Lottery Fund

Pennsylvania House Votes to Give PA Lottery a Financial Check Up

The Pennsylvania Lottery will be getting a financial check up.  The state House of Representatives has adopted a resolution that directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to prepare a report on lottery sales forecasts, in both the short and long term.

Representative Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter), the sponsor of the resolution, says the last financial review was conducted in 1994.

Causer says a lot has changed since then, and he wants to make sure there’s sustainable funding for the valuable programs the lottery supports.  The resolution, HR 106, cites the introduction of casino gambling and lingering concern regarding the potential impact of slot machines and table games on lottery sales.

The committee will look at whether state Lottery fund revenues are sufficient to support lottery-funded programs at existing or expanded levels or if cutbacks or program changes will be needed to maintain the solvency of the fund. The panel will also determine if any changes to law, regulation or policy are needed.

Lottery funded programs include Area Agencies on Aging, PACE, PACENET, long term living, Property Tax and Rent Rebates and shared ride services.

The   committee will have six months to complete the study.   The report will be submitted to the Aging and Older Adult Services and Finance Committee.

The vote to approve HR 106 was unanimous.

State Capitol Facing North Office Building

Lawmakers Strike Unemployment Compensation Deal

The compromise ensures that some 45,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians won’t lose their extended federal benefits next week.  It will also save the unemployment compensation system about $114-million dollars a year.  “It is the most extensive unemployment compensation reform package that we have seen – it’s the only unemployment compensation reform package we’ve seen – in ten years,” says House majority leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny).  “There are significant reforms that are being brought to the table.”   

Chairman of the House Labor & Industry Committee, Ron Miller (R-York), says they will freeze next year’s maximum weekly benefit at $573-dollars a week.  “There will be a zero percent increase for next year, and then a five year sliding scale that will be one percent the year after, one point one the year after, that is the cap, it can’t go above that,” Miller says. 

Other savings would come from a new requirement that unemployment compensation recipients actively search for work, and new rules concerning severance pay.  The savings in the deal that was struck Wednesday evening are greater than the $60-million projected savings in the original Senate bill, but much less than the original House bill.  The legislative process is on pace for Senate concurrence this Friday. 

The statewide unemployment rate currently stands at 7.4%, according to data just released Thursday by the Department of Labor & Industry.  It’s much lower than the national average, which remains above 9%, but Pennsylvania owes the federal government nearly $4-billion dollars it has borrowed to cover unemployment benefits during the recession.

PLCB Holds the Line on Prices Again

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board will hold the line on prices this summer.  The board has rejected more than 400 price increases requested by its suppliers. Chairman Patrick J. Stapleton says it was just not a good time to raise prices on consumers, who have already been facing higher prices at the supermarket and gas pump.  

Stapleton says that after looking at the numbers and the buying patterns of Pennsylvanians, it was clear that consumers could not sustain any price increases at this time. He says customers are continuing to “buy down”, picking up cheaper items. 

Stapleton says maintaining current shelf prices ensures people can enjoy their favorite wine or spirit without sacrificing the family budget.

Stapleton says the board  also gave consideration to its licensees, such as restaurants and other establishments, who are just finally starting to pull out of the recession.     

Stapleton says the board will take another look at the issue in three months, because price requests are usually submitted quarterly. The PLCB had earlier implemented a moratorium in November, while also maintaining its own operational costs.

New Impact Fee Legislation Introduced In Pennsylvania House

While state House Democrats have been pushing for a broader Marcellus Shale tax, Republican Marguerite Quinn of Bucks County has introduced impact fee legislation that has bipartisan co-sponsorship.  She says House Bill 1700 would not direct any money into the general fund.

Half of the fee would be divided between counties and municipalities that host drilling sites, 5% would go to the state’s conservation districts,  15% to the Environmental Stewardship fund, 10% to the Hazardous Site Cleanup Fund and 20% to the Motor License Fund.  

The fee would start at $50 thousand per well for the first two years, drop to $45,000 for the next two years, $40,000 for the next two years, and then continue declining to $15,000 in year 15 and $10,000 in year 20.    

Representative Mario Scavello (R-Monroe) applauded the proposal, saying quite a bit of the funding would go back to local communities and that’s where the impact is the greatest.

Representative Eugene DePasquale (D-York) says the bill differs from the Senate impact fee legislation in a key area.  He says many members in the house find the local zoning provision in the Senate bill particularly troubling.   

The Senate bill (SB 1100) calls for the development of a model ordinance for zoning in drilling areas.  It would make municipalities or counties that adopt stricter

Representative Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks)

ordinances ineligible to receive a share of the impact fee.

Capitol View from East Wing

Bath Salts Ban Heads to Governor’s Desk

Bath salts are dangerous – even deadly – yet legal.  The bath salts that state lawmakers are targeting aren’t what you bought mom for her birthday.  These are synthetic stimulants created to mimic the effects of cocaine and methamphetamine.  “They have a lot of psychotic effects and hallucinations and things like that,” says State Senator Elder Vogel (R-Beaver/Lawrence), the prime sponsor of SB 1006.  “We have enough drug problems now… let alone to have these fake drugs come along and be easier to buy.” 

The legislation cleared its final legislative hurdle Wednesday, earning unanimous support in the State Senate.  The House had earlier amended the bill to allow law enforcement to keep up with any future compounds the manufacturers may use.  “I think it will become one of the most forward thinking and progressive pieces of legislation regarding these synthetic substances in the nation,” State Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon) said on the House floor.  Like the Senate vote, final House passage was unanimous earlier this week. 

The banning of bath salts was one of the top legislative priorities of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.  “They have a stimulant in them that causes this violent, paranoid behavior, and it’s really dangerous for the individuals using them, as well as for the community,” PDAA president Ed Marsico tells us.  In addition to bath salts, Vogel’s bill would prohibit synthetic marijuana and salvia divinorum.  

Synthetic drugs are currently sold in hemp shops, smoke shops and even convenience stores.  Numerous counties have taken matters into their own hands and sought injunctions to ban the sale of bath salts.  Lawmakers call them a statewide epidemic.  The bill’s next stop is Governor Tom Corbett’s desk.

Tom Vilsak - File Photo

Biomass Project Will Benefit Western PA

The USDA is targeting 5,344 acres in northeast Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania for a new Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project.  US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says they will incentivize to grow “giant miscanthus,” which is a hybrid grass that can grow 13-feet tall.  “The land that will be used to grow this crop will be land that would most likely not be used for traditional crop production,” Vilsack said in a conference call with PA and OH media.  Vilsack says the miscanthus will be turned into pellets: “Which in turn will be used by electric companies to produce power and electricity.”   

The seven-county area includes Erie, Crawford and Mercer counties in Pennsylvania’s northwest corner.  “We believe that as many as 1,200 jobs will eventually be created,” Vilsack says.  Eventually, the USDA hopes there will be enough interest in these biomass pellets to create an export market.  Pennsylvania’s alternative energy portfolio standard is 18% by 2020, and at least 8% of that should come from renewable energy sources like biomass.   

Vilsack, by the way, is a Pittsburgh native.

Santorum Greets Supporters in Somerset Co.

Santorum 2nd in Pennsylvania Presidential Poll

The GOP primary may well be decided by the time Pennsylvanians vote in 2012, but the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute didn’t shy away from the chance to take the pulse of PA voters.  Former Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum comes in second in his home state, with 16% support. Frontrunner Mitt Romney leads PA with 21%.  Sarah Palin captured third place with 11%, despite the fact that she’s made no announcement concerning her candidacy.  While Santorum had a decent showing in today’s Pennsylvania poll, most national polls place him toward the bottom of the crowded GOP field. 

President Obama would win the hypothetical matchup with Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, 49 – 38.  Obama’s approval rating in PA, according to the Q-Poll, is split 48 – 48.  That’s a marked improvement from the April poll, which showed Obama in negative territory (42 – 53).  “Whether it’s still the Osama bin Laden bounce, or because voters are taking a closer look at the alternatives, President Barack Obama’s fortunes in Pennsylvania, a critical swing state in presidential elections, have improved – at least for now,” says Quinnipiac pollster Tim Malloy. 

There are two other Republican contenders with PA ties.  Ron Paul – a Pittsburgh native – netted 6% in today’s poll.  Newt Gingrich – a Harrisburg native – received 5%.

*Photo of the Penn State Team was provided by EcoCAR.

EcoCAR Challenge Nearing Completion, Pennsylvania Team One of 16 in Competition

For three years, students from 16 North American schools have part of the EcoCAR Challenge.   Penn State University’s team has been working on an extended range electronic vehicle, and this year the team had to refine it to near showroom quality. While the vehicle must perform on the road like a standard SUV, there’s a big difference under the hood.

Team member Shawn Getty, a graduate student at Penn State, says the vehicle is a series hybrid. The engine is coupled to the generator- which makes electricity that goes to the batteries. The electricity stored in the batteries goes to an electric motor which drives the wheels. There is no transmission.  The vehicle has an electric range of about 35 miles, and can run on batteries or the diesel engine.

Getty says the team has been doing well this year, placing third in the autocross and completing the 100 mile event course, which only five of the sixteen teams have been able to complete.  He says the vehicle has been running vehicle well.

The EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge was established by the United States Department of Energy and General Motors.  You can learn more at

The overall EcoCAR winner titles will be announced in Washington D.C. on Thursday, June 16.

The Penn State team is also on line at

**Photo of the Penn State Team was provided by EcoCAR.

Capitol Rotunda Light Fixture

The Challenge of Congressional Redistricting

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler)

Darly Metcalfe Seeks Congressional Map that's Legal, Constitutional and Fair

Every ten years state lawmakers are called upon to redraw the state’s Congressional map.  In addition to ensuring population equity and fair representation of minorities, PA lawmakers must again account for the loss of a Congressional seat due to population shifts.  “When you’re shrinking from 19-members in Congress to 18, you have to grow the districts, and somebody’s going to lose a Congressman,” says State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), who chairs the House State Government Committee.  The House and Senate State Government Committees have just wrapped up a third joint public hearing on the Congressional redistricting process. 

Executive director of Common Cause PA, Barry Kauffman, offered his redistricting wish list during Tuesday’s testimony.  He told the committee that respect for county and municipal boundaries should be a central feature.  “People need to know who their legislator is, both in order to contact her or him, and to be motivated to vote.  And, uncertainty is depressing both to citizen action and voter turnout.” 

Kauffman also argued in favor of compact districts: “The more linear a district is, and the less it resembles either an ideal circle or hexagonal shape, the harder it becomes for people to know their representatives, to feel themselves as a part of a community of interest, to care about elections, or to participate themselves,” Kauffman testified.   

While Kauffman raised concerns of “painfully convoluted” districts, Rep. Metcalfe did not commit to specifics in the eventual Congressional map.  “I will stand for making sure that the final product is constitutional, legal and fair,” Metcalfe told reporters after Tuesday’s capitol hearing.  No additional public hearings are planned at this time, but the committees will schedule more as needed.  Metcalfe hopes for a final product in mid to late fall.      

Congressional redistricting is traditionally done through the legislative process in Harrisburg.  Like other legislation, a bill must be passed by both chambers and be signed by the governor.  It is separate from the legislative redistricting process, which is handled by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. 

PA's Current Congressional Map

PA's Current Congressional Map

Capitol Rotunda - Facing House Chamber

Voters Split on Governor Tom Corbett

A new Quinnipiac Poll finds a split job approval rating (39 – 38) for Governor Tom Corbett.  While 39% is a relatively low job approval number, pollster Tim Malloy says there is some good news: “He is doing far better than his counterparts; Gov. Scott of Florida, Gov. Kasich of Ohio, who are in negative territory.”  A widening gender gap appears to be contributing to Governor Corbett’s lukewarm numbers.  “He’s far more popular with men than he is with women,” says Malloy, “There’s an 18 percentage point difference.”  That gap was just seven points in the April Quinnipiac Poll.  23% of PA voters are still undecided on Governor Corbett.  “It could work for him or against him down the road, but it’s a big number that he would obviously try to solicit and win over,” Malloy tells us.

Today’s poll also finds that by roughly 2 to 1 margins, Pennsylvanians support Marcellus Shale drilling, and a tax on the natural gas drilling companies.  Malloy summed it up by saying, “It is drill baby drill, and it is also tax baby tax.”  As those Marcellus Shale poll numbers were being released, the State Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee advanced an amended Marcellus Shale “impact fee” proposal, which would direct revenue to affected counties and municipalities.