RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 03.08.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Matt Paul takes us inside the final budget hearing of the three week cycle.  Lawmakers and Governor Tom Corbett now have three and a half months to work out a compromise before the June 30th state budget deadline. 

We’ll also get an update on the first confirmed cases of CWD in hunter-killed deer in Pennsylvania, and flesh out the Department of Corrections 2013 Recidivism Report.

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:


Gypsy Moths Resurge in Eight Pennsylvania Counties

Pennsylvania is going to do something this spring it has not done since 2009:  spray for gypsy moths.   The pests have stripped trees in at least 8 counties.

Gypsy moth numbers are high enough in parts of Cameron, Clarion, Forest, Jefferson, Lycoming, Potter, Tioga and Venango Counties to warrant the spraying of more than 43 thousand acres of state forest, park and game lands, along with some private property.

Terry Brady, a spokesman for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, says a fungus had been helping to control the destructive caterpillars, but it has fallen out of balance as the population of the moths went down a few years ago.

Spraying will begin in mid-April and end by June. Helicopters will treat the designated areas with a biological insecticide known as Bt. No chemical insecticides will be used.

DCNR will hold a public meeting on Monday, March 11th between 10:00 am and noon at the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg to discuss the resumption of gypsy moth suppression. Written comments will be accepted at the Bureau of Forestry’s Division of Pest Management.  They may be emailed to Kevin Carlin at  You can get more information on Gypsy moths at DCNR’s website.

Brady says it’s important for people to watch for signs of gypsy moth caterpillar and report infestations.  He says the destructive caterpillars strip the leaves from trees, weakening them and leaving the trees susceptible to disease, drought and attack by other pests.

The eggs masses are often eye level in trees.  Brady says it’s about half the size of an egg and looks like a moleskin on your tree.  He says don’t mistake them for the tent caterpillar.

Labor Secretary Defends PA Jobs Climate

Through three weeks of state budget hearings Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) has repeatedly pointed out the fact that – for the first time in years – Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is now worse than the national average.  So he took issue with Labor & Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway’s positive assessment of the state’s economy.  “How can you sit here and say – we were 8th in job creation, now we’re 34th in new job creation – that we’re going in the right direction?”

Hearthway was ready with her response.  On the job creation issue she notes that 42-states lost more jobs than Pennsylvania did during the recession, so some of them are now posting sharper increases simply because they have more ground to make up. 

As for the state’s persistently high unemployment rate, Hearthway cautioned that we can’t look at any of these figures in a vacuum.  “When you grow your labor force… you’re unemployment’s going to show higher,” she explained. 

Hearthway boasts of a state labor force that now stands at 6.56-million, breaking records in each of the past four months.  “That means individuals who have dropped out [of the labor force], not looking, are now looking again… it’s usually the first indicator of your economy coming back strong.” 

The latest numbers, for December 2012, show a 7.9% statewide unemployment rate.  A new jobs report may shed some more light on the situation.  It’s due out on Friday.

Pennsylvania Liquor Store

Liquor Privatization Bill Introduced

The legislation essentially puts the plan Governor Tom Corbett outlined in January into bill form, and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) is optimistic.  “People recognize Pennsylvania needs to change in a positive direction. We’re now talking about the details of how you structure that change.”  Turzai is the bill’s prime sponsor and perhaps the legislature’s biggest proponent of liquor privatization.    

While Turzai believes the concepts and objectives of liquor privatization will remain the same, he recognizes the details could change through the legislative process.  An amendment already being explored by Liquor Control Committee Chairman John Taylor (R-Philadelphia) would reportedly allow state-run liquor stores to compete with private sector licensees. 

State Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny)

House Republican Leader Mike Turzai

Turzai suggests that sort of plan merely takes a different route toward the same destination.  “In my mind, once the private sector gets the opportunity to sell wine & spirits, the state stores are – over time – they’re not going to be able to compete.”

The bill (HB 790) appears to be on the fast track.  Turzai tells reporters he’s eying a March 18th committee vote and final House passage in late March or early April. 

The timetable should raise red flags, according to House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny).  “Most legislators want to discuss ways to improve service and convenience for customers through the normal committee process, including hearings,” Dermody says in a statement.  “The more complicated his plan becomes, the faster he wants to vote on it with not committee hearings.”

CWD-Infected Deer Appeared Healthy

After 15-years of testing more than 43,000 deer, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has confirmed three cases of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in hunter-killed deer.  Two of the infected animals were harvested in Blair County; the third came from Bedford County.  “We’ve been saying for many years it’s not a matter of if but when, and I think we’ve arrived at when,” says Calvin DuBrock, Director of Wildlife Management. 

CWD had previously been detected in the wild in three neighboring states: Maryland, West Virginia and New York.  However, DuBrock says they have not confirmed whether infected deer traveled to southern Pennsylvania from Maryland, or whether they are the result of escaped captive deer. 

All three hunters who harvested the infected deer tell wildlife conservation officers the deer appeared to be healthy and were not acting sick in any way. 

The Game Commission is still awaiting additional test results from this past deer season, so DuBrock says it would be premature to discuss any potential policy changes for the fall, but he does note that another disease management area will likely be created.  “So there will be intensified sampling that would occur in any area designated as a disease management area,” DuBrock says.  “There will be restrictions on the movement of deer in and out of the area, and high-risk parts in and out of the area.”  That’s similar to what occurred, last year, when a captive deer tested positive in Adams County

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend consuming the meat of CWD-infected deer, but DuBrock stresses there are no known health implications for humans.  Public meetings will soon be scheduled in Bedford and Blair counties. 

This Game Commission map shows where the new cases area in relation to confirmed cases in Maryland and last year's Disease Management Area in Adams & York counties.

This Game Commission map shows where the new cases are in relation to confirmed cases in Maryland and last year’s Disease Management Area in Adams & York counties.

Corrections Secretary Focused on Outcomes

‘Corrections’ is a literal term for Secretary John Wetzel.  That’s why he told the House Appropriations Committee the Department of Corrections new recidivism study accounts for both re-incarcerations and rearrests.  “We need to focus our corrections system on outcomes, and our outcomes mean people getting out and doing the right thing,” Wetzel explains, “So that’s why our [recidivism] number is 62.7%, because it includes everything.” 

The numbers contained in the new report are being used as a baseline to improve the system moving forward.  Wetzel says their new contracts with private halfway houses will be performance based, with incentives for reducing recidivism.  Internally, he says improvement starts by better assessing offenders’ needs and better use of state & county-level diversionary programs. 

Between efficiencies that have already been identified and the new prison reforms signed into law last year, Wetzel projects a reduction of 3,600 state prison inmates over the next five years. 

That means additional prison closures are going to be a part of the budget conversation in Pennsylvania for many years to come.  And Secretary Wetzel is still dealing with the fallout from the recent decision to close SCI Greensburg and SCI Cresson later this year. 

State Rep. Deberah Kula called it a “debacle.”  Responding to Kula’s questions at Monday’s budget hearing, Wetzel said 85% of the affected employees have already accepted transfers within the system, and 80% of them will be stationed within 60-miles of their homes. 

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel

John Wetzel

“Not minimizing the impact it has on staff members… this is what saving money in corrections looks like,” Wetzel said in reference to inmate populations driving prison closures. 

Secretary Wetzel has committed to working with the House & Senate Judiciary committees to develop prison closure protocols moving forward.

Whitetail Deer

Chronic Wasting Disease Now in PA’s Wild Deer

A disease that’s fatal to deer has crossed into the wild in Pennsylvania.   The Pennsylvania Game Commission stepped up monitoring for Chronic Wasting Disease after it appeared in neighboring states. Now, the disease has tuned up in the wild deer population.

Three deer killed in Blair and Bedford Counties during hunting season tested positive for the neurological disorder that is fatal to deer, elk and moose.  The commission is still waiting for more test results on other deer.

Until now, the disease had only shown up in two captive deer on a farm in Adams County.  It has not shown up in samples of hunter-killed deer in the disease management area surrounding the farm.   


Insurance Rate Shock Coming for Young, Healthy People

2014 could prove to be a tumultuous year for health insurance rates.  Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine said as much when answering questions from members of the state House Appropriations Committee this week. 

Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine

Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine

Consedine says some segments of the population are likely to experience what he calls “rate shock,” upon full implementation of the Affordable Care Act next year.  “Ironically it’s most likely going to be young, healthy individuals who right now are getting the benefit of being young and healthy, and therefore that’s allowed in the underwriting process, and their premiums reflect that,” Consedine says.  “That rating formula goes away with the Affordable Care Act.” 

“You have it currently low for young people, and high for older and less healthy people,” Deputy Executive Insurance Commissioner Randy Rohrbaugh said, using a metaphorical seesaw analogy, “That seesaw changes.  Actually there will be winners and losers, and I think there’s going to be sticker shock on the side of the young, healthy people.” 

Sticker shock to the tune of 60% or more, Rohrbaugh estimates.

The theory, he says, is that any disruptions in health insurance rates will be short-lived.  However, he cautions that it could be a longer stabilization process should those young people opt-out of the health insurance system, and choose to take the penalty instead, under the Affordable Care Act. 

“It may take two or three years before that all will level through.”

Governance Discussion to Include All State-Relateds

Former Auditor General Jack Wagner’s special report on Penn State’s governance will be the subject of a state Senate committee hearing later this month.  “It will be a look at whether there should be changes, and then whether the legislature should have a role in that,” says State Government Committee Chairman Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster), who adds that the talks will eventually be broadened to include the other three state related universities as well. 

Smucker, who is also a member of the Appropriations Committee, got the ball rolling with a few questions for the universities’ leaders this week. 

Penn State President Rodney Erickson says their committee on governance & long-range planning will offer some suggested changes to the Board of Trustees later this month.  “Much has already changed with the structure and operations of the board, and there’s surely more to come.” 

None of the leaders of PSU, Lincoln and the University of Pittsburgh expressed concern over one possible reform, which would remove the president’s voting powers on their respective boards.  Temple’s president did not offer an opinion because he’s only been on the job two months, and hasn’t even attended his first trustees’ meeting. 

University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg did weigh in on another big recommendation in Jack Wagner’s Penn State report – reducing the size of the board.  “I don’t know how a small board could exercise proper oversight over an institution the size of Penn State or Pitt or Temple, unless they were going to be full-time board members,” says Nordenberg, noting that smaller is not always better. 

Penn State’s Board of Trustees has 32-members.  Pitt’s board has 36-voting members; Temple’s has 36-voting members; and Lincoln’s has 39.  For reference, Ohio State’s board has 19-members (2-non-voting).  The University of Michigan has 9-board members (1-non-voting).

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 03.01.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul bring you more from the state legislative budget hearings, which included questioning on pensions and liquor privatization this week. Also, Radio PA’s Cathy Clark provides an update on the health of the Susquehanna River.

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: