Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Burgess to Gov: Lease Pgh's Parking Garages

The idea to lease Pittsburgh’s parking assets in order to fund the city’s pension plan is still alive -- and now on its way to Harrisburg.

Councilman Ricky Burgess wrote a letter to Governor Tom Corbett, asking him to allow Pittsburgh’s state overseers (the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority) to lease the city’s parking garages if Council does not do so by the end of the year.

The District 9 Councilman says under the parking lease plan, Pittsburgh’s pension plan could be fully funded in 17 years. Burgess was the only Council Member to support the lease plan proposed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Burgess also introduced legislation today that would set up an independent panel of actuaries and accountants to determine the balance of the pension fund.

That panel would also decide whether Council’s December 2010 infusion of parking tax revenue into the pension will save it from being taken over by the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System.

Burgess says Council won’t make the tough choices necessary to fix the city’s pension problem, so he’s asking Pittsburgh’s state overseers to make that choice instead.

CSO Alert Off for First Time in 2011

The Allegheny County Health Department has taken down the orange combined sewer overflow (CSO) flags for the first time this year. The county issues the warnings anytime raw sewage is flowing into the three rivers in Allegheny thanks to recent rainfall.

ACHD spokesperson Guillermo Cole says the county issues the alerts from May 16th through September. The warning flags went up on the first day and are just now being taken down. The alerts do not mean the river is closed, it just means recreational users should limit their contact with the water, “especially those with weakened immune systems,” says Cole.

Last year the county issued 9 alerts averaging 5 days each. Cole says it is not unusual to see a 15-day alert. In 2004 the average alert lasted 21 days. In 1999 the average alert was just 3 days. “It has to do with the amount of rain and when it comes,” says Cole.

Recreational boaters can look for the orange flags at marinas or they can get the information directly from the health department through its web site. A call to 412-687-ACHD will also get the information.

Window Graphic to Tout Regatta Events

A massive downtown window mural will promote the Three Rivers Regatta this year.

The windows of the Wyndham Grand Hotel will sport a 110-foot graphic of fireworks, powerboats, and the Regatta logo.

Regatta spokesman Michael Dongilli says the mural will also advertise “Circus Orange,” a first-time performance for the Fourth of July weekend event.

“They do performances in North America, but not at the Regatta before, and not in Pittsburgh,” says Dongilli. “So, this will be a never-before-seen show here in this particular area. It’s a one-hour performance that sort of caps all three days of the event, starting at around 8:45, so you can take full advantage of the pyrotechnic effects that they integrate into their performance.”

Dongilli says the graphic will complement a large banner hanging at the Portal Bridge in Point State Park.

Palmer Products of Monroeville will install the colorful window mural over the next three days.

McCullough Fails Write-in Bid

The Allegheny County Elections Department says former County Councilman Chuck McCullough did not get enough votes in the May primary to put his name on the November ballot as the Republican nominee for District Attorney. McCullough needed 500 votes. He received only 103 of the total 1,510 write-in ballots cast. Current District Attorney Stephen Zappala, who is a Democrat, picked up 296 write-in votes from Republicans. There were 1,111 write in votes cast or “scattered” candidates.

Zappala received 104,165 votes in the Democratic primary and will run unopposed for the District Attorney’s seat in November. 696 write-in votes were cast in that primary race.

McCullough launched his write-in efforts just days before the primary. He also was running in the County Executive race. He lost that bid to D. Raja 32,486 to 12,819.

The elections department will launch a recount Wednesday of the ballots cast in the Democratic Commonwealth Court Primary election. That race is being recounted statewide. Katherine Boockvar edged out Barbara Ernsberger by just 2,116 votes or .341%. The slim margin triggered an automatic recount. In Allegheny county Ernsberger gathered 79.952 votes compared to 23,277 for Boockvar.

Corman: PA Senate Not Tied to $27.3 B Budget Ceiling

The next vote on Pennsylvania’s state budget will take place in the Senate, and the head of the chamber’s Appropriations Committee says he’s looking to increase funding for higher education.

The budget passed by the House this week ups college and university funding by $377 million, compared to Governor Corbett’s initial spending plan. It reduces State System of Higher Education cuts to 15 percent, with state-related schools seeing a 25 percent cut, compared to current funding.

Republican Jake Corman, whose district includes State College, said his chamber might give the schools even more money, when it amends the House spending plan. “I think the House showed a strong commitment toward higher education. We’d like to even a little better, if we possibly could, and show some parity between the State System and the state-related universities. But we’ll review that to see where monies are available to do just that,” he said.

Corman also said the Senate isn’t tied to a $27.3 billion budget, and could increase its spending level. “We’re certainly not locked into any number,” he explained. “We could go lower, we could go higher. But we’ll review their budget, and review the priorities of the Senate, to see what changes – obviously there will be some – that we’d like to make, and then put something together that makes sense for the people of Pennsylvania.”

Both Corbett and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai have vowed not to spend more than $27.3 billion.

Corman is hoping for a Senate budget vote by mid-June, and said Senate Republicans are committed to finishing the process by July 1. “The people of Pennsylvania have been put through enough over the last eight years of having late budgets,” he said. “We’re ahead of schedule and hope to continue that way.”

Hard Head Patrols Resume

With the return of summer and bike riding season, the Hard Head Patrol from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is once again hitting the streets. Children’s Director of Trauma and Injury Barbara Gaines says about 70 employee volunteers will be on the streets watching for young bikers without helmets. If they find one the child will be given a coupon to attend one of ten free bike helmet fittings where experts give the juvenile a new helmet and teach them how to properly wear it.

Gaines says every year the emergency room staff admits 150 – 175 kids who suffer head injuries while riding their bikes. She says 85% of those injures could have been prevent if the child would have been wearing a helmet.

The volunteers also hand out rewards for kids wearing their helmets. This year it is a Giant Eagle cookie card. Gaines says it is important to also give an incentive to wear the protective gear.

Last year the hospital handed out 1,700 helmets during the Hard Head summer program and another 1,000 helmets through other efforts. Volunteers also handed out 2,500 reward cards.

Gaines says ay child who comes to a fitting event without a helmet will be given one. She says the coupons simply serve as a good reminder for the kids and their parents.

This summer’s first Hard Head helmet fitting event will be held at the Kohl’s Department store in Robinson from 11:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. A full list of fitting can be found online.

Response Mixed to Bill Speeding up Solar Usage

Pennsylvania State Representative Chris Ross says the state has done to good of a job in encouraging the production of solar power. The Republican from Chester County says now there is too much of the renewable energy being produced in the state and not enough buyers. To remedy that Ross has introduced a series of bills that would force electric companies to buy more solar energy from Pennsylvania sources.

“It was probably an over complication to use two forms of stimulus at the same time. We disrupted the market place, now it’s time for us to stabilize that market place,” says Ross. In 2004 the state set the consumption mandates and in 2008 the state offered $80 million in funding for solar energy production projects.

Ross’s bill would speed up incremental steps included in the mandate that electric companies get .5% of their energy from solar by 2021. The bill also forces the electric companies to buy from Pennsylvania sources rather than out of state sources. “I see it as a correction for a distortion that unfortunately we ourselves created,” says Ross.

PennFuture President Jan Jarrett praises the bill. She says she hopes business will soon be able to sell their credits for a price that will encourage more solar production. The price of those credits dropped as supply outstripped demand.

Penn Power spokesperson Scott Surgeoner says he is in favor of using electricity produced from renewable sources but he says he wants to make sure it is done n a way that does not negatively impact the rates paid by Pennsylvania customers.

Ross’s solar jobs bill has 70 cosponsors.

Monday, May 30, 2011

60+ Artists in 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial

In 1994 the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts decided it need to show off the strength of the local arts community and it launched the Pittsburgh Biennial. Two years ago it expanded to include works at Pittsburgh Filmmakers and this year it has jumped to three new venues. “I think the artistic community has been very strong for many years,” says Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Director Laura Domencic, “I think there has become more and more recognition of how supportive and important this community and the artists are in the region and nationally as well.”

The names of all of the artists chosen for the biennial have recently been released.

The Andy Warhol Museum, The Carnegie Museum of Art and the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University will also host works as part of the biennial this year. “Each Curator really developed their own kind of distinct show within their space but also in a very strong sense of what is going on in the other venues,” says Domencic.

The works at the Carnegie will explore the idea of work and labor while the works at the Center for the Arts will mostly be installation works focused on using the space in which they are created. All of the artists at the Warhol are women and collaborative projects take the lead at the Miller Gallery. Each curator chose one artists for the show at Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

Domencic says the types of work vary as well, “From painters to performance art to filmmakers… it’s a wide variety of artists. The common thread is that all the artists have ties to Pittsburgh.

The exhibitions open in two flights. The shows at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and at Pittsburgh Filmmakers run from June 10th through October 23rd, while the show at the Carnegie Museum of art opens June 17th and runs through September 18th. The second flight comes in September when the shows open at the Miller Gallery and the Andy Warhol Museum.

"Good Samaritan" Bill in PA House

A bill granting partial immunity to underage drinkers who call the authorities when their friends’ lives are threatened due to alcohol is winning praise from student leaders.

Dan Florencio, the president of Penn State University’s Interfraternity Council, said he’s heard a similar story time after time. “Someone just appeared really, really sick, and people were just like, ‘oh, let him sleep it off.’ Because they don’t want to get anyone in trouble,” he explained. “They don’t want to implicate themselves or the person. So they just let them sleep it off, or brush it off, when really, something really bad could be happening to the person’s body, because of alcohol.”

The council represents 46 fraternities and sororities, which include more than 2,600 students.

The so-called “Good Samaritan” bill, which is currently in front of the House, would offer legal amnesty to underage drinkers who call 911 when their friend drinks too much.

Felicity Debacco Ernie, the state coordinator for Students Against Destructive Decisions, said her group supports the measure, and believes it would solve a recurring problem. “I think it is pretty real, and I think that it is a decision that, unfortunately, a lot of students are making, not to get the help, because they’re fearful of their own legal issues that will come into play then,” she said, adding, “ It’s a very serious consequence for people who are charged with underage drinking these days.”

The bill passed the Senate on a unanimous vote, but it’s not clear if or when the House will take it up.

Military Caucus Aims to Preserve PA Bases

A new bipartisan caucus in the state’s General Assembly hopes to ensure Pennsylvania’s military bases survive the scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Military Installations and Base Development Caucus wants to preserve all of Pennsylvania’s installations when the Department of Defense starts its next Base Realignment and Closure Commission, possibly in 2015.

Co-chairman and Senator John Blake says considering both military employment and defense-related business, the state’s bases generate billions of dollars and more than 160,000 jobs.

The Lackawanna County Democrat says the new caucus will be serve as a liaison between the bases, the state legislature, and Congress. Blake says this is especially important in light of the possibility of a Closure Commission in four years. He says to keep its bases, the Commonwealth must be competitive with other states.

“I don’t know if they’ve set it up as a caucus of the general assemblies, but I can tell you that there’s evidence of much stronger dialogue between state legislators and Congressional delegations in other states like Alabama, I believe Louisiana,” says Blake. “There might be other states with heavy defense spending where I think that there’s a more seamless, more routine communication between the federal delegation and the state assembly.”

The Department of Defense lists eight military installations in Pennsylvania on its website, including two in Pittsburgh. Blake says the military caucus will hold its first meetings this fall.

Feds, State Officials Meet on Criminal Enforcment of Drilling

Oversight of, or enforcement against Marcellus Shale gas drillers might call to mind the federal Environmental Protection Agency or the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Last week in State College more than 200 federal, state and local law enforcement officers, prosecutors and environmental officials from Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio participated in a 2-day Marcellus Shale Law Enforcement Training Conference.

The conference focused on potential environmental impacts and law enforcement issues arising from the rapid expansion of drilling in the Marcellus Shale region.

Ignacio Moreno, Assistant Attorney General at the Justice Department, said oil and gas extraction is occurring with increasing frequency......
"We must ensure that all laws intended to protect human health, sources of drinking water, wildlife and the environment are well understood and enforced to mitigate any potential adverse effects."

According to David Hickton, U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania, the conference provided an overview of state and federal requirements that companies and subcontractors must follow to ensure that workers, the public and the environment are not put at risk. Hickton says his office has a responsibility to prosecute environmental crimes....
"If the frack water (used to break the shale and released the gas) is not handled properly and, for example, is dumped without proper disposition, there would be potential criminal issues involved."

Hickton says cooperation with state and local law enforcement is imperative because the federal authorities "do not have enough boots on the ground to cover the entire state." He says one goal of the conference was to create a "force multiplier" where all law enforcement works together to enforce the various laws.
"I think the buzzword for our current approach is we're trying to be alert, informed and vigilant and the public should know we're going to do our part to protect the law so that whatever is done with Marcellus Shale is done legally and appropriately."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Recount in Appellate Court Race

Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele has ordered a recount in the Democratic primary election for Judge of the Commonwealth Court.
Unofficial results from across the state show Katherine Boockvar with 311,624 votes of 50.17% and Barbara Ernsberger received 309,508 votes or 49.83%. That's a difference of .34% and under state law a mandatory recount is called if the difference is less than a half percent, unless the trailing candidate waives the recount which Ernsberger did not.
“There is nothing more important to our system of government than a transparent election process in which our citizens have confidence,” Aichele said. “Mandatory recounts in elections this close help maintain that confidence.”

The recount must begin in all counties no later than June 1 and be completed by June 7. Results of their recounts must be submitted to the Secretary of the Commonwealth by noon June 8. Aichele will then announce the final outcome of the election.

The last statewide recount, in 2009, cost approximately $542,000. This cost will be paid by the state as required by law.

Jobless Benefits "Reform" on Hold

A measure cutting unemployment compensation costs in Pennsylvania by 630 million dollars a year is stalled in the House. That could open the door for a more limited bill that unanimously passed the Senate this week.
Republican John Gordner said his bill would save about 60 million dollars a year – less than a tenth of what the House legislation, sponsored by Republican Scott Perry, would eliminate. Gordner said his measure is “more modest,” but pointed out it would also require people to actively look for jobs, while they’re receiving state aid. “It would use the existing CareerLink system that’s in place around the state,” he explained. “ Require folks that are receiving unemployment comp benefits to participate in the CareerLink system, and take advantage of the services they have.”
Lawmakers need to pass a bill changing unemployment compensation by June 11, or federal benefits will end, and 45,000 people will stop receiving checks. Pennsylvania’s unemployment fund has been empty for more than two years, and the state has borrowed nearly $4 billion from the federal government.

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said GOP leaders don’t view this week’s failed vote as an indication a sweeping benefits reform wouldn’t have the support to become law. He said the Senate measure is “probably going to go to the Labor Committee, the Labor and Industry Committee, and get looked at and vetted. Whichever bill comes out of the House is going to be passed with the collective wisdom of the House of Representatives.”

Unlike Perry’s measure, Gordner’s bill would create a “work share” program, which would let companies relegate employees to part-time, instead of laying them off. The workers would then be able to receive limited state benefits, to supplement their reduced income.

Friday, May 27, 2011

PA Prisoners Return From Michigan

More than a thousand Pennsylvania prisoners who had been housed in Michigan have returned to the commonwealth.

Pennsylvania sent the 1,111 inmates to Michigan, and another thousand to Virginia, because of overcrowding in its corrections system. The prisoners have returned because Pennsylvania’s prisoner population has leveled over the past year, after a spike caused by Governor Rendell’s temporary parole moratorium.

Pennsylvania had been paying Michigan $62 a day for every exported prisoner, which added up to about $480,000 a week. Corrections spokeswoman Susan McNaughton says it took about a month to bring them back. “We started the process the later part of April, and we did several trips over each week, with the last trip this past week,” she said. “So now all of the inmates who were housed in Michigan are now back in Pennsylvania state prisons.”

Cost-savings was a major factor, but McNaughton said the return will also help the prisoners’ rehabilitation. “To make sure that they’re home, so that family members can visit with them on a regular basis, and reestablish their support mechanisms, and help them reenter society,” she explained.

Earlier this year, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said his department would also bring the Virginia prisoners back to Pennsylvania this year. He said the commonwealth would save about $20 million annually, by eliminating daily payments to the two states.

But McNaughton says the inmates will remain in Virginia for now, with the goal of returning them as soon as it’s feasible.

Another Lawmaker Tries to Shrink PA Legislature

A long line of Pennsylvania lawmakers have tried and failed to reduce the size of the state legislature but Senator Judy Schwank says she likes her chances.

“The legislature has to be unleashed from the old way of thinking, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars more each year than is either appropriate or necessary,” said Schwank.

Schwank says things are different than when the lawmaker to citizen ratios where created, “We have modern technology, people can contact their legislators via the web, or phone, there are so many ways that we can reach out to our constituents.”

Senator Schwank’s bill would cut 82 members from the House of Representatives, shrinking it to 121 members from the current 203. The Senate would lose 10 members, going to a 40-member body.

The legislation has 13 co-sponsors including signatures from both sides of the aisle. “I think that this gives great possibility to the fact that this may actually go somewhere… and reflect what constituents have been saying to all of us.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate State Government Committee for consideration. It would have to be passed by both chambers in two consecutive legislative sessions, signed by the Governor and approved by the voters. Similar legislation in the past has failed to move out of committee or has not been considered by both chambers.

Voter ID: Fraud Crackdown or Disenfranchising

A bill requiring voters to produce photo identification at the polls could see a state House vote soon.
The voter ID bill cleared a House committee earlier this month, after more than two hours of contentious debate.
Right now, voters only have to show photo ID when they’re casting ballots at a precinct for the first time.

Republican supporters, including sponsor Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County, say the requirement would cut down on voter fraud. Democrat Florindo Fabrizio said the GOP has another motivation. “This ID legislation, this proposed legislation, is merely, absolutely, unequivocally, a means to suppress the voter turnout,” he argued. Fabrizio used to serve as Erie County’s clerk of elections, and said, “We can cite probably on my hands, the number of cases that were actually reported, actually prosecuted, and actually reached conclusion to some kind of conviction.”

Opponents also claim the bill would create a hardship for people without drivers’ licenses, or older residents with expired identification. “A percentage of US citizens who are eligible to vote do not have government-issued ID,” said Andy Hoover of Pennsylvania’s ACLU. “In this case, with this bill, it must have a photo and the ID must be unexpired. So if you’re a senior, for example, who is no longer driving, who is no longer traveling, your passport and your driver’s license may be expired.”

During the State Government Committee debate on the measure, Metcalfe called Pennsylvania’s current law “irresponsible.” His website says the measure would “protect against corrupt politicians, groups and individuals who might attempt to undermine our elections.”

The legislation would provide a free ID to anyone who needs it.

Memorial Day Service at Science Center

A Memorial Day service will be held on the deck of the Carnegie Science Center submarine, the U.S.S. Requin.

Science Center Curator of Historic Exhibits Patty Rogers says the ceremony will begin with a prayer and opening remarks.

Then, Rogers says veterans who served on submarines will toll a bell for each U.S. submarine that has been sunk, and cast flower petals onto the water.

The Marine color guard from the Three Rivers Leatherneck Detachment 310 will give a gun salute, and weather permitting, spectators will see a flyby of a vintage Stearman World War II biplane.

Rogers says visitors are welcome to mingle with the veterans after the service, and encouraged to explore the submarine.

The ceremony is free to the public and will begin at 10 a.m., lasting about one hour. Admission to the U.S.S. Requin is free for the remainder of the day.

AAA: Almost 35 Million to Travel for Holiday

Pennsylvanians will travel in force this Memorial Day, according to AAA. The travel agency’s annual prediction says more than 965,000 will take to the roads, while another 84,000 mean to fly to their holiday destination.

AAA spokeswoman Bevi Powell says the high number of travelers reflects a national trend, despite gas prices hovering about $1.00 higher than last year’s price per gallon.

AAA predicts a total of almost 35 million Americans to take a trip more than 50 miles this Memorial Day.

Powell says when gas prices were high in 2008, travel numbers remained high for that Memorial Day as well. She says vacationers often budgeted less for other aspects of their trips, such as lodging and dining, to make up for the high prices.

As of May 23, the U.S. Department of Energy reports the average price of gas in the Central Atlantic region to be $3.91 per gallon, about $1.08 more than last year’s price.

AAA also expects about 12,000 regional motorists to be stranded this holiday. The travel group advises drivers to 1) inspect their tires, including the spare tire, 2) check and clean their car batteries, and 3) replace wiper blades and wiper fluid if necessary.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Justices Reject Local Law on Sex Offenders

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court says a 2007 Allegheny County ordinance that bars sex offenders from living in certain areas is invalid. The ordinance banned registered sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools, child-care facilities, community centers and public parks.
Chief Justice Ronald Castille wrote a strongly-worded opinion on behalf of a unanimous high court and said this law would force many to live in isolated areas that in effect become "localized penal colonies."
Witold "Vic" Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says "while places that have passed these ordinances may effectively exclude sexual offenders, the end result is that it's going to funnel these folks into certain other communities and people in those communities aren't going to be too happy."

The high court said the county ordinance is preempted by the state's Megan's Law registration and state policies that promote rehabilitation.

Walczak says he has no doubt that Allegheny County Council members who passed the ordinance were well-intentioned but you have to "look at the big picture" because ultimately these laws are not in the best interest of the community. "In fact they undermine public safety by making it more difficult for sex offenders to re-integrate into the community and be rehabilitated."

The State Supreme Court's opinion stems from a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of several sex offenders. The county appealed federal judge's 2009 ruling striking down the ordinance. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals then sought the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's input.

Treasurer Wants Casinos to Repay Loans from State

Most of Pennsylvania's 10 operating casinos have been open for nearly 2 years. Last month the 10 casinos in Pennsylvania grossed $264.3 million from slots and table games.
However, the casinos have not yet begun repaying a combined $63.9 million in loans from the state...and they're not legally required to do so...yet.
Michael Smith, spokesman for Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord, says the loans were made from the Property Tax Relief Reserve Fund between 2007 and 2010 to help get the industry up and running.
A June 30 deadline is looming, not to begin paying back the loans, but rather for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to adopt a repayment plan.
"The law does say the casinos are not obligated to begin repaying the loans until the 11th facility is up and running."
However, McCord believes that could be another year or two for the 11th casino to begin operations. That's because in December the Gaming Control Board revoked the license of the proposed Foxwoods Casino four years after awarding the license and without the facility ever getting started.

The law says the repayment plan has to be adopted by the end of next month...
"Treasurer McCord's proposal is the next day on July 1 we should amend the fiscal code and require the 10 operating casinos up and running today to start repaying those loans," says Smith.

McCord, as Treasurer, is a non-voting member of the Control Board and is the legal custodian of the Property Tax Relief Reserve Fund. McCord believes that a further delay in repaying the loans creates the risk that not enough funds may be available to trigger property tax relief funds next year.
Amending the fiscal code is up to the legislature.

Successful Campaign for Local United Way

While most United Way chapters got fewer charitable donations this year, the United Way of Allegheny County ran its strongest fundraising campaign in eight years.

United Way of Allegheny County President Bob Nelkin says the 2010 campaign raised $31.8 million, up $1 million from 2009. He says most of United Way’s support comes from workplace campaigns, and two dozen new businesses joined the fundraiser this year.

Nelkin says as a result, the United Way’s programs will be able to help more needy children, families, and seniors. He says Pittsburgh has proven its commitment to community at a critical time for human services.

“As the recession has ended, the human need actually has continued. If you look at things like food stamp usage in the county, it’s actually gone up,” says Nelkin. “So, people continue to struggle, and yet at this very time, state and federal government are contracting their services and contracting the safety net.”

Nelkin says his United Way chapter continues its appeal to Harrisburg to prevent budget cuts to programs that are working.

Lets Roll Ride set for 9/11

Tom Henschke believes everyone can remember where they were and what they were doing on September 11th 2001. “I can hardly believe it has been ten years,” said the SMC Business Council President. To memorialize the tenth anniversary, Henschke and his company are organizing the “Let’s Roll Flight 93 Memorial Ride” September 10th and 11th.

“Flight paths” of 40 motorcycle riders will launch from cities across Pennsylvania and Virginia September 10th and then rally at the Seven Springs Resort in Somerset County the morning of September 11th. From there the riders will head to the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville. “We did coordinate this with the flight 93 memorial,” said Henschke, “We actually have former Governor Tom Ridge as the honorary grand marshal, a number of family members will be there as well.”

The ride get its name from the last known words of flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer who was heard by his wife to say “lets roll” just before he and other passengers tried to retake control of the plane. The concept of 40 riders comes from the number of innocent passengers on the flight from Newark to San Francisco.

Ultimately the ride is about raising money for the flight 93 memorial. Each ride will find sponsors to donate at least $1,000 to the memorial fund. “Individual riders can find sponsors, an owner of a business [can] gather money and do some fundraisers among employees for a rider,” said Henschke, “You don’t have to be a rider, you just have to work together and accumulate $1,000 and find a rider.” Individuals can also donate online.

Henschke says the goal is to add more “flight paths” to the eight already planned. (Two from Erie, and one each from Pittsburgh, Williamsport, Meadville, Cranberry Township, Pottsville Philadelphia, and Fairfax, VA) An organizing kick off event for the Pittsburgh flight will be held Thursday night from 5:00 – 6:30 at Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 on the north shore. Individuals are asked to RSVP at the Lets Roll Ride web page.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Program Format on WDUQ to Change This Summer

Officials at Essential Public Media, a subsidiary of WYEP-FM, announced that the changes are planned for July 1 and call for in-depth NPR News and information while eliminating all but six hours of jazz (Saturday evening)from the main 90.5 FM channel.

On May 2, Essential Public Media (EPM) signed an asset purchase agreement with Duquesne University to acquire the license to broadcast on 90.5 FM and then applied for FCC approval of the license transfer. The FCC review is expected to take at least another 2 months so in the meantime EPM is negotiating with the university for a Local Management Agreement (LMA) which would allow EPM to operate the station but the license would still be held by the university pending FCC approval.

The format includes the continuation of such programs as Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Fresh Air, Marketplace, Car Talk, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, This American Life and the Splendid Table.
Lee Ferraro, general manager of WYEP, (Photo Right) believes the all-news format on 90.5 is sustainable.....
"Increasing service to a full-service news station is going to generate a lot of enthusiasm, is going to generate additional listenership. We see that happening in Columbus, Ohio, Milwaukee, Wisconsin...places smaller than Pittsburgh."

WDUQ currently has the largest audience of the three public radio stations in Pittsburgh with 180,000 listeners.

Marco Cardamone, EPM Board chairman, (Photo Left)says they will provide 174 hours of jazz programmming a week: six hours on 90.5 and 24/7 on an HD companion channel and on-line. He says they want to make HD more accessible to jazz fans by providing vouchers to people to help purchase a small HD radio plus, he adds, most people are already able to listen via the Internet.

Cardamone says this plan to provide jazz on HD and on-line fulfills his statement January 14 when the deal was first announced that they "want to honor and continue the tradition of jazz" in Pittsburgh...
"We're very excited about being able to do that. It's not going to be the same. There's change, there's anxiety about the change. But the service will be there."

Currently, the radio station provides a total of 317 hours of jazz per week: 100 on 90.5 FM, 168 on an internet stream and 49 on HD2.

EPM also plans to record live jazz events for broadcast and produce jazz features for air on 90.5 FM.

Ferraro and Cardamone says they are developing 2 locally-produced programs: a daily, hour-long interview/call-in show exploring critical issues impacting the region; and, a weekly round-up featuring stories and an audio collage of Pittsburgh people and organizations.

EPM also announced that Dennis Hamilton, a former executive with Minnesota Public Radio and currently the Director of Consulting for Public Radio Capital, will serve as the interim President and General Manager. The search continues for a permanent general manager.

Listen to an interview by WDUQ's Kevin Gavin with Lee Ferraro and Marco Cardamone

Bill to Require Posting of Gas Wells' GPS Locations

A Pennsylvania Senate committee has passed a bill to document the exact location of every Marcellus Shale natural gas well in the state.

Sponsoring Senator Lisa Baker says emergency crews often cannot find gas wells in emergency situations. Baker, a Republican representing six northeastern counties, says if the GPS coordinates of each site were documented, responders could look up the well's location easily and arrive sooner.

In addition, gas well operators would need to submit emergency response plans to the local 911 center, to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and to the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

"When every second counts in an emergency, this bill will cut down on emergency response time and keep small incidents from escalating into major accidents," writes Baker in a news release.

After unanimous approval from the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, the measure now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Senator: Prohibit Gambling with Unemployment Funds

A state senator is chagrined that the latest Unemployment Compensation bill passed the Pennsylvania Senate without her amendment to bar the use of such funds at casinos.

Senator Lisa Boscola says her amendment would have prevented beneficiaries from using their Unemployment Compensation card at any ATM machine inside a casino.

Boscola says a similar measure is in place for state welfare cards, and could easily be implemented by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

The Northampton County Democrat says she thinks gambling with unemployment funds is a misuse of the program, which is paid into by employers. Boscola says she doesn’t think preventing cash withdrawals at casino ATMs is restricting anyone’s liberty.

Boscola says she had previously introduced the legislation as a stand-alone bill, but that has been in committee since the last legislative session. She says she’s going to increase her public outreach efforts and keep trying to get the original bill passed.

“Part of this is education, because once people know that individuals are using this card at the casinos, they’re getting very upset. But not enough people know right now,” says Boscola. “As I make people more aware, I’m hoping that more and more senators say, ‘You know what, this is a problem and we need to correct it.’”

Boscola says she thinks there are two reasons the amendment didn't make it through the Senate vote: first, because it would have delayed an urgent bill; second, because the state's gaming industry vehemently opposed it.

National Aviary to open Sky Deck

The National Aviary is opening its rooftop Sky Deck this Saturday, weather permitting, where visitors at least 42” tall can watch African birds of prey flying free twice a day throughout the summer.

The Aviary is the only zoo in the U.S. to fly a massive martial eagle, appropriately named "Dillon", and it is the only zoo with black kites in its collection—six of whom swoop and dive to snatch chick feet out of the air with their talons.

Cathy Schlott, Manager of Animal Training, says to witness the birds flying free, exhibiting their wild behavior, gives people a breathtaking, awe-inspiring experience. Lanner falcons are being trained to pursue lures, but they won’t be ready this weekend because rain has delayed their progress. Schlott says the trainers wouldn't mind working in the rain, but birds will just sit in the trees if it's raining.

Therapeutic Garden Gets Grant

The now one-year-old Nimick Family Therapeutic Garden at the Children’s Institute in Squirrel Hill has picked up some additional support to add hands-on programs. The bulk of a $30,000 grant from the Kennametal Foundation will be used to fund programs where kids learn how to care for plants in the garden.

“As we use the foundation as the lead to establish this relationship with the institution, tat will allow our employees to in turn come back every year or every month and be involved as volunteers,“ said Kennametal CEO Carlos Cardoso.

The fully accessible 10,000-square-foot garden is open to the children in the neighborhood as well as the Institute’s clients. Cardoso says the garden has achieved its goal of creating a place of serenity where everyone can relax and feel good.

Probe Finds Political Pressure On Gaming Decisions

A two-year grand jury investigation of Pennsylvania’s Gaming Control Board culminated in a scathing 102-page report, but no recommendations for criminal charges.

The report alleges political pressure from lawmakers and board members led to intentionally lax investigations of casino license applicants, hires for well-connected but poorly-qualified job candidates, and rushed decisions. It says board officials ran interference for preferred license applicants, leading to incomplete background checks by its Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement. The grand jury says the organization “engaged in activities which eroded, at a minimum, this grand jury’s confidence in the system.” It "failed to thoroughly protect the public from unlawful gaming practices; failed to maximize potential new revenue to the commonwealth to support property tax relief.”

Longtime board critic Mike Vereb, a Montgomery County House Republican, said the report shows the need for reform. “This is a damning report. And it doesn’t indict people, but it indicts the process,” he said. “And we have an obligation – and the people in this building better start getting the message – we have an obligation to fix the law.”

Vereb sponsored a House bill removing the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, the board’s investigative arm, from under the agency’s control. The report recommended the change, along with 20 other suggestions, including annual independent audits; online posting of contracts and right-to-know requests; stricter guidelines for gubernatorial appointees; a decrease in the amount of executive sessions conducted by the board; and full public transcripts of the sessions that do take place.

In a statement, Board Chair Greg Fajt called the report “a rehash of old news,” and a waste of tax money. "The Board has steadfastly and repeatedly said that we did our work well, we have protected the public, and the citizens of Pennsylvania are reaping tremendous dividends from our work…After this grand jury met for more than 2 years, there were no arrests, no presentments, no indictments. They found no criminal activity because there was, in fact, no criminal activity to be found."

House GOP Budget Approved Along Party Lines

The Pennsylvania House has passed a $27.3 billion budget, setting the stage for negotiations to begin on a final agreement for next year’s spending plan.

The 109-92 voter came after a full day of debate. Democrat after Democrat blasted the bill’s spending cuts. Joe Markosek, the minority chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the billion dollars in spending reductions will have real-world consequences. “To think of your five-year-old neighbor unable to start kindergarten,” he argued, early in the debate. “To think of the battered mother, turned away from a domestic violence shelter. To think of a seriously ill child unable to access hospital care, due to cutbacks in service.”

Many Democrats criticized the $470 million the House budget eliminates in welfare spending, compared to Governor Corbett’s proposal. Republican Appropriations Chair Bill Adolph pointed out the Department of Public Welfare spent 6.5 billion dollars a year, when Governor Rendell took office in 2003. “The fiscal year ending 2010-2011, that budget swelled to $10.6 billion. This is an increase of 64 percent in those eight years. 64 percent.” The House GOP plan gives $10.7 billion to DPW, a one percent increase over last year’s spending. Republican leaders used Governor Rendell’s acknowledged four percent DPW spending error rate as the template for their $470 million relative reduction.

The measure now heads to the Senate, where it will likely languish until legislative leaders and Governor Corbett reach a final budget agreement. Negotiations will likely begin in the coming weeks. Republican leaders in both chambers are committed to passing the budget by June 30th, for the first time since 2002.

Unemployment Compensation Could Be Lowered in PA

A House bill reducing unemployment benefits failed to pass a key hurdle Tuesday, but will likely be called up for another vote later this week.

The legislation would save more than $600 million a year, by narrowing eligibility for unemployment compensation and lowering benefits. Among other changes, people would need to actively look for work while receiving state support. The measure would also bar people from cashing unemployment checks while they’re still receiving severance pay from their former employers.

Sponsor Scott Perry, a Cumberland County Republican, said benefits need to be trimmed. “We are $3.7 billion in debt to the federal government,” he argued. “Our fund is bankrupt. The federal government’s fund is bankrupt, and we are required to pay the bills, starting this year.”

Because of the federal debt, and Pennsylvania’s improved 7.5 percent unemployment rate, lawmakers need to restructure the unemployment compensation program by June 11. If that doesn’t happen, extended federal benefits will disappear, along with checks for 45,000 Pennsylvanians.

Democrats agree on the need for a speedy fix, but argue Perry’s bill pays down Pennsylvania’s debt on the backs of the unemployed. “It dramatically cuts the benefits that workers receive,” said Philadelphia Democrat Mark Cohen. “A lot of workers who now get unemployment compensation will not get any compensation whatsoever, without the Parker amendment.”

Enough lawmakers had concerns about the measure to stall its progress on Tuesday afternoon. The House needs to pass a bill three times before it moves to the Senate, and the measure failed on second consideration by a 122-79 margin. Republican leaders made a “motion to reconsider,” and say they may call the bill up for another vote tomorrow.

Unemployment compensation reform became a hot political issue during last year’s gubernatorial campaign, when Republican Tom Corbett said he’d consider increasing both employer and employee contributions to the state’s fund, in order to pay off the federal debt. (Corbett later walked that comment back.) Right now, employees pay a .08 percent unemployment tax, which amounts to about 80 cents for every thousand dollars earned. Companies also pay a tax – but only on the first $8,000 every employee earns.

Pennsylvania has been using federal money to pay out benefits since early 2009.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Emergency Physicians Want Protection from Liability

Emergency Medicine physicians are gathered in Washington this week calling on their representatives in Congress to approve medical liability reform.
53% of emergency room doctors who were surveyed said the main reason they conduct the number of test they do is fear of being sued. The survey by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) was released in time for the Washington meetings. ACEP President Sandra Schneider said medical liability reform is essential to meaningful health car reform and without the reform, health care costs will continue to rise. The organization estimates the cost of "defensive medicine" range from $60 billion to $151 billion per year.
Dr. Daniel Wehner, chair of Emergency Medicine for the Connemaugh Health System, says legislation in the House includes protection from liability for emergency physicians like public health providers have. Wehner says emergency doctors are required by federal law and emergency care is considered high risk for malpractice suits because patients are more seriously ill or injured and physicians often don't have access to their medical histories.
Wehner says it would also be more reasonable to hear malpractice suits in special panel courts..."instead of a jury of 12 lay people deciding upon whether medicine was practiced appropriately, to have some scientists aboard on that panel, physicians or other people with some experience in dealing with scientific logical reasoning to decide whether or not there was liability on the part of the physician."

Last week the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts released data that shows in 2010 the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed in the state dropped for a sixth straight year...down 45.4% since the base years of 2000-02. Those base years were just prior to 2 major rule changes made by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: attorneys have to obtain from a medical professional a certificate that established the medical procedures in a case fell outside acceptable standards; and, medical lawsuits can only be brought in the county where the alleged malpractice occurred.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille says progress has been made..."One of our fundamental priorities is to assure the Commonwealth's citizens that the legal process will not be abused in malpractice cases. We're very encouraged by these statistics. The crisis is over."

Audit: Pgh Pension Plan Needs Funding Now

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner is releasing an audit of Pittsburgh’s pension plan for police, firefighters, and non-uniformed city workers today.

The document says the plan is only 34% funded, or $650 million short of its total $990 million, as of the last day of 2009.

Wagner says although City Council has already implemented a “bailout plan” that would divert parking tax revenue to the pension fund, that ordinance has not been adopted by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.

Wagner says the city must boost its total pension assets to the halfway mark before September 1, or the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System will likely force the city into making higher yearly payments -- no matter where the money comes from.

“It may be done with parking revenue; it could be done with increased taxes; it could be done by the city cutting services in one area,” says Wagner.

Wagner says in the meantime, the continuing pension gridlock is creating problems.

“The image of Pittsburgh is very important, and the longer this discussion ensues, the more negative impact it has on Pittsburgh in a real and a perceived way,” says Wagner. “In a real way in terms of the bond rating [dropping].”

Wagner says Pittsburgh’s pension fund is one of the worst-off in the state, and funding it to 50% will be only a small step in covering the $650 million deficit.

PA House Expected to Pass Budget Today

Pennsylvania House Speaker Sam Smith doesn’t support a local impact fee on natural gas drilling, and seems apathetic to the idea at best. But, speaking to the Pennsylvania Press Club in Harrisburg Monday afternoon, the Republican predicted the General Assembly will pass some sort of levy on drillers this year.

After a lengthy filibuster on whether he supports the bill authored by his former roommate, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, Smith said, “the political realities of how the House and Senate shape up would suggest that something will happen on that issue in the very near future, whether that means the next two months, month and a half, or on the governor’s timeline. But I believe something will be resolved on that.” Corbett wants a fee vote after his Marcellus Shale Commission’s late July report, but Scarnati is pushing for the bill to become law by the end of June.

Smith says the major factor will be where the fee money goes. Right now, the Senate measure directs funding to local governments, environmental protection efforts and infrastructure projects. He also dismissed polls showing overwhelming public support for a full tax on drillers. “People have always been willing to tax the other guy, and that’s an industry is perceived as the other guy,” he reasoned. “So I don’t jump – get too excited about how the polls read, because the same polls will say, increase spending for this, but don’t tax me on that.”

On the overall budget, Smith resisted the idea of directing all or part of a $503 million tax surplus into next year’s spending plan. “[Republicans are] trying to avoid the ‘let’s spend every penny we can possibly get our hands on’ mentality,” he said. “…Moving forward with caution to allow for reliability and predictability in the program funding.” That being said, the Jefferson County lawmaker left the door open to a budget spending more than $27.3 billion, if analysts can show this year’s surplus is part of a long-term trend. He explained, “If the budget secretary and the governor’s office revise their revenue estimate once we get past the May numbers, and when they look at whatever the other economic projections are for forecasting the numbers for next year, certainly we would be open-minded to [a more expensive budget].” Both Corbett and Smith’s majority leader, Mike Turzai, are dead-set against spending more than $27.3 billion. Smith’s comments put him more in line with Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, who’s open to using the surplus money to augment education cuts.

The House begins debate on its budget this afternoon, and will likely pass the bill by the end of the week.

Pittsburgh Federal Prosecutor Okayed as PA A-G

The state Senate has unanimously confirmed Linda Kelly as Pennsylvania’s Attorney General.

The 50-0 vote makes Kelly the first female attorney general since the post became an elected office in 1981.

Kelly spent the bulk of her career in the Pittsburgh U.S. Attorney’s office, where she served as Tom Corbett’s chief deputy when he held the federal post in the early 90s. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University Law School, and has worked at the U.S. Attorney’s office since 1980.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said it was “hard to justify a vote against her,” arguing, “She was clearly qualified. There were no arguments against her qualifications. So the only arguments that could come forward would be political arguments. When she agreed not to be a candidate moving forward, that removed another potential objection.”

In fact, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa introduced Kelly, during her confirmation hearing earlier this month.

Kelly’s road to confirmation was much smoother than what Corbett faced, when he was nominated to fill Ernie Preate’s term in 1995. Corbett’s nomination was held up for months, and used as a political bargaining chip by Democrats.

The governor’s office did not return calls for comment on Kelly’s confirmation.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Civic Arena Hearing

Pittsburgh City Council held a public hearing in Uptown to hear testimonials from residents about whether the Civic Arena should stay or go.

If city council grants the arena historic status, it could save the building from being knocked down. And a lot of people have a lot to say about that.

On Monday night over 70 people had something to say about it – either in favor of re-purposing the building, or knocking it down and redeveloping the land. A little more than half believed the arena should be saved. They gave testimonial to five council members in a church sandwiched between the old arena and the recently constructed one.

Among the speakers was Sala Udin, former councilman and actor who wants the building to come down.

"The redevelopment can begin the healing process to preserve the people," he said.

From its inception, the arena and the 28 acres surrounding it has been controversial – displacing 8,000 Lower Hill District residents and destroying a community. Last year, after the arena was shuttered for a new neighboring complex, the Sports and Exhibition Authority voted to knock down the building.

Local groups have filed for historic status. Among them, Preservation Pittsburgh, which helped organize a 50th Anniversary of the arena celebration just before Monday’s meeting. Scott Lieb, president of the group said although the arena is a remnant of urban renewal, it is here now and should be used to benefit the community. He also said the building is unique and is part of the fabric of the city.

"This building was revolutionary when it was built in 1961. It was the first retractable dome building in the US. It really is a part of Pittsburgh’s brand, it uses technology from Westinghouse, from US Steel, from American bridge," he said at the celebration.

The city’s historic and review and planning commissions have already rejected historic status.

Council has until mid-August to take a final vote.

New Tower to be Erected by PNC

PNC Financial Services Group has announced its plans to build the “world’s greenest skyscraper” in downtown Pittsburgh.

PNC Chairman and CEO James Rohr says the $400 million tower is slated for completion by the end of 2015. Rohr says the final product will be an 800,000-square-foot addition to Pittsburgh’s skyline, which will serve as the bank’s new headquarters.

Rohr says the 40-story tower will also exceed the requirements for the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest possible rating.

“What we’re doing right now is we’re going around, looking at all of the various platinum-green buildings and identifying the criteria that were used in order for them to win that certification,” says Rohr. “And then we’re going to adopt each one of the best practices and build them into our building, along with some new ideas. So it’s an evolution of platinum green.”

PNC will occupy all of the Wood Street structure with about 3,000 of its employees, except for some retail space at the base of the tower. At about 40 stories, it will be almost two-thirds the height of the U.S. Steel Tower.

Rohr says nine buildings will need to be torn down before the structure is raised. He says that process will begin late this year, and the construction will employ about 2500 people over the next four years.

Reinstate Motorcycle Helmet Law?

Since 2003, Pennsylvania motorcyclists over 21 who have been licensed for two years or taken a safety course can choose not to wear helmets. At a news conference in Harrisburg today, State Representative Dan Frankel from Squirrel Hill explained why he’s introducing a universal helmet law.

Just as predicted by many at the time, Representative Frankel and speakers he assembled say the repeal of the state’s helmet law has led to a decrease in helmet use and a corresponding rise in the number of deaths, hospitalizations and lifelong disabilities.

Christopher Hart, Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board says a universal law could save lives and money because taxpayers have to cover the costs of uninsured or underinsured injured motorcyclists.

If a new helmet law doesn’t pass, Frankel wants special license plates to identify riders under 21 and a requirement for helmetless riders to carry additional insurance.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Kristen Mertz studied statistics before and after the repeal and found helmet use in Pennsylvania motorcyclists involved in crashes has gone down from 82% to 58%. Across the country, 80- to 100% of riders wear helmets in states requiring helmets, while only about 50% wear them when not required. Mertz says helmets are 37% effective in preventing death and 67% effective in preventing brain injuries.

State Agencies May Have to Submit Fiscal Plans

Stan Saylor (R-York) has proposed House Bill 726, which he says would make state agencies accountable to taxpayers and voters. If passed, the legislation would require state agency programs to submit a plan for their activities for no less than four years ahead of the fiscal year in which it is submitted. Saylor says that this could help repair the Commonwealth's budget deficit.

"This is intended to make us look back at how we're spending money, what programs are doing, and where are the failures of the program. If the program is not working, you may eliminate it. If the program is working to a certain extent where it's having some success but not as much as you would like as your goal, then, well, you have to analyze why it's failing."

Saylor adds that an agency can change their four year plan if they feel like they need more money or if they need to change their overarching goal. He says with bipartisan support, he hopes to get the bill into the Senate by June.

Six State Lawmakers Trying to Bolt Harrisburg

Four Democrats and two Republicans won primary elections last week. The majority come from the southeast: in Philadelphia, Democrat Kenyatta Johnson and Republican Denny O’Brien are running for City Council, and Democrat Jewell Williams is campaigning for sheriff. In the suburbs, Democrat Josh Shapiro is vying to become Montgomery County commissioner. In Lehigh County, Republican Doug Reichley is running for a judicial seat. And in Allegheny County, Democrat Chelsa Wagner is hoping to become her family’s second fiscal watchdog, by running for county controller.

Does Harrisburg gridlock play a role in the lawmakers’ decisions to seek new employment? Reichley downplayed the suggestion. “I think these things come and go in cycles. I think there were just two members in the ‘09 elections that ran,” he said. “So I think it was more just a coincidence this year with the number of members who are looking at other elective offices.” The Republican former prosecutor did concede, however, that his family life influenced the judicial run. “You know, I have two kids who are 13 and 11. And the amount of time away from home that is required by the job, both to be in Harrisburg and to be doing events in the district, really does take a toll on your family life,” he said.

Shapiro said he “loves” his job as a state representative, but, “5he opportunity to run for Montgomery County Commissioner, in a county of 800,000 people, with a budget of nearly a half billion dollars, and extraordinary responsibility over infrastructure, social services and education, was just too much to pass up.”

Four of the lawmakers running for local office are Democrats, who went from House majority to minority this year. Shapiro said that wasn’t a factor in his decision to run for commissioner. “Look, everybody has their reasons for wanting to make the move. For me, it was about helping people in a more direct way,” he said. “About having the opportunity to affect more lives than I do now in a more positive way. And to being in more of an executive role.”

Any seats vacated by November wins would be filled by special elections early next year. Those contests, coming about a year into Governor Corbett’s tenure, will likely be viewed as litmus tests for whether the Republican’s agenda still has the support of Pennsylvania voters.

Drilling Group Wants Consistent Regs

The head of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Coalition is calling for uniform local drilling standards.

Katheryn Klaber’s request to Governor Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Commission is for “clarity and consistency” in local laws governing natural gas drilling. She pointed out the gas deposit stretches through 37 Pennsylvania counties and 1,491 municipalities. “If you were going to take a drive across Pennsylvania, and you needed to get a new license in each community you went through, that’s really the conditions in which the industry is operating,” she said.

Klaber complained a handful of municipalities – most notably Pittsburgh -- have passed regulations banning drilling or hydraulic fracturing within their boundaries, and argued those ordinances violate state law. She said other municipalities have accomplished the same result, through zoning restrictions targeting drilling, “including up to 1,500 feet from a resident, 2,500 feet – it goes on and on. All sorts of different setbacks from all types of structures,” she explained. “And what you really get in those types of situations, I guess it would be an effective ban. Because by the time you do that many setbacks, there isn’t any other area within that municipality to place the industry’s activities.”

Klaber got her figures from a Coalition study of drilling regulations in 66 southwestern Pennsylvania municipalities. The reports’ details haven’t been made public. (I’ve asked the Coalition for a list of the municipalities with these guidelines. Klaber told a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter the group isn’t ready to release them yet.)

She said some townships have gone as far as banning nighttime noise increases over 5 decibels, in an attempt to keep rigs away. “If this were applied uniformly, those levels would be violated by a residential central air conditioning units, or quite literally, in some areas, the crickets,” she argued. “This is an area that can be dealt with, if there are reasonable and predictable noise standards. But when normal, unamplified conversations are between 60 and 70 decibels, it’s a little hard to operate. And it’s not appropriate for it to be on one single industry.”

Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati’s local impact fee attempts to address Klaber’s concerns, by creating a model ordinance for municipalities, and barring local governments that pass stricter laws from receiving money from its $10,000- a-well levy.

For the most part, members of Corbett’s commission were sympathetic to Klabers’ concerns. Public Utility Commission Chair Robert Powelson compared Pittsburgh’s drilling ban to a “Model UN ordinance.” David Sanko, the executive director of the Pennsylvania State Township Supervisors Association, agreed “the industry should not be singled out differently,” when it comes to zoning. “It should be treated fairly, and it should have a level playing field,” he added, before arguing local drilling bans are “in violation of state law.”

At a press conference after the meeting, however, Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley shied away from fully weighing in on whether municipalities have the right to keep drilling out of their borders, through direct or indirect bans. “I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the sum of the claims that were put forward about constitutional violations,” he said. “Any time the constitution is violated I’m going to be concerned. But that’s something we’re going to take a look at in greater depth, to understand the specific areas of where those claims have arisen.” The commission will hear from local government officials at next month’s meeting. Its final report is due in July.

Possible Do Not Text Registry

People frustrated by text messaging ads might soon have an answer to their problem. Pennsylvania State Representative Seth Grove (R-Dover) introduced legislation amending the Telemarketer Registration Act to include text messages.

Rep. Grove says the idea for the amendment came from his constituents. "I had a couple senior citizens come into the office. And they started getting text messaging advertisements and they didn't have a text messaging plan so it cost them money to receive em. And then, it usually says 'reply back STOP to stop the text messaging' and to stop it it cost them even more money."

Grove says he believes that his colleagues will support the amendment, since he has not heard any negative reaction. He says that anyone already on the Do Not Call list will receive the benefits of his legislation once it passes. It was moved out of committee with a unanimous vote May 4th and is awaiting action in the full house.

The legislation would make it illegal for companies to advertise to a telephone subscriber unless the person opts-in to the texts; the company is texting about debts, contracts or payments; the company has an established relationship with the customer over 12 months; the company is a tax-exempt non-profit; and is calling on behalf of a candidate or political party.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Still Assessing Storm Damage, Extension Sought

Governor Tom Corbett has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, to extend its May 24 deadline for Pennsylvania to request a major disaster declaration for damage from recent severe storms.
The governor said that flooding, high winds and tornadoes have battered much of the state....
"Repeated heavy rains here and in neighboring states have left rivers and streams running higher and faster than normal. In addition, with each storm local officials are busy with critical life safety and property preservation efforts than can delay their opportunity to thoroughly assess damages in a timely manner."

The governor said the extension would give local and state officials needed time to assess infrastructure damage that currently can't be seen due to high water and inaccessible roadways particularly in rural areas.

State Lawmakers Look to Keep Federal Jobless Benefits

The Pennsylvania Senate and House are each expected to vote this week on unemployment compensation-related legislation as a June 11 deadline nears to preserve 13 weeks of federally-funded jobless benefits.
The federal government Friday determined that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate which dipped to 7.5% in April had dropped far enough to trigger the deadline. The national jobless rate was 9.0% in April.
Republican and Democratic state lawmakers appear united in wanting to preserve the 13weeks of benefits because an estimated 45,000 Pennsylvanians would immediately lose a weekly check, and another 90,000 will miss out on those benefits altogether during 2011.
However, debate could be heated over how to repay Pennsylvania's $3.7 billion debt to the federal government for the cost of unemployment benefits accumulated since the recession began.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Altmire, Murphy Promote Nuke Power

Cranberry-based Westinghouse thinks it has designed a game changer in the nuclear power industry and two local congressmen say they are doing what they can to help.

Tim Murphy (R- Upper St. Clair) and Jason Altmire (D- McCandless) have teamed up to introduce the Nuclear Power 2021 act. Altmire says it is based on the Nuclear Power 2010 program, which he says gave a kick-start to the nuclear power industry. “It provided for loan guarantees and financing and permitting that was not available before,” says Altmire.

Since that bill went into effect Westinghouse has signed contracts to build 14 nuclear power plants in the US. Four of those plants have broken ground in the preconstruction phase. Westinghouse spokesperson Vaughn Gilbert says the plants would be the first to be built in the U.S. since 1978. Gilbert also says those contracts have resulted in 5,000 jobs in the region.

The bill sponsored by Altmire and Murphy would use the same model but apply it to small modular nuclear reactors. “Hopefully by the year 2021 we can have at least two of these [small plants] up and running,” says Altmire.

The legislation does not mention Westinghouse by name but Altmire says the company is the worldwide leader in the technology so it stands to reason that Southwestern Pennsylvania would benefit from the promotion of the technology.

The small plants, according to Altmire, can be built at a tenth of the cost of a large plant and produce about a 6th of the power. He goes on to say the new Westinghouse product allays some of the fears associated with nuclear power. “There is less power being generated, there is less heat, it doesn’t need to be near water, so a lot of the things that would give people concern about the nuclear industry because of what happened in Japan are taken care of with the smaller design.” Because they need less water the power plants can by built in areas of the western United States where larger plants are not possible.

Pittsburgh Worker's Compensation Audit Released

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb has released an audit of the Worker's Compensation program showing reduced costs. Lamb says recommendations he made when he took office have produced the savings. Improving safety procedures has reduced the overall number of claims, and legacy claims have gone down 36%. The city has hired a firm to negotiate one-time settlements in today's dollars for claims that would otherwise go on for years and years.

The city outsources all worker's compensation legal services, but Lamb says the provider (O'Brien, Rulis and Bochicchio) has been receiving $25,000 a month without providing any itemization of legal services performed or rates charged as required in the contract. Lamb says itemization should be required as a "sound basis for assessing the economy of the current contract, especially if the number of legacy claims continues to be reduced."

Lamb also thinks worker's comp should be included in the budget for each city department as a further incentive for department heads to get people back to work as soon as possible. He thinks the worker's compensation provider is doing a good job of getting injured workers the care and rehabilitation they need to get back to work or managing their claims when unable to work.

Marinucci Guilty in Daugherty Death

The youngest of the “Greensburg 6” has been convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping, conspiracy and lesser murder charges. The jury deliberated less than four hours Thursday before convicting Angela Marinucci in the February 2010 death of 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty. Marinucci cannot be put to death because she was 17 at the time of the killing. She does face a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

The jury sat through eight days of testimony outlining 36-hours of torture that was carried out in a Greensburg apartment that ended in Daugherty’s death.

The other five defendants are awaiting separate trials.

Unemployment in PA Falls

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest level since March 2009.

The Department of Labor and Industry says April’s 7.5 percent figure is the latest sign of a slow but steady economic recovery. Scott Meckley, the manager of the agency’s Center for Workforce Information and Analysis, explained Pennsylvania has created more than 80,000 jobs in the last 12 months. “What we’ve seen is a gradual drop in the rate from when we peaked at 8.8 percent a year ago. And I think what this means – you can see in the numbers that the number of unemployed individuals in the state continues to shrink,” he said. “And we’re seeing a corresponding increase in the number of employed individuals.”

Unemployment rose above 8 percent in May 2009, and stayed there until February. The rate peaked in early 2010, at 8.8 percent, but never broke into the nine percent range, as the national figure did. In fact, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate stayed below the national average throughout the recession.

Meckley said he’s always cautious about reading too much into one month of data, but that the .3 percent drop from March to April is part of a larger trend. “The number of people in the state that are considered unemployed – that is not working, but wanting to work, has declined pretty much every month for the past year or so.”

Massey Fingered in Mine Blast Report

An independent investigation has concluded that the explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine that killed 29 men last year was the result of safety failings by owner Massey Energy.

The 113-page report released says Virginia-based Massey could have prevented the disaster by following basic safety procedures. By not following the procedures, the report finds, vast amounts of highly explosive dust to accumulated in the mine and eventually exploded.

Investigators dismissed Massey's contention that an inundation of gas overwhelmed safeguards weakened by ventilation changes ordered by federal regulators.

Read and listen to National Public Radio's coverage of the review here.

Pittsburgh is Test Market for Home Energy Score

The Department of Energy will be visiting a handful of homes in ten markets across the US testing new technology to rate homes' energy efficiency - while lowering the amount of time it takes to assess each home from four hours to one hour. Homes will be given an "energy score" between one and ten, with ten being the most efficient. John Horchner, Program Officer with Efficiency PA says he expects many homes in the Pittsburgh area to score somewhere in middle because of the age of the structures. Horchner also says it's possible that an energy score could play into real estate transactions in the future as buyers search for houses that will keep their energy bills lower. More information on signing up for Home Energy Score can be found at effciencyPA.com. The deadline from registering homes for a chance to participate in the pilot is May 25.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Democrats Bash GOP Budget Plan

A group of state and local Democrats blasted the House Republican budget proposal today, saying it cuts too deeply into education spending.

Allegheny County Councilman Jim Burn says many local school districts stand to lose as much as a quarter of their state funding under the Republican budget.

State Senator Jim Brewster of McKeesport says on top of the budget cuts, local school districts would have to spend more if lawmakers pass a plan to enact school vouchers.

“If 100 students at McKeesport want to go to a school within ten miles, McKeesport’s got to write a check. Let’s say it’s 10,000 [dollars] a student. So now I’ve got to write a check for 10,000 times 100; you do the math,” says Brewster. “Now if I’ve already eaten into my fund balance because of cuts in the budget, where do I get the million? I’ll give you the answer: you’ve got to raise local taxes.”

Allegheny County Representative Dan Frankel says House Republicans also refuse to acknowledge that the state will earn anywhere from half a billion to a billion dollars more than anticipated this year. He says that money should be used to mitigate education cuts.

The budget proposal is expected to be taken to the House floor on Monday.

Slide Causes West Busway Problems

The Port Authority has closed a portion of the West Busway to allow crews to clear debris from a landslide caused by the recent saturating rains.

PAT spokesman Jim Ritchie says routes that use the busway are detoured through the remainder of the week and into the weekend. They include Port Authority's G2, G3, G31 and 28X routes along with Beaver County's Route 4. The detours include temporary station closings.

Ritchie says that normal service is expected to resume by Monday morning, possibly sooner. About 10,000 riders use the busway each weekday.

The slide occurred early this morning between the busway's Sheraden and Ingram stations, not far from the Berry Street Tunnel. Slide debris is along the busway and caused one lane to close as a precaution during this morning's rush hour. Both lanes now are closed to give crews and equipment access to the slide area.

Hands to Gather for Peace Saturday

Kevin May has been at peace events where all the participants form a circle and hold hands. “It just feels really amazing to stand with that many people who share a similar vision for a more peaceful and healthy planet,” said May. Those circles included as many as 40 people and they gave him an idea. “What if we invited everyone in the whole city to one of these and tried to get a circle of one thousand or more people,” said May.

The idea will manifest itself this Saturday with the Peaceful Gathering of Hands (P.G.H.) at the Schenley Park. “We are inviting everyone to bring food to share, instruments, or if they want to share information about peace projects they are working on,” said May, “ Some people are doing some sort of artistic presentation to demonstrate how they are working for a more peaceful Pittsburgh and Planet.”

According to May, there are groups in “nooks and crannies” around the city working for peace and he hopes it will be a chance for them to all get together. He also hopes it will be an opportunity for everyone in the community to realize how big the peace movement is in Pittsburgh.

The peace circles will form every hour starting at noon on the Schenley Meadow. The event is scheduled to run through 5:00pm but May believes it will continue until the sun sets over the city.

Biking, Climbing, Paddling Highlight Outdoors Celebration

The 10th annual Great Outdoors Week celebration continues throughout the Pittsburgh region with more than 60 events to highlight outdoor opportunities.
Ginette Walker Vinski of Sustainable Pittsburgh, the organizer of the celebration, says the idea is to showcase the natural amenities of southwestern Pennsylvania....
"From our rivers to our parks to our trails to our forest lands, and also to encourage people to try out some of the activities that use these resources, whether it's hiking, biking, paddling, climbing--you name it--there are tons of activities and opportunities available in this region."

The signature events include National Bike to Work Day and Learn to Row and Paddle on Friday, May 20.
walker Vinski says the biggest event is probably the Venture Outdoors Festival at Point State Park Saturday, May 21 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m....a free event with all kinds of activities including a climbing wall, fishing, kayaking, dragon boating, yoga and biking. Vinski says they expect about 6,000 to 7,000 people to attend the festival.

She says the final major event, "Pedal Pittsburgh" is Sunday, May 22 and is hosted by the Community Design Center...
"We say it's a ride, not a race where you ride your bike anywhere from 6 to 60 miles. It's all about learning about the architecture and design of the city, and learning how good design really makes for a better quality of life here in the city of Pittsburgh."

Vinski says there have been major changes over the last 10 years focusing on the region's natural amenities.

New Three Rivers Water Trail Map Published

Where can I easily put my canoe in the water? Where can I find a bathroom while I kayak? How much farther? Those are questions that the newest Three Rivers Water Trail Map from Friends of the Riverfront should be able to answer.

Friends of the Riverfront released the map in paper form last week and posted a PDF version of the map on line Tuesday. Board member Judy Melvin says there is information on the map for anyone who wants to get on the rivers in a non-motorized watercraft. “From a sightseeing perspective, a commuting perspective or an exploratory history way,” says Melvin. Among the historic highlights on the map are Sycamore Island, Carrie Furnace and the Hot Metal Bridge.

Each beach, ramp or dock access point from 12 miles down the Ohio to 16 and 21 miles up the Mon and Allegheny respectively is marked on the map. “Who has bathrooms, who has parking, ADA accessible, storage racks, picnics?” says Melvin. The map also contains tips for good trips and for safe boating.

The free maps can be picked up at the Friends of the Riverfront office in the terminal building. Melvin says they will also have them at several events this summer including this weekend’s Venture Outdoors Fest. You can also down load the map from the Friends of the Riverfront website.

Kayaking and canoeing the rivers in and around Pittsburgh has been growing in popularity in recent years. Watercraft can now be rented along the rivers and the price of an entry-level watercraft has been slowly dropping. “Its become very easy to do whether you want to do an hour or a whole afternoon or spend a weekend doing it, it has become a very accessible sport,” says Melvin.

Dino Discovery

The discovery of an until now unknown dinosaur can trace its roots back to Harrisburg’s State Museum.

Scientists at the state-owned center were working their way through a block of mudstone in 2004 when they found a skull that seemed a bit different. The researchers thought they were looking at fossils of a Coelophysis – a small carnivore. Senior curator Robert Sullivan and fossil preparer Kevin Dermody quickly realized this was a different dinosaur. “The skull is different, because it’s shorter,” he explained. “The teeth are procumbent in that they stick out towards the front of the skull. The teeth seem to be longer. And there’s some other subtleties of the skull that differentiate it from Coelophysis.”

Sullivan alerted scientists at the Carnegie Museum, which owns the mudstone block. Researchers there and at the Smithsonian spent years investigating the skull, and have now determined it is, in fact, a new dinosaur called Daemonosaurus. Their findings were published last month in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

How’s it feel to help discover a dinosaur? “I do find new dinosaurs on occasion,” said Sullivan, laughing. “This is odd in that we did not expect to find it in the block. And this just goes to show that we don’t know everything there is to know about the prehistoric life 220 million year ago. … Nobody has found anything quite like this on one of those other blocks. So it’s obviously a rare find, and, of course, it’s the first and only one of its kind. So from that standpoint it’s – we were quite lucky to play a minor role in its discovery.”

The initial find was made in the museum’s Dino Lab, an interactive exhibit showing visitors how fossils are prepared after discovery in the field. Here’s how the museum’s website explains the exhibit: “After fossils (including dinosaur skeletons) are found in the field, many steps, not normally seen by the public, are taken to prepare the fossils for exhibition. Visitors can witness this process of uncovering the fossilized bones from the rock that surrounds them.”

And sometimes, they can witness groundbreaking scientific discoveries.

Appellate Court Race Very Close

The Democratic race for Commonwealth Court could be headed for a recount. The decision on whether or not to re-tally votes will be made next week, when counties submit official returns to the Department of State.

603,801 Democratic voters supported either Katheryn Boockvar or Barbara Ernsberger in Tuesday's Pennsylvania Primary. Speaking Wednesday afternoon, Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele explained just how slim Boockvar’s unofficial 50.3 to 49.8 percent lead is. “Right now, as of about an hour ago, the difference between the two candidates was 2,794 votes, which is within the half of the one percent,” she said.

If the difference between the two candidates stays less than a half a percentage point once counties certify the results next week, Aichele will announce an automatic recount, unless the trailing candidate waives her right for another tally.

The effort would be expensive, with an estimated cost of more than $500,000. “I have been through a recount in Chester County, as the county commissioner,” explained Aichele. “And we went over in many cases, provisional ballots ballot by ballot. So it’s labor-intensive.” DOS assumes each ballot box would cost about $50 to count. With more than 9,000 precincts throughout Pennsylvania, the cost would add up quickly.

Last year’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor primary and the 2009 Superior Court election both fell within the half-percent margin, but both times, challengers conceded and waived their right to a recount.

PHC4: Death Rates for Heart Surgery Down

In 1994 in-hospital mortality rates for coronary artery bypass surgery patients in Pennsylvania stood at 3.23%. That was the first year the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) began keeping statistics. Since then it has dropped to 1.54% according to the most recent data from the PHC4.

The numbers are based on nearly 31 thousand procedures in Pennsylvania’s 60 general acute care hospitals.

The numbers of readmissions is also falling. 12.8% of all patients who had a bypass in 2009 were readmitted due to complications within 30 days of being released. “Even with optimal care not all readmissions are preventable,” said PHC4 spokesperson Stephanie Suran, “Studies have found that some readmissions can be avoided with better planned and executed discharge processes, greater follow up and connecting discharged patients with doctors post-surgery.”

Infection continues to be a problem for heart patients. “We found that about 5% of cardiac surgery patients contracted a healthcare associated infection and these patients had higher mortality rates and more readmissions and longer hospital stays,” said Suran. Those infections nearly double the price of the hospital stay.

PHC4 breaks down the data for each of the 60 general acute care hospitals in the state and for most individual doctors. The full report can be found online.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shale Geologist to Speak at Science Center

The Carnegie Science Center is bringing in an energy company executive tomorrow night to speak about the energy potential of the Marcellus Shale.

EQT geologist Lindell Bridges will talk about the shale drilling process, the total amount of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, and environmental risks and safeguards.

Carnegie Science Center Director of Science and Education John Radzilowicz says this is the last of three public forums held in the Center’s Drilling Down on the Marcellus Shale speaker series.

“Our first presentation in the series was about, ‘What is Marcellus Shale? Where is it located? How did it form? What kind of resources are there?’” says Radzilowicz. “Our second talk was about the environmental impact. We wanted to talk about, ‘What are the risks dealing with water, for example?’ And so we addressed that issue. And now, in our third and final talk in the series, we want to talk about the energy potential.”

Radzilowicz says the series is strictly scientific and advocates no particular bias about the Marcellus Shale. He says it’s important that the public has a factual grasp of such an important issue.

The presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session and refreshments.

One can register for tomorrow night’s forum by calling the Science Center at (412) 237-3400 [ext. 7] or by visiting its website.

Non-Profits: Don’t Cut What Works

Wheelchairs created a semi-circle in front of the stage set up in Market Square Wednesday morning and cries of “Don’t cut what works” greeted each speaker as part of a rally to stave off state budget cuts for social services.

The heads of several Pittsburgh area non-profits put forward arguments as to why the funding should not be cut. Family Resources Executive Director Walter Smith said the cuts hurt taxpayers almost as much as those who directly receive the
state-supported services. “If you cut child abuse prevention service more kids will be injured, more kids will go into placement, you don’t save money, it costs more,” said Smith.

More than one speaker decried the possible loss of in-home care. “On multiple occasions we heard from people that they would rather die than go into institutional placement,” said Adrienna Walnoha, Executive Director at the Oakland-based non-profit, Community Human Services, “So I ask you, is suicide the alternative to these cuts? So why are we cutting what works?”

“The people who benefit from these services and may be harmed have no lobbyist, they make no political contributions, they don’t have a political action committees that fund the various elected officials,” said United Way of Allegheny County President Bob Nelkin, “in many ways they have no access and no voice in the budget process.”

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget cuts hundreds of millions of dollars in social service spending from the 2011-2012 budget. The State House and Senate will debate the spending plan in earnest in the coming weeks.

County Bill Would Bar Vendors' Campaign Donations

An Allegheny County Councilman wants to tighten the rules on contractors' campaign contributions for County races.

District 1 Councilman Matt Drozd says when political candidates accept money from vendors that do business with the county, there can be impropriety and unfairness in awarding future contracts.

Drozd says while the current law prohibits candidates from asking contractors for money, the contributions can still be accepted if they're offered. He says that can lead to the candidate awarding the vendor a contract as a favor when he or she is elected.

Drozd says his bill would bar candidates from accepting those campaign donations altogether. He says he's bringing it up for a full vote now because of inaction from his fellow Council Members.

"I'm willing to let this go into committee, but it's been sitting in committee, and it's particularly buried," says Drozd. "And you know what? I'm going to say it was the prior [Council] President's job to bring it out, and guess who got a lot of contributions in this last campaign. I would ask him, 'How many of those were vendors within Allegheny County?'"

Drozd says although campaign contributions can be considered a form of free speech, they are often unethical and unfair to taxpayers. He says when an elected chooses a contractor as a favor rather than by merit, it can result in a higher cost for the county.

Trails will link 9/11 Memorials

David Brickley, Chairman of the September 11 National Memorial Trail, is helping plan a network of bike trails linking the three sites of the terrorist attacks from September 11th, 2001.

The trails will link the sites of the September 11th attacks - the Pentagon in Washington D.C., the field in Somerset County and lower Manhattan - in a sort of 1,100 mile triangle trail formation. Brickley says two legs of the trail are already done based on existing trails such as The Great Allegheny Passage which connects Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh.

Brickley says its a great way to remember the events of that day while encouraging exercise.

They hope to formally announce the ten year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

The National Park Service's River's, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, which is giving technical support to the effort is calling it "a pilgrimmage."

Corbett Leaves Hospital

Doctors at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh have discharged Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. Corbett had been in the hospital since Monday morning when he underwent back surgery.

The governor is expected to spend the rest of the week in his Shaler home recuperating and working by phone and email. "We might go into town to the office (the governor's Western Pennsylvania office in downtown Pittsburgh) for a little bit," Corbett said. "We'll be back in the office in Harrisburg on Monday."

The 61-year old Corbett was surgically treated for a spinal stenosis, which had resulted in persistent leg and back pain and weakness. "During the last 2 campaigns, it started bothering me a little bit, kept trying to put it off but decided I couldn't put it off any longer, and my goodness how much better I feel."

The governor thanked the hospital staff for taking good care of him.

Recount Possible in Democratic Commonwealth Court Primary

Pennsylvania voters picked nominees for two statewide judicial races yesterday.
There are 4.2 million Democrats and 3 million Republicans registered to vote in Pennsylvania, but less than 600-thousand from each party cast ballots yesterday.
The close race of the night came in the Democratic primary for Commonwealth Court judge, where Barbara Ernsberger and Kathryn Boockvar exchanged leads all night.
With 99 percent of districts reporting, Boockvar held a lead of 3,112 votes, which will likely trigger a recount.
Boockvar was the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, and Ernsberger was not recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, because she didn’t fill out their questionnaire.
Every other party-endorsed candidate won in the low-turnout election. In the GOP primary for Commonwealth Court, Anne Covey topped Paul Panepinto 70%-30%.
On the Republican side, Vic Stabile beat Paula Patrick by more than thirty points in the Superior Court race,
David Wecht ran unopposed for the Democratic Superior Court nomination.