Marcellus Shale

Shale Bill Passes State Senate

A Marcellus Shale bill has cleared the State Senate. The vote and debate held up the Governor’s budget address on Tuesday morning.  The chamber approved the conference committee report on HB 1950 by a vote of 31 to 19.   

The bill would allow   counties to impose a fee on natural gas drillers.  60% of the money raised would go to local governments; the rest would be allocated for a variety of statewide initiatives. The bill also expands environmental regulations on the natural gas industry.

Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria) voted in favor of it, saying it has taken them 3 years to get this far.  He said no matter what tax or impact fee they would place on this natural gas, it’s not the panacea that’s going to balance the budget.  He points out that West Virginia, because of competition, recently reduced its severance tax.

Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna) opposed the Marcellus Shale plan, saying it sells Pennsylvania short.  He said at the same time we’re slashing public educating and hurting individuals who depend on our social services safety net, we’re forgoing revenue.  He says it’s but a fragment of what Pennsylvanians deserve.

Senator Mike Stack (D-Phila) said hard working Pennsylvanians lose out in the deal.  He said they had the opportunity to help the entire state, to close the budget deficit, to help kids go to school, to repair roads, but instead, “gas companies win.”

Governor Tom Corbett Proposes $27.139 Billion Budget

    Governor Tom Corbett has unveiled his budget proposal for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The $27.1 billion spending plan comes in $10 million under the current year’s actual budget and represents what the governor calls a realistic budget in difficult times.

    Prior to the Governor’s speech to a joint session of the General Assembly, state Budget Secretary Charles Zogby reported that the projected revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year is up to $719 million, putting more pressure on the governor and lawmakers who will have to craft the next budget.

    While basic education would see a slight increase in its General Fund subsidy, it would all but hold the line from last year’s overall number. The governor took the opportunity during his address to chastise political opponents, saying they misrepresented his education budget last year. The governor says he raised basic ed funding, but the evaporation of federal stimulus dollars results in an overall decrease in spending.

    Governor Corbett is proposing more deep cuts to higher education, which last year was slashed by about 20%. This year, the 14 state-owned universities would see their state funding slashed by another 20% under the governor’s plan. Meanwhile, three of the four state-related universities – Penn State, PITT and Temple – would average 30% cuts. Lincoln University would receive the same funding level as last year. Governor Corbett also announced the formation of a special panel to examine the way higher education is funded in Pennsylvania. He has appointed former state Senator Rob Wonderling to head that committee and report back in November.

    Next up in the state budget process: weeks of budget hearings in Harrisburg, then lawmakers will try to iron out a final spending plan that will be brought to the floors of the House and Senate by June 30th.


Lawmaker Convicted in Political Corruption Trial in Harrisburg

Representative Bill DeWeese

A long time member of the state house has been convicted on political corruption charges.    The jury returned the verdict in Harrisburg this morning on the third day of deliberations.

Greene County Democrat Bill DeWeese was convicted of three counts of theft and one count each of conspiracy and conflict of interest after he was accused of using taxpayer paid staff for campaign-related work. The former house leader was cleared of one count of theft.  Despite the conviction, DeWeese says he will seek re-election.  He says his petitions are out in his precincts.  He believes in the court of public opinion, he shall be favorably received.

DeWeese says he feels he did nothing wrong.  He believes a Western Pennsylvania jury would have found him innocent. His attorney vows an appeal. 

DeWeese does not have to surrender his house seat until April, when he’s sentenced and his conviction becomes officials.  Prosecutor Ken Brown from the Attorney General’s office says “He’s a convicted felon and convicted felons, once they’re sentenced can’t sit in the General Assembly.” Brown says if DeWeese wants to “spit in the face of the jury’s verdict, I guess that’s his prerogative.”  

DeWeese says he will be attending Tuesday’s budget address.  He says he’s still a member of the General Assembly and he’s asked the House Democratic leader to appoint him to the committee to escort the Governor.

DeWeese was the only sitting lawmaker to face trial in the five year long political corruption investigation that began when Governor Corbett was the state’s Attorney General.


RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 02.03.12

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:


Research: Targeted Intervention can Curb Campus Drinking

The first few weeks of a semester are critical in shaping college students’ drinking habits, especially for freshmen, but new research out of Penn State is shedding light on strategies to curb dangerous drinking.  The focus is on early intervention strategies, and Penn State research associate Dr. Michael Cleveland was able to categorize drinkers into four sub-groups to analyze their effects.

 The four sub-groups used in Cleveland’s research include: non-drinkers, weekend bingers, weekend non-bingers, and heavy drinkers.  Parent-based and peer-based intervention strategies were applies to samples from each sub-group. 

“Both strategies were associated with baseline heavy drinkers reducing their use,” Dr. Cleveland tells us.  “The parent-based intervention not only had the effect of reducing the use of the heavy drinkers, but it also was effective at preventing non-drinkers from escalating their use.”  Neither intervention strategy made much of an impact on the weekend drinker categories.

He believes the results are promising.  “The right intervention has to be given to the right person, in the right amount, at the right time kind of a targeted intervention approach,” Cleveland explains. 

His study utilized student samples from Penn State and the University of Washington in Seattle.  Cleveland is now in the process of replicating the results using different student samples.

Whitetail Deer

Hunter Treated After Coming in Contact with Rabid Deer

A hunter is receiving shots after coming into contact with a rabid deer.   It’s not common, but every year the Pennsylvania Game Commission gets one or two reports of a deer coming down with rabies

In this case, spokesman Jerry Feaser says a hunter from Lancaster County field dressed the deer without gloves, and he had scratches on his hands that opened him further to exposure to the rabies virus.  Feaser says the hunter encountered the deer in Chester County on January 20th.

Feaser says the hunter told the commission the deer was standing in a creek, straining and growling. The hunter believed there might be a predator or coyote nearby and the deer was trying to scare it off.  But after killing the deer, he became concerned that it might not be fit for human consumption, so luckily he contacted the Game Commission. The deer tested positive for rabies.

The game commission says hunters should not kill a deer that doesn’t appear healthy, but should contact the commission provide the animal’s location. The commission also recommends that hunters wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing any animal.

Feaser says a deer that has rabies, and a deer that has been hit by a car  or injured in some way, could act in a similar manner.  The basic symptoms of disease or injury are staggering, a lowered head, and strange behavior.

Governor Signs Bicycle Bill into Law

The legislation codifies the rules of the road so that police, motorists and bicyclists all understand their rights and responsibilities.  “I’ve had a lot of close calls and a lot of misunderstandings,” says Joe Stafford, executive director of the statewide Bicycle Access Council. “We want to address those issues in the statutes, rather than just trying to do a little PR work.”

One high-profile provision directs motorist to give four feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist on the road.  “No one’s going to be out there with a tape measure, but as long as the motor vehicle driver is attempting to make good on approximately four feet, that will guarantee the margin of safety that bicyclists need,” Stafford explains. 

HB 170 clarifies that motorists can cross a double yellow line to pass a bicyclist with the adequate berth – if it is safe to do so.  Stafford uses the mattress tag analogy.  “No one’s gone to jail for ripping those mattress tags off, and very few people are cited for crossing the double yellow line, unless they’re doing something else wrong.” 

Additional language in the bill states that no turn by a driver shall interfere with a bicyclist who’s proceeding in a straight line.  Stafford calls it a “right hook,” a term that describes a driver passing a bicycle just before cutting them off at an intersection or driveway.    

The legislation passed the House with a vote of 197 – 1 back in May; it passed the Senate 45 – 5 in late January.  Governor Tom Corbett signed it on Thursday.

(photo credit: Elvert Barnes)

Hear Punxsutawney Phil’s Official Proclamation

Punxsutawney Phil

The Inner Circle will tell you that Punxsutawney Phil has never gotten a forecast wrong.

Listen to Punxsutawney Phil’s proclamation, as read by Groundhog Club Inner Circle Vice President Mike Johnston:Phil

Missed Opportunities on Marcellus Shale?

Severance tax advocates say legislative inaction is adding up to millions of dollars in lost revenue.  In fact, the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center’s “Drilling Tax Ticker” crossed the $300-million dollar mark late last month.  That’s money that Research Director Mike Wood says could be put to good use.  “We’ve been making lots of cuts to teachers in our schools, domestic violence shelters have had to close their doors to new people.  This is definitely something that could have helped in a time when revenue is pretty hard to come by.” 

The ticker is based on an effective tax rate of roughly 6%, whereas the impact fee proposal being hammered out by GOP negotiators in Harrisburg would more likely be in the one or two percent range.  “Most states that have either oil or gas have a severance tax.  The major producing states all have such a tax,” Wood tells Radio PA.  “Pennsylvania is the only one that doesn’t.”   

Marcellus Shale

A Revenue Department analysis, last year, found that natural gas companies had paid more than a billion dollars in taxes since 2006. However, Mike Wood questions that figure because it includes taxes not directly related to drilling activity.

Governor Tom Corbett isn’t fazed when critics point out that Pennsylvania is the largest gas-producing state without a severance tax.  He uses the Texas analogy.  “They pay a severance tax in Texas, yes they do, but their corporate income tax is considerably lower.  So we have to compare apples to apples, not apples to pears.”

While Pennsylvania may not have a severance tax, the governor says they are paying corporate and related taxes.  “They’ve paid billions of dollars in taxes, so far, in Pennsylvania directly,” Corbett said on a recent edition of Ask the Governor.  “But keep in mind all of their employees, all the companies they purchase goods and services from, they’re all paying taxes also.” 

Both Corbett and Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) have expressed a desire to finalize impact fee discussions before next week’s budget address.

Philly Museum Marks 200 Years of Discovery

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

"Discovering Dinosaurs" is one of the museum's most popular exhibits.

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is the nation’s oldest natural history museum, and it turns 200 next month.  The Academy will mark its yearlong bicentennial celebration with a major new exhibition to open on March 24th.  “We’re going to use the exhibit to celebrate the groundbreaking discoveries that scientists have uncovered here both in the past and present, and provide a little glimpse into what our third century will be as one of the great natural history museums in the world,” says Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Sara Hertz. 

The exhibition will be called The Academy at 200: The Nature of Discovery

A group of amateur naturalists founded the Academy of Natural Sciences back on March 21st, 1812, but many professional scientific disciplines got their start there.  For instance ornithology (the study of birds) and entomology (the study of insects) both began in Philadelphia. 

“Over the course of 200 years, the Academy has had an extraordinary arrange of people associated with it,” says Senior Fellow Robert Peck.  “They run the gamut from Henry David Thoreau to Earnest Hemingway, who did some collecting for the Academy in the 1930s.  The real James Bond, from whom Ian Flemming stole the name, was a curator of ornithology here for a period of about 40-years.”

It boasts a collection of nearly 18-million plant and animal specimens that’s described as library of life on earth, and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University welcomes nearly 200,000 visitors a year.   

(photo credits: ANSP/Will Klein)