Ending lame duck sessions

Article posted on May 30, 2008

This morning I presented a Senate citation to a lady at the Presbyterian Home in Hollidaysburg who turned 100 years old today. She was delightful and sharp as a tack. After a series of pictures with me she was asked to recite her poem about being photographed, she replied, “I don’t like broccoli, I don’t like bacon; I don’t like getting my picture taken.” I then traveled to the Huntingdon County Career and Technology Center to speak at their awards program for the graduates. It was a nice group of students, teachers, administrators and parents. A lot of these kids are going on to post secondary schools for more advanced training. Some will have pretty high starting salaries in a few of the fields they chose. I wish them all the best. The rest of the day was spent in the Huntingdon and Hollidaysburg offices. I did newspaper and television interviews today about the budget, Senator Joe Scarnati’s transportation proposal and the decision to not have a “lamb duck” session of the Senate. This commitment to not vote on anything after the fall Election Day is another important reform that should be passed into law like it has been in most other states. The Senate passed a bill to this effect that is languishing in the House, as are most of the reform bills so far this session. I applaud our Senate leadership for sticking to this commitment and helping to clean up the legislative process.

– John

So much misinformation about leasing the Turnpike

Article posted on May 29, 2008

I presented two “Good Citizen” awards this morning at Altoona High School. I have said many times that for all of the bad press we see about our youth, most of them are good kids and many of them are great kids. I met with constituents this morning and did a radio show this afternoon in Altoona with my friend, Pastor Gary Dull. We talked mostly about the economic stimulus package the Senate is putting out but also got onto the turnpike leasing situation, a popular topic. There is so much misinformation out there about this subject, probably more so than anything else I have dealt with in my time in the Senate. Evidently the people who don’t want to have an honest debate about this issue, have to resort to distorting the truth. I am not sure that their version of the facts will matter much when the topic is argued in Harrisburg, the people there have access to the documents and will know the real story. Tonight the PA Chamber of Business and Industry invited me to their board meeting dinner at the Bedford Springs Resort. I enjoyed the evening and getting to know the board members.

– John

A look at horse racing with the Ag Committee

Article posted on May 28, 2008

Today, the Senate Ag Committee went on a tour of three operations involved in horse racing. Since I don’t know much about horse racing, I learned quite a bit. We met at 9:00 at a horse farm in Lancaster County. The 300 acre farm was home to 170 thoroughbreds cared for (pampered) by the owners and 30 employees. We traveled next to Harrah’s Chester Downs in Chester, PA. This casino/race track facility is new. We had a great tour of the harness racing operation there. I met several of the “drivers”, they are not called jockeys. What a job! Our last stop was Philadelphia Park in Bensalem, PA.. This was another casino/race track combination like Chester Downs with the big difference being that the track is used for thoroughbred racing.. There is a lot of money involved in all segments of the horse racing industry. I learned things today that will help me with future issues coming before the Senate.

– John

New school funding formula

Article posted on May 27, 2008

I attended a meeting with the Blair County school superintendents this morning to review their proposed budget allocation. I met with just about all of the superintendents in the 30th Senatorial District over the past couple of months. The state’s new funding formula affects most of these districts, and many others around the state, negatively. It seems to me that the districts that have kept their taxes lower than their peers and have higher percentages of low income families are the districts getting less in this budget plan. Not surprisingly, the Philadelphia schools are in pretty good shape. Most school administrators agree that a multi-year plan and a set funding formula are good things, generally speaking. However, the devil is in the details of this particular budget. I will be working on this problem. I met with some constituents today, did some paperwork and had a staff meeting this evening. I have a big day tomorrow out in the eastern part of the state. I’d better get home and get some sleep, I’m still tired from this past weekend.

– John

Honoring our veterans

Article posted on May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day everyone! I have been at events since 9:00 this morning when I was in a parade and then spoke at the service in Roaring Spring (Blair County). I then went to the office for a little while before going to the service at the Hollidaysburg Veteran’s Home where I also was the speaker. I hit the God and Country Rally at the Meadow’s Intersection near Hollidaysburg for a while then went to my sister Wendy’s for the family picnic. I only stayed for about 45 minutes then hit the office again for about 45 minutes then went to the Hollidaysburg Community Band practice and concert. I narrated a couple of pieces and played my trumpet in one. I’m back at the office tonight at about 9:00 and looking over all of the things that I didn’t get done this weekend. That’s the way it goes, the important thing is that I participated in honoring our veterans today and spent some time with family. I hope that all of you got to do the same.

– John

Bad information about transportation

Article posted on May 25, 2008

I spoke at the Methodist Church in Warrior’s Mark this morning. They had a special service to honor their veterans and I was the guest speaker. The people were very nice and the meal afterward was great, homemade soup and the best chicken salad I have had in a long time. I got a little work done then went to the Marine Corps League sponsored veteran’s service at the Alto Reste Cemetery in Altoona. I played taps at this service and talked to a number of people in the crowd. The ABATE guys come to this event every year with their motorcycles and I have gotten to know a number of them. The weather was about perfect for an outside service, sunny and not too hot. I spoke with a man about leasing the Turnpike after the service. It surprises me how much incorrect information is floating around about the potential lease and Act 44 (the current transportation law in PA). I have heard that the lobbyists for the turnpike are intentionally putting out distortions about both of these issues and I am starting to believe it. I hear the same comments, stated as facts, about what will happen if things change. I am willing to discuss these issues, or any others for that matter, with constituents, but I would like them to approach the discussion with the correct information whenever possible.

– John

You do what you can to help

Article posted on May 24, 2008

We are finally getting some nice weather and it couldn’t come at a better time, Memorial Day weekend. I took advantage of the sunshine and mowed my yard and washed my truck. I have so many services to attend over the next couple of days that I spent part of today preparing remarks and touching base with people to iron out final details. There is something about Memorial Day that is special to me. I can always remember going to services when I was younger. I often played taps at a cemetery when I was old enough to do that and continue to play at services regularly. I will play taps tomorrow and Monday at events and played last week at a service at the veteran’s hospital in Altoona. This is something I can do that seems to be appreciated, since the veterans usually have a difficult time getting someone to play and often resort to a tape or decide not to include taps in their service. I always tell my son, Johnny, you do what you can to help.

– John

A full schedule

Article posted on May 23, 2008

What a week. I did more travelling and attended more meetings and events than I have for a long time. I thought that the legislators were “off” for a while? Today I visited the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center’s dental clinic. They treat hundreds of kids each year that would not receive dental care otherwise. I had lunch with the director of the school and the dentist who takes time away from his private practice to operate the clinic. They both are very dedicated to this program. I did a tour of SCI Houtzdale. This is the fourth state prison I have visited and I learn something new each time I take advantage of a tour. This prison is one of the state’s newest, built in 1996 and houses over 2,200 inmates. I’ve spent a lot of time on prison issues over the years and appreciate the opportunity to learn more about this subject in general and our state system in particular. The cost of jailing people is a looming crises, that needed addressed a long time ago and will get much worse before it gets better. Pennsylvania is adding 1,200 to 1,400 additional inmates a year to our state prisons while New York State is losing about a 1,000. The entire courts and corrections system is complex and difficult to change. Efficiencies need to be made here just like they do in other segments of government. The need for justice is preeminent but fiscal responsibility is always necessary.

– John

Where’s the transportation SPENDING debate?!

Article posted on May 22, 2008

I went to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania this morning for Senator Don White’s student event. I sat on two panels and discussed economic development issues, primarily, with students. The kids were pretty sharp. I spent some time with staff in the afternoon and did some paperwork. I didn’t see much in the news today other than a quick story tonight about the announcement of a new transportation plan from Senator Joe Scarnati that he said would stop the tolls on I-80 and create more money for the transportation budget. I don’t know the details but I did see that one large difference from current practice would be taking the funding for the State Police out of the motor license fund where it is today. This will get more attention over the next couple of days and weeks, I’m sure, so stay tuned. The transportation funding debate will be substantial, it’s too bad the transportation spending debate is almost nonexistent.

– John

That’s tax dollars

Article posted on May 21, 2008

I was in Harrisburg again today for some work at the capitol and a dinner for the Commonwealth Foundation, which was held in Lebanon County. Tomorrow morning I travel to Indiana University of Pennsylvania for a student event for Senator Don White. I really have gotten around this week and it isn’t over yet. It seems that a cloud of corruption is hanging over the capitol. The rumors about the “Bonus Gate” investigation are that there are a lot of issues in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle. The legal fees spent protecting the legislature to date have gone over one million dollars, that’s tax dollars, and the clock is still running. This is an outrage in itself. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy has been named in a law suit by The League of Women Voters who claim that he was involved in a trade of sorts; his help on the court with the gaming legislation in exchange for the General Assembly getting a pay raise through for the judges. Who knows where this will lead. The suit also says that some legislators have supplied information on the matter to The League. There are, unfortunately, many other ethical and legal problems surrounding our state government. I don’t have the space or the time to list them all in my blog.

– John