Another good reason to move to a Defined Contribution system

Article posted on July 31, 2016

I saw an interesting story in the Times-Tribune today about overtime.  State employees had $250 million in overtime payments during 2015, the highest amount in 20 years.  The number is up $24 million from last year.  The Dept. of Corrections had the highest amount, which is no surprise for those of us who have been complaining about this cost, with the Dept. of Human Services in 2nd place.  Overall, 18 departments had higher overtime than in 2014, and 15 had lower.  There were a lot of reasons, or excuses, given in the article for what has and is happening with these state employees.  There were some unusual events that accounted for a relatively small portion of the big picture.  A visit from the Pope can generate extra work, I understand that, but the article didn’t mention the fact that the employees’ pensions are based on the income they earn at the end of their time on the job.  What happens is that the senior employees want more overtime to pad their pensions and work the system to get it.  This turns out not only being a big expense for the taxpayers during the current fiscal year, but it drives up pension costs.  Another good reason to move to a Defined Contribution system.

-John

Hope we get some more tomorrow

Article posted on July 30, 2016

I was glad to get home this evening after a long day on the road.  I bought my first pig of the Fair season in Shippensburg this afternoon.  They had a big crowd at the combined 4H/FFA sale this year.  The kids are from both Cumberland and Franklin Counties and produced good looking animals ready for market.  Before the sale, I was in Williamsburg to help celebrate the Fire Company’s 90th Anniversary.  They had a nice crowd as well, attracting people from as far away as Mt. Union.  I was glad to see the community turn out for these volunteers.  Charlotte and I attended a picnic tonight at DelGrosso’s Park.  We had an excellent meal, as expected.  I was in and out of the much needed rain throughout the day.  We need it badly; hope we get some more tomorrow.

-John

The summer is stacking up to be very busy

Article posted on July 29, 2016

I didn’t have anything scheduled until tonight, a fundraiser for the Mountain Lion Backpack program and the Griffith Family Foundation’s 7th Annual Dinner and Silent Auction.  This dinner raises money for pancreatic cancer research.  Greg Griffith was a friend of mine and died of this terrible disease.  His family’s efforts have raised many thousands of dollars for a fight that could save future cancer victims.  I spent time with my scheduling today.  Now that the budget is passed and we have a normal session calendar, I’m catching up with lots of events, some of which I could not get to last summer.  The truck should turn over 412,000 miles tomorrow with trips through five counties.  The summer is stacking up to be very busy.

-John

Many issues of mutual interest

Article posted on July 28, 2016

I am often asked by people about the best way to contact a legislator.  I have even given hour-long presentations about what to do and not to do.  One thing folks need to understand is that we receive more communications than we can answer ourselves.  We also get questions that we have to work with others to answer.  So, we share information with staff or others.  Having an email is preferable because it can be forwarded.  Facebook messages or texts are a problem.  Just a tip for people that need a little more than an easy answer on something.  I had a meeting in Altoona this morning, lunch with a friend and had dinner in Bedford with the PA State Assoc. of Twp. Supervisors’ Executive Board.  I had a great time visiting with the members and discussing many issues of mutual interest to our constituents.  Hope to be asked to participate with them again.

-John

Wonder if this gravy train can ever be stopped

Article posted on July 27, 2016

I visited St. Francis University this morning, met with constituents in the office and took care of some other work.  As I spoke with people today about the budget and local government issues, I heard a common theme: government spends too much.  As people see taxes going up, and the very real threat of them going higher at every level of government, they are worried about how they can hang on.  They see the waste, the extravagance, the widening gap of pay and benefits between the private and public sector employees and wonder if this gravy train can ever be stopped.

-John

There’s always something to do

Article posted on July 26, 2016

I was in Harrisburg this morning for a quarterly meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Probation.  I had a tour of the PA Bureau of Parole and Probation’s central office following the meeting.  There are about 80,000 active cases in their system at any given time and this number will grow under the new laws that keep nonviolent offenders out of jail and on parole.  Technology needs to play a significant part of the solution to this growing need and they are working on it in a big way.  I was impressed with the effort.  I spent a little time at my Capitol office and had another meeting before heading home.  I didn’t have anything scheduled tonight, so I replaced a few bad boards on our deck.  There’s always something to do when you own a house.

-John

That is not the prevailing opinion today

Article posted on July 25, 2016

I had a meeting in Altoona this morning, a luncheon sponsored by Thrivent Financial with Frank Coonelly, President of the Pittsburgh Pirates as the speaker, and got to the Curve game late tonight because of a Habitat For Humanity meeting.  There was news today that the Auditor General will be doing an audit of the state’s two pension funds, SERS and PSERS.  There has been an outcry over the fees charged by the investors of the funds, millions each year.  This is an issue the Governor and legislative Republicans agree has to be addressed.  When I first joined the Senate, I asked about these fees and met with some of the folks running the funds; they assured me that this was the best model, giving an incentive for the best performance.  That is not the prevailing opinion today, and the history of the funds when compared to a no load fund like Vanguard proves my point.

-John

It will be interesting to see how it holds together in court

Article posted on July 24, 2016

I was on another business tour today, the Blair Sign Company in Altoona.  I went through their facility a few years ago, but it’s changed a lot because of their continual advances in technology.  They operate globally and do work for many international companies.  We saw a lot of work in progress and heard that some of their orders take years to fulfill.  One of their customers has so many locations that it is estimated to take between 10 and 15 years just to update their signs with new logos.  Now that’s a big operation.  The Sunday papers had a few stories about former State Treasurer Barbara Hafer being charged by the Feds for what looks like a quid pro quo arrangement while she was in office.  She accepted $300,000 in campaign contributions from a man who represented an investment firm that ended up receiving a contract to invest a large amount of state money.  This case goes pretty far back; it will be interesting to see how it holds together in court.

-John

Why they’re placing the welfare of the public and their members at risk

Article posted on July 23, 2016

I received word yesterday that the Governor was releasing the money for the completion of the work at Meadow Grounds Lake.  There will be an official announcement soon, but the Public Opinion had a story in this morning about it, so I’m mentioning it.  Thanks to so many people from Fulton County for their generous donations and advocacy.  I spoke at the PA State Mayors Assoc. Annual Conference this morning in Gettysburg.  I have spoken to this group before.  They’re a good group of folks who are trying their best to maintain basic services to their communities under increasingly difficult financial circumstances.  Part of my remarks this morning focused on the legislation we’ve been working on for several years that would change the pension plans for future police and paid firefighters.  Many of these programs are in financial trouble.  The solution currently is to downsize police and firefighters, not a good situation for the public or the employees themselves.  Unfortunately, the state FOP and firefighters union would sooner put their members in jeopardy with fewer people on the street than agree to reasonable pension changes.  Union members and the general public should be asking these union officials why they’re placing the welfare of the public and their members at risk.

-John

These new devices are really something

Article posted on July 22, 2016

I attended the Department of Distance Education Class of 2016 Commencement Ceremony at the US Army War College this morning.  Without fail, every event I have ever attended there has been first class.  The ceremony was held outside, and it wasn’t too hot this morning at 9:00, just sunny and bright.  The pomp and circumstance of a graduation ceremony combined with the discipline and patriotism of the military made for a very special event.  I got back in time to go on the air with a national Christian radio program then visit the Blair County Probation Offices’ Mini Fair at the Court House.  The technology used these days is fascinating.  An ankle bracelet with GPS can tell the probation officer, in real time, where the probationer is.  For example, the officer at the Mini Fair told me about a recent example where he looked online at where his parolee was.  The parolee was on Rte 36, outside of Roaring Spring going 60 in a 45 zone.  He called the parolee and reminded him of his requirement to obey all laws, including traffic laws, while under probation.  These new devices are really something.

-John