Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pittsburgh Aids Task Force Marks World AIDS Day

Tomorrow, December 1 is World AIDS Day. The event began in 1988 and is intended to increase awareness of the disease, improve education and raise money. The theme for this year's World AIDS Day is "Universal Access and Human Rights." Health officials and activists says the event is important to remind people that HIV has not gone away and there's still much to be done.
The United Nations estimates that there are now 33.3 million people living with AIDS around the world, including 2.5 million children. While the infection rate has gone down, during 2009 an estimated 2.6 million people became newly infected and an estimated 1.8 million died from AIDS.

The Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force (PATF) is marking not only World AIDS Day but also has event planned throughout the week to call attention to the disease. PATF began in 1985 with only 2 people but had evolved into an organization that provides many programs for awareness to prevent the spread of the disease and resources for those who have been diagnosed with AIDS.
PATF spokeswoman Susan Orr says they conduct nationally recognized prevention program that she compares to a "Tupperware" party...a social setting where women and their friends are educated about AIDS in a comfortable environment.

Orr says the organization is holding a special luncheon tomorrow to commemorate 25 years of service and to re-dedicate themselves to the fight against HIV/AIDS. The special guest speaker is Marty St. Clair the researcher who discovered the effect of the drug AZT on HIV.

Extended Jobless Benefits to Expire

Nearly 2 million Americans, including 83,000 Pennsylvanians, are set to lose their extended weekly unemployment benefits starting tomorrow, December 1st. That's because Congress has not reauthorized the program that extends the benefits for many jobless up to 99 weeks.
U.S. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania says reauthorizing the emergency benefits is the right thing to do "to help people get from here to there...meaning a point in their lives where they're jobless to a point where they're back to work. These are folks who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and just need a little help to get over that bridge."

However, there is also no vote scheduled in either the House or Senate. Casey says he and 28 other Senators have circulated a letter calling for a unanimous consent resolution on the floor late this afternoon that calls for a vote on the extension. But if a Senator stands up on the floor and says "no," then the resolution asking for a vote is defeated..."then we have to think of another way to get it done."
Casey says in addition to helping the jobless, there is a bang for the buck even though the cost would add to the deficit........."Goldman Sachs has said expiration of these benefits will cause economic growth to fail by one half of a percentage point...that's a big number. The Economic Policy Institute says extending the benefits would increase the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by 7 tenths of a percentage point...that's also a bit number in the context of keeping the recovery moving in the right direction."

Casey rejects suggestions by critics of the program that extending benefits discourages people from looking for work.

Unless Congress acts quickly, beginning tomorrow, people who apply for the first time can expect a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits, while many of those receiving them now will lose them before the 99 weeks are up.

Flight 93 Memorial Will Seek New Leadership

The supervisor of the Flight 93 Memorial, Joanne Hanley is stepping down after 32 years as superintendent of the National Parks Service in Western Pennsylvania.

Hanley devoted nearly 10 years of service to the memorial that honors the 40 men and women who died after their hijacked plane crashed in a field in Somerset County. Her retirement, effective February 1st, will allow another superintendent to see the project through its construction phases, the first of which is expected to be finished this summer for the 10th anniversary of September 11th.

“When we get to the finish line, it really doesn’t matter who carries it over as long as it gets over,” Hanley says. “As a team we have gotten it so far, and so no matter who gets it over the finish line, it will still be the team getting it over the finish line.”

Hanley is stepping down so that she can become president of the Gettysburg Foundation where she will work to raise funds for the Gettysburg National Military Park.

“I feel in my present position that I am serving my country in public service and I feel in this coming position I will be serving my country in public service as well,” Hanley says.

Hanley has also overseen the Fort Necessity National Battlefield, the Friendship Hill National Historical Site, the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, and the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site during her time with the National Parks Service in Western Pennsylvania.

Deputy Supervisor Keith Newlin will act as interim supervisor until a replacement is found.

"Castle Doctrine" Bill Vetoed

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is defending his veto of a bill expanding the right to self-defense with deadly force.
Rendell says he supports language in the measure closing loopholes in Megan's Law statutes, but in the end, he was worried the legislation would make streets more dangerous.
Political observers expect the "Castle Doctrine" measure to become law next year, when Republicans control the House, Senate and governor's office, but Rendell says he isn't sure what will happen.

"I just don't know. We'll see. And look - I can only do what I believe is right. I can't take care of the future. I'm not going to be a factor in it. I did what I believe was right."

Rendell concedes his gun control efforts were an "abject failure," pointing out lawmakers never voted for a measure he promoted requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen weapons to the police. However, many municipalities in the state, including Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, have approved ordinances requiring the reporting of lost or stolen guns.

The governor also vetoed a bill expanding fire fighters worker's compensation claims for cancer caused by exposure to carcinogens on the job.
He says the language put an unfair burden of proof on municipalities by assuming cancer was caused by firefighting, unless lawyers could prove otherwise.......

"For things like, as I said in my veto message, prostate cancer or brain cancer, there is no evidence whatsoever - scientific evidence - that anything you do, any of your activities, can promote those. And those are perhaps exclusively genetic. But there's no scientific link. It would have been absolutely impossible to prove

He says the bill would lead to skyrocketing insurance costs, and would force local governments to cut services or raise taxes. Union leaders oppose the veto, but Rendell argues he pushed for a compromise bill expanding firefighters' ability to file for claims, but on a more limited scale that offered more legal protection for municipalities.
The bill passed the House on a unanimous vote, and just four Senators voted against it.

Site Allows Search for Broadband in PA

Pennsylvania is using federal stimulus dollars to launch a new website aimed at connecting individuals and companies with better broadband Internet access.
The 7.3 million dollar grant helped launch an improved online map of broadband access throughout the state.
Sue Suleski, the Pennsylvania Broadband Initiative's director, explains how it works.

"Individuals or businesses that are interested in broadband connectivity can go to this website, type in their county, their address, search, and then pull up a listing of all the providers in that area that would provide service, and the types of service that are available to them."

The site's address is broadbandinpa.com. It will eventually be part of a nationwide government-run interactive map set to launch in February.
Pennsylvania is in the midst of an effort to expand broadband access. The state recently won a nearly 30-million dollar federal grant to improve connection speeds in northern counties.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Longtime Director to Part with Warhol Museum

Tom Sokolowski will leave his position as director of the Andy Warhol Museum soon after 14 years at the post.

The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh announced Sokolowski’s December 31 departure in a news release, but didn’t give a reason for his exit.

In the release, departing Carnegie Museums President David Hillenbrand says Sokolowski “saw beyond what could have been the limitations of a single-artist museum.”

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Executive Director Charlie Humphrey says Sokolowski brought both regional and international recognition to the Warhol Museum. Humphrey says he imagines the next director will have many of the same qualities as Sokolowski.

“Someone who has the chops of having operated a gallery (Tom came from the great gallery at NYU), who has the scholarship, the deep understanding of Warhol himself,” says Humphrey. “Tom’s charisma’s pretty hard to replace. I don’t know how you shop for that.”

Neither the Carnegie Museums nor Sokolowski returned calls for comment.

Emergency Homeless Shelter Ready

Pittsburgh Mercy Health System's Operation Safety Net and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services are again operating the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter for the homeless.
Dr. Jim Withers, medical director and founder of Operation Safety Net, says the emergency shelter is located at the Smithfield United Church of Christ in downtown Pittsburgh and operates from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. now through March 15 whenever the temperatures is predicted to be below 25 degrees or there are conditions of freezing rain, heavy snowfall or during a National Weather Service declared blizzard/emergency weather situation....

"We try to make the call (to open the shelter) a couple of days ahead so we can mobilize the folks who man the shelter and the various community groups that supply the food."

The number of people served at the emergency shelter ranges from 70 to 130 per night.
Withers says this shelter is for when the 12 regular shelters are filled or for those who don't use those shelters ..."these folks will go into the emergency shelter because I think there is a trust level that we've developed from visiting them for 18 years in their campsites and in their alleys where they may be sleeping. It's the same staff, so they know us. They understand that there will be someone they recognize and be comfortable with."

Withers says there is a medical clinic at the emergency shelter and clients are fed. He says women are transported to Miriam's Shelter and veterans can go to Shepherd's Heart in the uptown section.
Withers says his teams are in regular contact with the homeless so they inform them when the emergency shelter is operating.

"Fair Trade Week" at Duquesne University

A series of events from today through Thursday are highlighting ways to alter commerce so that trade can empower, rather than exploit, the poor around the world. Each day a Fair Trade Marketplace in the Student Union will showcase products from around the world.

The tables are full of gorgeous, handmade items at affordable prices—all certified by one of the fair trade organizations that verify fair wages and safe working conditions. Co-ops of artisans within developing countries supply the goods, often made by women and sometimes providing the sole means of sustaining families, or in other cases, supplementing an income so children can go to school, eat better, have more adequate clothing.

Duquesne Campus Minister Kate Lecci says it’s not that hard to shop for fair trade items any day—Giant Eagle stores carry coffee, tea and chocolate; Whole Foods stores have bananas and blueberries. Fair trade items have symbols from one of the organizations that verifies fair practices.

Tuesday evening there will be a keynote speech by Jackie DeCarlo of Catholic Relief Services and a fair trade fashion show, and Wednesday there will be a documentary and discussion about conditions of migrant workers.

Earlier You Ship, The Better Says USPS

The U.S. Postal Service encourages those mailing packages to not wait around, otherwise you'll be risking late delivery for the Christmas holiday season.

Tad Kelley, spokesman for the USPS, urges those delivering packages of any form, whether to military servicemen and women, domestic shipments, or even simple delivery of Christmas cards, to get their packages sent out before it’s too late. Kelley says that while the deadline for the most economical shipments overseas has passed, priority mail is still available.

“What you have available to you now is priority mail,” Kelley says, “priority mail is economical and it still goes for the same domestic rates here in America as it would to an APO or FPO address overseas.”

This year, the USPS is providing a two dollar discount for any package addressed to any APO or FPO overseas.

“They are marked with special markings this year to show that you’re sending this to a military personnel,” Kelley says. “It says ‘America Supports You,’ and we’re going to take two dollars off the price of that box.”

According to Kelley, for domestic package shipping, the parcel post deadline is nearing. It is best to ship packages before the 10th of December and for any package shipped after the 10th priority mail becomes the better option. For all other non-package mail, including Christmas cards and other light mail, it’s best to send it by mid-December in order to have it delivered in time for Christmas.

Rendell Signs E-Cycling Bill

An under the radar bill passed on the House’s final session day sets up a recycling program for electronics and now has been signed into law by Governor Ed Rendell.
The “e-cycling” bill makes electronics manufacturers develop programs like trade-ins or drop-offs for old TVs or computers.
Sponsor Chris Ross, a Chester County Republican, says right now, individuals or municipalities are shouldering the cost of getting their old computers to the right recycling venue, so many people just end up throwing the electronics away.

"And also, it has the advantage of keeping these large electronics out of the landfills, where they take up a lot of space, and when they do break down, they have the potential to release some contaminants that can be toxic to the water supply, and other ways troublesome."

Manufacturers will need to register their plans with the Department of Environmental Protection, and pay an annual five thousand dollar fee. If a company doesn’t register, they can’t sell appliances in Pennsylvania.
"They may have a mail-in program. They have drop-off points. They may use a third-party collector to get them collected and transported to the recycler. But all in all, it’s going to make it much easier for these devices to be recycled, and much more convenient for the consumer."

Ross says the plan will slowly go into effect over the next year and a half.

Hunters Help Provide Meals for Needy

Pennsylvania hunters are helping to provide meals for the less fortunate during this winter season through an independent program in union with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. According to commission spokesperson Jerry Feaser, "Hunters Sharing the Harvest" can help provide 200,000 meals to needy families each year.

Since the programs beginnings in 1991, hunters have been very willing to help out in providing meals over the winter season. Hunters have the option to donate extra venison from their catch to more than 3,000 local charity providers.

“Hunters are generally a very generous group,” Feaser says. “They are more than happy to help out by donating venison and also money to help cover the processing costs for those deer.”

To donate the nearly 200 meals that can be gained from a single deer, hunters simply pay a $15 tax deductible processing fee for each processed deer, and the remainder of the processing is covered by HSH sponsors.

“Hunters will donate either all or portions of a deer that they don’t plan to use for their families,” Feaser says. “Some hunters are able to harvest additional deer beyond what they may able to use to feed their own families, and this is a good way to help their community.”

Those hunters interested in participating in Hunters Sharing the Harvest can sign up on the event’s Web site. Feaser says donors should research local venison processors who are also participating in the event.

PA Treasurer Launches Newsletter

Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord says he is often amazed when he talks to important business leaders at how little they know about the state’s money. “I’m struck how often I’m talking to business leaders who start talking about the state budget and I just sort of stop them and say, ‘are you aware of what the size of what the budget is?’ and they have no idea,” says McCord, “and I say, ‘are you aware of what the top three or four areas of expense are?’ and the have no idea.” McCord says he wants to make sure more people have that type of information by issuing a quarterly “McCord Report.”

The report will provide “unvarnished and unbiased” numbers according to McCord. “One of the things I’ve noticed is that most of the numbers that you see and hear come with a ton of spin and an argument wrapped around them,” says McCord
He says by just putting out the raw numbers is a good beginning of a conversation. He points to gambling revenues as one example. “There are plenty of arguments against gambling, plenty of arguments for gambling but there is a core question on the table, ‘how much have we gathered so far in tax revenues as a result of gambling and how much has been returned in the form of property tax cuts?’” McCord says people can argue over if the numbers are good or bad but the numbers are solid facts.

The Treasurer says he is a data junky and his employees know that so they are often giving him numbers pulled from the mounds of numbers his office deals with every day. He says his report will provide snap shots of the state’s income, spending, and the economy. The Treasurer says he hopes people will read The McCord Report every quarter and over time gain a good understanding of the state’s finances.

The first report looks at overall budget size, gaming revenue, housing and the state’s largest employers. The report will be electronically published and interested individuals can sign up online to have them delivered every three months. You can download a copy of the report here.

ACHD Warns Hunters to Stay Safe This Season

Accidental shootings, improper field dressing or processing, and carbon monoxide in cabins are some of the main safety hazards of hunting, says Allegheny County Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole.

Cole says during the 2009 deer hunting season, 12 accidental shootings were recorded by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. None were fatal, but Cole says most years there are a few hunting deaths. He says hunters should wear orange and stay with a buddy to avoid such accidents.

After field dressing a kill, Cole says hunters should wash their hands thoroughly, including their fingernails. Afterward, the deer should be taken to a licensed and inspected deer processor as soon as possible. Cole says if the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the risk of spoilage increases greatly; hunters should ice their kill while they take it to a reputable processor.

Hunters can call the Health Department at (412) 687-2243 for a list of licensed deer processors.

Cole says carbon monoxide poisoning can also occur when a cabin isn’t properly ventilated for a heating unit, such as a wood burner or kerosene heater.

In addition, Cole says to always carry a cell phone, high-energy food and water when hunting.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Millersville University Launches New Way of Student Teaching

Students majoring in science education at Millersville are now being immersed in a new teaching program. The Science Professional Development School (PDS) is designed to connect an academic program with intense clinical preparation.

Dr. Oliver Dreon, Assistant Professor at Millersville University, says the program puts teachers in the same position during training rather than sending them to too many settings. "It's a year long program where our interns spend time in one single context for the whole year so they get to know the students, they get to know the school, and they get see the ebbs and flows in the school year."

While the program is only open to future science teachers Dr. Nanette Dietrich,Assistant Professor at Millersville, says that they need a reformed program more than other education students. "We know that there's a shortage of science teachers and we also know that 40% of new science teachers leave within the first few years of teaching, so we knew there was a need to better train science teachers."

The program, in its first full year, is expected to expand to include other majors in the school of education. It currently has 31 students working in Manheim Township, Conestoga Valley, Lampeter-Strasburg, Manheim Central, and the school district of Lancaster.

4 Year Old Liberty Boro Boy Accidentally Shoots Self

Allegheny County Police continue to investigate the shooting death of the 4 year old son of a police officer. Authorities are still trying to determine how Gavin Thompson accessed his father's service hand gun in the family home and why it fired. Liberty Borough Police Chief Luke Riley says it appears the boy found the gun in a closet and then accidentally shot himself. The victim's father, John Thompson is a full-time police officer in Port Vue and works part-time for the Liberty Borough Police Department. He has been placed on administrative leave by both departments pending an investigation.

Moon Teachers Strike to End Monday

Teachers in the Moon Area School District will end their 3 week long strike and return to their classrooms Monday. The school district and the Moon Area Education Association have decided to employ an non-traditional way of trying to resolve their contract dispute. The district and the union will use a neutral third party who is not a state-employed mediator. Neither side would identify the third party but described him as someone who does contract arbitration.
District solicitor Jack Cambest says both sides will make a proposal to the third party at an informal hearing late next month. The neutral party will then have 10 days to make a recommendation, and then the 2 sides will have decide within another 5 days to accept or reject it.
The 2 sides issued a joint statement about this effort to reach a contract agreement and to end the strike....

“The MEA (Moon Education Association) and the MASD (Moon Area School District) are willing to pursue this dispute resolution process in order to attempt
to resolve this ongoing conflict,” said Steve Palumbo, MEA President. Jack Cambest, District
Solicitor added, “Both parties are committed to resolving the contract.”

Classes will resume for all grade levels in the Moon Area School District on Monday, November

Friday, November 26, 2010

WVU Trounces Pitt in Backyard Brawl

The Panthers’ turnover rate played a major part in the 35-10 loss to the Mountaineers. WVU did not turn the ball over, but Pitt did four times, including 3 fumbles and an opening-drive interception that set up a touchdown. While Pitt dominated yardage and time of possession in the first half, they found themselves with a 14-7 halftime deficit they did not overcome.

The Mountaineers tacked on three more touchdowns in the second half to drown Pitt’s hopes, while the Panthers could manage only a 3rd-quarter field goal. Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt says the team prepared well for the game, but lost it in part because of the team’s turnovers.

Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri went 28 of 46 for 284 yards and a touchdown, adding 38 yards rushing as well.

The Panthers (6-5, 4-2 Big East) will hit the road to take on the Cincinnati Bearcats next Saturday. The Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2 Big East) will play Rutgers at home the same day. In addition to a Panthers win against Cincinnati, Pitt needs the Mountaineers to lose their game to take the Big East title.

WVU has now won the last two Backyard Brawls.

More Providers Added to County Health Services Guide

The Allegheny County Health Department has updated and expanded its directory of local health centers and clinics that serve people who have minimal or no health insurance. Department spokesman Guillermo Cole says the guide was first published in 2007 and this is the second update this year...
"In addition to health centers and clinics, there are a number of other organizations listed that can with other needs such as prescription drugs, vision care, dental care, even transportation."
It also features a listing of health insurance options for the unemployed and low-income families.
Cole says some of the organizations that are included for the first time are the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Ways to Work, and Gilda's Club which offers free support groups and programs for those living with cancer and their loved ones.
The directory is intended primarily for social service agencies and other community organizations dealing with the uninsured, but Cole says individuals might also find it useful as a handy guide to care providers and social service agencies.
In many cases, the providers use a sliding fee schedule based on household income and family size for patients with no insurance. Cole says the fees might be as little as $25 or less and possibly waived in cases of extreme financial hardship.

Cole says he thinks this guide will remain a valuable tool..."Nationally, our hope is that one day we'll have a health care system that provides access to health care for all and that health care becomes truly affordable for all and available to all. But until then, there will be a need, sadly for this kind of guide."

The directory is available on line under "Timely Topics" or by calling 412-687-ACHD.

Next Phase of 9 Mile Run Project

An $11 million state loan has been approved to continue the restoration of the former Nine Mile Run slag dump site located near Frick Park. The loan is part of a $45.6 million project that will include residential and commercial development, 20 acres of open space, 5.4 acres of public parks and the installation of 9,600 feet of storm water lines. The site produces runoff with high pH and heavy metals contaminating storm water that runs into Nine Mile Run and the groundwater.
will be used to set the foundation for a residential expansion of Summerset at Frick Park, one of the nation’s first residential neighborhoods to be built upon a former waste site.

State Representative Dan Frankel of Pittsburgh says the 20-year loan, provided through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, will help to set the foundation for the residential expansion.

“There’s a great deal of reclamation that needs to take place. There’s a great deal of infrastructure that needs to be put in place on the undeveloped site in order to continue with this successful development.”

This is the third and final phase of the development. Frankel says Summerset at Frick Park was built upon the idea that residents can experience the feel of an urban neighborhood without being located in the heart of the city.

“It’s not like the suburban developments that you see outside of the city of Pittsburgh where you have acre lots. This is really a true urban neighborhood extension of Squirrel Hill but at the same time it does have some of the feel that you’re sort of separated from the city, you’re overlooking the park. You know, it’s the best of all worlds.”

Frankel says the project is much more than just residential.

“Part of this has been cleaning up Nine Mile Run and extending Frick Park all the way over to the Monongahela River,” Frankel says. “If you take a look at trails that have been reclaimed, it’s a great project from so many different views.”

The project is to create an estimated 550 construction jobs and is to begin in July and be completed in July 2016.

State Could Save by Consolidating Drug Purchases

Auditor General Jack Wagner offered another suggestion to solve the Pennsylvania’s ongoing budget deficit Wednesday, saying the state could save $50 million a year by consolidating nine different agencies that purchase prescription drugs. According to Wagner, the state spends more than $2.2 billion annually for retired Pennsylvanian’s but consolidation into a single department would reduce that number.

Wagner suggests having a “drug czar” that would “oversea the purchasing rather than having separate different programs do that themselves.”

“The theory is quite simple,” Wagner says. “It’s having purchasing power similar to going to a Costco’s or Sam’s and buying in larger bulk for all types of drugs that are necessary.”

Through buying in bulk, the state could save money on each pill purchased which would reduce the $2.2 billion annually spent by 17 different state programs.

Wagner encourages Governor-elect Tom Corbett to form a panel to discuss this wasteful spending. He also says that similar sized states such as New York and New Jersey are interested in joining Pennsylvania in their purchases which would create even more savings.

“If you’re buying Lipitor and you need 10,000 pills of Lipitor, by merging with different states you buy 50,000 pills, and rather than that being a dollar a pill it’s 90 cents a pill.”

Wagner says that pharmaceutical lobbyists have stalled similar options in the state’s past.

Marketing Expert Expects 2-3% Rise in Sales

With Black Friday here, retailers are hoping for an improved shopping season compared to last year.

Named Black Friday for the day buyers help put businesses black in the accounting book’s “black”, the day after Thanksgiving has become part of the holiday ritual according to Audrey Guskey, a professor of marketing at Duquesne University.

“When you think about Black Friday, it is a tradition for many, many generations,” Guskey says. “You eat turkey and watch football on Thanksgiving and you shop on Friday. So if you check out the malls you will see people of all ages and all type shopping.”

Guskey says she expects to see an improvement upon the last 2 years when retail sales dropped 4% in 2008 and rose slightly in 2009...up just 4 tenths of a percent. She believes the better economy along with the itching of consumers to spend will likely raise the sales figure some two-to-three percent.

“We’ve had some good indications. Back to school shopping was fairly good, consumer confidence is coming back a little bit, the job market is increasing, so you have a lot of these indicators,” Guskey says. “In a lot of ways consumers are tired of being thrifty and conservative, they want to open their wallets and start spending.”

Guskey also says that retailers and consumers are getting shopping done before Black Friday, a trend that retailers have found to help their sales. She says that when shoppers do their shopping early, they often are tempted to go back again for more.

“If shoppers start shopping early they’re going to be spending more money because you hide it in the attic, you forget about it. By spreading your shopping over several weeks instead of several days it in a sense psychology doesn’t let the consumer understand that ‘Hey I spent all that money.

According to Guskey, there has also been a trend in shoppers using technology to find the best possible deals for the product they’re interested in buying. Guskey says buyers will use bar code scanning smartphones to determine if they can find a better deal somewhere else and that online shopping continues to grow. She expects an 8% increase in online purchasing this holiday season.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Both Teams to Sport New Look for Backyard Brawl

Both the Panthers and the Mountaineers will don special uniforms for this Friday’s “Backyard Brawl” match-up between Big East rivals Pitt and West Virginia.

WVU Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Michael Fragale says while the Panthers’ new duds will commemorate Pittsburgh’s historic steel industry, the Mountaineers’ jerseys will honor West Virginia’s coal mining industry.

Fans can also look for a sticker on WVU players’ helmets reading the number 29, in honor of the 29 miners who died in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster this April.

Authorities are still investigating that accident, but it’s believed a spark triggered an explosion of methane gas in the mine, killing all but two of the miners on site.

Fragale says Pitt and WVU were two of the ten teams chosen to wear outfits designed by Nike for the company’s “Pro Combat” uniform series.

The Panthers sit atop the Big East standings with a 4-1 conference mark (6-4 overall), while the Mountaineers share second place with Connecticut at 3-2 in the Big East (7-3 overall).

Nanoscale Light Sensor Sees Color

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have created a light sensor that is just four nanometers wide and can detect light on a nearly atomic scale. The average human hair is 80,000 nanometers wide. Pitt Physics Professor Jeremy Levy says they built upon previous University of Pittsburgh research that allows scientists to “draw” electronic paths separated by just a few atoms on the surface of a semiconductor. “If you want to detect light at the near-atomic scale this might be the best tool for doing that,” says Levy, “the actual sensitivity over the area that we are interested in is actually very large.”
Levy says the sensor could address a pair of problems scientists face when dealing with light sensitive materials. He says, ”It’s quite often difficult to integrate the optical and electronic components, but because we have this platform where we can create nano electronics it is very natural for us to incorporate the optical and electronic properties. So once we detect light it is very easy for us to read it out electronically.” The sensor also has the ability to see color in ways that most other sensors cannot. “What we found was that we could change the sensitivity to various colors of light simply by changing the electrical conditions,” says Levy. Most photo detectors measure that they have absorbed light but cannot tell the color the light. “In some sense, it’s a color sensor,” says Levy.

Amber Alert System for Vulnerable Adults

Legislation that’s intended to help locate missing endangered persons was approved by the House of Representatives on Monday and will be sent to the governor for his signature.
The measure sponsored by Senator Mike O'Pake of Berks County creates the Missing Endangered Person Alert (MEPA) System.
“Providing Missing Endangered Person Advisories will be an important means to avoiding tragic results for missing Alzheimers patients and other vulnerable persons.”

O'Pake says unfortunately, especially around this time every year, we learn about tragedies that might have been avoided. He pointed to recent cases in Pennsylvania in which an 82-year-old woman was found dead after wandering away from her nursing home and a 94-year-old man was found frozen in a field after leaving his home.

“Even in warmer weather there are dangers, an 88-year-old year Alzheimer’s patient was found drowned in the Lehigh River just this summer."

Senator O’Pake said the MEPA proposal came about because the success of the Amber Alert system created interest in having similar programs for other vulnerable groups. O’Pake, who authored the state Amber Alert law, said the new bill will make Amber
Alert resources available to local police whenever someone with a physical or mental condition or disability is missing under unexplained, involuntary or suspicious circumstances.
The Reading Democrat says by having a single notification for cases other than Amber Alerts, the hope is to avoid having a number of different alerts that could create confusion and weaken the effectiveness of all.
Local police could choose to continue to put out their own notices in non-Amber cases rather than using the MEPA system.

Governor Calls for the Extension of Unemployment Benefits

Governor Ed Rendell joined the Center for American Progress this week in asking Congress to renew benefits for the long term unemployed. Rendell says Pennsylvania will feel the impact - "83,000 Pennsylvanians will lose benefits in December if benefits aren't extended...We estimate we'll lose $4 million in taxes in December and $8 million in January if these benefits aren't extended and although that's not a huge amount of money, at a time when everyone is grappling for every dollar it's fairly significant to say the least." For legislators who worry that the constant renewal of benefits will become an entitlement, Rendell says they should simply tag it to the unemployment rate. He commended four republican Pennsylvania Congressman for voting to extend benefits, including Congressman Tim Murphy of Allegheny County. Heather Boushey, Senior Economist with the Center for American Progress noted that Congress has never before allowed benefits to expire for the long term unemployed when the unemployment rate was above 7.2%, currently the national unemployment rate is about 9.5%.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cell Phone Disco Comes To Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has unveiled its latest bit of public art and this one counts on your help, or at least your cell phone’s help. The work titled “Cell Phone Disco” uses the electromagnetic waves created by an active cell phone to change the work.
The 16-foot high instillation includes 16 antennas that pick up the electromagnetic waves and then send the information to 2,304 individually controlled red LED lights. Cultural Trust Spokesperson Veronica Corpuz says, “What was once invisible is now detectable through the visual senses.”

The work hangs in the alley behind the Benedum Center know as Tito Way (Also Known as 8th Street) and it faces the long narrow ally that runs through much of the Cultural District know as Exchange Way. Corpuz says many people use the alley as a cut through from Penn Ave to Liberty Ave.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust commissioned the Netherlands-based artist collective, Informationlab, to create Cell Phone Disco. Similar pieces have been hung in galleries but the artists says they are excited to have their effort placed in a public place where passersby will be able to see the ever-changing lightshow. Funding for the permanent instillation came from the Fine Foundation.

“The notion of ‘Lighting’ the Cultural District is in our current five-year strategic plan and also our upcoming three-year plan," says Murray Horne, curator of the Trust’s Wood Street Galleries. “Cell Phone Disco will serve as an anchor for other potential installations that will illuminate the pedestrian pathways throughout the District.”
In a written statement about the work, the artists say, “We have enveloped the display in a two-way mirror, so when there is cell phone activity in the vicinity the light cloud appears on the top of the reflected image of the alley. In this sense the installation is a fusion of the invisible digital reality represented by LEDs and the analog world as it appears in the mirror.” Corpuz says she thinks it is best viewed at dusk.

Report: 60 MPG Would Save Millions on Thanksgiving Travel

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is traditionally the heaviest traveled of the year. While Triple A estimates nearly 1.2 million Pennsylvanians will travel at least 50 miles by car, the watch dog group PennEnvironment says millions of dollars could be saved through higher vehicle gas mileage standards.
The group's new report, "Gobbling Less Gas for Thanksgiving," indicates Pennsylvanians will spend about $15 million at the gas pump this holiday weekend, but more fuel efficient vehicles could cut that by roughly $8.3 million dollars.
Matt Ward of PennEnvironment says those estimated savings are based on cars that would average 60 miles per gallon instead of the current 26.4 MPG....
"Any kind of policy that we can have where Pennsylvanians are both saving money at the pump and having some extra money in their wallet, and at the same time where we're cleaning up our air and reducing our global warming emissions, it's really a win-win situation. So, a 60 MPG standard by 2025, I think is a great way to achieve this."

The Obama Administration recently finalized clear car standards for cars and light trucks for the model years 2012-2016, and is working on higher standards for the model years 2017-2025.
Ward says his organization is urging a 60 MPG standard by 2025 and that multiple studies have shown the technology exists today to make cars and trucks cleaner and more fuel efficient through lightweight materials, more effective engines and hybrids.

PAT Fare Hikes and Cuts Approved

The members of the board of the Port Authority of Allegheny County have given the green light to fare hikes and service cuts but all of them are hoping to reverse their decision. At its monthly meeting this morning, the board unanimously approved fare hikes that will go into effect January 1st and a 35% cut in service effective March 13th. That cut will result in 45 routes being eliminated and nearly all the remaining routes being reduced in some manner. Night and weekend service will be severely curtailed. Board Member Joan Ellenbogen says it is now up to lawmakers in Harrisburg to listen to the pleas of riders and find a funding source that will allow the board to avoid the cuts. “These people are fighting for the ability to hold on to work, to access healthcare and to worship. How anyone can turn a deaf ear to the stories of hardships that these cuts will inflict is beyond me,” says Ellenbogen. Ellenbogen is also concerned for people who rely on home health care assistance. She says many of the providers get to their assignments using mass transit.

Before the meeting, a group of transit supporters gathered across the street from the PAT offices on 6th avenue. Al Hart of the United Electrical Workers Union was among them. He says life in Allegheny County is about to get a lot worse and those who use transit already realize that. “The people who don’t think about this are the people who drive to work who are about to be in for a big surprise when they get to sit for an extra hour every morning and every afternoon because the roads are crowded with another 10,000 cars of people who were thrown off the buses,” says Hart.

A study by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission estimates that the fare hikes and service cuts will add 14 minutes to the average commute and put 9,000 more cars on the road in Allegheny County. PAT CEO Steve Bland calls this a “very dark, dark day” and says it now puts the focus where it has always belonged, on Harrisburg. However, he says he has not yet heard of a funding solution being formed at the capitol.

A list of route changes can be downloaded from the PAT Website.

Arena Demolition Process Delayed

Pittsburgh's vacant Civic Arena has been nominated as a city historic structure. The action was taken on behalf of two groups trying to save the arena after the Pittsburgh Planning Commission voted 6-0 to approve demolition. The historic review process by the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission will prevent any action being taken by the Sports and Exhibition Authority to raze the arena, which they had planned to start in April. The City Planning Commission heard from those on both sides of the issue before voting yesterday. Eloise McDonald of the Hill District told the commission to "leave the Civic Arena for us." She said the Penguins have a "nice place to play" now. The Penguins own the development rights to the 28 acre site in the lower Hill. They favor tearing down the arena for new development. State Senator Jim Ferlo, also one of the speakers, said the "Penguins only intention is to demolish the site for more parking." Ferlo said "that is part of the agenda - the financial money involved with parking."

Travis Williams, senior vice president of business affairs and general counsel for the Penguins, told the commission that the conversations they have had with developers leads them to believe that leaving the arena in place would "severely and adversely impact the ability to develop the 28 acres." Williams said the preservationists "never put forth a plan that had an economic feasibility study behind it or any economic benefit analysis supporting it." He said those who argue in favor of saving the arena claim it's an "architectural wonder like the Space Needle or Arch in St. Lous." But Williams said, "while the dome was glorious in its day, (the Penguins) don't believe the arena is a true destination like the other two" facilities. Williams told the commission that facilities like "the arena, Boston Garden, Yankee Stadium, Detroit Tigers Stadium and Philadelphia Spectrum" are not being reused because it's economically unfeasbible to do so. Demolition of the Spectrum started yesterday.

Springboard Kitchens

A Pittsburgh program is helping those with barriers to employment find work – by teaching them how to cook in restaurant kitchens.

Marquis Ferro is 27. His whole life is ahead of him. But he can’t get there until he puts his past behind him.
"I was just incarcerated for 22 months. And I just got out September 1st of this year," he said.

He describes his life as a patchwork of drug dealing, guns, gambling and burglaries – with a few stints working in restaurant kitchens. So last month, he enrolled in Springboard Kitchens.

"Idle time is the devil’s playground. So just coming straight out of jail and not having no money, I was in a hurry to get into anything so I didn’t go back to doing wrong and this was the first available program and it was interesting. And like I said, whose not interested in honing their skill. I’m not a professional. This program gets me one step closer," he added.

It’s hard enough finding a job. But if you have a barrier to employment like a prison record, or a history of drug and alcohol abuse, if your homeless or just haven’t worked for a while, Springboard Kitchens is the kind of project that helps works through those barriers.

Based on a program in Seattle, it is several things – it’s job-training that teaches the basics of what it means to work in a kitchen and make massive quantities of food. The workers help them find jobs. Along the way, they help out with life skills. And it’s a working kitchen. The food they prepare gets delivered daily to homeless shelters and nursing homes and drop-in centers.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Veteran PA Lawmaker Says No Recount

Democratic State Representative Dave Levdansky of Forward Township says after recanvassing returns from the 39th House District in Allegheny and Washington Counties, it's apparent there is no dramatic change in the final vote tally from the November 2 election. So, he will not ask for a recount.
With more than 21,000 votes cast, Republican challenger Rick Saccone defeated Levdansky by 125 votes. Levdansky has served thirteen, 2-year terms in the legislature....

"I know some voters made decisions that were rooted in anger at government and I accept that. But, I'm not bitter. I frankly feel as though I'm fortunate to be given the opportunity to serve the people."

However, Levdansky is angered by the outside money that was poured into this House race by corporations and the Republican State Leadership Committee based in Virginia...
"At least $400,000 was spent spreading those misrepresentations and distortions about my record to the benefit of my opponent who raised about $20,000 the entire year to finance his own campaign. Now the rich corporations behind that money are in a stronger position to control the legislative process to their benefit."

Levdansky believes he was targeted because of his support for "fair corporate taxation, a natural gas severance tax and campaign finance reform."

Levdansky believes that elected officials will be fearful of standing their ground to protect the public interest..."when doing so may target them by those who have no qualms about twisting the truth to promote their own agendas – and have unlimited funds to do it."

Levdansky did not rule out a future run for office....including trying to regain the House seat he's held for 26 years....."I don't know. I still have yearning and a desire to serve people and to articulate good public policy in the public interest."

Rep. Murphy Requests TSA Security Revisions

After hearing concerns from constituents and uncomfortable workers, Congressman Tim Murphy (PA-18-R) has requested that Homeland Security review the Transportation Security Administration’s security methods and consider alternative methods of security checks for this holiday season.

Murphy joined with Rep. Bob Filner (D) of California to form a bipartisan committee that is interested in the privacy and comfort of their constituents while still ensuring safety while traveling.

“We want to make sure that TSA has the techniques necessary to protect passenger safety and security but also we want to protect passenger privacy as well,” Murphy says.

Murphy’s committee is concerned with the latest security program of the TSA that requires flight passengers to enter a full body scanner or subject themselves to an intrusive pat down which has become the subject of public controversy.

Another of Murphy’s concerns is how TSA went through with their enhanced security measures without seeking input from Congress, which Murphy believes represents the best interests of the American people.

“In the Pittsburgh Airport there are a large number of TSA employees who are raising concerns to us that they feel there are some other ways they can do this,” Murphy says. “They’re not comfortable with the screening methods being used right now.

The committee hopes for Homeland Security to revise TSA’s measures in the next few weeks.

“To ask for some careful review for this in the coming days before the Christmas holidays would be critically important,” Murphy says.

New Pension Numbers Arrive

Pittsburgh City Council has new numbers in hand from the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System (PMRS) that shows adding either $110 million or $330 million in the next few years greatly reduces minimum yearly payments in the future. Council asked for the additional numbers as it tries to grapple with its underfunded pension program.

State law mandates that the city enter into the PMRS if it cannot get its pension fund up to the 50% funded level by the end of the year. Right now the fund is about 27% funded. If the city goes into the PMRS, the system would set “minimum municipal obligation” (MMO) levels that would bring the pension to 100% funded in 30 years. The first set of numbers showed payments averaging $120 million a year with peaks of $150 million or more in 2030. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hoped to avoid the take over by using income from a 50-year lease of the Parking Authority’s assets to bring the fund up to the 50% level. Council rejected that plan. Council then countered with a plan to sell some city-owned parking assets to the Authority and use the proceeds to shore up the pension. Three of the mayor’s five appointees to the Parking Authority Board killed that plan.

Councilman Bill Peduto then asked the PMRS to show what would happen under several scenarios. One scenario has the city adding an extra $110 million to the pension in the next three years in an effort to reduce the MMOs in the out years. That scenario lowers the top payment $128 million in 2030. The additional money would come from funds currently in the pension but not accepted by the PMRS because of their risky nature, surpluses expected in future budgets and $45 million set aside by the council to be used for debt or pension payments. That money was the subject of a hot debate in council Monday.

Another scenario calls for the same $110 million over three years and an additional $220 million in 2014. That lowers the top payment in 2030 to $108 million. The additional $220 comes from the sale of a city owned parking garage, five surface lots and nearly 7,000 street meters to the Parking Authority, which would pay for them through the issuance of a $220 million bond. While Mayor Ravenstahl says he will not agree to such a deal, Peduto notes that there will be a mayoral election between now and 2014 and he speculates it could become a political issue.

Council members have not been available for comment today but in the past, Peduto has said that he feels the best option would be to enter the PMRS and make the additional payments. However, he has also said he would wait until he sees the new numbers before making his final decision.

See all of our Pension/Parking stories.

Testing The Waters

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority in conjunction with The University of Pittsburgh Schools of Engineering is conducting studies on the region's drinking water.

Recent tests have shown rising levels of contaminants. There have been trihalomethanes or THM's over the past couple months. Those are formed when bromides combine with chlorine. Bromide is a naturally occurring substance in the soil. But it can come from other sources as well such as coal fired power plants, mine drainage discharges or oil and gas wastewater.

In high quantities and over long periods of time, THM’s can cause damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system.

Researchers have been testing the Allegheny River, The Conemaugh River, The Kiskiminetas River and some of the small streams that feed into those. Stanley States, The Director of Water Quality and Production for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority says other factors could be at play such as more tropical weather in the summer months which creates more algae in the river. Although the levels of bromide are higher, the water is still drinkable.

"What would have to occur is over a period of time that we continue seeing elevated bromide concentrations that translate into elevated disinfected biproducts and then at that point this may significantly impair the quality of the water, it may be a compliance issue too," said States.

Dowd Looks To Boot Penn Am Water

Pittsburgh City Councilman Patrick Dowd says his drive to end rate subsidies for Pennsylvania American Water customers in the city is not aimed at hurting those residents. “It is not my intention nor is it my goal… to raise the water rates for the Penn American customers,” says Dowd. “The goal for us should be to take those customers into the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority system.” He says his bill, which would end the subsidies in February of 2012, is the first step in making that happen.

Penn American charges more for water than the PWSA and for decades the city has been making payments to Penn American to equalize the rates. Dowd says over the last 15 years the PWSA has sent $65 million to Penn American and he wants to know how that money is being used. “I’ve been spending a lot of time reading about where they are putting our money, and it’s not in the city of Pittsburgh.” Dowd has called for two post agenda meetings on the subject. One of the meetings would include representative of Penn American and the other would include representatives of the PWSA. The next step would be to hold public hearings.

Pennsylvania American Water Spokeswoman Josephine Posti says, “Pennsylvania American Water is committed to a really aggressive investment program. Last year alone we invested over $63 million in infrastructure replacements for or Pittsburgh Customers.” Posti says the company is also in the process of making $100 million in investments in water treatment facilities that serve customers in the city. As far as Posti knows, the city has not sent a formal proposal to pick up the Penn American customers so she is unable to comment on the company’s willingness to make such a deal but she does say Penn American is “proud of their service to Pittsburgh residents for the last 100 years and is looking forward to the next 100 years.”

Dowd says it is unclear why back in 1957 the mayor of Pittsburgh entered into an agreement with a private company to provide water service to residents south of the Mon River. He speculates that at the time the city did not have the capacity or the pipes to provide the service. He says that is no longer the case, “We have the treatment capacity, we have the reservoir capacity, we have the pipe capacity and we have the pumping capacity, we have the information technology capacity, we have the maintenance capacity. We have all of the capacity at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to provide water in 2010 to all residents living in the city.”

Dowd says with all of the questions about water quality related to shale drilling he wants to make sure the PWSA is responsible for providing water to all city residents, not a private company. He says he wants to make sure residents get the highest quality water service at the lowest possible price.

Councilman Bruce Kraus says he will do all his homework but he plans to fight Dowd every step of the way. Most of his district is served by Penn American Water and he fears that many of those customers cannot afford a rate increase. Penn American’s Posti says they have special programs to help low income customers and she encourages anyone having problems paying their bill to contact the company.

As Flu Season Begins, State Encourages Vaccine

It’s flu season again, and after the first casualty to the virus in Pennsylvania, state residents are encouraged to protect themselves and others by getting a flu shot.

The State Department of Health Acting Secretary Michael Huff has confirmed a 45-year-old man from Lehigh County as Pennsylvania’s first reported flu-related death of the 2010-11 flu season.

“This individual was confirmed to have 2009 H1N1, which we know is beginning to circulate."

Huff says this year’s seasonal influenza vaccine provides protection against 2009 H1N1, as well as two other strains of flu, A/H3N2 and influenza B which are circulating in Pennsylvania.

“If there’s any good news in this, the good news is that both of those types of Influenza are covered in this year’s flu preparation,” Huff says. “Every year with the exception of last year there are three strains in the influenza vaccine.”

It is estimated that more than 36,000 Americans, and around 1,000 Pennsylvanian’s, die from flu-related complications yearly.

Huff says that it’s important to keep common work areas clean, along with frequently washing your hands, especially after sneezing or coughing. Most important however, is getting a flu shot, to protect both your and your family.

“An influenza vaccine, a flu shot, is the most important and effective way to protect not only your health, but the health of your loved ones.”

For those already infected with the flu, Huff advises staying home from work and avoiding contact with the healthy until you are fever-free, in order to prevent spreading.

Rendell to Teach, Write...Relearn How to Drive

Governor Ed Rendell has thought a bit more about what he’ll do after he leaves office in January.
For most of the past year, Rendell has given reporters a stock answer about his plans once he leaves office. He’ll write a book, do more teaching and continue sports broadcasting, and look for a job to “pay the bills.”
The governor now says he’ll continue serving as a co-chair of “Building America’s Future,” the coalition focused on improving infrastructure.

"And Governor Schwarzenegger, who leaves office a couple of weeks before I do, has indicated he wants to continue with that work. And, of course, Mayor Bloomberg, who not only leads us but helps fund us, he is going to continue to do that work."

Rendell also has a more personal task related to roads and highways. He says he needs to re-learn how to drive. Since he’s held one office or another for decades, the governor says it’s been about 30 years since he regularly drove a car.
Rendell says he’ll get a police presence for six months…

"And during that six months, I’ll practice. But we’ll see. It depends on a lot of things. And I wasn’t, to be honest, a great driver before, when I drove a lot. So it could be a real problem."

Rendell says he’s hoping state troopers will give him lessons next winter.

Financial Aid for Firefighters With Cancer

Lawmakers, fire officials and the union leaders rallied in Harrisburg Monday to urge Governor Ed Rendell to sign legislation that would make it easier for firefighters to qualify for workers' compensation if they develop cancer during their time on the job. The Senate okayed the measure on a 45-4 vote and the House passed it unanimously on their last voting day of this legislative session.
The measure would extend workers' compensation to firefighters who are stricken with cancer as a result of being exposed to carcinogens in the line of duty. State Representative Robert Matzie, who represents parts of Allegheny and Beaver Counties, says the bill just makes sense....
"Because when they're busing down a door, they don't know what's going to be on the other side relative to the fire....what's in the walls, what's in the ceiling."

32 other states already have a similar law on the books.

The bill's co-sponsor Representative Dom Costa of Pittsburgh says firefighters, both paid and volunteer, put their lives on the line for our safety. "It is important that we as a state do all that we can to help them when they suffer as a result of doing their duty."

The governor has until November 27 to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

Under the legislation:
**Only firefighters with four or more years of continuous service would be eligible to apply for workers' compensation;
**Only cancers caused by direct exposure to known carcinogens would be considered for workers' compensation
**To qualify, firefighters would have to successfully pass a physical exam, which did not reveal any evidence of cancer, either before making an occupational disease claim or before beginning work as a firefighter.
**The presumption of cancer as an occupational disease may be rebutted by a preponderance of evidence showing a firefighter was directly exposed to a known carcinogen outside of firefighting, including tobacco use.
**Coverage for volunteers would be limited only to those volunteer companies that participate in the state's Fire Information Reporting System.
**Claims must be made within 11.5 years after the last date of employment as a firefighter.

Holiday Travelers Encouraged to Be Safe

As always, travelers are encouraged to drive cautiously during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays this year. PennDOT is partnering with state and local police forces to ensure the safety of all drivers in a year that AAA says will feature more travelers than last.

AAA projects an 11.4 percent increase in travelers going more than 50 miles to enjoy family and food this Thanksgiving. AAA spokeswoman Bevi Powell said the improved economy is likely one reason for the increase in travelers this year.

“Last year some of the American travelers may have postponed their trip but this year some of the Americans are in a different financial position,” Powell said.

According to AAA, about 1.11 million travelers will drive to reach their destination and PennDot, law enforcement, and AAA all advise drivers to proceed with caution during holiday traveling.

“We’re really asking drivers to think about safety while their driving,” Alison Wenger, a spokesperson for PennDOT says. “Whether that’s wearing their seatbelt or designating a driver if they’re impaired or unable to drive. Also watch for aggressive drivers on the highway.”

PennDOT will have sobriety checkpoints, along with regular police patrols to ensure drivers safety. They also are conducting Click It or Ticket seat belt enforcement for the holiday season, and if a driver is pulled over for a driving violation and doesn’t have his or her seatbelt on, they are subject to a second citation.

More than 500 of the reported 4,500 accidents last holiday season were alcohol-related and in an attempt to reduce that number, AAA is running a “Take the Pledge” viral campaign that asks drivers to be responsible and let another drive is they are impaired.

“We’re asking people to go online and go to www.takethepledge.aaa.com, sign up that you are committing to drive sober and also to pass that message on their Facebook and email it to their friends and family,” Powell says.

The best advice Powell and Wenger have to offer is to plan ahead for your trip and leave early.

“If you’re flying make sure you that you arrive at the airport at least two hours in advance,” Powell says. “If you’re driving make sure that you leave yourself enough time that you can leave safely and not feel rushed.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

2 Votes Moves Bond Plan Forward

On a 2-0 vote with 6 abstentions, Pittsburgh City Council has given tentative approval to a plan to use reserve funds to pay down higher rate debt and then float new lower rate bonds. The proposal from the Ravenstahl administration uses $45 million set aside by the council to pay down debt or add to the pension fund, to pay holders of a non-callable bonds through a tender offer. The administration would then issues a similar amount of debt through a federal program at a much lower rate. The current rate is more than 8% and the new rate is expected to come in at less than 3%. The council balked at the deal because the proceeds from the new bond can only be used for capital projects. Some members of council were eyeing that money to help shore up the pension fund this year.

Councilman Bill Peduto says he sees the value in the swap and at any other time he would probably approve it but not right now. “We may need that money to put upfront for our pension fund to lower our obligation,” says Peduto. “What we want to find out in the next week is what makes that money more valuable, using it as an upfront payment into the pension or restructuring debt.”

But the administration’s budget director Scott Kunka says the proposal cannot wait. He says if the bonds are not sold next week the federal program allowing for the low interest rates will expire and some of the tender offers may come off the table.

Peduto and other members of council feel they will have a better understanding of how to best use the money tomorrow. The Secretary of The Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System (PMRS) is expected to report back to council and the Mayor’s office Tuesday with new calculation on the city’s minimum yearly payment for the next 30 years, if there is a one time upfront infusion of cash into the pension fund. Peduto asked for a calculation based on an additional $107 million. That would include the approximately $45 million in reserves, some $50 million already in the pension fund in high risk investments that the PMRS did not use in previous calculations and another $10 million the mayor has projected as surplus in 2011. Peduto says that will shurely lower the rates compared to the numbers present a few weeks ago that show average payments of $120 million a year with spikes of more than $160 million a year.

Peduto also asked to see what would happen if $220 million were also added to the fund some time before 2015. 2015 is when the actual take over of the pension fund would occur. $220 million is based on the Council/Controller plan to sell some parking assets to the Parking Authority, which would in turn float that much in bonds. The Mayor has rejected such a plan but Peduto says there is time to change that. “There is a mayor’s race in 2013 and if the mayor wants to dig his heals in and say, ‘no I won’t do it,’ then he is going to have to come up with a new plan… and if he is not willing I’m certain there will be a lot of other people who would decide to run who will.”

Councilman Ricky burgess and Councilwoman Theresa Smith gave the yes votes. The measure will now be up for a final vote Tuesday of next week.

PA Communities Want Tax Options

A group of Pennsylvania municipalities wants state government to implement fiscal reforms which could lift many of the communities out of financial trouble.

The Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities presented a report to Governor-elect Tom Corbett today recommending new policies for collective bargaining, bidding, and especially taxation in local governments.

President Kip Allen says the League wants a “menu” of tax options that municipalities could choose from. He says many counties also want the right to increase their sales tax rates above 6%, like Allegheny and Philadelphia Counties have done.

Allen says in addition to new tax options, the league would like Pennsylvania to update some of its fiscal policies. He says for example, the state’s collective bargaining agreement with police and firefighters has been the same since 1968.

Including Pittsburgh, 19 municipalities are under state fiscal supervision via Act 47.

Pittsburgh Area Unemployment Numbers

Of the seven counties that make up the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area, Butler County had the lowest unemployment rate in September, at 6.8%. Fayette County had the highest rate at 8.5%. All the counties in the area reported rates lower than the 9.2% national average. In the Pittsburgh area, the unemployment numbers from September 2009 to September 2010 represent roughly 90,000 jobs. Sheila Watkins, Regional Commissioner for the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the metropolitan area lost jobs in information services, gained jobs in construction and continues to shed manufacturing jobs. Allegheny County had an unemployment rate of 7.3%.

More information on the numbers can be accessed at bls.gov/ro3/urpitt.htm

Duquesne High School Students Can Tranfer

Legislation that would allow the Pennsylvania Department of Education to transfer high school students from the Duquesne School District to schools in neighboring districts is awaiting Governor Ed Rendell's signature.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously in September that a lower court erred when it decided the state had the right to transfer the students to East Allegheny and West Mifflin School Districts. The high court found the law used to implement the transfer was so specific it could only apply to Duquesne and therefore was unconstitutional.
The Senate approved a bill that would pass legal muster but it appeared the measure would expire and the fate of nearly 195 students from Duquesne would be undetermined when House leaders canceled legislative voting days scheduled for after the November 2 election. House leaders caved into pressure from rank and file lawmakers and held votes on this bills and several others including pension reform.
State Representative Bill Kortz of Dravosburg, whose legislative district includes Duquesne, says not passing the measure would have hurt the students and the East Allegheny and West Mifflin Districts....

"They have to get their budgets done now and get things squared away and here we are impacting them and everything is up in the air on these children. It's not fair to the children and their families. It's not fair to the children and families. It's not fair to the school districts to have everybody hanging in limbo."

The state took over the Duquesne School District in 2000 and closed the high school in 2007 citing budget issues, declining enrollment and test scores.

Study: Cities Trying to Trim Jail Spending

Policy decisions regarding local jails can drastically affect how much municipalities spend on incarceration, according to a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

For the first time in three decades, the average jail population of large cities dropped by about 2.3%. Study author Claire Shubik-Richards from Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative says that decline in population usually brings with it a decrease in jail spending.

Shubik-Richards says both of those statistics can be at least partially attributed to cost-cutting maneuvers by local governments. She says a city’s jail policies are often more influential to the jail population than the area’s crime rate. Those policies can range from consolidating multiple hearings to speeding up the trial process.

Shubik-Richards says the policy changes are probably a reaction to the tough economic times, where cities that spend a significant portion of their budgets on jails must find ways to save money while maintaining public safety.

Allegheny County's jail population increased 49% from 1999 to 2009. During that same time period, jail spending shot up 19%.

Power Shifts East to West

For most of the Rendell Administration, Philadelphia lawmakers set the agenda in Harrisburg.
Next year, Allegheny County will hold the reins at the Capitol.
The Pittsburgh area is riding high right now. Governor-elect Tom Corbett, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa and both House leaders, Republican Mike Turzai and Democrat Frank Dermody, come from Allegheny County.
Political scientist Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College says the power shift is good news for the region.

"Historically, lawmakers have assisted their region. They have brought home economic and community development monies. They have pushed the federal funds for which the state has discretion into their areas of the state. And so typically, you would expect that leaders would bring the bacon home."

Madonna says leaders will still find a way to make that happen, even though money will be tight next year, due to a likely multi-billion dollar deficit.

After he took the reigns as top House Democrat, Dermody assured anxious Philadelphians -- who are losing a governor and appropriations chair -- their interests will still be met.

"Surely they’re not without representation in Harrisburg. And believe me, all of us here have been big supporters of Philadelphia. We understand it’s a big state. That we represent the whole state, that we represent everyone in this state. And we will continue to do that. Philadelphia and every other part of this commonwealth will get a fair shake from us."

Governor Rendell says the idea leaders will help their home city has been “badly blown out of proportion.”
He’s likely a bit sensitive to the charge, though, having been labeled by many as “the governor of Philadelphia” for the last eight years.

Homestead Mayor, others Hospitalized

The homestead fire department says Homestead Mayor Better Esper remains hospitalized this morning after a carbon monoxide leak sickened her, Lloyd Cunningham and a third person. They called 911 Saturday night. Fire Department Chief Bill Purifoy says crews found high levels of carbon monoxide inside the two-unit home shared by Esper and Cunningham. The source of the carbon monoxide appears to have been a gas lantern in the basement. Hospital officials say Cunningham was released.

Conference Says Gas Drilling Ruins Communities

Two homeowners at the 2010 People’s oil and gas Summit in Greentree over the weekend told those gathered that when gas drillers come to town so does a raft of social and economic problems. Stephanie Hallowich purchased land in Hickory PA a few years ago. She and her husband built their dream house and set about raising their two kids. Not long after they finished their construction, a much heavier construction began just off their property. The area around their home is now dotted with gas drilling pads, retention ponds, pipelines, and processing facilities. She says they have tried to sell the house but can find no takers. In the meantime, they are looking for a place to rent to get away from the odors and chemicals they saw waft on to their front yard every day. “We have been talking to realtors and they say that rental prices are anywhere from three to four times what they normally would be because there are so many people moving in to work at these sites,” says Hallowich. She says people who are only there for the fleeting gas drilling jobs are forcing out people who want to take permanent jobs and set down roots in the region. Hallowich has become a vocal opponent of drilling and says she has become a lightening rod for people on both sides of the issue. Hallowich says other parents come up to her “completely scared to death.” She says now that people are seeing what the gas wells bring with them they don’t know what to do. “It’s becoming a marital issue because the husbands just see the money but at the same time moms instinctively want to protect their kids.” On the other hand, Hallowich says some large land owners are coming up to her angry at her efforts, “They tell me… they really don’t care, they just want the signing bonus money because they will be so rich they can pack up and move and they don’t care what’s left behind.”

Hallowich and Wyoming landowner Jill Morrison both warned the audience about skyrocketing wages. Hallowich says there are men without college degrees who are being lured away from their 20-thousand dollar a year job at local business to take on 60-thousand dollar a year temporary jobs at drill pads. But she says that money comes with the need to stay quiet about what they are seeing on the job site. Morrison says she has seen crime increase in her community and that is not an isolated incident. “Not only in Sweetwater County but in Campbell county Sheridan County and Johnson County, they have all been increasing the size of their jail,” says Morrison. In fact, researchers even have a name for it. They call it Gillette Syndrome named after a town that saw a coal-mining boom in the 1970’s and saw crime increase at the same time.

Morrison says the state is taxing the gas but not enough of the money is coming back to the local governments. “These rural roads that used to get maybe a dozen cars a day now get thousands of heavy vehicles, and the counties are saying, ‘hey, we don’t have the money to maintain these roads, we can’t deal with this traffic,’” says Morrison.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dr. Barth: Shale Studies Flawed

Economist Jannette Barth says reports of the positive economic impacts of drilling in the Marcellus Shale are flawed. Barth made her comments this week while speaking at the People’s Oil and Gas Summit in Greentree. The environmental group Earthworks organized the event. Barth says she is suspect of studies that have come out in recent years for a long list of reasons.

Barth says she questions the validity of research that came out of Penn State University because it was funded by oil and gas companies or their foundations. Barth says other studies looked at only part of the picture. She points to the he Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) released by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, “The SGEIS ignores likely declines in other industries that may result from both pollution and a shift to an industrial landscape. These industries include agriculture, tourism, wine making, organic farming, hunting, fishing, and river recreation.” She says all those industries do a better job at building a strong local economy than gas related jobs.

Barth points to other studies that base their findings on data from economic and environmental activity in the Barnett Shale formation in Texas, which she says is like comparing apples to oranges. “The labor force in Texas has the requisite skill set due to its long history of oil and gas drilling there,” says Barth, “We saw that Pennsylvania has imported 70% of its gas drilling labor force, the imported labor is often temporary and transient, sending most of their income back to other states. Maybe Texas.” Barth says gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale may actually result in negative economic growth.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bethel Park District Considers Teachers' Offer

The Bethel Park Federation of Teachers has offered to end its 4 week strike and return to the classrooms Monday if the district renews the contract that expired in June.... with an addition. The union has proposed extending the old contract for up to 3 years, but with $2,300 annual pay hikes for the teachers. In a statement union president Diann Smith said the teachers are "eager and ready to return to their classrooms once an extension is ratified by both sides."
On its web site, the district said it's reviewing the offer. However, the district said the $2,300 dollar annual increase is more that the district offered during negotiations and "the district does not believe this is a good faith gesture on the federation's part."
If there is no agreement,talks will resume Monday.

Violence During Light Up Night

The 50th anniversary of Light Up Night was marred last night in downtown Pittsburgh by a shooting and several fights. Pittsburgh Police say a man in his 20's was shot in the groin at 7th Avenue and Smithfield Street. He as reported in stable condition at UPMC Mercy.
Police searched for a suspect and witnesses while trying to direct people away from the scene, but a series of fights then broke out in several locations nearby. Officers were called from all over the city to respond with the help of K-9 units. Pepper spray was used. Police spokesman Diane Richard said four juveniles were cited for disorderly conduct and the crowds were dispersed in just over an hour.

Light Up activities continue today with more concerts, stage shows and at 5 o'clock a horse-drawn candlelight carriage parade.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anti Fracing Conference Begins

Activists and concerned landowners are gathered in Greentree today and Saturday to talk about Shale and tight-gas sand extraction. The first session of the day set the tone for the conference by exploring the negative health impacts that many are associating with the hydraulic fracturing (fracing) process. John Fenton runs a ranch in Wyoming. Gas wells surround his home and work shop. He told the gathering that he and others in his small town have chronic pain and a host of other illnesses. He says the promise of taxes and jobs do not outweigh the negatives. “This might be industry’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but to us it’s a pot of poison,” says Fenton. Fenton says even the employees of the company are not safe. He says employees live and work under the same conditions, “they are sacrificing those men as much as they are sacrificing us.” Fenton says, “The only way that we can change this is what we are doing here today. You gotta have the courage to stand up and to stick together and you gotta tell the truth and let these people know that they are not going to run over the top of us.”

Activist and environmental scientist Wilma Subra shared the stage with Fenton. She says regulators need to launch long-term studies that layer dates of medical complaints on top of dates of drilling spills, gas releases, and permit violations. However EPA whistleblower Weston Wilson says even that may not be enough to point out the true impact of fracing. “In many cases people do not see their doctors for these [chronic] problems, and thus they become anecdotal and not of import except to those who are suffering.

Conference on Forensic Death Investigation

"Cause of Death” is the topic of the 10th annual conference at the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law at Duquesne University today and tomorrow. Speakers include forensic experts, criminal investigators, attorneys, and judges presenting the latest methods and strategies in forensic science.

The first presentation was by Dr. Henry Lee, a prominent forensic scientist most people have seen on TV in high profile court cases. He says the ever-growing forensic database and new instruments and equipment offer unprecedented opportunities for gathering physical evidence at crime scenes.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, chairman of the Institute’s advisory board, says prospective jurors today tend to expect definitive physical evidence, though it doesn’t always exist, and they get angry when disappointed, so defense attorneys and prosecutors may ask if people in the jury pool watch CSI.

Dr. Lee says it’s the prosecutor’s job to explain the physical evidence, or lack thereof, to the jury, and he’s found juries to be eminently reasonable.

Dr. Wecht says the field of forensics grows in sophistication constantly, but there's been no earth-shaking discovery since DNA forensic profiling became possible in the mid-1980s.

LCB Backs Down On Fee Hike...For Now

A week after Governor-elect Tom Corbett criticized an impending liquor fee increase, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is delaying the cost spike for six months.
The increase, approved earlier this year, would bump up the price of alcohol up anywhere from fifteen cents to a bit more than a dollar, depending on the size of a bottle.
Board CEO Joe Conti says Corbett’s comments played into the delay.

"I think that our board was respectful of the Governor-elect’s comments. Respectful of the public comments on this matter. So it was appropriate to take the opportunity here for the moratorium. And we look forward to a discussion with the General Assembly and with Governor Corbett early next year on these matters."

Corbett’s spokesman Kevin Harley, says the Republican “applauds” the move.

"Certainly one he becomes governor, he’ll do anything in his power to prevent that tax, or handling fee, or whatever creative name they want to call it, from becoming reality."

Conti and Kevin Harley say there wasn’t any direct communication between the LCB and Corbett’s staff.
Corbett and top Republican lawmakers say one of their priorities next year is privatizing state-owned liquor stores.

PA's Jobless Rate Dips Below 9%

Pennsylvania’s economy added nearly 16-thousand jobs last month.
The state’s unemployment numbers dropped by 10-thousand last month, lowering unemployment to 8.8 percent....down from 9.0% in September.
The percentage has been above nine since February.
Governor Ed Rendell says his administration can take partial credit for the dip, citing two reasons.

"Number one, the incentives that we have invested into the economy. Investments to promote economic growth clearly work, and they work here in Pennsylvania. And number two, the superb job that Secretary Vito’s department has done in training. Pennsylvania Careerlinks, etc."

Pennsylvania’s statistic is now nearly a full point below the national 9.6 percent unemployment rate.
The figure was at 5.8 percent when Rendell first took office. It dropped below 5 halfway through 2005, and stayed there until early 2008. It hit its high point for the last 8 years in July at 9.3%.

Light Up Night Tonight

For the 50th anniversary of Light Up Night, the event is expanding to 2 days. Mike Edwards, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, says the festivities begin at 4 o'clock this afternoon so "come early" and "bring your sneakers." Friday November 19 and will be capped off with a fireworks display that night. Then the activities continue Saturday morning at 10 o'clock.....
"What makes this annual event so special is that it is entirely focused on Pittsburgh, its beauty, its performers , its traditions and its communities."

Edwards says the reopening of Market Square adds to the celebration because there is room for a lot more people and new events.
There will be 2 large stages in Market Square with performances by the CAPA Choir, Etta Cox and Al Dowe Trio and No Bad Ju JU; and, on the Clemente Bridge where the Granati Brothers, Johnny Angel and the Halos, and Donny Iris and the Cruisers will perform. In addition, five Pittsburgh area high school bands will march through downtown Pittsburgh playing holiday music.
Saturday's performance schedule includes the Joe Negri Quartet, Jeff Jimerson and Airborne, Vanessa Campagna Christmas Show, and Grand Pittsburgh Celebrate Santa Stage Show. The highlight should be the Candlelight Carriage Parade featuring horses of all sizes and carriages including the famous Wells Fargo stagecoach.
Pittsburgh Area native, Tom Nesbit, currently living in Mesa, Arizona made the 2,200 mile trek to his hometown to participate in the Carriage Parade. Nesbit owns several antique fire wagons, dating back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s participate annually in the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Fiesta Bowl Parade.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Alco-Energy Drink Production in Latrobe Halted

The Food and Drug Administration has sent a letter to the makers of alcoholic energy drinks telling them that the caffeine in the beverages is an "unsafe food additive." Among the best-known Alco-Energy drinks is Four Loko, which is made in Latrobe by Chicago based Phusion Projects.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg says the mix of caffeine and alcohol can lead to what she calls "a state of wide-awake drunk." She says the evidence shows that the drinks have led to alcohol poisoning, car accidents and assaults. Experts think the caffeine could mask a feeling of intoxication, leading to risky behavior.

The companies have 15 days to respond to the letter and if they continue to make and market the product, it could be seized by the federal government. Just before the FDA issued its letter Phusion Projects announced that it was reformulating its products to remove caffeine, guarana and taurine. In a written statement today the company says, “Until all of the state approvals for the reformulated product are in place, it is impossible to know what the impact will be on production runs at the Latrobe plant. If we receive approval from the states in a timely manner, we’re hopeful that any economic impact will be minimal.” The company says it still believes a mix of alcohol and caffeine is safe, but that they're up against a "politically-charged regulatory environment."

Review Commission OK's Stricter Drilling Regs

New rules to modernize well-drilling safeguards in Pennsylvania's booming natural gas
fields are a step closer to enactment. The Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved the changes this morning, and a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) official expects the new regulations to be finalized no later than January.
proposal at its Thursday meeting, and a state environmental
regulatory official expects the rules to become final no later than
The DEP drew up the stricter rules in response to a rush to drill deep, high-pressure wells into the Marcellus Shale formation.
The regulations would reduce the maximum allowable well pressure, improve standards for well cement and pipes and strengthen the response to reports of gas leakage into water wells. Finally, the rules would reduce the maximum pressure for gas wells and require drillers to restore any water supplies they pollute.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger says the new environmental regulations will be the toughest in the country.
The DEP will also use new electronic reporting requirements to create a publicly available map that shows which chemicals were used at each drilling site.

Natural Gas Health Impact Conference to Convene at Pitt

Experts on the natural gas industry and its impact on the environment and the public's health are coming to Pittsburgh tomorrow. They plan to discuss the direction of the industry, issues that need to be addressed and how research can positively impact policy and regulatory decision making. Dr. Conrad Volz, director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh says they'll talk about potential, projected and actual impacts of the natural gas industry. He says many of those effects are already being felt through degraded air quality and the impacts on drinking water. The conference will present the scientific challenges and issues that are being explored by government and academic investigators, as well new methodologies being employed to assess the health impacts and reduce the hazards produced by gas extraction, refining, and delivery operations. Volz says they also plan to create a document identifying gaps in research and unknown impacts of the industry and how to fill in those holes. The conference takes place tomorrow at Pitt and registration is closed.

State Grants Millions for Alternative Fuel Projects

Pennsylvania is granting $7.9 million for 21 projects promoting bio-fuels, natural gas and electric powered vehicles across the state. Those funds are being matched with another $22.1 million in private investment. In southwestern Pennsylvania, the Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant Program is giving two grants. Giant Eagle will receive $750,000 to buy 29 compressed natural gas (CNG) and electric/plug in vehicles and will install ten public electric vehicle charging stations, the first of their kind in Pennsylvania. Waste Management of Pennsylvania, Inc. will get $700,000 to build a CNG fueling station at its hauling facility in Washington , PA -- which will also be available to other fleet operators. The company plans to use natural gas in its fleet of trash and recycling trucks. Mike Smith, spokesman for the State Department of Environmental Protection called the grant program a step toward energy independence, a source of job creation and innovation and a better choice for the environment.

43,000 Pennsylvanians Could Lose Health Insurance

Pennsylvania’s state-run health insurance program for low-income residents could run out of money in the next few months.
The adultBasic website warns its 43-thousand participants their coverage could stop at the end of February.
Pennsylvania’s four Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance providers agreed in 2005 to fund the program through the end of this year, but a revenue source hasn’t been agreed to for 2011 onward.
Governor Ed Rendell's spokesman, Gary Tuma, says the solutions are limited.

"If money were to be taken from the General Fund, that would require legislative action. And, of course, there’s not a lot of excess money in the general fund right now, to put it mildly. Or, if funds were to be transferred from some other source, that would most likely require legislative action to approve some sort of fund transfer, assuming one could even be identified."

Tuma says the insurance companies could agree to kick in more money, beyond the extra funds they’ve already given to keep the program running through February.

Kevin Harley, spokesman for Governor-elect Tom Corbett says the new administration wants to see a short-term solution. Why? Because the new health care law will change the landscape.

"Certainly there’s a lawsuit pending, but there are certain provisions that will take effect prior to 2014. And that’s when the law’s supposed to take full effect. There are some that will take effect before that. That will be a priority for Governor Corbett when he takes office, is sitting down and developing a plan and a solution."

A spokesman for Pittsburgh-based Highmark Blue Cross says the company is paying 32 million dollars more than it initially agreed to, in order to extend adultBasic into 2011. Mike Weinstein says Highmark and the three other Blue Cross/Blue Shield affiliates want to see a more widespread funding formula, if adultBasic goes forward.

Tobacco settlement money also funds adultBasic, but that revenue source is shrinking as well.