State System Board Approves Contracts With Faculty, Coaches

The governing board of the 14 state-owned universities has settled contracts with the union representing faculty and athletic coaches.  The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s Board of Governors  ratified new contracts with the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties at a special meeting.

The separate agreements both run through the end of June 2015. They include salary increases, but also make workplace revisions and changes in the health care plan to produce immediate and long term savings for the state system.

Eligible faculty and coaches will be given a one-time opportunity to take part in an early retirement incentive program. They will have until March 29th to decide whether to take the incentive.

The board also approved a merit pool to cover potential increases for PASSHE’s approximately 1,400 non-union employees.

In other action, the board  named Geraldine M. Jones interim president of California University of Pennsylvania. Jones has served as the university’s acting president since May 2012.

Online Voter Registration Bill Clears Committee

Pennsylvanians would be able to register to vote online under a bill that has earned unanimous support in the Senate State Government Committee.  The modernization effort would increase access to voter registration, which ACLU of PA legislative director Andy Hoover says would lead to increased access to voting.  “That’s what voting rights are all about,” Hoover says.  “It’s making things easier for people rather than putting up barriers.”

In addition to allowing more convenient and timely access to the voter registration process, supporters say online registration would significantly reduce taxpayer costs.  “When Arizona went to this system, it was costing them about 83-cents to process a voter registration, now it costs them about three cents,” explains Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause PA

Arizona was the first state to allow for online voter registrations, but at least 13-states offer it today and Pennsylvania is one of many states considering it for the future. 

Kauffman and Hoover each say that online registrations would also lead to reduced data entry errors when paper voter registration forms are processed.

Traditional voter registration would still be available, but SB 37 would add the option of online registrations.  Up next for the bill is the Senate floor.

Governor Corbett Returns on April 25th

Our next Ask the Governor program will take place on April 25th. You can submit your questions or comments now by clicking the Ask the Gov link at the top of this page. Please be brief and include your name and town on the form.

Video clips from our March 15th show are available now under our Media/Video section. You can also see archived clips from past programs.

Is Penn State’s Board of Trustees Too Big?

Governance changes are ongoing at the Penn State Board of Trustees.  It’s already added a public comment period at meetings and imposed new 12-year term limits on members.  In May, trustee James Broadhurst tells lawmakers the board will take up the recommendations of the Committee on Governance and Long-Range planning that he chairs.  Those plans include changes in the status of the university president and governor, making both non-voting members of the board.  But Broadhurst says they are not recommending a change in the size of the board at this time.

“There is no model or best practice that speaks to the optimal size or makeup of a university board of trustees,” Broadhurst testified before the Senate State Government Committee this week.  Penn State’s board has 32-voting members.  If it votes to change the status of the president and governor, there would be 30-voting members. 

But trustee Anthony Lubrano fears the can will get kicked down the road until governance reforms are no longer a priority.  “Membership should be reduced to a number that allows for the inclusion and active engagement of the entire board,” Lubrano testified before the committee. 

For comparison, other Big Ten universities have much smaller boards (Ohio State 19, Michigan 9).  “They have to be actively engaged… this is a $4.3-billion dollar enterprise… this is serious business,” says Lubrano.    

Senate State Government Committee chairman Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) will call additional hearings as he tries to find consensus on whether, where and what legislative action is warranted when it comes to Penn State governance.

Turnpike CEO Directs New Accountability Measures

The head of the Pennsylvania Turnpike says the commission is making a clean break from any past offenses.  After reading the grand jury presentment that led to criminal charges being filed in a “pay-to-play” corruption scheme, CEO Mark Compton tells Radio PA that his emotions went from disappointment to outrage.

“The one thing that I can assure our traveling public, to them and to our employees, both of you deserve better and we are going to make darn sure that these things never happen again.”

On Monday Compton ordered the Office of Compliance to conduct a review of every contract awarded during the timeframe of the Attorney General’s investigation and called for a memo to be sent out to Turnpike vendors, explaining the commission’s revised procurement policies.  Compton’s also asking that all Turnpike employees sign their existing code of conduct. 

This is all coming less than two months on the job for Compton, who is taking action to ensure past mistakes aren’t repeated again. 

The new accountability directives at the Turnpike are in addition to the reforms Compton pointed out in a statement released immediately following last week’s grand jury presentment.

Committee Amends, Advances Liquor Privatization Bill

Like the plan Governor Tom Corbett outlined in January, the amended version of HB 790 would create 1,200 new private sector wine & spirits licenses.  The big change is that existing beer distributors would be given the right of first refusal. 

The amended bill would also allow state-run liquor stores to stay open until the number of privately-owned license equals twice the number of state stores in a particular county.  As soon as the total number of state stores falls below 100, all remaining outlets would be closed. 

A limited number of grocery stores would also be allowed to purchase special wine-only licenses under the amendment that ultimately cleared the House Liquor Control Committee. 

“This committee will deal with HB 790 today, after which it will go to the full House of Representatives for a debate and possible amendments, after which it will go to the Senate, after which it will probably come back to the House,” Chairman John Taylor (R-Philadelphia) said while emphasizing this is just the first step in a long legislative process. 

Democrats on the committee repeatedly called for public hearings and more time to analyze the bill during some two and a half hours of debate.  “I just think this is getting more confusing, instead of making it less confusing for our consumers,” said Minority Chairman Paul Costa (D-Allegheny).

Moments after the debate ended with a party-line vote of 14 – 10, Governor Tom Corbett released a statement calling it a “momentous first step.”  Corbett says he will continue to work with the General Assembly to end the state’s role as the sole wholesaler and retailer of wine & spirits.   

While the original Corbett plan would have potentially generated $1-billion dollars from the upfront sale of the wholesale and retail licenses, the amended bill is only expected to generate about $800-million.

Resolution Calls for Study on Combining Two Pennsylvania Commissions

Is it time for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat commission to join forces?  A resolution to take a new look at the idea is moving through the legislature.

The house Game and Fisheries Committee has unanimously approved the resolution calling for a study on the impact of merging the two commissions. A similar study a decade ago showed the idea was feasible and would save money, but no action was taken.

Representative Martin Causer, the prime sponsor, says given the economic challenges, it’s time to revisit the issue. He says the study will give solid information to make the best decisions for Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers.

The study would be conducted by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee. The resolution now goes to the full house.