Need Pennsylvania news? We have you covered! PAMatters.com has partnered with Radio Pennsylvania to provide you with the stories that matter.

Senior citizen woman

New Report says Senior Citizens Have Seen Their Buying Power Decline.

Senior citizens are having to stretch their dollars more after two years without a Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment according to an advocacy group.   The Seniors Citizens League says older Americans have lost 32% of their buying power since 2000.

The group’s 2011 survey of senior costs report shows housing, utilities, transportation, health care and food costs are among those that have risen the most.

Mary Johnson, Social Security and Medicare Policy Analyst, says health care costs are not fully reflected in the COLA seniors receive and she says that has a lot to do with why it’s not keeping up with the costs.  For example, Johnson says Medicare Part B premiums have risen 154% since 2000.

Johnson says we need to start with a more fair and reliable COLA. She says the League supports legislation that would more accurately reflect senior costs.  She adds they also support a guaranteed minimum COLA.

Johnson says seniors are making difficult choices as a result of the loss of buying power. Some are delaying necessary visits to the doctor and filling prescriptions. Johnson says some seniors have younger relatives who are unemployed living with them and some older Americans are returning to the job market to supplement their income.

The Senior Citizens League is an advocacy group that was first established as a special project of The Retired Enlisted Association. The full report is available at their website.

Do State Budget Plans Do Enough for Victims?

Domestic violence and rape crisis services were largely held harmless in Governor Tom Corbett’s budget proposal, but would receive 10% cuts in the House GOP budget bill that prioritizes education over welfare spending.  It was shocking news to Terri Hamrick, President & CEO of Survivors Inc. in Adams County.  “Our services are essential; they’re not something that someone can live without.” 

60-domestic violence programs across the state provided a variety of services to 92,000 victims of abuse last year.  Peg Ruddy with the Women’s Resource Center in Scranton tells us 10% cuts would make a bad situation worse.  “We for the second year in a row… turned away as many domestic violence victims, in our shelter, as we were able to house,” Ruddy said.  The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that an additional 9,000 victims would be turned away or placed on waiting lists if the proposed 10% cuts become reality.  

The House Republican budget plan would restore some of Governor Corbett’s unpopular basic and higher education cuts by finding savings in the Department of Public Welfare.  House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin says the budget is largely a reflection of the overspending of the previous administration.  “Facing a $4-billion dollar deficit, adjustments had to be made,” Miskin said.  The $27.3-billion dollar budget bill will be brought up for House debate next week.

Pennsylvania continues to add jobs

Pennsylvania continues to add jobs,  and the latest unemployment numbers continue to show improvement.  Pennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April was 7.5%,  down from 7.8% in March and 1.3 percentage points lower than April of 2010.  The year-to-year decline was the largest since June 1987.

Mark Price, Labor Economist with the Keystone Research Center, says Pennsylvania  has been adding around 6 thousand jobs a month on average.  He says the April report is a very good one on all fronts, but the state still has a very long road back to something approximating full employment, and conditions that will generate some wage and income growth.   Price says one potential drag on the recovery is possible job losses in the public sector due to budget cuts.

The national jobless rate for April was 9.0%, up from 8.8% in March.

A breakdown of Pennsylvania’s unemployment numbers is available at the Department of Labor and Industry’s website at www.dli.state.pa.us.

Powerful Storms Drench Already Soggy Central Pennsylvania

Another series of strong thunderstorms rolled through central Pennsylvania overnight, bringing more heavy rains to areas that have been waterlogged for much of this spring. The hardest-hit region this week is in and around the state capital area, where the National Weather Service reports that some areas have received nearly six inches of rainfall since Monday.

A line of very power thunderstorms rolled through the Harrisburg area and points north and south early this morning, bringing more rain and dangerous lightning. The NWS forecast for Harrisburg calls for more showers and thunderstorms throughout Thursday and into Friday before some calmer weather moves in for the weekend.

online computer internet

Online Transactions Make Tax Collections Difficult

With online sales exploding, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Pennsylvania to collect its sales and use taxes.  In fact, the state Department of Revenue estimates $350-million dollars worth is going uncollected each year.  The problem is that online retailers are under no obligation to collect the sales taxes of states in which they have no “nexus” – or physical presence.

Many Pennsylvania brick and mortar stores believe they are at a competitive disadvantage.  The State House Finance Committee heard from several such businesses at a recent hearing.  Committee member Scott Boyd (R-Lancaster) tells us it’s a fairness issue.  “We just have to figure out a way of leveling the playing field so our brick and mortar stores aren’t put out of business.”

Committee chairman Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) tells us it’s both about fairness and lost revenue.  “You have a commonwealth that’s $4.2-billion dollars in debt and you have an option to collect $350-million dollars in additional revenue.”  Both Benninghoff and Boyd say the revenue is already owed to the state.  “It’s not a new tax,” Benninghoff says.

Several states (including New York and Illinois) are already trying to compel online retailers to collect and remit sales taxes, but those laws are being challenged in court.  Testifying on behalf of the Direct Marketing Association, Ron Barnes told the Finance Committee, “The solution is to have this conversation at the federal level.”  Barnes notes that retailers would otherwise have to keep up with 7,500 taxing jurisdictions.

There was no legislation before the Finance Committee, this week, but Chairman Benninghoff hopes that will change before the end of the legislative session.

For its part the state Department of Revenue is going to make it easier for Pennsylvania consumers to voluntarily report and remit their use tax once a year, through a new tax line on the PA-40 form.  They estimate it could generate $5 to 6-million dollars a year.  The “use tax” applies to taxable purchases made from online retailers and others, which do not charge and collect the sales tax.  Its rate is identical to the sales tax, but the Revenue Department testified that “a very small number” of individuals self-reported last year.

First Lady Susan Corbett and Governor Tom Corbett

Governor Tom Corbett is out of the hospital

Governor Tom Corbett is out of the hospital, two days after surgery for a nagging back problem. The Governor was released this morning from Allegheny General Hospital. Orthopedic specialists Dr. Mark Fye and Dr. Patrick DeMeo treated him Monday for spinal stenosis. The condition results in compressed nerves and leads to persistent pain.

The Governor told reporters as he left the hospital this morning that he had been in pain while walking for the last 6, 7 or 8 months. He says it started bothering him during the last two campaigns, and he decided he couldn’t put the procedure off any longer. A smiling Corbett told reporters the first thing up Tuesday, walking around, not to feel pain going down both legs, he’s very thankful for the surgeons and staff. He says the hospital has treated him very well.

The Governor will work from his Pittsburgh area home as he recuperates, and he expects to return to Harrisburg on Monday.

His office says the 61-year-old Republican underwent a series of medical tests in preparation for the surgery and is otherwise considered to be in excellent health.

 

Walleye, bass and trout in eight Pennsylvania waterways have been tagged.

Pennsylvania “Fish-For-Free” Day lines Up with National Promotion

Walleye, bass and trout in eight Pennsylvania waterways have been tagged in conjunction with Cabela’s “Wanna Go Fishing for Millions?” promotion.  Registered fishermen, who catch a tagged fish, win a prize.  The promotion is already underway, but PA Fish and Boat Commission spokesman Eric Levis says it coincides perfectly with their annual “Fish-for-Free” day on Labor Day, May 30th.

The Fish and Boat Commission will be holding special events, on “Fish-for-Free” day, at six of the waters where the tagged fish can be found.  Levis says they want more people to come out and fish.  “It’s a fun sport, and our experience is that when families come out with their kids… the kids love it, the parents love it, and they realize that it’s a great recreational activity.”

Levis notes that anyone can fish for free on Memorial Day, across the state.  You don’t have to go where the promotion or special events are taking place.  The next “Fish-for-Free” day, during which no license is required, will be Labor Day, September 5th.

PA Primary Election

The Dust is Settling from Pennsylvania’s 2011 Primary Election

Well, for the approximately 17% of eligible voters who showed up at the polls on Tuesday, there was little chance of waiting in line to cast a ballot. The dust is settling from Pennsylvania’s 2011 primary election, and while some candidates are set for final showdowns in November, a couple of high-profile races remained too close to call heading into Wednesday.

We start with the statewide judicial races. One seat will be open on the PA Superior Court this fall, and Republican Vic Stabile handily won his party’s nomination. Stabile advances to face Democrat David Wecht in November. Wecht was unopposed in his party’s primary.

There’s also one seat up for grabs on the Commonwealth Court, and while Republican attorney Anne Covey picked up an easy win on Tuesday, things are much more murky on the Democratic side, where we could be headed for a recount. With nearly all the votes counted, the race between Democrats Kathryn Boockvar and Barbara Behrend Ernsberger remained within a half-percentage point.

Two major municipal elections bookended the state on Tuesday. In the east, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter brushed aside his Democratic primary challenger, T. Milton Street. Nutter will have to wait to find out who he’ll be running against in November. Republicans John Featherman and Karen Brown are locked in a virtual dead heat. Either G-O-P contender would face an uphill battle this fall in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 6-to-1. Former Mayor John Street is also said to be mulling an independent run for Mayor.

And in the west, the November showdown is set for Allegheny County Executive. It will be Republican D. Raja against Democrat Rich Fitzgerald.

While there was little hope for any significant voter turnout on Tuesday, rainy weather in much of the state sent the numbers even lower.

One-Stop Shopping for Beer, Wine and Spirits?

You would be able to buy a bottle of wine or liquor from your local beer distributor, under a plan that’s pending in Harrisburg.  State Rep. John Payne (R-Dauphin) says adding 1,200 stores would be customer-friendly.  “We could instantly use the existing distribution system.  It’s not like you have to reinvent the wheel.”  Payne tells us he’s been working on the bill with State Rep. Mark Mustio (R-Allegheny), and it should be introduced in early June.

While details are still being sorted out, the Malt Beverage Distributors Association (MBDA) of Pennsylvania appears to be on board.  MBDA president Dave Shipula says they’re already responsible alcohol outlets.  Shipula says his members would appreciate the opportunity to sell the additional items, because their sales have been affected by the recent addition of takeout beer sales at some PA grocery stores.

Beer distributors are private companies, so critics of privatizing wine & spirits sales in Pennsylvania are also panning this effort.  President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1776 Wendell Young IV doesn’t think PA wants to be a state with 2,000 outlets to sell wine & spirits.  UFCW represents most current wine & spirits stores workers, and Young wonders why nobody is proposing that wine & spirits stores sell beer.  “That would accomplish the one-stop shopping that they say would provide customer convenience.  It would also do it in a way that better controls the sale of alcohol.”

Rep. Payne says that about 45 of the state’s wine & spirits stores are losing money, but are being kept open for various reasons.  He believes wine & spirits stores should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  Payne tells us his plan would allow the state to start closing wine & spirits stores that are not profitable.

Welcome Message

Welcome to PAMatters.com, a joint effort by Radio Pennsylvania and TFM Advertising. Since 2011, we have provided you with important news and information from the state capital and around the Commonwealth, as well as given you access to the governor of Pennsylvania.

The Governor stops by every month to answer your emails and discuss the issues with Radio PA’s Brad Christman. Exclusive video clips can be found here and you can also use PAMatters.com to submit your own question for the governor. Due to the high volume of emails, we will not be able to answer every question on the website, but if your question is brief, pertinent and thought-provoking, you’ll have an excellent chance of becoming part of the Ask the Governor program! You can submit a question right now using the ASK THE GOVERNOR link at the top of this page, or email us at AsktheGov@pamatters.com. Please include your full name and town. Anonymous questions will not be considered for the program. Remember, brevity is the key to being part of the show, so make your questions quick and to the point!

Please bookmark PAMatters.com and make us part of your daily web routine.

Our motto is: People, Politics, Pennsylvania.

Note that the PEOPLE come first!