We’re over $200 million short of expectations

Article posted on April 30, 2013

We got fresh revenue numbers today and they’re worse than anticipated. We’re over $200 million short of expectations. This shortfall in the budget can become much worse if the lottery service-management contract doesn’t go through and pension reform doesn’t pass. Worst case, we could be looking at a $500 million plus hole to fill. The biggest hit was to sales tax revenue, which is what we were afraid of. When the federal government increased tax withholding in January, the state’s income earners had less in their paychecks. This equated directly to less spending and, therefore, less retail sales. Since March and April are the two largest income months for the state, the chances of making up much of this deficit in the May and June timeframe is slim. Hopefully, it doesn’t get any worse.

-John

This is critically important and will be a priority for me and many others

Article posted on April 29, 2013

We’re back in Harrisburg for the beginning of the May/June budget stretch. A compressed timeframe seems to produce results. It isn’t pretty, but it works. The changes to the pension program are starting to take shape. Although the Senate worked on this issue last session and reintroduced similar legislation earlier this year, the Governor’s plan is just now seeking co-sponsors. Arguably, this initiative is the most important of the big 3, even though the liquor privatization bill is getting all of the ink. Speaking of liquor privatization, the Senate Law and Justice Committee will hold its first hearing on HB 790 tomorrow. That will get lots of attention. We are also finishing the abortion opt out bill for the Obamacare insurance exchange. This legislation would preserve the state’s current law, which does not permit tax dollars to fund abortion. This is critically important and will be a priority for me and many others.

-John

The pendulum has swung too far.

Article posted on April 28, 2013

After church, I did office work most of the day. I stopped by a funeral home this afternoon to see the family of a young man who died of cancer. What more can I say, how tragic. I also stopped by an event for Begin With Us Preschool and Daycare. They had an afternoon of bowling at the Bavarian Club in Altoona. I got to see my friend Hailey. She did pretty well for her age. There weren’t a lot of interesting stories in the papers today. There is still interest in who’s getting what on per diems. Maybe something will change this time. The labor union that sued to stop the closure of some of the health department’s regional offices, lost. It seems that every time there’s a change in the state government’s workforce, there’s a lawsuit from a union. They apparently think that they’re permanently exempt from any efficiencies that can be gained for the taxpayers. The pendulum has swung too far.

It was a good event.

Article posted on April 28, 2013

I was in a small race this morning, no pun intended, a kids fun run in Roaring Spring. The YMCA asked me to come out and do a 1/2 miler with the kids. It’s good for them to get the exercise and even better when they see an old guy do it with them. I got my grass cut for the first time this season. My mower and weed trimmer both started, which is always a worry. Tonight I attended a benefit soccer game in Roaring Spring. The Spring Cove Middle School soccer team played the faculty. The proceeds went to the American Cancer Society. I presented the game ball to Dawn Dibert, a cancer survivor and friend of Charlotte and mine. The weather was perfect for the game and everyone who played did so for someone who has cancer or in their memory. It was a good event.

I’ll have to catch up a little over the weekend.

Article posted on April 26, 2013

I had a full day scheduled. I was in Bedford County this morning for an open house at a business then a Resource, Conservation and Development Council meeting. I was a voting member of this group when I was a county commissioner and still help out with their issues when I can. I took some supplies to the Bedford office then headed to the Veterans Home for their volunteer recognition luncheon. The home tracks how many hours these folks help. One lady had over 600 hours last year. Wow! I had a meeting back at the Hollidaysburg office then went to Huntingdon for another meeting. I got zero office work done. I’ll have to catch up a little over the weekend.

My prayers are with these families as they bury their loved ones.

Article posted on April 25, 2013

I had meetings this morning and tonight. I managed to get to two funeral homes today for viewings. Bob Kerns who was very active in the fire service, passed away. I saw Bob and his wife Nancy at many meetings and dinners over the years. Bob was a good drummer, too. He’ll be greatly missed. I also visited with the family of former Altoona City Councilman Tom Burn. Tom was one of the old school. His faith was always first. His family and the people he served were above everything else. He served during a period when the council was full time and each member ran a department of the city. It was a different era. Tom was respected by everyone for his personal integrity. My prayers are with these families as they bury their loved ones.

There’s something about being stuck with no wheels that’s scary

Article posted on April 24, 2013

The truck was in the shop all day today. I didn’t have any appointments after an early Blair Chamber event, so it worked out, but there’s something about being stuck with no wheels that’s scary. My office work consisted of writing letters and emails, making calls, working on scheduling and going over issues with staff. Even though I had more time than usual, I still could have used a few extra hours. After getting the truck, I headed to Walmart for a paper towel rack, got my tool box at home, and fixed a broken one at the office. Wait till staff sees the new, improved towel rack tomorrow. I think they’ll be impressed.

-John

We ran a little long, but it was a good conversation

Article posted on April 23, 2013

I learned more today about what the three unions that are attacking the Act 111 reform are saying to their members. It’s the same story they’re telling nonmembers, just that it’s a bad bill, no details. I heard from two union members today that thought this bill was about their pensions. Now I have to explain to them what they’re paying their union bosses good money to explain. How ironic. I had a town hall meeting in Schellsburg tonight. We had a friendly group with a lot of questions. We talked about liquor store privatization, common core standards, the budget, the lottery, state use tax, tax exempt definitions and the courts role in their determination, the single subject rule, regional elections of appellate judges and other subjects. We ran a little long, but it was a good conversation.

-John

Fairness and doing what’s right for the citizens of a community should always be the priorities of government

Article posted on April 22, 2013

Last week, I took part in a press availability event to discuss my bill on the outdated provisions of Act 111, the 45 year-old binding arbitration law for police and firefighters. Two of those unions reacted to the new legislation with a letter to my colleagues that was far from professional. Let me clarify that this letter came from the union bosses and does not represent the positions of many of the police and firefighters I’ve spoken with. They accused the mayors of our state’s cities and boroughs, along with our state’s business leaders, of providing “misinformation” on this issue. They went on to say that the bill does “grave harm” to their members. What they didn’t talk about is what’s really in the bill. At a time when transparency is a welcome component of virtually all public decision making, these union bosses want to continue the arbitration process behind closed doors. My bill would open it to the public. They insist that having municipalities in financial distress pay two-thirds of the cost of the process, not sharing it 50/50 as my bill provides, is fair; and that receiving benefits from an arbitrator’s decision that are far more generous than what is permitted by state law, is just fine. I don’t think so. When we have municipalities that can’t pay their bills and have already taxed their residents beyond what most can afford, these union bosses say that it’s OK to take more. Fairness and doing what’s right for the citizens of a community should always be the priorities of government. My bill would restore those priorities to this process.

-John

I’ll try to bring them a little good news along with the numbers and research data

Article posted on April 21, 2013

There were plenty of stories today about what was said at the PLC this weekend. Most focused on Pat Toomey’s speech and his failed gun control bill. The good news is that he said he’s done with that issue and moving his attention back to fiscal matters. I worked all day with the exception of my attendance at an Eagle Scout ceremony in Hollidaysburg. I drove to Hershey this evening for the PA State Association of Township Supervisors Conference. I’m speaking to them tomorrow morning, so I went down tonight. I’m going to talk about the Task Force I chaired on unfunded mandates. This is an unpopular, but important subject for anyone in local government. I’ll try to bring them a little good news along with the numbers and research data.

-John