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June 2012

Friday Happy Hour: Mellow Down Easy Edition

ProfileAtPiano

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you The Budget. After restoring some $600 million that was absent in Governor Corbett’s original proposal, the General Assembly passed and sent to the governor a $27.7 billion spending plan that at once was hailed as The Best Budget Ever and The Big Corporate Giveaway. It features:

  • A spending increase of less than 2 percent over the 2011-12 budget, with no new taxes.
  • Level funding for public universities and most school districts, as well as some extra dough for financially struggling schools such as Harrisburg, which apparently will be able to keep half-day kindergarten in place.
  • A 10 percent cut in county-provided human service programs and elimination of a $200 per month grant that in the past has helped about 70,000 poor and disabled people per year.       
  • Related legislation that includes a 25-year, $1.7 billion tax credit to lure an ethane refinery to western PA.

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Friday Happy Hour: Coo Coo Ca-Choo Edition

Dustin Hoffman

“One word,” he said. “Plastics.”

Was it Mr. McGuire’s advice to Benjamin Braddock in the 1967 film classic, The Graduate? No, it was Governor Corbett unveiling plans for a natural gas refinery in Beaver County, to be built by Netherlands-based oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC. The plant could serve as the anchor for an entire petrochemical and plastics industry.

The announcement was met at once with loud voices of bipartisan support and loud voices of bipartisan derision, owing to the idea that while it reportedly would create tens of thousands of J-O-B-S jobs, jobs, jobs, Shell would receive a 25-year $1.7 billion tax credit as incentive to build the plant. Never mind that the credits would come from revenue that hasn’t yet been generated, or that the amount of the credits would be tied to the number of jobs created, or that it could jump-start an entire industry. Once it was stained with the “corporate welfare” label – the political rhetoric equivalent of “pink slime” – the poor-mouthing began, especially from those living outside of western PA.

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The Pension Perfect Storm is on the Horizon

Perfect Storm
Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video - Flickr

Unless you have spent all your time watching zombie movie marathons on cable, you could not miss the smoke billowing from the State Capitol from the stoking of the fires of pension reform this spring.  It’s clear now that the legislature doesn’t have the time or answers to address pension funding this year but that state employee and state teacher pension reform will fill a large part of the 2013 legislative agenda. 

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Penn Vet: Keeping Pennsylvania Agriculture Number One

Marshak Research

Our bet is that you know that milk is the Commonwealth’s most important livestock product, and that Pennsylvania is one of the leading states in milk production (we rank 5th). But, did you know that 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s agricultural income is generated by livestock and livestock products?

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Friday Happy Hour: Courage Factor Edition

Matt_Cain_debut

We had nearly forgotten what a fun guy he is, but former Governor Rendell returned to Harrisburg this week as part of his “Nation of Wusses” book tour and regaled us with war stories and observations about the current state and national political landscape. We’re sure that Governor Corbett breathed a sigh of relief to be commended by Rendell as “definitely a non-wuss.”

What, you ask, is a wuss, exactly? We conferred with the Urban Dictionary, the unquestioned authority on what the cool kids are all saying, which defines wuss as “a person who is physically weak and ineffectual. Often a male person with low courage factor.” We wonder how “courage factor” differs from just plain “courage,” but hey, we’ll play along.

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Penn Vet: Protecting Pennsylvania’s Food Supply

021711-research (1)

“One thing Pennsylvanians can be really proud of is the food safety system,” lauds Dean Joan Hendricks of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. That is an important accomplishment as agriculture is Pennsylvania’s number one industry.

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Research Conducted at Penn Vet Saves Humans and Animals.

Brinster_Obama

Veterinarian medicine and research is not just confined to large animals and pets.  The research being undertaken at The School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has major implications for human beings as well.

Ralph Brinster, a graduate and current faculty member of The School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, recently became the only veterinarian to ever receive the National Medal of Science.

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HB 1776 Tabled in the House Finance Committee

HB1776

After two hours and forty five minutes of spirited debate and a strong push from sponsor Representative Jim Cox to vote the bill out of committee, HB 1776 was tabled by a vote of 13 to 11.

Despite a majority of Pennsylvanian’s who have a negative view of property taxes, a majority of members of the House Finance Committee believe the Property Tax Independence Act leaves too many questions unanswered and needs to be further reviewed by the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO).  Proponents of tabling the bill encouraged waiting until the IFO’s fiscal analysis was available, and then amending the bill and reporting it to the floor. Rep. Cox, on the other hand, asserted that the Committee has passed bills before that required amendments on the floor before final passage, and urged his colleagues to vote to report the Bill.

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Friday Happy Hour: Better Than Prunes Edition

Prunes

Author Robert Fulghum is best known for his collection of essays titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten”, published in the late ‘80s. But what if there was no kindergarten? Would people ever learn that you should wash your hands before you eat, and that you should put things back where you found them?

Sadly, we may soon find out the hard way, beginning in Harrisburg and maybe spreading eventually to a school district near you. In order to address a $6.6 million budget deficit next school year, and having already cut everything else to the bone, the Harrisburg School District has proposed to cut all programs that are not state-mandated. That means kindergarten, along with athletics, band and all other extracurricular activities. It’s the latest installment in the hot new reality show, “Extreme Takeover, City Edition,” where residents are forced to endure increasingly more discouraging developments until they are bludgeoned into begging for bankruptcy.

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Public concerned about human service cuts

Joe Capita Photo 2010

By Joseph Capita

United Way of the Capital Region unveiled a public opinion poll this week that may contain surprises for some regarding voters’ attitudes toward human service cuts in the proposed 2012-13 Pennsylvania state budget. 

The poll, conducted last month by Terry Madonna Opinion Research, surveyed 406 registered voters in Dauphin, Cumberland and Perry counties. The sampling error is 4.9 percent.

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The Role of a Veterinarian

Role of a vet

The School Of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has developed a strong reputation not only for their treatment and care of pets, but also for work and research that has had lasting impacts in both human and animal science. The dean of Penn Vet, Joan Hendricks, talked more about the institution Tuesday morning of WITF’s “Smart Talk.”

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Economic Impact of the Marcellus Shale - Representative Michael Hanna

Mike Hanna

“Drilling activity being down is actually a good thing, in my opinion,” Representative Mike Hanna assured us last week.

Because of decreasing commodity prices for natural gas, the number of wells being drilled in the region has decreased substantially.  Consequently, this lull in drilling is providing the time necessary to understand the impact that drilling his having, and time to develop the infrastructure and support services needed for the future of the Marcellus region. Hanna noted the number of water pipelines under construction that take water up to drilling sites, will have the benefit of greatly reducing truck traffic on local roads.  In addition, constructing new pipelines necessary to move the gas into the market are not only adding jobs, but have created new habitats in state game lands (where the representative recently enjoyed some turkey hunting!).

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House Finance Hearing on Eliminating School Property Tax

HB1776

Today, the House Finance Committee held a lengthy public hearing on Representative Cox’s HB 1776 or the Property Tax Independence Act to eliminate the school property tax code in favor of raising sales and income taxes.

The committee hosted six outside speakers to discuss the impact of this legislation but first in the hot seat was Representative Cox himself. He began by summarizing the legislation, which boasts 70 cosponsors. Were the bill to be adopted, schools and school boards would no longer be permitted to raise or levy school property taxes, except to cover the cost of their preexisting debt. Cox provided information that there are approximately 19 school districts in the Commonwealth who are debt-free, and the average school’s debt takes up 10 percent of their budget. In these districts, property owners would see a 90 percent decrease in their school property taxes, and when the debt was paid off, the tax would disappear.

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Friday Happy Hour: Baseball Edition

 Brushback

As May becomes June, we again approach that time when the fans can become a bit restless.  They’d like to see more scoring and more victories.  There’s concern about the competition.  Are we talking about the Pirates or Phillies?  No, we’re talking about the Corbett administration, the subject of several stories recently quoting mostly unnamed Republican fans as expressing disappointment that the GOP agenda hasn’t been moving forward as well as had been hoped.

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Representative Mike Hanna Discusses the Marcellus Compact

Marcellus Compact

If you thought the passage of the Marcellus Shale Law, Act 13 of 2012, would end the debate on Marcellus Shale for this session, think again. When Representative Hanna paid us a visit last week, he spent a considerable amount of time talking about a package of bills the House Democrats recently introduced to address what they perceive as deficiencies in the new law.

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