Resource Extraction Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature

A mineral resources bill could provide a new revenue stream for the 14-universities in the State System of Higher Education.  SB 367 is now awaiting the governor’s signature after clearing both the House and Senate.  It would authorize mineral leases for more state-owned land, like prisons or state-owned universities. 

“Currently the law only permits the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and the Game Commission or Fish & Boat Commission to enter into such leases,” explains Senator Don White (R-Indiana), the bill’s prime sponsor. 

The minerals the bill refers to could include everything from limestone to coal; but most importantly Marcellus Shale natural gas. 

Governor Tom Corbett spoke out in favor of the concept on Radio PA’s Ask the Governor program, stressing that horizontal natural gas drilling allows for the wells to be thousands of feet off site – not right in the middle of a the university’s quadrangle. 

“This will be beneficial to the student body, if we get tuition reduction, beneficial to the schools and to the State System of Higher Education,” Corbett explains.

Under White’s bill, money raised from the leasing of mineral rights at a state-owned university would be allocated as follows: 50% stays with the home university, 35% is distributed system-wide, and 15% would be used for tuition assistance across all 14-schools.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 10.05.12

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul bring you the judge’s ruling in Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID case and you’ll hear reaction to the ruling from Governor Tom Corbett. Also, a celebration of Pennsylvania poetry as an event kicks off in the state capitol this week.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


A More Efficient PennDOT

The state Department of Transportation is looking to streamline and modernize through a new initiative called PennDOT Next Generation.  “We’re going to continue to look department-by-department to make sure we’re not spending the same dollar twice, and see if we can go across agency lines to reduce costs,” PennDOT Secretary Barr Schoch explained to the House and Senate Transportation Committees.  

Schoch says four initial pilot projects will produce annual savings of $7-million.  30-current projects could save the state anywhere from $25 – $75-million a year.  

Barry Schoch

Some of the projects already saving money include an electronic permitting system for Highway Occupancy Permits and a revised bridge inspection policy.  Current projects are investigating more efficient use of winter materials and the regionalization of transit providers.  

The administrative savings may be a drop in the bucket compared to the state’s $3.5-billion dollar annual transportation funding gap, but House Transportation Chair Rick Geist (R-Blair) tells reporters it’s important.  “I think it’s wonderful when it comes to the bureaucratic inspection and self-inspection of how to do things better,” Geist explains.  

Geist is calling for legislation to move all transportation functions under PennDOT and out of other agencies.  “We have stuff that’s all over state government,” he explains.  

Lawmakers will be receiving a summary report of PennDOT Next Generation at the end of the year, and it will include a series of legislative recommendations.

Execution Remains Halted

The state Supreme Court has denied prosecutors’ request to lift a stay of execution for condemned killer Terrance Williams of Philadelphia.  Late last week Philadelphia Judge M. Teresa Sarmina blocked the scheduled October 3rd execution and ordered a new sentencing hearing in light of new evidence concerning the way prosecutors handled Williams’ 1986 murder trial.  Defense attorneys claim that Williams’ victims had been sexually abusing him.  This would have been Pennsylvania’s first execution since 1999, and Williams would have been the first person executed against his will in the state since the death penalty was reinstated 34-years ago.

PA in the Black for the First Quarter

The state’s revenue picture brightened enough in September to put collections for the first quarter of the fiscal year slightly ahead of estimates.

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue reports that the Commonwealth collected 2.4 billion dollars in general fund revenue last month, which was 1.8% more than anticipated.  It was enough to make up for collections in August that were below estimates, bringing the state two-tenths of a point above estimate for year to date collections.

Personal income tax revenue was above estimate, bringing in 1% more than anticipated for the first quarter. Corporation taxes are running 14%  ahead of estimates year to date. But other collections remain below estimate, including sales, inheritance and other general fund tax revenue.

Court Ruling Temporarily Blocks Enforcement of Voter ID

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson has issued a partial preliminary injunction against the new law, which essentially means that voters will be asked to show a valid photo ID on November 6th, but they will not be required to do so. 

Governor Tom Corbett says it’ll be a continuation of the soft roll-out that was in place for the primary election this past April.  Corbett addressed the Voter ID issue at an unrelated event, telling reporters it doesn’t matter whether he’s disappointed with the ruling or not.  However, Corbett reiterated his support for the law. “I think it is incumbent upon people to have photo ID, particularly to identify themselves when they are voting.” 

Corbett suggests the Commonwealth is leaning against an appeal of Judge Simpson’s ruling, but notes the ruling is still being reviewed. 

While most Republicans’ reaction has been muted, that’s not the case for the bill’s prime sponsor, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler).  “It’s a violation of the separation of powers, and it’s a violation of the will of the people,” Metcalfe tells Radio PA. 

Metcalfe says the state is fulfilling its responsibility by providing free IDs for voting purposes, but Pennsylvania citizens have the responsibility to obtain one if they wish to exercise the right to vote.  “The state can’t fix lazy,” Metcalfe says.  “If somebody’s too lazy to do what they have to do, we can’t fix that.  We can’t hold every individual by the hand and take them through the process. They have to take on this responsibility.”

Voter ID, ACLU

Vic Walczak

Comments like those offend Vick Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.  “These are people who greatly value the right to vote, have gone to extraordinary lengths to try to get these IDs, and for some politician to get up and call them lazy is just beyond offensive,” Walczak said during a conference call with reporters. 

He and other Voter ID opponents who were on that call were hailing the judge’s ruling as a great day for PA voters.  “On Election Day no one will be turned away from the polls because they don’t have one of the photo IDs that would have otherwise been required,” says Ben Geffen with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. 

The state will continue its voter education efforts in hopes that all registered voters will have a valid form of photo ID well in advance of next spring’s primary election, when enforcement of the law is scheduled to begin.  However, the plaintiffs will still make their case for a permanent injunction at a later date.

Last week’s Franklin & Marshall College Poll found that 2% of registered voters say they lack a valid photo ID; 59% favor the law.

Breat Cancer Awareness Month Marked at the Capitol

You’ll be seeing pink at the state capitol this month.     The   War Veteran’s Memorial Fountain is running pink to mark National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  It’s also the 20th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition.  The group’s annual conference is scheduled for October 9th.

Pennsylvania First Lady Susan Corbett was joined by former First Lady Michele Ridge in turning the fountain pink today as a reminder of the need for early detection through self-exams, checkups and mammograms.