Pennsylvania Finance Building

Auditor General Raises Red Flag on Tobacco Settlement Fund

Jack Wagner

Jack Wagner meets with the news media on Thursday

Fresh off of a series of five statewide public hearings, Auditor General Jack Wagner has delivered a special report to state lawmakers.  “It’s about time the General Assembly steps to the plate and listens to what the public is talking about in relation to their dollars, these tobacco settlement dollars,” Wagner said at a Thursday news conference.  “Overwhelmingly, in 99.9% of all the testimony we heard, the public wants these dollars to be spent for health-related purposes.”  Wagner says that was the intent behind the Tobacco Settlement Act of 2001, but about $1.3-billion dollars has been quietly diverted to other budget purposes over the past six years. 

Pennsylvania has been receiving $350-million tobacco settlement dollars a year, and is expected to continue to receive that money for at least the next 15-years.  Two of the high-profile uses spelled out in Act 77 of 2001 were the adultBasic health insurance program, and tobacco use prevention and cessation programs.  The adultBasic program expired earlier this year due to a lack of funds, but Wagner says it can still be salvaged with a combination of public and private financing.  “There is a significant need for it to continue,” Wagner says.  “There were 42,000 people on the rolls of adult basic and there were almost 500,000 on the waiting list.” 

When it comes to tobacco cessation programs, Wagner was flanked by a chart that shows they received $50.5-million dollars in funding for fiscal year 2003, but only $14.7-million in FY2011.  He says 20,000 Pennsylvanians die of smoking-related illnesses each year.  “We are hopeful that what has happened over the last five or six years does not continue to happen in this budget,” Wagner said, upon delivering his special report to legislative leaders and Governor Tom Corbett.  A Senate Republican spokesman confirms that the Tobacco Settlement Fund will be discussed during the upcoming budget negotiations, but he could not speculate as to the result of those talks.

Pennsylvania Sends 4 Spellers to National Spelling Bee Semi-Finals

Joanna Ye

    Years of preparations boil down to one tense day for the kids who have advanced to the semi-finals of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee, which will crown a new champion this evening. After two days of written and oral spelling, the field was whittled down from 275 to 41.

    Pennsylvania leads all states with 4 semi-finalists. Topping the list, a returning semi-finalist from 2010. Joanna Ye of Carlisle finished tied for 5th in last year’s national spelling bee. Joining Ye in the field of 41 are fellow Keystone Staters David Krak of Lititz, Anahita Iyer of Doylestown and Sukanya Roy of South Abington Township.

    Some of the words spelled correctly in round 3 of the bee included papilionaceous, mynheer and mycetophagous.

    The remaining 41 spellers will take to the stage this morning until a field of finalists is set for tonight’s showdown on ESPN. The finals are scheduled to begin at 8:30pm at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in suburban Washington, D.C.

Harrisburg's skyline

One More Week…

    Hello, PAMatters junkies! Brad Christman here, and in addition to serving as News Director for the Radio Pennsylvania Network, I’m an admin and editorial supervisor for this new website. If you’ve been with us during this launch period, you’ve read a lot about our “Ask the Governor” program. Well, we’re now just a week away from the first show.

    Originally, we were planning a May rollout of the program, but Governor Tom Corbett had to go under the knife just days before we were planning to air the first show. His back surgery delayed us until June, but we are now ready for a June 9th debut! 

    This is not the first “Ask the Gov” program produced by Radio PA. In the past, we featured shows with Governors Robert Casey and Ed Rendell. I hosted the Rendell programs early in his first term and am very pleased to get the opportunity to once again serve as host as Governor Tom Corbett continues the tradition. Radio PA’s Matt Paul will join me as co-host.

    This is not a live call-in show, and there are a couple of reasons for that. First, we want the program to air on as many radio stations as possible, and the best way to do that is to allow them to decide when to air it. Locking in an exact time for a live show can hinder syndication efforts. Second, the explosion of social networking makes it much easier for us to gather listener questions and present them to the governor without going live. And, I don’t care what you’ve heard, I think this Internet thing is going to be around for a while.

    So I hope you’ll continue to play a part in the growth of PAMatters.com, powered by Radio PA. You’re in on the ground floor of an exciting new information resource, and we take it to the next level one week from today when Governor Tom Corbett officially joins the team. In the meantime, visit our “Ask the Governor” section to submit your questions and then check back on June 9th for video clips and other coverage.

Harrisburg Sets Spring Rain Record

The soggy spring was one for the record books in the state capital.   It is officially the wettest spring ever for Harrisburg.

Matt Steinbugl, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College, says they measured 20.79 inches of rain in March, April and May. Steinbugl says that’s more than 9 inches above average, and beats the previous record by more than two inches.

The old record was 18.18 inches set in 1983.

Steinbugl says the area was in a consistent active weather pattern through most of the spring. Annual rainfall in Harrisburg averages about 41.45 inches, so the city has already seen half of its annual average in the first three months of the year. Meteorological summer began on June 1st.

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency says Get Ready for Storm Season

Hurricane season planning is not just for people who live on the coast line. The   Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency is reminding state residents they need to have a plan as well.

While the state rarely gets a direct hit from a hurricane, it does see tropical storms and tropical depressions with large amounts of rain, damaging winds and even the possibility of a tornado. These conditions can lead to flooding and power outages.

PEMA Director Glenn Cannon says it’s important to have a plan in place for your family and an emergency kit that could sustain them for at least 72 hours. 

Cannon says that kit should include flashlights and a battery operated radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit and manual, emergency food and water, a manual can opener, essential medications, cash and credit cards, important documents and sturdy shoes.

Cannon says you should also develop a family plan that identifies a place to meet and a way to communicate if you get separated.

Tornado planning should include the identification of a safe shelter. People who have a basement should know the safest place to take cover.  People without a basement should identify an interior room at the lowest level that provides protection. People in mobile homes should know where the nearest sturdy building or storm shelter is located.

Cannon adds many Pennsylvanians vacation at the shore and they should be prepared if they find themselves in the direct path of a hurricane. He says they should monitor weather forecasts, know where the evacuation routes and shelters are located in the town they’re visiting and keep their vehicle fueled and ready.  

You can learn more about hurricane and summer storm preparation at www.readypa.org.

Teen Tanning Bed Legislation

Bill Would Bar Teens from Tanning Beds

Pennsylvania teenagers would essentially be barred from tanning beds, under legislation that’s being debated in the State House Judiciary Committee.  “What the bill would do is prevent any business from allowing persons under the age of 18 from using an indoor tanning bed,” said State Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon) at a Wednesday news conference.  Swanger cites research published last year in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention: “People who have ever used tanning beds were 74% more likely to develop melanoma than others.”

Earlier Wednesday, the State House Judiciary Committee heard a variety of testimony on Swanger’s bill.  Dr. Gavin Robertson from the Penn State Hershey Medical Center testified that the World Health Organization recommends completely banning tanning beds for kids under the age of 18, and classifying UV as a class one carcinogen.  In her own testimony, Swanger pointed out that she wants to amend the bill to make the penalties civil, not criminal.  “Violators should be fined and at some point lose their license, but I don’t intend for anyone to go to jail for such a violation.” 

Swanger’s bill would not stop teens from tanning, according to Joe Schuster from the Indoor Tanning Association, and industry trade group.  “It’ll send them outdoors into an uncontrolled environment with no supervision, no trained staff, no parental consent required, where they’re more likely to be overexposed or sunburned,” Schuster testified.  He argued that tanning beds are no more or less harmful than the sun. “Are you also prepared to ban these same teens from sun exposure at beaches at the various state parks and thousands of other pools, playgrounds and parks throughout the state of Pennsylvania?”

HB 369 currently awaits action in the Judiciary Committee, but it may get assigned to a different standing committee depending on the changes that Swanger wants to make to its penalties.

Cash

Another Good Revenue Month for PA

May’s tax receipts have been tallied, and the Department of Revenue reports that collections exceeded estimates by nearly $34-million, or 1.9%.  That means Pennsylvania’s revenues are outpacing estimates by a total of $539-million through 11-months of the fiscal year.  “It just points out once again how bad the Republican budget that was passed last month actually is,” says Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny)A GOP-backed, $27.3-billion dollar budget bill passed the House last month with zero Democratic support.  It would not have used any of the current fiscal year’s excess revenue.  “We should use a good bit of this surplus revenue to restore cuts that were made in the House Republican budget, and we think we can do that in the month of June,” Patton tells us. 

The notion of tapping into that money is a bipartisan one over in the Senate.  “We have proposed using some of the revenue surplus that exists to help soften the impact of cuts in the education area, cuts to hospitals,” says Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson.  “This gives us continued reason to think that it can be done in a fiscally responsible way.”  However, Arneson cautions that while the economy appears to be recovering, there are still “some serious soft spots.” 

Looking at how the state’s major revenue sources fared in May:  sales taxes and corporation tax receipts were above estimate.  Personal income tax revenue was below estimate for the month, but still 2.1% above estimate for the fiscal-year-to-date.  In an email to his colleagues, Wednesday, House Democratic Appropriations Chair Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) pointed out that May is one of the smallest revenue collection months.  He suggests that further surplus could be posted in June, which is a more significant month for state revenues.  Both the House and Senate are in recess until June 6th, but state budget matters will get top billing between then and the June 30th budget deadline.

Sate Capitol View from Commonwealth Ave.

New Debut Date for “Ask the Governor”

Governor Tom Corbett is scheduled to make his debut appearance on “Ask the Governor” on Thursday, June 9th. Gov. Tom CorbettVideo segments of the program will be available on PAMatters.com starting that day and the program is also airing on radio stations statewide through the Radio Pennsylvania Network.

Visit our “Ask the Governor” page to submit a question or comment for Governor Tom Corbett, then check back regularly for program video and announcements of future show dates.

Ask the Governor” is a production of Radio Pennsylvania in association with PAMatters.com.

Senator Pat Toomey Meets with Israeli Prime Minister

    U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Middle East swing with fellow U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-ID). The conversation focused on several key issues facing Israel and the United States, including the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, the ongoing Middle East peace process and US-Israeli cooperation on military and intelligence matters.

    Calling Israel America’s greatest ally in the Middle East, Senator Toomey pledged to work toward advancing joint national security interests and pursuing a realistic peace agreement that “does not compromise Israel’s security.”

    Tuesday’s meeting took place in Jerusalem.

    Just last week, Toomey criticized President Barack Obama’s speech, in which the President called for a peace deal based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Toomey says the proposal “undermines our ally Israel’s negotiating position, demonstrates insensitivity to the security threats Israel faces on a daily basis and ignores the historical context that has shaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for more than 60 years.”

Hurricane Season is Here, Are You Prepared?

It’s expected to be an above normal Atlantic Hurricane season according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Today (June 1st) marks the start of the season.

Lead seasonal forecaster Dr. Gerry Bell says they’re expecting 12 to 18 named storms, 6 to 10 of them hurricanes, with 3 to 6 storms expected to reach Category 3 or larger. He says the prediction is based on overall wind and air pressure patterns and warmer sea surface temperatures where storms often develop.

Dr. Bell says whether you live along the coast or inland, now is the time to prepare for Hurricane season. He says hurricanes can track well inland, producing flooding, tornadoes and wind damage.  He says people can be impacted well away from the coast.

Dr. Bell says vacationers who frequent the coast during hurricane season, and boaters who dock their craft along the coast, should take extra steps.  Boat owners should check their insurance policies and make sure they have someone who can get their boat to safe harbor if a storm approaches.

You can learn more about preparedness at ready.gov or www.nhc.noaa.gov.