PA Gaming

Table Games Revenue Increases in January at Pennsylvania Casinos

Table games revenue rose in January.  Numbers were up for seven of the state’s 10 operating casinos, with an increase of 22.3% over the revenue for the same month last year.

Richard McGarvey, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, says play at table games generated tax revenue of more than 8.6 million dollars for January.

McGarvey says casinos are still adding tables, with about 121 more table game in operation compared to the same time last year.  He says that’s an indication they’re still growing and learning their market.

The state’s newest casino, a resort casino at Valley Forge, will go on line in late March with both slots and table games.

Play at table games does not seem to be cutting into slots play at the casinos.  Numbers that came out earlier this month showed a 7% increase in slots revenue over last January.

Adjutant General Assures Senate Committee Budget Cuts Won’t Hurt Pennsylvania’s Veteran’s Homes

The state’s Adjutant General told the Senate Appropriations Committee reductions in funding for veterans’ homes won’t hurt residents of those facilities.  Major General Wesley Craig says the 6.7% cut in funding to veterans’ homes can be absorbed.

Major General Craig said they’ve been able to come up with savings this year by reducing overtime and other using best management practices. He said looking at the budget environment; he felt the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs needed to deliver the same or better service with the same or less state dollars.

He says they identified 6 million in savings, then asked to keep a third of it, which will be used to address the risk of Alzheimers or dementia patients wandering away.  He says they’ll be using technology to better secure the homes.

Major General Craig says Pennsylvania’s veteran’s homes have a high customer service rating, better than commercial homes, and they want to keep it that way.

He also told the committee they’ve just been able to open the Pennsylvania Veterans Foundation, a nonprofit 501c3. He says the Governor’s budget has given them, as part of a 1.7 million dollar increase in Veteran’s Services Outreach, a new restricted line item account.  He says they will take one million dollars as seed money for the foundation. He says the money will help provide grants to foundations and local charities that do veterans outreach.

PSP Commissioner Addresses Vacancies, Cadet Class

The governor’s proposed budget includes $8-million dollars to pay for 115 new State Police cadets.  Even with the new troopers, PSP faces a projected 500 vacancies by the end of June 2013.  At Thursday’s Senate Appropriations Committee, Tina Tartaglione (D-Phila.) asked PSP Commissioner Frank Noonan if he is worried they are being spread too thin.  “I am concerned,” Noonan responded.  “But I do believe we will be able to fulfill our mission.  We will fulfill our mission.”

While attrition is eating away at their compliment, Noonan stressed to lawmakers that his top priority is putting troopers on the road, which means PSP’s ever-growing list of auxiliary duties may bear the brunt of staff shortages. 

Frank Noonan

State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan

“These numbers, and as the numbers go down, it’s going to require us to do some things that are going to be individually sometimes unpopular,” Noonan said.  “We may be thinking of station consolidations.”   But Noonan told the panel that a thorough review would be conducted before any decisions are made. 

Per Governor Tom Corbett’s request, Noonan is leading a comprehensive review of all PSP operations to ensure that resources are being used effectively.  Aside from the new cadet class, PSP is slated for a zero-growth budget that must address nearly $29-million dollars in increased pension and health care costs.

Modernization Plans Dominate PLCB Appropriations Hearing

Talk of liquor store privatization was brushed aside at Thursday’s Senate Appropriations Committee with the Liquor Control Board.  Instead, the focus was on modernization. 

The governor’s proposed budget calls for an $80-million dollar transfer from the Liquor Control Board to the General Fund next year.  LCB CEO Joe Conti tells lawmakers that number is right on target, but they could generate even more revenues if only they were allowed to modernize.  “It’s clear that we think we could add $70-million dollars to our bottom line,” Conti explained during an extended Q&A with the committee. 

One of the high-profile reforms he seeks is flexible pricing.  “We would just like to price the way that all other retailers price their product, with a mix of pricing,” Conti explained.  “And we are not able to do that now.”  He later stressed that prices would still be the same across the commonwealth, but the LCB would have greater discretion in how they are set. 

The retail price we pay on every bottle at state-run liquor stores includes: the wholesale price, the 18% state liquor tax, a 30% markup, a handling fee and federal alcohol taxes.  The flexible pricing allowed in SB 1287 would allow the LCB to vary its 30% across-the-board markup, based on the product, and likely nix the handling fee. 

That legislation currently awaits action in the Senate Law & Justice Committee.  Meanwhile, legislation to privatize PA’s liquor stores is awaiting action in the House.  The Liquor Control Board is scheduled to appear for its House Appropriations Hearing on February 27th.

Pennsylvania Finance Building

Budget Hearings: Straight Talk from the Auditor General

Continued budget cuts could cost the state’s independent fiscal watchdog its bite.  Under next year’s proposed spending plan, the Auditor General’s Office is slated for a $2.2-million dollar (or 5%) cut.  It would make it an aggregate 25% cut over the past four years, according to Auditor General Jack Wagner

“I’m not complaining.  We realize that there had to be substantial cuts in state government across the board.  But, yes, we are at the bone,” Wagner told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

Jack Wagner

Auditor General Jack Wagner

Wagner’s office conducts 4 – 5,000 audits a year, which have pointed out billions of dollars in wasteful state spending.  Now, he’s warning lawmakers that it’s becoming difficult to fulfill the mandates of the office.  “I’m not going to be here for this next budget – for half of it – but in the process you are harming information flowing, or audits flowing, that help you make decisions.” 

Due to term limits, 2012 will be Wagner’s final year as Auditor General.  The Democrat received bipartisan praise from members of the Appropriations Committee throughout the hearing.  “Whether it was a Republican administration or Democratic administration, I think you were on the side of the taxpayers,” said Chairman Jake Corman (R-Centre).

Smokers Encouraged to Kick the Habit for Valentine’s Day- State Offers Free Help

The state Health department is urging smokers to “Quit for Love” for Valentine’s Day.   Nicotine replacement therapy kits and counseling support are being offered free of charge to Pennsylvania residents who are trying to quit using tobacco.

The kits will be available for six to eight weeks, or while supplies last,  through the free quit line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.  Judy Ochs, director of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program for the state Health Department, says it’s a good time to get healthier and protect your loved ones from second hand smoke.

Ochs says it usually takes 5 to 8 tries before a smoker succeeds at quitting, but the combination of NRT with coaching doubles the possibility the tobacco user will be able to stay tobacco free.

Ochs says this is the second year for the “Quit for Love” program.  She says they gave out over 6 thousand kits the last time, and over 30% of the people who participated in the free coaching and NRT have remained tobacco free.

Ochs says people can take advantage of the offer by calling the quit line and answering some questions.  After a medical screening, they will be mailed the Nicotine Replacement Therapy kits and will have a series of telephone counseling sessions.

Ochs says quitting really does take practice, but  NRT with counseling can give the person who is ready to make the quit attempt a really good opportunity to go tobacco free.

Ochs says within hours of going tobacco free, your body will begin feeling the effects of the health benefits.

You can also learn more about the state’s smoking cessation resources at

The free NRT kits are funded through Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement funds as well as a federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ochs says for every dollar spent on smoking cessation, over 3 dollars in health savings can be realized.

Smoking cessation efforts have reduced Pennsylvania’s adult tobacco use rate from 25% to 18%.


PA Budget Debate

AARP Concerned About Budget Transfers Proposed for Lottery Fund

The Governor’s spending plan would transfer $250 million dollars from the Lottery Fund to the state’s Medicaid budget, directed to the long term care fund. AARP Pennsylvania says that’s sending the wrong message.

Advocacy manager Ray Landis says the transfer would take money away from home and community-based programs for older adults and give it to mostly nursing homes for long term care. He says the lottery funded “Options” program has had stagnant funding for a number of years and in many counties, there’s already waiting lists for these services.

Landis says keeping people at home where they want to be is better for everyone, including taxpayers. He says we can pay for two and a half people to stay at home, for the cost of one person to have to live in a nursing home. He says the longer they can keep people at home, the better it is for everyone.

Landis says if we don’t do all we can to keep older Pennsylvanians at home, it’s going to cost all of us as taxpayers a lot more money to have people go to nursing homes.

Meanwhile, nursing homes have also expressed concern about the budget proposal, saying cuts in Medicaid reimbursement rates would widen a gap between the cost of care and current reimbursement rates.

Housing Advocates See Way to Restore HEMAP Funding

The state will be getting a significant chunk of change from the recently announced mortgage foreclosure settlement with the big banks.  Housing advocates believe some of that expected $69-million dollars should be used to restore the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program.  “It’s appropriate to put this foreclosure money back into a solution that is foreclosure related,” says Liz Hersh, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania

She points to a new analysis by the Reinvestment Fund, which shows that that the HEMAP program saved 6,100 homes from foreclosure between 2008 – 2010.  While the state invested $38-million dollars into HEMAP over that time, the study pegs the cost savings at $480-million dollars. 

The issue of the mortgage foreclosure settlement was broached at Monday’s Appropriations Hearing with Budget Secretary Charles Zogby.  “I think certainly something like the HEMAP program is one that many have interest in seeing some of those funds go to, but that is ultimately to be decided,” Zogby told the Senate panel.  He says discussions are taking place between the Governor’s Office and Attorney General’s Office. 

The current state budget reduced HEMAP funding from $10.5-million dollars to $2-million dollars.  That money dried up early on, and the program is not currently slated for funding in the newly proposed state budget.


Budget Secretary Speaks of the ‘New Normal’

Virtually no line item will be left unturned as the Senate and House Appropriations Committees convene dozens of budget hearings over the next three weeks.  Leading off the agenda was Budget Secretary Charles Zogby, who told the Senate Appropriations Committee that the $27.14-billion dollar, no tax increase budget plan is reflective of the ‘new normal.’ 

“We have constrained revenue growth,” Zogby explained.  “We’re seeing less revenue growth coming out of this great recession than we’ve seen in any recovery in recent time.” 

The governor’s new budget is built on estimated revenue growth of 3.8% next year.  “While some may regard it as optimistic, it’s certainly trending below what have been historical trends,” says Zogby, who points out that a robust recovery is usually accompanied by 6 or 6.5% revenue growth. 

While the budget secretary was reminding the panel about this ‘new normal,’ Democrats were reminding him that there are real people behind every one of the line items.  “You’re cutting the budget at the state level,” State Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) said.  “You’ve fulfilled your ideological, dogmatic role that you’ve been elected to serve.  But what is the impact, what is the analysis of what those cuts mean back at the local level?”

Keeping government costs under control will allow the private sector to create jobs, according to Governor Tom Corbett, who’s been making a series of stops at Pennsylvania companies to tout his budget plan.  “Government doesn’t grow the economy, the private sector grows the economy,” Corbett said during Monday’s stop at a York County manufacturing plant. 

Governor Tom Corbett

Gov. Corbett discussed the state budget, Monday, at Johnson Controls in York.

Storytelling Professor Preserves his Tales in New Book

Throughout his 35-years in the college classroom, first at Drexel University and now Penn State, Dr. Joseph Rose has developed a reputation as the “storytelling professor.”  Rose tells us his stories are meant to help students realize that it’s not enough to get good grades; they need to take charge of their lives. 

But Rose’s stories can inspire us all:STORY1

140 of Dr. Rose’s favorite stories can be found in his new book, “Seeking the Edge: Thoughts on Wisdom and Success.”  He defines “the edge” as the thin line between excellence and mediocrity: STORY2

The book includes sections that range from negotiations to happiness.

(Old Main photo credit: Nathaniel C. Sheetz)