Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gov. Rendell on the PCN Call-In Program: Budget Issues

Gov Rendell on the PCN Call-In Show 6/14

These are my rough notes from watching the archived broadcast of the June 14th PCN Call-In Show with Gov. Rendell. They are rougher than usual because the governor talks very fast and uses a lot of factual data and statistics. He uses notably few filler words (umm, uh) or pauses to gather his thoughts. He just dives in and keeps going, which makes it very difficult to transcribe. To make up for any lapses on my part I have made a special effort to include links for further information on programs the governor mentions, in particular those from the state's website so I cannot guarantee that you are getting a balanced view, but you are probably getting his view.

On a personal note, the governor looked tired and a little more basset hound-ish than usual.

As always, my apologies for any errors or misrepresentations.

Host: Brian Lockman (BL); guest Governor Ed Rendell (ER)

ER: Apologize for being a little late, giving a graduation speech at Interboro High School, alma mater of host Brian Lockman. Would prefer taking as many questions as have time for. People talking about the budget. But it’s the things that are not exactly part of the buddet the most important. Energy independence fund without one additional dime of taxpayer dollars create 850M bond, no additional debt service, create tens of thousands of new jobs, Gamesa set up wind power in Bucks and Cambria Counties, created thousands of jobs in Philly. Produced 4500 new jobs for economy over 1B in capital investment. One ethanol plant in Clearfield County 250M. utility assessment fee, cost .45 /month part of overall program get 74$ rebate if ask for smart metering out of peak period, Jonas Salk fund help research universities and medical schools build capabilities to research diseases (tobacco fund being redirected) 500M bond issue, life sciences & biotech big driver for new economic jobs, help produce high paying jobs, transportation, mass transit and bridges roads and highways, solved outside of normal budget, health care, prescription for PA does 2 things, lower costs for everyone, knocks down cost of health care system, afford reasonable coverage, affordable to those not covered by health insurance today. Among more crucial things we need to do to keep PA moving forward. Unemployment rate at lowest in 30 year history, 9 of last 11 months broke record of highest level of jobs, billion dollar surplus last year, may have more this year, got to keep going in the right direction, while at the same time stabilizing our traditional industries.

Caller: oil tax, language unconstitutional under commerce clause

ER: SEPTA will raise fares. Unless this [oil tax] works, you’re going to pay more one way or the other, additional gas tax or something, in some states this is unconstitutional in others not. Exxon thinks we can do this, sent letters threatening to pull out of PA. Right now oil companies pay no state tax. Under CNI our oil companies, 7 major oil companies do biz in PA, pay less than 79M dollars, half of that paid by one. Roughly 5 or 6M each, if lower tax and let them out of CNI and only tax profits they will pay more. They ought to pay more but in Washington get tax breaks. Wisconsin doing this also, putting in criminal penalties if pass on to consumers. That’s his proposal, told legislature if they don’t like this find an adequate way to fund mass transit. Have to provide new funding for bridges roads & highwars and mass transit. Essential for quality of life and economic development and safety.

Caller: SB 704 Sen. Vance, changing regulations on personal care homes. Owns a personal care home hoping you will be able to do something about this bill, will hurt her business

ER: Fax him a note and lay out concerns on bill. Pat Vance a GOP senator one of the most thoughtful members of the senate, a nurse, great respect for her, might have done something accidentally that would harm personal care facilities.

Caller: casino gambling with no safeguards to keep loved ones from becoming degenerates. Exclusion lists and 800 numbers only help after problem starts. What about before problem starts

ER: It’s not like Pennsylvanians didn’t gamble before casinos here. If you became gambling addicted there couldn’t get into treatment programs there because not a resident of that state. If there are preventative programs please let him know. They looked around country and only saw treatment programs. Can always amend act.

Caller: five months since you promised on the air to contact inspector general on his problem.

ER: Next day send info over. Until IG investigations concluded no one is given information. If contacted will get back in touch with update.

Caller: Why does the recipient of a state grant have to wait so long for money. Are we going to be assured that casino profits going to tax prop relief

ER: Casino money earmarked for property tax relief does not go into general fund, cannot be used for anything else by law. There is a trigger amount, when reached residents will get prop tax relief. Many seniors will get rebate checks that didn’t get them before or didn’t get as much. Casinos that are open far exceeding projections for income. No doubt will exceed in amount of prop tax relief

BL: Bill DeWeese and table games

ER: way too premature. Have to assess slot machines first, how much revenue, does it cause any problems. Have to look at study what slots have produced before can even consider table games.

Going back to previous question. Sometimes reason grants take so long, send letter to group and they have to send forms in, goes through 4 or 5 offices, too slow a process, working hard to speed it up

Caller: route 80 become a toll road?

ER: does endorse it, part of overall funding problems. Under federal law can toll I-80 but funds can only be used for that road. Helps bottom line because can use funds now spent on 80 can be spent on other roads. Only have a few toll stations so local traffic not charged, mostly out of state charged. If legislature approves have it up and running by 2009.

BL: what about other interstates

ER: we can look at that but funds can only be used on those roads. Probably go one at a time. I-80 lends itself to few toll booths to avoid charging local traffic.

Caller: heard him talk about a high paying jobs, what about lower class people?

ER: thinks median wage, $41K or $42K a year is a good wage. However, increased state minimum wage. Dredging controversy – with dredging can create longshoremen and teamster jobs that pay 60-70$ / year. Want to create jobs for PhDs and MBAs but also regular people. [may have missed something here, broadcast froze]

Caller: active on lower Bucks County Chamber of Commerce, health care initiative, looks to be a situation where reimbursements to the hospitals get cut?

ER: point well taken, didn’t read it wrong, got timing mixed up, reimbursements from uncompensated care, not dollar for dollar, but compensated. Under plan every Pennsylvanian covered, currently 760K uncovered, so hospitals won’t need to be reimbursed because no uncompensated care. Won’t take it away immediately. Will do it in stages and only after most people covered

BL: 3 caucuses in legislature zeroed out money for education and others

ER: won’t get all of it through before summer recess. Certainly cost saving initiatives should pass. Covering all Pennsylvanians [health care initiative] maybe wait until fall. Problem with legislature: not enough to do nothing. It’s not good enough for legislature to say we aren’t going to fund any of governor’s incentives. Everything viewed as partisan. Jonas Salk fund voted down and only reason given is we didn’t want to let the governor get everything. Can’t run for governor again, not running for anything again. House Democrats working hard, passed a lot of things. But unless get support from rest of legislators. Willing to work through August to get things right.

BL: if legislature sends a budget with none of your initiatives will you veto it?

ER: yes. States that do nothing or go backwards will fail. Transportation not just a Pittsburgh and Philly problem. Underfunding transportation hurts everyone. Altoona curtailing nighttime bus service. We can’t have ordinary working people dealing with these conditions. Let’s get it right for the people of PA. As long as we have the money to pay for progress let’s invest in our future. Microsoft was three guys, $2K and look what happened.

Caller: professor in midst of contract negotiations. Current offer is zero cost of living for 4 years but tripling contributions to health care costs

ER: bargaining process is pretty skewered. Once an offer is put out there it becomes a floor. Both parties put out ridiculous offers. Only in the last few days of the negotiations that serious discussions take place. Your reporting of the facts is correct. But guarantee won’t get 4 zeroes and tripling of health care contributions in final contract. Urged schools to undertake cost saving measures and kept tuition increases down to 2%, below inflation. Got to continue to save money. Call on PHEAA to make more grant money available.

Caller: Act 47, City of Scranton in Act 47 for a number of years. (municipal recovery act, basically welfare for municipalities)

ER: some advantages for a municipality to go into act 47. Like an individual or business going into chapter 11, help reorganizating and getting act together financially. For Easton and Allentown there is something short of Act 47. For Scranton, state only takes you out of act 47 when act 47 supervisors feel municipality on stable financial ground. Wants to help mid-sized cities come back financially. So much of property owned by non-profits, universities, hospitals, etc. not taxable. Supreme Court redefined what charities non-taxable. In Philly went to non-profits and asked for a payment in lieu of taxes. Got $26M, big help. Legislature went in and passed a law taking that power away from municipalities. After budget done want pilot system where charities where CEO earns a million dollars ….. [missed]

Caller: been disenfranchised through human relations commission, file under review. What agency can he go to?

ER: State director of human relations. Send letter to him.

Caller: pre-K programs

ER: my first initiative for education was early childhood education. This year’s budget developed a program called Pre-K counts. Nothing is as important as early childhood education. Too many kids have no pre-k experience or just daycare with no educational component. Too many don’t have full time kindergarten. Classes too big. It’s like building a building, no matter how beautiful floors 5-30 are, if no strong foundation then it will crumble. Every study has shown money spent on pre-k returned [missed statistic] many fold. Write not just your legislator but others. Not many people want govt to spend no money but they write a lot of letters. Tell them pre-K is important to you.

BL: alternative energy. State still has a lot of coal in the ground.

ER: We can get that coal without contributing to global warming. Clean coal gasification plant. Takes coal waste and eventually coal itself, heats it and turns it into steam, can be used in a turbine energy, can be used as a substitute for natural gas, heat again and use as diesel fuel. Still releases carbon but can be sequestered and used.

Caller: You’re doing a fine job. Retired teacher. Haven’t had a cola in 5 years. Would you support.

ER: Sorry to say at this time I couldn’t. In 2000 legislature voted itself a 50% increase in pension. To give themselves a cover gave active state workers and teachers a retirement boost but not current retirees. That caused such an actuarial drain on pension funds. When stock market went through down time in 2002 and 2003. Hope sometime soon can do a cola for oldest retirees. But unless funds do much better those increased funds for current workers will cause problems. Pits current workers and retired workers against each other. Trying to run a pay as you go govt. You deserve it we just can’t pay for it.

Caller: As a state employee, worried about furlough with budget standoff.

ER: Eventually you will get paid retroactively, legislators also paid retroactively. No money in July and August but paid later.

Caller: I-95 and turnpike connection. House has been condemned. Not happy with offer.

ER: Is it the turnpike authority? [no, acquisition company]. You have a right to fight. [understading it that he still needs to be out of his house, he and neighbor have hired lawyer]. Have lawyer send me a summary.


phillydem said...

Gotta love the guv, he's really got his act together, except for that momentary loss of sense on leasing or selling the tpk.

AboveAvgJane said...

Trying to keep up with all he's saying is always a challenge!