Of course, everyone argues that they have

Article posted on February 28, 2017

We had the Department of Labor and Industry at the budget hearings this morning and the Judiciary this afternoon.  One comment for clarification: I’ve been asked about the hearing schedule from people with a confused look on their face because they watched part of a hearing on PCN or saw a newspaper story on it and it was a department that didn’t match what I include in my Blog; that’s because the House Appropriations Committee is holding hearings at the same time and they have a different schedule.  The Unemployment Compensation Call Center issue was a contentious topic this morning.  The Secretary got so upset that she apologized to the committee and then got upset again and again.  She went about 90 minutes longer than anticipated, which put our afternoon schedule back.  We are waiting for an audit report from the Auditor General on the UC Call Centers and expect it to provide the information we need to make a decision about funding.  She did state today that the Altoona office would be the one opened up if employees are brought back.  The court system answered a lot of questions about their funding needs.  They have been generous over the years with their own salaries and benefits.  Many in the legislature would like to see them save more operational money, although they argue that they have.  Of course, everyone argues that they have.

-John

They provided good information for me to utilize as we work through these issues

Article posted on February 27, 2017

We’re back at the budget hearings today.  The Department of Agriculture testified this morning with the Departments of General Services and Transportation this afternoon.  There were no details learned about the lease back proposal on the Farm Show Building or the $25 fee on residents living in municipalities without local police protection.  We’ve been waiting for information about the various proposals announced by the Governor, and so far, we haven’t had much luck.  I spoke with the good folks at the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association this morning.  They have a Monthly Business Briefing at this time of the month and I was their speaker.  Many manufacturers have a difficult time getting skilled employees, so what schools do or don’t do to prepare students for the workforce is important to them.  They provided good information for me to utilize as we work through these issues; I appreciated my time with them.

-John

Now that’s a tough story to beat

Article posted on February 26, 2017

We finished out the 2017 Jaffa Sports Show.  Thanks to staff for all of the help planning and hauling materials and staffing the table.  Some of the topics discussed over the weekend came in batches; today we had several people talk about Chronic Wasting Disease.  One of the men had been to our recent forum on that subject, the others all had their opinions about what would save the deer herd.  Although we covered a lot of territory, the winners for the most discussed topics for the weekend were the comments on education committee work (all positive), and the debate about semi automatic weapons for hunting (the majority were against it).  The most unusual story of the weekend was from a man this afternoon who told us he found a dead body this morning while walking his dogs.  Now that’s a tough story to beat.

-John

Great resources for school science assignments

Article posted on February 25, 2017

We had a lot more people at the Jaffa Sports Show today; the rain probably helped with the crowd.  I was there as much as possible, but had an Eagle Scout ceremony this afternoon and attended the Central Blair Recreation Commission’s Annual Dinner tonight.  They honored my former Commissioner colleague, Donna Gority.  I heard about a lot of the same issues today and had several constituents ask for help with specific problems.  The hottest topic from the sportsmen is the potential use of semi automatic weapons for hunting.  The consensus, so far, is that they don’t want it used for deer or bear.  We also had more people than usual asking for materials for kids.  We have a few books geared for young children and several books on mammals, birds, and trees that are not only good in the field, but are great resources for school science assignments.  Hope to see lots of you tomorrow for the final day of the show.

-John

Hope to see you tomorrow or Sunday

Article posted on February 24, 2017

Had a good day at the Jaffa Sports Show.  The crowd seemed down a little, but the ones that came enjoyed themselves.  We had hundreds of conversations between 10:00 AM and 8:00 PM about such topics as: the proposed $25 fee for residents in a municipality not covered by a local police force, issues with the PA Game Commission (like Sunday hunting, the use of semi-automatic weapons, and deer management), the state budget, the Governor’s proposal on early retirement, the state pension, funding of county roads and bridges, SB 76, Altoona school construction (not popular), plenty of Presidential commentary (almost all pro-Trump), a rent rebate program question, and dozens of people expressing their support for my work as Education Committee Chair (precipitated by the news stories this week).  Tomorrow’s crowd is typically much larger.  I will be there most of the day, but I have three events that I’ll have to step out for.  Hope to see you tomorrow or Sunday.

-John

We collected as much information as possible

Article posted on February 23, 2017

We had our last day of budget hearings this week.  The morning session was the PASSHE system.  These are the 14 state-owned universities.  Their financial situation is not good; they are losing students and are undertaking a study to determine how to proceed.  In the Chancellor’s own words, our current system is unsustainable.  This afternoon, we had the State Police.  Most questions to the Commissioner focused on their handling of the statewide radio system that has cost about a billion dollars and still doesn’t work correctly.  They are requesting additional funds to fix it; we’ve heard that before.  He also received a lot of questions about the Governor’s proposal to charge a $25 fee for every resident of a municipality that does not have their own police department.  As with most of the Governor’s proposals this year, there are no details for the proposal, so we collected as much information as possible, but still need to see the particulars.  Tomorrow I’ll be at the Jaffa Sports Show most of the day.  Look forward to seeing everyone there.

-John

Hopefully, we’ll get the answers we need to make the best decisions

Article posted on February 22, 2017

We had our second day of Budget hearings.  The morning session was with the Dept. of State and the afternoon included the Auditor General and Attorney General.  I worked in as many media interviews today as I could.  I didn’t return every phone call, including some from yesterday, but I hope to get caught up tomorrow.  I’m speaking at the Second Annual Harrisburg Regional Chamber Legislative Forum Breakfast tomorrow before the hearing.  Other Senators representing Dauphin, Cumberland, and Perry counties will be there too.  If it’s like last year, it should be well attended.  The first Budget Hearing is on the state-owned university system, or PASSHE.  As Education Committee Chair, I get to ask the opening questions.  There is a lot of concern about their financial status, the strike they recently settled, and the study about their sustainability.  Hopefully, we’ll get the answers we need to make the best decisions.

-John

CLICK HERE to watch the hearings, starting at 10 a.m.

I’m fighting to give these kids a chance

Article posted on February 21, 2017

The (Carlisle) Sentinel did a convoluted and incomplete story about my town hall meeting last week.  I then became a victim of a fake news story when the Democrats decided to spin it, and other liberal media outlets followed along.  At this point, a Senator from Philadelphia, Vince Hughes, is calling me a racist because I spoke about the failing schools in Philadelphia, located in minority neighborhoods, not preparing their students for college.  He’s trying to say that since the kids are black, that I think they’re not capable of learning.  Wrong.  I see the potential of these children and want to see them succeed.  Their race doesn’t matter to me, what matters is that every child has opportunities to succeed.  I’m fighting to give these kids a chance; he’s fighting to protect the status quo and collect another check from the teacher’s union.

-John

We need real answers, not gamesmanship

Article posted on February 20, 2017

Happy Presidents’ Day, or as I saw today in a story, Happy George Washington’s Birthday; apparently the name of the holiday was never officially changed.  The Senate and state government offices were closed today in observance.  Tomorrow the Budget Hearings begin in both chambers.  We have the State Treasurer in the morning and the Independent Fiscal Office in the afternoon.  We have briefings for the members starting at 8:30, so I’ll leave the house early.  It will be interesting to see how forthcoming the testifiers are this year.  They typically vary with the people closest to the Governor being the most evasive.  With the projected shortfall and the extra expenses adding up to a $3 billion difference, we need real answers, not gamesmanship.  I’ll keep you posted, and we’ll have the schedule and links to live video of the hearings on my website and Facebook page.

-John

The legislature must respond

Article posted on February 19, 2017

There really was’t much in today’s papers.  I saw a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer about city council members complaining that the legislature is picking on them.  They cited several of the bills going through the Senate including the sanctuary city bill, legislation to nullify the city’s ordinance forcing private businesses to offer employee sick days, and their latest attack on the business community: forcing them to ask job applicants about their salary history.  The concern of the legislature hasn’t been strictly on Philadelphia, it has taken the position that municipal governments lack the authority to enact certain ordinances that are best left to a state-wide or federal body.  With over 2,500 municipalities, think of the problems for many businesses that operate in different locations.  In addition to the lack of authority and common sense, we are hearing from businesses that are being harmed by these actions and, in the case of the sanctuary city bill, see no authority for a local government to violate federal orders, sometimes resulting in violent crimes against their own citizens.  Most municipalities wouldn’t consider such ordinances, but for the cities that do, the legislature must respond.

-John