Radio PA Roundtable – June 7, 2013

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, the investigation into a deadly building collapse in Philadelphia may focus on the city’s licensing and inspections process. The Mayor and a city commissioner faced heated questions the day after the collapse this week. Also, tempers flared at a hearing on liquor privatization as the Lieutenant Governor and a state senator squared off and U-S Senator Pat Toomey takes a 10-year old girl’s fight for life to the Senate floor.

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

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

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Tropical Storm Andrea Makes Her Move North

The first named storm of the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season is poised to make her move on much of the East Coast today and tomorrow, but the storm is weakening and could lose tropical characteristics by the time it reaches the mid-Atlantic region.

Tropical Storm Andrea dumped heavy rains on Florida and Georgia and spawned a series of tornadoes as it made landfall. According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm’s projected track has it cutting across the Carolinas and then heading back over water as it swings past Delaware and New Jersey. The good news for Pennsylvania is that the projected path has shifted to the east over the past 12 hours, but the storm could still bring heavy rains to the southeast portion of the Keystone State late Friday and early Saturday.

As of 8:00am Friday, maximum sustained winds associated with Andrea had dropped to 45 miles per hour, down from 60.


Licensing & Inspections at Center of Philadelphia Building Collapse Probe?

A day after the collapse of a building claimed 6 lives in Philadelphia, more questions are being asked about the city’s processes for granting permits and inspecting demolition sites.

City Licensing and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams was on the hot seat during a Thursday press conference at the scene. When asked if the backgrounds of contractors were checked out before granting permits, Williams said “On specific jobs yes, in terms of electrical contractor or plumbing contractor, but not specifically to a demolition, no.”

That has many questioning the existing policies the city follows to allow for building and demolition jobs. Mayor Michael Nutter deflected such questions Thursday, saying it’s part of the official investigation, but he says Philadelphians should not be worried about other demolition of construction sites in the city.

Six people are confirmed dead in Wednesday’s collapse. Nutter said today that search and rescue efforts continued through the night and into today despite rumors that they had been temporarily suspended. One woman was pulled alive from the rubble overnight, more than 12 hours after the collapse at 2136 Market Street, which took out a Salvation Army Thrift Store next door.

About 75% of the thrift store rubble has been searched as of midday Thursday.


Mayor Michael Nutter Promises Full Investigation

In the wake of a building collapse that left at least six people dead and more than a dozen injured in Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter is promising a full investigation into the tragic incident.

The 4-story building, which was in the demolition process, took out a Salvation Army Thrift store next door. Search and rescue teams pulled one woman out of the rubble overnight after she had been trapped for more than 12 hours.

Mayor Nutter says city, state and federal officials will be part of the official investigation, but his focus on Wednesday was on the horrific human toll and sorting through the debris in the hunt for survivors.


Chorus of Booze

Tempers flared at the third and final public hearing for the governor’s liquor privatization plan before the state Senate Law and Justice Committee in Harrisburg Tuesday. As union members lined the back wall of the hearing room, Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley and committee minority chair Jim Ferlo went at it.

Ferlo launched the first verbal assault, calling out the Secretary of Health, the Police Commissioner and a Deputy Secretary of Education for appearing with the Lieutenant Governor to promote a plan that would expand access to alcohol. Ferlo called their actions laughable and outrageous, while the union members in the room cheered him on.

Cawley fired back, however, seeming visibly angry at Ferlo’s attacks and saying the senator should be embarrassed for attacking three public servants as individuals rather than speaking to the issue at hand. Cawley was booed and jeered several times by the union members in the room.

The tense moments came toward the end of a long day of testimony that also included input from representatives of the beer and spirits industries, an economic analyst and union representatives.

Committee Chairman Charles McIlhinny will be the author of the Senate version of the privatization bill. He informed the Lieutenant Governor, a fellow Republican, that he was opposed to the administration’s plans to use the proceeds from the sale of the state stores to fund block grants for education, a plan critics say will do little to help in the classroom.

The state House passed its privatization bill in March, an amended version of the governor’s plan that takes out the public education aspect. That legislation has little chance in the Senate, but the two chambers may work together on a compromise plan before breaking for the summer.


Capitol Building

Revenue Collections Rise as Budget Talks Heat Up

Just in time for the stretch run of the 2013 state budget season, revenue collections for May came in $35 million ahead of projections, bringing the fiscal-year-to-date total to 102 million above the forecasts.

Pennsylvania collected $2 billion last month, with the increase being largely driven by corporate tax collections, which accounted for 30 million of the surplus. Personal Income Tax collection was down, but sales tax revenues jumped after several sluggish months, coming in $1.3 million over estimates. Sales taxes remain more than $300 million behind for the year, however.

The figures were released the same day state House Republicans cleared their budget plan through the House Appropriations Committee in a party-line vote. Their $28.3 billion spending plan is slightly less than the $28.4 billion proposed by Governor Tom Corbett and does not include Medicaid expansion, an option for Pennsylvania under the Affordable Care Act, but one that Governor Corbett has staunchly opposed. House Democrats spoke out against the plan prior to the committee vote, setting the stage for the floor debate which could begin next week.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats say they have their own budget plan, totaling $28.5 billion. Minority Leader Jay Costa criticized the administration’s resistance to Medicaid expansion while talking about the Senate Democratic caucus budget priorities Monday.

Lawmakers and the governor have until June 30th if they are to meet the budget deadline for a 3rd consecutive year. Several other issues loom over the budget talks, including pension reform, transportation funding and liquor privatization. The governor wants lawmakers to pass all four major initiatives before taking their summer break.


House Committee Sends Republican Budget to Floor

Floor debate is expected to start next week after a budget plan cleared the state House Appropriations   on Monday.  The 28.3 billion dollar House Republican spending plan passed solely along party lines on a 21 to 14 vote.

The House Republican plan spends less than Governor Tom Corbett’s budget proposed in February but more than the current year’s budget.

Chairman Bill Adolph (R-Delaware) emphasized that he was not presenting it as the final budget.  He says negotiations are ongoing regarding a number of significant issues.

Representative Adolph says the plan represents a starting point for the budget negotiations and outlines priorities important to members of the house and does so without raising taxes.

But minority chair Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) called additional spending for basic education paltry and too little, too late.  He says the proposed budget does not address Medicaid expansion while allowing the Governor’s business tax policies to eat away at the money available to fund core government services.