are disabled spend time in nursing homes. Those at the rally want to see funding levels remain the same so that disabled persons can continue to receive home care which is less expensive than care received in nursing homes.

Although the supporters want to see no change in funding levels many people were aware that, that may not be possible and said any cuts that come down will have to be dealt with.

Ferlo Wants Point State Park for G20 Protesters to Speak Out

Pennsylvania State Senator Jim Ferlo, a Democrat from Highland Park, says he's seeking a permit from the city of Pittsburgh to use Point State Park as a forum the day before the G20 Summit begins in Pittsburgh. Ferlo wants to use the park from 8 in the morning till 10 at night September 23 as a venue for activists to speak out.
The economic summit of international leaders will be September 24 and 25 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Ferlo says he wants environmental, cultural, labor, religious and other groups to be able to give speeches at the park.

Meantime, a group calling itself the "Pittsburgh G20 Resistance Project" is planning marches and demonstrations during the summit. The Resistance Project says there will be marches September 23 and 24 and dozens of simultaneous actions on September 25 "that connect the struggle against the G20 to a broader arena of local and international social resistance."
The group says it wants to disrupt the summit and undermine its "attempts to gain legitimacy," but asks participants to avoid police provocation.

Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper has estimated that he will need 4,000 police officers for crowd control. The city's police bureau has fewer than 1,000. So, Harper has e-mailed more than 100 police chiefs across the country asking them to send officers.

Infant Mental Health Conference

Chatham University will host its first Annual Infant Mental Health Conference this weekend at its Shadyside Campus.

The conference hopes to bring attention to the need for intervention during the formative early years of life and to promoting the social and emotional well-being of infants and families.

The University has an interdisciplinary Infant Mental Health Certificate Program.

The conference will bring together specialists in the field from across the state.

Unions Protest City's Development Strategies

Over 100 members of Pittsburgh’s service-sector unions held a sit-down protest outside Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s Grant Street office this morning, until police asked the group to leave. Representatives from local branches of the Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers, and the International Union of Operating Engineers demanded good jobs and green buildings at new development sites across the city.

SEIU of Western Pennsylvania Director Gabe Morgan says developments are okay, but good jobs are better. “It’s true that there are good construction jobs created in the city by development. But after the buildings are built, there are hundreds of service-sector workers in those buildings making poverty-level wages, normally, and often without any benefits,” says Morgan.

He says despite the recent bill regulating green buildings, the city needs to do more. "We’re a city trying to transform ourselves, the first industrial, former Rust Belt city trying to transform itself into a green city. If you’re going to get a public subsidy, the city should be promoting green jobs; it should be promoting green buildings. And that’s better not just for the environment… but for the city as a whole,” says Morgan.

The unions plan to return to the mayor’s office at 2:00 p.m. today to continue their protest.

Conference Panel On Budget

A conference committee, which will mark the next formal step in state budget talks, is nothing new. But it's a process that may be unfamiliar to many Pennsylvanians.
On Monday, the Senate is expected to cast a procedural vote that will result in the formation of a conference committee.
Steve MacNett, general counsel for the Senate Majority Caucus, says the panel will consist of three House members -- two Democrats and one Republican -- and three Senate members -- two Republicans and one Democrat.
MacNett says Governor Rendell won't be left out, even though he's not formally represented on the committee...

"One can assume that consultation with the governor and his senior aides is something that will occur at least informally throughout that process."

Also, all of the panel's proceedings are subject to the state's Sunshine Law. MacNett adds closed-door talks could still happen among panel members but not if at least two from each chamber are present...

"There is nothing that would prevent one member from talking to another member. But when you have essentially the working quorum, that is a vote sufficient to take action, that would need to be conducted in an open session."

To be reported out of conference committee, a measure must be supported by at least two representatives of each chamber. It then goes before the House and the Senate for straight "up" or "down" votes -- and cannot be amended.

PA National Guard Brigade in Iraq

The Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade is a bit more than two thirds of the way through a nine month tour in Iraq. Scott Detrow, who usually reports from the state capitol for WDUQ as well as WITF in Harrisburg and other Pennsylvania Public Radio stations, is embedded with the brigade for three weeks. Two members of the brigade have been killed during this current tour. Detrow sat down with the unit's commander, Colonel Marc Ferraro at their headquarters at Camp Taji to discuss their mission. Listen to the interview with Colonel Ferraro.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

73 Wooded Acres Protected Near North Park

The Allegheny Land Trust with the help of Allegheny County, plus foundations and other organizations has purchased and protected 73 acres of forest in the Irwin Run Valley, adjacent to North Park. The $500,000 purchase price included $253,000 from the county's portion of Pennsylvania's Growing Greener funding. The remainder came from contributions from foundations, community groups and individuals.

Land Trust Executive Director Roy Kraynyk says the land will be useful both as a green space and a buffer against flash flooding in nearby communities. “A mature forest can hold back about 75% of the annual precipitation. Around here, we average about 40 inches of rain a year, so that’s 30 inches of rain water that’s not turning into flood water in people’s basements and streets downstream." Kraynyk says the Land Trust will tend to the area, and they are in the process of developing a management plan for the woods.

Pittsburgh Schools Release Test Results

Eighth graders made strong gains on standardized reading and math tests this year, but Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt says scores continue to dip when students reach high school. He told an audience of mostly school employees today that the district is still in the beginning stages of a change at the high school level that will not be "incremental... it must be systemic, and it must be deep."

71.4% of eighth-graders are reading at proficient levels or better, an increase of more than five percentage points since last year. 59.4% of eighth-graders scored proficient or better in math, an increase of almost three percentage points.

Those numbers drop significantly by 11th grade. 50.7% of 11th graders scored proficient or better in reading, and 43.3% in math.

Roosevelt says there are bright spots in this year's numbers. While the district still has a racial achievement gap, Roosevelt says it continues to narrow. And he says the district's Accelerated Learning Academies are seeing improvements in test scores that are equal or better than the district as a whole.

The state has not yet released information on whether the district is making Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind. One of NCLB's goals is to have all children proficient or better in math and reading by 2014.

The school district has posted its test results online.

Mayor Tours Area Near Convention Center

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl went on a foot tour with public works officials around the blocks surrounding the convention center. The Mayor was on the tour to gain an understanding of what work will be done to the area in preparation for the
G20 summit in September.

Redd Up crews will be working to remove graffiti, fix sidewalks, clean up alleyways and finish construction projects around the convention center. The city is also working with property owners who have vacant buildings. The Mayor said that vacant store fronts will have pictures of the city placed in their windows so as to reflect the cultural and historical heritage of the city for the visiting world leaders.

Redd Up crews will begin their work on Sunday night and will work night shifts during next week. The clean up work will be done at night because the area around the convention center is less busy during the evening hours and will allow for more productive work.

The city will be paying for the clean up work itself but doesn't plan on pulling employees off of projects that are currently underway and does not expect to have to pay any overtime for the work.

PCRG Supports Revenue, Tax Increases

The Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG) held a rally today to voice its support of any venture that would raise state revenues, including an income tax hike. Like many other organizations, PCRG and its member organizations are faced with budget cuts, but they say getting rid of their services would be disastrous at this time of economic stress.

PCRG Deputy Director Bethany Davidson says her organization recognizes the need for revenue, however it can be obtained. "At the end of the day, balancing the budget shouldn't be about cutting, cutting, cutting. We need to let our legislators know that it's an unpopular decision to raise taxes and raise revenues, but we're supportive of that because we understand it's the only way to keep resources flowing into our communities," says Davidson.

She says a personal income tax increase isn't the only solution. "We've heard anything from closing the Delaware Loophole, from taxing the Marcellus Shale, to tapping the rainy day fund, to a severance tax. All of these are options and some of them will need to be pieced together with other revenue sources then; they can't just stand alone. And some of them will only infuse cash for this year and, to be honest, the economy won't turn around this year. It's going to take two years, three years, so we're going to need a sustainable revenue source," says Davidson.

The PCRG includes organizations like the Service Employees International Union, Just Harvest, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, and other groups that offer community assistance for problems like home foreclosures and health care issues.

Sestak Tours 67 Counties, Hasn't Decided on Senate Bid

Congressman Joe Sestak still isn't ready to officially declare his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, but he has just completed a 21-day 67-county tour courting support from Pennsylvania voters. Sestak says Senator Arlen Specter, who switched to the Democratic Party earlier this year, should not go unchallenged. However, Democratic State Representative Bill Kortz of Dravosburg has announced he's running against Specter in the May 2010 Primary.
Sestak says factoring into his consideration for a Senate run are his belief in universal health care, and his concern about the rising cost of college tuition.

Specter Lead Over Toomey Gone

A new poll shows that former Congressman Pat Toomey is in a dead heat with U.S. Senator Arlen Specter who switched to the Democratic Party earlier this year if the 2010 general election were held today. 45% of the respondents to the Quinnipiac University poll support Specter, who is seeking a 5th term in the Senate, while 44% support Toomey. One out of 10 surveyed were undecided. An earlier poll had Specter with a 20-point lead over Toomey.
Assistant Polling Director Peter Brown says voters are more focused on Specter than on the former Congressman...."voters are beginning to think that he's (Specter's) had enough time in the Senate. For the first a majority don't think he should be reelected."

The same poll showed that both Specter and Toomey are far ahead of their leading rivals for the Democratic and Republican nominations in the May 2010 primaries.
The survey has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 2.9%.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

U.S. House Passes Pay As You Go Legislation

The United States House Of Representatives has approved legislation that would require pay as you go budgeting for future federal budgets. The "paygo" approach had been used in the 1990's. The paygo legislation needs approval in the Senate before it can be signed into law by the President. The paygo legislation would allow for instances of increased spending in emergencies such as devastating natural disasters.

Critics of the legislation believe that enacting the paygo approach after approving stimulus funding is hypocritical but supporters argue that it is needed now more than ever and the stimulus funding was a result of a once in a century economic downturn. The bill passed the House by a vote of 265-166.

Critics also point out the exemptions in the bill. Most notably, there is no cap on appropriations spending, an exemption for some Bush era tax cuts, an exemption for the estate tax, a fix for the alternative minimum tax and increased reimbursement for medicare doctors.

National Report On Life Sentences Released

The Sentencing Project has released a report on life sentences in America. In the United States over 140,000 people are serving life sentences with nearly 30% of those inmates serving life sentences without the possibility for parole. The report found that Pennsylvania has the 2nd largest population of inmates who have been sentenced to life. Report Co-Author Ashley Nellis said that at the very least she would like to see all life sentences carry an option for parole. In Pennsylvania all life sentences carry no option for parole. Nellis says the report also found that sentences of life without parole have tripled nationally since 1992.

Pittsburgh Council Okays LEED Legislation

The head of the Green Building Alliance in Pittsburgh says City Council's approval of a LEED certification bill "will really raise the bar in terms of new development." Council voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a bill that would require all publicly-financed development in Pittsburgh to be certified green. The Alliance's executive director Holly Childs hopes this is a "stepping stone" to future legislation to require all buildings in Pittsburgh to be LEED certified.
Councilman Bill Peduto says his measure would require developers who receive TIF's (Tax Increment Financing), to achieve at least the silver level of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. A TIF is public money invested in a development based on the future increased property taxes that project will likely mean to the municipality, the county and the school district.
Peduto says the bill is a step in the right direction, but other cities like Boston and Dallas have gone further, requiring that all new major developments meet green standards.

ACLU Tries to Void PA's Voter Soliciting Statute

The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh on behalf of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) asking a federal judge to strike down a Pennsylvania law used to prosecute some former workers for ACORN which allegedly sued a quota system in gathering voter registrations for the November 2008 election.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala and State Attorney General Tom Corbett were named in the suit. Zappala charged 5 fired ACORN workers and 2 other people with collecting or submitting false registration forms to meet alleged quotas set by ACORN officials. Corbett was named because as Attorney General he defends challenges to state laws.
ACLU of Pennsylvania legal director Witold Walczak says the state law says a person may not solicit or accept payment or incentive to obtain voter registrations if the payment is based upon the number of registrations.
Walczak called the law "vague" and says it "prevents ACORN from using commonplace management tools like performance standards and productivity goals to manage paid employees" and that imposes "a major burden on constitutionally protected political activity."
Walczak says he has talked with Zappala who wants to look over the ACLU's arguments against this law. The D.A. has agreed not to charge either ACORN officials or the agency itself before a federal judge decides whether the statute is unconstitutional.

City, County Briefed On G20 Plans

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl led members of the State Department, Secret Service and White House Officials on a tour of the convention center this morning.

The convention center will serve as host to the G20 summit in September. Onorato and Ravenstahl said that the entire convention center will be used during the event for meetings, media rooms and dinners while secondary locations are being scouted for ancillary events.

The officials that toured the convention center today will also examine the Allegheny County Airport, where the G20 leaders are expected to arrive.

Onorato and Ravenstahl said that there will be building done on the inside of the convention center specifically for the G20 and will not result in any permanent changes to the building. They added that any plans that have been set can be changed up to the day of the event so nothing is considered final.

On Thursday Mayor Ravenstahl will do a tour of the area surrounding the convention center to determine the resources needed to ensure the city is presentable to foreign dignitaries.

Proposal for Mayview Land

The task force that will determine what to do with the land the former Mayview State Hospital sat on has released their recommendations.
They suggest part of the land be used as a park, that the property be sold at fair market value based on the highest and best use, the revenue of the land be used for regional health/mental retardation housing and peer counseling services. Part of the land will be protected for environmental services. A memorial will be erected for the individuals who lived and were treated at the hospital.
The Hospital opened in 1893 and closed late last year. It housed thousands of people with mental-health problems.
A public hearing will be held Tuesday night at the site.

Panel to be Formed to Develop Budget Compromise

As the Pennsylvania budget stalemate continues for a fourth week, it could soon be up to a small panel of lawmakers to draw up a compromise spending plan.
The State House voted 150 to 49 yesterday to reject a budget crafted in the Republican-controlled Senate. The move sets the stage for a conference committee to be formed.
Brett Marcy, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, says Democrats hope that will kick-start negotiations.

"Unfortunately, the Senate Republicans have not wavered off their original position. The governor and the Democrats have been the only party to begin to move and we're hopeful now that this move will bring the Senate Republicans to the table."

Knowing the budget bill was on its way to a conference committee, House Republican Whip Mike Turzai had a message for the Governor and Democratic leaders.

"The old days are over. These bodies are not going to vote for a tax increase, and I believe that is true of members on both sides of the aisle."

Governor Rendell hailed the House vote as a "resounding affirmation" that lawmakers want to protect education. Though the committee won't be formed until next week, negotiations are expected to continue behind closed doors in the meantime.

Rendell's Approval Rate Falls Over Tax Hike Plan

A new survey suggests Pennsylvanians are worried about the state budget crisis -- and many hold Governor Ed Rendell responsible for it.
Thirty percent of respondents to the latest Quinnipiac University poll say Rendell is to blame for the stalemate, while 17 percent blame Republican lawmakers.
Eleven percent hold Democrats responsible, while 28 percent say there's plenty of blame to go around.
Assistant Polling Director Peter Brown also notes the governor's approval rating has sagged to 39 percent -- an all-time low...

"Clearly, Governor Rendell, for better or worse, is viewed as someone who wants to raise taxes.

Along those lines, respondents -- by a nearly two-to-one margin -- were against Rendell's proposed income tax increase.
Meantime, only 27 percent approve of the job that lawmakers are doing. That's just one point higher than it was after the legislative bonus controversy of 2005.
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2-point-9 percentage points.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NRA To Appeal Court Decision to Toss Suit

An attorney for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and four PIttsburgh gunowners will appeal an Allegheny County judge's decision to throw out their lawsuit challenging a Pittsburgh lost/stolen gun reporting ordinance.
Judge Stanton Wettick ruled that the NRA and and the individual gun owners lacked standing to bring the suit. Daniel Vice, Senior Attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, argued in court on behalf of the city of Pittsburgh applauded the judge's decision to toss out what he called a "baseless lawsuit."

Attorney Meghan Jones-Rolla, who represents the NRA and the indvidual gunowners, called the decision "disappointing" but procedural since Judge Wettick did not address the merits of the NRA's case. Jones-Rolla says she feels good about the merits of the case because they are convinced the city of Pittsburgh violated Pennsylvania's Uniform Firearms Act in enacting this ordinance.
In June, Commonwealth Court threw out an NRA suit challenging a similar Philadelphia ordinance again on the matter of standing. But Jones-Rolla contends that the individuals who filed suit in Philadelphia did not have guns stolen whereas one of the Pittsburgh plaintiffs did and therefore should have standing in the Pittsburgh case.
Jones-Rolla says on Friday the NRA filed a petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for allowance to appeal Commonwealth Court's ruling in the Philadelphia case.

White House Team to Tour G20 Sites

Local officials announced today the arrival of a White House advance team that will tour the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the Pittsburgh International Airport, and other sites tomorrow in preparation for the September G20 Summit.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato say they will not accompany the team, but rather make their own tours of downtown and the airport corridor, respectively, on Thursday.

They say updates will be given weekly for the next two months to keep locals up to speed on the G20 developments.

G20 Partnership member Bill Flanagan, of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, says a contingency plan will also be started next week, to help businesses deal with traffic and security issues during the summit.

Ravenstahl also proclaimed September “Pittsburgh G20 Month.”

Help Available for Former Nuclear Workers

Former nuclear weapons workers in southwestern Pennsylvania who are now suffering from cancer may be able to get help paying their medical bills. Workers with the U.S. Department of Labor will be at the Springhill Suites Washington tomorrow and Thursday to help those workers apply for federal benefits.

Former employees of Vitro Manufacturing in Canonsburg and Westinghouse Atomic Power Development Plant in East Pittsburgh were recently added to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act's Special Exposure Cohort. That means workers who became ill as a result of working in the nuclear weapons industry are eligible for compensation and medical benefits.

The benefits are available to atomic weapons employees of Vitro between August 13, 1942 and December 31, 1957. Former Westinghouse employees are eligible if they worked between August 13, 1942 and December 31, 1944. Catherine Buttolph of the U.S. Department of Labor says if employees are dead, then survivors would be eligible for the compensation award which totals $150,000.

Workers who are unable to make it to the Traveling Resource Center in Washington County this week can apply for the benefits by calling 1-800-941-3943.

Judge Throws out NRA Suit Against Pittsburgh

Allegheny County Judge Stanton Wettick has tossed out a lawsuit by the National Rifle Association (NRA)against the city of Pittsburgh's lost/stolen gun reporting ordinance. In December, Pittsburgh Council approved and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl allowed the measure to take effect without his signature. The ordinance requires gun owners to report lost or stolen guns within 24 hours of discovery that the guns are missing. The law is intended to reduce "straw purchases," where a person who can legally purchase a gun, does so, then sells or gives the weapon to another person who is not permitted to buy a gun. Then when it's discovered that gun was used in a crime, the original buyer claims it was lost or stolen.

Judge Wettick ruled that the NRA and and the individual gun owners lacked standing to bring the suit. Daniel Vice, Senior Attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, argued in court on behalf of the city of Pittsburgh. He said the judge rejected the NRA's argument that the ordinance affects law-abiding gun owners. Vice says law-abiding gun owners report stolen weapons because "they don't want someone shot with a gun stolen from their home."
In June, Commonwealth Court threw out an NRA suit challenging a similar Philadelphia ordinance.
Pittsburgh is 1 0f 8 municipalities in the state with lost/stolen gun reporting laws. Vice says he hopes more towns will follow suit but more importantly that Pennsylvania legislators pass a state law.

Economic Outlook of Graduating Seniors Drops Significantly

The Seniors’ Economic Expectation Research (SEER) Index, a study done on 749 graduating college seniors nationwide, shows that their economic expectations have dropped drastically since last year.

The study was compiled by Dr. Charles Wilf, Assistant Professor of Economics at Duquesne’s A.J. Palumbo School of Business Administration, along with two students of the business school.

Wilf expected numbers to drop due to the poor economy; however, he did not expect the difference in expectations between male and female to widen to the extent that it did.
Last year, 65 percent of participants provided a “good or very good” ranking for overall employment prospects in their careers. This year, “good or very good” expectations dropped 20 percent. A breakdown by gender shows that the “good or very good” ranking was given by 53 percent of the senior males, but only 37 percent of the females this year.

Last year, 51 percent of women anticipated earning $30,000 or less; this year, 57 percent believe they will earn $30,000 or less. 37 percent of males this year anticipate making $30,000 or less, increasing by only 2 percent since last year.
Wilf says a reason for the large gap between genders may be their choice of study. Males tend to major in fields such as business, engineering and computer science, whereas females are more likely to enter into education, social sciences, and liberal arts.

Pittsburgh Opera Goes Green

When the Pittsburgh Opera moved its administrative and rehearsal space into a its permanent home in a 140-year-old former air brake factory in the Strip District in April 2008 Director Chris Hahn saw an opportunity. He says greening their facility was important both to funders and to his staff. Renovating the building gave the opera the chance to make environmentally friendly changes and apply for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The green renovations include low water flow plumbing, motion detectors that turn off lights when rooms are unoccupied, and a heating/cooling system that is zoned so areas could be shut down when they are not in use. The organization is also encouraging employees to go green by biking to work and participating in a wellness program.

PA Senate Republicans Okay Budget

Within days of receiving a 29-point-1 billion dollar budget plan from the Democratic-controlled House, the State Senate has sent back an amended plan that spends two-billion dollars less.
Republican Jake Corman, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, says the G-O-P proposal reflects the recession.

"The budget will spend about 27.1 billion dollars, and again there are no new taxes in this amendment for fiscal year nine-ten."

The latest Senate measure uses spending cuts and reserve money to fill a multi-billion-dollar deficit.

Governor Ed Rendell's spokesman, Chuck Ardo, says the Republican-backed budget is not a step forward.

"I mean it's a warmed-over version of a bill that has been roundly rejected by every other caucus and the administration. So exactly how this could be considered progress is questionable, at best."

With Republicans and Democrats still far apart on a bottom-line figure, each side is accusing the other of refusing to budget from hard-line positions.

The Republican-backed measure now heads to the Democratic-controlled House, which on Friday approved a plan that would spend 29-point-1 billion dollars.
However, that budget provides no way of funding more than 1-point-2 billion dollars in higher education subsidies.

Monday, July 20, 2009

LEED Ordinance Could Get Final Okay in Pittsburgh

A bill that would require all publicly-financed development in Pittsburgh to be certified green comes up for a final vote tomorrow in City Council. Sponsor Bill Peduto says he introduced the legislation in January and other cities have since surpassed Pittsburgh in their green building requirements. Peduto says his measure would require developers who receive TIF's (Tax Increment Financing), to achieve at least the silver level of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. A TIF is public money invested in a development based on the future increased property taxes that project will likely mean to the municipality, the county and the school district.

Peduto says the bill is a step in the right direction, but other cities like Boston and Dallas have gone further, requiring that all new major developments meet green standards.

Allegheny, Westmoreland Counties Denied Federal Emergency Disaster Aid

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties' requests for a federal disaster declaration concerning the flood damage done by a June 17th storm. Without the declaration the counties will not be able to receive federal funding for repair efforts. The counties plan to appeal the decision with the help of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Dems Urge PA Senate to Extend Unemployment Benefits

State Democratic officials today urged the quick passage of a bill that would tap federal stimulus benefits to extend benefits for another 7 weeks to more than 17,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians. The measure, which passed the House 197-1, has been stalled in the Senate Labor and Industry Committee for more than a week.

Governor Ed Rendell joined Senator Christina Tartaglione (D-Phila) and others in touting the legislation. He says Republicans gave him three reasons they didn’t want to pass the bill.

“Number one, because I didn’t ask them. If that was the criteria, we’d have had a budget on June 30… Second reason was there would be costs to Philadelphia and Allegheny County that would be self-insured. Those costs would be less than $5000… and the third reason that was offered was they wanted to make this part of a package where we would buttress the turndown in our unemployment compensation fund."

He says while a $300 check might not seem like a lot, it could mean the difference between food on the table or not.
Rendell says in all, the benefits offered by the federal government would total over $145 million, at a cost of about $400,000 to the state.
Senate Labor and Industry Committee Chairman John Gordner agrees the bill is important. But, the Republican says he just recently got the opportunity to view it for the first time.

"I've had it in my committee for one week, and just in order to make sure that we understand all of the consequences of it -- especially as it relates to additional costs for the state, additional costs for municipalities, additional costs for school districts -- we're just doing our due diligence on it."

Gordner adds people whose benefits have already been exhausted would still be eligible for an extension, whenever the bill passes.

City-County Committee Formed For Census Awareness

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl have announced the formation of a Complete Count Committee for the upcoming 2010 census. Serving as acting chairs on the committee are former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Baldwin and Rev. Dr. J. Van Alfred Winsett of Ebenezer Baptist Church. Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Charlie Batch is serving as honorary chair on the committee.

The committee's goal is to ensure that everyone living in Allegheny County is counted during the 2010 census. Federal funding, congressional representation and project planning are all affected by census numbers.

In 2000, for the last census, Allegheny County responded to the census at 71% and the city at 61%. The national average was 67%.

Mayoral Challenger Wants Billboard Investigation

Independent Kevin Acklin says the public deserves to know more about a controversial billboard. The candidate for Pittsburgh Mayor is calling for an investigation by either Allegheny County's District Attorney or the U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh. Acklin says the city's handling of Lamar Advertising's electronic billboard could end up being a million-dollar mistake. Lamar last week said it may seek damages resulting from the partial construction of the billboard.

Controversy over the billboard began more than a year ago. The sign on the Grant Street Transportation Center was approved without any of the usual and required hearings and votes. Some members of the City Council challenged the billboard, and it was ultimately rejected.

Acklin says if he were mayor, he would have called for an investigation himself. And he says any possible payment to Lamar comes at a time the city is already facing financial difficulties and residents could have to pay higher taxes.

He also says questions remain about possible corruption in the current administration. And he says Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was wrong to dismiss board and authority appointees who have disagreed with him. One of those appointees was Alice Mitinger, a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment who voted against the Lamar billboard.

Reproduction Theories Discussed

The David L. Lawrence Convention Center is hosting the Society for the Study of Reproduction (SSR), which is focusing this year on the effects of outside influences on prenatal growth. SSR President Asgi Fazleabas says it’s possible conditions like cardiovascular disease start before birth. “The impact of smoking, alcohol, obesity, a number of these factors contribute to the potential of the offspring having, potentially, disease for the rest of his or her life,” says Fazleabas.

He says while the idea of being healthy while pregnant is not new, the hypothesis of the environment affecting fetuses is gaining speed in both the press and the world of medicine. This notion, called epigenetics, refers to the way outside influences can change the way one’s genes are expressed in the body.

Dr. Kjersti Aagaard-Tillery presented an abstract saying that in a primate study, a maternal high-fat diet caused the child to produce fat at twice the normal rate. Her studies say that while the genetic signatures of the fetus are affected mostly by the actual diet during pregnancy, metabolism levels in the child are more influenced by the mother’s long-term obesity.

“There are proteins that really do play a role, and might have implications in some animals being resistant to getting obese. Even if they are fed ‘the all-American diet’ [a balanced intake] some animals just get obese on this diet. So, what is involved with it? What is different about the genetic makeup of these animals?” says Fazleabas.

Budget Battles Taking Place Across Country

Pennsylvania is not alone in its budget battle. The tough economic times have also made spending plans elusive in several other states.

Douglas Roberts, a researcher at Michigan State University who once served as Michigan's treasurer, says the recent dip in that state's auto industry has not helped things. "Year to date, we're down about 13 percent in revenue from a year ago. I've been in Michigan a long time, and I can't remember anything even close to this. "Pennsylvania has taken significant hits in its own manufacturing sector over the last couple of years.

Meantime, Stephen Fehr, a writer for stateline-dot-org, says California's 26 billion dollar budget deficit is not just bad news for that state. "When people don't buy cars in California it affects the entire automobile industry because more cars are sold there than anywhere else. They send more tax revenue to the federal government than any other state."

While Pennsylvania and California have missed their budget deadlines of June 30th, Michigan still has until October first to pass its fiscal plan.