February 18, 2019
The Daily Item
State listening, speak out on marijuana
As Lt. Gov. John Fetterman continues his 67-county listening tour, it will be important for those concerned about the potential legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania to express and document their views.
A clear majority of those who have attended the first two sessions in Harrisburg and Mechanicsburg indicated that they favor legalization.
The listening tour, slated to continue with 65 additional public sessions across the state through June, will accomplish little if it becomes nothing more than a pep rally for legalization.
Many people agree that the criminal penalties associated with the possession, use and distribution of marijuana should be reduced or eliminated, but physicians and medical researchers have expressed concerns about human tolls, such as addiction and the effects of marijuana on the development of the brain, especially for those under age 30.
These and other concerns should be aired and documented during the listening tour, which continues with stops in Greene County on Tuesday, Perry County on Wednesday, Clearfield County on Thursday, Juniata County on Feb. 24, Cambria County, Feb. 26, and Crawford County, Feb. 27.
Dates for the listening stops in Union, Snyder, Montour, Northumberland and other regional counties have not yet been scheduled.
When Gov. Tom Wolf announced that Fetterman would be embarking on the tour, he said he wanted to ensure that the voices of all Pennsylvanians have a chance to be heard.
“More and more states are successfully implementing marijuana legalization, especially those surrounding Pennsylvania, and we should learn from their efforts and better understand the potential fiscal impacts of this reality before taking any collective action,” Wolf said on Jan. 24 as he announced the tour.
Pennsylvania is one of 33 states that allow marijuana to be used for medical reasons. Ten states have legalized recreational use of the drug. They include Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
Pennsylvania will benefit from a well-rounded discussion that includes all points of view on potential legalization. Last week, the governor’s office posted an online form for citizens to enter their comments. More than 12,000 people submitted online comments during the first week.
The form is available online at: https://www.governor.pa.gov/recreational-marijuana-feedback
There are clearly many angles to explore during the listening tour, and we encourage all residents, especially those with specific experience and expertise, to speak out. Source
February 10, 2019
How Gov. Wolf’s $45,000 teacher salary floor would be split across Pennsylvania
State would provide nearly $14 million to 180 school districts to cover costs of getting 3,200 teachers’ salaries to the limit.
HARRISBURG, PA —
When Gov. Tom Wolf stood in front of the state Legislature Tuesday morning, he told them that he wanted to invest in education.
His budget address, in which Wolf laid out his proposed spending plan for 2019-20, was heavy on topics of education. There were plans to decrease the compulsory education age, increase the minimum dropout age and send millions more dollars to local school districts.
It’s safe to say, education is a winner in his budget. And in particular, one specific group in the education community.
Wolf announced he plans to raise the salary floor for public school teachers across the state. Set in 1989, the state has a lower salary limit for teachers of $18,500.
Wolf said he’s going to change it to $45,000. And, he added, the state will pay for it.
“This is a fully-funded mandate,” he said during his address.
So where is that money coming from? Wolf made a big deal in his address to stress that his budget doesn’t include a cent of new taxes.
According to officials from the governor’s office, new taxes aren’t needed to fund the teacher salary floor plan. The just over $13.8 million it will cost will come from non-tax revenue pieces and some savings initiatives within the budget.
The two main sources of revenue that will be used to cover the plan are added state money created by increasing the minimum wage and Pennsylvania State Police fees, officials said. Money will also be available through savings initiatives in human services and refinancing school construction debt.
The governor’s office estimates about 3,200 teachers would be impacted by the salary floor plan. Local districts will receive state funding to increase salaries to the new floor through their basic education subsidies.
Officials from the governor’s office said salary data collected by the state Department of Education will be used to determine how much a district gets, and assumptions will be made about starting salaries for the 2019-20 school year.
Based on that methodology, 180 districts in 49 counties across Pennsylvania, along with a handful of intermediate units and career and technology centers, would get at least some money as a result of the salary floor change. Some will get only a tiny amount, while others will get hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In Berks County, four schools would get money.
The Reading School District would receive the bulk of the funding with $262,595.
According to the district’s contract with the Reading Education Association, the least a teacher can make for the current school year is $41,000. The contract’s salary schedule, which dictates teacher pay based on experience and education level, shows a total of seven slots out of 135 that fall below $45,000.
District spokeswoman Kristin Boyd said Reading has 180 teachers making less than $45,000.
Elsewhere in Berks, Antietam would get $11,335, Muhlenberg would get $4,035 and Gov. Mifflin would get $852.
Most of the money would be dispersed to districts in the southwestern part of the state and the coal region.
Districts in Cambria County would get the most, with nearly $1.9 million. Somerset County would be second at $1.7 million, and Washington County would be third with $1.2 million.
Schuylkill County would get the fourth most at just over $987,000. All 12 districts in the county would receive funding.
The $278,818 that Berks districts would receive ranks it 15th.
As for individual districts, Conemaugh Valley School District in Cambria County would see the largest funding boost, receiving just over $693,000. North Star School District in Somerset County would be second with more than $563,000, and Albert Gallatin School District in Fayette County would be third with just over $534,000. Source
January 23, 2019
Gov. Wolf outlines efforts to minimize impact of federal government shutdown
HARRISBURG, Pa. – With the federal government shutdown entering a second month, Governor Tom Wolf provided an update on how his administration is working to minimize the impact on Pennsylvanians Wednesday.
“My administration is doing everything that it can to help those impacted by this situation,” Governor Wolf said in a news release.
“Agencies across state government are working with local officials and organizations that rely on federal funding. We are temporarily using state funds to fill the gaps where we can. We are working to assist affected workers however we can.”
The Wolf administration is taking the following steps to address the federal government shutdown:
Department of Human Services
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) payments will continue through at least mid-April by using prior-year federal funds. The commonwealth has provided $4.2 million for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program that funds 100,500 child care slots for low-income families.
The 1.8 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients in Pennsylvania received their February benefits on January 18. These benefits must stretch through February, after which the fate of the program is unknown. The department notified SNAP recipients of the change.
Department of Health
The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program has enough federal funding to continue through February. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recovered additional unspent grant from states and will redistribute the funds.
Department of Labor and Industry
The Rapid Response Coordination Services is helping affected federal workers to access resources available to them. Resource fairs were held in Pittsburgh last week and in Philadelphia Wednesday. The resource fairs are in partnership with local organizations.
Pennsylvania is joining many other U.S. states in waiving the work registration and work search requirements for furloughed federal employees who meet Unemployment Compensation eligibility requirements to help affected workers to maintain their benefits.
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency
Training and exercises for first responders and emergency management practitioners that involve federal agencies have been canceled. Activities related to the disaster declaration from flooding last summer are continuing.
Department of Transportation
To assist rural and urban public transportation, the commonwealth has provided $7.1 million in unreimbursed federal expenses for operating and capital costs.
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Preparation for an elevation mapping project that includes federal funds is on hold. The high-resolution, elevation data will be used for flood management, natural resource management and conservation, land use planning, geologic mapping and hazard reduction, and infrastructure development.
Department of Community and Economic Development
The Pennsylvania Business One-Stop Shop is assisting small businesses waiting for approvals of federal Small Business Administration loans. The department is also exploring options for other business owners.
Department of Environmental Protection
Final approvals on grant funding and permitting functions have begun to be affected by the shutdown, including pass-through funds depended on by local governments. The department is reviewing and processing what they can, but final action is needed at the federal level.
Additionally, DEP is still waiting on guidance from the federal government on how to manage PFAS contamination in drinking water, a report on which has been delayed by the shutdown. DEP and the PFAS Action team continue to work to address this issue, calling on leadership at the federal level to take up this critical issue. Source
January 15, 2019
Gov. Wolf Touts Bipartisan Accomplishments During Inauguration Speech
Wolf: ‘We’re not like Washington. We can work together here in Harrisburg’
HARRISBURG (KDKA) — It had all the tradition of a gubernatorial inauguration at the state capitol – music, the presentation of the colors, the National Anthem by Philadelphia singer Bobby Hill, and an invocation by Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers.
“May the overwhelming love and unity demonstrated by the good people of Pittsburgh become a model for the type of community that is possible throughout this state,” the rabbi prayed.
Using a family Bible from the 1800’s held by his wife Frances, the governor took the oath of office from Chief Justice Tom Saylor.
“I, Tom Wolf, do solemnly swear….”
Once sworn in, Wolf quickly pointed to his new Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, known for his preference for t-shirts, jeans, and shorts, who appeared at the Inaugural in a coat and tie.
“Don’t you think the necktie looks pretty good on John?” Wolf asked.
The governor’s inaugural remarks were short on specifics but long on bipartisan accomplishments in partnership with the Republicans who control the legislature.
“Pennsylvania has created over 200,000 new jobs — good jobs that support families. We’ve improved more than 20,000 miles of roadways, restored 1,900 bridges,” noted the governor.
The litany included a billion dollars for public schools and turning a budget deficit into a surplus.
But he got his biggest cheers for health care.
“We’ve expanded Medicaid to cover 720,000 Pennsylvanians.”
And he drew a clear distinction with gridlock in Washington.
“We’re not like Washington. We can work together here in Harrisburg. We can get things done.”
Now, the Democratic governor’s salute to his Republican colleagues was reciprocated by a tweet from Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai, promising to work with the governor to find common ground.
Speaker Mike Turzai
Congratulations to @GovernorTomWolf on the swearing in of your second term. As Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, we all look forward to working with you, finding common ground for a more prosperous Pennsylvania.
The governor will present his budget in February where specifics will be detailed and differences arise.
In the meantime, on Tuesday night the governor hosted a big party at the Farm Show Complex with food and drink from all over the state and appearances by the Pirate Parrot and the Penguins’ Iceburgh.
The total cost of the event is, at last count, over $1.7 million, donated by contributors, not paid by taxpayers. Source
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