US Agriculture Secretary Visits PA Farm Show

While touring the 97th Pennsylvania Farm Show, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called it an impressive display of what’s grown and produced in the commonwealth.  “It’s great to – in a sense – be back home, having been born and raised in Pittsburgh,” adds the former Governor of Iowa. 


US Ag. Secretary addressed the Farm Bill at the PA Farm Show.

The rural economy doesn’t always get the appreciation it deserves, and Vilsack wants to be proactive about the opportunities that exist.  He notes that half of the rural counties in the nation lost population in the last decade, according to the US Census. 

The first step in stopping the drain, Vilsack says, is passing a new, 5-year Farm Bill.  He calls it an imperative action in 2013.  “Everybody in the country has a stake in this five year program,” Vilsack explains. “It is about our food system, it’s about our water resources, it’s about our fuel & energy resources, it’s about jobs.” 

In PA, one in every seven jobs is related to agriculture. 

The Farm Bill that Vilsack envisions will start with a strong safety net for producers.  “You can be absolutely the best farmer in the world.  You can do everything right… no water, no rain, no crop.”  He also wants it to include flexible conservation and export programs, as well as an investment in the research that opens up new markets for farmers.

Later Friday, the US Department of Agriculture will announce $25-million dollars in research grants through a biomass development initiative.  Vilsack says $6.8-million of that will be invested in the Keystone State.

Even Anglers would Feel the Fiscal Cliff

The Pennsylvania Fish & Board Commission doesn’t receive any government funding, but even it would feel the effects of the looming fiscal cliff. That’s because their trust fund dollars would be subject to federal sequestration. 

The Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Safety Trust Funds are raised through excise taxes on things like fishing tackle and boat fuel.  The money can’t be spent on anything other than the intended purpose, but Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway says that wouldn’t stop the government from sequestering 7.6% next year. 

“I really liken it to someone at a bank, who has access to your account information, and takes 7.6% out of your savings account without your permission to show that they can cover the bad checks that they’ve written,” Arway explains.  “They promise to return the money sometime in the future, but in the meantime you have to find other funds to pay your bills.” 

The shortfall would amount to almost a million dollars for the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission next year, which translates into almost 40,000 additional fishing licenses they would have to sell in order to avoid cuts to programs and services. 

Arway is urging PA’s Congressional delegation to exempt excise tax revenue from sequestration, in the event that the federal government does not avert the fiscal cliff (a potentially devastating mix of tax hikes and automatic spending cuts) on the first of the year.


Non-partisan Group Embarks on Different Kind of Campaign

At least one campaign is bringing together both Democrats and Republicans this election season.  The Campaign to Fix the Debt seeks to engage and educate the public on the issue of the nation’s $16-trillion dollar debt.  The list of supporters features some prominent names from both sides of the aisle.  For instance, former Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) is a co-chair of the national campaign and former Governor Mark Schweiker (R-PA) is a member of the Pennsylvania Steering Committee. 

President & CEO of the Pennsylvania Business Council Dave Patti realizes $16-trillion is a hard number to grasp, so he used the analogy of basketball start LeBron James who made $42-million dollars last year.  “Well, if he plays for another 24,000 seasons he’ll make his first trillion dollars.”    

Fellow Pennsylvania Steering Committee member, and former Pennsylvania Democrat Party Chair, TJ Rooney says these are not abstract issues.  “Inaction on the fiscal cliff and the debt are hindering the nation’s economic recovery,” he told reporters on a recent conference call. 

The diverse group is taking a grassroots approach to urge policymakers in Washington to set aside their differences and address this issue.  Nearly 290,000 have signed their online petition.

Congressman Todd Platts Term Limiting Himself

    Pennsylvania Congressman Todd Platts says he will not run for a 7th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. The south-central PA Republican cites his strong belief in term limits as his reason for calling it quits at the end of his term this year.

Cong. Todd Platts (R-19)


    Platts says he has sponsored 12-year term limit legislation in each and every one of his 6 terms and now the lawmakeris going to practice what he preaches. Platts says he truly loves his job and calls serving in Congress a “remarkable privilege” that he had dreamed of since the age of 14.  In making his announcement, Platts did not indicate what his next move would be professionally. Prior to being elected to Congress, Platts was a state legislator.

    Platts vowed to continue working hard for his constituents during his final year in office.

    A spokesperson for the state Republican party declined to mention any names of potential candidates for the 19th Congressional District seat.


Lawmakers Near Final Approval of Congressional Maps

Pennsylvania will lose a Congressional seat in 2012, as the Keystone State’s population growth didn’t keep up with other states over the past ten years.  The General Assembly must now act quickly to approve the new congressional maps.  “If a congressional redistricting plan is not enacted by the end of this calendar year, it will cause chaos in the 2012 election cycle,” said Senate GOP Leader Dominic Pileggi.  During Wednesday night’s Senate debate, Pileggi noted that the process of circulating nominating petitions begins on January 24th

The Republican-drawn maps were unveiled earlier in the week, cleared the Senate on Wednesday night, and advanced out of the House State Government Committee on Thursday afternoon.  Up next is consideration by the full House. 

Democrats are lining up to criticize SB 1249 as blatant gerrymandering.   “I ask anybody who looks at these maps, are these districts contiguous or are they torturous?” said Rep. Babette Josephs (D-Phila.), the Minority Chair of the House State Government Committee. 

Appearing on Radio PA’s monthly Ask the Governor program, Governor Tom Corbett said this is the situation every ten year, no matter which party is in the majority.  “It’s incumbent upon the congressmen who represent those districts… to make sure that they pay attention to their constituents no matter where they are.” 

Corbett says the process is particularly difficult when one congressional district must be drawn out of existence.    In this case, the proposal would combine the districts of Democratic Congressmen Jason Altmire and Mark Critz. 

“We knew that the Republicans would use their control of the process to draw a map that that benefitted Republicans, but we did not expect them to abuse their power to this degree,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Chairman Jim Burn.

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Praises Trade Bills Passed By Congress

There was bipartisan support in Congress for legislation to create free trade agreements that could benefit Pennsylvania agriculture.  The bills awaiting the President’s signature would create agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, eliminating tariffs and other barriers to trade.

 Mark O’Neill, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, says it’s estimated the agreements could increase Pennsylvania agriculture exports by nearly 55 million a year, while creating nearly 500 new jobs in the industry.

A variety of Pennsylvania farm products could benefit from free trade agreements, including dairy, beef, pork, fruits, vegetables, nuts and processed food products.  O’Neill says the dairy industry could benefit to the tune of 5 million a year. He says there are new opportunities for farmers across the board.

O’Neill says after the year farmers have had with weather problems reducing yields and damaging crops, this could be some very good news. He says once everything is in place, farmers will have to look at their potential for marketing their products in these countries.  He says some farmers already export their products to other countries.

O’Neill says the more opportunities farmers have to get their products out, it makes them more viable.  He says it can also give them the opportunity to expand in the future.  He calls the trade bills a very positive step.

O’Neill says the bills had broad support. He believes many recognized the need to make sure American farmers can continue to grow and prosper, and have opportunities to be competitive worldwide.  He says that’s where the growing market is going to be in the future, getting products across the world.

Toomey Discusses New “Super Committee” Post


Pat Toomey Official Portrait

US Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA)

US Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) was a “No” vote on the debt deal that passed Congress last week, but he will serve on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tapped Toomey for the “super committee” job on Wednesday.  Toomey tells reporters he’s honored to serve.  “This is a very important moment in the history of our country.  We’re facing a very serious challenge, and we need to address it very aggressively.” 

The bipartisan, bicameral “super committee” was created by last week’s debt deal, and will be called upon to reduce the deficit by at least $1.5-trillion dollars over the next decade.  They have until November 23rd.  Automatic cuts would be triggered if Congress doesn’t approve the committee’s recommendations. 

Toomey says the tax code is chock-full of opportunities for improvement, and he hopes the committee will take a close look.  “The goals should be to broaden the base and lower the rates, so that we can create an environment that’s more conducive to economic growth,” Toomey explains.  “That will also generate more revenue, a stronger economy always does.” 

While he would like to see the committee put the US on the path toward a balanced budget, Toomey acknowledges that success will require bipartisan support.  As reporters peppered him with questions on Wednesday’s conference call, Toomey cautioned that it’s probably not constructive to conduct committee discussions through the media.   

Other Senators on the committee include: John Kyl (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA), John Kerry (D-MA) and Max Baucus (D-MT).  House members already named to the committee include: Fred Upton (R-MI), Dave Camp (R-MI) and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).  House Democrats have yet to appoint their members.

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