RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 03.15.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul sit down with Governor Tom Corbett to discuss his slumping poll numbers and the state of the economy.

This week’s show also features an explanation of the “Pay-to-Play” scandal at the Turnpike that’s resulted in criminal charges, and we’ll hear Harrisburg Bishop Joseph McFadden’s thoughts on Pope Francis. 

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Labor Secretary Defends PA Jobs Climate

Through three weeks of state budget hearings Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) has repeatedly pointed out the fact that – for the first time in years – Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is now worse than the national average.  So he took issue with Labor & Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway’s positive assessment of the state’s economy.  “How can you sit here and say – we were 8th in job creation, now we’re 34th in new job creation – that we’re going in the right direction?”

Hearthway was ready with her response.  On the job creation issue she notes that 42-states lost more jobs than Pennsylvania did during the recession, so some of them are now posting sharper increases simply because they have more ground to make up. 

As for the state’s persistently high unemployment rate, Hearthway cautioned that we can’t look at any of these figures in a vacuum.  “When you grow your labor force… you’re unemployment’s going to show higher,” she explained. 

Hearthway boasts of a state labor force that now stands at 6.56-million, breaking records in each of the past four months.  “That means individuals who have dropped out [of the labor force], not looking, are now looking again… it’s usually the first indicator of your economy coming back strong.” 

The latest numbers, for December 2012, show a 7.9% statewide unemployment rate.  A new jobs report may shed some more light on the situation.  It’s due out on Friday.

Housing Market is Recovering

With consumer confidence up and mortgage rates down, the housing market is making a slow but steady recovery.  “Right now, I think, is a good time to buy because house values are still low,” says Kate Newton, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) Director of Homeownership Programs.  “Especially in Pennsylvania there really aren’t any more signs – that we should expect anyway – for house values to decrease.” 

The Pennsylvania Builders Association reports that new home permits are up 14% year-over-year, another sign that Pennsylvania’s housing recovery is underway. 

Newton says Pennsylvania was fortunate not to have a huge ‘housing bubble,’ so our housing market did not fall as far or as hard as it did in other states.  Appearing on WITF’s Radio Smart Talk, Newton noted that housing markets will vary locally.  The PHFA has recently released county-by-county data on housing availability and affordability. 

The latest update from Freddie Mac indicates that mortgage rates are near record lows (3.34% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan), and the National Association of Realtors reports that pending home sales are at their highest levels since March 2007.


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.

Study: the Arts are an Economic Driver in PA

The direct economic activity generated by nonprofit arts groups and their audiences adds up to more than $2.5-billion dollars in Pennsylvania, according to a new study by Americans for the Arts.  “We pay our taxes, we spend in our communities and we create jobs,” explains Jenny Hershour, managing director of Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania. 

The new study actually finds 81,000 full-time equivalent jobs and $360-million dollars being paid in taxes.  “For this current fiscal year the General Assembly approved a budget that included $8.179 million dollars for grants to nonprofit arts organizations,” Hershour says.  “If you compare that with $360-million that nonprofit arts organizations are generating for state and local governments, that’s a really good investment.” 

Arts supporters in the General Assembly will soon be spreading that message with the creation of a bipartisan, bicameral arts and culture caucus in Harrisburg.  Speaking at a news conference in the state Capitol rotunda, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) called the arts an essential part of the fabric of Pennsylvania. 

“It is music to my ears,” Hershour told Radio PA when asked about the new caucus.