This is a big adjustment

Article posted on September 30, 2011

The Senate supplies Blackberries to members for official use only. I used one up until last week to get emails and my schedule. I always had to carry my personal cell phone to use since I needed a cell phone for things other than official business. Charlotte and I purchased new phones about a week ago, and I got a new Blackberry Bold. Since I own it, I programmed it to get my personal email account, my Senate emails and calendar, and I use it as a phone. This makes life a lot easier for me, although more expensive. Charlotte got a Droid, which she loves. We were flip phone users, so this is a big adjustment. We’re both still learning, so if you get a hang up or botched text messages from either of us, please don’t take offense.

-John

It would be nice, for once, to fix something permanently

Article posted on September 29, 2011

The Finance Committee meeting yesterday on public pension programs was interesting. I wasn’t thrilled with all of the people offering testimony. It was bad enough that some of the “facts” weren’t accurate, but in addition, one of the gentlemen gave a string of his personal opinions about the subject matter. What I learned from the hearing is that we are not out of the woods as far as future shortfalls. We could keep to the payment schedule or even pay a little extra from time to time, but if the stock market really tanks, we will have to infuse a substantial amount of money. With the way the market has been lately and the projections on the economy, anything is possible. A defined contribution plan is what should be in place for future hires. This change would not help the short term problem, but it would be nice, for once, to fix something permanently.

-John

Everyone involved tonight is a winner

Article posted on September 28, 2011

I told Charlotte that I was on PCN all day. This morning we had a Joint Transportation Committee hearing on funding issues then session and after lunch we had a Finance Committee hearing on public pension programs, all of which were televised. I started the day with a Local Government Commission meeting. It was a normal day at the capitol. I got back tonight in time for the Blair Countians For Drug Free Communities Annual Recognition Dinner. I am a member of the board of this organization which is comprised of law enforcement officers, drug and alcohol treatment professionals, school social workers, citizen advocates and elected officials. Tonight’s program recognized people of varied backgrounds for successful efforts in combating addiction. Everyone involved tonight is a winner.

-John

It was a big day for local government

Article posted on September 27, 2011

It was a big day for local government. We passed 15 bid-limit bills. Since the 1980’s, PA law has required local governments to go through a lengthy and expensive advertising process for any purchase or contract that is expected to cost over $10,000. Virtually every state has raised this limit to something much higher. The bills in process would increase the limit to $18,500 and include an annual inflationary increase to the nearest $100 with a 3% cap. This change will save a lot of time and money for local governments. The House and Senate have both now passed a package of identical bid-limit bills. Leadership of both chambers will select whose bills will be finally passed into law with both House and Senate sponsors sharing the victory. In the Local Government Committee this morning, in addition to a list of other bills, we passed legislation to protect autopsy records from access to the press when protection is either requested by family members or a criminal investigation may be jeopardized. This bill was passed last session, but was vetoed by Governor Rendell. With the help of the Coroner’s Association, the District Attorney’s Association and law enforcement and domestic violence groups, this time, it should become law.

-John

The clock is ticking

Article posted on September 26, 2011

We’re back in session, and the buzz is all about what we will get accomplished this fall. Local government issues did very well today, as we amended 15 bid limit bills on the floor of the Senate, and a bill I sponsored to change the financial guarantee requirements of county officials passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee. Many bills that the legislature can accomplish on their own, that are not controversial, can move through the system over the next few months. The big 4 issues that grab all of the headlines are still at the starting line. We are down to 19 session days remaining and still no word from the Governor about what he wants us to do. He hasn’t said what he will support or veto and certainly has not offered any specific language on his agenda items. We’ll keep plugging away at what legislation we can reach agreements on internally and hope that he speaks up before long. The clock is ticking.

-John

Always remember, it’s just a game

Article posted on September 25, 2011

I once heard a local sports announcer say that this is the best time of the year for a sports fan, I can’t disagree. With baseball in the final stretch, college football and the NFL both off and running, there’s a lot of chatter by everyone who follows sports. In this state, there’s a line that divides otherwise peaceful citizens into either fanatical Pittsburgh or Philadelphia professional sports fans. Unfortunately, I have to hear from Philadelphia fans when I’m at the capitol. We have conceded the Pirates to the Phillies yet again, but the Eagles are off to a rough start. The Steelers aren’t looking too good at the time I’m writing this, but they historically easily out pace their intrastate rivals. When you throw in the Penguins, we Pittsburgh fans do pretty well. And there’s always next year for the Bucs. I’m not talking World Series, I’ll settle for them breaking 500. Always remember, it’s just a game. Yeah, right.

-John

Pennsylvanians will pull through, they always do

Article posted on September 24, 2011

The rain keeps coming all over the East coast. I saw on one TV channel today that it is expected to be the wettest year on record for New York City. A large portion of Pennsylvania is still drying out from Hurricanes Irene and Lee and the recent precip adds to the problem. This past week, legislation was introduced to address funding for infrastructure rebuilding in the hardest hit areas of the state. We are waiting for federal dollars, which are uncertain these days. Pennsylvanians will pull through, they always do. But in this economy, the recovery will be much slower.

-John

I guess it’s only their kind of diversity that counts

Article posted on September 23, 2011

I understand from reports that St. Francis University had a speaker scheduled for an event and when the President of the university found out her views on the sanctity of human life, her appearance was cancelled. This decision made the papers. The university explained its position, that hosting this speaker would be contrary to its beliefs, which is understandable for a religious school. Today, the Altoona Mirror gave a “Thumbs Down” to the university president for his decision. The editorial folks at the paper put their position above logic and the United States constitution. Why would a Catholic university bring onto their campus someone who stands for something in direct opposition to what they stand for? And when did private schools give up their rights to provide the educational experience they deem necessary? Private universities do not need to pander to liberal viewpoints, or conservative ones for that matter, on anything. This thinking that everyone must welcome every perspective is unAmerican. The last time I checked, not everyone in this country had the same religion or political philosophy. I thought that liberals believed in diversity, I guess it’s only their kind of diversity that counts.

-John

The clock is ticking on the fall session

Article posted on September 22, 2011

There was yet another story today on how the fall session schedule is shaping up. It focused on transportation funding, but pretty well summed up the whole situation, the Governor must lead. He needs to tell the legislature exactly what language he wants in a bill and then hit the streets selling it. He needs to be the front man. Ed Rendell handled issues that way when he occupied the Governor’s mansion, and it either got him his way or created a tough battle for those of us that generally disagreed. The clock is ticking on the fall session, and next year will be a pass for many legislators since they won’t want to make tough decisions in an election year. Let’s go!

-John

I say that it is a long shot at best

Article posted on September 21, 2011

On my way home from Harrisburg, I started to get calls about a newspaper story that cited a new report from the State Treasurer on where any new casinos could be placed. The story made it seem like Altoona was one of three cities mentioned in the report. After looking at the report, I learned that Altoona was one of many locations mentioned, and wasn’t even in the top half of projected revenue generating sites. The report seems to have used geography as the only determining factor, naming cities far away from existing casinos. From what I have learned about casinos, a stand alone facility is unusual. A casino is typically part of a resort or accompanies a race track or is in a metropolitan area with many other attractions surrounding it. For people who think that this could happen, I say that it is a long shot at best. I don’t think that most of the community wants a casino and neither do I.

-John