Saturday, October 31, 2009

Solar Mirror Plant Opens

It's being called the largest solar mirror plant in the world and it opened yesterday in Findlay Township...not far from Pittsburgh International Airport. The $30 million dollar facility will produce parabolic mirror which will capture the sun's rays and convert the energy into electricity. Axel Bucholz, CEO of Flabeg GbmH of Germany, says the solar power will help reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The plant currently employs 50 and is expected to begin producing the mirrors early next year. Officials at the corporation's subsidiary, Flabeg Solar U.S., expect the workforce to increase to 200 next year and 300 in 2011.
Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonsky says Flabeg's long history as an automotive mirror manufacturer in the region made it "well acquainted with our region’s authenticity, adaptiveness and its skilled and motivated workforce. These assets, along with the region’s improved business climate regarding corporate net income tax and 2,000 acres of pad-ready sites helped Flabeg make the decision to locate its solar energy business where it already had strong roots: in Pittsburgh."

Although the solar mirrors will be made in the Pittsburgh region, they will likely be used in sunnier climes such as in southwestern states.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rendell Tells Lawmakers to Get Back to Work

Pennsylvania Governor Rendell says he’s disappointed the Legislature hasn’t acted on a table games bill since the budget was passed three weeks ago. Rendell says the lack of progress on a bill legalizing table games in Pennsylvania casinos is “inexcusable.” The spending plan he signed into law counts on $200 million in revenue from table games, but casino executives have predicted it will take at least six months from the time the law passes the time blackjack, poker and roulette tables are actually up and running. Rendell says he’s concerned the commonwealth won’t be able to reach the 200 million dollar figure if the bill doesn’t pass soon. “Our citizens endured a budget impasse that lasted 101 days. We were all to blame for that. But until the Legislature acts to resolve the remaining legislation necessary to balance the budget, that impasse in effect remains.” Rendell is withholding some &700 million in higher education funding as leverage to get lawmakers to act. Rendell is calling on the General Assembly to pass a bill November 9th. That’s the next day the House is scheduled to be in session. House Speaker Keith McCall and Majority Leader Todd Eachus have issued a statement taking issue with the governor’s comments. They say staff level meetings and negotiations have yielded progress, and they don’t want to rush through a complicated bill.

New I-80 Tolling Proposal

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has submitted what it hopes is the final batch of materials to support its application with the Federal Highway Administration to convert Interstate 80 to a toll road.
Act 44, which was signed into law in July 2007, directed PennDOT to lease Interstate 80 to the Turnpike Commission giving the commission oversight of that interstate as a toll road. The Commission then sought approval of tolling I-80 from the Highway Administration which rejected the application in September 2008 due to concerns over how the lease payments compared with other private public partnerships involving major highways.
Commission spokesman Carl DeFebo says they commissioned an independent analysis that reviewed other roadway leases in the U.S. and Canada over the last 10 years and the study concluded that the lease payments that the Turnpike Commission is making to PennDOT are "within the market ranges" compared to recent North American highway leases.
The commission has made quarterly payments to PennDOT over the past two years totalling $2 billion dollars. This comes from the toll increase on the turnpike.
DeFebo says if they get approval to toll I-80, those payments would grow to an average of $1.67 billion annually.
DeFebo says under the proposal $250 million a year for 10 years would be invested in I-80 improvements, four time the current amount of $60 million spent on the interstate annually. DeFebo says kind of spending would help the economy along the interstate corridor.
The spokesman says they've taken steps to address the impact of tolls on residents along the interstate who "use it like a Main Street" coming and going to work and shop. He says if they sign up for EZ Pass, they could drive through the first tolling site for no charge...."so in essence you could drive 50 miles and even more without paying a toll."
DeFebo says they don't expect an answer on their proposal for several months.

U.S. Attorney Buchanan to Resign

U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania Mary Beth Buchanan says she will step down November 16. Buchanan was appointed in September 2001 after 13 years as ans Assistant U.S. Attorney. She says serving the Western District of Pennsylvania has been and honor and she's looking forward to the next chapter in her career. She did not say what that would be, but she's been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for Congress to challenge Democratic incumbent Jason Altmire next year.

Her replacement will probably be made by the traditional “advise and consent” process rather than the quick nomination method used by the Bush administration.
That’s according to Duquesne University Law Professor Joseph Mistick who says the eventual nominee will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate in the traditional fashion, rather than by a simple nomination.

“It is possible, with a change that the Bush administration sponsored to the Patriot Act, that the Attorney General could appoint a United States Attorney as an interim U.S. Attorney, and that would bypass the advise and consent process,” says Mistick. “That’s frowned upon, of course, because the other process has served us very well throughout our history.”

He says the advise and consent process is much more beneficial to specific regions, because US Attorneys often hold a regional role as more than just a prosecutor.

“In the early 90s, for example, now State Attorney General Tom Corbett … was instrumental in the creation of and the adoption of the Weed and Seed program and successfully joined with the City of Pittsburgh to have that program instituted here."

Mistick says many policies of the Bush administration regarding U.S. Attorneys were controversial, including the 2006 dismissal of seven U.S. Attorneys for vague reasons. He says the Obama administration will most likely stay away from those policies.

“We generally get top-flight folks here, because you have to get a lot of clearances, you’re going through a lot of procedures in order to be appointed, and by the time somebody does that, you can rest assured that it’s a qualified person.”

Mistick says the only name he’s heard up for the opening position is local commercial attorney David J. Hickton.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Media Center for City Neighborhood

There’s a new addition to the Westside neighborhood of Pittsburgh today, made possible by a $25,000 grant from the Target Foundation. The Salvation Army’s Westside Worship and Service Center, located in Fairywood, has opened a state-of-the-art media center. It includes 11 refurbished computers, work stations, software and Internet access.

“It provides a safe haven for them to come and do the kind of work that they’re going to need to get done there. Whether they are looking for a job, setting up a resume, taking computer classes or doing homework,” Chief Earnest Fullwood says, the center’s commanding officer.

He says there is an after school program that goes there, as well as college students and adults to do work, who may not have a computer or a quiet place to work at home.

Third Mayoral Debate held

The three men who are running for the Pittsburgh Mayor’s office faced off Thursday afternoon in the third of three debates with none of the candidates delivering decisive blows. The debate hosted by WPXI TV will be aired on that station several times over the weekend with the general election to be held Tuesday. Incumbent Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and challengers Kevin Acklin and Franco Dok Harris touched on everything from who should have an advisory roll in the Mayor’s office to giving the mayor a grade for handling the G20 Pittsburgh Summit. Among the issues of more weight was a debate over shoring up the city’s faltering pension fund. The account is roughly 30% funded, which is well below levels deemed to be acceptable by bond rating houses and the state. Independent Kevin Acklin says he knows how important the pension funds are to Pittsburghers. His grandmother lives on the pension earned by his grandfather as a city firefighter. He says he would shore up the fund by getting more money from the state and from, “corporate nonprofits who make more than $100-million a year.” Independent Franco Dok Harris and Acklin both took shots at the mayor’s proposal to institute a head tax on college students and a bed tax on hospital stays. Harris says, like Acklin, he would turn to the state for help from gaming revenues but he would also hire a grant writer to look for help from other sources. He would also hire a “distressed fund specialist” to look for more savings and grow earnings. Democrat Luke Ravenstahl, who is also on the ballot as a Republican, says he has tried to get more money from big nonprofits and from Harrisburg but has so far been unsuccessful so he is, “doing the responsible thing, assuming that does not happen.” He rhetorically asked the other candidates what they would do to get the needed $15 million if their plans fail.
Using a backdrop of recent gun violence in the city and the ongoing fight between city council and Harrisburg over lost and stolen gun legislation each candidate was asked if they support the second amendment. All responded they did with Ravenstahl adding that rural areas and big cities need to be treated differently. He says no one wants to take guns away from hunters but he says the state needs to step up with new laws to get illegal guns off the streets. Harris says with the right to own a gun comes, “the responsibility and a duty to know where they are at all times. The notion that ‘I lost my gun’ or ‘it was stolen’ is ridiculous.” He says the state has enough laws on the books and they need to be better enforced. He says the illegal gun trade must also be put to an end. Acklin says he would put more officers on the streets to find those guns and stop the violence.
Acklin's promise to put 200 additional officers on the streets by the end of his first term was highlighted again when the candidates were asked what they would do to reduce crime. He also said he would personally be out in the neighborhoods plagued by violence. He says, “It is what I have enjoyed most about being a candidate. And I have learned so much. And I carry those stories.” He says people ask him where the mayor is and charge that he is never around unless there are cameras around. Mayor Ravenstahl responds that it is hard for him to move with out a camera showing up so that is a poor argument, and he says he and his staff attend “50 community meetings a month.” Ravenstahl also points out that the murder rate is down by 40% over last year and he says that is due in part to him listening to the concerns and suggestions of the residents and police officers. He also notes the creation of the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime and the hire of an employee to oversee the program as steps in the right direction. Harris says he has nothing but praise for the Police officers but he is also being told by the voters as he goes door to door that what they want now it to see the mayor getting involved. He says the mayor needs to grieve with the mothers of the murdered and their communities.

Lecture on Gang Violence Remedy

A professor from the University of Chicago spoke at the University of Pittsburgh to a crowd of approximately 100 about gang violence prevention. Social Work Professor Irving Spergel specifically talked about his approach to remedy gangs, called “The Spergel Model. It’s a collaborative effort between police, schools and community groups.

“One has to go out into the community to reach these kids who are sort of alienated, on their own, and help them make connections with the rest of society,” Spergel says.

For instance, instead of schools suspending kids from the inside, they should be punished with in-school suspensions.

Spergel says Pittsburgh is no exception to having gangs. His plan is being tested in 40 American cities, and has yielded dramatic results. In Chicago, adding the program resulted in a 40 percent decrease in violent crimes among young people.

Orie Melvin, Panella Campaigns Swap Charges

The race for Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has turned nasty in the week before Election Day. One analyst says that's part of a larger trend. Pennsylvania’s Republican Party is saying Democrat Jack Panella ignored evidence two Luzerne County judges were sending children to juvenile detention centers in exchange for financial kickbacks when he sat on the state’s Judicial Conduct Board.
Meantime, Democrats have argued Orie Melvin’s judicial philosophy presents a threat to women.
Muhlenberg College political scientist Christopher Borick says more and more judicial races have take on the nasty tone of legislative campaigns in recent years.

"For most Pennsylvanians this race, like a lot of judicial races, is fairly invisible. People aren’t thinking about it. They’re not looking at it like they might be a governor’s race, a senate race, or obviously a presidential race. And therefore, if you can spark some attention it might be the type of thing that can propel your campaign to victory."

But Borick adds due to the nature of the job they’re running for, judicial candidates need to walk a tighter line than other political nominees.
He says a candidate runs the risk of appearing too caustic, and unfit to sit on the bench, if he or she gets too negative.

Swine Flu Cases Rise, More Vaccine Coming

State Health Department officials say the amount of H1N1 cases across the state has increased exponentially over the past few weeks, and the doses of vaccine arriving in Pennsylvania are beginning to rise.
Since early September, the number of Pennsylvanians diagnosed with influenza has gone from a few hundred to just under four thousand. That rate has skyrocketed in the past two weeks, especially. Acting Physician General Dr. Stephen Ostroff says officials expected the number to go up in the fall, but he’s “especially surprised” at how quickly it’s risen.
Ostroff says the majority of the cases are school-aged children and teenagers.

"This continues to be very much a wave of influenza that affects the very young. About 70 to 75 percent of all of the cases we’ve been seeing are in individuals between the ages of 5 and 24 years of age."

Ostroff says to date, Pennsylvania officials have distributed around 820-thousand vaccines. The commonwealth is expected to receive four to five hundred thousand doses next week and a few hundred thousand doses per week over the coming months.
Deputy Health Secretary Michael Huff says H1N1 vaccines will be distributed on a priority basis over the coming months.

"What we’re trying to do is target those individuals that are in the greatest need. Those people that, again, complications, hospitalizations, those that care for the other sick and individuals in the hospitals."

Though at that rate, the Health Department won’t be able to meet the requested amount of 7 million doses until early winter.

Computers to Sift Through Stars

Computer Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University are turning to the stars for their next project. The school picked up a $1.6 million grant to build computer algorithms that will help astrophysicists sift through hard drives full of data. CMU associate research professor Jeff Schneider says astronomers set up telescopes to continually scan the sky, taking hundreds of thousands of pictures of whatever is out there. He says there is no way researchers can look at them all. That is where the computer scientists come into the mix. The pictures will be fed into the computers and then scanned using the new algorithms. Schneider says at first the computers will learn what known objects look like and then be asked to look for things out of the ordinary. They may also be told to look for a specific color or light intensity. From there Schneider says he hopes to build algorithms that will allow the computers to start making decisions on their own. He says eventually the computers may be able to scan a set of pictures, compare the images of various galaxies and then tell astrophysicists what they may find interesting. Schneider says, “Computers have long helped scientists make discoveries by processing and analyzing observational data, but now we will need computer programs that also can make discoveries on their own.” The CMU researchers will team up with others at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Washington to do the work over the next three years.
“Most algorithms for discovering dynamic evolution assume that you have a sequence of observations to analyze,” Schneider says. “But in cosmology, you never get to see things evolve. Instead, you see a bunch of objects that are at different points on the evolutionary path. We need a way to look at those objects and use them to infer the evolutionary path and where each object might be on that path.” Schneider says some of the algorithms will run over just a few hours but as they get more complex and the data sets get larger they may run for days or even weeks. The researchers will be using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a New Mexico telescope that during its first eight years of operation amassed a dataset that includes 930,000 galaxies, 120,000 quasars and 460,000 stars.

Proposal to Trim PA Legislature

A Republican State Senator from Schuylkill County has introduced legislation to reduce the size of Pennsylvania's General Assembly gradually. Senator David Argall acknowledges that there have been dozens of proposals to trim the legislature over the years, including a serious debate at the 1968 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention, but none of the measures have gotten out of committee.
"I can summarize the problem in one simple question: how do you get someone to vote to cancel their own job?" But when asked why legislators see it as "their" job instead of an elected position they are temporarily holding, Argall responded "I can't read their minds."
Argall says he believes now is the time to move forward with such a proposal because of the difficult budget process that was recently completed. He said trimming the legislature would "save a few million here and there" but he strongly believes that "it is not appropriate for any legislator to demand cuts in the governor's office or in the Department of Public Welfare or the Department of Environmental Protection without a similar willingness to reduce some of our own costs."
Argall is proposing eliminating 50 of the 203 House seats.....10 every decade through 2053 and cutting 1 Senate seat in 2012, 2 more in 2023 and another 2 in 2033.
To make his plan more palatable to some lawmakers, he suggests lengthening the terms of state representatives from 2 to 4 years.
Opponents to downsizing have said cutting the number of lawmakers would make rural districts much larger and more difficult for constituents to meet with their representatives.
Argall's proposal involves amending the Pennsylvania Constitution and the bill would have to be approved in 2 consecutive legislative sessions and then okayed by voters.

Temporary Opt Out of Mandates

A Republican lawmaker says cash-strapped municipalities shouldn’t have to pay for state mandates they can’t afford.
Berks County State Representative Sam Rohrer says a majority of Pennsylvania’s cities are financially distressed right now—partially due to the burden of needing to fund countless state mandates out of their own budgets.
He’s introduced a bill that would allow counties, municipalities and school boards to “opt out” of following through on various requirements the General Assembly hands down.
Rohrer notes this isn’t some sort of state version of nullification, pointing out the requirements would still go into effect—just a few years later.

"This is not an elimination of any of the regulations or legislation that’s at mandate. And I think that’s a critical part. This is a suspension for a finite period of time. And it is motivated by the significant financial impact the local governments are getting."

Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach says local governments need a financial break.

"It’s irresponsible to continue to expect counties, school districts, municipalities and boroughs to continue to pick up the cost for programs that the Legislature has mandated. If you want us to do something, pay for it. If it’s important enough to mandate than it’s important enough to fund."

Local governments would be able to ignore the state mandates for up to five years under the legislation.
Rohrer has been considering a run for governor, and says he’ll make up his mind in the next two weeks. He’d be an underdog in the Republican primary, going up against Attorney General Tom Corbett and Congressman Jim Gerlach.

Feasibility Study On East End Commuter Rail

During its regular session yesterday, Pittsburgh City Council reviewed a report on a proposal for a train line in the East End section of the city. The feasibility study looked at connecting Hazelwood with Oakland, Bloomfield, Shadyside and Lawrenceville. The estimated cost to build the 4-mile passenger line is $81 million dollars. The commuter line would use existing CSX tracks and a tunnel under Neville Street in Oakland. The proposal comes from Councilman Bill Peduto..."“This commuter rail line is a critical link that will connect the East End’s growing new economy. “This line is also a key connector for all proposals for a regional commuter rail system.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Poll Numbers Down For Specter

A new statewide poll shows Democratic US Senator Arlen Specter is sliding. Franklin and Marshall College Poll director Terry Madonna says Arlen Specter’s 29% approval rating is the senator’s lowest performance since the survey began asking that question in 1991. On top of that, just 23-percent of respondents say the longtime incumbent deserves another term. Madonna adds 66% of the respondents say it’s time for a change. “What also should be alarming for Senator Specter is that of the people who say it’s time for a change, we get about the same percentages of Democrats, Independents and Republicans who indicate that,” Says Madonna. Specter leads his Democratic challenger, Congressman Joe Sestak, in a head-to-head matchup, and he’s also in front of the likely Republican nominee, Pat Toomey. Madonna says that’s mostly due to Sestak and Toomey’s low name recognition. The poll shows there is a high number of undecided voters which should not be a surprise given the primary is still more than 6 months away and the general election is more than a year away. Outside of the senate race, only four in ten respondents say President Barack Obama is doing a good job, and 60% think Pennsylvania is on “the wrong track.”

Pittsburgh Council Discusses E-Mail Privacy

At least two members of Pittsburgh City Council today suggested they believe members of the Ravenstahl Administration are monitoring council's emails. Those comments arose during consideration of Councilman Bill Peduto's electronic communications privacy legislation.
Under Peduto's bill, a city employee who wants access to another city employee's email would have to receive approval from the department director and the city solicitor before the director of the City Information Systems would release it.
Assistant City Solicitor Kate DeSimone told Council that most e-mails of public employees are considered to be public record but there are many exceptions in state and federal laws.
Council President Doug Shields and Councilwoman Tonya Payne said they believed their e-mail had been monitored by someone in the administration. Shields asked if the legislation was intended to solve a current problem or to prevent something in the future. "I think we've got a few snoops around here."
Assistant Solicitor DeSimone said "the fact that the bill (Peduto's legislation) has been introduced, means there is a perception that employees and supervisors are trying to read each other's's not a good perception for the city that we are invading each other's privacy on a regular basis."
Councilman Patrick Dowd says he doesn't want to take away the right to have someone read his e-mail but if a fellow council member or administration official is reading his (Dowd's) e-mails, then he(Dowd) should know about it...."The e-mail system is no different than fuel and vehicles, than money and backhoes, there should be no expectation of privacy."

Council delayed for a week a preliminary vote on Peduto's measure.

Bar Assn. Takes on Wage Gap

Pennsylvania First Lady and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell says equality for women in the legal profession has come a long way since she was starting out but there is still a lot of work to be done. Rendell was speaking to members of the Allegheny County Bar association at a luncheon to launch the ACBA Institute for Gender Equality. She remembered back to her younger days when a judge remarked, “she should be a model,” when she introduced herself as the lawyer of the man standing next to her not his client. She also quipped about lying when accused of having a burping baby on her shoulder during a conference call. The institute will begin holding classes for both practitioners and law firm decision makers next month. The classes will focus on the advancement of women in leadership positions in the Allegheny County legal community, the elimination of the gender wage gap, and the expansion of the avenues through which female attorneys can build successful careers. Classes will also be held for law students. ACBA President-Elect Gary Hunt says attendees will be surprised what they learn about themselves while taking the class. Marjorie Rendell praised the ACBA for taking action and not just talking about the issue. She says, “The challenge is to identify what we need to do to reshape the institutions and I commend you for realizing that institutions cannot be reshaped without reshaping individual attitudes.” The formation of the Institute was one of the recommendations that came on the heals of a 2005 ACBA membership survey showed little or no improvement in gender equality when compared to a survey completed in 1990. A recent study found 20% of male lawyers in the county make $250,000 or more while just 5% of women hit that mark. Rendell says she doubts that most places where inequity exists the managers consciously decided women will get paid less. She says, “It just seems that the value put on a women’s work, even if it is ostensibly the same, is sometimes less.” The ACBA says 17.3% of partners in law firms nationwide are women but the number is just 15.8% in Allegheny County.

Wagner, Rendell Still Sparring Over No Bid Contracts

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner says he and Governor Ed Rendell have a difference of opinion when it comes to the value of no-bid contracts.
Last week, Wagner’s office blasted the Rendell administration for handing a slew of no-bid contracts to Deloitte Consulting, a technology firm.
Rendell say he has no regrets, arguing the state has a right to reward companies for good work by renewing their contracts without exploring the alternatives.
Wagner says that’s wrong, and is urging the legislature to pass laws requiring more competitive bidding.

"Competition exists everywhere. It’s part of the American way. Unfortunately it appears to be absent in state government. We believe very strongly that is not in the best interest of the taxpayers of this commonwealth."

Rendell has accused Wagner of criticizing his administration for political gain....

"And by the way, what’s the Auditor General doing these days?
He’s running for governor. Interesting. Interesting."

Wagner says he’s just doing his job.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Proposal for PA Office of Faith-Based Organizations

A Montgomery County Pennsylvania State Senator has introduced legislation to establish the Pennsylvania Office of Faith-Based and Non-Profit Organizations within the office of the governor. Republican Stewart Greenleaf says his measure will create more opportunities for all volunteer organizations to partner with government entities to help deliver vital services in the communities. Greenleaf says the director of the office will be the liaison for government departments and the faith-based and community organizations "to reach out to an army of extremely motivated and very qualified volunteers and community activists to help government solve some of their social issues."
The senator says the legislation would help identify any barriers that might exist to fair competition for government funding and propose and changes that would level the playing field for faith-based and non-profit organizations, which would enable state government to "choose the most effective partner to provide public services, maximizing taxpayer dollars."
Greenleaf says the concept is obviously not new. During the Clinton Administration, the Charitable Choice provision of welfare reform encouraged states to involve faith-based and other non-profit groups in federally funded services. In 2001, President George W. Bush created the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.
Greenleaf says any concerns about government mixing with faith-based groups have been alleviated because "it's done in an impartial way under certain guidelines the groups have to follow.

Dowd Wants a Say on Parking Garages

A Pittsburgh City Councilman wants to make sure the council is part of any decision to lease or sell the city’s garages. Councilman Patrick Dowd has introduced legislation requiring the Pittsburgh Parking Authority to seek council approval before sending out and request for proposals to sell or lease Parking Authority assets. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wants to sell all or a portion of the city owned garages and use the proceeds to help shore up the city’s failing pension system. Dowd says the move is especially important given the lack of Council representation on the Authority’s Board. All five members of the board are appointed by the Mayor and approved by council but Dowd notes that all of the members are serving expired terms and no new names have been submitted to council. Dowd says he wants to make sure all options are explored before making the move. “If the plan is successful my daughter will be older than I am right now when the deal expires,” says Dowd. The Public Parking Authority of Pittsburgh currently operates ten parking garages, two attended surface parking lots, and thirty-seven off-street metered parking lots. Dowd says he wants to make sure the city gets the best value from the assets but he is not sure they should be sold or leased at all. He points to a recent sale of lots in Chicago that have become controversial because there was little or no public debate and or input from the city council in tat city. Dowd says, “We have an example in Chicago that we can learn from. I hope that my colleagues will join me in supporting this critical piece of legislation.” Dowd says the pension issue is the most important policy decision the concil will make in 2010 and this is a big part of that discussion.

6-Pack of Green Bills Move in City Council

Pittsburgh City Council members are looking at 6 bills that fellow councilman Bill Peduto says add up to a big step toward making Pittsburgh a greener city. The bills deal with items such as making sure the city makes green purchasing decisions and improving recycling efforts on city property and in private homes. One bill deals with how green roofs can be installed. Peduto says green roofs can be a great way to lower energy bills and keep rain water out of combined sewers, however, if the are installed improperly they can do more harm than good. “We have code dealing with putting TV antennas on your house but not putting on a green roof,” says Peduto. Also in Peduto’s “green six-pack” are ordinances that call for energy audits of city assets at least every ten years and the creation of a Sustainability Commission. Peduto says that commission would be much like the Arts Commission or the Historic Review Commission. The 6th bill in the package would shift the city’s Sustainability Coordinator from being a position in place only as long as outside funding is available and place it into city code. Peduto says that will make sure it is not the first thing cut in tough budget years. Peduto says this is just the first step in greening the city. He plans to introduce more “green” legislation later this year. He says being green is something that you constantly need to stay on top of as situations change and new technologies surface.

Onorato Stands By Decision to Fire Shuman Guards

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato says he still supports the decision to fire eight Shuman Center employees after it was alleged they were not making proper bed checks. An arbitrator ruled this week that the employees should be given their jobs back and awarded them all but five days back pay. Those five days were to cover what the arbitrator says would have been a five-day suspension. County executive Dan Onorato says the decision was made in part because the arbitrator felt the workers were following past practices. Onorato says it is now clear that moving forward “it is a new day in the county” and the old rules are no longer in place. Onorato brought in current Shuman Director William “Jack” Simons to “clean up the Shuman” and he says this is just some of the push back and anger that can be expected when sweeping changes are made. He says despite being overturned the decision to fire the workers, “sent a clear message that such activities will not be tolerated and the county is willing to take swift and strong action when needed.” Onorato says the county is now in a much stronger position going forward.
The guards will have to go through training as if they were new hires. They were off the job for more than four months.

County Has Executive Order to be Green

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato signed an executive order Tuesday that among other things forces the county to reduce energy consumption by 20% in the next 5 years. Water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by the same amount. The order also calls for increased conversion of the County’s vehicle fleet, and LEED certification for future new construction and renovation projects that exceed 35,000 square-feet. To help administer the efforts, a sustainability coordinator position that had been funded by a grant will be added to the county’s budget. Jeaneen Zappa currently holds that position. She says two Energy Savings Companies (ESCO) are vying for a contract with the county to enter into a “guaranteed energy savings agreement.” Zappa says the county spends more than $5 million a year on electricity alone so there is a lot of room to save. The ESCOs have already begun their evaluations and have toured 20 of the county’s largest buildings. Zappa says once those buildings are evaluated they will be “triaged” and the work that will result in the biggest savings will be done first.
To help keep track of the effort, the executive order requires the County to establish a publicly available score card of sustainability metrics and goals. That report will be updated at least once a year. Zappa says renovating the buildings with things like green roofs, rain gardens, new windows and energy efficient lights is just the first step. Employees will be asked to change their habits to help reduce consumption as well. Zappa says that could include practices as simple as remembering to turn off the lights when you leave a room.

Random Drug Tests for Pittsburgh Firefighters

For the first time ever, Pittsburgh firefighters have agreed to random drug testing as part of a new five year contract with the city. Union President Joe King says that anything that is "sensitive" and deemed to be "intrusive" can be difficult but agreeing to the random tests is prudent.
"The citizens of Pittsburgh entrust their lives and hold us to a much higher standard which we should be held. We're doing the right thing for purposes of safety."

King said in approving the contract, the members did not object to the random tests even though all of the specifics have yet to be determined.
Under the new policy, firefighters who fail a drug test will be placed on a "last chance agreement" under which they can be fired for failing a second drug test. The decision on dismissal will be handled by neutral arbiters instead of a trial board of 3 other firefighters. But King says the firefighters might be tougher on their own compared to a neutral party...."they'll (firefighters) think 'if you don't get your act together, you won't have a career,' they'll (firefighters) fire you in a minute."

However, Public Safety Director Michael Huss pushed for the random test policy after the city tried to dismiss firefighter John Connors after he pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge. But a trial board reinstated him after deciding the city improperly required a drug test for Connors.

Under the new policy, the trial boards will still be used to review possible dismissals for other offenses.

House in No Hurry to Act on Table Games Tax Rate

A Pennsylvania House Democratic committee chair says the chamber likely won’t reconvene to address table games legislation until early November.
Last week, Governor Rendell predicted legislative leaders would hammer out a table games deal in the near future, but no announcement has been made.
House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Dante Santoni, a Berks County Democrat, says he doesn’t expect to vote on a bill until after next week’s election.

That frustrates his Senate counterpart; Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee Chairwoman Jane Earll.

"Well unfortunately it appears that’s where we’re headed. And that’s unfortunate because in the meantime they are holding the non preferred appropriations hostage. And it’s just ludicrous that there’s this arbitrary timeline they think commences on November 9th. That’s just ridiculous."

A House-passed bill calls for a 34% tax on table game revenues. The Senate approved a 14% tax rate. Santoni says the current House bill doesn't reflect their bargaining position....

"Realistically in negotiations it’s not going to be 34. I’m probably—educated guess, high teens, low twenties, is where it will probably fall."

Rendell has refused to sign a bill funding Penn State, Pitt and other state-related universities until after the table games legislation passes.

PA Supreme Court Candidates Spar Over "Pay to Play"

State Supreme Court candidate Joan Orie Melvin is accusing her Democratic opponent of engaging in “pay to play” agreements with a trial lawyer’s organization.
Orie Melvin, the Republican candidate for Supreme Court, is taking issue with campaign contributions Democrat Jack Panella has received from Committee to a Better Tomorrow, the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association’s political action committee.

"When you can go into a courtroom and walk in and one side has an advantage—and you’ve received a million dollars plus from that group on those issues, because you’ve always been there for their issues. For me, it’s the public perception, and I find it to be pay to play."

The group has given 500-thousand dollars to Panella’s campaign, but also contributed 100-thousand dollars to Orie Melvin.

"I would definitely say a million dollars is too much. I would definitely say 500 thousand dollars is too much, and that is an automatic disqualification."

Panella spokesman Dan Fee says Orie Melvin’s accusation is off base.

"It’s very odd that she accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Senate Republican leadership and declares she can maintain independence, but questions whether other people can maintain their independence."

Orie Melvin says candidates should be forced to recuse themselves from cases involving major campaign contributors, though she declined to assign a specific dollar amount to that suggestion.

US Steel Loses $300 million

Pittsburgh based United States Steel Corporation posted another down quarter but its chief executive says things are starting to look better. The company posted a net loss of $303 million in the third quarter of 2009. That equates to a $2.11 per share dip into the red. The numbers come as shipments were up by 41% and sales were up 32% from the previous quarter. U. S. Steel Chairman and CEO John P. Surma says, "… we brought several idled facilities online to satisfy increased customer order rates. Our European and Tubular segments had improved financial performance and our Flat-rolled segment's results were in line with the prior quarter despite the effects of continued low operating rates and facility restart costs." The company’s European segment recorded a small profit in the third quarter. Surma says the gains came with the help of lower raw material and energy costs and improved operating efficiencies.

While US Steel does not expect to finish the 4th quarter in the black, Surma says the trend is up, “We expect improvement in our overall fourth quarter results mainly as a result of increased demand for Flat-rolled products in North America, driven primarily by automotive markets and continued strength in tin mill markets. We remain cautious in our outlook for end user demand as customer order rates… and we will continue to adjust production to meet our customers' demand.” Surma opined that the world economy is on the mend and praised global stimulus policies. He says the company’s 4th quarter will be helped by, “continued improvement in credit markets and inventory restocking."

Analysts expected a loss of $2.87 per share on revenue of $2.72 billion.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Economic Impact Study Completed On Great Allegheny Passage

An economic impact study of the Great Allegheny Passage trail. indicated that in 2008 the trail produced an impact of $40 million in direct spending, including $7.5 million in wages, compared to $7.3 million in direct spending in 2001. Cathy McCollom of the Trail Town Program says that she expects the economic impact to continue to grow as the county comes out of a recession and the trails popularity increases. Some of the findings of the report include: the majority of trail users are between 45-54 years old, overnight visitors spend an average of $98 a day as opposed to local trail users spending $31 a day, more than one quarter of businesses reported expansions or expansion plans within the next year, and businesses reported an average of 25 percent of sales attributable to the Great Allegheny Passage.

PAT's Gateway "T" Station to Close October 31

The Port Authority will shut down its Gateway "T"(light rail) station October 31st. This is to make way for construction of a new Gateway station that's needed to "receive" the North Shore Connector. PAT spokesman Jim Ritchie says because of the connector "the lines will turn in a way so they can no longer use the existing (Gateway) station." He says the new station will be built in a slightly different location and is scheduled to open when the connector opens in late 2011. Ritchie says that because of the closing of the station, riders who rely on the "T" in that part of downtown Pittsburgh will have to find another way to use transit. He says the Wood Street station is only a few blocks away so many people will walk but since buses are free in downtown Pittsburgh, people can get off at the Wood Street station and hop on a bus toward the Gateway area.

As part of the closing of the Gateway station, PAT is removing a ceramic tile mural by the late Pittsburgh artist, Romare Beardon. The mural, which has been appraised at $15 million and has sustained some water damage, was installed in 1984 as part of the original subway construction. Ritchie says under the guidance of artists, crews are removing the mural titled "Pittsburgh Recollections," in pieces. It will be restored and then "hopefully displayed in time for the new station's opening."

Harris Gets Union Endorsement

Standing before a group of ironworkers and apprentices Franco Dok Harris accepted Ironworkers Local #3’s endorsement in his bid for the Pittsburgh Mayor’s office. He says as far as he knows this is the only union to make an endorsement in the race. Harris says he thinks many union leaders would not endorse him for fear of what he calls a vindictive administration. He used his own campaign as an example. Harris says a city employee “answerable to the mayor” threatened members of his campaign staff. That staffer reportedly told the campaign workers they would never work in the city again. Harris would not name the staffer saying there could be legal action.
He says the endorsement fro the union shows his campaign is “for real.” Local 3 leaders say they think Harris is the candidate best able to create family sustaining jobs in the city. Harris praised the union for working to eliminate sweatshops in the region. Harris says he knows of a few steel fabrication shops that do not treat their workers fairly. He says he will make sure the city never contracts with those businesses and hopes businesses in the city will do the same.
Harris is running against independent Kevin Acklin and Incumbent Luke Ravenstahl in the November 3rd general election.

Fellowship Program Returns

The Guyasuta Fellowship program is back for its 5Th campaign. The program is a policy forum where young people can work together to craft a white paper on a specific issue that will be presented to Pittsburgh City Council members at a post agenda meeting. The issue that the fellowship will be working on this year is the transition to a "green" economy and how Pittsburgh can work to help the city's disadvantaged and under served communities while building a more sustainable region. The program is trying to involve young people in participating in civic discourse and asks that you be a resident of the region with plans to remain for anywhere between two to five years and that you miss no less than two bimonthly meetings. The program was initiated in 2002 but was not active in 2007 and 2008.

Pitt Researcher: RNA not Junk

For years researchers have dismissed tiny strands of RNA found in cells as junk but researchers at the University of Pittsburgh says they have found evidence to the contrary. The study looked at what is known as “unusually small RNAs” or usRNAs. The strands number in thousands inside each of your cells but scientists thought they were of little value. Study author Bino John says the usRNAs are, “surprisingly stable, and are repeatedly, reproducibly, and accurately produced across different tissue types." The team began its work by looking at the virus associated with the rare cancer Kaposi sarcoma. John says they found that specific usRNAs were being produced and could some day serve as a marker for the disease. John says, "They may be valuable tools to diagnose diseases, or perhaps they could present new drug targets." John says that dream is a long way away and the research to get there will not be easy.

Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named the week of October 18-24 to be Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.
Spokesperson Donna Heron says the agency uses this week as a way to draw attention to the serious and ongoing problem of lead poisoning.
She says it is the number one environmental health threat to young children in the U.S., specifically 6 and younger.
Heron says the reason young children are mostly affected by lead poisoning is because they tend to put things in their mouths. She says houses built before 1978 were made with lead paint, which chips and generates dust. The paint and dust can get on a child’s clothing, toys, etc, which can then get into the child’s mouth.
She says the health effects for children exposed to lead are really significant and can include learning disabilities, hyper-activity, impaired hearing, and brain damage.
Heron says there are a number of ways parents can try to prevent this problem. First, she says they should keep their houses very clean. They should be mopping floors, washing windows and walls, and using warm water with a general all-purpose cleaner. Also, she says parents should always be sure that their child is constantly washing their hands. Another important thing is good nutrition. Heron says children should be taking in lots of iron, calcium, and vitamin C, from foods such as eggs, lean red meat, beans and dairy products. She says foods like these help prevent lead from really affecting the body.
Heron says parents should have their child checked because even a child who appears to be completely healthy can have higher blood levels than normal.
For more information visit

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hospice Event Speaker says We Have Lost Our Way

This month, a group of clergy and faith leaders gathered in the south hills to talk about end of life issues. Among the speakers at Family Hospice & Palliative Care was Rev. Dr. Thomas Long. Long focused his attention less on the patients and the care given to them as they near the end of life and more on the families left behind after their loved one dies. He says we as a society have lost our way when it comes to honoring the dead.

Listen to an 8 minute excerpt of his lecture here.

Listen to the full 42 minute lecture here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

9th Annual Forensic Science and Law Conference

The Wecht Institute at Duquesne University is hosting a conference today and tomorrow on the challenge of obtaining evidence in today's digital age. University of Central Florida Professor Mark Pollitt says the ability of law enforcement to collect electronic evidence varies tremendously, so there are jurisdictions where cases are not being made.

Saturday afternoon, internet safety advocates Alicia and Mary Kozakiewicz will speak. Mary says her then-13-year-old daughter Alicia disappeared New Year's Day 2002 between dinner and dessert. Unknown to her family, she went outside to meet someone she considered an online friend, who turned out to be a 38-year-old computer programmer. Using "digital footprints", the FBI found her in Virginia four days later.

Parents need to explain online dangers to their children but not assume they've gotten the message and also use protective software, according to Kozakiewicz.

Commission Approves New State Graduation Exams

The Intergovernmental Regulatory Review Commission voted 4-1 yesterday to approve the Keystone Exams as a requisite for graduating from Pennsylvania high schools. State Board of Education Chairman Joe Toresella called the proposed exams a compromise between those that wanted a strict exam that all students would have to pass before graduating, and those that had a number of concerns about inflexibility in the tests. Torsella says the current version of the regulation would have the tests count for a third of the requirement for gradation, give districts the ability to create their own tests so long as they are approved by the department of education, and allow students a number of opportunities to retake the tests, as well as provisions for those that have difficulty with testing, ESL students and those with disabilities. Torsella says the tests would not be another layer of exams for students because eventually they will replace the 11th grade PSSA exam, and will in fact take up 3 fewer days of testing than the current tests require. Toresella says yesterday's action will come to full fruition for the class of 2014/15. But parents will see the impact right away. The voluntary model curriculum will be rolled out immediately along with new diagnostics. Next year the first of the exams will be in use, though not obligated for graduation.

He says right now the state graduates 50,000 students a year that are not proficient in math and reading at grade level. When these tests go into effect, he says students, colleges and employers can be confident that they are ready for the next step.

PAT Board Modifies Fares, Route Changes

Port Authority of Allegheny County bus fares will rise next January, but not as much as previously expected.

The PAT board of directors approved new fare increases that would begin January 1. Notably, the Zone 2 cash fare will increase 15 cents to $2.75 while the Zone 1 fare will remain at $2.00. The original proposal was to boost the Zone 2 fare from $2.60 to $3.00. Transfers will go up a quarter to 75 cents and the cost of monthly and annual passes will increase.

Also, several bus routes on the chopping block were spared.

CEO Steve Bland says the changes were in response to public feedback that decried the fare hike and cuts to “lifeline routes” for certain neighborhoods. Bland conceded that while those routes might not be heavily used they are very important to those neighborhoods.

Even so. the overall number of routes will decrease from 186 to 122. But Bland says that doesn’t denote a cut in service, because heavily trafficked corridors will see an increase in the number of bus trips, including a new “Rapid Bus” option to provide express travel through busy areas. The service overhaul will begin in March and take 2 years to implement.

Supreme Court Candidates Debate

The two candidates for Pennsylvania’s top court met for a debate in Philadelphia yesterday where the both tied to focus on broad issues.
Supreme Court candidates Joan Orie Melvin and Jack Panella both boast long, impressive resumes, and have shied away from stating their specific opinions on matters that may appear before the bench. Melvin, the Republican candidate, provided her definition of a term that gets used quite a bit during discussions about judicial politics. “Judicial activism is where a judge substitutes their own personal opinion and own personal agenda, instead of following the Legislature, who enacts the laws based upon the will of the people. So a judicial activist is when you have, essentially a handful of black robes who impose their own personal agenda.” Said Melvin. Panella, the Democrat, says he doesn’t think judges should insert their own beliefs and agendas into rulings, either. Both took issue with the fact they have to campaign for the Supreme Court. Panella says ideally, a nonpartisan panel would select judges, though he says granting that right to legislators and the Governor would weaken the judiciary as an independent branch. Despite attention given to the Supreme Court’s role in legislative redistricting, Panella says he or Melvin would play “a very limited role” in determining the issue, noting it would first go to a legislative panel. He says, “Then it’s up to the Supreme Court to place a Supreme Court Justice in. What would be the chances that it would be one of the two of us, being low justice on the totem poll? It would be a decision made by the Chief Justice and the other justices.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Early Education Study Findings

A three-year study of 10,000 Pennsylvania students at risk for future poor academic performance has found that there is a correlation between those who enroll in high-quality preschool programs with marked improvement than children who don’t. The study was funded through a $1 million Heinz Endowment grant. There were 21 school districts included in the study, including Pittsburgh Public Schools. These at-risk children were placed into a Pre-K Counts program.

“[Now there are] more students graduating high school and going onto higher education, more students avoiding special ed and reaching their full potential, and fewer adults going the revolving door of jails and prisons,” says Heinz Endowment Chairman Teresa Heinz. “This is every penny well spent.”

The study’s most significant finding was that all at-risk children in Pre-K programs showed significant gains and early learning skills in a range of basic subject areas, including reading, math and behavior.

Pittsburgh Mayoral Candidate Calls For Ravenstahl to Come Clean

While independent Pittsburgh Mayoral Candidate Kevin Acklin says he cannot prove that any money changed hands nor can he prove that any contracts were improperly awarded to developer John Verbanac, he still contends the relationship between the Mayor and Verbanac is improper. Acklin made the accusations during a mayoral debate last week and then reiterated the claims Wednesday at a second debate. Thursday afternoon he once again called on the mayor to “come clean” about his relationship with Verbanac. Acklin says between the two debates he received copies of emails that show Verbanac was writing speeches and directing campaign policies for Luke Ravenstahl and later communicating with top administration officials about Urban Redevelopment staffers and decisions. More documents have reportedly been sent to Acklin this morning. Acklin says the two most disturbing incidents involve the mayor’s efforts in the awarding of the casino licenses and the decision by the URA to not award a $6 million grant to develop the old LTV mill sight. Acklin says Luke Ravenstahl seemed to pull his support for the Isle of Capri application and begin supporting the Forest City bid to build a casino at Station Square. The documents show the mayor asking the Penguins to support a plan “B” in which the team would receive payments for a new stadium from another casino license holder. The Isle of Capri application included fully financing the penguins new home. At the time the move prompted some to say “the fix was in” for Forest City’s application and the city is trying to insure the new arena will be funded. The licenses was eventually awarded to dark horse applicant, Don Barden.
Acklin says Verbanac also seemed to kill a URA deal to give Millcraft Industries, a competitor of Verbanac, a $6 million grant to develop the old LTV steel mill sight. The email from Verbanac to Ravenstahl Chief of Staff Yarone Zober says the decision to move the money without speaking with Verbanac was “hurtful” and “cuts my legs from underneath me.” That grant was never awarded.
Acklin says he wants Ravenstahl to come clean with a “full disclosure” of the relationship he has with John Verbanac. Acklin says, “It does not smell right at the very least” He says just because the mayor was not fully successful in helping Verbanac does not mean there was no corruption. Acklin says, “This has very little to do with the election, this is about justice.”
During the debate Mayor Ravenstahl said his contact with Verbanac was not improper. The campaign has not responded to the most recent comments from Acklin.

City Begins Bike Route Plan

The city of Pittsburgh is looking to hire a consultant to build a “Comprehensive Network of Bicycle routes.” The goal is to have the plan completed by 2010. Stephen Patchen is the Bicycle, Pedestrian Coordinator for the city of Pittsburgh. He says the bike routes the city has now are not adequate. He says most of them were created 10 years ago and the city’s traffic patterns have changed greatly since then. Patchen says more people are riding bikes for recreation and as an alternative to automobiles. He says the consultant will be charged with drawing up the network and planning for signage to help cyclists move from one part of town to the other. Patchen says the public will be asked for input through various public engagement efforts. At this point there is no funding in place to implement any plan and Patchen says identifying funding sources will be part of the consultant’s job. He says the city hopes to be able to have the plan implemented some time in 2011. The designer of the plan will be asked to draw up a system that will not only deal with the number of bikers on the road today but also prepare the city for a future jump in biking. Patchen says the city wants to solidify its position as a bike friendly city and encourage more people to use their bikes every day.

Program Urges Young Kids to Get "Caught Being Good"

The United way, the Pittsburgh Youth Futures Commission, schools, businesses and police departments partnered today to launch the "Caught Being Good" program to promote academic achievement especially in disadvantaged communities. The pilot programs started today in Pittsburgh's Homewood and Hill District neighborhoods and will begin in Northview Heights October 30th and Braddock November 11.
Project Director Laurie Moser says leading up to this program that talked with kids over the course of the past year and the students told them they wanted "a few kind words and encouragement" and "were sick of the put-downs."
Moser says the program targets Pre-K to 5th graders and the students will sign a pledge to "get caught being good." The program will recognize their efforts such as perfect attendance, punctuality, homework completion and academic improvement. They will receive points that can be redeemed for event tickets, video rentals and other prizes.
Moser says they want to counteract the "anti-achievement culture that pervades disadvantaged communities" so that the distractions of the middle school years such as drugs and gangs are less attractive.
Moser says they will be going door to door to engage parents, neighbors and businesses so that when they see a child wearing a Caught Being Good button, they spend a few minutes with them and encourage them.

Chemfest Comes To Sci Center

The Pittsburgh chapter of the National Chemical Society will mark the 22nd annual National Chemistry Week with a “Chemfest” at the Carnegie Science Center. 29 local companies, colleges and professional societies will set up tales in the first two floors of the science center Friday and Saturday. Pittsburgh NCS coordinator Mike Mautino says many of the tables will offer hands-on activities aimed at teaching chemistry in fun ways. He says the ultimate goal is to encourage more kids to get interested in science and ultimately pursue science related degrees. Mautino says in recent years the number of US students getting those types of degrees has been falling. He says the target audience is middle school students because that is where kids start to set career goals. This year’s event is themed “Chemistry – It’s Elemental” and Mautino says most of the activities will focus on the elements and how they interact. Among the hands on activities will be the classic chemical volcano and slime experiments and less cliché Shrinky-Dinks and bouncy ball demonstrations. Mautino says most of the tables will be set up on the science centers main floor, which is open to the public without charge. Several “underserved” schools in the area were given grants to bring a total of about 1,900 students to the science center Friday to celebrate Chemfest.

PNC Reports $4 Billion Revenue in Q3

Pittsburgh Based PNC Financial Services Group reported net income of $559 million in the third quarter of this year, which amounts to $1.00 per diluted common share. That compares to 70 cents in the same period last year. The number smashed analysts’ expectations. For the first nine months of 2009, the company earned net income of $1.30 billion, or $2.17 per diluted common share. The fifth largest bank by deposits reports continued good results from the acquisition of National City and CEO Jim Rohr says he expects to see further growth I those new markets. The required divestiture of 61 branches including $4.1 billion of deposits and $.8 billion of loans was completed September 4, 2009. PNC Stock rose at the opening bell. PNC will rebrand its mortgage loan division later this year and Rohr says the company hopes to see gains in the residential mortgage business. The company had to set aside nearly a billion dollars in the quarter to cover bad loans. PNC has posted profits in all but one quarter since the economic slowdown and Rohr is quick to point out that loss was due primarily to the acquisition of National City.

Also this morning Indiana PA based First Commonwealth reported a third quarter net loss of $3.0 million, or $.04 per diluted share compared to net income of $10.2 million, or $0.14 per diluted share in the third quarter of 2008. The decrease comes as a result of a $17.5 million increase in the provision for credit losses.

Monroeville based Parkvale Financial Corporation also reported it third Quarter numbers today. The company says it generated net income for the $855,000 or $0.08 per diluted common share. That is well below the $1.1 million or $0.20 per diluted share for the quarter ended September 30, 2008. The $250,000 decrease in net income reflects a decrease in net interest income by $1.6 million, an increase in the provision for loan losses by $1.3 million and higher FDIC insurance premiums of $507,000.
Those were partially offset by lower net writedowns on investment securities by $2.3 million and related tax benefits of $1.0 million.

State to Print More Pink Slips

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell says more state worker layoffs are likely, but the details probably won’t be announced for another month. Rendell says he’ll spend the coming weeks going over state agencies’ budgets with members of his cabinet. He says that means layoff decisions won’t be made for about another month, which will lead to poorly timed announcements. He says, “The unfortunate part is, by the time some of these layoff notices go out, some people will get hit during the holidays. And that’s something I deeply regret. But the better part of that news is, at least they got to work, probably, a few more months than they would have.” The final state budget trimmed about a half billion dollars from last year’s spending plan. Some agencies, like the Department of Environmental Protection, experienced cuts of more than twenty percent. Rendell also provided an update on table games negotiations. He says legislative leaders are coming to a consensus on the proper tax rate, and are working out the details of gaming reform initiatives. He’s hopeful a deal can be reached by the end of the week.

Auditor Questions Governor's Contracts

Auditor General Jack Wagner says the Rendell Administration mishandled a series of no-bid contracts it awarded to a technology consulting firm from 2004 to 2007. Wagner says the main problem is the fact that Deloitte Consulting was the only bidder on more than half of the 59 contracts it was awarded during the four-year span. He says on top of that, the state’s bill for its services swelled well beyond the initial contract totals, “You have 382 million in initial contracts, and that number ends up being 592 million, or increases by 55 percent. There’s something wrong in the process.” Wagner also says his department’s audit discovered Deloitte was the beneficiary of job creation tax breaks for three consecutive years, even though Pennsylvania law bars companies from receiving the tax credits more than one year in a row. Governor Rendell says there’s nothing wrong with no-bid contracts in certain circumstances. He says Deloitte was doing a good job, so his administration rewarded the company by handing it more state work. The company’s political action committee and various employees donated 19,000 to the governor during his two statewide campaigns. A Deloitte statement says the company adhered to the law, and is proud of the work it’s carried out for the commonwealth.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Council Holds Tougher Open Container Law

Pittsburgh City Council has decided to sit on a bill that would have stiffened fines for open container law violations. Last year, council upped the fine for a first offense from $50 to “A fine not exceeding $200” but Councilman Bruce Kraus says that was apparently not enough. He says police officers approached him asking for more teeth to be put in the legislation. They told him that they were arresting offenders and magistrates were handing out small fines or no fine at all. The officers said the offenders were “right back at it the next week.” Council was to debate and take a preliminary vote on the bill today but just as the meeting was starting council members were handed a letter from Magisterial District Judge Richard King and signed by several other magistrates asking that they not lose their ability to set a fine based on the offender’s circumstances. The letter also opined that such an ordinance would illegally tie the hands of the judges. Kraus responds that King is turning the offender into a victim. He says, “if you can’t afford the fine, don’t do it.” Krauss says this is not just an issue on the south side, which is part of his district. He says when the fine was increased last year an officer reported that 75 open container law violations are written each year in Oakland and the officers that first approached him about needing a tougher law were from the north side. Council will take up the bill again in two weeks while the city solicitors reviews the verbiage.

Gas Caucus Holds First Meeting

The congressional Natural Gas Caucus gathered Wednesday in Washington DC for the first time and took testimony from gas companies, exploration firms, government officials and researchers on the future of natural gas use in the United States. US Congressman Tim Murphy (Republican) of Upper St. Clair created the caucus this month and co-chairs it with Congressman Dan Boren (Democrat) of Oklahoma. Murphy says he felt that natural gas was not getting the attention it deserved in the ongoing energy debate so he decided to join the natural gas caucus only to learn it did not exist. During the first meeting of the caucus Murphy says he learned that previous estimates of natural gas reserves in the nation were low and now many experts believe there are some 2,500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas under US soil. Murphy admits natural gas is not the final solution to the nation’s energy needs but he says it will help provide a bridge to that solution. During the meeting, the 45 members of the committee were told that transportation might be one of the first places to begin using natural gas. Murphy says most homes, gas stations and convenience stores already have access to natural gas and all that would be needed to fuel cars and trucks would be a compressor. He says it would also take about $1,000 to convert existing cars to run on natural gas but he thinks there could be tax incentives created to spark those conversions. At the hearing shale gas was hailed as a great source of natural gas but there is still debate over taxing and environmental concerns. Murphy warns too much taxing of shale gas extraction will send gas companies overseas, which will only make the United States more dependent on foreign energy supplies. Murphy says having the proper environment controls will also be an important part of the shale gas debate.

Water Pollution Documented

Penn Environment released a report today based on federal data about toxic chemical discharges into the nation’s waterways during 2007—the most recent figures available.

Pennsylvania ranks sixth, with more than 10 million pounds going into rivers and streams. US Steel’s Clairton Works was the largest polluter with 2-1/2 million pounds into Peters Creek and the Monongahela River, according to spokesperson Erika Staaf. Hazardous substances like lead, mercury and dioxins pollute drinking water and are linked to cancer, as well as to developmental and reproductive disorders.

Staaf says industries both large and small have often found safer alternatives to toxic chemicals, and she calls on US Steel to do the same.

Besides more rigorous enforcement of existing laws, Staaf urges support for the Clean Water Restoration Act, pending in Congress, which would make it clear that streams and wetlands that feed the rivers are also protected by clean water laws. Congressman Mike Doyle sponsored the 2007 bill in the House, and Senator Arlen Specter voted for it this year in the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee.

The Ohio River is ranked first in the nation for toxic discharges, with over 31 million pounds through six states.

New Interactive Website offers PA Trails Information

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has launched an interactive, “Powered by you” website on Pennsylvania trails. The site allows people to find and share any information on any kind of trail in Pennsylvania.
Press Secretary Christina Novak says the site offers information about all trails: hiking, biking, canoeing, state parks and state forests, rail-trails, cross country skiing, equestrian, snowmobile and ATV trails, and many more.
She says so far there are almost 6,000 miles of trails on the site, which is only a fraction of the total miles available to Pennsylvania trail users. She says the site is “powered by you” because the department is hoping that people will fill in information of other trails in Pennsylvania.
Novak says the site shows a map and gives directions to a trail and allows people to post photographs and stories about a time they spent on a trail. She says it’s a great tool for anyone, whether they be avid trail users or first-timers.
The department is coordinating the site with trail and recreational organizations such as the Keystone Trails Association and the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Association.

Ferlo Continues Push for Single-Payer

Two state lawmakers say if Congress won't consider a federal single-payer health insurance system, they'll push for one in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have derided a single-payer health care system as too extreme, but two measures in Harrisburg would create universal coverage in the commonwealth. Pennsylvania Senator Jim Ferlo of Pittsburgh was one of several speakers yesterday’s health care rally in the Capitol rotunda in Harrisburg. He says his bill, which faces an uphill climb in the Senate, would fill a need the federal government refuses to address. He says, “We need to have the healthcare system reorganized in Pennsylvania, and our bill would set up a single-payer financing system that would provide comprehensive universal health care, cradle-to-grave coverage, and it would be financed with reasonable progressive taxation on the part of the employer, as well as the individual.” That tax system would include a three-percent levy on individuals and a 10% payroll tax on Pennsylvania companies. Philadelphia Democrat Kathy Manderino sponsored the House version of the bill, and says she'll push for a study comparing the cost of a single-payer system to the current health insurance structure.

Activists Wants Bonusgate Action

A good government activist says now that 1,000 days have passed since allegations of taxpayer-funded bonuses for campaign work first surfaced, Attorney General Tom Corbett needs to announce a second round of indictments, or risk losing credibility. The long-running investigation of state lawmakers has yielded 12 indictments so far. Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican who's running for governor, has said the next round of charges will be "stunning," and will make critics of his investigation "eat their words." Speaking in the Capitol rotunda, activist Gene Stilp said Corbett needs to make good on his promise, “Where are the new indictments? The trials won't start until January, amazingly. He has to indict this week to prove to the people of Pennsylvania that he's worth his salt.” Stilp also called on Corbett to step down as Attorney General while he runs for governor, in order to avoid the appearance of political calculations factoring into the investigation. Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley refutes both arguments, saying the next round of indictments won't be rushed due to an artificial timeline. He says charges will only be brought if and when a grand jury issues recommendations to the Attorney General.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Homelessness Prevention Program Launched

A homelessness prevention program has been launched in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to provide assistance to those who have lost their homes or who are at risk. The temporary program is funded with federal stimulus dollars. Allegheny County Spokesman Kevin Evanto says it will provide an array of services to those in need.

“We will be able to offer financial counseling, relocation services, rental assistance, help paying utilities bills and so forth,” he says.

To qualify, residents need to be deemed homeless or at risk to become homeless. Also, Evanto says families would have to be below 50 percent of the area median income, which is $31,250 in this area for a family of four. A toll-free hot line number has also been established for those who need help. The number is 1-877-350-HPRP, and calling hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m..

Lawmakers Seek Hearing into Meadows Casino Theft

State Representatives Dom Costa and Robert Matzie, members of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, have asked the the chairman, Dante Santoni to hold a hearing to explore cheating at Pennsylvania's casinos. This comes after three men were arrested October 6th in connection with a theft at the Meadows Racetrack and Casino. State police charged 3 men, including a former Swissvale police officer, with manipulating a poker machine to have an error in its programming and displaying a "false jackpot" to collect $430 thousand in fraudulent payouts over the course of several visits to the casino.
Representative Costa, the former Pittsburgh Police Chief, says he was very surprised about the reports of theft, especially the amount, because when he toured the casino, he was assured "that these types of things basically are unable to happen."
Costa says he wants to hear from the Gaming Control Board if this was an isolated incident, how it occurred and what steps have been taken to prevent it from recurring.
Costa says he doesn't believe the board or investigators did anything wrong, but he wants to make sure this is an isolated incident.
Costa says Chairman Santoni has agreed to hold hearings but has yet to schedule a date.

"PIRC" Gets Funding

The much-awaited Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime has been funded by the city council. Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess has been working on brining the national model program to Pittsburgh for nearly two years. The thrust of the program is to identify the most problematic criminal offenders in the city and their affiliations and then promise to go after not only the individual but also every member of the group if a crime is committed. The council today passed a bill to spend $200,000 on the program over then next 2 years. Much of the money will go to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the man who came up with the idea behind the program, Professor David Kennedy, of the City University of New York. Burgess says much of the research and set up work has already been done. The next step will be to gather the identified individuals and others in one or two “call in” meetings to let them know the city has launched a new program. Burgess says people need to know, “There is a new day in Pittsburgh and no violence will be tolerated.” Burgess says it is not hard to get the troublemakers into the meeting because most have some sort of criminal past and are on parole or are awaiting trial for some other crime. The goal is to hold the first meeting by the end of the year. For now, only murders will be tracked. When there is a murder in the city another “call in” meeting will be held and the message sent again. He says people in those meetings can commit to walking away from a life of crime and they will be placed at the front of any needed social support programs. More than a year ago County Executive Dan Onorato pledged to take the concept countywide. To make the program effective there needs to be cooperation among several entities including the police and the district attorney. Burgess says the model has worked in every city it has been implemented. In can be expanded to cover the drug trade and domestic violence once the homicide rate is reduced.

"NIMBY" Doesn't Apply

"Not in My Backyard" or "NIMBY" is what social service agencies often hear when trying to place a facility in a residential neighborhood. DUQ's Bob Studebaker has the story of a neighborhood that actually invited an organization to move in. Sojourner House's MOM's Program (Motivation Opportunities Mentoring and Spirituality) helps single mothers in the early stages of recovery from substance abuse or mental illness strengthen their families through stable housing and other services. Sojourner House was actually invited to locate their MOM's program in the community by the Negley Place Neighborhood Association.

Listen to the report.

Peduto Wants New City Email Rules

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto has introduced a bill that would limit how supervisors gain access to emails sent by city employees. Currently, city workers are given a warning every time they log on to check their mail that their emails may be read by a third party. However, it does not say who can read the email and under what circumstances. Peduto’s legislation would put a governing policy in place that would force a supervisor to make a request through the city solicitor’s office before reading a subordinate’s email. The councilman says he wanted to make sure email searchers were not being done for political reasons. Peduto fears managers could go on, “Fishing trips… to find a reason to then create problems for their employee.” After an investigation is complete the employee would have to be notified that their email was read. Peduto says this should not give city employees a sense that the computers are their personal property but it does give them some protections.
All emails sent by city employees and elected officials using government property are subject to right to know requests unless they fall under a long list of stipulations intended to protect personnel matters, contract negotiations and investigations. A search of an elected officials email must be first approved by the chair of the ethic hearing board and then the solicitor. If the request involves the solicitor it then goes to the mayor or approval.

Levdansky: DEP Needs More Cash

A leading environmental advocate in the Pennsylvania House says he’s disappointed by cuts in the Department of Environmental Protection’s state funding. The final Pennsylvania budget dropped state funding for the DEP from $217 million to $159 million. Federal funding was significantly increased, but Democratic Representative David Levdansky of Clairton says he’s bothered by the shift. He notes it comes at a time when the department will need to certify and oversee more and more natural gas drilling sites. He’s also disappointed the spending plan didn’t include a severance tax, saying 2009 was the best year to impose a levy on Marcellus Shale drilling. “I’m just being realistic about it.” Says Levdansky. “We’ve got our job cut out for us. Those of us that are concerned about the environment, we’ve got some battles that we’ve got to fight over the course of the year. The fact that the public tends to be a little more focused and attentive to the Marcellus issue is a benefit, but we’ve still got a heavy lift to protect the environment.” Levdansky says he’s concerned Governor Rendell won’t have the clout to push for a drilling tax next year. He says it needs to be done by then before a new governor takes office. A governor Levdansky fears will be against the levy. Levdansky says he’ll keep pushing for the tax, but he’ll focus efforts on making sure state forests are minimally impacted when leasing picks up over the coming months.

Some Movement Seen in Table Game Debate

Lawmakers in Harrisburg have agreed to legalize table games in Pennsylvania’s casinos, but they still haven’t figured out the details of a tax structure. Governor Rendell sat down with legislative leaders in his office and issued a warning: make sure the final legislation’s tax rate on casinos’ profits from table games isn’t too low--but also make sure it’s not too high. He says he’ll veto a bill that sets a rate below 16 percent, but he’s also worried a high levy would deter casinos from applying for license fees. House Speaker Keith McCall says negotiations will continue through the week. He says, “I think the one thing that we agree on is the $15 million fee. The House still has legislation sitting that has the tax rate at 34%. They sent us a bill that has the rate at 12 percent.” Other factors are whether the General Assembly will address table games and gaming reform in two separate bills or one piece of legislation; and whether or not to raise the 500 slot machine cap that’s currently imposed on Category 3 resort casinos. The House doesn’t reconvene until November 9th, but McCall says he’ll bring members back for a vote if a compromise is reached earlier than that.

County Councilman Introduces Assessment Bill

Allegheny County Councilman Chuck McCullough says he will introduce legislation at Tuesday’s council meeting that includes both a long and a short-term solution to the county’s property value reassessment battle. The measure would force the county to launch a neighborhood-by-neighborhood adjustment of the current property values for use in 2010 while at the same time launching a full reassessment of every property in the county. Those new assessed values would be released in 2011 for homeowner review and appeal. They would be put into effect in 2012. The bill also allows the county solicitor to go after any taxing body that violates the state anti-windfall laws and it allows for a three-year phase-in of any taxes that are increased due to reassessment. McCullough calls tat his “anti sticker shock” provision. The introduction will come just 30 hours after an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge heard arguments in a case that will eventually set a timeline for a county-wide reassessment. A State Supreme Court ruling struck down the county’s base-year assessment system this summer and then sent the issue back to the lower court. McCullough says while he knows judge Stanton Wettick will have final say in the matter he hopes the judge will take his proposal into consideration before issuing a ruling. During closing arguments Wettick wondered why he had not seen such a proposal from the County Executive. McCullough is the Republican At-Large member of the heavily Democratic controlled council. He says it is unclear how much support he has but he says he has been in contact with the Executive’s office while drafting the legislation.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Congressman Doyle Meets With UPMC

United States Congressman Mike Doyle met with representatives of UPMC on Monday to discuss the planned closing of their Braddock hospital. Doyle wanted to try and convince UPMC to keep the hospital open but was unsuccessful. He was able to ensure that UPMC would offer its employees the opportunity to receive and apply for jobs at other UPMC hospitals. Doyle met with UPMC along side Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, State Senator Logan and Braddock Mayor Fetterman. Doyle believed that because the UPMC system as a whole makes money than it shouldn't close down the hospital because it loses money.

Kraus Releases Report On South Side

City Councilman Bruce Kraus has released a study completed by a 19 year old summer intern from his office. The report analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the South Side neighborhood and where bridges can be built to strengthen the ties between the day and night time businesses. The report recommends that Friday and Saturday nights be treated as special events much like Steeler home games are treated on the north shore with traffic changes, on duty magistrates and police tasked with specific enforcement goals. The report also recommends forming a responsible hospitality initiative which would bring together, local businesses, community groups, universities and residents to work cooperatively to craft community wide goals. One aspect of the plan would be targeted enforcement. The plan recommends collecting data from DUI arrests that include where someone had their last drink so that information can be collected and if a pattern is seen problem bars can be closed.

Court Fight Over Assessment Timeline Begins

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge R. Stanton Wettick heard from both sides today in the ongoing fight over a property reassessment in Allegheny County. This summer the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Allegheny County’s base year property assessment system to be unconstitutional and sent the case back to the lower court to set a timeline for a new assessment. The plaintiffs (property owners and school districts) offered testimony that assessment numbers created in 2005 but never used could be compared to recent sales data to create new values. They say that would cost about $100,000 and take two months. The goal is to have the new numbers in place by January 15th. Plaintiff lawyer Ira Weiss says homeowners need a solution now because the ratio of real values to assessed values is too far out of line. The assessment industry standard is to keep all values within 20% of the assessed value but the number exceeds 30% in Allegheny County and some complained that it is even worse in high and low end neighborhoods. Weiss says by using a system known as “trending” those values can be brought closer to the 20% mark.
Trending involves comparing recent sales data to the most recent assessment and then applying a multiplier to all properties to arrive at new home values for taxing purposes. The “trending” can be done on any level from county wide, to individual taxing districts and on down to the neighborhood. There are about 2,000 neighborhoods set up by the county’s assessment office. Weiss says the reevaluation made using the “trending” method should be followed on closely by a full reassessment where every property is individually assessed and given a new value.
Allegheny County Solicitor Michael Wojcik says trending will not work. He says everyone agrees that the current numbers are bad but he thinks adding multipliers to them for the next few years would do more harm than would be done by leaving them alone while a full assessment is completed. A full assessment is expected to take 2-3 years and cost million of dollars. During the county’s closing arguments, Judge Wettick wondered aloud why he had not yet received a proposed timeline to complete a reassessment. Wojcik says he feels that time line should be set by the judge. He says when that happens; the county would do whatever it takes to live up to that ruling. The plaintiffs say the county is just dragging its feet. In the past Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato has said that he had hopes the state legislature adopts a statewide assessment procedure before the county has to act on its own. Onorato is running for governor and has based much of his tenure as county executive on his fight against a countywide reassessment.

Specter Chairs Green Economy Hearing

Democratic Senator Arlen Specter today chaired a Senate hearing in Pittsburgh regarding clean energy and proposed legislation that would move America towards having a green economy. Specter heard from representatives from the fields of green building, energy and government. Three separate panels testified before the Senator. The first panel was in regards to job creation as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and predictions of job creation that would result from the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The second panel consisted of representatives of Labor and Energy companies and discussed how the American Clean Energy and Security Act would affect their fields. The third panel consisted of representatives from green building companies and green energy who discussed how the American Clean Energy and Security Act would position America at the front of a global green energy economy.

A major theme from all three panels was that of balance. The panels called for a balanced approach to transitioning to a green economy and the institution of green technologies. For example, according to Michael Peck of Gamesa USA the wind power industry would have trouble in an economy where carbon has a price because half of the materials used in a wind turbine are made in other parts of the world and shipped to where they are needed. Peck said that in order for a wind power company to survive in the proposed green economy new companies would need to start developing the materials needed for wind turbines locally.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act has passed the House of Representatives and is now in the United States Senate.

Marcellus Shale Conference and Expo

Today's Marcellus Shale Conference and Expo attracted about 1500 people when only two or three-hundred were expected, so it moved to larger quarters at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

EQT Chairman and CEO Murray Gerber says the Marcellus Shale is a resource that could replicate Pennsylvania’s economic boom times, with the possibility of 500,000 jobs—half of them in Western Pennsylvania.

PA could, however, chase investors and drillers away with bad policy, so Gerber calls for a comprehensive solution to combine a severance tax with all the other development questions.

Environmental issues have been solved with technology in other places, says Gerber. The state should accept that and hold people accountable for their actions. Gerber says a hillside full of natural gas wells still looks like a beautiful hillside.

Gerber says the Marcellus Shale provides an opportunity the state should not miss.
Speakers’ topics range from actual drilling to ancillary services, SEC regulations, and Wall Street attitudes.

Pittsburgh Groups Ask for Week Without Violence

The Young Women’s Christian Association is asking the Pittsburgh community for its support in the 14th annual Week Without Violence. Local schools and nonprofits will hold events all week to discuss violence within various groups of people.

YWCA Vice President of Development and Communications Carmelle Nickens Phillips says the Community College of Allegheny County is hosting a particularly interesting discussion.

“They’re doing a focus group on the history of hate crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the region. This presentation is … free and open to the public. It’s from 5:30 to 7:30 [Monday] at the Tom Forrester Student Center on campus,” says Phillips.

A number of other schools and nonprofits will also hold events, like Carlow University and Robert Morris University, as well as the Mayor’s Youth Council.

The week started Sunday with a moment of silence for victims of violence and will continue until Friday, when the YWCA’s Teen Leadership Institute will host a film presentation and panel discussion on “Violence and Girls.” A full list of events can be found by calling 412 255-1258 or at the YWCA website.

Budget Fall Out Continues

While many reacted to last week’s signed budget with relief, the final spending plan delivered sad but not unexpected news to several groups who fought to restore cut or reduced funding this year. When executives at Bethlehem’s Public Television station, WLVT, heard Governor Rendell wanted to eliminate a $9 million line item for public television stations, they planned for the worst. The station suffered two rounds of layoffs, and decided to cancel a flagship weekly program unless enough funding was restored in the final spending plan. In the end, public television got 1 million dollars. The means WLVT will get about $100 thousand and Spokesperson Erin Firestone says the show was cancelled, “I think that it was just a reality check that all nonprofits, going forward, are going to have to be much more realistic looking at state and federal funding not always being there.” State agencies are now enacting contingency plans, as well and more layoffs at the state level are expected. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources put together a list of all the state parks, evaluating visitor traffic, cost per visitor, and other factors. Now that park funding has been cut by more than 9 million dollars, officials will decide which, if any, they’ll have to close.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Specter Learns About the Economy

Senator Arlen Specter heard some welcome news when he chaired a hearing on the economy in Harrisburg Friday. The democratic Senator from Pennsylvania gathered six economic experts to talk about the economy, the impact of the federal stimulus package, and what sort of government intervention might be needed in the coming months. Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody’s, started off his testimony with some good news. He says, “The recession—the Great Recession—is over. At least in a technical sense. GDP, the value of the things that we produce, is now growing. And we’ll have a better sense of that.” Specter asked if Zandi thought the recession was over and he responded in the affirmative. Specter reacted by saying, “We’ll I’m glad to hear that pronouncement with that authority.” Zandi went on to say the recovery will “be a slog,” noting unemployment will likely keep going up, until 2010 at the earliest. Zandi also thinks housing prices will continue to fall in the near future, even though the market has started to stabilize. Specter insists the stimulus played a role in that, and kept the country out of a depression.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Shuman Center Reinstatements

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato says he still thinks terminating eight Shuman Center employees was the appropriate action, even though an arbitrator has reinstated them. He says changes have been made at the center and improvements will continue. The county will not appeal the arbitrator's decision.