May 20, 2019
Pennsylvania urged to spend $1 per person on getting accurate census
A commission tapped by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to study how to ensure an accurate census in Pennsylvania is making a funding request of $1 per person to aid the outreach, or close to $13 million.
Wolf’s office said he supports Monday’s request by the 2020 Complete Count Committee. A number of states are undertaking a similar analysis and, in some cases, devoting money to the cause.
The government takes a headcount every 10 years. An undercount could have real-world consequences, since seats in Congress and billions in federal dollars for such things as transportation projects and education are allocated according to population.
Wolf’s office says Pennsylvania would lose almost $2,100 a year for each person who isn’t counted. The Republican-controlled Legislature has the final say on whether to approve the money.
Lehigh County is taking part in a campaign to increase census participation. According to a news release, the county is partnering with Allentown high schools to help it develop a fresh and modern logo as part of that effort.
The release notes that Allentown has dealt with significant undercounting in the past.
As part of its campaign to drive greater community engagement, Allentown is looking to students in Building 21, William Allen and Dieruff to design a logo that will help convey the importance of completing the census.
The contest winner will receive $100 and their logo will be revealed at the June 12 commissioners meeting.
“Our school system, especially in Allentown represents an effective way of breaking down traditional census barriers and ensuring we clear up fears and misconceptions about the census. The Allentown School District is a valuable partner in getting to a complete count, and tapping into the creativity of a diverse body of students represents one way of to help put forth a positive public awareness campaign for the census,” said County Executive Phillips Armstrong. Source
April 10, 2019
Legalization of Recreational Marijuana
Submit your feedback here
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is conducting a listening tour. He’ll visit all 67 Pennsylvania counties to hear from citizens in person.
6 to 7 :30 p.m. Monday, April 15
Downington High School West
455 Manor Ave., Downington, PA, 19335
February 27, 2019
Gov. Tom Wolf wants to offer first-of-its-kind college tuition benefit to Pa. National Guard member families
First Sgt. Bruce Facer and his wife Sandy welcome the proposed first-of-its-kind Military Family Education Program outlined at a news conference on Wednesday. (Jan Murphy | firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gov. Tom Wolf wants to break new ground with a new incentive program to entice members of the Pennsylvania National Guard to re-enlist for six years by offering them a tuition assistance plan for their spouses or children.
The Pennsylvania National Guard Military Family Education Program, or Pennsylvania GI Bill of Rights as Wolf refers to it, would provide up to 10 semesters of tuition-free education for the service member’s spouse or family to attend most of Pennsylvania’s higher education institutions.
The amount of assistance paid would be capped at Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education base tuition rate, which this year is $3,858 per semester. The grant could be used to pay for an education leading to an industrial certificate up to and including a graduate degree.
Further, the benefit can be used by service member’s spouse or their children up through age 26 immediately while the soldier or airman is serving in the Guard or any time after they leave the service.
Only Minnesota offers a similar educational benefit to its Guard members but that program is limited to the service member’s spouse, Wolf said in outlining the program to a room filled with soldiers and airmen and surrounded by military equipment at Fort Indiantown Gap on Wednesday.
Early estimates of the proposed program price it out to about $2.5 million a year and money was built into the governor’s $34.1 billion budget proposal for it.
The program expands on the Education Assistance Program benefits available to service members upon entering into a six-year enlistment in the Pennsylvania National Guard but those benefits are not transferrable to family members.
“Helping our service members and their families obtain post-secondary education without the financial burden that usually goes along with that can also go a long way to help military families get the education that they need for the good jobs and fulfilling careers that we need them to have right here in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said.
First Sgt. Bruce Facer, who has accrued 28 years of service in the U.S. Navy and Pennsylvania National Guard, said his family played a big part in his decision to remain in the military as long as he has.
“If my family wasn’t involved or on board with what I do, I would have been gone a long time ago because what I do affects them,” he said. “Families are a big part of what we do. Because without their support we cannot do what we do.”
He and his wife Sandy have a 20-year-old son who dropped out of college to make some money for when he decides to go back to school. “Should this program come to fruition it will be a great relief for our family to know that our son’s educational future will be secure,” Sandy Facer said.
Beyond what it would mean to her own family, Facer added she knows it will be a help to other Guard families from her work with a military family support group.
“I see so many National Guard soldiers and their families with young children. Many of them working hard just to live day by day and they are struggling. Affording a college education for their children seems to be but just a dream,” she said. “But with this Military Family Education Program, every qualified National Guard family in Pennsylvania can see their way forward to a good education for their children without that impossible debt.”
Maj. Gen. Tony Carrelli, the state’s adjutant general, called the program not only a re-enlistment tool but a retention tool for the nearly 20,000 Pennsylvania National Guard members who are called upon often on a moment’s notice to respond to natural disasters in and outside of Pennsylvania, not to mention being deployed overseas.
From digging cars out on the highway, rescuing people on rooftops in flooded areas or being mobilized for about a year, he said, “We’re here for the safety and security of our communities at the sacrifice of our own family. This [program] is for those families that sacrifice.”
Republican and Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate were on hand at the event to voice their support for this initiative.
Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland County, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee who is championing the proposed bill in his chamber, acknowledged the important role families play in re-enlistment decisions. He said this proposal could help boost the lagging number of the Guardsmen who re-enlist.
Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence County, who intends to be an advocate for the bill in the House as the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, said he sees this as a win-win for the service members and their families as well as the commonwealth.
“We keep the children in Pennsylvania,” he said. “We keep you men and women in the Guard because you are trained. You’re the best at what you do. You’ve done it for a long time. Keeping you there is cost efficient for the state.”
The way the proposed legislation is drafted, a Wolf Administration official said families would immediately be eligible for the program, but the first grants would not go out until the start of the fall semester in 2020. Source
February 20, 2019
Gov. Tom Wolf’s voting machine replacement order to counties draws scrutiny from senators
This is a paper ballot used by Dominion Voting Systems, one of the new type of voting systems that Pennsylvania is going to have in place by the presidential primary in 2020. (File photo/Dan Gleiter | email@example.com) (Dan Gleiter | firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gov. Tom Wolf has requested $75 million in state funding over the next five years to help counties comply with his directive to replace voting machines, but it is the mandate itself that continues to trouble some state lawmakers.
In April, Wolf ordered counties to replace their voting machines with ones that produce a paper record for the voter to verify their vote is recorded correctly before casting their ballot. Counties were given until 2020 to comply.
Why the need? Why the rush? How to pay for them? Those were among the questions lawmakers posed to Acting Commonwealth Secretary Kathy Boockvar at a Senate budget hearing for the Department of State on Wednesday.
She said her conversations she has had with county officials indicate that they are pleased the governor is proposing to help pick up the tab for part of this mandate, although they wish he would agree to pay a larger share. The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania estimates the voter machine replacement cost to be about $150 million statewide, although some estimate the cost to be lower. The federal government has agreed to kick in more than $14.1 million.
The state-approved vendors are offering financing options to counties allowing them to pay for their voting systems over three to eight years although local banks sometimes offer lower interest rates, she said, responding to questions from Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County.
In a hard line of questioning, Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery County, asked if there had been any machines hacked in Pennsylvania.
Boockvar testified not to her knowledge.
Yet, he said, “We have a rush to 2020. We have a huge expense to our taxpayers. We have vendors who are using excessively high interest rate proposals. We have governments that don’t have a way to pay for these. And we have no example, none, of a real legitimate issue. Why 2020? Why the rush?“
Boockvar responded that Pennsylvania was one of 21 states known to have experienced some hacking attempts of their election systems in the 2016 presidential election.
“Almost all, if not every single one of those 13 states will be upgrading by 2020,” she said. “So if we don’t, we will certainly be the only swing state, if not the only state, left in the country without a voter verified paper trailer. It’s not a position that I think any of us at the county, state or federal level want to be in.”
What’s more, she said homeland security and other experts all agree that states should upgrade to a voter verified paper trail voting system by the next presidential election. She said counties were given more than two years’ notice to make arrangements to replace their voting machines.
Still, Mensch said, “We can do this in a more practical, logical, programmed way, business way, and not creating these pressures on the 67 counties.”
Also driving the need to move swiftly to replace the machines is a settlement of a federal vote-counting lawsuit that 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein filed against the state. To end the lawsuit, the state committed to transitioning to voter verified machines before the 2020 presidential primary.
Boockvar said 13 of the state’s 67 counties are moving forward with plans to upgrade their voting systems by this May’s primary and the majority are expected to follow by the November general election. Source
February 19, 2019
Wolf creates new economic development, workforce ‘command center’
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on Tuesday signed an executive order that created a new partnership between state government and the private sector that will address worker shortages.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday signed an executive order that created a new partnership between state government and the private sector that will address worker shortages.
Called the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center, the new entity brings together politicians, labor leaders and business people from across Pennsylvania to address skills gaps and worker shortages in key industries.
At its core, the organization will offer recommendations on ways to better coordinate workforce and economic development programs and identify barriers that prevent businesses from hiring skilled workers.
During a press conference in Harrisburg on Tuesday, Wolf made it clear why he signed the executive order. He said Pennsylvania’s economy is transforming, “and it’s a race to keep up.”
“We either strengthen workforce development, or we risk falling behind,” Wolf said. “We must be bold and ambitious and break from the status quo.”
From the governor’s perspective, there are issues in Pennsylvania that need to be corrected. More people are looking for work than ever before, he said, but many are “stuck” in low-wage jobs without the proper training to advance their careers.
Along those same lines, businesses are growing across the state and can’t find trained workers to fill open jobs. That’s why this new agency is necessary, Wolf said, and it has its work cut out for it.
In creating the new agency, Wolf also announced its new leadership. Three state politicians — including the acting Secretary of State, the Secretary of the state Department of Labor and Industry, and the Secretary of Department of Community and Economic Development — will join three business leaders in overseeing the new agency.
Those three business leaders include: Gene Barr, the president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry; Rick Bloomingdale, the president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO; and Tony Bartolomeo, the co-chair of Team Pennsylvania.
In a news release, Bloomingdale mentioned workforce development programs are essential to moving Pennsylvania forward. Where this program is different, he said, is that it focuses on both workers and employers.
“Workforce development programs that train and support workers in their careers, and not just meet the needs of employers, move Pennsylvania forward in attracting the jobs of the future,” he said.
In addition, Barr said he was pleased to partner with Wolf and “lawmakers from both sides of the aisle … to address this issue in order to ensure that Pennsylvania’s workforce is prepared to meet the needs of the evolving jobs market.”
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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