Panelists: PA’s Homelessness Problem is Solvable

Policy experts and service providers are updating state lawmakers on the issues surrounding homelessness, and the data show that more than 34,000 Pennsylvanians obtained homeless services in 2011.  That number doesn’t include people who may be living in cars or in tent encampments who have not sought out the services that exist. 

Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania executive director Liz Hersh says it’s not a choice; it’s a failure of our system.  “We’re spending money on the most expensive solutions – like emergency shelter – when in fact if we were smarter about how we spent money, and focused on prevention, it would be less traumatic for people, less disruptive and cheaper for all of us and for taxpayers.”

Hersh and others testifying before the House Democratic Policy Committee support preventive programs that help to keep people in their homes or obtain affordable rental housing.  “If we invest a little, we actually end up saving a lot,” she says, noting that such programs cost less than half as much as emergency homeless services. 

 The Homeless Assistance line item in the state budget, which is used for preventive services, was cut from $20.5-million to $18.5-million for the current fiscal year.  The governor has proposed level funding for next year.

Radio PA Roundtable 04.26.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul bring you the latest effort to curb bully-prompted suicides in our schools. Also, is PA facing a serious doctor shortage and is PA any closer to approving a Medicaid expansion? Brad and Matt also  analyze the Eagles and Steelers 1st round draft picks.

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:


Chesapeake Bay Foundation Sounds Alarm on Susquehanna River

The smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River are sick.  Anglers have been finding diseased and dying fish in the Susquehanna for years and the smallmouth bass population is suffering.  “Smallmouth bass are the canary in the coal mine for the bay’s rivers,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation president Will Baker. 

The CBF has just released a 28-page report, which documents what they are calling a perfect storm of pollution, parasites and warming water temperatures. 

This graphic from the CBF report shows where diseased and dying smallmouth bass have been found.

This graphic from the CBF report shows where diseased and dying smallmouth bass have been found.

“In the Susquehanna River, especially, state and federal officials must move immediately to reduce pollution and to formally designate the river as impaired under the authority of the federal Clean Water Act,” Baker said on a Thursday conference call with reporters from throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.   

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) did not designated the Susquehanna as impaired when it released its Integrated Waters report in January, but the agency is calling for a comprehensive, year-long study of the Susquehanna to conclusively determine what is ailing the smallmouth bass. 

But the CBF and Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission are calling on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to reverse the state’s decision based on its authority under the aforementioned Clean Water Act. 

Such a designation for a 98-mile stretch of the Susquehanna River, from Sunbury to the Maryland state line, would allow for the immediate implementation of an action plan.  As Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission executive director John Arway explained, they don’t want to be studying the river until the last fish dies.

A Mixed Report Card on the State of Pennsylvania’s Air Quality

Overall, the American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report is a mixed score card for Pennsylvania. The air is cleaner than it was a decade ago, but some regions have air quality issues that rank among the nation’s worst.

The Pittsburgh area is on all three of the association’s worst 25 U. S. cities lists for ozone, annual particle and daily particle pollution. The Philadelphia area makes two of the lists and even the Harrisburg area is on one.

On the positive side, 26 counties showed improvement in bad air days, and 18 showed improvement in annual average fine particle pollution

Kevin Stewart  Director of Environmental Health for the American Lung Association, Mid Atlantic,  says  better controls for power plant emissions, the trend toward more natural gas fired plants and improved fuel efficiency standards have helped, but there’s still more work to be done.

The Lung Association is concerned about proper controls to avoid dangerous emissions from drilling for natural gas.  Stewart adds there’s been another trend toward dirty combustion sources, such as outdoor wood burning boilers, that bears attention.

You can read the full report at

Advocates: Keep Drillers Out of Loyalsock State Forest

Environmental advocates and House Democrats are urging the Corbett administration to keep natural gas drillers out of the Loyalsock State Forest in northern Pennsylvania.  Anadarko Petroleum Corporation owns the subsurface rights for some of the land, but state Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) says the state is in a strong bargaining position because it will be regulating the energy company for years to come.

“They need the DEP and DCNR’s permission for permits and so forth, for many things, both immediately and in the decades to come.  So the governor does have leverage.  So we are asking that he use that leverage to get a good result,” Vitali explained at a capitol news conference on Tuesday. 

But it’s a complex situation, according to Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) press secretary Chris Novak.  “In the circumstances where the commonwealth does not own the mineral rights, we are required by law, by some legal decisions, to provide reasonable access to the owner, or to the person who leases those rights,” she says. 

The DCNR is working on an agreement that can both grant access and protect the forest.  The agency is planning a free webinar, Thursday, to review the issue and answer the public’s questions.

Sen. Casey Talks Immigration, Guns & Jobs

As a busy week in Washington DC began winding down, Radio PA caught up with Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) for a wide-ranging interview.  Fresh off of a briefing on an 844-page immigration bill, Casey said he believes an immigration overhaul is highly likely this year.  “I wouldn’t have said that six months ago,” Casey explained.  “If you would have asked me six months ago, I would have said that immigration reform is years away not months away.” 

Bob Casey Jr.

Bob Casey Jr.

A bipartisan group of four Democrats and four Republicans has crafted a plan that would both create a path to citizenship for some of the 11-million people in the country illegally, and significantly beef up security along the Mexican border. 

But just because a piece of legislation is a bipartisan compromise, that doesn’t guarantee passage.  Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) spearheaded the bipartisan compromise on expanded background checks for gun sales, which failed in the Senate this week. 

Senator Casey was among the 54-supporters, but the amendment needed 60-votes to advance.  “It was a bad day for the Senate and I think a bad day for the country,” Casey says, “but it doesn’t mean we’re going to give up and it doesn’t mean that the American people will in any way be satisfied with just one day’s worth of voting and then we move on for another decade.”

Casey’s views on gun legislation have shifted since December’s tragedy in Newtown Connecticut.  In addition to expanded background checks, he’d like to see federal bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

With so many issues before Congress these days, Casey stresses that he doesn’t want to lose sight of the jobs issue.  Along those lines, he’s pushing an extended tax break that he hopes will help the restaurant industry grow its payrolls.  The bipartisan bill would permanently extend the 15-year tax depreciation period for restaurants’ construction and renovation projects.  The tax break used to be spread out over 39-years.  “The only problem is that – if we don’t pass my bill – it will revert back to 39-years, which doesn’t provide the right kind of incentive you would want for a restaurant to grow and expand.”

The restaurant industry has a $17-billion dollar economic impact in Pennsylvania and employees 500,000 people statewide.

Radio PA Roundtable 04.19.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul recap a shocking week in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. Also, a new transportation funding plan surfaces in Harrisburg and the NRA takes over the Eastern Sports & Outdoors Show just as it leads the effort to defeat expanded background checks at gun shows.

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:


Some Lawmakers Want to Abolish Turnpike Commission

It’s not the first time someone in Harrisburg has called for abolishing the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, but this plan comes on the heels of a grand jury corruption indictment.

House Bill 1197 would transfer all Turnpike operations to PennDOT. A new Bureau of Toll Administration would be created, with a deputy secretary to oversee it. The state would also assume the turnpike’s debt and a committee would be appointed to look at ways to retire it.

Representative Donna Oberlander says the commission is outdated and in order to address Pennsylvania’s critical transportation funding issue, the state must eliminate all inefficiencies and excess.  She says workers would be protected; the bill calls for honoring all collective bargaining agreements in effect at the time of the transfer, meaning union contracts would remain intact.

Representative Mike Vereb cited the recent grand jury indictments charging pay to play corruption in the turnpike’s former administration.   He says things have changed, the turnpike has restored a different style of leadership, but he suggests “this tumor is beyond radiation”.

Vereb says with this “bible” handed to them by the attorney general and former attorney general, they have a reason, goal and mission; and now all they need is some political courage.

Representative Jim Christiana says it’s important to look at all aspects of transportation as the state deals with the critical issue of funding. He says before we can ask for more revenue, we have to make sure we’re spending transportation dollars as efficiently and effectively as possible.

The Turnpike Commission issued a response, saying it has not taken a position on a proposal to merge with PennDOT. The release points out that reforms have been undertaken and the Turnpike has been working closer with PennDOT in recent years.

Hearing Probes PA Judges’ Mandatory Retirement Age

Lawmakers are mulling possible changes to the mandatory retirement age for the state’s judges, and a House Judiciary subcommittee heard from all sides of the issue on Thursday.  The focus of the hearing was HB 79, which would change the constitutional age limit on PA judges from 70 to 75. 

The current judicial age restriction was imposed in 1968.  “Many of us know there have been many demographic changes in Pennsylvania and in our nation since that time,” said state Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery), the bill’s prime sponsor.  “Not the least of which is, of course, that life expectancy has advanced in that time from age 70 to 78.” 

Pennsylvania is one of 33-states that currently impose some sort of age restriction on judges.  While one must retire from the bench at the age of 70 in the Keystone State, he or she still has the ability to serve as a senior judge until the age of 78. 

Duquesne University Law School Dean Kenneth Gormley testified in favor of Harper’s legislation, telling the Subcommittee on Courts the mandate made sense back in 1968.  “The age of 70 for any jurist at that time was a pretty advanced age,” he explained. 

But in 2013, Gormley says the mandate is especially restrictive for women whose average projected life expectancy is 81.1-years.  Men bring today’s combined average life expectancy down to 78.7. 

The Harper bill appears to be the middle ground in this discussion.  A separate Senate bill would completely eliminate the mandatory retirement age for the state’s judges, while others believe the limit ensures that judges are removed from the bench before decreased mental capabilities pose any problems. 

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, which does not take a position on the issue, points out that judges themselves are divided over whether the mandatory retirement age is necessary.

Toomey Responds to Senate Vote on Background Checks

Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Pat Toomey issued the following statement following the rejection by the Senate of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks:

“I did what I thought was the right thing for our country. I sought out a compromise position that I thought could move the ball forward on an important matter of public safety. My only regret is that our amendment did not pass. It’s not the outcome I hoped for, but the Senate has spoken on the subject, and it’s time to move on. We have a lot of other very important issues to deal with such as getting the economy back on track, dealing with the debt ceiling and creating more jobs for Pennsylvanians.” 


The Senate voted 54-46 in favor of the measure, but 60 votes were required to advance the legislation.