Monday, August 31, 2009
City Controller Michael Lamb spoke briefly at the hearing and said that with the increased competition among cable companies the city would see an increase in revenues from the cable companies and possibly a drop in prices as a result of the increased competition. City Council still has to vote on the agreement with Verizon before it is official. Part of the agreement would require that Verizon provide service to the entire city within 6 years and as they build up to providing complete service not discriminate in where they make service available. That means that both more affluent and economically depressed neighborhoods in the city will have equal opportunities to purchase service from Verizon.
United Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville in Somerset County September 1, 2001 as passengers wrestled with terrorists for control of the plane. It's believed the terrorists planned to crash the plane into the White House or U.S. Capitol.
Secretary Salazar says they reached agreement on purchase prices with 7 of the 8 landowners. He wouldn't say the department used eminent domain to acquire the 275 acres owned by Zvonavec Inc. including the spot of impact of the jet. Salazar said the department and Zvonavec agreed to allow the courts to determine the fair market value. If the department used eminent domain, the landowner would have been forced to accept the court's determination. The total land acquisition costs are expected to be $9.5 million.
Salazar says these agreements are a critical step forward..."The fields of Western Pennsylvania are hallowed ground for a nation that is eternally grateful for the passengers of Flight 93. They are heroes and today is a milestone in commemorating their contribution to our country. I could not be more proud that the Flight 93 Memorial will soon stand in their honor."
Ground is to be broken this fall and construction begin in November on the $58 million, 2,200 acre Memorial and National Park. Salazar says it is on schedule to be completed by the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Joanne Spence, Executive Director of Yoga in Schools, says yoga will benefit students in both mind and body as they learn self-care and self-awareness while building physical and mental strength. She says they could use these exercises for the rest of their lives to relieve stress and remain physically active.
Stence says this will be a permanent program and hopes to extend it to any other schools that are interested.
The last time this happened, the session devolved into bickering, and no real progress was made.
Political scientist Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College says he doesn’t expect much more this time, mostly due to the meeting’s public nature.
"The problem with doing it in public is that the sausage making part of it could turn out to be ugly. I’ll give you A, you give me B. you want this aspect of a policy in health care, you give me this aspect of a policy in education."
Madonna says that type of blunt negotiating is better suited for private sessions. The gap is closing—Democrats and Republicans were two billion dollars apart when the impasse began.
Their current “spend numbers” are separated by just 400-million dollars now.
Thousands of people will be in the region. Historically, Allegheny General Hospital has been the designated White House Hospital, where the president would be treated if he got sick.
There are two other trauma hospitals in the Pittsburgh region. They are UMPC Mercy and Presbyterian.
Hospitals outside the region, such as St. Clair Hospital, are also getting ready.
We visit all of the hospitals.
Listen to a longer version of this story here.
Visitors can still access the city-side lawn, the Portal Bridge, the Great Lawn, the North and South Shore walkways, and both the Fort Pitt Blockhouse and Museum.
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spokeswoman Christina Novak says the iconic fountain will be closed for improvements and maintenance. Although the jet will be shut off for a year or more, it will make appearances during special city events, like the G20 summit and the Steelers’ season kickoff. Alcoa, Riverlife, and DCNR will fund this temporary fix.
When completed, improvements will include historical interpretations throughout the park, more shrubbery in the woodland area, and new pedestrian walkways and promenades. The $30 million renovation began in 2006 and is funded by a combination of state and private investments.
The House was to have voted on the legislation today, but instead the Rules Committee delayed a vote until after Labor Day.
Pittsburgh Council President Doug Shields says that gives the city's Municipal Pension Board some time to develop cogent proposals "to modify and mitigate the impact of what's going to occur....that is get Pittsburgh's Pension system in line and healthy."
Shields says the amendment would be designed to give the city time to come up with the capital for the pension fund through leasing city parking garages or another revenue source. He says that the proposal will not seek to disturb the "overall proportions of the bill" because there are provisions that are very good...."helpful for Pittsburgh and the Commonwealth as a whole."
Mayor Ravenstahl, Shields and other officials met with union leaders and city workers Thursday evening to assure them that their pensions are secure but the reform legislation will lead to less attractive pensions for future city employees.
President Ying Yang says that as many as 2000 Chinese students from states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will eagerly await President Hu and other officials from their homeland at the airport and their hotel. She says housing all of these visitors is going to be quite a job – students from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon will be able to accommodate a few, but the larger problem remains unsolved.
Once that’s settled, though, Ying says she hopes to give her guests a little something to do. She wants to host a series of lectures relating to the G20 and trade issues, with some high ranking Chinese officials as the keynote speakers. Ying says most of all, though, the students just want to get a glimpse of their president while he’s in town.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Attorney Meghan Jones-Rolla, who represented the N.R.A. in its suit challenging the city's ordinance to require the reporting of lost or stolen guns, called the proposed G20 ordinance a back door attempt at an assault weapons ban. Council President Doug Shields has suggested an expiration date on the ordinance, but the Ravenstahl Administration has not included a sunset provision.
A spokesman hinted that if the ban is passed and kept in place, the N-R-A could move its 2011 national convention out of Pittsburgh.
The $6 million dollar facility has a children's section that takes up nearly half of the building. spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes says they've been working the last 3 years with North Side Community members to plan and design a new library building after a lightning strike severely damaged the old library.
Friday, August 28, 2009
During the public comment section, a number of speakers reminded council members that as they consider public safety measures they shouldn't allow first amendment rights to be tossed aside. Protest organizer Casey Capitolo acknowledged that security officers would need a space to operate during the summit, but said that Point State Park was the wrong venue, because it is a public space that numerous protesters are planning to use for educational purposes and demonstrations. Beth Pittinger of the Citizen's Review Board wondered where the code of conduct was for police officers and their treatment of protesters.
Council is waiting to vote on the conduct ordinances–which include wearing masks and using certain types of obstructive materials during the summit–until after a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, September 2 at 1:30PM.
Factors that make a fire more likely in a home include the age of the structure and if wiring through the house is done properly. Although a smoke detector cannot fix those things, Cole says countless studies have shown that detectors save lives.
ACHD is also offering a fire safety class for those that receive smoke detectors to help with prevention.
The “Zone 3” designation will also be scrapped, says spokesman Jim Ritchie. He says PAT wants to cause less confusion on fare rates, so all of these routes will simply be merged with the Zone 2 area. He says this is part of an ongoing effort to “whittle down” the use of zones in the Port Authority’s fare system, which once had five of such districts. Zone 3 was the term for any destination outside Allegheny County, says Ritchie.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
"If you get killed in Pittsburgh, or if you get killed in Scranton or Erie or in Monroeville, the benefit to your spouse or children should be the same," he says.
Senate Bill 369 applies to paid firefighters, law enforcement officers and ambulance service or rescue squad members. If killed in the line of duty, this bill would give the amount of the worker's monthly salary to the recipient. Money that isn't covered by workers compensation the state would absorb.
Although Logan says he would like to, benefits cannot be provided retroactively because it is considered unconstitutional. Therefore, families of the three Pittsburgh Police officers killed in Stanton Heights in April would not have these benefits, if this bill passes in the State House.
The bill passed in the State Senate last year, but died in State House at the end of the session. It recently passed unanimously in Senate, and is going to House to be voted on.
Take a tour of the Drake Well Museum where they are celebrating Colonel Edwin Drake striking oil in Titusville 150 years ago. Alexandria Chaklos reports.
Listen to the report.
Photos: top: Bill Stumpf, history interpreter, tends steam engine at well
center: Replica of Drake's original engine house and derrick
bottom: Barbara Zolli, museum director
During an education rally, Tim Allwein, the assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, pushed for a 300 million dollar increase to the commonwealth’s basic education subsidy.
He acknowledges budget cuts are spread throughout government this year, but argues education is different.
"School districts affect children. And I think that it’s one thing for the effects to be felt somewhere else in the budget. But we’re talking about kids. We’re talking about our future."
That stance bothers Matthew Brouillette, the president of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation.
"The notion that only increasing spending by 11 percent, as the Senate Republicans have proposed, is somehow devastating—I don’t think they’re going to get a whole lot of sympathy from people who are struggling today."
Governor Rendell says said he’ll compromise on any issue but education and health care spending, and continues to push for an increased schools budget.
Before last year’s marathon slugfest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Kennedy’s 1980 challenge to incumbent President Jimmy Carter had been Pennsylvania’s last contested Democratic primary. Governor Rendell, the Philadelphia district attorney at the time, was one of the few Pennsylvania politicians to back Kennedy.
"And I think Ted Kennedy—I thought Ted Kennedy could lead us and make a real difference. And as you recall we won Pennsylvania by about 7,000 votes. We carried the state, just barely."
Franklin and Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna says the Commonwealth’s primary was a “do or die moment” for Kennedy’s insurgent campaign.
It wasn’t enough, though--Kennedy’s bid ended at the Democratic convention, where he delivered his famous concession speech.
Rendell insists the Democratic icon could have beaten Ronald Reagan that November, but Madonna doubts it, saying the election cycle heavily favored the Republican Party that year.
The governor lauded Kennedy’s bipartisanship, and says if the Democratic icon had been healthy this year, a health care bill might have already been signed into law, with “15 to 20” Republicans voting for it.
Radisav Vidic is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and heads the Pitt research project. To obtain natural gas inside shale formations, drillers must use water to break up the rock and free up the gas within. The three-year Pitt project seeks to replace harmful chemicals in this water with new additives that will be more environmentally friendly. He says the big idea is to incorporate local acid mine drainage from old and abandoned quarries.
Vidic says the current flowback has five times more salinity than seawater. This dirty water is generally trucked off from mine sites and treated in plants, but many of the environmentally harmful chemicals still end up in groundwater. The Pitt study is one of nine across the country meant to curtail this hazardous mining byproduct.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Partner Jeffrey Deane says German companies have an affinity for Western Pennsylvania, and the goal of the project is to bolster that interest. He says the companies were not chosen for their size, but for their stories: all are successful firms that employ many in the region with well-paying, high-tech jobs. Deane says cutting-edge technologies are already being fostered in the area, but more investment can only mean good things for the city and region.
Some of the soldiers have gotten a first hand look at Iraq’s fledgling Democratic government’s efforts to take shape.
Scott Detrow, who reports for DUQ and WITF in Harrisburg, was recently embedded with the brigade for 4 weeks. Scott rode along as two platoons provided security for a meeting of regional lawmakers.
Listen to the full story.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Walters says they are not testing for the flu, in accordance with CDC guidelines saying it is not necessary if it is not the first tested in the community. He says there were 6 to 8 suspected cases at the University over the summer. Allegheny County Health Department Spokesman Guillermo Cole says CMU is taking all the necessary precautions for the situation.
Some Hill District residents are still sore about the land grab made when the Civic Arena was built more than 40 years ago and in an effort to make sure current residents are not left out of the jobs being created by the new arena development, a special jobs center has opened in the Hill. The “Hill District First Source Center” on Center Avenue officially opened its doors Tuesday. Center coordinator Ken Nesbit says the center has advantages over other job centers in the city. He says the first advantage is that the center will get early notification of jobs at the new arena and any jobs created by the development of the 28 acres of land where the current arena sits. The center then has as much as two weeks to find qualified applicants before the job is released to the general public. Nesbit says the center is also unlike other job placement centers because it is in the hill district, focused on hill residents and able to offer referrals to special services that may not be available at other job centers. That could include access to drug treatment programs and special job training programs. The “Hill District First Source Center” opened its doors two moths ago without telling anyone and has already registered 200 people looking for jobs. Nesbit says he has already placed 6 or 7 workers. He says that is a good percentage given that fact that the center is often working with people who have major barriers to employment including criminal records, drug problems, few marketable skills, little education and no drivers licenses. Nesbit says one more advantage to the center is that Hill residents don’t have to take a bus to get the help they need. The center is slated to be open for at least two years but Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says he hopes the city will be able to keep the center open beyond that date.
In October, the commonwealth will submit plans for a high-speed line from Scranton to Hoboken New Jersey, as well as a Maglev route from Pittsburgh International Airport to Greensburg.
Appearing with US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at a Lancaster County train station, Senator Arlen Specter said the Maglev investment would be worth the cost.
"Is it expensive? Yes. What will it do for the United States, for Pennsylvania? Once we have it, when you can travel by rail 300 miles an hour, it will revolutionize the state."
MagLev, Inc president Fred Gurney says if federal officials simply build on existing rail lines, trains will be constrained to top speeds around 100 miles per hour.
"But if you really want to do high-speed, if you truly want to do high-speed, you’ve got to have separate dedicated track. And that’s where Maglev is very superior, because of its speeds of up to 300 miles per hour. Just slightly over 300 miles per hour."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood avoided committing to using Maglev technology in the high-speed lines that will be funded by the stimulus dollars.
"We’re gonna consider all proposals. As I said, we’ve been out around the country. Our people have talked to a lot of different regions of the country. And we’ll see what comes in. and we’re gonna evaluate them and then we’ll let you know."
The federal stimulus package includes eight billion dollars for high-speed rail projects. Specter argues improved rail infrastructure will cut down on gas consumption and traffic congestion.
Governor Rendell says Pennsylvania’s sales tax exemptions don’t make any sense, holding up a cell phone to prove his point.
"You pay sales tax on calls you make on this. But if you have a landline at home, you don’t pay sales tax. You pay sales tax on HBO, Showtime, or any special sports stations you order from cable TV, but you don’t pay sales tax on basis service."
Other exemptions include newspapers, hygiene products like dental floss, wrapping paper, trout, and candy and gum. "Clearly clothing and food should be exempt from the sales tax. But I think we need to look at a lot of the exemptions. A lot of the exemptions make no sense, and are solely the product of effective lobbying by special interests. They’re not the product of any rational basis."
Rendell needs to find new revenue in more creative places, now that lawmakers have nixed his proposal for an increased personal income tax.
Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson says the GOP is open to fixing exemption oddities, but wouldn’t want to tax legal fees. He argues larger companies have their own lawyers, but smaller operations have to out-source legal work.
"And so what you wind up with, in a lot of ways, not exclusively, obviously. But in a lot of ways, is a tax on small businesses that do not have those services in-house. And individuals."
Rendell says budget talks are making progress, predicting the final “spend number” will be near 28 billion dollars.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Four training sessions remain.
Wednesday 5:30pm – 7:00pm at the University of Pittsburgh Connolly Ballroom.
Thursday 5:30pm -7:00pm at the CCAC Boyce Campus.
Friday 12:00- 1:30pm at the CCAC North Campus.
Saturday 9:00am-10:30am at the CCAC Allegheny Campus.
Mayor Ravenstahl says not everything in the ordinances is final yet--for example, the agreements for support from other municipalities and police departments--but his administration will answer all Council's questions about liability issues, the budget, or anything else.
Security perimeters established by the Secret Service may not be as large as originally thought, according to Ravenstahl, and may be made public in the near future. He anticipates that people residing within the perimeters will be able to come and go to their homes with credentials. It will be difficult to get around downtown, he reiterated, though specific policies as to buses and other vehicular traffice are still being determined.
The mayor thinks the city's law department has begun talking with a protest group about a downtown destination for the march from Oakland on Friday, Sept. 25th.
The Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System says the city's contribution to its pension plan next year could be between $29 million and $66 million depending on a slower rate of increase of contributions, investment returns and if the mayor is successful in leasing city parking garages and using the revenues for the retirement fund.
That caused Yarone Zober to tell the Tribune-Review that Caltagirone is used to "soaking taxpayers" citing Caltagirone's vote for a pay hike for himself and other lawmakers in 2005 and for House Democrats resuming their pay before state employees were given back pay earlier this month. Caltagirone called Zober an "arrogant snit" who needed to be taken to the woodshed.
Mayoral candidate Acklin says "burning bridges" by criticizing state lawmakers is not going to resolve the pension crisis. Acklin says the solution is probably multi-faceted and possibly includes a combining of several municipal pension plans. Acklin said a state takeover is worth discussing.
Allegheny County Port Authority Spokesman Jim Ritchie says PAT is raising its base fare in January but by no more than a quarter and that it is working on expanding its service. Ritchie says PAT expects the Northshore connector project to be completed by 2011. PAT is also looking at growing budget deficits in the next few years with funding from the state and county remaining at current levels.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) will be holding its final two public hearings this week on a proposed Penn American Water Co. (PAWC) rate increase. The company has asked the commission to allow a 12.5% annual rate increase to make up for money lost on capital improvements.
PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says in general, consumers aren’t thrilled with idea; however, some who are satisfied with PAWC’s service say if the rate increase is justified, it should be allowed. She says in either case, those who wish to speak should prepare their comments and put them in writing, so they can be filed with the PUC’s report.
Kocher says the PUC must make a decision by January 23 of 2010, but a verdict may come through earlier than that date.
The first hearing:
August 25, 2009, 6:00 p.m.
Days Inn Conference Center
139 Pittsburgh Rd
Butler, PA 16001
The second hearing:
August 26, 2009, 2:00 and 7:00 p.m.
Washington County Agricultural Fair, Hall 4
2151 North Main Street
Washington, PA 15301
Pittsburgh was chosen to host the G20 summit in part because of its efforts to build green. But there aren't just environmentally-friendly ways to put buildings up. There are also greener methods for taking them down. Listen to DUQ's Katherine Fink's report.
(In photo: Brian Swearingen and Bill Sutliff work on removing baseboard from a home that will soon be demolished.
Udin says he wants to go beyond physical help, though; he says he wants to spark conversations with the organizations people volunteer at, to talk about innovation and effectiveness in their field. For example, says Udin, helpers at the food bank would talk to food bank officials about new ways of approaching the problem of hunger. Udin says he hopes a few thousand volunteers will help at about 40 or 50 sites.
Udin says local organizations would be more effective and efficient if they worked together and conversed more. He says he’s using the time made available by the G20 summit as a “springboard” for the program, which he plans to continue yearly.
Both volunteers and organizations who want assistance can register on http://www.pittsburghdayofservice.com/ or call the Coro Center at (412) 258-2673.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Margaret K. McLaughlin, Carlow’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, says classes will be canceled from Wednesday, September 23 at 4 p.m. through Sunday, September 27...
“Although the scheduling of the G-20 in Pittsburgh has been planned for several weeks, the extent of disruption to Carlow only became apparent last week with the official notification that the organizing location for protesters is at Craft and Fifth Avenues,” which is just about a block away.
Classes scheduled for Wednesday evening, September 23, will be rescheduled for Wednesday evening, October 21. Classes scheduled for Thursday, September 24, and Friday, September 25, will be rescheduled for Monday, October 19, and Tuesday, October 20, respectively. Weekend classes scheduled for September 26 and 27 will be rescheduled for the preceding weekend, September 19 and 20.
Ravenstahl has asked Council to approve release of 16 million dollars, toward which the federal government will reimburse 10 million and the state, 4.3 million. The 900-person Pittsburgh Police Bureau is seeking help from about 3100 police officers from departments around the country.
Instead of banning things like PVC pipe, gas masks and other masks outright, they will only be considered illegal if used to obstruct, evade dispersal or commit a crime.
Ravenstahl says all 8 protest applications have been approved with certain conditions. A march on Friday, September 25th will be permitted to start in Oakland but will not be allowed by the Secret Service to end at the Convention Center--an alternate destination in downtown Pittsburgh will be worked out.
ACLU Legal Director Vic Walczak says ordinance details will be studied and discussed with protest groups and the city to see if all issues can be resolved out of court.
Specter says UPMC’s proposal for such a facility to be built in southwestern Pennsylvania is innovative and would create 1000 permanent jobs, not including construction employment and related jobs also brought in by the facility. The UPMC pitch would incorporate General Electric as the manufacturing arm of the partnership and the University of Pittsburgh as the research branch, with UPMC overseeing the actual vaccine production facility. Romoff says UPMC would need to win a competitive bidding process before carrying out these plans.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the “21st Century Bio-Defense” center, or 21CB, would cost over $800 million, with UPMC throwing in as much as $250 million and the federal government providing the remainder. The facility would have eight separate suites that could quickly produce different vaccines in the event of an act of biological terrorism or an epidemic.
Senator Specter supported the UPMC proposal, saying that helping the nation’s welfare and gaining valuable jobs would be a dual victory for the city of Pittsburgh.
Republican State Representative Mike Turzai of Allegheny County says this has been an issue since last session. He says “whistle-blowers” from across the state came to hearings to give examples of the abuse of the “special allowance” program, but DPW would not take proper responsibility and action. He says now that Wagner and his “professional” auditors have provided proof of the mismanagement, significant changes must be made.
Turzai says the main problem with the special allowances is the electronic cards, similar to debit cards, given out to people on welfare. Proper documentation was not being recorded, and people were using their cards for things such as drugs. His legislation would eliminate those cards from being distributed, and any money for careers will be given directly to the vendors instead of the individuals in order to assure that the money is being used correctly. The bill will also limit payments for child care, transportation, union fees, testing fees and professional fees.
Among the 270 people killed in the bombing were several people from Western Pennsylvania including 21 year old Beth Johnson and her friend Elyse Saraceni, both students at Seton Hill College in Greensburg; University of Pittsburgh Professor David Gould; Army Major Charles McKee, who grew up in Wilkinsburg and Trafford; and, Barry Valentino who grew up in Pleasant Hills.
The group, "Victims of Pan Am Flight 103," plans a conference call tonight to discuss their options. The group's leader Frank Dugan says one possibility is joining protests when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi visits the United Nations next month. Many victims' relatives voiced rage and disgust after Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was released yesterday after serving 8 years of a minimum 27 year sentence in a Scottish prison. Scottish officials says the former Libyan intelligence officer had advanced prostate cancer and has only months to live. The families' anger grew when al-Megrahi was greeted by cheering crowds upon his return home.
Democrat Joe Sestak disagrees. The suburban Philadelphia Congressman and Senate candidate says he’ll do everything he can to make sure a public option is in the final bill the House votes on.
"In Pennsylvania you have two corporations that have 70 percent of all private health care plans. It’s almost a cartel. And now they’re going to have to be able to be more efficient, and that means a lower premium. That’s why it’s a necessity if we’re to bend the growth of the health curve that costs so much."
Senator Arlen Specter, initially opposed a public option, but has changed his mind since becoming a Democrat.
Another candidate seeking the Democratic nomination is State Representative Bill Kortz of Dravosburg. Kortz supports single payer and claims that there would be net savings under such a health system
Congressional leaders are pushing for a vote on the White House health care restructuring this fall.
Listen to the story here.
Up until this point, Republican leaders have said they won’t accept a budget higher than 27.5 billion dollars. That’s the total in a new bill put forward by House Appropriations Minority Chair Mario Civera. But now the Delaware County Republican said his caucus could vote for a 27.8 billion dollar budget, if the circumstances are right.
"I’m saying if you push em. In other words, if the other side comes back—you’ve got to give room to negotiate—if the other side comes back and says alright, well we’ve got a 27.8 spending plan. Without tax increase, you just about make that work."
According to most reports, Governor Rendell and House Democratic leaders are still pushing for a budget that’s 28.5 billion dollars or higher.
A spokesman for Senate Republicans says the caucus still isn’t willing to go above 27 and a half billion dollars.
Allegheny County United Way President Bob Nelkin says a pent-up demand for being a mentor caused this huge influx; he says his group just needed to ask for people to step forward. Nelkin says the program will focus on the importance of finishing high school to reach one’s dreams. He says the idea is to get to kids before the pressures of high school get to them first.
Nelkin and Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt will speak at the event, which is being announced as the largest ever mentor training program in Pittsburgh. Various workshops will also accommodate about 220 of the more than 600 volunteer mentors.
Nelkin says anyone who still wants to get in on the program can still do so; applications are yet being accepted. He says not to worry if you miss this training session: more will be held in the near future. Applications and information can be found on the program’s website.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Hippert says lawmakers are having to make tough choices in coming up with a budget compromise and so the A-I-U suggests taking the $200 million in the education budget that would have gone to a company to develop state high school graduation tests and new curricula and transfer that money to early education programs. Hippert says the Keystone Exams are not researched-based and have not been successful in other states, but early childhood education has proven to be successful in creating an "equal playing field for children from low-income families who need that good start to education."
The forum is this evening at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead at 7:00.
Several groups are also planning to participate in a march planned by the Thomas Merton Center on September 25th. Board President Michael Drohan says a permit for the march from Oakland to downtown has not been officially denied yet, but he's been told protesters will not be allowed to get as far as the Federal Building, their planned destination.
Jules Lobel with the Center for Constitutional Rights says his group and the American Civil Liberties Union will represent protesters if they are not given a timely response to their permit applications, or a suitable space for them to make their voices heard.
Families U.S.A. Executive Director Ron Pollack says while the premium costs are rising, people are getting "thinner coverage"......"That's coverage that offers fewer benefits and comes with higher deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance. So while workers are paying more and more for health coverage, they are getting less and less."
Pollack says rising health care costs are threatening the financial well-being of families in Pennsylvania and across the county..."If health care reform does not happen soon, more and more families will be priced out of the health coverage they used to take for granted."
Pollack says the rising costs of premiums also hurt employers efforts to increase workers' pay.
State Senator Jim Ferlo of Highland Park wanted to use Point State Park as a “free speech area” the day before the summit begins, but was denied because police and the Secret Service would be using the site. Ravenstahl says the Point gathering would still be possible if the city is allowed to accommodate both demonstrators and security personnel. Ravenstahl says he has asked the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to consider permitting protesters to demonstrate on a portion of Point State Park’s area.
Other groups want to protest in different areas throughout the city, including a march from Oakland to Downtown. Ravenstahl says these groups shouldn’t “assume that the city will say no” to them, because Pittsburgh is doing its best to allow them to protest while working under the authority of the Secret Service.
· Saint Agnes School, Oakland
· Saint Bede School, Point Breeze
· Saint Benedict the Moor School, Hill District
· Immaculate Conception School, Bloomfield
· Saint John Neumann Regional School, Lawrenceville
· Sacred Heart School, Shadyside
· Saint Raphael School, Morningside
· Saint Rosalia Academy, Greenfield
· Cardinal Wright Regional School, North Side
· Saint Cyril of Alexandria School, Brighton Heights
· Bishop Leonard-Saint Mary of the Mount Academy, Mt. Washington
· Brookline Regional Catholic School, Brookline
· Holy Rosary School, East End
· Bishop Canevin High School
· Central Catholic High School
· North Catholic High School
· Oakland Catholic High School
Republicans hold a 29-20 advantage in the Senate, and needed 33 votes to pass their override attempts with a two thirds majority.
Line by line, each measure failed by a 30-19 vote, since Northampton County Senator Lisa Boscola was the only Democrat to vote “yes.”
"I’m putting the people ahead of politics, because that’s the only thing I can do right now. The only way I can restore funding to these agencies that need them right now. For the people who didn’t deserve to be zero-funded, I have to vote today to override some of the governor’s line-item vetos."
Allegheny County Republican State Senator Jane Orie says the motions were a way to restore funding to organizations and programs that shouldn’t be caught up in the impasse.
"It’s incomprehensible, egregious, and quite frankly repugnant to see this governor, a former Philadelphia district attorney, veto funding for domestic violence programs and rape crisis programs when Senate Bill 850 and the governor’s revised budget proposal were identical levels of funding."
Senate Minority Leader Bob Mellow called the override votes a distraction.
"Not a resolve. Not a reaching, a handout, to try and work together to come up with the proper type of balance budget that meets the needs of Pennsylvania. The only thing this is meant to do, Mr. President, is to divide and be divisive."
Earlier in the day, Governor Rendell and Republican Senator Mike Brubaker of Lancaster County exchanged heated words in the rotunda. Brubaker explained he and the governor are both angry about the way budget negotiations have gone.
Meantime, House Republicans have introduced what they’re calling a compromise budget, which would provide 27.5 billion dollars worth of funding.
Although classes will be canceled at the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), First Lady Michelle Obama and the spouses of other G20 leaders will still visit CAPA for an event.
The Pittsburgh School Board plans to vote next week on whether to buy terrorism insurance to cover buildings that could be damaged in protests.
Bill Cosby admits he hasn’t been following the details of the 7-week budget impasse, but warned lawmakers against cutting education funding.
"Is it that we don’t like children? I mean, what did these people ever do to you, that you want to cut? These are our children, and we need no more cuts. Everything that happens when you make cuts will show you that you’re working farther and farther away from the paradigm. Away from the example of success. Away."
Though House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin rejects the idea that GOP lawmakers are trying to take money away from schools.
"It’s interesting. In this year’s debate not a single person has talked about or considered cutting education funding."
Republican leaders do want to roll back state education funding, but would use federal stimulus money to increase overall spending levels. Governor Rendell and Democrats want to spend 5.1 billion state dollars and 300 million stimulus dollars on basic education. That’s 187 million dollars more than the GOP’s preferred amount. Rendell argues relying on federal money to increase spending would leave school districts hanging when the stimulus goes away in two years.
Operations Director Stephanie Riso says she's frustrated, because she's convinced this is the future of theater. She and fellow Carnegie Mellon University graduate Alex Geis developed a new platform called LIPLO that gives theater groups a place to webstream their performances. The Actor's Equity Association and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists were first approached about this idea at least five years ago, but Riso says they've been unwilling to discuss it.
Riso says putting live performances online would allow theater companies to reach broader audiences... and open up a major new revenue stream. At a time many arts groups are struggling, Riso says streaming live performances would make theater company websites much more attractive to potential advertisers. Riso says actors would also benefit, because they'd get a share of that revenue. She's trying now to convince actors to put pressure on their unions.
Pennsylvania ACLU Legal Director Vic Walczak says Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s announcement that two sites will be set aside for protests within hearing and seeing distance from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center doesn’t change the groups’ plans for a suit.
Walczak says the mayor is “standing on formality” when he says nobody has been denied a permit to protest the G20 summit yet.
“The mayor can’t point to folks who are getting approved for permits, and that’s tantamount to a denial,” says Walczak. He says this is a violation of free speech rights.
Walczak says the ACLU will meet with the groups again in the next day or two to discuss the suit. He says it’s expected to come about before Labor Day unless permits are granted.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Valley View Pastor Reverend Chad Collins says protecting neighbors’ safety is the prime concern of the church, though declining property values and several eyesores are other reasons to scour the area. He says the cleanup effort started when his church contacted the owner of an abandoned property and it turned out she didn’t know it was hers. With the help of church groups and the owner, Valley View cleaned up 237 N. Aiken Ave and it is prepared for demolition, says Collins.
Collins says the idea is to contact the owners of remaining abandoned properties and work with them to clean the neighborhood. He says once the 200 block is taken care of, Valley View will expand its sights to the larger scope of Garfield.
Collins says he invited representing Pittsburgh City Council members Ricky Burgess and Patrick Dowd to the event to see what the community wants, but neither will attend.
The community meeting will be held at 601 North Aiken Avenue, Pittsburgh 15206, at 7:00 tonight (August 19th).
Pennsylvania was the only state with rising test scores at grades 4, 8 and 11 and at all achievement levels in both reading and math. Jack Jennings, CEP President and CEO, says public education is still not where it should be in the country or in Pennsylvania, especially in districts with high concentrations of poor students, but Pennsylvania is moving in the right direction.
Pennsylvania is one of only 5 states that showed improvement at the high school level, where Jennings says there is a national problem. The CEP will release a study on the achievement gap in September.
South Central Community Action Programs coordinates services for 23,000 people in Adams and Franklin Counties. It's been operating since 1965, but on Friday, Executive Director Megan Shreve is locking up the Gettysburg office's doors. The group has run out of money, because the government funding it relies on is being held up in the budget impasse.
Shreve says that means laying off 80 percent of her 108 staffers, and shutting down services like job placement counseling housing rehabilitation and child care assistance.
"When you see the human toll--when you're at the homeless shelter and you're looking at a family who is there because the dad had a heart attack and lost his job. And now they're in the homeless shelter because they couldn't pay for housing. And I'm supposed to tell them because we don't have a budget you don't have a place to stay? I have never been through anything as emotionally draining as this is."
Shreve recently found out SCCAP's homeless shelter will remain open, but only due to an interest-free loan provided by an individual. She points out the group's funding remains steady in both Republican and Democratic budgets--it just hasn't been authorized because their is no full budget in place.
The override will focus on line items where Republicans and Democrats agree on spending totals, but were blue-lined by Rendell in an attempt to ratchet up pressure on lawmakers.
Those include 7.1 million dollars for rape crisis centers, 41.8 million dollars for drug and alcohol treatment programs, and 18 million dollars for food banks.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi says that funding needs to be restored.
"They are time-sensitive and very important services to the beneficiaries of that funding. And we thought it appropriate to at least make the attempt."
Perhaps underscoring the tough spot an override vote would put Democrats in, House Majority Leader Todd Eachus dismissed a question of whether he’d hold a vote on passed measures as a “hypothetical,” and kept other answers terse.
Reporter: "Non-hypothetically, what’s your reaction to this decision by Senate Republicans?"
Eachus: "It’s a tactic."
The GOP would need a two thirds majority to override.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Pittsburgh officials organizing the G20 Summit still do not know where security perimeters will be set up but they know there will be more than one kind and they say businesses better start making plans. A secure perimeter will be placed around various venues including the convention center and the Phipps Conservatory through which no one without a credential will be allowed to pass. A wider traffic perimeter will be established around those same venues where only foot traffic will be allowed. The third type of perimeter will be a “rolling perimeter” which will be used when dignitaries are being transported from one location to another.
The Secret Service is in the process of contacting business owners and residents that may be within a secure perimeter and will be issuing credentials to allow them access. In the meantime, the Pittsburgh G20 Partnership is asking everyone to check out the web site PittsburghG20.org to get the latest information on the planning process. Spokesperson Bill Flanagan says there is also a great deal of information there about building an emergency plan.
The partnership says businesses downtown should look at everything from the relatively small problem of traffic congestion to planning to shut down in a protest zone to credentialing employees to get to work. Pittsburgh Business Coalition for Homeland Security Director Loren Roth says his web page prbchs.org is another good resource for planning for everything from a power outage to a full closure. At the same web site business owners can sign up for nearly instantaneous updates from the county emergency operations center through the “Beacon” program. Mayoral spokesperson Joanna Doven stresses, “no one will be kicked out of their homes and no businesses will be forced to close.”
The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership is asking all downtown residents to call 412-325-0159 to sign up for updates concerning closures and other summit related announcements.
Shields says he has asked the administration to send over the legislation as soon as possible so council can get to work on it. It's his understanding that the law department is putting the final touches on some measures.
Shields says he doesn't believe that the mayor is trying to ram these 5 bills through council....."It's a function of the scope of the event, it's so big, so pervasive, there are so many details to be worked on in a short amount of time." He added that it's just the way things are unfolding and it all depends on the Secret Service.
Shields says some of the ordinances are minor but with those dealing with the demonstrators, "we will be careful not to tread on First Amendment rights."
The administration is reportedly considering a temporary ban in downtown Pittsburgh on such items as PVC pipe which protesters often use to link themselves together to make it difficult for police to remove them.
She says this is having a huge impact on retailers because the back-to-school shopping season is their second largest revenue generator of the year, and is a big indicator of how Christmas shopping will go.
She says parents have started shopping a month in advance this year to find better bargains, and have spent about $17.4 billion, which is 8% less than last year.
Guskey says as a result retailers had to cut prices this year. She says businesses such as Wal-Mart and Target have done relatively better than department stores because shoppers are out looking for the cheapest deals.
Guskey has the “ABC” advice for shoppers: "A: All on sale! You can always find a good sale somewhere. B: Buy store brands. Store brands are always cheaper. C: Coupons. There are coupons online, in magazines, etc.—find them."
Spokesperson Stacy Kriedeman says the department is encouraging parents and school administrators to take certain precautions that will help prevent the swine flu from returning and spreading. She says they have reached out to schools, providing steps to take and a letter for them to send to parents with information about the virus.
Kriedeman says parents should keep their child home if they have any flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, until all symptoms are completely gone without being supressed by over-the-counter medication. She says the swine flu is more likely to affect people from the ages of 5 months to 24 years old, according to statistics.
She says parents should have their children frequently wash their hands, not sharing drinks or food, and using proper cough and sneeze manners. This goes for college students, as well, especially because it is particularly difficult to go home when ill.
She says the most important thing is that people are aware of how their communities are being affected by the virus.
For more information, visit: www.health.state.pa.us
Or call: 1-877-PA-HEALTH
Harris says it’s undeniable that different schools in the district have varying successes and failures, and the question is why. A+ Schools is asking for volunteers to take a one-hour training session before interviewing various principals on the conditions at their schools. Harris says interview questions will be based on local and national research and haven’t yet been determined.
Harris says the idea is not to compare schools. “Information will be reported on a system-wide level, not by individual schools. So, for example, we might say x percent of high schools reported y, not Langley said this and Allderdice said this. Individual schools or groups of schools will not be graded, so this is not that kind of evaluation,” says Harris.
Harris says the immediate goal is to get into schools and start interviewing principals by mid-October. She says from the information they receive, they will organize public meetings and advocacy groups by January of 2010. Harris says from there, she would like to branch out and begin to ask teachers, parents, and students the same questions posed to the administrators.
Governor Rendell says he’s compromised plenty, trimming his spending plan by two billion dollars and dropping a proposal to hike Pennsylvania’s personal income tax.
He says Republicans aren’t returning the favor.
"So far we’ve given, myself and the House and Senate Democrats, we’ve given, given, and given, and all they’ve done is take take take."
Not surprisingly, Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson has a different take.
"He likes to trumpet two billion dollars in cuts, but Governor Rendell is the only man in the world who can make two billion dollars in cuts and still want to spend a billion more than he did last year."
Appearing at the Capitol, Rendell said he’s open to any budget agreement, as long as it doesn’t cut spending on education, health care and services to the elderly, and it presents a balanced plan for the next two fiscal years.
Two line items in the Department of Public Welfare budget provide more than 300 million dollars in child care subsidies for low-income families.
Senate Republicans proposed trimming Rendell’s suggested spending on those lines by 17 million dollars, so the governor blue-lined the items, cutting off assistance for childcare centers across the Commonwealth.
Speaking at a rally outside the Capitol, Republican Representative Dan Moul, of Adams and Franklin Counties, said that decision is forcing facilities to close their doors.
"That means all those people that are not only employed by this community action program, but all the families that are destroyed by not having those programs available to them."
But appearing with Rendell, Jodi Askins, who heads the Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children, argued the short-term closures are worth it, if it means avoiding Republican cuts.
"Because in the end, what happens is people will have to pick between the kids they formerly used to serve."
She says the sacrifice is worth it, even if some families temporarily lose access.
Monday, August 17, 2009
In response to rumors that out of town protesters are breaking into abandon buildings and living in them, Ravenstahl asked anyone who knew of such activity to contact the police department so they could be removed.
Thomas Merton Center Spokeswoman Melissa Minnich says they have not yet received a permit for the protest, but have received a response from Pittsburgh Police.
"If we left it up to them, they would be fine with us marching up to the City County Building. But I'm afraid they have no final say on it because the Secret Service is going to be handling all security issues. So we have no firm answer," she says.
She says they are going to march as far as they're allowed on September 25. The tentative plan is to begin in Oakland on Fifth Avenue & Craft at noon, then lead into downtown Pittsburgh near the City County Building by 2pm, and then end on 10th Street at 3:30pm, a mere block from the Convention Center.
Minnich says they expect this will be the largest event the Thomas Merton Center has organized, estimating thousands of participants.