Dairy Farmers Ask to Keep Current Milk Premium in Place

Dairy farmers are still operating on tight margins and they want the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board to keep the current over-order premium price in place for another six months.   

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has again urged the board to retain the current Class I (fluid milk) over-order premium price of $2.15 per hundredweight.  The board reviews pricing twice a year and will be making decisions for the six month period that starts July 1st.

 Mark O’Neill, spokesman for the Farm Bureau, says dairy farmers are facing many challenges.  He says they’ve seen milk prices decline, as production costs remain high. Last year’s weather conditions resulted in feed shortages and poor quality feed, which can affect costs and milk yield. Many Pennsylvania dairy farmers grow their own feed.

Keeping the current over order premium price would not change what consumers are paying for milk at the grocery store.

O’Neill adds that income over feed costs dropped by nearly 30% over the past year as the overall milk check fell and the cost of feeding the cows rose. This means profit margins are still tight on dairy farms across the state.

The bureau also asked the board to continue the current fuel adjuster premium. Dairy farmers whose milk is produced, processed and sold in Pennsylvania for Class I use receive an additional premium based on the cost of fuel.

Corbett Signs Budget Ahead of Deadline

Governor Willing to Discuss Restoring Some Funding Next Year

Governor Corbett is reacting with caution to word that the state’s revenue figures are starting to show improvement.  He says the numbers are encouraging.

However, the Governor adds that just as predictions were made in February anticipating a higher year end deficit based on the facts then, these new projections are based on the facts today, which could change quickly.

Earlier in the week, the Independent Fiscal Office projected a year end deficit of about 300 million. In February, the Governor’s office had projected a gap of more than 700 million.  April’s revenue collections came in 99 million dollars over projects.  At the end of last month, the state was running 288 million dollars  behind projections.

Some lawmakers are calling for funding to be restored to the proposed budget for the next fiscal year, based on the improved numbers. Governor Corbett says he’s open to discussion with the legislature about restoring some cuts, but wants to be cautious.

With less than two months to go in the fiscal year, the Governor was asked about the prospects of a second on-time budget.  He says he believes it will be done on time, and hopefully it won’t be ten minutes before midnight (see photo above of last year’s budget signing).  He says talks with legislators have been cordial and very productive.

Casinos, Cards

Taking Bets on the Future of the Foxwoods Casino License…

Even after this week’s House vote the fate of Pennsylvania’s only revoked casino license is still up in the air.  HB 65 would remove the restrictions that tie the license to Philadelphia and open it up to a statewide auction.  “By doing this the state stands to increase its revenue,” says State Rep. Curt Schroder (R-Chester), the bill’s prime sponsor and chairman of the Gaming Oversight Committee.  His bill passed with a bipartisan vote of 140 – 48. 

But it’s no sure bet in the Senate.  A spokesman says the Republican leader is among those wondering if the gaming market is already saturated and whether the license should be eliminated altogether. 

The state Treasurer released a study last year, which indicated market maturation and even saturation on the opposite ends of the state.  He suggested that central PA may be the place to maximize revenues. 

Governor Tom Corbett notes that plans have always called for the license to be awarded.  “I always think that we need to look at property tax relief,” Corbett says.  He acknowledges there have been discussions about the license within the administration, but did not offer many details while speaking with the media this week.  

Pennsylvania is home to 11-operating casinos, where slot machines raked in more than $214-million in gross revenue last month.  That translates into $116-million worth of tax revenue, according to the Gaming Control Board.  The lion’s share of slot machine tax revenue is used for property tax relief.  Table games tax revenue currently ends up in the General Fund. 

The Gaming Board rolled the dice on the Foxwoods casino project in 2006.  After four years of delays and financing woes, the license was revoked in late 2010.  It’s been in limbo ever since.

Pennsylvania Stands Out in Swing State Poll

While Republican challenger Mitt Romney has caught up with President Barack Obama in Ohio and Florida, Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown tells us that Obama has extended his lead to 8-points in Pennsylvania. 

Here’s the breakdown, according to Thursday’s swing state poll:

– Romney leads in Florida, 44 – 33

– Obama leads in Ohio, 44 – 42

– Obama leads in Pennsylvania, 47 – 39

“Pennsylvania is a little bit more Democratic than the other two swing states that Quinnipiac polls,” says Brown.  In fact, no Republican presidential candidate has claimed the Keystone State since George H.W. Bush in 1988. 

A gender gap appears in all three states, but Browns says Pennsylvania women are especially wild about Obama.  The President has a 17-point lead over Mitt Romney among Pennsylvania women, and his campaign continues to hammer the former Massachussettes governor on women’s issues

Mitt Romney – who is scheduled to be in Pittsburgh on Friday – is campaigning on economic issues, including the energy economy.  Since 1960, no candidate has won the White House without carrying at least two of these three swing states.

Highmark, UPMC Agree to Another Extension

A contract extension will allow more time to work out issues surrounding a dispute between insurer Highmark and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.   Governor Corbett says Highmark and UPMC will extend their agreement through the end of 2014.

The extension came after the Governor appointed David Simon, Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of Jefferson Health System in Southeastern Pennsylvania, to act as a mediator.  Governor Corbett thanked Simon and    members of the General Assembly for helping resolve the dispute over in-network coverage.

The dispute began after Highmark announced a takeover of the West Penn Allegheny Health System.      UPMC said that made Highmark a direct competitor to its system.

While Corbett did not sit at the negotiating table, he says he did encourage officials from both sides to find a resolution, or the state would get it done for them. He says he and the legislature were in agreement they were not going to let the people of Western Pennsylvania  live in with anxiety over the situation, keeping in mind both institutions were nonprofits that had received a great deal of benefit from that status.

He says they sent a clear message that these two institutions had a tremendous responsibility to deal with their disagreements and not affect the people of Western Pennsylvania the way they were.

The Governor’s office says Highmark and UPMC will be negotiating access to unique UPMC services beginning in 2015, including Western Psychiatric Institute, certain oncological services and community hospitals.

Capitol Rotunda - Facing House Chamber

Lawsuit Challenges Voter ID Law

Five organizations and ten individuals have joined a new lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law.  ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Vic Walczak made the announcement, Tuesday, at the state capitol:VoterID3 

While the lawsuit that’s been filed in Commonwealth Court asserts “phantom claims” of in-person voter fraud, Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman says the new law finally gives Pennsylvania a reliable way to verify the identity of a voter.  “You can’t prosecute something you can’t detect,” he explains. 

Ruman believes the law is on solid legal ground and will be upheld in court.  He says the state is working to ensure that everyone who needs a photo ID will get one by the November 6th election. 

Voter ID, ACLU

Vic Walczak address reporters at the state capitol.


New Reports Indicate Brighter Revenue Future

April’s General Fund collections topped expectations by $99-million dollars, according to the Department of Revenue’s latest report.  It’s the state’s third straight month in the black, but fiscal year-to-date revenues are still running $288-million below estimate. 

On the same day as the monthly report from the administration, the Independent Fiscal Office released its initial revenue estimate.  “We think the year-end shortfall will be $300-million dollars,” says IFO Director Matt Knittel.  That’s a marked improvement over the $719-million dollar shortfall that Governor Tom Corbett projected when he made is budget address in February. 

“We are seeing additional economic strength moving forward… and we think a lot of that strength will carry forward into FY2012/13,” Knittel says.   His office will release its official revenue estimate in mid-June. 

 Senate Democrats are hailing the dual reports as reason to overhaul the governor’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year.  “There is now no question that there will be far more available dollars to restore key budget lines that support job creation, education, safety net programs and investments for the future,” says Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny). 

Governor Tom Corbett has previously expressed the desire to finalize budget plans once the May numbers are available.  We’ll hear his latest fiscal observations on next week’s “Ask the Governor.”