Friday, February 26, 2010

Representative Wants to Change PA School Pensions

A House Republican wants to change Pennsylvania law for public school workers’ pension funds.

Representative Glen Grell of Cumberland County says the pension fund of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System is under-funded and getting progressively worse.

Grell says employee benefits increased when investments were returning well in 2001, and employer contributions fell presumably to curb property taxes. Grell says the investment losses the fund experienced in 2008 and 2009 caused the balance to plummet.

Grell says his bill would remove the benefits multiplier for years of service. For example, someone who’d worked 30 years would get 30% of their final salary in benefits, not 75%.

The bill would also set up a 5% employee-employer contribution plan that would be similar to a 401k plan. The employee would still receive Social Security benefits as well.

Grell says its important to note that the Pennsylvania constitution mandates that all current school employees’ contracts not be changed.

Former Pgh. Auxiliary Bishop Dies

Retired Auxiliary Bishop John McDowell of Pittsburgh died Thursday at Passavant Hospital in Pittsburgh. Bishop McDowell was 88 years old. Bishop David Zubik said in a written statement that McDowell was "a national figure in Catholic education" and "a dear friend."

McDowell helped launch the 1972 document "To Teach as Jesus Did" before moving up the Catholic education ladder and becoming superintendent of Diocese of Pittsburgh schools. McDowell also wrote seven biographies of past Pittsburgh bishops before the 2007 publication of his final book, an autobiography.

Other Cities Visit Pittsburgh Thanks to G20

The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce says it is hosting an unprecedented number of visits from other Chambers of Commerce in 2010. Chamber President Barbara McNees says it can be traced back to the exposure the city received during the G20 summit. McNees says, “No fewer than seven Chambers of Commerce from across the United States have scheduled benchmarking visits to Pittsburgh this year.” Among the cities visiting is Cincinnati OH and Baton Rouge LA. Advance teams from both of those cities are in town this week laying the groundwork for later visits. Delegations from Korea and Toronto Canada have also made trips as they prepare to host G20 events later this year. McNees says groups have often visited Pittsburgh in the past but they usually were exploring one aspect of the city such as brownfield redevelopment or cooperation with universities but now they want to look at the entire revitalization package. McNees says the heads of the chambers that are coming this year specifically mentioned the G20 as one of their reasons why Pittsburgh was selected. The Executive Directors of several of the chambers coming later this year were in town last summer for a Chamber of Commerce conference where they got their first look at the city. McNees says the G20 just sealed the deal. Also visiting this year will be: Kansas City MO, Nashville TN, Lexington and Louisville KY, Dubuque IA and Mobile AL. McNees says the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber is looking for other ways to capitalize on the publicity and interest generated by the G20 Pittsburgh Summit.

Republicans: Remove Still Unseen Fed Dollars From Budget

Pennsylvania House Republicans says the Rendell Administration is engaging in reckless budgeting by relying on $854 million in federal finds that have yet to be approved by Congress. The U.S. Senate was set to approve increased medical funding for states earlier this week, but the provision was removed from its jobs bill before the vote took place. Governor Rendell’s budget assumes the measure will be passed before July 1. State Representative Doug Reichley of Berks County Republican, says assuming Congress will approve the spending is a reckless approach to budgeting, “You need to engage in a budgeting process that looks at the revenue that you’re getting honestly from your state resources. And stop trying to project forward what you might get out of Washington and what you might get out of more stimulus funds. And deal with the budget we have based upon what the resources are here in Pennsylvania.”
Reichley wants to cut $854 million from the budge until the federal bill is passed. Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma says that would be a bad idea. “You would have services to the public cease. You would have workers laid off. And we’re not just talking state workers. It could be a lot of other entities around the state – library workers, childcare workers, healthcare providers – who would be laid off, who would lose their jobs. The public would lose those services provided, only to find out in the long run that we’re getting that money anyway,” says Tuma. He says he’s confident the increased federal funding will pass soon. Tuma notes that more than 40 governors recently sent a letter to President Obama explaining how they are banking on the extra financial support.

Opinion Shifting on Climate Change.

A new poll shows the number of Pennsylvanians skeptical of climate change has doubled over the past two years. In a Poll conducted by Muhlenberg College for the Allentown Morning Call finds 31% of Pennsylvania residents think global warming is a hoax. That’s about twice the number of people who were skeptical of climate change in a statewide 2008 survey. PennEnvironment CEO Jan Jarrett thinks that may be due to a PR blitz launched by special interests that would lose money if Congress enacts legislation aimed at curbing global warming. She says lawmakers in Washington are serious about trying to reduce the country’s CO2 emissions and increase the green energy sector, “However, those kinds of things do threaten the oil and gas industries, and the coal industries, which have launched an all-out attack on the science of climate change.” Jarrett says special interests are succeeding in casting doubt on what she calls overwhelming scientific evidence showing the earth is warming. Jarrett’s currently engaged in an ongoing email back-and-forth with Matt Brouillette of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, who’s trying to set up a debate to argue the legitimacy of climate change. Brouillette says, “The reality is that everybody believes there is climate change. That we are constantly in a state of climate change. Things are warming, things are cooling. The question ultimately comes down to, what role does man contribute to this, and what policies could be implemented? And what are the costs and benefits of those policies?” He says he is convinced the scientific community is far from settled on whether or not human activity is changing the earth’s temperature.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

PA Welfare Budget Questioned

Legislative hearings continue on Governor Ed Rendell's proposed $29 billion budget for fiscals 2010-11. That's $1.2 billion more than the current budget. Department of Public Welfare officials came under some tough questioning from House Republicans. Rendell has proposed a $9.7 billion budget for the Welfare Department, an increase of 4.5%.
State Representative Gordon Denlinger of Lancaster county says the size of the Welfare Department's budget is a major concern especially during a tough economic period for the state.
Representative Mauree Gingrich of Lebanon County said loopholes need to be closed...there's lots of waste and significant abuse. She cited a recent report from Auditor General Jack Wagner.
In August, Wagner released an audit showing that a Department of Public Welfare program that provides cash assistance to welfare recipients seeking employment was "rife with mismanagement and poor oversight, creating an environment for potential fraud and abuse that could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars."

Based on the audit findings, Wagner said that he believed problems in the special allowance program were systemic, meaning they existed in assistance offices in every county in the commonwealth.
In Philadelphia County, the father of five children of a Philadelphia recipient received child care special allowances totaling $7,367 to babysit his own children by changing his name and Social Security Number. In York County, two students at a beauty school each collected $637 for nail supplies that they never purchased.

Representative Doug Reichley of Berks and Lehigh Counties said the governor may have an $850 million hole in his budget proposal. That's because the governor was counting on federal monies in a jobs bill to go to the Welfare Department. That funding has since been removed.

DEP Moves on Leaking Well in Moon

An abandoned natural gas well in Moon Township has drawn a quick response from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The well, which has been inactive for a long time, sits in a wooded area on private property about a thousand feet from the J.A. Allard Elementary School. Last fall a man clearing brush happened upon the well and earlier this month the DEP started receiving a flurry of odor complaints. DEP spokesperson Helen Humphreys says typically these kinds of wells do not pose a risk, but in this case the gas seems to be pressurized so they are acting quickly to plug it. Humphreys says the problem of leaking abandoned wells is pervasive in Pennsylvania and the state has a fund set up to pay for their maintenance. She says crews are already on the scene and it could take one to two weeks to plug and even longer if they run into unexpected problems.

Health Care Summit

President Obama will try to re-launch his stalled health care overhaul today by hosting a televised summit with Congressional leaders to discuss the bill.
Mr. Obama says he wants to hear Republican ideas, but the head of Pennsylvania’s GOP says he doesn’t think the president is sincere.
The President will sit down with top Republicans and Democrats to talk about the future of his health care package, which has stalled since Democrats lost their Senate supermajority last month.
The White House says it’s serious about soliciting input from the GOP, but Pennsylvania Republican Chairman Rob Gleason says he doesn’t buy that.

"I don’t trust the White House on that. I think it is a publicity stunt. I think he’s trying to fool the people by doing this. He’s trying to embarrass the Republican Party. They call us the party of no, but we have a lot of good ideas."

Democratic state Representative Josh Shapiro, who sits on a panel of state legislators who advise the White House on health care issues, says it’s “nonsense” to suggest Mr. Obama is trying to trap Republican leaders by asking for their input on legislation.
He says he’s confident a bill will be signed into law this year, saying the country’s present health care system is too expensive and unsustainable. He also says he’s confident a measure will be signed into law this year.

"We are somewhere between second and third and goal. And it’s time to get this done, but get it done responsibly, and with Republican input. And the president has established a forum to do that tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to the discussion."

There’s some debate over whether Senate Democrats can use a maneuver called “reconciliation” in order to bypass a filibuster. Supporters of the tactic point out several landmark bills, like the Children’s Health Insurance Program and COBRA, have been passed this way. The White House claims the package will provide coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans.

Non-Profits and the Budget

Four candidates for governor of Pennsylvania are split on whether or not the state should refund nonprofits who took out loans during last year’s 101-day budget impasse.
The gubernatorial hopefuls made their comments at a forum sponsored by the United Way.
When state funding to nonprofits and counties dried up last summer, many organizations took out large loans to pay their bills.
Democrats Dan Onorato and Joe Hoeffel say the state should fund those groups’ interest payments, but Auditor General Jack Wagner is more hesitant.

"Should we recoup those counties? Sure. If we could, yes. I’m not sure the state presently is in a fiscal condition to do that. Based on the serious financial challenges facing us, now, in the next budget."

Hoeffel says he’d stop all payments, if the state entered the new fiscal year without a spending plan.

"I won’t sign a temporary budget. I’ve seen this wreck the budget process in Harrisburg and in Washington. They don’t pass budgets on time in Washington. They sign—pass continuing resolutions, temporary budgets here. There have been seven straight late budgets. So no budget July 1, nobody gets paid."

Onorato criticized Governor Rendell for withholding funding from nonprofits during the 101-day budget impasse.

"And that’s what happened here. Because a lot of the other programs were funded. There was temporary budgets. There were payments being made to employees in other departments. And yet you have this department of human service bearing the political burden of this debate."

Republican Sam Rohrer says Pennsylvania government is running out of money, and may soon find itself in the same dire financial straits as California and other distressed states. Rohrer said the federal stimulus package did more harm than good.

"Because there’s two and a half billion dollars in this budget that will run out this year, that has to be made up. That’s the rub of where it goes from here. What should have done last year – spending reductions of about ten percent should have taken effect, and we’d be sitting here with a balanced budget."

All four candidates vowed to pass budgets by the July 1 deadline, if elected.
Republican Tom Corbett and Democrat Anthony Williams were both invited to the forum, but didn’t attend.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Snow Removal Town Hall Meeting

A state politician is holding a town hall meeting on Thursday for concerned residents who want to better address the Pittsburgh snow removal issues.
Representative Chelsa Wagner, of Allegheny County, wants to hear from those who still have issues with the roadways, and also, suggestions on how these problems can be better remedied in the future. She says she’s heard many different complaints about the poor conditions at her office, and many of those concerns have been addressed. However, there are still problems that remain. For instance, snow blocking lanes of traffic, without any given warning. Also, there is still an issue with some right of way crosswalks that have not been cleared for pedestrians.
Wagner says she invited the mayor to attend, although she has not heard a response. Officials from Pittsburgh Public Works declined the invitation to join.
The meeting will be held on Feb. 25, at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, on 933 Brookline Blvd. at 6:30 p.m.

County Seeks Downtown-Oakland Transit Line

Allegheny County officials today announced an effort to garner private capital for a transit link between Pittsburgh’s Oakland and Downtown districts.

County Economic Development & Redevelopment Authority Director Dennis Davin says in contrast to similar past endeavors, this project would entail a public-private partnership between a sponsor and state and local government.

Davin says this transit line, which could be anything from light-rail to a people-mover, would allow for expansion of institutions both in Downtown and in Oakland.

He says the county is asking for “expressions of interest” from private investors by the end of April.

“We’ve not been very specific in saying, ‘Look, we want this route developed,’ or, ‘We want this mode of transportation developed,’” says Davin.

“We’re trying to leave that open to the transportation [community]. These are the experts, so we want them to come back and say, ‘Here’s what we think makes sense. Here’s what we can fund. Here’s what works.”

Such a public-private partnership would require legislation from Harrisburg to be legal, so Davin says county government will work with state transportation committees to gain support for the project.

Davin says because of the private investment, it’s doubtful that the Port Authority would manage the line; however, he says they are taking part in the planning process.

Allegheny Institute Studies Johnstown's Act 47

The Allegheny Institute For Public Policy says after 18 years of being under the control of act 47, Johnstown may be getting closer to bankruptcy than it is to being able to get out from under the provisions of the Act. Johnstown entered into act 47 in 1992 and is on its fourth amended recovery plan. The Institute looked at the city’s 2007 finances (the most recent DCED audited numbers) and then compared them to nine other similarly sized cities. Policy analyst Eric Montarti says Johnstown lead the way in many negative categories including low wage and real estate taxes, high employee count, high pension and debt costs and a heavy reliance on state and federal funding. State and federal funding accounted for a quarter of the city’s 2007 budget and Montarti wonders if the percentage grew with the addition of federal stimulus dollars. The only bright spot was Johnston’s low police department costs. The Institute launched the study when Johnstown passed a budget this year that cut the number of employee and raised property taxes. Montarti says at the time, the council noted that it was better to make those moves than to enter into chapter nine bankruptcy. Montarti says, “Johnstown is now in negotiations with its major unions on new labor contracts that might decide whether the Council's prognostication comes true.” He says he wonders why those higher personnel costs and legacy costs were not dealt with much sooner.
Montarti says this study may point to flaws in Act 47 or the way Act 47 coordinators approach their jobs. He says the coordinators must know their limitations and at some point admit, “we cannot solve this problem, we need to go to some sort of bankruptcy, debt reorganization, because what we have in terms of our tools just do not work.” Montarti says another problem may be the clash between powers given to municipal unions and the power of Act 47 coordinators. He says those unions do not have the ability to go on strike but they do have the right to binding arbitration and if the arbitrator does not heed the needs of the coordinators it may leave the municipalities in the same situation they where in when they entered Act 47. Very few of the municipalities that have entered Act 47 since it was enacted in 1987 have emerged. Montarti says maybe this report will serve as a wake-up call for coordinators to allow their municipalities to move into bankruptcy and alow a judge to right some of the problems they have not been able to address. “Something has to happen to right this financial ship, and soon,” says Montarti.
The full report is available at the Allegheny Institute's website.

Tax Relief Changes Proposed

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner is urging lawmakers to simplify the application process for gaming-based property tax relief.
Wagner says the current county-by-county property tax relief system is too confusing.
He says a major issue is the fact property owners need to fill out an application in order to receive a tax reduction funded by revenue from Pennsylvania’s casinos.
Wagner, a Democrat who’s running for governor, says a study of several counties shows many people just don’t get around to doing that, so lot of revenue is going unclaimed.

"And with those 49 counties alone, I stand up here and can absolutely say there are at least a hundred thousand property owners not getting property tax relief from gaming revenues in Pennsylvania."

The size of rebates fluctuates by school district, but Wagner says they averaged out to 189 dollars last year. County tax assessors process relief applications, but Wagner wants the Department of Revenue or another statewide agency to assume more oversight.

PA Education Official Defends Higher Budget

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s proposed budget for 2010-11 is roughly a billion dollars more than the state’s current spending plan.
About a third of that increase would go toward more state funding for public education.
The Rendell Administration is maintaining its commitment to increasing the state’s basic education subsidy. The governor wants to boost state support for school districts by 354 million dollars, to more than 5.8 billion.
Deputy Education Secretary Diane Castelbuono testified before the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday and said increased schools funding has yielded results.

"We have 560-thousand students -- more students who have benefited from increased learning time, tutoring, extended day opportunities. That’s half a million students. We have 406-thousand students that are in new and advanced courses that were paid for with the basic education funding."

Castelbuono says the state has set out strict guidelines for how districts utilize the funding.

"We said for those districts that are receiving money above the index, they’re going to need to write a plan about how they are going to spend that money. And they’re only allowed to spend that money on certain proven practices that are shown to increase student achievement. Proven practices like increased learning time, reduced class size, early childhood education."

Rendell’s proposed basic education subsidy would spend about 5.2 billion dollars in state funds, along with 654 million federal stimulus dollars.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sestak Looks to Enhance Job Corps for Women

Pennsylvania Democratic US Senate candidate and Congressman Joe Sestak used a stop in Pittsburgh Monday to talk about new legislation aimed at increasing the number of women who enroll in the nation’s Job Corps Centers. Sestak notes that in Pittsburgh 62% of the slots are set aside for women but only 75% of those slots are filled. He says more than $125 million get wasted every year nation-wide by not filling all of the available positions. He says with the trainers and facilities in place it takes no additional money to add the extra women. However, Sestak says it will take a few million extra dollars to attract the female participants. The federal Job Corps program is up for reauthorization this year and Sestak has added a few funding line items to the bill. The congressman says there are three key issues that need to be addressed. He says the types of training being offered need to be more to the liking of unemployed women such as medical and dental assistants and clerical skills rather than welding and machining. His legislation would set aside $18.3 million to target female-oriented careers. He says too many women who could use the training do not know about it at all or do not fully understand what is being offered. The measure includes funding to create a virtual or video tour of each center that can be placed on line or taken out by recruiters to places where the potential clients gather. Sestak says women often are concerned about their living arraignments while at the Job Corps Centers and are worried that their children will not be welcomed and cared for while they are in residence. Sestak says the videos can help put aside those fears. He says centers that have created their own videos have seen jumps in female enrollment. Finally, Sestak says more money needs to be put into the childcare facilities at the centers. His bill would spend $10 million doing that and at the same time upgrading the female living quarters. Sestak says, "At a time when 1 in 4 teenagers is unemployed, we can't afford to under-utilize a program that gives economically disadvantaged youth the skills they need to compete and succeed in today's workforce. The under enrollment of female students in Jobs Corps represents a lost opportunity to help thousands of young people transition into the workplace." According to Sestak the Pittsburgh Job Corps Center is currently 124 students below its targeted female enrollment.

Sons of 'Living Legends' to be at Duquesne U.

This afternoon, Duquesne University will be hosting a “historic event” that looks at the landmark Brown vs. Board court case. John Marshall, son of Thurgood Marshall, and Charles Hamilton Houston Jr., son of Charles Hamilton Houston, will both be in attendance for a brief movie about the achievements of their fathers in the Supreme Court case. The movie will be followed by discussion of the case and its repercussions with the audience.
Ken Love, who produced the movie, says it was an honor to work with these men, who also contributed to the film. Marshall introduced the movie and concluded it, while Houston Jr. narrated throughout. Love says it’s especially remarkable because these two men have never collaborated before.
Admission is free and open to the public.

Shale Lease Part of Budget Hearings

As budget hearings continue in Harrisburg the head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says he’s not concerned about leasing out more state forest land for natural gas drilling – as long as the process is carried out responsibly. So far, 692,000 acres of state forest have been leased to private firms for drilling, but acting DCNR Secretary John Quigley says Pennsylvania has only seen the tip of the iceberg. He says when it comes to extraction activity on state-owned land, “Our experience so far in the Marcellus play is that wells have taken a year or more to come online. And we only have six producing wells from the Marcellus formation on state forest land now. So it takes a minimum of a year or so, under the most optimistic circumstances, before a well comes online. And once it comes online the royalties begin.” Indiana County Republican Dave Reed questioned Quigley about the issue during a recent House Appropriations Committee hearing. He asked if the governor’s budget includes additional leasing. He responded, “The governor’s budget anticipates $180 million of revenue from the Oil and Gas Revenue Fund to be transferred from the General Fund.” Reed responded, “OK. So it’s pretty safe to say that money’s got to come from somewhere. If you enact a moratorium, it’s going to be somewhat difficult to produce that money.”
“It would, however, be easy to produce with a severance tax,” responded Quigley.
32,000 additional acres were leased out last month, netting $128 million. Quigley says the most recent average leasing price was about four thousand dollars an acre – but that fee depends on several factors, including the price of natural gas and the quality of the land being offered.

Cities, Towns Get Earlier Help for Snow Costs

The state will release so-called "liquid fuel payments" to Pennsylvania municipalities beginning March 1....a month ahead of ease the burden of winter storm cleanup costs. Governor Ed Rendell issued a disaster emergency declaration that allows PennDOT to send out $308 million to 2,556 local governments..."this winter has placed significant demands on the resources of both PennDOT and its partners in local government. The early release of these funds will help local governments to pay some bills a little bit earlier."

Liquid fuels allocations are annual payments issued to municipalities to help pay for transportation-related expenses, including snow removal and related materials costs. The funds are generated from a portion of the state gasoline tax and from Act 44.
Rendell says due to its own tight budget, the state can't provide additional monies but PennDOT will be available to help communities in distress...."whether we bill them or not depends.....we'll try to be cognizant of the municipalities' financial difficulties when we make that decision."
Rendell says he anticipates the state filing a request by early March for a disaster declaration to receive federal aid for the storm-related costs. New rules by the Federal Emergency Management Agency require that counties to be eligible to have received a record nor near record snow fall with a 48 hour period. One factor that could hurt Pennsylvania's chances for getting federal aid is that the two snow storms were about 72 hours apart. The total accumulation from the 2 storms did set a snow fall record.

Four Hats in Dem. Gov's Race

As other Democrats withdraw from the race for governor, another candidate is just getting into the fray. State Senator Anthony Williams of Philadelphia is officially running for governor. The move comes a week after Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty dropped out of the Democratic primary an a few weeks after businessman Ton Knox withdrew. The longtime state senator claims he’s raised nearly two million dollars, and says he’s aiming for a four million dollar war chest, so he can run advertisements in the expensive Philadelphia and Pittsburgh television markets. Williams claims the money comes from a broad base of donors. He says, “They come from a variety of backgrounds. Who are interested in, obviously in controlling costs, controlling spending in government, educational choice, people who are concerned about unions in Pennsylvania. We have a cross-section of people who are supporting my candidacy.” The campaign has already hired three staffers, and opened up an office in Philadelphia. Williams says he’s not worried about his late entry, “Based upon the current situation, there’s about -- 72 percent of the folks in Pennsylvania don’t even know there’s a gubernatorial race. I’m very comfortable if I’m on television they’ll at least notice there’s another guy running.” Williams says he’ll push an economic platform, suggesting a program where the state would subsidize salaries of new employees in high-tech fields, in order to expand Pennsylvania’s science and manufacturing industry. Williams’ announcement brings the Democratic primary field back to four candidates. He’s running against Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Auditor General Jack Wagner and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel.

Race for Murtha Seat Less Cloudy

The widow of Congressman John Murtha says she will not try to step into her husband’s shoes. Joyce Murtha says she will not run in the race to fill his unexpired term. John Murtha died February 8th from complications following gallbladder surgery. He was 77. Among those who have said they are interested is former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel. Also running is former Pennsylvanian Treasurer Barbara Hafer and Cambria County Controller Mark Singel. The governor has chosen May 18th. Tat is also Pennsylvania’s primary day. That means there will be two elections involving Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district on primary day, one to fill the unexpired term and a vote among democrats and republicans to choose a party nominee to run for a full term in November. The parties get to choose a candidate for the unexpired term. It is unclear when Democrats will choose that but Republicans say they will meet March 11 in Latrobe to choose their candidate. The party says anyone wanting to run will be given a chance to address the conference before members take a vote.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Homeless Program Open Again

The Homelessness Prevention & Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) run by Pittsburgh and Allegheny County has been re-opened. HPRP provides financial assistance and services to homeless individuals and families, as well as those who would become homeless without assistance. Individuals and families can call the HPRP Hotline, 1-877-350-HPRP (4774), from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Information on the program is also available online. To qualify for the help households must have an income below 50 percent of the area median income. For a family of four that equates to $31,250 a year. The family must also be homeless on the verge of becoming homeless and have no other housing options or financial resources to obtain housing. The HPRP is funded through Federal Stimulus grants and the state.

Crews Battling Potholes as Well as Snow

Pittsburgh Department of Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski says when DPW crews aren’t removing snow, they’ll be fixing potholes.

Kaczorowski says the day crews work mostly on the potholes they hear through the city’s 3-1-1 response line. The night crews try to fill holes on the city’s primary routes.

Kaczorowski says if you see a pothole, note the location as precisely as you can before calling the 311 hotline. He says even seemingly harmless puddles can hide deep holes, so be cautious.

PennDot is also trying to tackle the problem. PennDot Spokesperson Jim Struzzi says, “Potholes are appearing like an epidemic across the region and PennDOT is focusing most available resources on patching at the present time.” He says potholes and other roadway concerns on state roads can be reported to the department by calling 1-800 FIX ROAD. Callers are asked to be ready with as a precise location as possible including the county, municipality, street name and route number, or the state route number. Struzzi says any familiar landmarks near the potholes will also help.

Pitt Researchers Look at Adolescent Brains

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh say that adolescents’ behavior could stem from increased sensitivity to internal factors and their environment.

Lead researcher and professor of neuroscience Bita Moghaddam says her study found that although young rats learned to get rewards faster than adults, they continued to seek the sugar pellets even after the researchers stopped giving them.

Moghaddam says this behavior of the adolescents was amplified when the rats faced internal and external changes like hunger and noise.

She says this sensitivity to outside influences could help scientists gain a better understanding of why symptoms of psychological disorders first come out in one’s teenage years.

Moghaddam says the next step is to determine how the neurons of the rats’ brains interact to cause this behavior.

“If we see a very glaring difference in the first few months of recording, that then can be very quickly translated into human studies and functional imaging studies,” says Moghaddam, “whereas if the effects are far more subtle or they’re not in the regions we suspect they are, imaging would be a much longer process.”

Moghaddam says although understanding teens’ brains is important to public health, it remains an understudied field.

Army Corps Ready for Flooding

Local Army Corps of Engineers officials say they will update state and local emergency agencies on the status of waterways in the region when the record February snowfall begins to melt.

Chief of the Readiness Office T.J. Fichera says the Corps communicates with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service, and county emergency agencies to prepare for possible floods.

Fichera says one example of the things they’re telling these agencies is that certain high-altitude reservoirs like the Youghiogheny, Tiger, and Stonewall Jackson Reservoirs have the capacity to take in a good deal of snowmelt because of their elevation.

Chief of the Corps’ Water Management Branch Werner Loehlein says we have yet to see a significant snowmelt, meaning that most of the water stored in the snowfall is still there.

Loehlein says the snow only looks like it has melted because sunshine melts the top layer, which compacts the snow beneath it.

The hydrologist says there is still potential for flooding, especially if temperatures rise quickly and it also rains. He says the Monongahela River’s tributaries are at the most risk, including the Youghiogheny and Cheat Rivers.

Doherty Switches Races

Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty’s decision to drop out of the race for Governor of Pennsylvania leaves three declared Democrats in the field.
Doherty, who lagged far behind other candidates in fundraising efforts, says he’s ending his bid for governor.
Instead, the Democrat will run for the State Senate seat being vacated by Minority Leader Bob Mellow of Lackawanna County.
Doherty says he won’t endorse Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel or Auditor General Jack Wagner.

"I talked to the three – I talked to the candidates yesterday, and I just told them I wasn’t going to endorse anybody. I liked them all personally, we all got along real well, so I just thought, let the voters."

Doherty skirted the issue of whether he would have switched races if his gubernatorial bid had been going better.

"You know, this came out of nowhere. You look at it and say, wow I could really do a lot of good here. The other case is kind of hypothetical. What’s the degree of doing better, and the degree of more money. So I feel real good about doing this."

Doherty had focused his campaign on economic issues, touting the work he’s done as mayor. He says job creation will be the focus of his Senate run, as well.
Most recent polls have given Onorato a slight edge over the other primary candidates – but the majority of Democratic voters are still undecided.

Reducing State Vehicle Fleet

Department of General Services Secretary James Creedon says reducing the amount of state-owned vehicles wouldn't necessarily save tax dollars.
Several candidates for office, including Attorney General Tom Corbett, have suggested reducing Pennsylvania's 16-thousand vehicle state fleet in order to trim expenses. Creedon says that figure includes trucks, off road vehicles, trailers and police cars.
He told members of the House Appropriations Committee the actual number of state-owned passenger cars used by commonwealth employees is a bit more than five thousand.
Committee Chairman Dwight Evans, a Democrat, then asked Creedon whether it would be feasible to trim that figure by twenty percent.

"Oh I can take twenty percent of vehicles away. That's not that difficult to do.

OK -

The issue is, is it going to cost more money or less than what you pay now.

That's the question. So, in other words, if you take away twenty percent, you're going to wind up paying some other way.

You're going to pay people mileage for their business usage."

Creedon says his department typically tries to provide state vehicles to commonwealth employees who drive more than 800 miles a month on business.

Wellness Center for People with Disabilities Opens

A Wellness Center for people with disabilities opened Monday in Wexford.

Peter Clakeley, Director of The Woodlands, a non-profit that works to increase the lives of people with disabilities, says people with physical disabilities may feel more comfortable and less self-conscious working out around other people with disabilities.

They gym was funded by The State and by foundation money. A rehabilitation specialist will be working there. There will also be special equipment that is specially built for people with physical disabilities. The center has been working on establishing the center for the last five years.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and State Senator Jane Orie were expected at the opening ceremony.

Corrections Chief Defends Budget Increase

The head of Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections is asking for more money this year. He says the request is justified.
Governor Ed Rendell has described this year's budget as "status quo," with most departments receiving level or slightly reduced spending.
However, a major exception is Corrections, which would see a 137 million dollar increase to its 1.75 billion dollar budget.
Secretary Jeffery Beard says the funding is needed to maintain control of an ever-growing prison population.
Without the proper staffing, and the ability to outsource some prisoners from overcrowded facilities, Beard says there could be violence.

"And we're going to go back to where we were in the late 1980s, where we had serious riots at Camp Hill. We had riots at Huntington, at Rock View. And that was all because we didn't have the resources, and we had too many inmates in our system, and we didn't have a place to put them."

Beard told members of the House Appropriations Committee Pennsylvania currently has more than 51-thousand people in its corrections system.

Union Membership Slips in PA

The percentage of workers in Pennsylvania covered by a union contract dipped in 2009. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 782,000 Pennsylvanians belonged to a union last year and that accounts for 15.0% of the workforce. That is down from 15.4 % in 2008. BLS Regional Commissioner Sheila Watkins says the number was nearly 21% in 1989 when the Bureau started to keep track and it slowly fell to a low of 13.6% in 2006. Watkins says while the percentage of union members has held stead the types of jobs they hold has changed. She says in recent years manufacturing and other heavy industry have continued to fall while service industry and education jobs that use union labor have increased. Pennsylvania’s union membership runs ahead of the national average of 12.3% but Watkins says the trends are the same.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sestak helps small businesses in new bill

A Pennsylvania congressman says federal contracting fraud needs better enforcement. Congressman and US Senate Candidate Joe Sestak says big businesses that take advantage of federal contracting intended for small businesses need to be stopped.
“Small businesses created 80 percent of the jobs when we came out of a recession in 2001,” says Sestak. “We can’t have this money going wrongly to large corporations.”
He says 23 percent of all federal contracts are to go to small businesses, and that’s not what’s happening in the state. He says there is a “pass through” effect, where money goes through small businesses but is ultimately given to large corporations. His bill would request information from the businesses to ensure their authenticity.
Sestak says his bill would implement big consequences, too. Offenders face a fine up to $500,000 and/or 10 years in prison. They also risk debarment or suspension from participating in future federal contracts.

Former Murtha Opponent to Run Again

Republican William Russell, who lost to Congressman John Murtha in the 2008 November election, says he will seek the GOP nomination in the special election to fill the vacancy left by Murtha's death this month.
Russell, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel, was already a candidate in the May Republican Primary for the 12th Congressional District seat..."Since the governor has announced that the Special Election will be held on Primary day, May 18th, it makes perfect sense to also be a candidate in the special election. It's a move that makes sense for the voters and will simplify the process for the thousands of my supporters."

The Republican Party will choose the nominee for the special election.

Singel to Seek Murtha's Seat

Former Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Mark Singel has announced he will seek the 12th Congressional District seat vacated by the death this month of U.S. Representative John Murtha of Johnstown. Singel says he is a candidate in both the special election to serve out Murtha's current term and the primary election for the Democratic nomination. The Democratic Party will select the nominee for the special election which will be held at the same time as the primary, May 18th.
Singel, who was a state senator for 6 years and served as lieutenant governor from 1987-95, called Murtha a friend and mentor..."First and foremost, it is critical that the work begun by Congressman Murtha be continued. This requires someone who understands the legislative process and has an ability to hit the ground running."
Singel said Democrats cannot afford to lose this seat..."the people are restless. They do not believe anyone is really on their side. It's time for us to stop yelling at each other and start listening to each other."
Singel is founder of the Winter Group, a government relations firm.

Former Pennsylvania Auditor General and Treasurer Barbara Hafer has also expressed interest in the vacant Congressional seat. But Hafer has said that she would not run if John Murtha's widow, Joyce seeks the seat.
The Democratic Party will choose the nominee for the special election May 18th to serve out the final 7 months of Murtha's term.

Wind Energy Grants

Spanish wind turbine maker Gamesa has brought back 79 workers who were laid off from the Cambria County plant in November. That's due to a $7.8 million dollar federal stimulus grant with which Gamesa will install 19 two-megawatt wind turbines at the Chestnut Flats Wind Farm in Cambria and Blair Counties. The company will start up a second manufacturing line and hire an additional 50 workers.
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell also announced grants for two other wind power projects: $10 million for Iberdrola Renewables' South Chestnut to install 23 two-megawatt turbines in Fayette County that will create 129 jobs; and $5 million for the Broad Mountain Wind Energy Center's installation of eight turbines in Schuylkill County which is expected to produce 43 jobs.
Since the federal Recovery Act was passed, Pennsylvania companies and communities have received more than $800 million for green energy projects. Rendell says according to the Pew Center, Pennsylvania ranks third for the growth of green jobs behind Texas and California...."it's clear that the stimulus is working; it's providing a lifeline to families, slowing job losses."

Flooding Unlikely During Snowmelt

National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Reed says it’s too early to say how quickly the snow accumulated during the past few weeks will melt.

Reed says high temperatures this weekend will reach the upper 30's.

“Certainly we would like a slow, orderly melt,” says Reed. “The ideal situation there would be not much rain on top of it, and just warm enough temperatures to melt it a little during the day, and then cooling down at night to slow down the process a little bit.”

Reed says the soil had absorbed much water previous to the heavy snows, and that has already frozen, so the ground wouldn’t absorb much moisture when the snow melts.

Reed says flooding would only happen if it both rained and temperatures became abnormally warm, into the 50 and 60 degrees range. He says then, the snowmelt would “run off” in the equivalent of two to three inches of rain.

Council Gets Pension Update

Pittsburgh City Council today held the first of five post agenda meetings and hearings on the city's ongoing underfunded pension plan. The city's pension plan is funded at only about 29% of its obligations to retirees and current employees.
Under legislation approved and signed into law in September, Pittsburgh was given a 2 year reprieve to get that amount up to 50%. To bolster the fund, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has proposed leasing city-owned parking garages and using that money to reach the 50% threshold.
At Thursday's meeting, Scott Kunka, the city's director of finance, Bill Urbanic, council's budget director, City Controller Michael Lamb and Jim Roberts of the Act 47 management team. Urbanic says the city's pension fund has never been near 100% funded
"in 1999-2000 it came close to 70% funded but that was short-lived because the bubble blew up in the technology market."
Urbanic says state financial assistance for municipal pensions is based on the number of current employees and not retirees, and that hurts Pittsburgh which has been downsizing its workforce. Urbanic says you need enough money coming in from employee contributions to be able to pay out the pensions to the retirees.
Urbanic told council that a single pension system is needed in the state and that other states have successfully implemented such a program.
Controller Lamb told council that changes should be made to the state's funding formula. He says that he doesn't want "to knock out" any municipalities that receive state help funding pensions even if they are well to do. So he suggests that municipalities currently receiving state help be frozen at the current figure and that the truly distressed communities (like Pittsburgh) receive the additional money that is coming into the state pool of funds.
Act 47 Manager Jim Roberts says the city is increasing its contributions toward its pension obligations and believes it will continue to do so.
Council's finance chair Bill Peduto says upcoming hearings will include testimony from state officials, national pension experts, and representatives from Chicago who will discuss their experiences in leasing parking assets.

Governor Ed Rendell has signed pension reform legislation into law. The State Senate approved the measure after many of the reforms the Senate inserted earlier were removed by the House.
The legislation gives the city of Pittsburgh a 2 year reprieve before state takeover of its pension plan. At the request of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, state lawmakers gave the city 2 years to bolster its pension plan which is only funded at 28% of its obligations to retirees and current employees. City Council President Doug Shields is a member of the Pittsburgh Municipal Pension Board says this will give officials time to seek bids and then lease city-owned parking garages. The mayor wants to use that revenue to help bring the city to the 50% threshold of funding the pension system.
The legislation also allows Philadelphia to raise its sales tax to 8% for 5 years to address a budget deficit and to improve its pension fund balance.
The Senate okayed the bill even though the House stripped provisions that had been approved by the Senate that would freeze pensions and change the way new hires would contribute to a pension plan.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pennsylvania To Let Students Graduate Early

Pennsylvania is among eight states that will pilot a plan that will allow students to earn a high school diploma and enter college at the end of the 10th grade.

The plan was announced by The National Center on Education and the Economy. The program would involve 10-20 schools that volunteer beginning in fall 2011.

Students would take exams at the end of their Sophomore years. If they pass, they would receive a high school diploma and enroll at a school with open admissions whether it be a community college or a technical school.

The program was funded by a grant from The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

$130 Million to be Spent in PA on Fiber Networks

U-S Commerce Secretary Gary Locke swung through Pittsburgh Thursday to announce a pair of federal stimulus grants that he says will bring high-speed Internet access to 3 million homes and 400,000 businesses in Pennsylvania. The first grant of $99.6 million dollars will lay 1,700 miles of fiber optic cable in nearly 40 southern and central Pennsylvania counties. Private companies will then be able to tap into that fiber to take the high-speed intent the last mile. Sec. Locke says it does not make sense for a private company to lay the miles and miles of main lines to serve a relatively small number of customers but if the government lays the “highway” the private sector can take it from there. The second grant will use $28 million to lay 690 miles of fiber in several northern counties and create 612 miles of fixed wireless links. That wireless network will use the public safety towers built by the state to put emergency service radio into nearly every square mile of Pennsylvania. PA Governor Ed Rendell says the goal is to have all Pennsylvanians served by high-speed Internet by the end of 2011. Right now about a third of all Pennsylvania households do not have access to high-speed Internet. The Pennsylvania telecommunications act mandates that those links be made by 2015. Locke says not only will this create jobs for the next year and a half as the fiber is laid, but it will allow businesses all over the state to market their products and services around the globe creating new demand and new jobs. Rendell says in this day and age, “if you do not have access to the Internet you do not exist.” A total of $1.3 billion was handed out nationwide in the first round of funding. $7 billion of the federal stimulus act was earmarked to help bring high-speed Internet to under served and unserved communities.

High Rates of Unemployment for Women in Pennsylvania

A paper exploring the impact of the recession in Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh area was released today.

It was produced by the Institute for Women's Research and Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania.

The paper found that more than four out of ten families headed by single mothers in The Pittsburgh region live in poverty. The report found that single mothers have been hit especially hard by the recession, the rate of unemployment for women who maintain households in Pennsylvania has more than doubled since 2007 and 2009.
In addition, women already made less than men do, 75 cents on the dollar. The ratio is even worse for women of color - 64 percent for African-American women and 65 percent for Latina women. The gender wage gap in Pittsburgh is worse than the national gender wage gap.

Suggestions made include increasing investments from the American Recovery and reinvestment act into job opportunities and improving better paid sick and family leave and better access to child care.

Pennsylvania State Treasurer Robert McCord said he is committed to creating more job opportunities for women in the Commonwealth.

Budget to Trim Attorney General's Office

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett says he’ll be forced to lay off 32 employees, if Governor Ed Rendell’s proposed budget for his department goes into effect.
Rendell’s budget would trim the Office of the Attorney General’s state spending by one percent, to 85 million dollars.
That’s nine million dollars below the department’s 08-09 budget. Nearly every line item, including the Child Predator Interception Unit, the Joint Local-State Firearm Task Force and Tobacco Law Enforcement, would see a slight reduction.
Appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee to discuss the budget, Attorney General Tom Corbett argued his department is far from a money drain, when it comes to state revenue.

"We basically pay for ourselves with the money we bring in through consumer protection, the money we save in the civil lawsuits that we defend on behalf of the state of Pennsylvania, the money we get in from the antitrust actions and the multi-state actions. We bring in as much as we cost you."

Corbett says his department has 55 fewer staffers than when he became Attorney General.
Corbett is hoping to set next year’s budget himself – he’s the frontrunner in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Emergency Protocol Changed, After Hazelwood Death

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss says emergency protocol has been changed as of midnight last night. That’s due to an incident in Hazelwood where 50 Year old Curtis Mitchell died after he and his wife made several emergency phone calls over a two-day period without emergency crews ever arriving until after his death. An EMS crew became stuck on the snowy roads during the storm of February 5-6 and an operator asked Sharon Edge if she could get Mitchell to the ambulance 4 blocks away. She said "no" because he was in too much pain. The dispatcher then canceled the call.
Ron Roth, the medical director for the public safety department, says the situation was made more complicated because each call from Mitchell and Edge was considered a separate request for help and information from the previous calls to 9-1-1 was not made available to the operator taking the most recent call. There are three emergency priority categories that will be altered. They are now going to send first responders to all E-0 calls, which is the most serious category that’s usually life-threatening. Fire fighters will now be responding to E-1 calls, which are things like shortness of breath. If any call that’s categorized as E-2 does not get a response within 30 minutes, a first responder will come. Huss says the purpose of this is to get someone to a site as quickly as possible. The Hazelwood man who died originally was categorized as an E-2 call because of abdominal pain. Huss says this new system will hopefully prevent an event like this from happening again.
Also, the Allegheny County Health Department will be thoroughly reviewing the situation in Hazelwood.

Pres. Washington Exhibit Opens Fri

The Heinz History Center is set open a new traveling exhibit focused on the life of the Nation’s first president. Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon, opens Friday and runs through mid July. History Center CEO Andy Masich says visitors will get to see forensic reconstructions of George Washington in three phases of his life; As a teenaged surveyor in what is now know as Western Pennsylvania, as a Revolutionary War hero atop his horse, and during his Presidential inauguration ceremony at Federal Hall in New York City. Nearly 100 objects from Washington’s life are spread over 10,000 square feet including an original set of Washington’s dentures, made of ivory, human teeth, and animal teeth. Masich says the dentures include a set of springs that forced the teeth open, “Washington had to clamp down just to keep his mouth shut.” The exhibition shows Washington in all phases of his life, including a more pastoral Washington, through five books from Washington’s personal library, complete with the signature of his ownership, that cover such topics as farming, botanical plants, and gristmills, and his family Bible. Among some of the larger items is a full-size replica of the Washington family pew from Pohick Church. Masich says it is fitting that the traveling exhibition opens in Pittsburgh given the amount of time Washington spent in the area and the roll he played in the region’s history. The exhibition will visit eight other cities after leaving Pittsburgh.

PA Ag Budget Down

Governor Rendell’s proposed budget would cut state agriculture spending by five percent, and would completely eliminate state support for county fairs and that has some a bit worried. Last year’s budget reduced grants to county fairs from $3.6 million to $2 million, and the proposed 2010-11 spending plan would completely eliminate that line item. Agriculture Secretary Russell Reading told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee his department will do everything it can to support the state’s 113 fairs, ““We will continue to work with them this year, with or without the money, to promote the fairs as part of the agrotourism effort. We’ll try to link them in so folks who are out to the fairs can also take in a farm market, and do the winery and a bed and breakfast and try to link a few of these things together and help promote them.” But during questioning, Senator Michael Waugh, a York County Republican, said the ongoing budget cuts have already left their mark, “It wasn’t too many years ago – maybe one – that that number was 116. So that’s exactly what reductions in funding for these excellent programs do. We’ve lost three fairs in a year this year. That says it all.” The proposed Agriculture Department budget comes in at just less than $101 million.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Date Set for 12th Dist. Election

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has set May 18th as the day voters in the state’s 12th district will choose a replacement for congressman John Murtha. That is the same day as the Pennsylvania primary. That means voters will be asked to cast two ballots for the seat. One would be to choose a person to fulfill the unexpired term and the other would be to choose party representatives for the general election in November. The democratic and Republican parities will choose the candidates in the race for the unexpired term. State Law gave the governor 10 days from Murtha’s death to pick a date that was no less than 60 days in the future. Murtha died Feb. 8 following complications from gallbladder surgery. He was 77 years old.

CLP Lands Grants

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh says its efforts to find new sources of funding have been paying off with a list of new grants. The library is facing multi-million dollar deficits as it begins to build its 2011 budget. Two of the grants will help the library preserve its Heritage collection. The collection is currently housed in the Allegheny Depository on the Northside and is in the process of being moved to the East Liberty branch, which is being renovated. The Eichleay Foundation has provided a $15,000 grant to support the relocation. An Anonymous donor has pledged $250,000 toward the purchase of compact shelving and additional materials to support this project. That grant was issued as a challenge grant that must be matched by August 2010. Library spokesperson Suzanne Thinnes says the library has always had good luck matching such grants with private donations. The Heritage Collection includes more than 150,000 volumes, including many unique historic reference items that preserve the heritage of the Western Pennsylvania region. Among the documents are government documents and histories, Civil War materials, rare print editions of local newspapers and journals, various directories, oversized maps, art folios, sciences and social sciences serial titles, and state and US reference volumes. Some date back to the 1600’s.
In addition to those two grants, the Laurel Foundation awarded a $10,000 grant to support the Library’s Basic Computer Training Lab. He funds will be used to offer free classes. The library has also landed a PA Conservation Grant Works provided for capital needs at the East Liberty branch. The $224,500 grant will be used to add energy efficient features to the building including upgrades to the building’s roof, walls and windows. The walls will be super-insulated with a combination of rigid and batt insulation. The existing windows will be replaced with high performance thermally broken low-e insulated glass, which allows for environmental and energy benefits. The building is expected to reopen this fall.

USW Endorses Onorato for Governor

United Steelworkers have endorsed Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato for Pennsylvania governor. USW President Leo Gerard says he and Onorato see eye-to-eye, and says Onorato will invest in the future of manufacturing and labor. Gerard says “he’s a kid from the North Side, and he’s never forgotten that.”
Onorato says that those in labor are very important to him, and he says his endorsement from the USW will boost him in the governor’s race. He reflects on his six years as county executive, and looks to that work when seeing what he can do for the state in the future, not just the region.

9-1-1 Procedures to Change

Pittsburgh officials say they are changing how emergency calls are handled after a man died in his home during a snow storm while waiting for an ambulance despite repeated 9-1-1 calls. Public safety Director Michael Huss apologized to relatives of 50 year old Curtis Mitchell of Hazelwood. Mitchell and his wife, Sharon Edge, started calling 9-1-1 Friday February 5 when a storm dumped 21 inches of snow on the city. But the ambulance could not make it to their home due to the heavy snow. Edge says emergency workers asked the couple if they could walk four blocks to reach the ambulance but he was in too much pain. So the 9-1-1 operator canceled the dispatch. Mitchell died Sunday morning February 7. Huss called the handling of the situation "unacceptable." He said EMS protocol is going to change so that every call will now have a first responder arriving at the person's door.

Mail Delivery Continues Through Winter Weather

Employing the technique of slip, trip and fall situational analysis letter carriers might not be delivering your mail. Tad Kelley, post office spokesperson, says while the post office hasn't had to cancel mail delivery because of the weather some streets and homes have not received their mail because of un managed sidewalks and streets. Kelley says while their is some concern over sidewalks the big issue is in rural areas where mailboxes are on the side of the street and made inaccessible because of snow build up resulting from snow plows.

Fewer Highway Deaths Reported in PA.

The number of people who lost their life in traffic accidents on Pennsylvania highways last year was lower than the state has seen since it started keeping records in 1928. 1,256 died on state roads in 2009. PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler says the previous low was 1,328 in 1944. In 2008 the commonwealth saw 1,468 traffic fatalities. Biehler attributes the low number to extra efforts by PennDot and state and local police. PennDOT distributed $11 million in federal funding last year for aggressive and impaired driving enforcement. Biehler says, “Unfortunately, many of the fatalities we see every year could be prevented if people would follow some simple rules: always wear seat belts, never drink and drive and obey the speed limit.”

PA Budget Hearings Begin

A week after Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell rolled out his budget proposal for fiscal 2010-11, the legislature began hearings on the $29 billion spending plan. The Senate Appropriations Committee started the hearing process today and over the course of the next several weeks state cabinet secretaries will come before the panel, answer questions from the lawmakers and defend the budget requests of their respective agencies.
Senator Mike Stack, the Democratic vice chairman of the committee, says the purpose is to give the panel a much more specific view of the budget picture with each department underlining what they do, how much they spend, how many employees they have, and what cuts have been made during the economic downturn....
"Oftentimes there are areas that members had no idea what kind of spending existed. Some of the bigger departments you think spend the most money but some with less employees actually spend more. So these things come out."
Stack believes that passing the current spending plan 101 days after the deadline has increased the interest of state residents in the budget process, and they will ask more questions and make more suggestions to their legislators.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Feds Reviewing Torture Murder of Greensburg Woman

The Acting U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania is reviewing the torture murder of a mentally disabled woman from Greensburg under a new federal law banning hate crimes against people with disabilities. Robert Cessar says it's too early to tell if his office will file charges against any or all of the six suspects under the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed by President Obama in October.
The 6 suspects: 3 men, 2 women and a 17 year old female, all from Greensburg, face murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping and conspiracy charges in Westmoreland County Court in last week's death of 30 year old Jennifer Daugherty. Her body was found in a trash can in the parking lot of Greensburg Salem Middle School.
Cessar says he needs to do more research to determine whether his office might file an extra charge against the suspects or bring the entire case into federal court.

Probe Into Why Pittsburgh Man Died Awaiting EMS

Pittsburgh City officials have reviewed how 9-1-1 calls were handled when a man died at his home while waiting for an ambulance during a heavy snow storm that began February 5th. 50 year old Curtis Mitchell of Hazelwood died two days later. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner has yet to release a cause of death because toxicology tests from his autopsy are still pending. City officials say dispatchers handled more emergency calls than normal during the storm and are trying to determine whether communication problems along with poor road conditions contributed to the delayed response by paramedics.
The city of Pittsburgh issued a statement today under the names of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Emergency Medical Services Chief Robert McCaughan expressing their "deepest condolences to the family in the loss of their loved one."

The statement went on to say they are trying to identify areas of potential improvement and are dedicated to making the changes that might be necessary to improve the delivery of service.

Dr. Ron Roth, Medical Director of the city's Department of Public Safety and the County's Emergency Operations Center, reviewed 4 calls made to 9-1-1 from a home at 5161 Chaplain Way between 2:09 a.m. Saturday February 6 and 7:56 a.m. February 7.
Roth says the first two calls were processed as medium priority for abdominal pain. He says the third call was upgraded after additional information was received. The review indicates a more than 9 hour delay from the time of the third call and the dispatch of an EMS crew. Dr. Roth says unfortunately "what appeared to be underappreciated by some parties is the fact that this was the third request for service by the same person for the same complaint. In addition, most if not all, were unaware of the details of the previous call."
The review say on three separate calls, EMS is dispatched to 5161 Chaplain Way. Each time the paramedics are told to cancel by the Emergency Operating Center. The paramedics were not privy to the conversations between the operators and the callers or the details from previous events. "It was reasonable to ask the caller to walk to the ambulance (which was stuck in the snow) on the first call. It is not reasonable to ask the caller to walk to the truck on subsequent calls after he refused on the first call."

PUC Looks For New Area Code for 814

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will launch a series of public hearings later this month on the best way to bring new numbers to the 814 area code. PUC Spokesperson Jennifer Kocher says the area code is expected to run out of new numbers by the third quarter of 2012. There are two plans being considered. One would divide the area code north and south with one half keeping the 814 area code and the other half getting a new number. Depending on where the line is drawn the plan would create regions that will not run out of numbers for 14-24 years. The other plan is to “overlay” a new area code on the same geographic area currently assigned 814 numbers. Kocher says the overlay plan is preferred by the industry but the PUC wants to take public input before making a decision. The overlay is expected to create 20 years of new numbers. Kocher says the PUC does not have a statutory deadline it must meet but it wants to work as quickly as possible to make sure residents and businesses have time to prepare for the new area code. The public hearings will be held this month and next at the following locations and times:
6 p.m. Feb. 22, 2010
Ramada Inn, Ballroom C
1 Sheraton Drive
6 p.m. Feb. 23, 2010
Richland Township Events & Conference Center
176 Mount Airy Drive
6 p.m. Feb. 24, 2010
Ramada Inn, Grand Ballroom
1450 South Atherton Street
State College
6 p.m. Feb. 25, 2010
Quality Inn & Suites
8040 Perry Highway
6 p.m. March 4, 2010
Somerset Fire Company
340 West Union Street

A+ give PGH School Board a B-

A+ Schools says the Pittsburgh Public School board earned a B- on the second report card issued by watchdog group this school year. The board is graded in 5 areas that are combined for the final grade. Those grades ranged from a C to a B+. The overall grade was unchanged from the first report card but A+ Schools Executive Director Carey Harris says the Board’s grade for focus and mission fell to a C. That is the lowest score reported to date. Harris says the C most likely is due to excessively long meetings that spent hours hashing out issues that have been carried from one meeting to the next. “Not only does this waste time, it also creates a negative and counterproductive atmosphere,” Harris said. “Everyone benefits when the School Board is able to function in a civil, focused and energized manner. We hope this minor dip is an anomaly and the School Board will be back on track by the next report card.” Harris says they have asked the board to find a way to focus on the reoccurring issues and find a solution. Harris says other recommendations have been followed. She praised the School Board for assigning a staff person to greet visitors at the door and ask them to sign in. A+ also asked the district to place a guard at the main entrance to the building where the board meetings are held to give the public access to the meetings after the other offices in the building are closed and the door is locked.
The full report card can be found at the A+ Schools web page.

Council OK's Additional $600K for Libraries

Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation today sending $600,000 to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The funds amount to a second payment from the city in return for a promise from the library to not close any branches this year. CLP had originally planned to close four libraries and reduce hours at the remaining facilities but put that on hold for another year when Pittsburgh City Council said it could find $600,000 in unspent funds in its 2009 budget and the same amount in the 2010 budget. Library Spokesperson Suanne Thinnes says the library still faces a funding gap for 2011 and the library board is looking for ways to close that gap. Thinnes says even the promise of additional revenues from the tax on table games in Pennsylvania will not be enough to close the gap. That tax is expected to generate about $850,000 for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

John Murtha Laid To Rest

U.S.Representative John Murtha's funeral service was held Tuesday morning at Westmont Presbyterian Church just outside of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, his hometown. He represented the area since 1974.

Among those in the packed church were Former President Bill Clinton, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who led a Congressional delegation of fifty. She spoke of his years of service, his support of veterans and scientific research and the twinkle in his eye. His daughter Donna Murtha delivered a tearful eulogy where she spoke of her father's love of family and his love of nature. Rev. Douglas Stevens said Murtha showed the same courage in his work as he did on the battlefield.

Murtha died on February 8 after complications from gallbladder surgery. He was 77 years old.

He was the head of the House appropriations defense committee, the first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress, the longest serving member of the House in Pennsylvania history. He was an outspoken critic of the Iraq war.

Monday, February 15, 2010

City Says It's Ready for Round 3

Public Works crews in the city of Pittsburgh are ready for the third snow storm to hit the region in 10 days. 3 to 6 inches of snow is expected in the Pittsburgh area by Tuesday afternoon and 4 to 10 inches in other parts of southwestern Pennsylvania, with the highest amounts in the ridges.
Pittsburgh Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski says they pre-treated the main roads and will work in two-12 hour shifts with 53 vehicles plowing and salting beginning with primary streets. Kaczorowski says they are equipped to handle 6 to 10 inches of snow, even up to 12 inches. He says one challenge is where to put this new snow and yesterday they were able to reduce some of the snow mounds. "We are using all of our resources to battle this next snow event. After this storm, we will remove the piles of snow in business districts and residential streets."

Stimulus Dollars Help Green Water Projects

The nonprofit watershed watchdog group American Rivers says federal stimulus dollars are helping to keep storm water out of treatment plants and pollution out of waterways while at the same time creating jobs. American Rivers Associate Director Liz Garland says billions of dollars have been spent on green infrastructure projects aimed at slowing the flow of storm water into rivers and sewage treatment plants through the State Revolving Fund. Money is being spent on green water projects such as building green roofs, laying porous pavement and planting water-absorbing strips of land near developments. Garland says she has heard anecdotally that the projects are creating thousands of temporary jobs but since the data has not yet been compiled there are no hard numbers. She says the projects do not just benefit the businesses that get the upgrades and those employed in installing them. She says by reducing the amount of water that enters waste water treatment plants and reducing the amount of pollution that flows into rivers and lakes the local tax payers see rate savings and everyone can benefit from a cleaner environment. Among the projects funded through the State Revolving Fund is a $1.2 million effort by Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forests to plant trees and install permeable pavers to reduce runoff from parking lots.

South Side Building Roof Collapse

Another roof collapse....this time in an empty building on Pittsburgh's South Side. The Neville Ice Arena, which has been vacant since 2001, has collapsed under the weight of the snow buildup. Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski says the building was similar in design to the Rostraver Ice Garden. That Rostraver Township facility sustained a partial roof collapse yesterday afternoon in between games of a youth hockey tournament. Everyone inside escaped safely. The cause of the roof collapse has not been determined but a fire official says the buildup of snow and ice may have contributed to it.
Kaczorowski says the heavy wet snow combined with no heat inside apparently led to the collapse of the former Neville Ice Arena. He said public safety and the Bureau of Building Inspection are expected to recommend the building be demolished and removed.

Hearing Scheduled for "Opt-out" Waterline Insurance

Pittsburgh City Council resolved Thursday to host a special meeting for residents to speak on the “opt-out” waterline insurance instated by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

The insurance charges customers $5 per month in exchange for covering possible problems with many water and sewer pipes running from the street to structures. Those pipes are the responsibility of the landowner.

The PWSA used to offer an “opt-in” version of the insurance, but changed their policy to opt-out because few property owners took them up on the offer. The insurance now covers water pipes 2 inches or less wide, and sewer pipes 8 inches or less in diameter.

The problem is that many residents whose pipes don’t fit these measurements are still being charged.

Councilman and water authority Board Member Patrick Dowd says since governmental entities can legally use opt-out programs, there’s not much Council can do to change this policy.

Dowd says he’d like to work with the water authority to allow more pipe sizes to be covered. He says for people who have this insurance, it would cost less than $2000 for 30 years.

“In fact, $2000 is a bonus, a bargain relative to the woman that I talked to in the East Liberty portion of our district who had to pay $15,000 to have her sewer line repaired,” says Dowd.

He says anyone who wants to drop the coverage can contact the PWSA to get a full refund before June.

CMU Prof: Pgh. Roofs Can Withstand the Snow

Despite the roof collapse of the Rostraver Ice Garden Sunday, a Carnegie Mellon University professor says locals shouldn’t worry about the safety of their own buildings.

Engineering Professor Irving Oppenheim says the structures in and around Pittsburgh are designed to withstand as much as three feet of snow. He says until the buildup of snow reaches four or five feet, residents need not worry about their roofs caving in.

Oppenheim says even the older structures of the city are capable of holding up, as evidenced by their survival over the decades.

He says he advises strongly against climbing onto a roof to extract snow by hand.

The CMU professor says the relatively small number of collapsed roofs among the hundreds of thousands of structures is a testament to the sturdiness of Pittsburgh’s buildings.

Rohrer Supporters Object to Endorsement Process

As Pennsylvania’s State Republican Committee met Saturday to make endorsements, a handful of conservative activists stood in the hallway urging members not to back any candidates at all.
Later in the day, about 400 grassroots conservatives attended a rally put together by candidate Sam Rohrer, who was overwhelmingly defeated by Tom Corbett in the final endorsement vote.
Many of the attendees said an official backing from the party unfairly tips the scales for one candidate, and limits the voters’ ability to make their own decisions.
Pat Donato of Montour County says she called up several state committee members to make that argument.

"I asked them not to endorse. I have nothing against Corbett. I felt that we really had the right to decide. That was simply it. I didn’t say ‘don’t endorse Corbett.’ I said, ‘please don’t endorse. Have this as an open primary."

The State Committee held a roll-call vote on whether or not to make endorsements on Saturday morning. Members voted 297-51 to select a candidate in the gubernatorial race.
300 committee members said “yes” to endorsing a Senate candidate, and 213 voted to endorse in the lieutenant governor race.

PA GOP Backs Corbett, Toomey

The State Republican Committee is officially endorsing Attorney General Tom Corbett’s campaign for governor. The party will also back Pat Toomey in May’s primary.
The Republican establishment opposed Pat Toomey when he challenged Arlen Specter in 2004, but six years later the former Congressman has the Pennsylvania GOP’s official endorsement.
Toomey says he’s confident he’ll defeat either Specter or Congressman Joe Sestak in November, and criticized the incumbent’s long record.

"I think it’s more the thirty years of being on both sides of every issue he can. Saying he’ll do one thing, then do another. Promising the Pennsylvania voters that he’d never leave the Republican Party, and then, as soon as he saw a poll that showed he couldn’t win a primary, fleeing immediately."

Toomey will face conservative activist Peg Luksik in the Republican primary.

In the gubernatorial race, Attorney General Tom Corbett overwhelmingly won the party’s official backing. Representative Sam Rohrer received just a dozen votes, out of the 348 cast. Corbett tried to reach out to grassroots conservatives during his acceptance speech.

"You say you don’t want any more taxes. I agree. I think we are already taxed much too much. You say government spends too much of your hard-earned money. I agree. I think we need to make government more accountable and stop spending what we cannot afford."

Bucks County Commissioner Jim Cawley won the party endorsement for lieutenant governor.

Corbett, Rohrer Debate

The two Republicans running for governor of Pennsylvania debated each other in a brief forum at the state Republican Committee’s winter meeting this weekend.
Attorney General Tom Corbett and State Representative Sam Rohrer laid out their platforms for State Committee members on the eve of the party’s endorsement vote.
Corbett, who won the GOP’s official nod the next day, said if elected, he’ll push for a two-year budget cycle.

"We’d reduce the cost of government in just the planning of the budget, which costs very much. That’s one aspect. It would bring certainty and predictability to the people who do receive state money, including the agencies, including the counties, including the school districts."

Rohrer says if he’s elected governor, he’d cut state spending by at least twelve percent focusing the reductions on three departments.

"Welfare, Education and Corrections. And I can guarantee you there are duplicity programs. There are things that we are doing there that we must not do and we cannot do, and frankly, exceed our ability to pay. So if we’re going to reduce spending we’ll have to go where we spend the most money."

Both Corbett and Rohrer promised not to raise taxes. Neither candidate likes Governor Rendell’s latest budget proposal, which would increase spending by about a billion dollars.

School Districts Running Low on Snow......Days

Although school districts are starting to get back to normal, many, if not most, have used up the snow days that were built into their academic calendars. That means they will have to convert school holidays or in-service days into classroom days to meet the state-mandated 180 class days by June 30th. If they are unable to meet the deadline, districts can apply for a waiver from the state.
Michael Race, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, says typically school districts have calendars that end in mid-June "so there is a little bit of a buffer toward the end of June to add days to the calendar."
Race says most districts have contingency plans "but when you get into a large number of snow days, it becomes an issue of fitting in the 180 days. But the 180 day rule remains in effect regardless of the weather conditions we may have."
Race says waivers are not granted for the weather itself, but rather extenuating circumstances caused by the weather such as power outages at schools or the loss of heat which makes it "impossible or extremely inconvenient" to keep schools open

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lt. Gov. Candidates Debate

A lieutenant governor candidates’ forum at the Republican State Committee Meeting in Harrisburg was a bit crowed Friday afternoon.
Seven candidates made their case to party loyalists on the eve of the GOP’s endorsement vote.
Fiscal conservatism was the theme of the day, as seven candidates laid out their arguments for why they should be the state’s number-two official.
Bucks County Commissioner Jim Cawley was one of many to say the Rendell Administration has let state spending get out of control.

"It’s been a 40-percent spending increase over the life of this administration. Folks, that’s got to end. What do they do? They turn to look for more revenue sources. Let’s toll I-80. Let’s put a severance tax on Marcellus Shale. No. What we have to do is start living within our means."

Activist Joe Watkins says Pennsylvania’s business climate is too hostile.

"We’re losing jobs hand over fist. Hand over fist. Rohm and Haas decided to get rid of 2,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. Mac Trucks left and went to North Carolina because North Carolina offered them an opportunity to do business in an environment that’s much more favorable than the one here in Pennsylvania."

Dauphin County Commissioner Nick DiFrancesco says the state needs to reduce spending, which means tough choices.

"You know, are our state parks worthy of funding during an economic crisis where people are losing their jobs, losing their homes, and household budgets are tightening? Parks are great – but do they warrant being funded when households are struggling? We can go down the list on a lot of things."

Candidate Jean Craig Pepper says she’s against a natural gas severance tax.

"What is being proposed, currently, in the current administration, is ridiculous. You don’t want to tax this thing. As the Beatles said, let it be. Let this wonderful asset be tapped and let it make jobs for Pennsylvania. And revenue."

Russ Diamond, Steve Johnson and Chet Beiler also took part in the forum and called for reduced state spending and lower taxes.
Most of the candidates voiced support for Attorney General Tom Corbett, who’s the front-runner for the GOP’s top spot on the ticket.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blitz Continues in Pittsburgh Neighborhoods

City officials say neighborhood snow removal “blitzes” will continue throughout the Pittsburgh today and through the weekend as needed. Crews this afternoon are focused on the Regent Square, Point Breeze, and Beechview neighborhoods. Crews will also be working in all neighborhoods hitting streets that are in the worst condition, working from a list compiled from 3-1-1 calls and the police and fire bureau.
The 3-1-1 non-emergency citizens' helpline will remain open through the weekend from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Parking Authority will not be enforcing fees or citations on authority parking meters or surface lots until Tuesday.

Bureau of Building Inspectors are going through the city’s business districts advising business and building owners how to safely remove overhanging icicles.

An administration spokeswoman says refuse and recycling collections will resume their regular schedule Monday.

Federal Assistance is Uncertain

Dealing with 2 winter storms in the past week has caused municipalities and counties to rack up expenses for lots of overtime and contracting of private equipment. That doesn't include any damages to public infrastructure and buildings from the storms. However, Congressman Tim Murphy of Allegheny County says a change in FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) rules in November might block local governments from getting any federal disaster assistance because the snow did not fall all at once and the clean up costs were spread over several days. Murphy says he and members of Congress from other states blanketed by the snow are hoping to convince FEMA that while there were 2 storms, it was one incident because communities were still digging out from the weekend storm when the snow began again on Tuesday.
Murphy says the storm-related costs are hitting smaller communities particularly hard...
"Just to go out and hire someone to use a front end loader or a plow to do a road is a much larger percentage of an expense than it is for a city, particularly rural communities where they have long stretches of road where unless they were cleared, people were in absolute isolation for several days."
Murphy says that if FEMA doesn't provide assistance, the president could declare a "disaster" and he wishes that the president "would just do that."
Murphy says the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency is working with local governments to keep good records of expenses to submit to FEMA.

Master Hacker Faces Stiff Sentence

Max Ray Vision, a mastermind computer hacker was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison today and ordered to pay $27.5 million in restitution for stealing more than a million bank and credit card numbers. Vision, formerly named Butler, at one time voluntarily cooperated with the FBI. But he turned to hacking the kinds of systems he once helped protect and according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Luke Dembosky, credit card companies Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover attributed more than $86 million in fraudulent purchases to credit card numbers found in Vision’s possession. Vision’s attorney Michael Novara noted that Vision saw less than a million dollars in personal financial gain.

The 13-year sentence is the longest sentence handed down for hacking in the United States to date. In a Federal courtroom in Pittsburgh, U.S. District Judge Maurice Cohill asked Vision if he had anything to say on his own behalf and Vision explained that he got caught up in the thrill of hacking, but had changed and no longer found it appealing. Novara called the sentence excessive for someone like Vision whose talents could be used for the greater good.

Dembosky says it was a four year effort to infiltrate the criminal network and identify and move in on Vision. He called the sentence bittersweet because of the waste of Vision’s intellect and talent, and the importance of bringing a measure of justice to the victims. He hopes Vision uses his gifts to benefit other people as he has done at times in the past. It has been intimated that Vision is cooperating with other federal investigations.

Emergency Preparedness Hearing Called For

A local representative says he wants to hold a hearing to address the region’s preparedness for the recent snow storms.

Representative Peter Daley says many of his Washington County constituents have called his office complaining of lingering utility outages and poor travel conditions.

Daley says its seems like the region was “caught with its pants down” when two major winter storms came through the area this week. He says that’s cause for officials from many state agencies to come together and talk about their response to the blizzard.

Daley says he’ll invite local government, firefighters, and utilities, as well as the Red Cross, state officials and the National Guard.

The first of a possible series of hearings is tentatively scheduled for March 3, at the Mon Valley Technical School.

Port Authority Previews Route Changes

The Port Authority is debuting changes to its routes at noon Friday. They will provide detailed information including maps and new schedules that will begin on April 4. The Port Authority makes small changes every three months. These are bigger changes that spokesman Jim Ritchie says will make bus service more efficient.

The changes come after years of public meetings and hearings and the prospective changes placed on the site.

The changes will affect about a third of the authority's bus and trolley routes and a quarter of its riders. About 60 routes will be affected. The changes will occur in small steps over two years.

The website is one component. Port Authority will also be distributing brochures and new schedules and having workers visit heavily used stops to talk about the schedule. The website is the main driving tool.

The changes are on the Port Authority's website.

Impact of Snow Storms Easing

Today is proving to be a better commute in some ways for people in the Pittsburgh area. The main roads are in good shape but that has led to more people deciding to get back to their normal routine, so volume of traffic is at its highest for this week.
Pittsburgh public works crews have been targeting trouble spots to get secondary and residential streets clear of snow. City officials are calling it the "blitz" which continued throughout the night and into this morning's rush hour. This morning crews are intensifying their efforts to clear streets in Squirrel Hill and South Side Flats.

At the request of the city, the Parking Authority is suspending fees and enforcement on Parking Authority surface lots and metered parking through Tuesday.
The Pennsylvania National Guard has demobilized their mission in the city to help residents with transportation for medical reasons or picking up prescriptions. A limited number of hum-vees and guardsmen will remain to assist public safety efforts.

The city's 3-1-1 response line is still operating 24 hours a day with 16 lines open. Operators took more than 2,000 calls yesterday....ten times their normal daily call volume.

About 18,000 Allegheny Power customers in southwestern Pennsylvania are still without electricity. Service is not expected to be completely restored till Sunday.
Duquesne Light says crews have reduced their number of outages to 160 and they should be restored by tonight.

PA GOP To Endorse This Weekend

The Republican State Committee meets this weekend in Harrisburg to endorse candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate.
In the governor’s race, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett is expected to easily win the party’s official backing.
Political Scientist Christopher Borick of Muhlenberg College doesn’t think that would give Corbett’s campaign any additional momentum, though, since opponent Sam Rohrer, a Berks County representative, his branding himself as an outsider candidate.

"If he is to really get something going and pose a real challenge to Tom Corbett, it’s going to be from an outsider perspective. It’s going to be from the activists, the conservative voters in the state that align with him, and individuals who really are energized by the tea party movement to come out and mobilize for him."

Corbett holds a wide lead over Rohrer in most polls. Rohrer is holding a rival event during Saturday’s state committee meeting. It’s billed as a grassroots rally, and will feature a video endorsement from Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and an appearance from Joe the Plumber, who gained fame campaigning for the Republican presidential ticket in 2008.
The GOP meeting comes a week after Democrats failed to endorse a candidate for governor. Auditor General Jack Wagner won more than fifty percent of the vote at the party meeting, but needed a two-thirds majority to win the endorsement.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rendell: State is Ready if There's More Snow

Tens of thousands of people in the greater Philadelphia area could be without power through Sunday, but Pennsylvania’s top emergency managers say the state’s roadways have been cleaned up following this week’s twin snow storms.
Governor Rendell says PEMA and the Pennsylvania National Guard are focusing attention on Chester, Delaware and Bucks counties, where 70-thousand people are without power. As of 3 p.m. Thursday, about 24,000 homes and businesses are without electricity in the Pittsburgh region.
400 Pennsylvania National Guard troops are conducting presence missions in the Philadelphia suburbs without power.
That means they’re patrolling in hum-vees, actively looking for people who need food, water, help with transportation or other assistance.

More snow is expected this weekend, but Rendell says the state will be able to handle it.
"I mean, look – it becomes a fiscal challenge, but again, we’ll review that. But I think Sunday is enough time for everyone to get a little rest, and we’ll be back at it. But look, I think our folks generally look at this as a challenge that we’ve got to respond to, and I think we’ve responded real well."

General Robert French, the head of PEMA, says emergency crews are busy state-wide.
"Definitely the weather improving today is going to give us some relief, give the first-responders a chance to actually finish up some of the work that they’re doing, and help with some of the power outages across the commonwealth."

Interstates 83, 81 and Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Expressway and Blue Route opened up this morning, and I-78 was back on line by early afternoon.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Closed Friday

For the fifth straight day, Pittsburgh Public Schools will be closed again on Friday, February 12, 2010 due to continuing issues from the recent snow storms.
A district spokeswoman says students will return to school Monday, February 15, 2010 with a 2-hour delayed start. This 2-hour delay will allow additional time for streets and sidewalks to be cleared, and will allow students to travel in daylight.
District officials are urging city residents and businesses to get sidewalks cleared this weekend to ensure students arrive safely to school on Monday.
Deputy Superintendent Linda Lane says they are concerned about the ability of students to commute safely to and from school.... "With many sidewalks still covered with deep snow, we are concerned that many students will be forced out into the streets. This creates a very dangerous situation, particularly for our little ones.”

Because bus stops that are not located on main thoroughfares may still be impacted by snow on Monday, Pugh says parents who have any questions about the location of their child’s bus stop should contact their transportation carrier or the District’s Transportation Office at 412-338-8125. Staff will be available to answer calls on Friday, February 12 from 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and beginning at 6:00 AM on Monday, February 15.