Thursday, September 30, 2010

Humane Society to Start Adopting Out Animals at $10

Anyone looking to adopt a new pet will be able to while only paying $10 during the month of October. The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society will start adopting out animals to families for that nominal amount which will cover the animal's spaying, neutering, vaccinations, and microchip.

The Humane Society started the program as part of a nation-wide competition in which 50 animal shelters would compete for a $100,000 grant from the ASPCA. So far the Humane Society has placed 1,056 animals out of their October 31st goal of 2000.

To meet that challenge, the Humane Society is recommending that Pittsburgh area residents go to their North Shore Shelter or Fallen Timber Shelter to adopt. Families also may go online to adopt at where they can see a list of the animals that are up for adoption to homes or sponsor animals for adoption.

RAD Budget Proposed

The Allegheny Regional Asset District, or RAD, which gives unrestricted grants to institutions such as libraries, county parks, museums, sports facilities released their 2011 preliminary budget on Thursday.

The budget is a recommendation of the Allocations Committee and is subject to a public hearing before the final budget is approved later this year. The hearing will be held on Tuesday October 26th.

The proposed budget is $80.2 million with grants to 89 organizations. It is $730,000 higher than last years. The RAD budget comes from one half of the proceeds of the Allegheny County Sales and Use Tax. The tax base was higher this year, said Rad Board Chairman Robert James and they also dipped into the reserve.

Libraries will get 33 percent of the budget. Barbara Mistick, President and Director of The Carnegie Library System said the libraries are facing a deficit of 1.7 million dollars so this increase will not make up their budget. They are seeking other ways to make up the deficit as well as find a sustainable funding solution.

Parks get 31 percent of the budget, sports facilities get 18 percent, places like The Zoo, Phipps and Aviary get eight percent and arts and cultural organizations get nine percent.

3 Schools Win Suit Over Duquesne Student Transfer

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court says a law that allowed the state to transfer students out of the Duquesne Public School District’s high school to a trio of neighboring districts doesn't pass constitutional muster. The court unanimously found a lower court had erred when it ruled the state Department of Education had the right to transfer students from the shuttered Duquesne High School to West Mifflin, East Allegheny and South Allegheny districts. The state took over the district in 2000 and closed the high school in 2007. The state cited budget issues, poor test scores and declining enrollment when it closed the high school. The three districts filed the suit. The high court found the state law under which the students were transferred to be unconstitutional because it was so specific as to reasonably apply only to Duquesne and therefore constitutionally prohibited. The case was sent back to Commonwealth Court for further consideration.

Analysis of PA's Jobless

With Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate still above 9%, Labor & Industry Secretary Sandi Vito has introduced A Profile of Pennsylvania’s Unemployed People which details the demographics of unemployed people and the recession’s effects on the workforce. Vito says this recession is the longest since the Great Depression and she believes the demographics are somewhat different from prior rates of unemployment …”so we wanted to better understand so we could better serve the unemployed.”

Vito says most of the 600,000 currently unemployed Pennsylvanians are educated, in their working prime, and – for many – facing the uncertainty of unemployment for the first time in their lives. 350,000 will exhaust their jobless benefits by April

“In Pennsylvania, and across the nation, there are about five applicants for every one job opening. This report illustrates – with clarity – the challenges faced by citizens who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet.

Vito says the report presents the basic facts about Pennsylvania’s unemployed people, including their demographic characteristics and educational background, where they live, their work histories, and the industries and occupations of their last job.

“Pennsylvanians who are unemployed want to go back to work. We hear from people across the state that they want meaningful careers and jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage. What is also clear is that many skilled people are on the sidelines because of this recession, but could be making a meaningful contribution to businesses and our state economy. Their talents are being wasted because of a lack of job opportunities.

Vito says the report can be used by legislators and policymakers in making decisions regarding economic and workforce development programs and policies moving forward.

PA House Bans Fake Weed

The Pennsylvania House has passed a measure outlawing the sale of synthetic marijuana.
The vote on the bill was near-unanimous. The measure would ban chemically treated herbs sold as incense, which trigger highs when smoked, but also lead to health risks.
Sponsor Jennifer Mann, a Lehigh County Democrat, says the state needs to step in and regulate the substances.

"This is definitely a growing trend, as people try to find a legal way to reach some kind of high. But folks, to do nothing is not the answer."

The one “no” vote came from Philadelphia Democrat Mark Cohen, who argued simply making drugs illegal isn’t an effective way to counter abuse...."We have banned marijuana and there is a vast amount of illegal marijuana trade all around this commonwealth."

Cohen has led the fight to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.
The House also passed a bill banning the sale of soda and unhealthy snacks in public schools.
A Senate Republican spokesman says the upper chamber likely won’t vote on either bill in the final days of session action. That means they would have to be reintroduced all over again.

Senate GOP Leader Rips Marcellus Tax Rate

The Pennsylvania House has passed a natural gas severance tax, but the Senate’s top Republican is throwing cold water on the bill’s chances in the upper chamber.
The bill passed by a 104-94 margin with 92 Democrats and 12 Republicans voting for the measure, which sets a 39 cent tax on every thousand cubic feet of gas drilled.
The first 70 million dollars of revenue would go into the General Fund, along with 4 of every 10 dollars after that.

Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati says that’s too much.

"You know, from the beginning I said this isn’t about balancing the General Fund or raising revenues for the General Fund. This is about environmental issues, it’s about safety, and it’s about returning money back for impact to the local municipalities and counties."

He says the Senate will not consider the House’s measure, but he and other leaders are willing to “negotiate in good faith,” and could send a different severance tax back to the House in October.

But House Speaker Keith McCall views the bill as a starting point for negotiations, and says he’s willing to compromise in order to get a bill.

"All of those issues are going to be on the table. The rate, the distribution of those funds, and what we do legislatively to protect the environment. To ensure that the environment – that the monies we derive from this go to environmental programs that are so very important to the majority of members of the House and the Senate."

House Democratic leaders say they’ll begin negotiating with Scarnati and other Senate leaders today and the rate and revenue distribution are both on the table.

Kathryn Klaber, president and executive director the Marcellus Shale Coalition called the House approval misguided......
"Votes against job creation and the responsible development of clean-burning domestic natural gas, which is helping to lower energy prices for Pennsylvania consumers and driving down our nation’s dependence on foreign sources of energy.

Klaber said she's confident that the Senate will remain steadfast in its "commitment to realize a competitive climate for growth and prosperity for Pennsylvanians."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Proposal to Keep City's Parking Assets "Public"

Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb has unveiled an alternative to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s plan to lease the city’s parking garages and meters for 50 years. The mayor last week announced the high bid of $451 million dollars. He planned on using at least 200 million of that to boost the city’s pension fund to at least 50% of its $990 million obligation to city workers and retirees.

The state has threatened to take over the pension fund, meaning higher annual contributions by the city, unless the 50% threshold is reached by January.

Several months ago Controller Lamb proposed transferring the parking assets directly to the Pension Fund. But the Administration indicated that might not be legal. Lamb says he has revised his proposal to meet the mayor’s concerns that the deal would not involve the city acquiring new debt and that it be a cash deal and “not some recognition of revenue” that would be derived from the parking garages and meters.

Lamb says the city has a strong cash position and he proposes using $60 million in reserves to make an advance payment of next year’s contribution to the pension fund. Then he suggests that the city sell the parking assets to the Parking Authority, not a private company, for $150 million. The combined $210 million would then boost the pension fund to the 50% mark..

Lamb says the lease proposal would mean an 11-12% annual increase in parking rates in the first few years. He says his proposal would also mean higher rates but only about a third of the increase that the lease deal would require. The controller said he met with the mayor Wednesday afternoon and he was “happy to have another option” and that Ravenstahl and council members that Lamb spoke with believe it’s “an idea worth consideration.”

House OKs Concussion Bill

Pennsylvania lawmakers are taking action to address the growing concern about concussions in sports. The Safety in Youth Sports Act, sponsored by Democratic Representative Tim Briggs of Montgomery County, aims at preventing serious brain trauma and to better monitor concussions in middle and high school aged athletes. He said its especially important to not shrug off brain injuries.

He said the bill was inspired by a bill passed by the Washington State legislature and his own experiences with his 8 year old son playing football.

Concussion trained medical professionals must release in writing any injured athlete to return to their sport. Briggs said it was important to change the mentality of "getting back in the game" or "shaking it off."

The Department of Health, The Pennsylvania Brain Injury Association, physicians and medical professionals from UPMC were involved in crafting the language.

The act calls for the state Departments of Health and Education to develop educational guidelines about injuries in school sports, including risks associated with continuing to play or practice after a concussion or head injury. Each student and parent/guardian must sign a form attesting that they know about the risks. There is also a mandate that all schools hold informational meetings regarding the risk of brain injuries and concussions. All new coaches must take an online course and be certified in concussion management training. It would penalize non-abiding coaches.

The measure now moves to the Senate.

PA House Amends Shale Tax Bill

The House is poised for a final vote on a natural gas severance tax this evening. Many expected the vote to come last night after hours of debate. However that debate resulted in an amendment that shifted the priorities for how the tax dollars will be spent. The bill imposes a 39 cent tax on every thousand cubic feet of gas drilled. The original language sent 60 percent of that revenue to the General Fund, with 40 percent going to other causes, including 12 percent for environmental stewardship efforts. Montgomery County Republican Kate Harper went to the floor to say that is not enough for her. “Don’t kid yourselves. You’re not voting for Mother Nature here. You’re voting to dump 80 million dollars into the General Fund. And I don’t think voters will appreciate it.” Later, House Majority Leader Todd Eachus shifted his stance and backed Harper’s amendment flipping the formula, sending 40 percent to the General Fund, and 60 percent to other line items including 32 percent for the environment. “This policy makes sense. Look, if you live in a place where there’s drilling, you understand the danger to clean water and environment, where the drilling takes place,” says Eachus. The amendment passed with bipartisan support, on a 154-45 vote. If a final vote is taken tonight and the bill, as expected, passes, it will then move on to the senate where Republicans say the 39 cent tax is too high for them to accept. A top staffer for Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati says the rate is “wholly unacceptable.” In a statement, Governor Rendell applauded the 154-45 vote for the amendment, and urged representatives to support the bill today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Allegheny County Meeting

When County Executive Dan Onorato submitted his proposed budget for the following year, it was a scaled down budget – and it didn’t take into account his plans for revamping the closed UPMC Braddock Hospital site.

Onorato’s plans for the hospital site are ambitious – the building will be demolished and in its place a mixed-use facility with an expanded urgent care clinic, Community College of Allegheny County facilities and senior housing. The problem – it’s not clear who will pay for the facility.

When he presented his budget last week there was no mention of his plans for Braddock – if anything, the budget was 5.8 million below last years and cuts human services, services at Shuman Detention Center and Juvenile Court Placement.

At an Allegheny County Council meeting on Tuesday, William Russell Robinson, Chairman of The Budget and Finance Committee raised the discussion of the impact of the Braddock Hospital Site Redevelopment on the County Budget. He also posed questions about a memorandum of understanding between the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and The Borough of Braddock that, previous to this week, had not been seen by County members.

The property is deeded to the county. UPMC is paying for the demolition. Asbestos removal has started this week.

Union Rallies for Marcellus Shale Tax

An indoor rally took place downtown today at the SEIU Health care Pennsylvania headquarters. The Coalition for Labor Engagement and Accountable Revenue gathered in support of imposing a severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas wells. Governor Ed Rendell and legislative leaders vowed to pass a tax by October 1, but that deadline appears dubious. The House Appropriations Committee passed a measure this morning that would impose a 39¢ tax per thousand cubic feet of gas. The full house could vote on the measure this week. SEIU health care Pennsylvania president Neal Bisno says lawmakers urged law makers to make what he called the right choice. "They can either stand with big oil and their lobbyists, or stand up for middle class taxpayers homeowners, children, seniors and other working folks. Many state senators will be standing for election in just a few weeks and this issue provides a clarifying moment for tax payers and voters." But the Republican controlled Senate likely won't pass the measure as it's currently written. They prefer a tax similar to that of Arkansas where drillers pay 1.5 percent of the dollar value of gas extracted. Bisno called the tax necessary, “to protect the environment, to compensate the communities that will be impacted by industry activity and to prevent additional cuts to things like early childhood education, libraries, state parks, services for seniors and people with disabilities -- to name just a few.” The house bill would split revenue 60/40 with the majority going to the state general fund and the rest earmarked for communities, environmental measures and maintenance of infrastructure used by the industry. Republicans would like to see that ratio flipped. Governor Ed Rendell prefers West Virginia's tax plan, which takes 5 percent of the value of the extracted gas and an additional 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet. Rendell wants about $70 million in natural gas money to balance the budget. The state faces a $282 million deficit.

Highmark Gives Bullying Prevention Grants

Two Pennsylvania bullying prevention programs will receive a combined $3.3 million from the Highmark Foundation.

Dr. Matthew Masiello of the Windber Research Institute says his organization and the Center for Safe Schools will essentially split the grant in half, but both entities will continue their work as two components of the same coalition.

“The Center for Safe Schools is responsible for implementing this evidence-based bullying prevention program, that now has been ongoing in the school systems of western Pennsylvania for the past several years,” says Masiello. “The role of the Windber Research Institute is to concentrate on the research and evaluation and monitoring of that implementation.”

Both organizations use the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which trains school faculty on how best to reduce bullying. Masiello says after the trainer leaves, the school district creates its own committee to continue the Olweus program.

Masiello says Windber uses before-and-after surveys of kids, teachers, and parents to determine the effectiveness of the program.

Masiello says while there will probably never be an “absolute end” to bullying, efforts like this take strides in reducing it to create a better learning environment.

Report Shows Decline in Number of PA Police Pursuits

A annual report by the Pennsylvania State Police shows a 12.9 percent decrease in police pursuits in 2009 from 2008. In 2008, the state reported 1,816 vehicle pursuits, 9 of which resulted in fatality. Last year, 1,582 pursuits were recorded, with 8 deaths. All 8 of those killed were fleeing from police.
According to the report, 532 of the 2009 police pursuits resulted in crashes, with 185 of them involving injuries. In 2008, 606 pursuits ended with an accident, and 212 of them involved injuries.
Press Secretary Jack Lewis says the number of police pursuits has been gradually declining in recent years. However, he says this has been the most significant decrease.
Lewis says this could be a result of less people taking that risk of fleeing from police, or police using less aggressive tactics when pursuing a vehicle. He says about 57% of all apprehensions of people in fleeing vehicles were accomplished using whats called a trailing pursuit, which is when the officer tries to follow the vehicle in attempt to pull it over rather than going ahead of it and trying to cut it off. "So since trailing pursuits are the least aggressive type of pursuit we're hopeful that departments are using those in attempt to cut down on the number of injuries and death."
The complete 2009 Pennsylvania Police Pursuit Report can be found on their website.

Fox Alert in Allegheny County

The Allegheny County Health Department is warning residents to be wary of foxes and other potentially rabid animals around your homes.
The alert comes after two men were bitten and another scratched by foxes in 3 separate incidents this month. Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole says one man was bitten by a fox as he was cutting brush in a wooded area near his home. Another man was bitten while he was washing his car in his driveway, and a third man was scratched while trying to break up a fight between a fox and his dog.
Cole says the foxes escaped and were unavailable for testing to confirm whether they had rabies, so the men are being treated with anti-rabies vaccine as a precaution and not expected to develop rabies. A fourth fox found dead on a road and not involved in these incidents has tested positive for rabies.
Cole warns residents to be aware of creatures in the environment whenever outdoors and to frequently look around for wild animals, particularly foxes and raccoons, which may be infected with the rabies virus.
When you see a wild animal, don’t go near it and chances are it will go away. If the animal looks threatening, slowly back away and go indoors or to a protected area. If it stays around, call your local animal control service, the police or the Game Commission. Cole says if you are ever bitten, scratched, or otherwise exposed to saliva from a fox, raccoon or any other animal, wash the contact area with soap and water, seek emergency medical treatment and call the Allegheny County Health Department to report the incident.
Rabies is almost always fatal when exposures go untreated. The anti-rabies vaccine is highly effective when given promptly after an exposure.
Cole advises if your pet is ever involved in a fight with another animal, never get into the middle of it and don't use your bare hands to separate them. If your pet gets another animal’s saliva on its body or in its mouth, handle your pet with gloves, bathe it carefully with soap and water, and call your vet for advice.

Hearing On Security Bulletins

The head of Pennsylvania’s Homeland Security Office defended controversial security bulletins during a State Senate hearing Monday.
The documents, which Governor Ed Rendell called “worthless,” provided information about political protests and upcoming religious holidays, along with other data.
Pennsylvania Homeland Security Director James Powers apologized to groups who felt like the primers infringed on their freedom, but he defended the intelligence, saying the information was useful to ground-level officials.

"For me and for you, does it matter what’s happening in Cecil Township? Well, it matters to the chief of police, who does not have analysts, who does not have researchers, and is responsible to the elected leaders there for public safety."

The state paid more than 100-thousand dollars to a private security firm for the information, but Rendell decided not to renew its contract after the bulletins were made public.
During the hearing, officials from the State Police told lawmakers they repeatedly questioned the value of the reports.
Powers said he heard their complaints, but disagreed. "On a couple of occasions they were concerned that some of the information looked like it was of useless value. But I knew from the stakeholders themselves - the people we wrote this document for, the people at the lowest level of government – that it was useful to them."

Powers says no tax dollars were spent on the bulletins, which were funded by federal grant money. Several senators were hostile to Powers during the hearing.
One Democrat, Senator Jim Ferlo of Allegheny County, told Powers he should be fired.

Onorato and Corbett Debate

The two candidates for governor met for their first debate last night and at times it was hard to tell them apart. Republican Tom Corbett did challenge Democrat Dan Onorato early on, calling him a career politician who doesn’t tell voters the whole story about his track record. “When he talks about not raising the property tax in Allegheny County, he’s absolutely correct. But what he leaves out is that he has created the single largest tax increase in the history of Allegheny County, in order to balance a budget, when it came to the Port Authority,” says Corbett. Onorato lobbed near-identical attacks at Corbett, arguing the Attorney General’s track record doesn’t mesh with his campaign promises. “Tom’s the one who signed the no tax pledge, and changed the definition three times in the last month. Tom’s saying he’s going to cut state government. He’s asked for an increase every year in his budget. Tom said he’s going to reduce the cars. His fleet went up. They’re facts,” says Onorato. When they weren’t throwing barbs, the two men actually agreed on several issues. Both vowed to shrink spending, cut corporate taxes and reform state government. The forum was the first of three debates. The two men will meet again in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh next month. Corbett leads in the polls, and also has more money in his campaign warchest.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dept. of Labor Promotes Older Workforce

This weekend marked the conclusion of National Employ Older Workers Week, an effort by the U.S. Department of Labor to promote the hiring of people 55 and older.

Experience Works administers the Senior Community Service Employment Program in Pennsylvania. The program pays older workers minimum wage for community service work as they receive skills training and job search assistance.

Experience Works Office Administrator Marcia Wilson says while the program helped more than 1,100 seniors in the past year, the need for assistance is growing beyond its scope. Wilson says age discrimination among employers is a contributing factor.

“Whether we like to admit that or not, it is there. And people oftentimes think that an older person either can’t keep up with the younger people, can’t get along with the younger people, can’t learn anything new, or don’t want to do today’s jobs. Those are all myths that we have to dispel.”

Wilson says one area where seniors have an advantage is part-time employment: combined with social security or retirement funds, seniors can thrive on multiple income streams. She says people 55 and older often take these jobs when younger workers turn them down.

Printing Press At Pitt

The University of Pittsburgh has acquired a new book machine that takes digital files and prints, aligns and binds books in under ten minutes.

Rush Miller is the Director of Library System at The University of Pittsburgh. He says the machine has numerous benefits - besides offering on demand books for people who might prefer a print book to reading on a computer screen, it might be cheaper for students to purchase a bound book than to buy a textbook published by a traditional printing company.

PA International Week

Pennsylvania trade officials are trying to connect regional business leaders in the state with international representatives in an effort to increase Pennsylvania exports, attract international investments and create jobs for state residents.
Pennsylvania International Week is being held in Philadelphia this week and trade representatives from 30 countries from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America will be on hand to help businesses in the Commonwealth successfully export their products around the world. State Senator Andy Dinniman of Chester County says this event is an incredible opportunity for companies to learn about new markets and potential clients.....
"Business owners and representatives will be able to meet one on one with trade representatives from around the world. This event could make the difference between a struggling domestic business and a thriving international one."

Pennsylvania exports fell 18% between 2008 and 2009 but jumped 17 percent in the first quarter of 2010, as compared to the same quarter of 2009. Exports of manufactured goods rose by 16% compared to the first quarter of 2009. The leading goods being sent overseas include chemicals, primary metals, machinery, computer and electronic products, and transportation equipment. During the first quarter of this year, the industry that saw the largest growth in dollars was pharmaceuticals and medicines, up $632 million, or 101 percent.

Pennsylvania's top trading partners are Canada, Mexico, China, the United Kingdom and Japan.

Festival of Lights

Pittsburgh’s fourth annual Festival of Lights starts at dusk on Friday and will run every evening until midnight through October 17th in the Cultural District under the auspices of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, with support from Duquesne Light.

Festival of Lights Director Marguerite Jarrett Marks says U.K. artist Ross Ashton has designed four major installations that form a lighting trail between the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and the back of Heinz Hall. "Old Bones" at Mahla Office Furniture echoes the Carnegie Museum's dinosaur collection and "Splendors" on the Convention Center refers to "Vatican Splendors", which opens October 2nd at the Heinz History Center. Ashton has also put a waterfall titled "Cascade" on Heinz Hall and a tranquil piece called “Hope” on the Catholic Charities Building on 9th Street.

Local artists, including CMU drama students, have designed a series of storefront projects along the way.

The concentrated footprint makes it easy to see all the installations on foot, stopping by restaurants and theaters, but there will be pedicabs available, and Molly’s Trolleys is offering a tour.

Pittsburgh Celebrates Banned Books Week

Pittsburghers will celebrate National Banned Books Week in Oakland Monday night with an event featuring readings and a sing-along of banned books and songs.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes says the “FREADom” program salutes the hundreds of books that are banned or challenged each year.

While a ban occurs when a library forbids a book, a challenge happens when someone writes a letter of complaint requesting a library remove a book. Thinnes says a book could be challenged for a variety of reasons.

“Some people don’t think it’s appropriate due to religious reasons or that it’s not considered family-friendly. It might have what they consider violence or be of a sexually explicit nature, or contain offensive language.”

Thinnes says there were 460 challenges to books across America last year. Among the top ten most common challenges were Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye.”

Local acts like the Amish Monkeys, the Highway Puppet Theater, and Temujin the Storyteller will read from their favorite banned or challenged works.

The local American Civil Liberties Union is also asking attendees to email banned song ideas for the sing-along.

The celebration is free and open to the public at the Frick Fine Arts Building Auditorium at 7:00 Monday night.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Evaluation of Parking Assets

A $250,000 study commissioned by Pittsburgh Council suggests that the city's parking garages and meters would likely bring in $2.4 billion over the next 50 years. Council, is looking for alternatives to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's plan to lease the garages and meters for 50 years. The mayor this week unveiled the high bid...$452 million in an upfront payment.
The mayor wants to use $200 million from that payment to bolster the city's sagging pension fund which is at about 28% of the $989 million obligation to workers and retirees. The state has threatened to takeover the pension, meaning higher annual payments by the city, unless the fund is at a minimum of 50% of the obligation by January.
Jeff Andrien, president of Finance Scholars Group which did the study for Council, says the cash value of the city's parking assets depends on how much demand will drop as parking prices increase. Andrien says the total value of the parking assets was put at $401 million. The study did not make any recommendations on whether the city should lease the garages, float a bond to fund the pensions and use parking revenues to pay off the loan, or let the state take over the pension fund.
The mayor wants Council to approve his lease plan by November 1.

PAT Delays Service Cut Vote

The Port Authority Board of Directors has decided to delay a scheduled vote on service cuts, layoffs and fare increases until November 24. The board wants to give the state legislature more time to address the $492 million hole in the transportation funding budget. PAT has proposed cutting service by 35%, laying off 500 workers and boosting fares in January to fill a projected $47 million shortfall. $27 million of that deficit comes from a reduction in state aid. Because of the postponed vote by the PAT Board, the cost saving measures would be delayed till March....that is if state lawmakers do not approve new funding. PAT CEO Steve Bland estimates the 2 month delay could cost the transit agency another $5 million.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gloria Steinem Visits Pittsburgh

The YWCA brought feminist activist and author Gloria Steinem to Pittsburgh on Friday.

Steinem has spent the last fifty years fighting for the civil rights of women. In that time there has been much progress. On Friday, speaking to a reporters before delivering a speech to hundreds she said her work is not done.

"The individual difference is bigger than the group difference by far. Race is a fiction. Gender is a fiction. We made it up. We can unmake it," she said. She spoke about the previous presidential election and pointed out that while Barack Obama is a black man, he is a feminist and while Hilary Rodham Clinton is a white woman she is a strong supporter of civil rights.

She also spoke about the historical and cultural reasons womens' equality issues are still unresolved. Several hundred people, mostly women, attended her talk.

No Legislative Action on Major Issues

The House and Senate completed their week in Harrisburg without making progress on any major issues.
Resolutions marking a week in September “Miles of Pillowcase Smiles Week,” creating “Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day” and making October “Parent Involvement Month” are some of the actions the House and Senate approved this week.
The chambers also passed bills changing laws related to wills and estates; and borough, township and county codes – but didn’t take action on any of the major issues facing them such as severance tax, pension reform, transportation funding or any other high-profile legislation.
Tim Potts of government reform group Democracy Rising PA says he’s disappointed, but not surprised.

"You’ve got these enormous issues that have tremendous potential for good and ill in Pennsylvania. And yet they still are unprepared to deal with them. We’re paying 30-thousand dollars a day for per diems for these guys. The least they can do is show up ready to work."

Governor Rendell remains optimistic a severance tax will clear the House this month.
He says he’s working with Democratic leaders to hash out differences on how the revenue would be distributed. However, the bigger stumbling block for a severance tax is the rate of the levy.

Young Adults Get Extended Health Insurance

A portion of the federal health care law that went into effect this week will build on a measure Governor Ed Rendell signed into law last year.
Since last December, Pennsylvania insurance companies have been able to extend parents’ health care benefits to their children, up to the age of 29.
The state law provided the option for companies to do that, though – it wasn’t a mandate, as Acting Insurance Commissioner Robert Pratter explains.

"Whether or not that was provided was left up to the employer sponsoring the plan. So that if the employer agreed to provide that coverage that coverage would be available. But it was not the parents’, or I’ll say the consumers’, choice."

The federal health care law now in effect requires insurers to provide coverage to young adults up to age 26, through their parents’ plans.
At the time the state law went into effect last year, Pennsylvania’s Insurance Department estimated 15-thousand twenty-somethings without insurance could benefit from joining their parents’ plan.
Insurance companies are also now barred from denying coverage to children with preexisting conditions.
Meantime, the Insurance Department is still accepting applications for a new pilot program covering people with preexisting health conditions. There are 35-hundred available spots.
A spokeswoman says about 34-hundred people have applied so far.

Judge Rules Against CPRB

An Allegheny County judge has rejected a request by the Citizens Police Review Board to get information on police actions during the G20 Summit a year ago in Pittsburgh. Common Pleas Judge Stanton Wettick ruled that Pennsylvania law forbids Pittsburgh Police from turning over complete arrest reports to the review board.
The CPRB wants the documents to investigate allegations of police misconduct during the G20. Police officials had provided heavily redacted files to the review board but the board said that so much information was blacked out that it rendered the records useless.
Judge Wettick agreed with city attorneys who argued that Pennsylvania's Criminal History Record Information Act prohibited the full disclosure of certain records, except to other law enforcement agencies.

Green Building Process Scrutinized

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University have received a $2 million federal grant to investigate the actual environmental effects of “green” buildings.

Led by Pitt engineering professors Melissa Bilec and Amy Landis, the study aims to make sure green buildings are performing as well as they can.

Bilec says every new structure, including any green building, has an environmental footprint from the materials used to build it to the last day of its existence. That total environmental effect constitutes a building’s life-cycle assessment, or LCA.

Bilec says one of the goals is to expand the scope of LCAs to include the building’s effect on the people who live or work in it.

“[We’re] really trying to connect people with their buildings. Right now, 90% of our time is spent inside, but we really know very little about the environment that we occupy, from the air quality to the energy usage or the water usage. So that’s what we’re trying to do, is connect people with the indoor environment.”

Another component of the study is a survey of architects, contractors, and other people in the construction process to determine the weaknesses of the LCA.

Bilec says the team will ultimately submit new recommendations to the United States Green Building Council.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Symposium on Aging

A symposium exploring social justice and health care options for the elderly is being held in Pittsburgh.

Aging issues in this country aren’t new- but as the baby boomer generation gets older they are taking on a new urgency.

There are health care issues. There is policy that must be tailored for this growing population. And there is the question of housing. People want to live in communities - not institutionalized nursing homes.

A symposium addressing those issues is being held this week at Duquesne University.
Eileen Sullivan-Marx, a Dean at The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing was among the speakers. She spoke about community based long-term care facilities.

"Pennsylvania has grown the best range of community based long term care facilities. They are called living independently for elders program and Pennsylvania has more of these programs than any other state in the country and they are very effective. It’s like turning a nursing home inside out. So we’re providing all of the services that would be available in a nursing home but providing them in their homes and in their communities," she said.

Pennsylvania has the second largest elderly population in the country –and that population is only expected to grow.

Bacteria Alters Genetic Make-up in Real Time

Researchers at Allegheny General Hospital have made a key discovery in the evolutionary nature of bacteria in chronic infectious disease. Dr. Garth Ehrlich, scientific director of the Center for Genomic Sciences at AGH, says the research team found that a group of highly-related bacterial strains change genetically so fast that it is likely nearly impossible for the host's immune system to effective track and eradicate the infection.
Dr. Ehrlich says the team documented the first evidence that bacteria alter their genetic makeup in real-time to circumvent the immune system...
"Much like we see with other successful pathogens, such as viruses and certain parasitic organisms, which are designed to mutate and confuse the immune system, bacteria--which cause the vast majority of chronic infectious disease in the United States--appear to be using a similar tactic. And they are doing so through a dynamic, real-time process of altering their genetic code that until now has not been understood and which is counter to conventional wisdom about the typical pace of species evolution."
Bacterial infections have traditionally been studied under the assumption that a single genetic organism is at the heart of any single case of infection. But this new research shows that many chronic infections are the result of multiple strains or species of bacteria.
"It is essentially a genomic chess match where bacteria through horizontal gene transfer are always staying one step ahead."
Ehrlich says once they verify the gene transfer is common in chronic bacterial infections, he hopes it will lead to promising directions in treatment.

Scouts Gather for Campaganza at Moraine

An estimated 10,000 Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts will take over part of Moraine State Park in Butler for Campaganza this week. It's in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. Rick Bausher, BSA Penn's Wood Council Commissioner, says it's a "jamboree" type experience for the 95% of scouts who can't attend a national event. Campaganza is being presented by the Councils of the Northeast Region, Area IV. The boys will be coming from Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Maryland.

Jeremy Rekich, Assistant Park Manager, says there will be limited public access to the south shore, including Bear Run Launch, from September 24-26. All parking for the event will be directed to the Butler Fairgrounds on Route 422. Rekich says they've been preparing for the past 18 months to host the boys. He says 6 extra park rangers will provide security.

There will be about 100 activities for the boys. Bausher says the scouts will be busy doing things like, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, rock climbing, mountain biking, archery, paint ball, games, and more. Saturday night Campaganza's arena show will feature entertainment by a couple national acts, Smash Mouth and Tyler Bryant Band. The show is open to the public. Tickets are available through TicketMaster. There's more information at

Sifting Through Campaign Contributions, Expenses

Finance reports released by Tom Corbett and Dan Onorato’s campaigns this week provide a glimpse behind the scenes of the race for governor of Pennsylvania.
DUQ's Scott Detrow took a look inside the report.
Scores of insurance companies, including Geico, Metlife and AllState – as well as the American Council of Life Insurers, donated to Corbett’s campaign.
Much of Onorato’s political action committee support came from labor groups and law firms.
Both candidates received money from companies drilling for gas in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation: Cabot Oil and Gas, who has been fined by the Department of Environmental Protection for serious violations, gave 10-thousand dollars to Corbett, while Range Resources donated 55-hundred to Onorato.
On the expense side, Corbett spent 2,512 dollars on helium for balloons last quarter, while Onorato purchased nearly 900 dollars in stickers on one occasion.
Onorato spent 108-thousand 200 dollars on polling, and Corbett dropped 67-thousand 383 dollars on airfare.
The Republican campaign also spent more than 34-thousand dollars making calls to voters, 9 thousand dollars on yard signs, more than 56 thousand dollars on printing and mailing campaign literature, and 2,512 dollars on helium for balloons.
Corbett spent 30-thousand dollars on TV ad production, and another 415-thousand on buying air time.
That’s compared to the 40-thousand and 450-thousand Dan Onorato’s campaign spent for producing and airing its commercials.
Onorato also bought 10-thousand dollars in Google ads for the “Clueless Tom” online campaign he ran this summer, and spent 32-thousand dollars on various expenses related to a fundraiser with former President Bill Clinton.
The Democratic campaign spent 19-hundred dollars renting port-o-potties for a Philadelphia picnic, and subscribed to the Reading Eagle for 206 dollars.
In all, Onorato’s campaign spent 1.8 million dollars last quarter, and Corbett’s spent 1.7.

Table Games Tax Revenues Behind Projections

Table games at Pennsylvania casinos generated fewer tax dollars than budget revenue estimates projected they would during their first full month of operations. But the Gaming Control Board isn’t worried about the numbers.
Table games brought in $34.5 million at the nine casinos last month, and generated 4.8 million dollars in state tax money. However, budget officials are counting on about $6.2 million a month to balance the state's books.
Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach argues it’s still early, though.

"I think you’ll continue to see the popularity of these table games increase as the casinos and their staff get their marketing efforts expanded. As you see also the number of games and the types of games bring brought in to the casinos being the right mix to meet their patrons’ needs.

Philadelphia’s Parx Casino was the highest performer, bringing in 887-thousand state tax dollars. Presque Isle had the lowest totals, collecting 264-thousand dollars in taxes.
For the most part, slots revenue at the casinos was about the same as August 2009.

Take Part In Pittsburgh's Giant Panorama

If you can see the top of the U.S. Steel Tower someone may be taking your picture today. Between 11 am and 2 pm a team from Carnegie Mellon University will be taking a giant panoramic photo of the city. The "Pittsburgh Gigapanorama", a high resolution panorama, will be shot from the top of Pittsburgh's tallest building, the U.S. Steel tower. Anywhere visable from the Steel Tower will be captured in a portait. A GigaPan photograph is a composite image made up of many smaller images stitched together to make one giant photograph, as seen here in last year's photo of the city.

Pittsburghers are invited to make signs, wear costumes and pose for the camera as it takes a massive high-resolution picture of our city. The picture will be accessible online before the end of October.

Carnegie Mellon's STUDIO for Creative Inquiry will broadcast updates every five minutes using Twitter and Facebook to help participants know where the GigaPan camera is pointing at the time they check.

Carnegie Mellon's David Bear began the project during a fellowship at CMU and has been financially supported by the Sprout Fund and the Heinz Endowments. The GigaPan Camera, and other tools used for todays project, were developed by the Create Lab at CMU's Robotics institute.

North Side Park to be Restored

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh hopes to revitalize the plaza between the museum and Allegheny Center Mall.

Children’s Museum Deputy Director Chris Siefert says the museum hopes to reopen the disused Allegheny Public Square to the community.

“The way it’s currently designed, it sort of feels private. It feels like it belongs to Allegheny Center Mall, but it’s really a public city park and we hope that by this revitalization it will recapture that feeling of a town green.”

The plaza’s concrete floor will be removed in favor of more than 70 trees and a space for a large tent. Siefert says the museum may move its Wednesday concert series to the park, in addition to whatever public or private events might take place there.

The Children’s Museum has a little more than $4 million of its $6 million goal for the project. Siefert says work will begin next spring, and the park is slated for rededication in 2012.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Searching for A Cure

As the population ages and is increasingly at risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers continue searching for a cause and a cure.

Curcumin, commonly known as the spice Turmeric has been shown to have beneficial effects in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The catch? A person would have to consume pounds and pounds of it a day or take 400 tablets of a supplement daily.
But with the help of a new foundation’s money researchers at The University of Pittsburgh and Harvard University are working together to create new drugs that will slow or cure the disease. And their focus is on the spice.

"Ninety nine point nine nine nine percent gets broken down – its thrown out by the body. So what they’re trying to do is find that 000.1 percent of curcumin that would get to the brain from pounds gets to the brain from taking one little pill. So that’s the whole idea here to make a curcumin derivative that’s stabile in the body but still does the same thing that curcumin does," said Bill Klunk, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Pittsburgh and Co-Director of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center.

This week they received $400,000 from The Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, a local foundation.
Alzheimer’s Disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills. Five million Americans have it. By 2050, 16 million Americans are expected to have the disease.

County Councilman to Propose Campaign Finance Reform

At tonight's legislative session, Allegheny County Councilman Matt Drozd plans to submit an ordinance that would ban county officials from taking contributions from vendors, contractors or employees that do business with the county or have financial connections with the county. Drozd says he's been mulling over this legislation for years and believes he has the support of County Executive Dan Onorato. Drozd says he has seen contracts awarded where there was clearly a conflict of interest and he wants to put an end to the practice and to the perception that contracts are granted based on contributions to officials. He says he's not trying to put Allegheny County officials and lawmakers running for higher office at a financial disadvantage, "what I want to do is, anyone who runs for the office even, cannot accept contribution from vendors....I want to make that broadened, include anyone that's running for the office, even if it's not an elected office in the county, they can't do that." He says he's received complaints from small businesses and companies owned by women and minorities, "there's a perception – I've heard this from many of them – if you don't give a donation, you're not going to get a contract or any kind of work from the county, or other areas in government." The session begins at 5 p.m. in the Gold Room at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Social Security to Play Roll in PA Elections

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party has launched a new coalition that will try to focus voter’s attention on Social Security issues. The party announced Wednesday that “Pennsylvania Seniors to Save Social Security” will spend the next few weeks running senior-to-senior phone banks and holding events in key congressional districts. Party staffer Mark Metcalf says the efforts will try to inform voters, especially those at or near the age of receiving Social Security benefits, about plans moving in Washington to privatize the program and trim benefits. Seniors manning the phone banks will give their personal stories of how Social Security has made their lives better and then point out the differences among the candidates. Metcalf says he thinks the phone banks and the in-district events will reach the key voters and will make a big difference in November.

Congressman Mike Doyle (D- Swissvale) says protecting Social Security needs to be a part of every Pennsylvania voter’s decision process. The state has one of the highest populations of seniors by population and by percentage. He says in his district alone there more than 100-thousand Social Security recipients and some two million in the state. Doyle says there is a strong movement among some key Republicans make the changes.

Corbett Maintains Double Digit Lead

When it comes to polls and finances, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett has big leads over Democratic nominee Dan Onorato.
The latest Quinnipiac poll gives Corbett a 15 point lead over Onorato, and a 56-29 advantage among independent voters. Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley attributes the gap to economic issues...
"I think the voters are concerned about jobs. They're concerned about taxes, and they're concerned about state spending....all things that Tom Corbett is on the right side of, and Dan Onorato is on the wrong side of."
Onorato dismisses the latest poll saying it underestimates the number of Democrats who will turn out on Election Day....
"What they did was, they put a very low number for Democratic turnout. That's why the number was significantly different from the poll two days ago. I don't believe the turnout's going to be significantly lower. I think it's going to be pretty normal, compared to every other election year. And in that situation, then, all of a sudden, we win the race."

Financial documents released Tuesday show Corbett raised $6.1 million in the last quarter, while Onorato brought in $4.1 million.

No Agreement On Severance Tax Yet

As the General Assembly's October 1 deadline for passing a natural gas severance tax draws closer, more and more supporters of the efforts are losing faith that it will be approved. The Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania House has yet to call a vote on a severance tax, and it's unclear when or even if that will happen.
During a rally at the Capitol rotunda against gas drilling, Delaware County Democratic Representative Greg Vitali, who supports a severance tax, said that leaders from both parties were just posturing on the issue, and don't plan on passing the tax.....

"Don't let them fool you. If the House shoots over a bill to the Senate, and the Senate shoots over a bill to the House, and they try to tell you they've worked on this issue, they're just not telling the truth. What they want to do is, they want to get out of town, do no harm and get themselves reelected."

Bu Brett Marcy, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, says leaders have been working...
"I think there's a big difference between what you see in public and what you see in private. And the bottom line is, we've been having an awful lot of discussions with all the stakeholders on this issue for months now...and not just weeks, but months. So I would not be discouraged. The House Democratic Caucus remains committed to this issue."

Senate Republican leaders say they're waiting for the House to pass a tax before they take up the issue. The Republican leaders wants a lower tax rate than the levy that Democrats are pushing for. Governor Ed Rendell says he will veto a rate he considers to be too low.

County Council Gets Budget

The Allegheny County Council received County Executive Dan Onorato’s 2011 Comprehensive Fiscal Plan last night with very little comment. Onorato’s plan rolls back spending and does not include a tax increase. The proposed 2011 operating budget totals $767.7 million, which is $5.8 million less than the 2010 adopted budget. “We’re in the worst economic recession of our times and our residents are faced with the same challenges at home,” said Onorato. “I’m asking all County departments to live within the 2010 budget for another year.” Many of the cuts come as federal and state pass-through funding tumbles. The Capital Budget will account for $112.7 million of the $767.7 million budget, including $62.5 million for County roads and bridges, and $13.8 million for building improvements. Council will hold hearings in the budget in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Coal Ash Hearing In Pittsburgh

A public hearing concerning coal ash regulation is being held in downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed national regulations about the disposal and management of coal ash from coal fired power plants.

The ash is the byproduct of coal and is disposed in liquid form at large surface impoundments and in solid form at landfills. It can leak into water and waft through the air. The residuals contain mercury, cadmium and arsenic.

The EPA has put forward two proposals regarding the disposal of coal ash. One would be a program of federally enforceable requirements for its management and disposal. The other option would allow the EPA to set performance standards for waste management facilities and would be enforced primarily through citizen suits. Under both approaches coal ash would be able to be recycled as a component of a product such as concrete.

Representatives from the EPA have hosted public hearings around the country. On Tuesday they were in Pittsburgh.

“We breathe, we walk in it, it’s on our clothes it’s on our body hair and even on our cars parked in the parking lot,“ said Herman Marshman Jr., President of a utility workers union, he works for First Energy in Midland. He was among dozens of speakers who spoke on Tuesday morning. He urged the EPA to make a choice that would benefit citizens and the environment first. "Everyone is responsible the EPA, the DEP, the community, the employers of these utilities, I’m not advocating either or, I just want everybody to make the right decision."

Two years ago, an impoundment holding coal ash in Kingston, Tennessee broke open and caused a massive spill that displaced people and caused serious environmental damage.

Columbia Gas Checks Defective Pipes

Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania is checking plastic pipes in thousands of buildings after it was discovered that the walls of the pipes are too thin. The gasline pipes were installed in about 28-thousand buildings before a worker noticed the problem in June. Columbia Gas spokesman Mike Marcus says the pipes in question were used at buildings in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Kentucky and Virginia. Marcus says they don't believe there is a threat of immediate failure but rather a shorter lifespan for the pipe......."We don't believe there's a safety issue with those pipes but because safety is our top priority, we're taking the extra precaution of inspection all those locations. Marcus says Jana Laboratories of Ontario, Canada has been hired to test the pipers made by Texas-based Polypipe..........
"We're inspecting at the 5,600 locations where the pipe was used and we've stopped using the brand of plastic pipe in question, and we're now installing a plastic pipe produced by another manufacturer."
He says should it be determined that there is any form of hazard, the pipe will be replaced. Polypipe officials blamed malfunctioning cooling equipment for the thin walls.

ACLU Sues Pittsburgh for G20 Arrests

The city of Pittsburgh, Police Chief Nate Harper and a number of police officers are being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for arrests that took place September 25, 2009, on the last day of the G20 Summit. ACLU Pennsylvania Legal Director Vic Walczak announced the federal suit at Schenely Plaza in Oakland, the site of the protest and subsequent arrests. According to the brief, police declared the peaceful demonstration unlawful and issued an order to disperse. But Walczak says police then prevented protesters from leaving the area, "when they tried to leave there was nowhere to term used by someone that we thought was descriptive is they were 'ping pongs,'" bouncing from one side of the plaza to another trying to get out but prevented from doing so by lines of officers in riot gear. The lawsuit lists 25 plaintiffs, including Carnegie Mellon University student Casey Brander, who says she was arrested on the lawn near the Cathedral of Learning after attempting to leave the area. She says she was detained for 19 hours and says many people were physically abused. But even without physical abuse, she says it was mentally exhausting, "especially when you're constantly being taunted. Right from my arrest when I was getting frisked on the lawn, an officer told me I was going to be his girlfriend, officers were calling us hot and calling us derogatory names...I was pretty traumatized by it." Other plaintiffs who attended today's announcement talked about being denied medication, being pepper sprayed without provocation and being pelted with pepper balls. All of the criminal charges against the plaintiffs were withdrawn or dismissed. The ACLU alleges violation of the First Amendment right to assembly, retaliatory arrests and a violation of the Fourth Amendment protections against false arrest as well as the use of excessive force.

Parking Bid Higher Than Expected

The high bidder to take over operation of Pittsburgh's parking garages and meters is Pittsburgh Parking Partners. It's a consortium of investors advised by J. P. Morgan and P-4 partners, an affiliate of Hartford-based L.A.Z. Parking. L.A.Z. manages mores than 1,300 locations in 99 cities in 21 states. The offer is $451 million for the 5o year lease of the garages and meters.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wanted a minimum of $300 million, $100 million of which would go to wipe out Pittsburgh Parking Authority debt, and the other $200 million to bolster the city's sagging pension fund.
The city has until January to get the pension fund's assets up to at least 50% of its nearly $990 million obligations toward retired and current city workers. The pension program is currently about 28% funded. If the city does not reach the 50% level by January, the state has threatened a takeover.
The mayor has said the money left over from lease could be funneled into the pension fund or used for capital improvements. “This number certainly exceeded our expectations and further solidifies my view that this partnership is the best solution to protect our residents from the burden of higher taxes, more debt, or serious service cuts. I look forward to having more productive discussions with council members and I hope that they support this plan. ”

In addition to the upfront payment, the 50-year partnership agreement requires the operator to invest at least $50 million over the next 15 years to overhaul and rebuild three aging Downtown garages. In addition, the agreement lays out requirements for the operator to implement new parking meter technology, such as those allowing meter payments by credit card or mobile phones. This investment is estimated to cost the operator more than $8 million dollars. Ravenstahl wants City Council to give its approval by October 1.

But City Council Finance Chair Bill Peduto called this bid just the "end of the first quarter of the game" and that he's pleased they have a baseline to work from....
"But there are still three other options on the table. First, the Mayor’s proposal to privatize parking. Second, keeping the asset public and doing a bond deal to finance the pension gap. Third, joining with cities from across Pennsylvania in a state pension program. Fourth, a hybrid of the above options....... we still need to know the true value of our parking assets. Friday’s release of City Council’s independent consultant’s analysis will provide the value of the asset, as well as independent economic analysis of the options. This information will provide the framework for a healthy discussion in the coming weeks about what is best for the citizens of Pittsburgh.”

Bill Would Make More People Eligible for Jobless Benefits

Pennsylvania’s Labor and Industry Secretary is pushing for a change in unemployment eligibility requirements.
Secretary Sandi Vito says 30-thousand out-of-work Pennsylvanians would become eligible for assistance if the bill goes through.
Right now, state officials don’t weigh a person’s most recent quarter of earnings, when they’re determining whether or not someone is eligible for unemployment compensation. Instead, the other four of the previous five quarters are examined.
Vito says the law disqualifies people who are in and out of work.

"A lot of folks – and this economy, this is happening more and more often, where folks are getting laid off, they take a job in good faith, only to be laid off again. And in that case, they’re being penalized, in a lot of cases, because we can’t count their most recent earnings."

A House bill sponsored by Allegheny County Democrat Marc Gergely would change the requirements, and qualify Pennsylvania for 273 million dollars in federal aid.

But members of the business community argue the shift would lower standards, and make unemployment compensation an entitlement, rather than a safety net.
Kevin Shivers, the Pennsylvania director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, explains.

"So now under this legislation, if it were to become law, teenagers – who may have a summer job – or somebody who has a seasonable job, would now be able to collect unemployment benefits. So these are people with very little attachment to the workforce."

The change would make Pennsylvania eligible for 273 million dollars in federal assistance. It would also let people who quit their jobs due to a family member’s move apply for unemployment benefits.
It’s currently in front of the House Labor Relations Committee.

50 State Workers to Lose Jobs

Two and a half months after Pennsylvania’s budget was signed into law, eight state agencies are laying off employees. Most departments suffered budget cuts this year, and Governor Ed Rendell had predicted hundreds of layoffs.
However, due mostly to higher-than-usual retirement rates, only fifty state workers are being let go this week.
Office of Administration spokesman Dan Egan says notices went out Monday, but due to seniority and union “bumping rights,” the specific workers losing their jobs might not be known until weeks’ end.

"If they do, it goes to the next employee, who may or may not have a bump, and so on and so forth. So in order for all the furlough notices to go out on – happen by Friday, some need to occur earlier in the week. Which is why we need to announce as early as Monday. To allow for that bumping process."

The cuts come from the Department of Corrections, Education, Health, and Military and Veterans Affairs, as well as other agencies.

The Department of Agriculture, Education and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency also lost workers. Egan says departments had the last few months to figure out their approach.
"They are left to determine how they want to go about absorbing those cuts. Whether they want to reduce programs, reduce staff, try and reduce their operating costs. So those decisions are made in each agency, on how they’re going to absorb their budget cuts. And in some cases, those decisions resulted in individuals being furloughed from the agency."

Friday will be the last day on the job for most of the workers, who will be given up to ten days of paid leave.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pgh Business Org. Reviews Year After G20

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development is celebrating the one-year anniversary of Pittsburgh’s G20 conference by declaring it “Imagine Pittsburgh Week.”

Allegheny Conference CEO Dennis Yablonsky says Pittsburgh has seen more conventions and business projects than usual in the year following the G20 summit. Yablonsky says from an economic standpoint, he isn’t aware of any negative results of hosting the G20.

He says thanks to the notoriety generated by the summit, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has been invited to Shanghai.

“To visit and speak to the mayor [of Shanghai]’s business advisory council about Pittsburgh’s transformation. So, we’re going to be accompanying him to Shanghai, doing a number of private meetings with businesses, and then also going over to Seoul which is going to be the site of the next G20 and spending a few days there. So we’re going to continue to build on this to try to generate more notoriety and more job creation projects for the region.”

Yablonsky says another indicator of the G20’s success is the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s tour of Europe this year. While the visit usually generates about 3 business project leads, this year it garnered ten.

Extension for County Real Estate Tax Deadline

Allegheny County property owners who are late paying their real estate taxes have been given a bit of a reprieve. Due to the downturn in the economy, County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty, Treasurer John Weinstein and Sheriff William Mullen announced today they will delay taking legal action against the property owners until September 30. Controller Flaherty says usually liens are filed in August against the properties of owners late in paying their taxes. He says the number of people neglecting the tax for their first time has increased from 3,000 to 5,000 in recent years.
Flaherty says they've delayed filing liens in previous years, and that's proven to be helpful. “It seems that if we give them one last final chance, there is an increase in the payment rate overall.” He says for those who still cannot pay the tax in full, they can get sign up for a payment plan that is approved by the treasurer’s office. If the tax is not paid by this extended deadline, that person will be put on the Allegheny County Real Estate Tax Lien list. As of 2009, there are 46,000 names on that list. The delay in filing liens will allow the property owners additional time to pay without incurring further penalties and costs.

He suggests that property owners go to or call the treasurer’s office to get the tax debt taken care of before September 29.

Bus Rapid Transit Discussed

A forum held in Uptown on Monday focused on bringing Bus Rapid Transit to Allegheny County.

Bus Rapid Transit Systems are like rail services – but with buses. Similar to the region’s existing busways, they would consist of a dedicated traffic lane devoted to a bus line with ticket stations where riders can purchase tickets prior to riding the bus. Different community groups are collaborating with the Port Authority to bring the system here.

Monday’s forum featured speakers from cities where the system has been implemented such as Cleveland, Kansas City and Los Angeles. Proponents of Bus Rapid Transit say they can be implemented quicker and utilizing less money and resources than building a rail line – not taking into account rising gas prices.

Stephen Bland, CEO of the Port Authority of Allegheny County says based on reports from other cities it would improve transportation options for riders – who wouldn’t be delayed by regular city traffic and would have more reliable service. He said in general it would improve quality of life in the region.

"Obviously any kind of increase in transit ridership decreases our reliance on automobiles so you have less traffic congestion," he said.

Although the Port Authority plans to eliminate thirty five percent of public transit service in January, Bland says the costs for a rapid bus transit plan would be built into The Port Authority Service Development Plan and the biggest investment would be operating the service for the long run.

PA Company Wants Terror-Alerts Off of Web

The co-director of the company that was contracted by the state and provided the Pennsylvania Homeland Security Office with security alerts has sent a memo warning that posting the unredacted bulletins on the Internet has increased threats to potential targets in Pennsylvania amd to students studying abroad. The memo, which was obtained by the Associated Press, comes from Michael Perelman of the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response. It urges State Homeland Security Director James Powers to remove the information from the Internet until any material that would be useful to those intending harm is removed. Perelman confirmed the contents of the memo but told A.P. he did not authorize its distribution. The bulletins posted Friday night drew protests after revelations that some of the alerts concerned opponents of gas drilling, and others spotlighted events such as an anti-BP candlelight vigil and a gay and lesbian festival.

PA GOP Senate: Wait Till Next Year For Trans $$$

A Pennsylvania House committee plans a vote on a transportation funding bill early this week but Senate Republicans say they aren’t prepared to tackle Governor Rendell’s "pet issue" until next year.
The House Appropriations Committee is set to vote on a bill increasing driver's license fees, gas taxes, and imposing a profits levy on oil companies. Johnna Pro, the spokeswoman for Democratic sponsor Dwight Evans, says the license fees would then increase annually with inflation, up to 1.5 percent.

"Some of those fees haven’t been raised since 1977. I would challenge anybody to find any product or any fee that hasn’t been raised since 1977."

In addition to bringing in new transportation revenue, the measure would spur public-private partnerships for roadways, encourage the merger of transportation authorities, and implement other reforms.
Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson agrees transportation funding is a critical issue, but says there isn’t enough time to pass a comprehensive measure this year.
He says caucus leaders want to wait until after the fall’s election.

"There is a sense that with the election so close, and with this being such a major issue, that it’s not something that’s appropriate for a lame duck governor to push through on his way out the door."
Rendell and other Democrats warn lawmakers will stall next year’s road construction schedule if they don’t approve new funding as soon as possible.
Arneson argues PennDOT still has billions of dollars to work with, even without a new revenue measure. However, mass transit agencies are already planning service cuts, layoffs and fare hikes in January without a transportation funding measure.

Out of State Drillers Generate Business

Both candidates for governor say they’ll do everything they can to make sure natural gas drillers are hiring Pennsylvania residents, instead of bringing in workers from out-out-state.
However, when DUQ reporter Scott Detrow visited Williamsport, Lycoming County, he found the transient workers are providing a boost to other sectors of the economy.
Business at Williamsport’s Holiday Inn Express has been up by about thirty percent for more than a year now.
The increased traffic comes mostly from natural gas drillers, who have travelled from Texas, Oklahoma and other states to work on the hundreds of wells in the Williamsport area.
Chartwell Hotels vice president Jennifer Locey says some drillers have been living in the Holiday Inn for more than two years now.

"If you don’t book at least a few days in advance, you will not get a room. Our walk-in business – the travelers just going through the Williamsport area without a reservation and just stopping by, have found it very difficult at last-minute to get a reservation."

The Holiday Inn had to ask the drillers to relocate, or leave on vacation, during the Little League World Series last month, in order to honor long-standing reservations with ESPN and other groups in town for the annual event.
Locey expects business to slow down once more Pennsylvania natives take over the drilling jobs, but she says the shift will be better for the region’s overall economic picture.

Bill Would Freeze Property Taxes for PA Elderly

Many Pennsylvanians 65 years or older would be exempt from future property tax increases under a bill being introduced in the State Senate.
Democratic Senator Lisa Boscola of Northampton County says her Senior Citizens’ Property Tax Freeze Act would hold tax rates steady for those who have lived in their home for five years or longer and earn less than $65,000 per year.
Boscola says the individuals have earned a tax break and school districts and municipalities would need to adjust to the change.

“I like bills that have been introduced by other Senators who have said, ‘Maybe we should consolidate some of the administrative costs of our school districts.’ There’s ways to cut, we just have to do it responsibly.”

The bill is in the Senate Finance Committee.

EPA Coal Ash Hearing Tuesday

Over the last few weeks the US Department of Environmental Protection has been holding a series of field hearings on regulations that cover coal ash pits. The pits are often found near power plants. The ash, mixed with water, is dumped into ponds to dry. The slurry contains high levels of several toxic chemicals and elements. Environmentalists argue that many of the pits are leaking into nearby waterways and into wells in the area. The EPA over the years has issued guidelines and standards for the ash ponds and has a long list of standards when it comes to acceptable toxin levels in ground and surface water. Many power companies argue that those regulations are enough but many environmentalists argue that the regulations to do not go far enough. In most instances it is up to the state where the power plant resides to monitor and regulate the ponds. A recent study from a group of environmental organizations finds some states are lax in their enforcement duties. Those groups have been using the hearings to call for the Federal Government to take over the regulation of the retention ponds.
The Pittsburgh EPA hearing will be held Tuesday Sept 21 at the Omni Hotel downtown. Three sessions will be held. One in the morning, another in the afternoon and a third session will be held in the evening. The first session is to begin at 10am and the last will conclude at 9pm. The other start and end times will float. Each speaker will be given 3 minutes. While all speaking slots in Pittsburgh have been filled the DEP may allow for extra speakers at the end of each session.

Braddock Film Gets Additional Airing

This year, Levi’s began a collaboration with the Borough of Braddock that has brought in some much needed infrastructure help and countless dollars worth of free positive public relations including millions of dollars in ads featuring the Borough and a film telling its story. The last Independent Film Channel airing of the film “Ready to Work: Portraits of Braddock” comes tonight at 6:30. After that it will move to the Sundance Channel for airings October 1st and 14th, and November 5th. The film has been well received and so have the ads. The billboards can be seen not only in the Pittsburgh area but also in major markets across the country. TV ads are also being aired and can be found online. Each of the ads feature Levi’s clothing and actual Borough residents. Among those residents appearing in the ads and featured in the film is Jeb Feldman. Feldman is the proprietor of UnSmoke, an art collective in Braddock that engages people to help bring local residents together to revitalize urban infrastructure. “It more about the revitalization of Braddock than it is about art.” Says Feldman. He says Braddock’s future lies in the hands of the real work its citizens and friends can put into rebuilding the town. Feldman was at first skeptical about Levi’s plans but he says when Braddock Mayor John Fetterman put his support behind the idea, he new it was a good offer. Fetterman has worked to make sure Levi’s has placed the Borough in a positive light. Feldman says the partnership has been “great” and he says the response to the ads has been wonderful.

The company says, “The citizens of Braddock are people who have decided to get their hands (and their jeans) dirty and take control of their destinies. Though these new pioneers still face obstacles, they are ‘going to work’; whether the world is offering them jobs or not, they are making it happen for themselves.” Along with the ads and the film, Levi’s has made investments in Braddock’s library, urban farm project and community center.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fallout from "Threat" Reports

Legislators on both sides of the aisle are demanding hearings into why the Rendell Administration paid for intelligence reports about peaceful protests.
Governor Ed Rendell says his chief of staff and the head of the state police are looking into how Pennsylvania can improve its homeland security intelligence gathering, but Republicans and Democrats want the General Assembly to investigate the issue, too.
Both Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, and the head of the House Governmental Affairs Committee have requested copies of every intelligence report the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response provided to the state Office of Homeland Security. The Institute listed as potential threats gay rights groups, drilling opponents and G20 protesters.

Vic Walczak, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, says by targeting political groups as potential threats, the state hurt their credibility, in addition to infringing on their rights.

"Damage done. Are you going to continue your contributions and your support, or are you immediately going to be suspicious. And if you do that with funders, if you do that with allies, if you do that with adversaries, you are doing incalculable harm."

A Senate committee has scheduled the first hearing into the reports for later this month.

Friday, September 17, 2010

PennDot Pushes Parent Awareness about Car Seat Safety

PennDOT is kicking off National Child Passenger Safety Week with car seat fitting stations, to help give parents peace of mind about installation. Parents and guardians who currently have kids in child safety seats will be able to take them to the fitting stations across the state where PennDOT and local police can inspect the car seats to make sure they're in correctly. PennDOT currently funds around 170 fitting stations, with over 5,000 seats checked last year. Of those seats, eight out of ten were being used improperly.

Jay Ofsanik, Press Safety Officer for PennDOT, said that the fitting stations are an asset to parents and the week "gives them an opportunity to go out to different areas where there's car safety seat technicians who can help inspect their seats and show them the proper way to install and get the child in there." Ofsanik also said that many parents do try to install their car seats properly but often don't understand the manuals forget to check them.

State law currently requires parents to put children under four in car seats. While children four to eight require a booster seat. Last year alone 5,000 drivers were cited for violating child seat laws receiving $100 fines plus added costs. A list of State Police fitting stations is available at while a list of car seat checks can be found at under "Traffic Safety Information Center" and then "Child Passenger Safety."

Ferlo Reaction To Arena

State Senator Jim Ferlo says he is not happy with the Sports And Exhibition Authority's decision to demolish the Civic Arena. Although Ferlo represents a portion of the Hill District, he says he was excluded from talks about the possible redevelopment of the arena.

Ferlo, a Board Member of the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission said he will remained as the issue moves forward. He had previously proposed a two-year cooling-off period before making any permanent decisions regarding the arena.

The notion that somehow saving a portion or integrating some adaptive reuse of the arena contradicts the ability to also enhance the Center Avenue corridor and promote housing and other economic opportunities is just false, I mean, we can have it all actually.

Ferlo Calls For Repercussions

Reports that anti-Marcellus Shale gas drilling groups and events have been monitored by the state have left a state senator asking for repercussions.

James Powers Jr. the head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Homeland Security hired The Institute of Terrorism Research and Resources to track township and ordinance meetings regarding Marcellus Shale gas drilling as well as a public viewing of Gasland, a documentary about the environmental and health effects of gas drilling.

State Senator Jim Ferlo said he will be filing complaints with the US Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights alleging that the group violated the civil rights of residents by monitoring them without an appropriate pretext of threat or violence. He is also filing action with the state Ethics Commission and the Office of the Inspector General and asking for a right-to-know request to make public documents related to the incident. But to restore public trust that citizens are not being illegally tracked, Ferlo has another request.

"I’m demanding that he resign or be fired for the egregious activities he’s been involved with and the administration def the scope of services of the knowledge in his involvement in violating individual civil liberties and people’s rights," he said.

Information gathered by the group was sent to law enforcement agencies – as well as to gas companies companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Murphy Rallies for HR 2378

US Congressman Tim Murphy is calling on the leadership of both parties to call a vote on a resolution that would demand that the International Trade Commission get tough on China if it does not float its currency. Murphy went before the House Ways and Means Committee this week to support HR 2378, which has been dubbed the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act. The resolution is sponsored by Murphy and Youngstown Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan. Murphy says the demands in the resolution and be boiled down to a simple point, “If china is found to be manipulating their currency by the International Trade Commission, for the purpose of unfair trade practices, the ITC could put upon them tariffs to bring the cost of their goods back in line.”

Murphy says the goal it to, “protect domestic manufacturers and the steel industry from countries unwilling to compete fairly in the global marketplace.” Murphy says by not floating its currency on the open market, China can undercut US manufactures by 40-percent. Murphy says that means manufacturers in China can make and ship products to the US for less than a manufacturer here can by the raw materials. “We must hold China accountable for its currency manipulation wreaking havoc on our nation’s manufacturers,” says Murphy. China currently pegs its currency to the US dollar.

The congressman gathered supporters in his district today to call on House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner to call the resolution to the floor for an up or down vote. Murphy says, “She said would then she said she would not, so we want to know when, for goodness sake, are we going to stand up for American manufacturing and American jobs rather than giving into China and their threats.” A letter making similar demands was signed by 100 members of congress and sent to the two leaders.

State Needs Rain

The Department of Environmental Protection has issued drought warnings for 24 counties in east central and southwestern PA, including Allegheny, Beaver, Fayette, Greene, Somerset and Washington. All other counties are under a drought watch.

Steadily declining ground and surface water levels may reduce available water supplies, according to DEP Press Secretary Tom Rathbun, and low soil moisture has meant hardship for farmers. He says the dry, hot summer means the state needs some prolonged, soaking rains to ease the drought situation.

Precipitation in Somerset County and Bucks County is 5-1/2 inches below normal.

Under a drought warning, water users are asked to reduce usage voluntarily by 10 to 15 percent, while a 5% reduction is requested in counties under a drought watch. Rathbun says low-flow plumbing fixtures, faucet aerators, leak repairs, and taking short showers instead of baths are effective strategies.

Commercial and industrial water consumers, as well as individuals, can get conservation information online.

US Atty Holds Gang Summit

Over the last two days some 500 law enforcement officials and community leaders have gathered in Cranberry to talk about stamping out gang violence in Western Pennsylvania. The US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania called the meeting. It is the 5th annual gathering on the subject organized by the office. US Attorney David Hickton says, “this is a battle we must win. The stakes are too high.” Hickton says the meeting is not just a sharing of best practices among the groups involved. He says it is a chance to educate people about the gang problems all communities face. “It is a rural issue as well as an urban issue,” says Hickton. Along with talking about the more well known gangs such as the Crips and Bloods, the summit will also be dealing with Skinheads and neo-Nazis. Hickton says law enforcement can only go so far in combating the problem. He says community groups need to make sure kids have programs to turn to help keep them out of a life of crime. “We need to replace despair and hopelessness with hope and opportunity,” says Hickton. He says there are programs out there to make sure “our children have the choice to take the right path.” Hickton says they have made great strides in combating gang activity in the last 5 years, especially on the Northside.

Library Budget and Service Issues to be Debated

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is holding its third and final round of meetings to gather public input on the future of the library. Budget woes have forced the library to cut hours, reduce staff and eliminate some neighborhood outreach. Staff is now looking for the public’s help in identifying new revenue sources and prioritizing services. The library will hold four meetings this weekend into Monday. Saturday 10am-noon at St. Catherine of Siena Church, Saturday 2p-4p at the Providence Family Support Center, Sunday 2p-4p at the Squirrel Hill branch, and Monday 6p-8p at the Downtown & Business branch. The meetings will open with a synopsis of the last two rounds of meetings and then attendees will break into small groups to discus the issues. Library spokesperson Trina walker says the information gathered at the meetings will be taken back to the board and debated at its October meeting. Details from previous meetings and a discussion guide can be found on the Carnegie Library's webpage.

Record-Setting RADical Free Admission Events Start Sept. 19

This this year's RADical Days features a record 41 free admission events to public sites, entertainment performances and activities. It's the 9th year that the Regional Asset District (RAD) has offered the public free admission to a variety of venues that receive revenues from the RAD sales tax in Allegheny County.
RADical Days 2010 begins Sunday, September 19 and concludes with a first-ever RADical Days 24-hour event October 23-24.
Executive Director David Donahue says he believes there’ll be a record attendance as well….“There’s everything ranging from free admissions at many of the museums, attractions that RAD funds, the opportunity to watch a Penguins’ practice at the new Consol Energy Center, tours of the stadiums…There’s really something for everyone and it’s a long list of assets.” He says there’ll also be entertainment events led by musical and artistic groups.
Donahue says this is RAD’s way of giving back to the community. “It’s all a thank you to the public for their support of these regional assets, both through the RAD tax as well as through their usual admission purchases during the year.”
Donahue says this is a great way to bring in people from outside the Pittsburgh area. “We appreciate the opportunity to market these assets. It’s a great time for people who may not go there normally to get a chance to see them.”
Donahue encourages people to visit assets that they may have never seen before or for years because there have been major changes made… “thanks to, in large part, help from the Regional Asset District.” He says families and community members should take advantage of these free events.

Onorato: Corbett Wants it Both Ways

Republican Tom Corbett has built his Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign around cutting government spending but Democratic opponent Dan Onorato points out Corbett has requested more money for the Office of the Attorney General in recent years.
Corbett’s latest commercial lays out his lower spending philosophy...instead of raising taxes, cut wasteful spending.
But Corbett fought against a proposed one percent reduction to his office’s budget this winter and has asked for spending hikes during every budget season. He told a State Senate committee how budget cuts would hurt Office of the Attorney General efforts.

"I could see, without scaring everyone in my office, I could see that the effort on diversion might be reduced so we could focus more on the violent street gangs that are dealing drugs."

Onorato says Republican Tom Corbett wants it both ways, when it comes to government spending. Corbett has pointed out his office brings in nearly as much money as it spends, through lawsuit victories and other legal actions.
Onorato rejects the argument.

"The last time I checked the Attorney General, the Recorder of Deeds, the Register of Wills – they’re elected by the taxpayers to do their job. And any money they bring in from any source is the taxpayer’s money. So if he’s doing his job, I’m glad to hear that. But don’t say you’re bringing in private money to run your office. You’re doing your job."

Corbett’s spokesman says this year’s budget request was based on union-mandated salary increases out of the Attorney General’s control. The office’s funding was ultimately cut by two million dollars, after an eight percent cut in last year’s budget.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Civic Arena To be Demolished

The vote on Thursday morning was quick and unanimous.

Eight Sports and Exhibition Authority Board Members voted to demolish the 49-year old Civic Arena. The SEA voted for the demolition despite impassioned public comment against doing so.

State Senator Wayne Fontana, an SEA Board Member, said his vote was informed by reports that maintaining the arena would be costly and would ultimately not benefit the community.

"The best way to generate revenue back to the public through wage taxes and jobs and those kinds of things would be to take the arena off that spot," he said.

Robert Pfaffman, an architect who has been heading the Reuse the Igloo effort said he was disappointed by the outcome of the SEA’s unanimous vote.

"I’m an optimistic person," he said, "So I thought at least one person on that board might actually see an opportunity to compromise and develop a process that allows even people that disagree an opportunity to work together and that clearly wasn’t the case here."

He says the group will seek an injunction to block the demolition. He says the SEA could be violating federal preservation law, which prevents “anticipatory demolition” of historic structures. If so, they could lose federal funding for the lower hill’s redevelopment.

The SEA says they will start removing asbestos from the building. The bids for the demolition, slated to cost $5 million dollars will be ready early next year.

“Two-Second Turnoff Day” to Stop Texting While Driving

On September 17, AAA, Seventeen Magazine and the Department of Transportation are asking everyone to save a life by taking two seconds to turn off their cell phone before driving during the Seventeen Two-Second Turnoff Day.
AAA and Seventeen Magazine teamed up and surveyed nearly 2,000 males and females between the ages of 16-19 to discover what risky behaviors they’re engaging in while driving, and how they justify those behaviors.
AAA’s Spokesperson Bevi Powell says the results were frightening:
• 84% of teenage drivers know distracted driving is dangerous.
• 9 out of 10, or 86%, engage in distracted driving behaviors anyway.
• 73% have adjusted their radio.
• 61% have eaten food.
• 60% have talked on the phone or text messaged.
They justified the above information with this:
• 41% think their action will only take a split second.
• 35% don’t think they’ll get hurt.
• 34% said they’re good at multitasking.
• 32% don’t think anything bad will happen to them.
Powell says traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for teen drivers. She says it's especially imperative for them to be completely focused on the road while driving because of the lack of driving experience, and their willingness to take risks. She says the chances of a car accident are doubled when a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for just two seconds.
Powell says texting while driving is among the riskiest common driving distractions. She says according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than a half million were injured…so it is a very serious problem.”