Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Responding to Rumors

It’s the end of the political fundraising quarter so the fundraising letters and emails have been arriving with some regularity. One, from 8th district congressman Patrick Murphy, caught my eye. It stated:

Among the most startling of these recent attacks is the crass attempt to tie me to the scandal surrounding the CIA’s Congressional briefings on torture.

That seemed odd since Murphy only took office in January 2007. However, I found an article in a Bucks County paper that did just that:

Eighth District Congressman Patrick Murphy has attended two CIA briefings at the center of a firestorm between the agency and the Speaker of the House, who said she was lied to about waterboarding.

An unclassified chart released by the CIA describes 40 briefings for lawmakers over a period of several years on enhanced interrogation techniques. Murphy, a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is listed among lawmakers in attendance on Jan. 16, 2008. The topics included “Videotape Desctruction” and “Discussion of EITs, including waterboarding.”

MediaMatters’ Jamison Foser has debunked the claim (“’Democrats knew about torture’ stories are getting dumber by the minute” 5/20/2009):

The CIA briefing “at the center of a firestorm” between the CIA and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi occurred in 2002. That’s a full six years before the meetings the Intelligencer’s crack investigative unit says Patrick Murphy attending. The difference is rather significant, since the whole controversy is about whether Members of Congress knew about the Bush administration’s torture in real time.

Since at least late 2007 Murphy has been working to ensure that all U.S. government agencies and personnel followed the Army Field Manual on torture (Murphy press release 11/15/2007) In March, 2008 he voted in favor of a bill to override a Bush veto requiring the CIA to obey the Army Field Manual ban on prisoner torture.

The mention of committee meetings discussing “Videotape Destruction” likely deal with Sec. 10 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, which requires videotaping or otherwise electronically recording strategic intelligence interrogations.

Murphy spoke to the House and said, in part, concerning amendment No. 32 printed in House Report 110-666, on May 22, 2008 (Congressional Record, p. H4796):

Madam Chairman, as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, I saw American heroes at their finest, gaining vital intelligence the right way. We have all seen images of what happens when young soldiers are left without clear leadership at the top. Simply put, the treatment of detainees is a strategic imperative to every serv ice member wearing the uniform and every American we took an oath to support and protect.

In the first Gulf War, over 100,000 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to American forces because they knew that they would be treated humanely by the American forces. Thousands who did not hide behind street corners with RPGs or IEDs.
The treatment of detainees is what set America apart as a global leader, and it is how we begin to restore the reputation squandered by President Bush and the tragedy of Abu Ghraib.

Madam Chairman, there is nobody in this chamber who supports the vigorous interrogation of suspected terrorists more than me, but it must be done the way that reflects the greatness of America and in a way that protects our fighting men and women. Madam Chairman, this amendment helps do just that.

One of my heroes, General Colin Powell, once said: The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.

Will this amendment fix all our problems? Of course not. But it certainly is a start. I urge my colleagues to vote for the gentleman's amendment.

And later (p. H4797)

Madam Chairman, I have great respect for the gentleman from California, and that he is also a paratrooper. But, Madam Chairman, I would suggest that those were my same concerns. In that letter we address those concerns that the Under Secretary said; that in forward operating bases in the environment, there is no mandate in this bill that would require them to videotape the interrogations. It is only at the strategic level in theater, only where they go.

In my case in al Rasheed, Baghdad in 2002, 2004, Madam Chairman, we would interrogate them at a forward operating base, then we would bring them up to the Baghdad airport, then they would go to somewhere else. It would only be at that higher level, not at the forward operating base. And we put that language in this bill to address those exact concerns.
So although I respect greatly the service and the commitment of the gentleman from California and his concerns, those concerns were addressed in this bill. And that is why I support our amendment.

This doesn’t sound to me like someone who was in favor of enhanced interrogation techniques, and the committee discussion on videotaping, if it is anything like Murphy’s comments in the Congressional Record, were on the side of accountability.

HB 704 Update

House Bill HB 704, which establishes a formula for special education funding, is scheduled to come up for a vote in the House Education Committee on Wednesday (tomorrow). Stimulus money would cover funding for the first two years.

The bill has more than 60 co-sponsors and bipartisan support.

There is a similar bill in the Senate, SB 940.

Eachus, Barletta, and Pensions

Pensions and retirement monies are touchy subjects. Messing with them is tricky. A mistake can mean people's savings are wiped out. Those with a 401(k) can track their investments and have some control over where and how the money is invested, or at least a choice of funds. Those with traditional pensions are dependent on those who collect and invest the money.

While this is a little out of my geographic area, the topic is one that is sure to be in the news over and over again.

Pensions are a timely topic in Hazleton, and a source of friction between Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta and State Rep. Todd Eachus (D-116).

The most recent episode started in 2003:

But in 2003, when Hazleton started purchasing insurance and buying back vacation and sick days from retirees with pension money, the Auditor General's Office declined to clear the practice in advance.

By going ahead with the practice, the city gambled, Eachus said. In 2006, the Auditor General's Office performed an audit that called the practice improper.

Eachus can't understand why the city didn't stop then, although Barletta told him he had limited options for balancing the budget without spending pension money.

From the pension fund, the city transferred $429,000 in 2007, $462,000 last year and will transfer $500,000, according to this year's budget (Jackson 6/29).

There are a few possible solutions:

To stave off bankruptcy, the city must win an appeal to Commonwealth Court or persuade the state Legislature to enact a law removing Hazleton's obligation.

Two years ago, a bill to rescue Hazleton sailed through the state Senate but died in House Finance Committee without a vote.

Barletta said the bill would have to be reintroduced this year, and he said he has worked with House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Butler Township, to revive the bill. (Jackson 6/24)

The bill was written in such a way that it only applied to Hazleton. In 2007, Barletta asked specifically for Eachus to help move the bill along and Eachus wrote a letter to the chairman of the committee where the bill was parked, asking that it be moved along (Tarone, 10/08).

It isn’t the first time Barlett and Eachus have reached different conclusions on public finance. From 2005:

The City of Hazleton will unilaterally exempt Social Security and pension income from the new Emergency and Municipal Services Tax.

Mayor Lou Barletta and City Administrator Sam Monticello announced the decision Monday afternoon.

“We had our solicitor review the situation and investigate how the city could handle it,” Barletta said. “That's not the way the law is written, and I don’t think it’s clear whether it’s correct or not under the law. But that’s what our suggestion is.”

“We’re doing this on our own,” Barletta added. “We’re not going to wait for Harrisburg to confuse the matter any more.” (Tarone, 2/16)

Later in that article:
Saturday night, state Rep. Todd Eachus, D-116, said he wasn’t certain of what “income” was, as defined under EMST -- though he added it was “not the intent of” legislators to include Social Security and pensions.

The current situation has led to an exchange of letters between the mayor and the state representative, and interviews with the local paper. Written earlier this week:
"When's the city going to get it?" Eachus said in an interview Wednesday. "I want to be helpful to the mayor, but in the end he has to be responsible to the city."

Eachus said the mayor and the city council that approved the budget containing the withdrawals are responsible for the obligation.

"While I'm happy to try and find the legislative solutions, (the mayor) is asking me to change the law because he broke it," Eachus said. (Jackson 6/29)


Jackson, Kent, and Tom Ragan, “Eachus, Barletta at odds over pension obligation,” Citizen's Voice, The & Sunday Voice (Wilkes-Barre, PA)-June 26, 2009

Jackson, Kent, “Hazleton loses appeal in $2.5M pension case,” Citizen's Voice, The & Sunday Voice (Wilkes-Barre, PA)-June 24, 2009

Tarone, L. A. “News,” Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, PA)-October 8, 2007

Tarone, L. A. “News,” Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, PA)-February 16, 2005

Monday, June 29, 2009

Endangered PA Malls

Found on Yahoo Finance:

"America's most endangered malls" by Rick Newman

Three of the 10 listed are in PA:

Century III Mall, Pittsburgh, Pa. (Occupancy rate: 70 percent; sales per square foot: $200*). About 30 of the 120 stores at this suburban Pittsburgh mall have closed recently, including anchor tenant Steve & Barry's and KB Toys (both of which have declared bankruptcy), Old Navy, Ruby Tuesday's, and Macy's Furniture Outlet. The 30-year-old complex targets value shoppers but competes with nearby discounters like Wal-Mart and Kohl's. Other area malls with more upscale stores are doing better. Century's owner, Simon Property Group, may be looking to sell Century III.

Chambersburg Mall, Chambersburg, Pa. (62 percent; $234). Sales have held steady over the past year, but a bucolic location 60 miles southwest of Harrisburg makes this sleepy mall a perennial underperformer. K.B. Toys, Value City, and B. Moss closed their stores after declaring bankruptcy. Newcomers include discounters like Bolton's and Burlington Coat Factory, which are likely to generate little excitement.

Washington Crown Center, Washington, Pa. (70 percent; $265). Three of its biggest retailers--Macy's, Bon-Ton, and Gander Mountain--have suffered deep losses as consumers have cut spending. The mall's owner, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, is revamping some of its properties--but not Washington Crown Centre, one of the weakest malls in its portfolio. PREIT could end up selling some of its subpar properties, which leaves this mall vulnerable.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

HHS Report on Health Insurance in PA

The Dept. of Health and Human Services has released state by state reports on the state of health insurance. You can read the Pennsylvania report here:


American Clean Energy and Security Act

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), H.R. 2998 (formerly H.R. 2454).

For those interested in bills like this in the future, I recommend following dhmeiser on twitter. He was sending out notes on how various representatives were leaning and who should be contacted.

Courtesy of Mike Morrill at Keystone Progress, here is a chart showing how the Pennsylvania congressional delegation voted.

Brady (D-01) Y
Fattah (D-02) Y
Dahlkemper (D-03) N
Altmire (D-04) N
G. Thompson(R-05) N
Gerlach (R-06) N
Sestak (D-07) Y
P.Murphy (D-08) Y
Shuster (R-09) N
Carney (D-10) N
Kanjorski (D-11) Y
Murtha (D-12) Y
Schwartz (D-13) Y
Doyle (D-14) Y
Dent (R-15) N
Pitts (R-16) N
Holden (D-17) N
T. Murphy (R-18) N
Platts (R-19) N

Comments from a few representatives:

Allyson Schwartz (D-13) statement in support of the bill:

“Madame Speaker, I rise today in support of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). This historic initiative will create jobs in new renewable energy industries and energy efficiency, reduce American dependence on imported oil, and decrease the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global climate change.

“The growth of these new industries will enhance the ability of the United States to produce its own energy and reduce the need for oil imports from foreign countries. We currently import nearly 60 percent of our energy needs from abroad. This imbalance makes our country dependent upon foreign countries for the fuel that keeps our economy running. It is estimated that ACES will reduce U.S. oil consumption by 2 million barrels per day by 2030.

“Growing our domestic clean energy industry and reducing our use of foreign oil will have an important tangible benefit – reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global climate change. The Nobel-Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has determined that significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, are necessary to mitigate significant environmental consequences. ACES meets this challenge by creating a framework to reduce U.S. emissions 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

“ACES accomplishes these goals while limiting costs to businesses and the consumer. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has determined that implementing this bill would cost the average household about 48-cents per day. ACES also includes assistance for energy-intensive manufacturing industries like steel, cement, and glass to ensure that these industries remain economically competitive in the global marketplace as we strengthen our environmental laws and transitioned to clean energy and greater energy efficiency.

“I am proud that this bill includes a provision I spearheaded that will require the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator to create a national strategy to reduce carbon emissions through biologic sequestration. Carbon dioxide can be absorbed from the atmosphere into plants, trees, and other vegetation through the natural process of photosynthesis. My provision would ensure that we utilize natural landscape and green infrastructure to maximize our ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere through a determined strategy for reforestation, improved agricultural practices, and urban greening.

“This important legislation defines new energy goals for our nation and enables us to lead the world towards a clean energy future. For businesses and families back home it identifies a way forward to not only reduce harmful carbon emissions but to create new economic opportunities, new “green” jobs, conservation and energy efficiency, and alternative, cleaner sources of energy. Together these actions will better ensure our nation’s security, economy, and health. I urge my colleagues to vote “yes” on this important bill.”

Joe Sestak (D-07)

“I do not want to be on the wrong side of history,” said Congressman Sestak. “Fifteen EPA administrators have made clear the need to address global warming and the provisions of this bill not only make environmental sense, but also economic and strategic sense. We need to spark an unprecedented transition to alternative, clean, and renewable power, to create a new clean energy economy and halt damage to our environment. Last year’s spike in the cost of gasoline, not to mention all of the other instances in which energy prices have hurt us economically in the last three decades, provide a clear signal that the days of our reliance on fossil fuels must end. In Pennsylvania, clean energy companies like Iberdola, Conergy and Gamesa have brought hundreds of new jobs. It is time to lay the framework for far-reaching and sustainable solutions.

“The American Clean Energy and Security Act continues to move this country toward a future powered by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. While not perfect, it is a long needed step in the right direction. Two weeks ago, I raised concerns with Speaker Nancy Pelosi because I believed the bill did not go far enough to encourage renewable and non-emitting power sources. However, I voted for this bill because it makes real progress by investing in the transformation and strengthening of our economy, restoring the country into a position of leadership as global climate change talks start this fall in Copenhagen, and takes strides toward mitigating the negative affects of climate change. Importantly, the Act also provides protections for consumers, especially those who are the most economically vulnerable.

ACES will:
• Require electric utilities to meet 20 percent of their electricity demand through renewable energy sources and energy efficiency by 2020.
• Invest in new clean energy technologies and energy efficiency, including energy efficiency and renewable energy ($90 billion in new investments by 2025), carbon capture and sequestration ($60 billion), electric and other advanced technology vehicles ($20 billion), and basic scientific research and development ($20 billion).
• Mandate new energy-saving standards for buildings and appliances, and promote energy efficiency in industry.
• Reduce carbon emissions from major U.S. sources by 17 percent by 2020 and by more than 80 percent by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. Complementary measures in the legislation, such as investments in preventing tropical deforestation, will achieve significant additional reductions in carbon emissions.
• Protect consumers from energy price increases. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have estimated the cost per family as about the price of a postage stamp a day and energy bills for low-income families will actually decrease. According to the CBO, the bill not only will not cost the federal government, it will actually be a net revenue generator for the federal budget.

“I will continue to support efforts to transform our economy through the development of clean, alternative energy sources. This will not only position the United States better within the global economy, and put us on a stronger strategic footing, but also fulfill our moral obligation to address global warming,” said the Congressman.

“There is much more we can do. My 31 years in the United States Navy and the experience I accrued during my military career have affirmed my belief that Americans know the meaning of sacrifice. When called upon to do great things, this country not only rises to meet the challenge; it prospers. I am optimistic that we can work together to achieve real and lasting energy and environmental security, and I look forward to the fruitful years that lie ahead.”

The bill included an amendment proposed by the Congressman to require the Secretary of Energy to study how Thorium, a nuclear element, can be used to address our energy needs. The Congressman believes that nuclear energy needs to be part of our mid-term energy policy to increase domestic energy production and reduce our emissions. In addition, he understands that we must overcome nuclear waste issues. Under the amendment, Thorium could be used with or as a substitute for Uranium in nuclear reactors. Thorium-powered nuclear reactors have the potential to be more efficient and produce less than 1 percent of the waste of today’s Uranium nuclear reactors, while emitting no greenhouse gases. Using Thorium reactors do not breed plutonium, and can, in fact, be designed to “burn” plutonium into non-weapons grade material and, thus, decrease weapons proliferation. Additionally, Thorium nuclear reactors can help eliminate spent Uranium.

Paul Kanjorski (D-11)

“By no means is this energy bill perfect, but today, refusing to act was not an option. We need to begin the process of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, creating clean energy jobs in America, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Change in our energy economy will not happen overnight, but it is clear that in this situation, the positives outweigh the negatives. The University of Massachusetts estimates that 1.7 million jobs will be created by transitioning to a clean energy economy.

“I deeply understand the real concerns regarding the additional costs for consumers and businesses that are essential to the economy, especially during these difficult economic times, and I hope that the bill which emerges in consultation with the Senate will further address these concerns. I believe that the small incremental costs associated with this bill are a small sacrifice that we can all make to ensure the well being of this country in the long-term. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that subsidies for low-income families included in the bill will result in annual savings in energy costs of about $40. Furthermore, according to a recent study released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as a result of energy efficiency measures in this legislation, all consumers’ utility bills will decrease about 7 percent in 2020.

“I commend President Obama for taking on this ambitious effort to move our country toward greater energy self-sufficiency and environmental sustainability, and I believe this bill is a reasonable first step toward reaching a goal that I think we all share.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Brief Note on Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video was one of the first, if not the first, music video to really combine film and music. Most of the early videos were just more or less studio films of the band playing. I say this as someone who remembers when MTV came on the air.

Those around at the time might remember that the "Thriller" girl had been in Playboy at some point before the video came out. I can't remember now what month and year. I was in grad school and working as a clerk in the college library's microfilm / special collections department. While most of the magazines on microfilm were self serve, some, including Playboy were behind closed doors and had to be retrieved. This wasn't for prudery but to prevent mutilation. Believe it or not there were people who would carve out the centerfolds of black and white microfilm. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Forcing people to ask for the film and return it when they were finished discouraged the frivolous and the only mildly whacky. There was such a steady stream of sheepish young men (and a few women) asking for the "Thriller" girl reel that I just kept it on my desk instead of going and getting it all the time. Quite a few people who wanted to see the pictures weren't sure what issue she was in so I memorized the month and page (lost to memory soon after the fad ended).

Jackson is one of the few musicians I've seen in concert. He could really put on a show.

WHYY Party This Saturday

It's always interesting to see what tips you over an edge or a line. About 15 Years ago I watched "Washington Week in Review," stopped after my next move, and then started up again a year or so ago. Then I stopped again when they moved it from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m. During this I was briefly a supporter of public television but by no means a regular member.

But I signed up again when Chris Satullo shifted from the Inquirer over to WHYY. Perhaps it is the sense of a shared connection, having read his columns in the paper over time. Plus, he mentioned my blog in a column back in 2006.

In any event, WHYY is hosting a Summer Nights Soiree and Silent Auction this Saturday evening. You don't have to be a WHYY member to attend.

White House Updates

The Obama administration is very good at disseminating information. Every other day or so I get an email from the White House media that is targeted in some way at Pennsylvania. I'm impressed with their organizational skills. Sometimes they send items of general interest. This has been a busy week and several emails came through. I'm posting a clump of them together.

PA On Track with Stimulus Spending

Vice President Biden Applauds Pennsylvania for Meeting Recovery Act Milestone Ahead of Schedule

Pennsylvania Obligated Half of Its Highway Funds on May 20

Washington, DC – Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that transportation projects funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) are putting people to work and building a foundation for the country’s long-term economic strength.

As part of the Administration’s effort to infuse Recovery Act funds swiftly into the economy, states are required under ARRA to obligate 50 percent of their highway funds by June 29, 2009. Working in coordination with the U.S. Department of Transportation, all 55 U.S. states and territories successfully beat this deadline at least 10 days ahead of schedule.

Nationwide, to date, $19 billion has been obligated to fund over 5,300 approved for highway and other transportation projects nationwide. Of those, 1,900 projects are already underway. Already in Pennsylvania, the state has put to work $447.6 million in highway funds – or 62.3 percent – of the funds required under the Act.

“Our number one priority with the Recovery Act is getting folks back to work – and there is no better way to do that in these early days than by putting shovels in the ground and jump-starting projects like these that create jobs and boost local communities,” said Vice President Biden. “By delivering on these projects ahead of schedule and under-budget, we have been able to do even more than we expected -- create more job opportunities more quickly, with more dollars left over to put toward more projects that put people back on the job.”

As of today, Pennsylvania’s largest ARRA-funded project is the SR60 Interchange Reconstruction in Allegheny County. This $13.8 million project will include the installation of two new signals, signal work and signing in Robinson and North Fayette Townships. When completed, this project will improve traffic safety through the replacement of a cloverleaf-type ramp with a diamond-type configuration and adding a collector/distributor lane.

Across the country, many transportation projects funded by the Recovery Act are coming in under budget and ahead of schedule. Reports continue to show that contractor bids to build and repair transportation networks are coming in substantially below the original engineering estimates. In some cases, thanks to fierce competition for the work, bids are 10, 20 and even 30 percent lower than expected. That means states are able to stretch taxpayer dollars, completing additional projects and creating even more jobs.

“Every state not only met the 120-day deadline, they beat it,” said Secretary LaHood. “This is a testament to the fact that we’re putting money out there quickly and helping to get the economy back on track.”

President Obama signed ARRA on February 17, 2009, and funding was made available on March 3. ARRA funding for highway projects may be used for restoration, repair, construction, and other activities under the Surface Transportation Program. Each proposed project must be approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Governors must certify that proposed projects meet certain conditions and that the state will use ARRA funds in addition to, not in replacement of, state funding of transportation projects.

Priority is given to projects that are projected to be completed within three years, are located in economically distressed areas, or will maximize job creation and economic benefits.

Green Jobs Training Grants

During a visit to Memphis today, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis announced five grant competitions, totaling $500 million, to fund projects that prepare workers for green jobs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries.

“Emerging green jobs are creating opportunities for workers to enter careers that offer good wages and pathways to long term job growth and prosperity,” said Secretary Solis. “Workers receiving training through projects funded by these competitions will be at the forefront as our nation transforms the way we generate electricity, manufacture products and do business across a wide range of industries.”

Four of the competitions announced today are designed to serve workers in need of training through various national, state and community outlets: Energy Training Partnership Grants; Pathways Out of Poverty Grants; State Energy Sector Partnership and Training Grants; and Green Capacity Building Grants. The fifth competition, for State Labor Market Information Improvement Grants, will fund state workforce agencies that will collect, analyze and disseminate labor market information and develop labor exchange infrastructure to direct individuals to careers in green industries. Detailed information on grant opportunities can be found in each grant solicitation.

Grants awarded through this competition will be funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). In an effort to earn the maximum return on each investment, the Labor Department is encouraging grantees funded through these competitions to align their work with other federal agencies’ Recovery Act investments intended to create jobs and promote economic growth. Programs funded through these grants will be conducted in partnership with the public workforce system in order to prepare workers to enter careers in targeted industries.

A notice of these grant solicitations is in today’s edition of the Federal Register and is also available at http://www.doleta.gov/grants/find_grants.cfm and http://www.grants.gov. Dates and times for applicant virtual conferences are found in each SGA. For more information on the array of Department of Labor employment and training investments and opportunities, visit http://www.doleta.gov.

To learn more about the Recovery Act and efforts across the country to move the economy forward, visit http://www.Recovery.gov.

Simplifying College Financial Aid


“I'll simplify the financial aid application process so that we don't have a million students who aren't applying for aid because it's too difficult.” – President Barack Obama

America’s future economic strength depends on the quality of our education. Countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. President Barack Obama is calling for America to once again lead the world in college graduates. He has proposed nearly $200 billion in new scholarships and tax credits for college tuition, and Vice President Joe Biden is examining new ideas for college affordability through his Middle Class Task Force.

Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined another key component of the Administration’s higher education agenda: its plan to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The form imposes a needlessly difficult obstacle in the path of 16 million college students and their families each year. Each student is asked as many as 153 questions, most of which have little or no effect on actual financial aid packages. Experts believe that the difficulty of the application and unpredictability of the aid awards undermine student aid’s ability to reach students who are unsure whether they can afford college. And there are 1.5 million enrolled students who are probably eligible for Pell grants but failed to apply.

In the coming months, the Departments of Education and Treasury will work together to simplify the financial aid process by modernizing the online application, seeking legislation that will eliminate unnecessary questions, and creating an easy process for students to apply by using tax data already available. The end result will be an application that requests only easily obtainable personal information. Students will be able to complete an application with only basic, personal information and a few clicks of their mouse.


Today, Secretary Duncan is announcing (1) a shorter and simpler online application that skips unnecessary questions, (2) legislation to remove more than half of the financial questions, and (3) a web application that will let some families easily answer the remaining financial questions with data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

FIRST: Overhaul the Online Application. The Department of Education is making a series of improvements to the online application. Although 98 percent of students apply online, much of the online form simply reproduces the paper version rather than taking advantage of the interactive potential. Improvements to the form–which will eliminate 250 million questions a year--include:

• More Information: Since May, the Education Department has provided students instant estimates of Pell grant and student loan eligibility, rather than forcing them to wait weeks, and a link to more college information such as graduation rates.

• Skip Irrelevant Questions: Starting this summer, the Education Department will allow students who are at least 24 or married–who are automatically exempted from providing their parents’ financial information--to skip the remaining 11 questions intended only to determine whether parental information is necessary. Other improvements will allow men older than 26 to skip the question about Selective Service registration and consolidate the three questions on homelessness.

• More Improvements in January: A series of additional improvements will be implemented in January. Students with low incomes will no longer be asked for asset information, which is not used to determine their aid eligibility. Only returning students will be asked about prior drug convictions because the question does not affect first-year students. And the Education Department will work with state agencies to make it easier to answer questions that the states need but the federal government does not.

SECOND: Eliminate Questions through Legislation. Applying for financial aid is far more complicated than filing a tax return; students and their parents must answer as many dozens of questions about their income and assets that are not on the federal tax form. These questions are often difficult to verify, and they add very little to the rest of the aid formulas. The six questions related to assets, for example, only affect the awards of 3 percent of Pell grant recipients, while penalizing those families for saving for college and opening up loopholes for sophisticated applicants to game the formula.

Today, Secretary Duncan called on Congress to let students and families apply for financial aid with the information on their tax returns, without needing to gather bank statements, investment information, and documentation of any untaxed income. These changes would make the student aid application simpler and fairer, and they would open the door to using IRS data for the remaining financial questions, reducing the FAFSA to easy personal questions.

THIRD: Answer the Remaining Financial Questions with Tax Data. When applying for student aid, more than 90 percent of students and families are giving the federal government information it already has–information they provided when they filed their taxes. The answer to up to 20 financial questions–all questions that will remain if the proposed legislation is enacted–could be provided by the IRS. Students applying online will only need to provide easily available personal information.

Beginning in January, students applying for financial aid for the spring semester will be able to seamlessly retrieve their relevant tax information from the IRS for easy completion of the online FAFSA. The Departments of Education and Treasury will be working together to examine the possibility of expanding this option to all students in the future.


The simplification initiatives announced today build on President Obama’s accomplishments and commitments to higher educational opportunities, including:

• Setting Ambitious Goals for America: President Obama has asked every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training to help meet a new national goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

• Expanding Pell Grants and College Tax Credits: The Recovery Act increased Pell Grants by $500 to $5,350 and created the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a new $2,500 tax credit for four years of college tuition. The President’s 2010 Budget proposal would make these policies permanent and ensure the Pell Grant continues to grow steadily by making it an entitlement. Together, they provide approximately $200 billion in college scholarships and tax credits over the next decade.

• Modernizing and Expanding the Perkins Loan Program: The President’s 2010 Budget proposes to make this vital program available to over 2,600 additional schools and an estimated 2.7 million additional students each year. By providing an additional $5 billion in additional Perkins Loans and continuing their low five percent interest rate, President Obama hopes that the neediest of students will have access to additional federal financial resources they did not have before.

• Creating a New College Access and Completion Fund: In this 2010 Budget proposal, President Obama proposes a five-year, $2.5 billion fund to build federal-state-local partnerships aimed at improving college access and completion, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds. These funds would be used to evaluate programs aimed at increasing college enrollment and graduation and to grow and bring to scale programs that are proven to be successful.

• Helping Families Save for College: The President’s Middle Class Task Force has directed the Treasury Department to investigate ways for 529 savings plans to more effectively and efficiently help families save for college.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Another Murphy in the Works

Josh Drobnyk over at Pennsylvania Avenue has some personal news about Congressman Patrick Murphy.

Two PA Items in Fast Company

Pennsylvania – related mentions in the July / August issue of Fast Company:

“Not a Micky Mouse operation” by Zachary Wilson Discusses Walgreen’s corporate health clinics and clinics in drug stores. Hal Rosenbluth, president of Walgreens Health and Wellness, has an office in suburban Philadelphia. (Blogger’s note: I think the location is Chadd’s Ford but am not certain).

On the infographic accompanying “It’s alive” by Anne C. Lee on a zero impact building, part of the exterior material is described as “cypress reclaimed from a Pennsylvania mushroom farm.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Schwartz Teletown Hall on Health Care

Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz held a teletown hall meeting this evening with around 800 constituents, primarily in Northeast Philadelphia. She spoke briefly and then took questions, with an emphasis on health care. Interestingly she also included some polls for the callers. Those on the call were in favor of taxing sugary sodas to pay for health care, and in favor of a public option for health care. My thanks to the person who let me know the call was taking place.

Frannie K. Stein in Pittsburgh

From the inbox:

On the 37th anniversary of Title IX, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and an all-star line-up of women athletes and scientists for a roundtable discussion on the landmark legislation, and he announced the award of $2.4 million in grants to 13 groups to support projects that will help high school girls gain higher proficiency in math and science.

The only Pennsylvania recipient listed is:

Pittsburgh Public Schools, for instance, will follow 348 participating female students from grades nine through 12, as they complete one of seven math-rich career and technical education programs. Pittsburgh is teaming with Smart Futures and the Carnegie Science Center’s Girls, Math & Science Partnership to develop and implement a four-year intensive program titled “Gaining Equity Through Mathematics.�

The 13 grantees and their first-year funding amounts are as follows:

Pittsburgh (Pa.) Public Schools $163,559

Sestak Co-Chair of New Caucus

There's a new congressional caucus to add to the list. Congressman Joe Sestak is a co-chair of the new House Pediatric Cancer Caucus.

More details from the Denver Daily News:

Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., and former Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, will join activists for a rally at Taft Memorial Park on Capitol Hill this morning at 8:30 to raise awareness about the need to appropriate monies designated for childhood cancer research. The lawmakers will announce the formation of a new House Pediatric Cancer Caucus, and that Congress has proclaimed Sept. 12 as National Childhood Cancer Awareness Day.

More from Sestak:
As the parent of a child diagnosed with cancer, the Congressman spoke about the heart-wrenching, emotional experiences that every one of the more than 14,000 families with a child with cancer endures. He also noted that each day, 46 children—more than two classrooms of kids—will be diagnosed with cancer. His daughter’s experience and his concern about healthcare in general were, in fact, the main catalysts for his decision to run for Congress.

“I firmly believe that it is only through the collaboration of the government, private organizations like CureSerach, doctors, and the families affected by this devastating illness that we can come closer to finding a cure,” said the Congressman. “The establishment of the House Pediatric Cancer Caucus is a significant step forward that will give voices to thousands of sick children and represent the struggles of every family battling the disease.”

The mission of the Pediatric Cancer Caucus, which Congressman Sestak will co-chair, is to serve as a clearinghouse for information on pediatric cancer and a bipartisan forum to aid members of Congress in working together to address pediatric cancer. Its goals include increasing funding for pediatric cancer research, encouraging the collaboration between the public sector and private research organizations and supporting the training of skilled pediatric cancer specialists. As the first initiative of the caucus, the Congressman is introducing a House resolution commemorating Pediatric Cancer Awareness Day in September.

I wonder if starting a new caucus signals anything about his possible / almost for sure run for Senate in 2010. More knowledgeable minds will have to weigh in on that.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama to Platts: Good Work

Pennsylvania's Todd Russell Platts (R-19) was among those singled out by Pres. Obama for kudos on their work for the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. From Obama's remarks at the bill's signing:

I want to acknowledge a few of our special guests. First of all we've got the crew from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids: Eamon, Christopher, Sarah, and Hoai-Nam. (Applause.) We have our FDA Commissioner, Dr. Peggy Hamburg. (Applause.) We have our CDC Director, Tom Frieden. (Applause.) And we have just some extraordinary members of Congress here on stage: Senator Dodd, Senator Durbin, Senator Enzi, Senator Harkin, Senator Lautenberg, Representative Waxman, Representative Dingell, Representative Christensen, Representative Pallone, and Representative Platts -- all of whom did extraordinary work in helping to move this legislation forward. Please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) I want to thank all of them.

College, Credit Cards, Bob Casey, and Patrick Murphy

Lost in the shuffle of the past week, I neglected to mention a note in the June 14th Inquirer. The subject was the recent credit card law and a section of it that hadn't gotten a lot of press. From Joseph DiStefano's "Have credit-card companies lost their juice?"

One section of the law requires colleges that sell their student and alumni mailing lists to credit card banks to make public their payment agreements, reveal how many sing up for cards, and report how much they make from alumni and student debt.


[Sen Bob]Casey co-sponsored student-lending provisions in the bill, but he credits U. S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D., Bucks) for pushing to expose the college deals.

"I used to be a professor at West Point. I saw what goes on with these credit companies. They are not transparent," said Murphy, who told me he used ot have an alumni credit card.

"I canceled it after I knew better," Murphy said. "Now, I make my alumni donations directly to the school. They're tax deductible."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Schwartz on Health Care

Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz had an op-ed piece on health care in today's Inquirer. "Fixing health care" is online. Here is an excerpt:

As President Obama has said, if you have coverage, and you like it, you can keep it. This means work-based coverage for most Americans, Medicare for seniors, Medicaid for our poorest and sickest, and continued benefits for veterans.

For the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans, many of whom are working families, we will help you buy either private or public coverage. While everyone will have to pay part of their premiums, partial subsidies on a sliding scale will be established and can be used to buy either private or public insurance.

To ensure affordable, meaningful coverage, we will change the ground rules in the insurance market. Denying coverage or charging more for preexisting conditions, health status, or sex is going to stop. Insurers will have to simplify terms and procedures. And, we expect insurers to pass those savings along to their consumers.

"Allowed to Exist?"

Sen. John Eichelberger was on RadioTimes on Friday to discuss legislation relating to marriage. Close to the end of the program he made this statement regarding gays and lesbian:

Leach: Should our only policy towards [same-sex] couples be one of punishment, to somehow prove that they’ve done something wrong?

Eichelberger: They’re not being punished. We’re allowing them to exist, and do what every American can do. We’re just not rewarding them with any special designation.

When I heard this it was so outrageous I listened to the podcast and, indeed, that is exactly what he said. Allowing them to exist? What does that mean? If he decides gays shouldn't exist will they all disappear, perhaps with the help of people who agree with Eichelberger? They're being allowed to do what every American can do? How nice, especially for those who are American citizens.

Let's hope it was just unfortunate wording on his part, but words have meaning and his wording speaks volumes.

Keystone Progress has set up a webpage that will help you send a note to Sen. Eichelberger should you wish to express an opinion on his remarks.

Happy Father's Day

Mr. J had a quiet Father's Day -- a cookie cake, flowers, cards, and a Home Depot gift card. This afternoon I took the kids to a movie so he could have some time to think about an upcoming work project.

Like many of you, I read Pres. Obama's essay on fatherhood in today's Parade magazine, which comes with the Sunday Inquirer.

Today I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of those who step in to mentor children not their own. Hats off to stepfathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, teachers, scoutmasters, team coaches, family friends, neighbors, and all the other men who spend their time and money providing a role model to boys of what they can be and to girls of what they can expect (and should demand) of the men in their lives.

Watching Mr. J interact with our children's friends, especially those who do not have fathers, is always fascinating and often touching. In my youth my grandfather and my brothers had a great influence on me. Both my father and Mr. J's father died before our children were born. Ma's husband was a good guy but they live a ways away. The man who has been my children's grandfather is not related to us at all, other than by bonds of live. They have been enriched by his attention.

Happy Father's Day to men who are fathers by birth, choice, or circumstance. You are more important and have more influence than you could possibly imagine.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New Medicare / Big Pharma Agreement

From the inbox:

Statement from President Obama on Agreement to Bring Down Drug Prices for America's Seniors

"I am pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached between Senator Max Baucus and the nation⿿s pharmaceutical companies that will bring down health care costs and reduce the price of prescription drugs for millions of America⿿s seniors. As part of the health reform legislation that I expect Congress to enact this year, pharmaceutical companies will extend discounts on prescription drugs to millions of seniors who currently are subjected to crushing out-of-pocket expenses when the yearly amounts they pay for medication fall within the ⿿doughnut hole⿿ ⿿ any payments by seniors not covered by Medicare that fall between $2700 and $6153.75 per year. The existence of this gap in coverage has been a continuing injustice that has placed a great burden on many seniors. This deal will provide significant relief from that burden for millions of American seniors.

"The agreement by pharmaceutical companies to contribute to the health reform effort comes on the heels of the landmark pledge many health industry leaders made to me last month, when they offered to do their part to reduce health spending $2 trillion over the next decade. We are at a turning point in America⿿s journey toward health care reform. Key sectors of the health care industry acknowledge what American families and businesses already know - that the status quo is no longer sustainable. The agreement reached today to lower prescription drug costs for seniors will be an important part of the legislation I expect to sign into law in October. I want to commend House chairmen Henry Waxman, George Miller and Charles Rangel for addressing this issue in the health reform legislation they unveiled this week. This is a tangible example of the type of reform that will lower costs while assuring quality health care for every American."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

PHEAA Awarded Fed Contract

From yesterday's email:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced that four
companies were awarded contracts to service the Department's $550
billion student loan portfolio. The award of these contracts provides
the Department with the capacity necessary to support anticipated
increases in the number of loans owned by the Department and ensures
borrowers receive the assistance they need to effectively manage their
federal student loan obligations.

AES/PHEAA of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Great Lakes Education Loan
Services, Inc., of Madison, Wisconsin; Nelnet, Inc., of Lincoln,
Nebraska; and Sallie Mae Corporation of Reston, Virginia, were awarded
contracts under the Title IV Student Loan Management/Servicing

Don't I remember some press about PHEAA a year or so ago?

Sestak Edges Closer

Yesterday Rep. Joe Sestak send out a fundraising email (maybe it went out sooner -- I got it yesterday) that sounds an awful lot like a declaration that he's running for Senate. Not exactly saying that but awfully close to the line.

The links didn't come through but if you want to donate to whatever campaign he is planning, you can do so at www.sestakforcongress.com

We have a big decision coming up, and an important help in the success of that decision is what you do right now.

Pennsylvania Democrats should not be told who to vote for -- they should get a say in choosing their nominee for U.S. Senate, not the Washington establishment. I'd like to give Pennsylvanians that opportunity!

I know the challenges we face in changing the "politics of old" and that there are powerful interests lining up against us ... but with your support ... we will succeed. Committing to this race means knowing that we will have the grassroots' support necessary to win.

Your support right now will be a big factor in beginning that win!

Please Contribute: Contribute $10, $25, $50, or $100 on up, today, to support a genuine primary in Pennsylvania. Contribute

I believe that Pennsylvania deserves a real Democrat in its Senate seat, someone who always has and always will stand up for the values we believe in ... not someone who might be with us just this year or next year for their own political survivability, who is a "flight-risk" ... but rather someone who will be with us 2, 4, 6 years down the road.

We've got huge issues to address in our future for years to come that will need new ideas and energy -- fights on affordable, accessible, quality health care for all; on economic growth policies; on educational opportunities; on energy independence; on national defense security; on environmental conservation; on judicial nominees; and on civil rights that will affect our children. Are we Pennsylvania Democrats, now struggling every day to survive the legacy of the Bush Administration, being told that we have to sit these fights out because the Washington establishment has chosen to annoint a nominee who consistently voted for, and supported, the Bush policies? That our interests are best represented by an individual who was registered with, and who for fought for, the Republican Party and its principles the past 45 years, including the last 8 years of the Bush Presidency? That we have no choice who gets to speak for us ... or who we are to vote for?

But that's exactly what the Washington establishment is telling us Pennsylvanians.

Please Contribute: Advocate for a primary in Pennsylvania by contributing $10, $25, $50, $100, or whatever you are able to afford. Each amount, no matter how small, affirms the existence of the democratic process in Pennsylvania. Contribute

Last year, there was a historic race that challenged the establishment and affirmed the democratic process of choice. It was driven forward by people who believed in now-President Obama's message of bringing "change" to the old ways of Washington ... changing the "politics of old" and the "legacies of the past," rather than re-establishing them.

As President Obama's election demonstrated, it is time for a new generation of leaders to come forward and to assume the mantle of responsibility, and accountability.

What will you do to affirm the democratic process of choice and of change? Right now, your financial support will not only affirm our country's democratic process but will also drive forward the message that you too believe it is time for a change in Pennsylvania, and time for a new generation of leaders in Pennsylvania to come forward and assume our generation's mantle of responsibility.

I promise you that together, we can ... and we will ... effect change. Change means change!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shapiro on Health Reform Panel

From the inbox:

Sebelius, DeParle Announce Establishment of State Legislators for Health Reform

State Leaders to Work for Health Reform in Communities Across America

U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle today announced the establishment of State Legislators for Health Reform. The group includes State Legislators from across the country who will work to advance the need for health reform this year in their communities across the country. Members of the group met with Sebelius and DeParle at the White House today.

“As a former Governor, I know that state legislators can be an incredible asset as we work to make reform a reality,” said Secretary Sebelius. “These leaders see why we need health reform every day because they are living in communities where families and businesses are struggling with skyrocketing health care costs. State Legislators know first-hand how the high cost of care is impacting their state budget and forcing incredibly tough choices. They are hearing from constituents who can’t get the care they need, and they are committed to reform that builds on what works and fixes what doesn’t.”

“Lots of people in Washington are talking about health care, but the most important conversations about health care are happening around kitchen tables in cities and towns across America,” said DeParle. “State Legislators will help ensure Americans across the country know how health reform can help improve health care for all of us.”

State Legislators for Health Reform includes leaders from across the country who will educate their communities on the need for health reform this year. The legislators will host public events, author opinion pieces in local publications, and use their established networks to organize constituents in support of health reform.

“We are all working in our states on health issues, but we know that this is an American problem that deserves an American solution. One state can’t do it alone,” said Iowa State Senator Jack Hatch. “We will use our networks and our voices to organize and champion the cause of health reform.”

“We are proud to commit to fight for health reform,” added Washington State Senator Karen Keiser. “Many of us have been working hard on health issues for years, and when we return home, the hard work will continue. State Legislators will be doing all we can to help pass health reform this year.”

Only 22 state legislators were named to the panel; one being Pennsylvania's Josh Shapiro

Pike Hires Staff, Raises Money

The race for the 6th congressional district is starting to look lively, whether or not incumbent Jim Gerlach stays in or jumps to the governor's race.

From PoliticsPA:

Murphy, Schwartz give hopeful Pike boost
By Alex Roarty

U.S. reps. Allyson Schwartz and Patrick Murphy attended a fundraiser for Democratic southeast congressional candidate Doug Pike in Washington, D.C. on Monday night, sources who attended the event told PoliticsPA.


Pike’s campaign announced Monday it had hired Andrew Eldredge-Martin as campaign manager and Amanda McKay as finance director.

Eldredge-Martin was the campaign manager for Chris Carney in 2006, on the PoliticsPA list of best campaigns of that year, with this note:

Campaign manager Drew Eldredge-Martin deserves credit for keeping Carney on message and running among the best Democratic races in the state this year.

An ad from the 2006 Carney campaign is also among four successful campaign tactics listed in the June 2009 PoliticsMagazine "Campaign Takedowns."

This could be the most interesting congressional race of the year.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Josh Shapiro is Doing What?

State Rep Josh Shapiro (D-153), or whoever writes his tweets, posted this to his twitter account yesterday:

Asked by White House to join small group of state legislators from across US to help shape and promote national health care bill. Stay tuned

Nothing further. Sounds interesting though.

A Quick Marcellus Shale Note, With Resources

If you've been hearing a lot about Marcellus Shale lately and are wondering what it is and why there is such a fuss, you are not alone.

Marcellus Shale wasn't in the news much before 2005 because only geologists knew or cared about it. The US Geological Survey noted that there could be significant natural gas deposits under or in Marcellus Shale in some stats, but especially Pennsylvania. A 2003 well found natural gas. Since then there has been more drilling and a lot of talk about land rights, leases and rights of way, environmental aspects, and, of course, tax.

In April I sat in on a conference call with the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, to discuss the topic. Unlike over 30 other states, Pennsylvania does not have a "severance tax" to require drilling companies to pay for the right to extract (or sever) natural gas. Gov. Rendell has proposed such a severance tax, which is estimated to bring in over $1.8 billion over five years.

One of my concerns is the amount of water needed in the drilling process and what happens to wastewater afterwards.

Economically, without a severance tax local communities will have to bear the costs of public infrastructure needed to support the increased transportation and education systems, especially in an industry with boom and bust cycles.

But you should read more for yourself. Check out:

Geology.com http://geology.com/articles/marcellus-shale.shtml This site provides a lot of background on what Marcellus shale is and how natural gas is extracted, and the economic significance

Marcellus Shale: Severance tax update in Pennsylvania brief outline

Marcellus Shale, a lot of good links and resources, including an faq and fact sheet

PA Budget and Policy Center http://pennbpc.org/severance-tax 40-some page report reviewed the impact of mineral resource production across the country and analyzed state severance tax policies. It also examined the claims about the benefits of the natural gas production and reviewed research around the effect of severance taxes on gas production

The Corporate View http://www.pamarcellus.com/

Monday, June 15, 2009

Groundbreaking at Croydon Station

I had the day off today and so had the opportunity to attend a press conference to announce the groundbreaking at the Croydon train station. Luminaries included Sen. Arlen Specter, Congressman Patrick Murphy, State Sen. Robert “Tommy” Tomlinson and State Rep. Tony Melio.

This post describes the event, the project, and lists the currently slated contractors. As always, I apologize for any errors or misconceptions.


This was an extremely well-orchestrated event. It started just shortly after the scheduled 10:00 a.m. While there were refreshments inside the station, the action took place in the parking lot outside, by the train tracks. A tattooed man in a black uniform (policeman? Security guard) was directing people as they came into the parking lot. A number of construction workers from Neshaminy Constructors, the general contractors for the project were standing by some trucks. These guys were great. A woman (later identified as Mary Fawkes) walked by with a cup and asked if there were a trash can handy. One of the NCI guys said he would take care of it. Later one of guys let me know my paper and pen had fallen out of my pocket. As the proceedings started they stood behind the dignitaries’ chairs, all at attention with hands clasped in front of them, an orange vested phalanx of muscle. One or two had the pale complexion of office workers but most of the guys looked like they worked outside. In any event, they were impressive.

Sen. Specter was already there when I arrived. He worked the crowd, shaking hands with everyone. While there may not be a spring in his step he moved in a purposeful manner and has a firm grip.

Festivities got underway and the speakers took their seats. In addition to those speaking, two county commissioners, Jim Cawley and Diane Marseglia were present, as was Mayor Fenton. Harry and Mary Fawkes were seated with the speakers and took part in the groundbreaking but did not speak. Harry Fawkes is the chairman of the Bucks County Republicans. There may have been other elected officials present but if so I missed them and offer my apologies. Remarks, while interesting and upbeat, were more formula than newsbreaking, so I had time for the tie check. Some of the numbers being thrown around didn’t match up but possibly I misunderstand what they represented or misheard.

A priest from St. Thomas Aquinas gave an invocation.

Jeff Knueppel of SEPTA, assistant general manager of the engineering, maintenance and construction division started things off. He was sporting a light blue paisley tie. He introduced Deon.

Pasquale “Pat” Deon, SEPTA board chairman said this was one of 32 stimulus projects. (I did not catch his tie).

Arlen Specter (blue geometric pattern tie) said it would take $8.5 million to develop the Croydon station. The stimulus package was a tough vote for him politically but putting people back to work is more important than politics. There is 6.9 billion going to public transit, 191 million to SEPTA.

Patrick Murphy (dark blue tie with white dots) acknowledged the efforts of Specter. Public transit helps us increase energy independence. Transportation is often the second highest household expense, after housing; use of public transit can cut those costs. The construction project will make the station safer, more efficient, and attractive. Among the improvements he listed were better lighting and bus shelters.

Tommy Tomlinson (light gold tie with small dots) mentioned the efforts of the Fawkes family, working with officials to get the money. The project will add 100 parking spaces and better water drainage.

Tony Melio (striped tie) also mentioned Fawkes, and called the project an investment in the future.

Then the officials and Mr. and Mrs. Fawkes held little shovels with red, white and blue bows on them, and scooped up small amounts of dirt from a pile set out for that purpose.


The gentleman handing out press packs was kind enough to let me have one.

The R7 SEPTA train that goes through Croydon continues on to the Trenton transit station, with connecting service to New York City.

The station improvements include:
* Highway and traffic signal construction to realign Cedar Avenue and improve traffic flow
* Environmentally friendly underground stormwater detention system
* Continuous high level platforms
* Installation of platform canopies
* Platform passenger shelters with radiant heating
* Bus shelters
* Resulting facility will be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
* Parking lot construction adding 135 spaces
* Privacy wall around outbound parking lot
* New lighting, signage, and communications systems
* Landscaping
* Elevated sidewalk under railroad bridge

The renovation will cost $12 million, with $8.5 million of that from stimulus funding. The estimated completion is summer, 2011.

From the press release:

The Croydon Station Revitalization Project is funded by a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 and is one of 32 SEPTA projects which will improve transportation in the area while invigoration the economy by creating local jobs.

The project will include the construction of new low and high-level platforms with climate-controlled passenger shelters, improved signage, lighting, revenue collection equipment, and new AV public address system. A new parking lot will also be constructed with new lighting systems and a privacy wall on the outbound lot for nearby area residents. Vibrant new landscaping which will surround the parking area and station has also been included in the project design.

In addition to improved and enhanced passenger amenities, the construction will address critical areas in the intermediate area to enable safer, less congested traffic near the station. The intersection of Cedar Avenue & Bristol Pike will be widened and new signals will be erected. Also, new concrete curbing, walkways and elevated sidewalks will be constructed and an improved storm detention system preventing excessive flooding and ponding in the area will be implemented.

I asked specifically if the parking area would be a water permeable surface. The answer is that the underground water storage tanks will recharge the ground water and that is being used in lieu of water permeable paving.


A list of contractors was included in the press pack. Of the construction companies, 17% are disadvantaged business enterprises (dbe), of the electrical contractors, 9%. Neshaminy Constructors will be the general contractors for the project. I ran the company name through the open secrets database of federal campaign contributors. A few people associated with the company had made political donations in 2005 and 2006 but none since then and no contributions were listed to Specter or Murphy. I double checked donors with the same last name in Pennsylvania to see if donations were sent in by family members, and found nothing recent or to either Specter or Murphy. Spouses could have different last names but I didn’t see anything that gave me pause. Looks clean.

I did not look at individual reports for the state level officials, since this is federal money; but you are welcome to check further if you wish. Nor did I check all of the firms, just the general contractor; there were just too many of them so I went for the big fish.

The info below indicates the name of the firm, scope of work, location, and number of employees. Dbe firms have an asterisk.

Neshaminy Constructors / general contractor / Feasterville / 22
ABC Construction Company * / site work / Bensalem / 6
Armour & Sons Electric Inc / traffic signal work / Langhorne / 4
Brock Brothers * / demolition / Yeadon / 3
Bustleton Services / landscaping / Bensalem / 3
DeSilvio & Company, Inc * / rebar guardrail / Cedar Brook / 4
DEVO & Associates / coin meters / West Berlin / 2
DHC Construction * / site furniture bus shelters / Springfield / 2
E.P. Donnelly, Inc. / metal roof / Jamison / 4
Established Traffic Control * / M&P traffic signs / Sellersville / 2
Gracie Painting, LLC * / painting / Philadelphia / 3
Gilmore & Sons Welding / passenger shelter sign frames / Bristol 3
Glass Block of America / glass block / Medina / 2
JMS Visual Communication * / construction photographs / Vincentown / 2
MG Forge Construction Inc / steel piling / Wayne / 6
MV Contracting, Inc. * / Curb & Sidewalk / Colonia / 6
SJA Construction / paving / Marlton / 10
SIJ Hauling, LLC * / trucks for disposal of excess excavation materials / Colmar / 2
Traffic & Safety Signs / signage / Kennett Square / 4
Underwood Engineering Testing Co. Inc / Testing & Inspections Services / Bellmawr / 2

Nucero Electrical Construction Co Inc / electrical contractor / Philadelphia / 8
Hitech Services Inc * / audio, visual public address system / Upper Darby / 4

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Stimulus Funding for Education Programs

From the inbox:

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis has announced the award of approximately $114 million to 183 community groups to provide education and training to young people across the United States. This amount is an initial increment for two years of grant operations. A remaining increment may be awarded pending the availability of additional funding. Among today’s awardees, 62 are current Department of Labor YouthBuild grantees, and 121 are new to the department. The YouthBuild program assists out-of-school youth in obtaining their diplomas or GEDs while providing occupational training in the construction industry.

While acquiring leadership skills and participating in community service, at-risk youth build and renovate affordable housing within their communities. The awards include approximately $47 million allocated to the YouthBuild program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“President Obama and I are delighted to be able to increase funding for this promising program, which does so much for youth and their communities,” said Secretary Solis. “The YouthBuild program not only assists young people in obtaining education and skills, but also gives them a sense of accomplishment and empowers them as they give back to their communities.”

The Labor Department also plans to initiate a rigorous randomized control trial evaluation of the YouthBuild program to learn more about its impact on the disadvantaged youth it serves.

Participants in YouthBuild programs include individuals who have been in the juvenile justice system, youth aging out of foster care, high school dropouts and others. In addition to receiving academic and occupational skills training, these young people develop leadership skills and participate in community service opportunities. Many YouthBuild participants are learning “green” building techniques, assisting with retrofitting existing homes, and discovering how to help make their communities sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Organizations chosen for YouthBuild funding include workforce investment boards, faith-based and community groups, and local and nonprofit housing development agencies. The YouthBuild program was transferred by Congress from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to the U.S. Department of Labor in 2006. Today’s announcement brings to 228 the total number of YouthBuild projects funded by the department.

For more information on YouthBuild grants and other Department of Labor youth employment programs, visit http://www.doleta.gov/youth_services.

Pennsylvania programs on the grant list:

YouthBuild Grants 2009: Regular Funding

Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation / Lewisburg / 687,500
Philadelphia Youth For Change Charter School / Philadelphia / 687,500
Connection Training Services / Philadelphia / 687,500
Garfield Jubilee Association, Inc. / Pittsburgh / 554,375
United Community Services For Working Families / Reading / 687,274
Lycoming-Clinton Commission for Community Action (STEP), Inc / Williamsport / 678,562
Crispus Attucks Association, Inc. of York, Pennsylvania / York / 687,500

YouthBuild Grants 2009: Recovery Act

Goodwill Industries of the Conemaugh Valley, Inc. / Johnstown / 503,479

Thursday, June 11, 2009

State Budget Resources

For those wishing to make some sense of the state budget, there are a few online resources that might help.

Courtesy of the House Appropriations Committee, a chart comparing the Governor's version and the Senate GOP version.

Courtesy of State Rep. Josh Shapiro, a chart showing the Governor's proposed revenue modifications

As far as figuring out what it all means, you're on your own.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Philadelphia Budget Challenge

The first results from the Philadelphia Budget Challenge are in. Here's a few tidbits from the inbox:

The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia released a report today of the budget choices citizens made during the first 30 days of the Philadelphia Budget Challenge, its web-based, interactive budget balancing program and educational tool. The Challenge was undertaken more than 1,400 times during the first month after its launch on March 23, 2009. Through June 7, the Challenge was taken more than 3,000 times.

Key findings include:

* 43% of those taking the Challenge arrived at a balanced budget or a surplus; 57% finished with a deficit.
* 66% chose to raise the Sales Tax. Of those, more than half chose a 1% increase (the proposal now in the hands of Harrisburg) and slightly fewer than half opted for a 0.1% increase.
* More than 70% of Challenge-takers did not cut funding for the Police and Fire Departments.
* Regarding the city's pension fund problem, 67% percent chose to change the return rate assumptions (8.75% to 8.25%) and time frame (from 5 to 10 years), and 33% chose to keep it as is.
* A more than two-thirds majority were not in favor or raising Business Privilege Taxes or Wage Taxes.

Details are available on the Economy League's website.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Quick Stop at PV America

The Solar Energy Industries Association's annual meeting, PV America, is taking place in Philadelphia this year. Today the general public could get into the exhibits for free and I stopped in briefly on my way home from work. The technical aspects of it were over my head so I wandered through Exhibit Hall A looking for Pennsylvania or New Jersey based exhibitors. Below is a list of companies I found that fit the bill. The descriptions are taken from their literature or website. I've had no interaction with any of them beyond stopping at their booth; so investigate carefully before you buy. You can find a full list of exhibitors on the conference website.


Lambda Americas (Neptune, NJ) www.lambda-hp.com
The only advanced family of programmable DC power supplies from 750W to 15kW

Ray Angelini, Inc. (Sewell, NJ, also licensed in PA, etc) www.raiservices.com
complete turnkey solar solutions provider

Blue Sky Technologies, USA LLC (Edison, NJ) www.blueskynj.com
solar power system design and installation

Heat Shed, Inc. (Revere, PA) www.heatshed.com
solar electric system installation

AMG Advanced Metallurgical Group N.V. (Wayne, PA) http://www.amg-nv.com/index.php
speciality metals and metallurgical vacuum furnace systems


BlueGreen Alliance www.bluegreenalliance.org
labor and environmental partner organization

American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) www.acore.org
dedicated to bringing renewable energy into the mainstream of the US economy and lifestyle

Greenworks Philadelphia www.greenworksphila.org


Solar Training Facility (Philadelphia) www.solarschoolpa.com

Monday, June 08, 2009

Judicial and State Legislative Campaign Finance Data Resource

In late April the National Institute on Money and Politics released a study on state Supreme Court races in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Interesting stuff. Check out:

Report: High Court Contests: Competition, Controversy and Cash in Pennsylvania & Wisconsin by Linda Casey, April 28, 2009

Here is a quick synopsis:

In 2007, Supreme Court candidates raised nearly $9.5 million: $8.8 million raised by seven candidates vying for two open seats vacated by retiring justices, and $627,564 raised by Justice Thomas G. Saylor to retain his seat on the bench.

The top two vote-getters were two superior court judges running for Supreme Court seats: Seamus McCaffery raised nearly $2.3 million, Debra Todd raised $1.6 million. Judge Todd was victorious despite raising less than the two candidates who lost in the general. In a close third-place finish was another superior court judge, Maureen E. Lally-Green. Judge Lally-Green raised $1.75 million. Pennsylvania environmental hearing judge Mike Krancer finished a distant fourth. He raised $2.1 million, the second highest amount raised by the four general election candidates.

While you are on the site, go to the home page www.followthemoney.org and type in your address to see aggregate data for campaign spending in your state senate and state house districts.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sestak's Fundraising Letter

A letter from Sestak for Congress arrived on Saturday, though it is dated June 2nd. Here is the starting paragraph:

You may have heard that I intend to enter the Senate race in Pennsylvania. While I will make the final decision with my wife and daughter in the not too distant future, I am asking if you could support me now (which funding is transferable when a decision is made to get into the Senate race).

I'm not sure about the grammar in that final parenthetical phrase but grammar is not my specialty.

The letter goes on for another three paragraphs with generalities concerning his record and priorities. Accompanying the letter is a sheet, front and back, providing detailed information on Joe Sestak, and a third sheet with a copy of an Inquirer article on one side and an article from the Delaware County Daily Times on the back.


SEPTA Food Drive

Our friends at SEPTA are partnering with Philabundance to collect non-perishable food items. Until June 15th you can leave food, they are asking for canned tuna, pasta, beef ravioli, creamy peanut butter, and jelly, in non-breakable containers, at selected SEPTA stations. See http://www.septa.org/inside/philabundance.html for details and the list of stations.

Updated Campaign Finance Info for 8th Congressional District

As expected and noted in the first quarter FEC roundup post last month, Congressman Patrick Murphy's campaign (D-08) has filed updated FEC reports. According to these updates, so far this election cycle, the campaign has received $364,586.51 in contributions, spent $457,724.58, and has $254,094.98 cash on hand with $74,512.44 in debt.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Schwartz Offers More Grant Workshops

In January 2008 Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz (D-13) offered grant workshops for nonprofit organizations. I'm told they were well-attended. It is a popular topic and I've seen those terms a number of times in site usage stats; people continue to look for information on the topic.

Schwartz is hosting another round of workshops on June 16th and 17th. Registration info and details on time / place on her press releases, which describes the workshops as:

The agenda for the seminars includes a comprehensive overview of navigating federal search engines, conducting foundation and corporate research, tailoring proposals to specific funding sources and an introduction to local Foundation Centers’ resources. These seminars will also help organizations better learn to navigate the federal grants system which offers more than 1,000 grant programs and access to approximately $400 billion in annual awards.

Each seminar will include plenty of time for questions, and a complimentary continental breakfast and lunch is provided. The seminars are a follow up to the highly successful grants seminars that Representative Schwartz hosted in 2007 and 2008, which attracted hundreds of participants.

Experts scheduled to present include:

o Jay Blackwell, director of the Capacity Building Division. Office of Minority Health Resource Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

o Yvette Davis, director, Johnson UGO Foundation Library

o Lawrence Greene, archives & special collections librarian, Montgomery County Community College Foundation Library

Leave Shane Creamer Alone!

If you've been reading the Inquirer lately you might have noticed a few articles about Shane Creamer, head of the Philadelphia Board of Ethics. Young Philly Politics has a synopsis of the brouhaha. Creamer thought he might have made an error, reported it to the board and paid a fine of $500. No tax money was spent investigating him; he came forward of his own accord. He seems to be doing a good job and has his priorities in order. Now a Philly Councilwoman is calling for his resignation. I do not think this is a sound suggestion. If a few more people reviewed some of their own actions in light of ethics guidelines we might be better off.

Full disclosure: I've never met Shane Creamer or communicated with him or anyone else on the city's Board of Ethics. However, close to twenty years ago I was acquainted with someone in the extended Creamer family.

PA in Money

And, finishing the May and June issues of Money Magazine I'm no caught up with accumulated reading material. Whew! Here are some local or otherwise interesting notes:

In the May issue

p. 74, part of "Best tax strategy for retirees on the move," Pennsylvania is a great state for those with a private pension because pension income isn't taxed here.

p. 22, ever wonder how the cost of a Blackerry breaks down? In "The hot new smartphone" the $400 cost of a Blackberry Storm is dissected in this way:

$87 hardware and packaging
$56 factory costs
$54 research and development, intellectual property
$52 Research in Motion's take
$51 marketing

In the June issue

Breakout box on page 80 from "Rethink your legacy," PA has an interitance tax of 15%, which is lower than the inheritance or estate tax in 18 of the 22 states that have one. Only Kansas, Maryland, and Tennessee have lower rates; Iowa and Oklahoma also tax 15%.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Reminder About PV America Conference

Just a reminder, the PV American conference and trade show will be at the convention center June 8-10. The following speakers have been confirmed: Governor Edward Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Program Manager JoAnn Milliken, and former Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey. Tuesday, June 9th, the exhibits will be free and open to the public from noon to 8 p.m.

from the inbox:

Organizers of the PV America 2009 program include the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Mid-Atlantic chapter of SEIA (MSEIA). Programming from IEEE’s renowned Photovoltaic Specialists Conference is paired with SEIA’s policy and market development expertise to present the most current updates on PV technology, industry trends and business opportunities. Learn more at http://www.pvamericaexpo.com and http://www.34pvsc.org.

Two More Specter / Sestak Articles

Two more articles on Sen. Specter and Congressman Sestak for your reading pleasure:

From today's Roll Call, "Labor Has Tough Choice in Pennsylvania," by Shira Toeplitz. The article focuses on Specter and labor but delves into Sestak and Hoeffel, who is suporting him.

Louis Jacobson who has a column on stateline.org and edits CongressNow has an article on PoliticsPA giving an in-depth political history of Sestak. Read "Sestak: Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead?," with some background on Bryan Lentz also. A list of sources or some links would be handy. I have read a number of online sources that support what Jacobson has said but more casual readers might appreciate a bibliography of some kind, for further information.

Gov Ed Rides the Rails

from the inbox:

Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood challenged governors to think boldly when designing high-speed rail plans during a roundtable discussion at the White House today. The session was a unique opportunity for state leaders to share their ideas with the Obama Administration about the future of high-speed trains in America.

In April, President Obama released a strategic plan outlining his vision for high speed rail. The plan identifies $13 billion in federal funds -- $8 billion in the Recovery Act and $5 billion requested in the President’s budget -- to jump-start a potential world-class passenger rail system and sets the direction of transportation policy for the future. Detailed guidance for up to the first $8 billion in federal grant applications will be announced later this month and the first round of grants are expected to be awarded as soon as late summer 2009.

In developing the high-speed rail program, Administration officials have sought extensive input from states, Congress, labor, industry, rail experts from countries with working high-speed rail networks, and other key stakeholders. Today’s roundtable follows Secretary LaHood’s recent fact-finding trip to several European countries where he met with transportation officials and rail operators and witnessed first-hand the operations of working high-speed rail systems. Other senior U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) officials recently hosted a series of seven regional workshops around the country.

“Everyone knows I’m a big believer in our nation’s rail system – I’ve devoted a big part of my career doing what I can to support it – and I’m proud that this Administration is about to transform that system fundamentally,” said Vice President Biden. “Thanks to an $8 billion investment from the Recovery Act, we’re going to start building a high-speed rail system that will loosen the congestion suffocating our highways and skyways, and make travel in this country leaner, meaner and a whole lot cleaner.

“America is ready to embrace a new level of passenger rail service that offers a safe, convenient, and sustainable way to travel from city to city, and region to region,” said Secretary LaHood. “President Obama has handed us an extraordinary opportunity – and now it is up to all of us to seize the moment. With creative input and contributions from governors across the country, I believe we’ll be able to do just that.”

President Obama’s vision for high-speed rail mirrors that of President Eisenhower, the father of the U.S. Interstate highway system, which revolutionized the way Americans traveled. Now, high-speed rail has the potential to reduce U.S. dependence on oil, lower harmful carbon emissions, foster new economic development and give travelers more choices when it comes to moving around the country.

In attendance for today’s roundtable: Governors Pat Quinn, Illinois; Sonny Perdue, Georgia; Deval Patrick, Massachusetts; Jennifer Granholm, Michigan; Jay Nixon, Missouri; Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania; Tim Kaine, Virginia; and Jim Doyle, Wisconsin. In addition, state transportation officials from California, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Rhode Island and West Virginia also attended the roundtable.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

PA Keeps Fast Company

Finally getting caught up on accumulated reading, in this case the March - June issues of Fast Company. March and April were interesting but no notable PA mentions. However, there were some in May and June. With a few exceptions (held for future posts), here are things that caught my eye.

Local Companies

Radnor-based PolyMedix (www.polymedix.com, a publicly traded firm), is working on defense proteins "defensins." As part of the May 2009 article, "Raid!" by Elizabeth Svoboda, we learn:

In PolyMedix's Phase I safety trial of its anti-Staphylococcus aureus compound, concluded this past December, no subjects suffered severe side effects, even when they had concentrations of the drug in their blood sufficient to kill staph bacterias. A Phase II efficacy trail may begin by the end of 2009.

Hershey's hired House Party to have influentials hand out Bliss chocolates at parties. (see May 2008, "Three successful viral marketing campaigns")

In the June 2009 issue, Dr. Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is highlighted as one of the 100 most creative people in business (Atala's entry by Chuck Salter). Note this passage:
Money is now pouring into the field. Tengion, a Philadelphia startup, has licensed Atala's technology (he is chairman of its scientific advisory board) and has already completed the first Phase II clinical trials for bladders, one step closer to FDA approval.

Tengion is located in East Norriton. It is privately held.

Fast Cities

Philadelphia's mortgage foreclosure protection program is highlighted as one of "12 ideas to build on" (Abha Bhattarai, May 2009)

The GOP Take on PA-07

State Rep. Bryan Lentz (D-161) is not the only one watching the 7th congressional district carefully. If Congressman Joe Sestak decides to take on Sen. Arlen Specter in a Democratic primary, the 7th will be an open seat, and that almost always means a horse race. Shira Toeplitz of Roll Call takes a look at Republicans considering a run. See "GOP eyes open-seat race if Sestak moves on." She also mentions other potential Democratic candidates.

Local Writer in Politics Magazine

Continuing my endeavor to catch up on accumulated reading material, I read through the April, May, and June issues of Politics Magazine (online subscription -- note to zenio -- make the print bigger).

Dan Hirschhorn, formerly of PolitickerPA, now of www.pa2010.com, has an article in the June issue, on the impact of gambling money on campaign finance. See "A fundraiser jackpot."