Monday, April 14, 2014

Help us re-elect Rep. Erin Molchany- a true progressive champion

Despite what some of the pundits say, 2014 is going to be a year of huge victories for progressives in Pennsylvania.
I believe that to the core of my being.  But it will only be true if we work our asses off this year.
That means knocking on doors, making phone calls, talking to our neighbors, and yes, it means giving money.
If we really want a progressive Pennsylvania, we need to do all of these things as much as we can. And if we do, we can change the face of politics in PA.

The GOP wanted to get rid of Erin, so they redistricted her to face a far-right, anti-LGBT, anti-choice, DINO ALEC member who proudly votes with the Republicans on key issues. That makes this race the most important legislative primary in Pennsylvania.

Who do you want to see in the House of Representatives?

To us, the choice is clear. That’s why the Keystone Progress PAC made Rep. Erin Molchany our first-ever endorsement this year. 
Let’s make this the first of many progressive victories in Pennsylvania in 2014.
Together we will win,
Michael Morrill
for the Keystone Progress PAC

Contributions or gifts to the Keystone Progress PAC are not tax deductible.
Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

PA Public Schools Facing Gaps Left by Loss of Charter School Reimbursement

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

 HARRISBURG, Pa. - Educators say the loss of state funding for helping communities in Pennsylvania accommodate the financial effect of charter schools is translating to larger class sizes, and less money for staff, programs and textbooks. 

According to Susan Gobreski, executive director of the group Education Voters of Pennsylvania, the situation highlights a fundamental problem with the state's education funding formula.

"One of the things that we believe is that the state should be looking at restoring some of the cuts that have been made, so that districts are able to provide the services that they were able to provide, until we get a good funding formula put into place," she said.

Gobreski said the charter school reimbursement could act as a stopgap, in terms of giving school districts more resources to work with.

"It's not the districts' fault, it's not the charter schools' fault: it's a flaw of the funding formula," she said.

Gobreski said the charter school reimbursement line is a reasonable and fair way to distribute money to provide some immediate relief to districts that have been hit extraordinarily hard by state cuts and until a funding formula is adopted, the line item should be restored.

A review of state allocation changes shows that many districts across the state lost more than $1 million due to the cuts in compensation for charter school expenses. In the 2010-2011 school year, the York City School District, for example, received $4.5 million from the state for its students who attended charter schools. Erie got $2.5 million and Allentown, $2.1 million. School districts in Coatesville, Bethlehem, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have seen their charter school reimbursements cut completely.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tom Corbett repeats as “March Badness” champion. Wins title of “Most Radical Right-Winger” in national contest

Corbett outdistances WI Gov. Scott Walker in final round. Also beat MN Rep. Michele Bachmann in contest of the most outrageous, radical, out of touch right-wingers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – ProgressNow announced this morning that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett won the national title of “the most outrageous, radical, out of touch right-winger” of 2014.  “The competition was stiff this year,” said the ProgressNow statement.  “Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania had tough competition from a strong field, from finalist Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin to radical Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.”

Corbett also won the competition last year.  Last year’s competition was the first March Badness competition, which is organized by ProgressNow.  ProgressNow is a network of multi-issue, perpetual advocacy organizations in the states. Keystone Progress is the Pennsylvania affiliate of ProgressNow.

“This is further evidence that Corbett doesn’t understand or care about Pennsylvania’s working families,” said Ritchie Tabachnick, chair of the board of Keystone Progress.  “Corbett’s outrageous statements and actions made him the clear choice as the nation’s most radical, out of touch politician.”

Corbett won over a field that included some of the nation’s best-known right-wing politicians, including Walker, Cruz, Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN), Gov. Rick Scott (FL), Rep. Darrell Issa (CA), and Texas gubernatorial candidate Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott.  PA State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe was also in this year’s contest.  After winning the first round, Metcalfe lost to Rep. King in the “Not-So-Sweet Sixteen.”

Voters made their choices using social media.  A Facebook “Like,” or Twitter “Tweet” from the page counted as one vote.

Here is Corbett’s winning entry from the www.MarchBadness.org website:

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett

Last year’s March Badness champion, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, has come back with a strong case for back-to-back victories.

Corbett’s attorneys, in a filing to stop Montgomery County from issuing marriage licenses, compared gay marriage to allowing 12-year-olds to get married.  After being chastised by equality advocates and editorials across the state, Corbett doubled down, comparing the marriage of same-sex couples to incest.

When asked about his lawyers’ comparison of gay marriage to 12-year-olds, Corbett said, "It was an inappropriate analogy, you know," Corbett said. "I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don't you?"

Unfortunately, Corbett’s words have been matched by his actions.  He has consistently opposed marriage equality, supporting court cases and legislation that keep Pennsylvania as the only state in the northeast that does not have same sex marriage or civil unions



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Pa. lawmakers urge passage of pay-equity bills as Equal Pay Day nears


Women make 54 to 83 cents as much as men, depending on their Pa. county

HARRISBURG, PA– Looking ahead to Tuesday's observance of Equal Pay Day, state lawmakers sponsoring bipartisan pay-equity bills today joined with advocates at the Capitol to call for action on the legislation.

"This year, April 8 will be Equal Pay Day because it takes the average Pennsylvania woman one year, three months and eight days to make as much as a man. More than half of the population is female – we are not a 'special interest.' Equal pay is an issue everyone in Harrisburg needs to take seriously," said Rep. Erin Molchany, D-Allegheny.

Rep. Brian Sims, D-Phila., said: "Pay-equity laws have been around for 40 or more years, but Pennsylvania women on average make only 54 to 83 cents for every dollar men make, depending on which county they're in. Clearly it’s time to strengthen and update the law to bring about real pay equity for the many working women in Pennsylvania who are still shortchanged."

Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin/York, said: "Wage inequality and pay secrecy are not only a detriment to working women, but to families. When employers underpay equally qualified female employees, they shortchange our wives, our mothers and our daughters. Our legislation would help close loopholes and prevent this discriminatory practice to protect Pennsylvania workers and their families."

The bills are H.B. 1890 and S.B. 1212. They would update the conditions under which employers could pay different wages because of a factor other than sex. These factors would include specific, job-related attributes such as education, training and experience. The bills would also strengthen anti-retaliation protections for employees attempting to bring a pay-equity lawsuit against their employer and those who share information about their pay.

Each bill is in the Labor and Industry Committee in its respective chamber.

The lawmakers were joined at today's news conference by state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny; Deborah D. Vereen of Harrisburg, founder and principal, Vereen Group, which specializes in diversity and inclusion strategies; Betty Hooker of York, public policy co-chairwoman, American Association of University Women-Pennsylvania; Dr. Daria Crawley, associate professor of business administration, Robert Morris University; and Sue Frietsche, a senior staff attorney in the western Pennsylvania office of the Women's Law Project.

The pay-equity bills are a part of a larger package of bills supported by the bipartisan, bicameral Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

An image of the map showing the average pay gap for each of 67 Pennsylvania's counties is available at http://is.gd/PApaygapmap.
The other graphic displayed at today's event, showing a calendar with three extra months and eight extra days, is available at http://is.gd/equalpay2014cal.

Winter's After-Effects Cast Big Chill on Some PA Consumers

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. - A long, cold winter has taught many Pennsylvanians about some of the harsh realities of shopping for electricity.

According to Sonny Popowsky, the former state consumer advocate, now a member of the AARP Pennsylvania Executive Council, many residents have signed on to variable-rate plans rather than the more-consistently-priced default service and found out just how volatile the electricity marketplace can be.

"Prices where the regular default service customers were paying eight or 9 cents a kilowatt hour, some of these folks were paying 30 or 40 cents per kilowatt hour or more, and seeing bills that exceeded $1000, and in some cases even $2000 for one month's worth of electricity."

Popowsky said lawmakers should explore a better formula for their constituents who have variable-rate electric plans.

"They can see their prices basically rise to whatever that variable rate contractor decides to charge them that month, and that's the problem," he declared.

AARP supports limiting increases in variable rate plans and making the process more transparent, Popowsky said.

"A lot of people have variable-rate mortgages, but they know up front what the variable rate of the mortgage will be based on, what the maximum change could be at any given period, so those are the kind of protections I think you need."

Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission has received thousands of informal complaints and phone calls in recent months as customers' bills skyrocketed during a time of the year when electricity demand is near its peak.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Mending the Leaks in Clean Water Act in PA

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Some very important bodies of water in Pennsylvania are being left unprotected because of loopholes in the Clean Water Act. 

Ed Perry, Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, says the gaps in protection have come about as a result of court rulings and agency decisions under the George W. Bush administration that excluded many waters from protection and placed unnecessarily high hurdles to protecting others.

Perry says the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers are proposing a rule to fix that loophole.

"What the rule does is to restore protection for these small headwater streams that often flow only after a rain event," Perry says.

And, he adds those streams, while small, are crucial to protecting water quality and provide clean cold water to downstream fisheries.

The loophole, which took effect in 2003, eliminated protection for nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvania's wetlands and left over 45,000 miles of small, headwater streams in Pennsylvania unprotected.

Perry says when added up, the scope of water affected in Pennsylvania is massive.

"There's 80,000 stream miles in Pennsylvania, and over half of those are considered to be headwater streams," he points out.

Perry says the loophole essentially took us back to the days when we only regulated pollution pouring into large rivers and ignored pollution in the headwaters, which is why so many water bodies were unfishable or unsafe for swimming.

He says the rule being proposed specifically excludes many man-made ditches, ponds and irrigation systems and honors the law's current exemptions for normal farming, ranching and forestry practices.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Keystone Progress PAC announces second round of endorsements

(HARRISBURG, PA)—The Keystone Progress Political Action Committee (KPPAC) announced its second round of endorsements today.  This included seven candidates running for seats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
  • Rep. Ed Gainey (D, HD 24, Allegheny County)
  • Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D, HD 132, Lehigh County)
  • Vince Rongione (D, HD 163, Delaware County)
  • Billy Smith (D, HD 164, Delaware County)
  • Rep. Mike O’Brien (D, HD 175, Philadelphia)
  • Rep. Brian Sims (D, HD 182, Philadelphia)
  • Liz Forrest, (D, HD 189, Monroe, Pike Counties)
KPPAC previously announced endorsements of Rep. Erin Molchany (D, HD 36, Allegheny County) and Linda Small (D, SD 28, York County).

“All of these candidates have shown clear support for progressive values, including civil rights, workers’ rights, voting rights, protecting our environment, supporting public education and affordable health care,” said Ritchie Tabachnkick, the chair of KPPAC. “These are the values that our members want to see championed in Harrisburg”.

Each of the endorsed candidates is a strong supporter of quality public education for children; supports a raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour; will fight to close corporate tax loopholes; supports a woman’s right to control her reproductive choices; supports marriage equality; and will work to protect our environment, our economy and our democracy.

“Keystone Progress has grown to be one of the most powerful progressive organizations in Pennsylvania.  Our board of directors has recognized that we can have an impact beyond our usual issue-based work by getting actively involved in electing progressive candidates,” said Michael Morrill, speaking for the PAC. “We can’t win on our most important issues if we keep electing people who don’t share our values.”

Keystone Progress has hundreds of thousands of members who frequently take action on a variety of progressive issues.  Keystone Progress members will be encouraged to support endorsed candidates through their votes, volunteering for campaign work and by making contributions.

ProgressNow Launches Multi-State Executive Accountability Project

Watchdog Seeks Communications Between Governors and Chiefs of Staff 

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today ProgressNow announced a first-of-its-kind effort to root out corruption in state administrations with the unveiling of a multi-state Executive Accountability Project. ProgressNow, through its state affiliates, has made freedom of information act requests seeking transcripts of email conversations between the Governors of Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, and their chiefs of staff.

“From closed bridges in New Jersey, to favors for polluters in North Carolina, Americans are tired of watching governor after governor misuse their public office for personal and political gain,” said Arshad Hasan, Executive Director of ProgressNow. “It is time we shed a light on the egregious access that special interests and lobbyists have to our states’ top elected officials.  The public has the right to know how these elected officials, who serve at the behest of the people, are operating behind closed doors.”

The effort marks the first time that a watchdog has pursued these types of conversations in a systemic way for accountability purposes. It builds upon the work ProgressNow’s 22 state affiliates have been doing for years.

“This is an opportunity for these Governors to restore public confidence in their offices and actions as executives,” said Hasan. “We look forward to their cooperation.”

Each state varies in its legally mandated response times. ProgressNow expects to receive a response from these offices starting in the next three weeks and will be aggressive in seeking these records and making them available for public consumption.

Keystone Progress: Statement on the Ryan Budget Proposal

Paul Ryan’s budget crushes working families and the middle class, to benefit the super-rich and corporations that ship our jobs overseas.  Every member of Congress who votes for this budget will be voting to privatize Medicare, gut Medicaid, throw millions of Americans off their health insurance, take food from the mouths of children and cut tuition assistance from college students. A vote for the Ryan budget is a vote to give millionaires a $200,000 tax cut, while raising taxes on middle-class families with children by $2,000. By draining the economy of billions of dollars, the Ryan budget will derail any chance of economic progress, costing 4.5 million Americans their jobs in the next two years. A vote for the Ryan budget is a vote for a less hopeful America, where the super-rich get even richer while working families and the middle-class can no longer care and support their families. Instead, we urge members of Congress to vote for the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget’s vision of an America that works for all of us.”

Every member of Congress who votes for the Ryan budget will be voting to:
     Privatize Medicare and raise the age of eligibility for Medicare. And in the height of hypocrisy, keep the $716 billion in Medicare savings that Ryan and Republicans have railed against. 
     By repealing the Affordable Care Act, take health coverage away from the 10 million Americans who are now insured through the ACA, and return Americans to the days when insurance companies could turn them down because of a pre-existing condition.
     Gut the Medicaid program, cutting $732 billion, forcing states to decide which children, parents, people with disabilities or seniors to cut from Medicaid.
     Open up a huge new tax loophole to allow corporations to ship profits overseas and cut corporate tax rates, even as corporate taxes make up the lowest share of federal revenues ever.
     Slash basic food aid provided by SNAP (food stamps) by $135 billion and make states decide which low-income children, working parents, seniors and people with disabilities should go hungry.
     Make huge cuts in vital services, from education, to medical research, to job training while actually raising Pentagon spending by almost half-a-trillion dollars.
     By draining hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy, cost 4.5 million Americans their jobs in just the next two years.

There is an alternative to the Ryan budget. The 75 members of the House Congressional Progressive caucus have written a budget that puts working families and the middle-class ahead of the wealthy and big corporations. Their budget will put 7 million Americans back to work modernizing schools and rebuilding roads, saves seniors on Medicare billions of dollars by stopping drug company price gouging, increases support for educating our children all while reducing the deficit by closing tax loopholes that allow the billionaires to pay less than their secretaries and corporations to ship their jobs overseas and raising money from Wall Street speculators.

We urge members of Congress to reject Ryan’s vision of an  America that works only if you are rich  and vote for the Congressional Progressive Budget’s vision of an America that works for all of us.
Resources on Ryan Budget:
·          Full text of the bill here: http://budget.house.gov/fy2015/.
·          NPP: Comparison of federal budget proposals: Rep. Ryan, President Obama, CPC
·          All budgets side by side compared with polling information on the issues!
·          Economic Policy Institute Analysis: By Ignoring Economic Reality, Ryan Budget Would Slow Recovery, Cost Jobs
·          FRAC Statement: Ryan Budget Recycles Failed Proposals for SNAP
·          Center for American Progress Reaction: The Ryan Budget is a Broken Record of Failed Economics
·          Citizens for Tax Justice: Ryan Budget gives Millionaires Average Tax Cut of At Least $200,000
·          Franklin Forum Messaging: Ryan’s Road to Ruin
·          CEPR: Ryan Budget is an April Fools Joke
·          Focus First: Children Lose with House 2015 Budget

Room for National Parks in Next Federal Budget?

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Fans of Pennsylvania's national parks are watching carefully as Congress puts President Barack Obama's budget under the microscope in April. 

The president is proposing a small increase of $55 million in the National Park Service budget for 2015, including $10 million as a Centennial Initiative to get the parks ready for the agency's 100th anniversary celebration in 2016.

John Garder, budget and appropriations director of the National Parks Conservation Association, says it's a promising start after 25 years of budget trimming have taken a toll on park maintenance and staffing.

"It's a modest increase over last year,” he says. “It doesn't get parks back to where they were just a few years ago, before damaging cuts, to ensure that people can have a really inspiring and a safe experience out in our parks."

National parks, monuments, trails and historic sites are pumping more than $444 million into Pennsylvania's economy each year.

Numbers from the National Park Service show more than 9 million visits to National Park Service sites in Pennsylvania in 2013.

Garder says additional park funding is much needed, for a system that has put off about $12 billion of maintenance in recent years.

From historic resources to water and sewer systems, visitor centers, roads and trails, he says many are in disrepair.

"The main cause for the growth of the deferred-maintenance backlog is the decline in Congress' investment in the construction account, which creates so many jobs,” he explains. “In today's dollars, the construction account for the National Park Service has been cut nearly in half, just in the last four years."