It would be nice to see the two parties solve their own problems

Article posted on November 30, 2011

I was at the University of Pittsburgh today for a Banking and Insurance Committee hearing on the “divorce” between Highmark and UPMC. The CEOs of both companies testified. There is no love loss between these businesses, and their words today were proof of that. This is a very complicated issue in many respects, but could boil down to straightforward legal questions about contracts and the constitutional role of government. This matter affects over 1 million insureds and thousands of hospital employees. The contract expires in 7 months. It would be nice to see the two parties solve their own problems, but I wouldn’t count on it.

-John

I appreciate their understanding

Article posted on November 29, 2011

It was a rare day without appointments. I spent most of the time with staff doing planning and preparing for a long day tomorrow when I’m headed to Pittsburgh for a hearing then to Everett then to McConnellsburg. At this time of the year, we’re trying to account for what needs to be done and then trying to work it all in. I have commitments 6 or 7 months out on my calendar already. Things slow down around Christmas, so I’m trying to work in meetings closer to that date. We’ll do the best we can, and most people are fine with that. I appreciate their understanding.

-John

Hopefully, the situation will be remedied easily

Article posted on November 28, 2011

I did receive news clips today, but none worth mentioning. Maybe, there really wasn’t any big news yesterday… I met with an agency this morning concerning their funding and followed up on emails and constituent work with staff. I also worked on cleaning up my desk, which is pretty bad. I always have things in my briefcase for the capitol when I’m home and for home when I’m at the capitol. Conversely, I need things that are at another office. I’m better organized than I used to be, but I could be better. Maybe that will be a goal for next year. I started to work on a bill today that addresses an area of the law that was missed by recent legislation. This happens sometimes. After changes are made to a law, an example surfaces in court or through local government activity or an individual simply discovers an issue, and the legislature addresses it. This matter involves bid limits for a government entity. Hopefully, the situation will be remedied easily.

-John

I had to find stories the old fashioned way, looking at newspapers

Article posted on November 27, 2011

I didn’t get any news clips today from the news service. I don’t know if no one showed up to work, if there wasn’t any news, or if they just singled me out. I had to find stories the old fashioned way, looking at newspapers. There is still new information coming out daily on the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State sex scandal. I still talk to people who think that Joe Paterno is being treated unfairly, not many people, but a few die hard fans of his just can’t admit that he should have done way more than he did. Like my sister said, if it were your child and not some faceless troubled kid in a non-profit program, it would be different to those people. Anyway, we’ll all be waiting for the investigation(s) and trial to provide more conclusive information. As I write this, Pittsburgh is loosing 3 – zip. I hope when you read this tomorrow, the Sports page will say that the “Stillers” had a slow start to their huge victory.

-John

Again, I return my increase to the Commonwealth

Article posted on November 26, 2011

To add to my comments from last night on the COLA, this annual adjustment makes more sense than the process that was used before or the law that governs salaries for county officials. The previous state process was to have no automatic adjustment and randomly pass legislation to set new salaries. The law governing county officials gives the Commissioners the opportunity, in the year before their election, to set the salaries of all the county officials for the next four years. They are forced to guess at inflation rates 5 years out, not something anyone can do well. If in theory, the appropriate salaries of state officials were established in 1995 when the COLA law was passed, an inflationary annual adjustment would maintain those same salary levels. Another issue with the salaries of state officials is that they are the same for every judge, district justice or legislator even though the cost of living around the state varies significantly. $82,000 goes a lot further in Blair County than it does in Montgomery. Counties, on the other hand, have salary ranges based on the size of the county, which equates pretty well with the cost of living for that area. An option some states have gone to is a salary board or commission that sets the salaries of officials. I’m not very familiar with how this operates, and it might have merit. I suspect, however, that it has pros and cons like every other process. One thing is certain, every year this COLA gets a lot of attention. Again, I return my increase to the Commonwealth.

-John

This is the only way to not accept the increase

Article posted on November 25, 2011

News stories circulated today about the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for state officials to be effective December 1st. The increase is 3.0178% and applies to legislators, the Governor, judges and other state officials. A law was passed in 1995 that established the automatic COLA based on a federal inflation index. There are various inflation indexes that calculate, usually similar, but different inflationary rates. That’s why the index used to calculate the COLA, which applies to Social Security, for example, will have a different rate than other federal indexes. Two years ago, there was no increase in the federal index monitored for Pennsylvania’s COLA or the index used for Social Security. Last year the two indexes were different. Legislators, not including leadership members, all make the same salary, $79,623. That will increase next month to $82,026. Since it is the law that the COLA changes, if any, apply each December, my paycheck will increase. I can’t stop that. What I have done for years and will continue to do, is to write a check each month to the Commonwealth for the accumulated difference. This is the only way to not accept the increase. Taking it and giving it to charities back home is different. I will explain more about the COLA process in the days ahead.

-John

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Article posted on November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Charlotte and I spent the afternoon at my sister Wendy and her family’s house for dinner. We had plenty of food and a special time with family. Johnny is away at school, but via telephone, was able to join us for awhile. I hope that you had a day filled with food, family and thanks giving as well.

-John

There are great entrepreneurs in this state

Article posted on November 23, 2011

This is a work week with a holiday, but a work week none-the-less. I did a tour of another local business today and was again impressed with their ingenuity and willingness to risk their own resources. Go Green APU is located in Altoona and is somewhat of a rarity, a new manufacturing business. Given the right circumstances, they have a tremendous future. There are great entrepreneurs in this state. Our government just needs to stay out of their way and they’ll be just fine.

-John

We served over 200 people despite the rain

Article posted on November 22, 2011

I spent most of the day in Tyrone. I had a great tour of Reclamere, Inc. This business, in it’s 10th year, continues to meet today’s technical advancements and grow. I ended the day at the Tyrone Community Annual Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by Joshua House. I helped serve the dinner tonight, last night Wendy and Michele with her son Shane helped prepare. We served over 200 people despite the rain. It was the traditional turkey dinner with all of the trimmings. The diners were very complimentary about the food. Many folks also commented on the uniquely wrapped silverware sets, they were beautiful.

-John

The sooner the final plan is approved the better

Article posted on November 21, 2011

I am caught in the middle of the redistricting changes. I have to prepare for what will probably happen, but can’t really do anything until the decision is final. If the current plan holds, I will close the Bedford office and figure out how to best serve the people of Fulton, Franklin and Perry Counties. When I started in the Senate, almost five years ago, I had no office space anywhere and no staff. It’s different for most new members who are often politically connected to the person they are replacing, but that wasn’t my situation. I’ll have to spend a lot of time on this transition. The sooner the final plan is approved the better.

-John