RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 01.06.12

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week. Professionally produced and delivered every Friday, Roundtable includes commercial breaks for local sale and quarterly reports for affiliate files.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Slot Machine Revenues Up at Pennsylvania Casinos in December

All 10 casinos in Pennsylvania saw an increase in slots revenue for the month of December compared to last year.  The biggest boost came for the newest casino. Philadelphia’s SugarHouse saw a 63% jump.  Overall, the casinos combined for a nearly 14% increase.

Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach says the play at slots machines in December generated over 108 million dollars in tax revenue, even with fewer slot machines operating.   Gaming Board officials credit mild weather, and also think table games may be bringing more people into the casinos, translating into more play at the slot machines as well.

Table games revenue numbers for December are not available yet.

The newest casino, the first resort hotel casino in Valley Forge, is scheduled to come on line this spring.

96th Pennsylvania Farm Show Opens Saturday

Pennsylvania doesn’t have a state fair.  It doesn’t need one; it has the Farm Show.  The Pennsylvania Farm Show is an eight-day celebration of everything agriculture has to offer.  “We will have 6,000 animals here this week and a half, over 10,000 competitive exhibits.  400,000 people will come here to visit,” says state Agriculture Secretary George Greig.  All one-million square feet of the complex will be put to good use during the Farm Show. 

While this is George Greig’s first Farm Show as Ag. Secretary, the Crawford County dairy farmer is no Farm Show novice.  “We have world famous Farm Show milk shakes; we have deep fried mushrooms, deep fried cheese cubes and every type of roast beef.  Everything that you could ever want to eat,” Greig told us, as he vouched for the legendary Farm Show Food Court. 

Beyond the food and the fun, the goal of this year’s Farm Show is to bridge the gap between farm gate and dinner plate.  “It has a very strong consumer education aspect to it, where people can learn about where their food and fiber comes from,” says Farm Show Complex Executive Director Pat Kerwin. 

Kerwin says Farm Show planning is virtually year round.  Setup for the 2012 Farm Show began around Christmastime and has been non-stop ever since.  While the Farm Show is the number one event at the Farm Show Complex, Kerwin tells us they host roughly 85 major events and several hundred smaller events every year.

Admission to the Farm Show is free, but parking will cost you $10.  New, this year, are a variety of online tools to help you plan your Farm Show visit.  The Farm Show runs Saturday – Saturday (January 7th – 14th).

Developing a New Natural Gas Infrastructure

Private industry is working to develop a new, natural gas infrastructure in Pennsylvania and beyond.  For instance, Clean Energy Fuel Corp’s new plans call for “America’s Natural Gas Highway.”  The nationwide project will develop about 150-natural gas fueling stations over the next three years.  “We are planning… to put stations in Carlisle, Mill Hall and Smithton, Pennsylvania for the national network,” says Clean Energy’s Vice President of Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs Todd Campbell. 

July’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission report made several references to natural gas-fueled vehicles, and Governor Tom Corbett wants to develop Pennsylvania’s natural gas infrastructure.  “We need to encourage the development of markets for the use of that natural gas here in Pennsylvania,” Corbett said on a recent edition of “Ask the Governor” on Radio PA. 

“For instance along the Turnpike, we have all of the Sunoco’s along the Turnpike.  Just like there’s a diesel tank there, there should be a natural gas tank there.” 

Clean Energy is already operating natural gas fueling stations in 28-states, including Pennsylvania, but they mostly serve high-volume fleets like the ones found at airports or operated by trash haulers.  “I think the time where you and I are driving around in a natural gas car is probably five to ten years.  That’s probably a little optimistic,” Campbell says.  Regardless, he believes there is an industry out there waiting to be born.

Transportation Funding Advisory Commission Final Report

State House Democrats Try to Get Movement on Transportation Funding

Some Democratic leaders in the state house are trying to get more focus on transportation funding issues.   Saying there is a cost to inaction; House Minority Whip Mike Hanna and Caucus Chairman Dan Frankel are introducing a package of bills to help close the state’s transportation funding gap.  The bills are based on the recommendations from the Governor’s own advisory commission on transportation, which issued its report in August. They are also similar to a package proposed by Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman (R-Centre).

Representative Hanna (D-Clinton) says it’s a comprehensive discussion that needs to be had, and they hope to jump start debate. He says   the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges deserve a higher priority than the governor is giving them.

The Governor has said he doesn’t believe the economy’s strong enough to handle higher motorist fees.

Representative Frankel (D-Allegheny) says it’s a matter of reprioritizing. He asks, do legislators want to go back to dealing with school vouchers and liquor sale privatization when the state’s roads and bridges are deteriorating?  He says mass transit, roads and bridges are something he thinks everyone in the Commonwealth understands we need.  He says the other issues are secondary.

Frankel believes the bills have the potential to put Pennsylvanians back to work and strengthen mass transit systems across the state.    His bill, HB2112, would dedicate the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s entire annual Act 44 contribution of 450 million dollars to mass transit.  Currently, 200 million of that money goes to roads and bridges.

Hanna’s bills, HB 2099 and 2101, would adjust driver fees for inflation, increase fines, uncap the Oil and Gas Franchise Tax over five years and modernize PennDOT to achieve savings in an effort to help close the current transportation funding gap.

PA Primary Election

Many Choices in New Hampshire Primary

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum may be getting most of the ink in the buildup to next week’s New Hampshire primary, but theirs are just two of the 30-names that will appear on the Granite State’s GOP presidential primary ballot. 

Ballot access is relatively easy in New Hampshire, where citizen candidates like Bear Betzler can find themselves doing much more than participating in democracy.  Betzler, a management consultant from Philadelphia, is the sixth name listed on New Hampshire’s Republican primary ballot.  “My name’s in just as big of letters as Mitt Romney’s,” Betzler tells us.  “The box that you get to cross off is just as big as Rick Santorum’s or anybody else’s.” 

Betzler believes Americans are fed up with partisan bickering in Washington, and he wants to set aside divisive social issues to focus on the nation’s massive debt.  “You don’t run into anyone who says this isn’t a problem.  So we all agree on it, but no one is working on practical solutions.” 

No matter how many votes Betzler tallies on Tuesday, he already views the experience as a success, and points out New Hampshire residents welcome lesser known candidates with open arms. 

Betzler isn’t the only Pennsylvanian taking advantage of the opportunity to have his voice heard on a national stage.  Longtime state Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Bucks/Montgomery) will also compete in next Tuesday’s New Hampshire GOP presidential primary.  Greenleaf’s been a state lawmaker since 1977.

Rick Santorum Finishes a Strong 2nd in Iowa

    Rick Santorum proved on Tuesday night that you don’t have to finish in first place to score a victory. His strong and surprising 2nd-place finish in the Iowa caucuses has earned him new respect and the attention of talking heads throughout the political world. In a near photo-finish, Santorum finished just 8 votes behind Mitt Romney, making it the closest finish in the history of the Iowa caucuses (30,015-to-30,007).

    Santorum still faces serious fundraising issues heading into New Hampshire, but a similar strong showing there could vault Santorum’s status and his bank account.

    In Iowa, Santorum was lifted by the evangelical Christian vote, a block that does not have the same level of influence in New Hampshire, but the former Pennsylvania Senator has spent more time in the Granite State than just about any other GOP candidate in the past year. We’ll find out on Tuesday of next week if Santorum’s strong showing in Iowa provides enough momentum to lift him to similar results in New Hampshire’s primary.

    Santorum is wasting no time in making his final-week push in New Hampshire. He’s scheduled to appear at a town hall meeting tonight in Brentwood.

PA Wine Industry Grows in Size, Reputation

The number of licensed Pennsylvania wineries has grown from just over 100 to more than 180 in the past five years.  “That is an enormous jump, especially when we think about ten years ago when we had about 65-wineries,” says Pennsylvania Winery Association Executive Director Jennifer Eckinger.  Pennsylvania wineries combine two of Pennsylvania’s biggest industries: agriculture and tourism.  Eckinger says they are proud to be a part of both. 

Quality is one key to the recent growth.  “We’re seeing that the overall quality of wine grape growth has spread throughout the state,” Eckinger says, while also pointing to an increased interest in both wines and buying local.

The most recent data pegs the Pennsylvania wine and wine grape industry’s economic impact at $2.35-billion dollars, but Eckinger points out those are 2007 numbers.  “I can only imagine that has increased over the last four years as well.”

An emphasis on research and marketing may truly make 2012 a vintage year for PA wine.  “The wineries have such an immense passion, the winemakers have immense passion and it’s great to try a product that was crafted locally.”

As the industry grows, so does its presence at the Farm Show.  Visitors to the 96th Pennsylvania Farm Show’s Main Hall will be able to check out the Pennsylvania Wine cork sculpture and sample from 20-wineries that will take turns manning “Winery Row.”

State Police Investigate 10 Fatal Crashes Over the New Year Holiday

Pennsylvania State Police investigated ten fatal crashes during the four-day holiday weekend that ran from December 30th through January 2nd.  They handled 552 wrecks, 141 fewer crashes than the last New Year’s holiday.

Six of those who were killed were not wearing seatbelts and two of the fatal crashes were blamed on drunk driving. State Police Sergeant Anthony Manetta says 285 people were arrested for driving under the influence, 379 people were cited for failing to buckle up and 51 did not have children properly restrained. Last year during the New Year’s weekend, 267 people were arrested for DUI, 458 cited for not buckling up and 42 failed to restrain children properly.

State Police issued fewer speeding tickets this year compared to last New Year’s, with 4012 cited last year compared to 3408 this year.

Sgt. Manetta says the strongest measures to protect drivers are proper seatbelt use and not drinking and driving.  He says people need to buckle themselves up and buckle children up.

The numbers only include cases handled by state police and do not include crashes investigated by other law enforcement agencies.


More Than a Dozen State Lawmakers Are Leaving Their Seats

Expect more turnover in the state legislature with at least 16 lawmakers leaving to take new posts or announcing they will not seek re-election.   Six house members have been elected to new posts: Montgomery County Commissioner, Philadelphia Sheriff, Philadelphia City Council, Lehigh County Judge and Allegheny County Controller.  Several representatives and senators will retire at the end of their terms.

 The departures do not surprise Franklin and Marshall College Political Science professor Terry Madonna.  He says Madonna says since 2005, the house has seen 102 new members, with 20 new members in the senate. Several members died, others were defeated, resigned to take other posts or did not seek re-election.

Madonna believes some lawmakers are frustrated with the process in Harrisburg. He says many members were elected because they thought they could reform Harrisburg.  He says that has not happened, the state still has one of the weakest ethics rules in the country, one of the weakest lobbyist laws and one of the weakest campaign finance laws.

Representative Josh Shapiro (D-Mont) has been elected Montgomery County Commissioner. Representatives Dennis O’Brien (R-Phila) and Kenyatta Johnson (D-Phila) were elected to Philadelphia City Council. Representative Jewel Williams (D-Phila) was elected Philadelphia Sheriff.  Representative Chelsa Wagner (D-Allegheny) was elected Allegheny County Controller. Representative Doug Reichley (R-Berks/Lehigh) was elected Lehigh County Judge.  

Senators Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin), Jane Earll (R-Erie)  and Mary Jo White (R-Venango)  have announced they will not seek re-election or will retire, as have Representatives Jennifer Mann (D-Lehigh), John Evans (R-Crawford), Scott Boyd (R-Lanc), Ed Staback (D-Lackawanna), Tom Creighton (R-Lanc) ,  Ron Buxton (D-Dauphin) and  Dante Santoni, (D-Berks).