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Marcellus Shale Coalition Claims Bias in Local Laws

    The head of the natural gas industry’s Marcellus Shale Coalition claims that some local municipalities in Pennsylvania are discriminating against drillers by passing local laws aimed at preventing gas well operations. Katheryn Klaber cited laws against drilling within a certain distance from buildings and noise ordinances that in some cases ban nighttime noise increases of 5 decibels. Klaber says that’s a law being violated by crickets.

    Klaber was appearing before Governor Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission when she made the comments, asking for “clarity and consistency” in local ordinances. While non-committal on acknowledging that any local laws violated the state constitution, Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley, who chairs the committee, said the panel will take a look at the industry’s complaints in greater depth.

    An “impact fee” bill currently before the state Senate would establish a model ordinance for municipalities statewide. Those communities that pass stricter local laws would be excluded from the money raised through the fees, which start at $10,000 per well.

    Governor Tom Corbett established the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission earlier this year to examine all aspects and impacts of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania State Police will Join National “Click It or Ticket” Campaign this week

A holiday weekend is coming up and Pennsylvania State Police are launching a campaign in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that reminds people to buckle up.   The “Click It or Ticket” campaign will run from May 23rd through June 5th.

State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan has instructed troopers to adopt a zero tolerance policy toward violations of Pennsylvania’s seat belt and child passenger safety restraint laws.

Noonan says “with heavy traffic expected for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, it’s crucial we encourage drivers now to make sure that all passengers are properly restrained whenever they travel.”

Spokesman Jack Lewis the goal is not to write tickets, but to get more people to buckle up.  He says the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation estimates the current seat belt usage rate at 88%.  Lewis says that means 12 out of every 100 people are not using their seat belts.

Troopers will be offering free child safety seat inspections in conjunction with the special enforcement period. They will teach parents how to correctly install and use safety seats.

State Police conducted voluntary inspections in September during Child Passenger Safety Week and found the majority were not installed properly. State Police say a little over 500 were checked that week and 75% of them had a problem.

For the locations and times of the free child safety seat inspections over the next two weeks, go to

To learn more about Pennsylvania’s seat belt and child safety seat laws, visit

PA School Districts

Survey Projects State Budget’s Impact on Schools

More than 70% of PA school districts are planning to cut educational programs, according to a new survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) and Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA).  Music, the arts, physical education, social studies, health and more would no longer be available or be greatly reduced, according to PASA executive director Jim Buckheit.  “Not only will the things that students particularly enjoy… be reduced, but elective courses and even some core instructional programming will be reduced.” 

The survey results are based on responses from 263 of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts.  Among its other findings: 86% of districts plan to reduce class sizes, 70% plan to lay off staff, and 31% plan on nixing full-day kindergarten.  Buckheit says these numbers show that education is not the place to cut.  “If we want to improve our economic chances in the future, we need to education our children because they’re the workforce of tomorrow.” 

The survey was conducted largely prior to the introduction of House Republicans’ budget plans.  The majority caucus expects to vote this week on a budget bill (HB 1485) that would restore about $210-million dollars to public schools, compared to the billion-dollar cuts initially proposed by Governor Tom Corbett in March.  “It’s a step forward, but it’s still a big hole to fill for school districts across the state,” Buckheit says.  Even if additional state revenue comes in, Buckheit tells us, it may not alleviate the cuts described in the survey.  The state budget deadline is June 30th.

Heavy Rains Have Led to Landslides in Western Pennsylvania

The rain is causing some costly problems for roads in Western Pennsylvania. 

There have been more rainy days than sunny days in the last month and a half, some with torrential downpours, leading to several dozen landslides.

Jim Struzzi, spokesman for PennDOT’s District 11 , says in some cases rocks and mud have fallen onto the road, and in others the roadway slope has slipped away, causing the travel lanes to subside and crack. District 11 covers Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence Counties.

Struzzi says the due to the geography of the area, there are a lot of shale deposits that, when they become saturated, become loose and slick.  He says rocks then tend to give way.

Struzzi  says the immediate goal is to get the debris and mud cleared when slides occur so the roadway can be reopened to traffic,  if that’s possible.  Some of the affected roads still have lane closures. One of the major roads that has been hit with a landslide is Route 65, the Ohio Valley Boulevard.  Struzzi says it’s not the first time they’ve had to deal with rocks coming down on Route 65, because it does run along the Ohio River.

Struzzi says there were 32 active slides just in Allegheny County alone.

Repairs are expected to be costly. Struzzi says conservative estimates, just to deal with the major landslides, put the cost at between $15 and $25 million dollars.   He says that’s funding that they just do not have at this time. Struzzi says the situation will require  some tough decisions. 

Struzzi says with the way the weather has been going, and is predicted through July, they’re going to have additional landslides to deal with in Western Pennsylvania.

Senior citizen woman

New Report says Senior Citizens Have Seen Their Buying Power Decline.

Senior citizens are having to stretch their dollars more after two years without a Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment according to an advocacy group.   The Seniors Citizens League says older Americans have lost 32% of their buying power since 2000.

The group’s 2011 survey of senior costs report shows housing, utilities, transportation, health care and food costs are among those that have risen the most.

Mary Johnson, Social Security and Medicare Policy Analyst, says health care costs are not fully reflected in the COLA seniors receive and she says that has a lot to do with why it’s not keeping up with the costs.  For example, Johnson says Medicare Part B premiums have risen 154% since 2000.

Johnson says we need to start with a more fair and reliable COLA. She says the League supports legislation that would more accurately reflect senior costs.  She adds they also support a guaranteed minimum COLA.

Johnson says seniors are making difficult choices as a result of the loss of buying power. Some are delaying necessary visits to the doctor and filling prescriptions. Johnson says some seniors have younger relatives who are unemployed living with them and some older Americans are returning to the job market to supplement their income.

The Senior Citizens League is an advocacy group that was first established as a special project of The Retired Enlisted Association. The full report is available at their website.

Do State Budget Plans Do Enough for Victims?

Domestic violence and rape crisis services were largely held harmless in Governor Tom Corbett’s budget proposal, but would receive 10% cuts in the House GOP budget bill that prioritizes education over welfare spending.  It was shocking news to Terri Hamrick, President & CEO of Survivors Inc. in Adams County.  “Our services are essential; they’re not something that someone can live without.” 

60-domestic violence programs across the state provided a variety of services to 92,000 victims of abuse last year.  Peg Ruddy with the Women’s Resource Center in Scranton tells us 10% cuts would make a bad situation worse.  “We for the second year in a row… turned away as many domestic violence victims, in our shelter, as we were able to house,” Ruddy said.  The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that an additional 9,000 victims would be turned away or placed on waiting lists if the proposed 10% cuts become reality.  

The House Republican budget plan would restore some of Governor Corbett’s unpopular basic and higher education cuts by finding savings in the Department of Public Welfare.  House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin says the budget is largely a reflection of the overspending of the previous administration.  “Facing a $4-billion dollar deficit, adjustments had to be made,” Miskin said.  The $27.3-billion dollar budget bill will be brought up for House debate next week.

Pennsylvania continues to add jobs

Pennsylvania continues to add jobs,  and the latest unemployment numbers continue to show improvement.  Pennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April was 7.5%,  down from 7.8% in March and 1.3 percentage points lower than April of 2010.  The year-to-year decline was the largest since June 1987.

Mark Price, Labor Economist with the Keystone Research Center, says Pennsylvania  has been adding around 6 thousand jobs a month on average.  He says the April report is a very good one on all fronts, but the state still has a very long road back to something approximating full employment, and conditions that will generate some wage and income growth.   Price says one potential drag on the recovery is possible job losses in the public sector due to budget cuts.

The national jobless rate for April was 9.0%, up from 8.8% in March.

A breakdown of Pennsylvania’s unemployment numbers is available at the Department of Labor and Industry’s website at

Powerful Storms Drench Already Soggy Central Pennsylvania

Another series of strong thunderstorms rolled through central Pennsylvania overnight, bringing more heavy rains to areas that have been waterlogged for much of this spring. The hardest-hit region this week is in and around the state capital area, where the National Weather Service reports that some areas have received nearly six inches of rainfall since Monday.

A line of very power thunderstorms rolled through the Harrisburg area and points north and south early this morning, bringing more rain and dangerous lightning. The NWS forecast for Harrisburg calls for more showers and thunderstorms throughout Thursday and into Friday before some calmer weather moves in for the weekend.

online computer internet

Online Transactions Make Tax Collections Difficult

With online sales exploding, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Pennsylvania to collect its sales and use taxes.  In fact, the state Department of Revenue estimates $350-million dollars worth is going uncollected each year.  The problem is that online retailers are under no obligation to collect the sales taxes of states in which they have no “nexus” – or physical presence.

Many Pennsylvania brick and mortar stores believe they are at a competitive disadvantage.  The State House Finance Committee heard from several such businesses at a recent hearing.  Committee member Scott Boyd (R-Lancaster) tells us it’s a fairness issue.  “We just have to figure out a way of leveling the playing field so our brick and mortar stores aren’t put out of business.”

Committee chairman Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) tells us it’s both about fairness and lost revenue.  “You have a commonwealth that’s $4.2-billion dollars in debt and you have an option to collect $350-million dollars in additional revenue.”  Both Benninghoff and Boyd say the revenue is already owed to the state.  “It’s not a new tax,” Benninghoff says.

Several states (including New York and Illinois) are already trying to compel online retailers to collect and remit sales taxes, but those laws are being challenged in court.  Testifying on behalf of the Direct Marketing Association, Ron Barnes told the Finance Committee, “The solution is to have this conversation at the federal level.”  Barnes notes that retailers would otherwise have to keep up with 7,500 taxing jurisdictions.

There was no legislation before the Finance Committee, this week, but Chairman Benninghoff hopes that will change before the end of the legislative session.

For its part the state Department of Revenue is going to make it easier for Pennsylvania consumers to voluntarily report and remit their use tax once a year, through a new tax line on the PA-40 form.  They estimate it could generate $5 to 6-million dollars a year.  The “use tax” applies to taxable purchases made from online retailers and others, which do not charge and collect the sales tax.  Its rate is identical to the sales tax, but the Revenue Department testified that “a very small number” of individuals self-reported last year.

First Lady Susan Corbett and Governor Tom Corbett

Governor Tom Corbett is out of the hospital

Governor Tom Corbett is out of the hospital, two days after surgery for a nagging back problem. The Governor was released this morning from Allegheny General Hospital. Orthopedic specialists Dr. Mark Fye and Dr. Patrick DeMeo treated him Monday for spinal stenosis. The condition results in compressed nerves and leads to persistent pain.

The Governor told reporters as he left the hospital this morning that he had been in pain while walking for the last 6, 7 or 8 months. He says it started bothering him during the last two campaigns, and he decided he couldn’t put the procedure off any longer. A smiling Corbett told reporters the first thing up Tuesday, walking around, not to feel pain going down both legs, he’s very thankful for the surgeons and staff. He says the hospital has treated him very well.

The Governor will work from his Pittsburgh area home as he recuperates, and he expects to return to Harrisburg on Monday.

His office says the 61-year-old Republican underwent a series of medical tests in preparation for the surgery and is otherwise considered to be in excellent health.