RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 03.23.12

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.

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PUC Holds Final Hearing in its Retail Electricity Markets Investigation

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has been taking a closer look at the retail electricity market to learn why more customers are not shopping.   Most stay with their default electricity suppliers. The last in a series of en banc hearings was held recently.

Only about a third of the state’s 5 million electric customers have actually switched suppliers since they’ve been given a choice.  Fewer than half have actually shopped around.

Commissioner James Cawley says some common misconceptions may be to blame, including misplaced customer loyalty to the default suppler and concerns about what happens when the power goes out.

Cawley says the utility that runs the wires into your property doesn’t make any money on the electricity.  They have to pass the cost along dollar for dollar, so they don’t care if you switch.  He says they will not punish you if the power goes out because you switched to an alternate supplier.  He says they’re regulated by the PUC to be distribution companies.

Cawley says the PUC is looking at a number of options to encourage people to shop for the best deal, including expanded education, opt-in and customer referral programs. 

A final report is due to the commission by the end of next month.  Once the report is received, the PUC will consider if any changes are needed in the law or in regulations.   There will be ample opportunities for public comment.  People can learn more about shopping for electricity at

Scranton, City of Scranton

Cities, Chambers Join Forces to Address Financial Woes

A new group is calling on state lawmakers to provide mandate relief for Pennsylvania’s cities and towns.  It’s called the Coalition for Sustainable Communities, and it’s comprised of a variety of business and municipal groups from across the state. 

Chambers of commerce and local government groups had been working independently to strengthen Pennsylvania’s communities, but Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce President Ellen Horan says they realized they had some common goals.  “The areas where we saw our agendas conform were in seeking relief from state mandates on local governments, specifically on the areas of binding arbitration and pension.” 

Pennsylvania League of Cities & Municipalities Executive Director Jack Garner believes the new partnership speaks volumes to the General Assembly and public.  “Over 2,500 municipalities are continuing to function in an outdated, inflexible and uncompetitive set of local laws, which haven’t been changed since – in some cases – 1930,” Garner explains. 

The group’s third priority is reforming Pennsylvania’s Act 47 program for distressed cities, an issue that’s already been the subject of great debate under the capitol dome.

Garner hopes to see three or four bills materialize from the coalition’s efforts.  Horan tells us vibrant communities are key to Pennsylvanians’ quality of life.  “It directly has an impact on businesses ability to attract and retain talent,” she says.

Lawmaker: One Ridiculous Bill Deserves Another

The Women’s Right to Know Act would require Pennsylvania women seeking abortions to receive an ultrasound within 24-hours of the scheduled procedure.  It’s sparked a new health care debate at the state capitol.  Supporters say women deserve to be informed; critics call it a legislative overreach. 

Philadelphia Democrat Larry Farnese has added a new twist to conversation by introducing a bill he calls similarly invasive and unnecessary.  Senator Farnese’s bill deals with men seeking treatment for erectile dysfunction.  “Men who seek to have this medication will have to watch a video enumerating the side effects of ED medication, they’ll have to undergo a cardiac stress test, we’ll have to make them undergo a prostate exam,” Farnese says.  

Farnese says his point is that Republicans’ attack on women’s health care has to stop.  “Whether it’s ultrasounds or erectile dysfunction medication, I think that we should stay out of people’s lives.” 

Democrats seized on governor Tom Corbett’s comments about the ultrasound bill last week.  Here’s the entire exchange with WGAL-TV reporter Matt Belanger during the governor’s media availability:ultrasound

While Corbett’s ‘close your eyes’ reference received national media attention, we asked Sen. Farnese about the last portion of those comments.   Would it make any difference to him if provisions in the bill ensured a more traditional external ultrasound as opposed to a transvaginal procedure? 

“It’s absolutely positively unnecessary, at least in my opinion, whether it’s internal or external,” Farnese replied. 

House leaders tabled the ultrasound legislation (HB 1077) earlier this month, prior to both Corbett’s comments and Farnese’s bill.

Romney Wins Illinois, Rick Santorum Fights On

    Rick Santorum was in Gettysburg last night to watch returns from the Illinois primary. While Mitt Romney would take the contest, Santorum spoke to supporters, once again claiming that he is the only viable candidate to run against President Obama in the fall.

    Romney’s win Tuesday dampens some of the momentum Santorum enjoyed after last week’s victories in Mississippi and Alabama, but the scene shifts back to the south this weekend as Louisiana holds its primary on Saturday. Santorum has shown a lead in that state in recent polls.

    Following Louisiana, there will be a 10-day break before voters in Maryland, Wisconsin and D.C. go to the polls on April 3rd. Pennsylvania votes on April 24th.

Spring is Here, Allergy Season Too

Six Pennsylvania cities made the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s list of the 100 worst places to live with spring allergies. 

The good news is that you’ll have to look a little further down the list to find the Pennsylvania locales; the bad news is that it’s going to be a difficult spring for allergy sufferers, no matter where they live. 

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America Vice President Mike Tringale says the extremely mild winter has given way to an allergy season that started earlier.  “An earlier season means the trees bloom and pollinate earlier, they bloom and pollinate longer, and they bloom and pollinate with greater ferocity.” 

Tringale says the best way to be prepared is to get properly diagnosed, talk to your doctor about over-the-count medications and consider nasal rinsing to clear out those sinuses. 

The spring allergy rankings were based on cities’ pollen scores, per capita use of allergy medicines and density of board certified allergists.  Philadelphia is the first Pennsylvania city to appear on the 2012 list, in the 30th position.  It’s followed by Pittsburgh (33), Allentown (41), Scranton (44), Harrisburg (61) and Lancaster (75).

Apartments, Apartment Building

Report Examines Affordable Housing Gap

Fair Market Rent for a two bedroom apartment in Pennsylvania comes to $835/month.  That means 2.2-minumum wage earners would have to work 40-hours/week in order to afford the average unit, according to the 2012 “Out of Reach” report

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is $7.25/hour. 

The National Low Income Housing Coalition and Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania released the report, which concludes a Pennsylvania household must earn more than $16/hour to afford the average apartment (without spending more than 30% of income on housing). 

“It means that having a decent place to live – that people can afford, that’s near their job – it’s out of reach for many people who are working hard and playing by the rules,” says Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania executive director Liz Hersh. 

She says how state government addresses the budget can either make things better or worse for the housing market.  “We’re really seeing a lack of investment in accessible housing, even thought a small investment actually saves a lot of money in nursing home placement.”

Neither the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program nor Homeless Assistance received funding in the governor’s budget plan. 

HEMAP may be restored through mortgage foreclosure settlement dollars.  While Homeless Assistance is slated for elimination, budget documents indicate that 80% of the savings would be transferred to Human Services Development Block Grants.