Thursday, November 20, 2014

Educators Say New Pennsylvania Governor's "Mandate" is to Invest in


PHOTO: Educators say Pennsylvania's incoming governor will have a chance to undo funding cuts that have hurt student achievement. Photo montage courtesy of the National Education Association.
PHOTO: Educators say Pennsylvania's incoming governor will have a chance to undo funding cuts that have hurt student achievement. Photo montage courtesy of the National Education Association.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Incoming Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf faces big budget problems, but educators say he at least received a clear mandate from voters to reverse damaging cuts to schools.

Retired Pittsburgh public school teacher Mike Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), says past policies "blew a big red hole" in the state's budget, and reversed 10 years of improving academic achievement and test scores.

While he says Wolf faces a tough job to undo the damage, Crossey also notes the possibility of bipartisan cooperation following the "big vote of approval" for the governor-elect.

"Tom Wolf has a mandate to come in and not only start investing more in our schools," says Crossey, "but invest wisely so our students, no matter their zip code, have as much a chance to succeed as anyone."

The school funding cuts came as part a broader push to lower taxes and spending, but Crossey says those cuts haven't worked as well as its supporters had hoped, particularly outgoing Governor Tom Corbett. Crossey says Wolf's campaign included proposals to raise revenue, including a tax on gas drillers and closing corporate loopholes. He adds that expanding Medicaid in the commonwealth would bring in almost $500 million.

According to Crossey, the revenue options offer a chance to get school funding and achievement scores back on track.

"You don't throw money at an issue or at a problem, but you invest wisely," he says. "From our point of view, investing money in schools and kids is the best way to grow Pennsylvania."

According to PSEA figures, funding cuts landed hardest on schools least able to deal with them. While the average cut was about $85 per student in the commonwealth's 50 wealthiest schools, Crossey says the cut to the Reading school district was more than $1,300 per student.

"Reading is the poorest city in America. They don't have the tax base or the wherewithal to make up that kind of funding cut," he says.

Crossey addressed the issue in conjunction with the celebration of American Education Week. He says it marks a good opportunity for a fresh, nonpartisan look at how the state is funding schools.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Is Corbett’s attack on Philly teachers a political move based on his secret poll?

Keystone Progress files Right to Know Law request seeking correspondence between Governor’s Office and School Reform Commission to uncover the truth

(HARRISBURG, PA) Keystone Progress (KP) has filed a Right to Know Law request with the Office of Open Records seeking:

1.    All written communications between the Office of the Governor and any member of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (i.e., Bill Greene, Sylvia Simms, Feather Houstoun, Farah Jimenez, and Marjorie Neff) from August 1, 2014 to the date this letter is received.
2.    All communications between the Office of the Governor and any staff member of the School District of Philadelphia from August 1, 2014 to the date this letter is received.

“We are filing this request for information because the recent attacks on Philadelphia’s schools by Tom Corbett’s School Reform Commission reeks of political opportunism,” said Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill. “This is especially important in light of the secret poll that the Philadelphia City Paper uncovered last year that recommended Corbett’s campaign should take on the Philly teachers as part of his re-election strategy.”

Morrill is referring to a Philadelphia City Paper article by Daniel Denvir that exposed a secret poll that recommended Corbett should attack Philadelphia teachers as “enemies.” (“Secret poll: Corbett should exploit Philly school crisis, attack teachers union for political gain,” Philadelphia City Paper, 6/19/2013)

The poll summary said, "With Governor Corbett's weak job approval, re-elect and ballot support numbers, the current Philadelphia school crisis presents an opportunity for the Governor to wedge the electorate on an issue that is favorable to him… Staging this battle presents Corbett with an opportunity to coalesce his base, focus on a key emerging issue in the state, and campaign against an 'enemy' that's going to aggressively oppose him in '14 in any case."

The pollster, Public Opinion Strategies, went on to say, “Taking on this fight moves Corbett's approval scores on handling education" and "boosts his overall approval numbers."

“This poll’s recommendation that Corbett should attack Philadelphia teachers and the recent decision by Corbett’s SRC to act on that recommendation right before the election seems to be more than coincidental,” continued Morrill. “That’s why we have filed this Right to Know Law request.”

KP believes in public accountability and regularly files Right to Know Law requests seeking information that should be available to the public.

The Governor’s office has five business days to respond to the request.


# # #

Report Critical of Corbett "Outsourcing" in Pennsylvania

PHOTO: Gov. Tom Corbett is among governors in seven states who are mentioned in a new report about outsourcing billions of dollars in state services to private contractors. Photo credit: Lucidology/iStockphoto.com
PHOTO: Gov. Tom Corbett is among governors in seven states who are mentioned in a new report about outsourcing billions of dollars in state services to private contractors. Photo credit: Lucidology/iStockphoto.com
Chris Thomas, Public News Service

HARRISBURG, PA - Shrinking government has meant shifting responsibilities to private industry in some states, and Gov. Tom Corbett is one of seven governors taken to task in a new report that correlates these outsourcing decisions with major campaign donors and mixed results for taxpayers.

In Corbett's case, the Center for Media and Democracy cited what it calls "frequent outsourcing" of legal business to private law firms and the push to privatize state liquor sales.
Economist Steve Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, said a large body of nonpartisan academic research backs the report's conclusion - that transparency is lost when services are performed by private industry.

"Any time when you have questions, legitimate questions, about public service delivery - and it's public - it's relatively easy to take the lid off, to look inside, to figure out what's going on," he said. "It's harder when you've got to pierce the veil of the private contractor."


The governors in the seven states mentioned in the report all are Republicans, but Herzenberg pointed out that Democratic governors aren't immune. He cited questions raised about the appropriateness of former Gov. Ed Rendell outsourcing some state information-technology functions to campaign donor Deloitte during his administration.

In Pennsylvania, the Keystone Research Center has studied the effects of privatization on nursing homes and on water and sewer services. Overall, Herzenberg said, the focus of shifting services should be on whether citizens are getting a good deal - and by that measure, he said, the research is clear.

"These asset sales tend to be shortsighted, in the sense that you get some money up front," he said, "but in the end, citizens pay more, much more than they would if the asset had remained public."


The report said some experts estimate $1 trillion of the $6 trillion of government spending in the United States each year is spent on private contractors.


The report is online at 
sourcewatch.org.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is Pennsylvania delivering on the promise of quality, affordable health care for women?



Is Pennsylvania delivering on the promise of quality, affordable health care for women?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.


In today’s economy, families depend on both men and women to make ends meet. Women across PA are leading households and we’re doing everything we can to support our families, but the deck is stacked against them – especially when it comes to getting the health care our families need to lead healthy, prosperous lives.

The newly-released 2014 Women’s Health Report Card for PA underscores our reality: PA is failing when it comes to meeting women’s health needs, and there’s a lot more state can and should be doing to meet women’s health needs – especially for women of color.

In the report card, which ranks all 50 states on 30 measures of women’s health, including coverage, access to care, and health outcomes,PA was ranked only #22 and got a final grade of C+ -- PA only got a D grade for health care outcomes for women.
You can read the full report here.

Here's the good part -- you can make a difference.  It’s important that we let our elected officials know that PA is falling short and that they can change that.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN A LETTER ASKING OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO AIM HIGHER FOR PENNSYLVANIA. 

You can edit a letter that is already started for you — make it your voice and send it electronically to your elected officials with our easy-to-use system.  Just click here to add your voice.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The National ‘Put the Middle Class First’ Bus Tour Headed to Pennsylvania, To Be Joined By U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle


18-State Tour to Underscore Clear Choice Voters Face in November:
Democrats’ Middle-Out Approach to Building an Economy That Works for Everyone vs.  Tom Corbett and Mike Fitzpatrick’s Top-Down Tea Party Approach That Works Only for the Wealthy Few & Big Corporations
www.MiddleClassFirst.com
#MiddleClassFirst
Washington DC – Americans United for Change has hit the road with the national “Put the Middle Class First” bus tour to help drive home the clear choice before voters on November 4 between having a Democratic Congress that works for them or a Tea Party Congress that works for corporate special interests like the Koch brothers.  NEXT STOP: Pennsylvania onThursday, October 9 at 10am ET in Philadelphia, 1pm in Harrisburg and 5:30pm in Pittsburgh*SEE DETAILS BELOW. With the backdrop of the 45’ long ‘fair shot advocate on wheels’, Americans United will be joined byCongressman Mike Doyle, Dr. Manan Trivedi, Kevin Strouselocal labor leaders and seniors’ advocates who agree that a strong economy can only be built to last from the middle-out. The alternative? : The Top-Down Tea Party approach espoused by Gov. Tom Corbett, U.S. Reps. Pat Meehan (R-PA-07) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA-08) of giving more tax breaks to millionaires that never manage to create job but always manage to undermine middle class priorities like education and Medicare.

While the economy is picking up speed, many American families are still struggling to climb into the middle class and stay there. The reason: incomes have been stagnant or even shrinking for more than a decade at the same time the cost of food, child care, college, housing, retirement security, and basic necessities has soared.  That’s why all eyes are on lawmakers to make critical investments in education, innovation and infrastructure that will create more jobs, opportunity, and an economy that works for everyone. But instead, Tea Party Republicans have stood in the way of every reasonable proposal made by President Obama and Democrats to move the country forward, even if it meant shutting down the government and hurting the economy.  Instead, they have made sure this Congress has been the least productive and most beholden to the special interests in U.S. history. The Enablers: Pat Meehan voted in lock step with the Tea Party 71% of the time and Mike Fitzpatrick rubberstamped their extreme agenda 73% of the time.

Four years in a row, Meehan and Fitzpatrick helped fellow House Republicans pass a budget plan that voucherizes Medicare, slashes Medicaid, Pell grants and child care services, and shortchanges badly needed repairs to America’s crumbling bridges and roads. At the same time, the Ryan-Meehan-Fitzpatrick budget protects Big Oil subsides and gives away $5 trillion in new tax breaks for millionaires and corporations that outsource U.S. jobs. Not to be outdone, Republican Governors like Tom Corbett are enacting their own Robin Hood in Reverse policies, from tax breaks geared towards the super-wealthy, to gutting public education, to refusing to accept available Medicaid resources to cover thousands of vulnerable citizens including Veterans who living one health emergency away from bankruptcy.  The Koch brothers, Big Insurance and Wall Street are clearly very satisfied customers judging by the millions of dollars they continue to funnel into Republican campaigns like that of Corbett, Meehan, and Fitzpatrick.
In contrast, Democrats in Congress have a detailed set of proposals that put the middle class first, giving more Americans a fair shot at getting into the middle class and achieving the American Dream, including: Ensuring women receive equal pay for equal work; Making college affordable; Raising the Minimum Wage; Creating jobs by investing in infrastructure; and Protecting Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts, voucher and privatization schemes.
STOP #1:  THE ‘PUT THE MIDDLE CLASS FIRST’ BUS TOUR COMES TO PHILLY

WHO:             Dr. Manan Trivedi, Iraq War veteran and Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania's 6th congressional district
Kevin Strouse
, Democrat for Congress in Pennsylvania's 8th District
Joyce Koch of the Koch Sisters
Frank Snyder, Secretary/Treasurer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO
Wayne Burton, President, PA Alliance for Retired Americans
Alice Hoffman, Executive Board Member, PA Alliance for Retired Americans
John Meyerson, UFCW Retiree, Raise the Wage Coalition
WHERE:       Love Park, 1599 John F Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia, PA

WHEN:          Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 10 am ET

STOP #2:  THE ‘PUT THE MIDDLE CLASS FIRST’ BUS TOUR COMES TO HARRISBURG

WHO:             Sandy Strauss, Director of Advocacy and Ecumenical Relations
Alice Hoffman, Executive Board Member, Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans
Mark Price, Labor Economist, Keystone Research Center
Mike Crossey, President, Pennsylvania State Education association
WHERE:       Pennsylvania State Capitol, 3rd St and State StHarrisburg, PA

WHEN:          Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 1 pm ET

STOP #3:       THE ‘PUT THE MIDDLE CLASS FIRST’ BUS TOUR COMES TO PITTSBURGH

WHO:             U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA 14th District) 
Thomas M. Conway, International Vice President, United Steelworkers
Rick Bloomingdale, President, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO
Carmen Marcantoni, Zone Coordinator, Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans and AFSCME Retiree    
         
WHERE:       United Steel Workers60 Boulevard of the AlliesPittsburgh, PA 15222

WHEN:         Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 5:30 pm ET

Pittsburgh Security Guards Rally for Job Security

Chris Thomas, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: Kim McGowan (right) is among the security guards working for private contractors who say today's security challenges call for more training and better pay. They rallied in Downtown Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Photo credit: Maria Montano.
PHOTO: Kim McGowan (right) is among the security guards working for private contractors who say today's security challenges call for more training and better pay. They rallied in Downtown Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Photo credit: Maria Montano.
PITTSBURGH - Steel City security guards rallied Downtown on Wednesday to demand greater job security, and to point out many of the private contractors hired by high-rise owners or managers don't offer their workers enough training, room for advancement, or sufficient pay for the modern-day challenges security guards face.

Kim McGowan, a security guard with contractor Chesley Brown, has been patrolling the same building for 16 years. She says her experience is unusual in an industry where turnover is high due to low wages, and believes the frequent turnover heightens the need for standardized training in areas from terrorism to workplace violence.

"We are on the front lines," says McGowan. "When something happens - like a medical emergency, if somebody fell, a couple arguing at a bus stop, a fire in the building - we're the first ones there."

The security guards are not union members, but are working with 32BJ SEIU to change that. They say one of the attractions is the union has developed a 40-hour training program for private security officers that is already being used successfully in New York City. There are no current training requirements for security contractors in Pittsburgh.

McGowan says Pittsburgh's downtown vacancy rate is low, and more businesses and people in those buildings means more responsibility for public safety. She adds the guards are also convinced joining a union would ensure pay and benefits are fair for all workers.

"We're not getting treated equally," she says. "They have their favorites. We devote a lot of our time and a lot of our lives to these people. I feel we need more respect."

At yesterday's security guard rally, paramedics, firefighters and clergy members all were on hand to support their efforts.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

PSEA Report: Low-Income Students Hit Hardest by Education Cut

September 3, 2014 - Tom Joseph, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: A new report from the state's largest public employees' union says Pennsylvania schools with the fewest resources have taken the biggest hits in terms of state education cuts. Photo credit: George Hodan/Publicdomainpictures.net.
PHOTO: A new report from the state's largest public employees' union says Pennsylvania schools with the fewest resources have taken the biggest hits in terms of state education cuts. Photo credit: George Hodan/Publicdomainpictures.net.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - The impact of budget cuts on education in Pennsylvania is being felt in schools across the state - but most notably in districts with the highest needs and lowest incomes, according to a new report from the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

PSEA president Michael Crossey said the findings reinforce evidence that the fallout from trimming $1 billion from education during the Corbett administration includes drops in reading and math scores on state tests across all schools in grades 3 through 6.

"In the years right before Gov. Corbett took office, funding for education was up 39 percent and test scores went up 54 percent," Crossey said. "Now, we're looking at school funding is down significantly, and we're starting to see drops in test scores. There is a correlation."

Corbett has defended education cuts, blaming a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall that existed when he took office.

Crossey said a major stumbling block for education in Pennsylvania is the lack of a formal blueprint on how education dollars are divided among districts.

"We need to create a funding formula for our schools that, one, drives more adequacy to funding; and also, we need to talk about more equitable funding," he said.

Crossey said the report concluded that the Corbett approach to funding has undermined progress made in education in Pennsylvania. He said he believes future strategies should work to reverse that trend.

"We need to, as a state, decide that we're going to educate every child," Crossey said. "No matter how poor they are, they deserve an education and they deserve a chance at a good life, no matter where they live."

The report also found cuts to the most impoverished school districts averaged three times the size of cuts to higher-income districts, and that the student-to-teacher ratios are higher in the poorest districts as well.

The full report is online at psea.org.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Report Indicates State of Working PA Isn’t Working So Well

 
Tom Joseph, Public News Service

Job growth and economic growth remain major challenges for Pennsylvania, according the 2014 State of Working Pennsylvania report from the Keystone Research Center. Photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net.
Job growth and economic growth remain major challenges for Pennsylvania, according the 2014 State of Working Pennsylvania report from the Keystone Research Center. Photo courtesy ofpublicdomainpictures.net.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania isn't making the grade in terms of job growth and economic growth in a just-
released study from the Keystone Research Center.

The 2014 State of Working Pennsylvania report gives the state a D-minus for job growth. Dr. Mark Price, labor economist with the KRC, says cuts to education in recent years have played a major role in Pennsylvania's struggles.

"You're trying to recover from a deep recession, like the Great Recession," Price says. "And then right in the middle of that recovery you get these waves of layoffs that end up being a drag on job growth; it was a drag on consumer spending and ultimately on economic growth."

The report also gave the state a B-minus for the drop in its unemployment rate since 2011, and a D-plus for its dip in underemployment. Pennsylvania received a grade of C-minus for its change in  median-hourly earnings from 2010 to 2013.

Price says passage of the $2.3 billion transportation bill helped spur job growth in the first six months of the year, but he says the move could have, and should have come earlier as timing has been an issue in the state's efforts to gain economic traction.

"There have been a lot of policy missteps, from just deliberately bad things that were done," Price says. "Laying off public sector workers, but also delays that really hurt us because we could have had faster growth earlier."

Moving forward, Price says state lawmakers need to bear in mind policies, such as Medicaid expansion, that hold huge upsides for the economy.

"That is going to be a windfall for the state, and that's certainly going to boost job growth," says Price. "We certainly would like to see more investment in infrastructure and focus on things like shale extraction and raising the tax so it's equal to what is charged in other states."

That, he says, is a good way to raise revenue.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Under Attack? Climate Change Raises PA's Pesky Insect Population

Tom Joseph, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: A new National Wildlife Federation report says climate change is prompting bigger populations of familiar pests and insects, as well as some not seen before in Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Charles Rondeau/publicdomainpictures.net
PHOTO: A new National Wildlife Federation report says climate change is prompting bigger populations of familiar pests and insects, as well as some not seen before in Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Charles Rondeau/publicdomainpictures.net
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Many forms of wildlife in Pennsylvania, from trees and plants to fish, have suffered the dangerous effects of climate change, but insects are thriving in the state's warmer climate, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation.

The evidence is clear, said Ed Perry, Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for the federation's Global Warming Campaign. He pointed to the Asian tiger mosquito, which first surfaced in Texas in the mid 1980s and now calls parts of south-central Pennsylvania home - bringing with it an arsenal of harmful diseases.

"Eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile, yellow fever. This thing, unlike other mosquitoes, it's out in the middle of the day," Perry said, "so when you're out mowing your yard, you're liable to be attacked by this mosquito."

Perry said tick populations are higher and more varied as well. He said they have infested the moose population so badly that some animals are scraping off their fur against trees in an attempt to rid themselves of ticks. That behavior leaves the moose susceptible to hypothermia and death in the colder months.

Despite almost unanimous consensus among scientists that climate change exists and is worsening, Perry said the concept still has its naysayers.

"It's beyond question that things are happening. Every species of plant, animal and insect that can move north or up in elevation is trying to do so," Perry said. "So, there's no 'deniers' in the natural world."

The report said solutions to global warming are within reach, although some are controversial. Perry said the Obama administration has taken a promising lead in cleaning up the air with the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to curb carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent in the next 15 years.

"Reduce carbon pollution from future and existing coal-fired power plants; by increasing the gas mileage requirements for cars and light trucks," he said. "We need our elected representatives to speak out loudly in support of the president's plan."

Opponents of the EPA plan say it will cost jobs, especially in coal-producing states, and pinch the budgets of all Americans through higher utility costs.

The full report is online at nwf.org.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

NEW SPAMALOT DOCUMENTS REVEAL DISCREPANCIES IN OFFICIALS’ STATEMENTS

Right To Know Law Request Reveals Discrepancies and Inconsistencies by South Williamsport Area School District Officials

WILLIAMSPORT, PA – On July 10th and July 28th, 2014, Keystone Progress submitted Right to Know requests for all public records concerning the “Spamalot” controversy at South Williamsport High School. A controversy erupted in north-central Pennsylvania in late June, when a local television station aired a story about the South Williamsport Area School District’s cancellation of the spring 2015 musical planned by the drama department, Monty Python’s “Spamalot.” WNEP-TV later retracted part of its story, based on statements by school district officials, but left many questions unanswered.

In response to Keystone Progress’s RTK request, the organization received 63 pages of documents from South Williamsport Area School District Superintendent Mark Stamm.  (ALL VIEWABLE HERE)

These documents reveal clear discrepancies between statements made by school district officials to the media and the public in July.

1.  The school district asserted that the play was not canceled because of its homosexual content but because of inappropriate language and adult themes.  In his emails to Drama Director Dawn Burch, Principal Jesse Smith clearly says he is opposed to the production of “Spamalot” because it portrays a “gay wedding” and has “homosexual themes.”

2.  School district officials asserted that "Spamalot" was only one of several plays under consideration and had not actually been put on the schedule, so therefore it had not really been canceled.  But the documents show that Smith signed a check from the High School to Theatrical Rights Worldwide on May 12, 2014, to pay for the license agreement to produce "Spamalot" at the High School March 12-14, 2015.

Keystone Progress research shows yet another clear inconsistency between school district officials’ statements and the public record.  At a July 27 press conference at New Covenant United Church of Christ organized by Keystone Progress in partnership with Equality Central PA, Superintendent Mark Stamm and School Board President John Engel, Jr. both made statements to the effect that bullying is a natural part of growing up, that bullying occurs all the time in their schools, that every child is subject to bullying, and that school officials and teachers can’t do anything to stop bullying (video from the event of Stamm is herevideo of Engel is here). That responsibility, Engel said, lies with parents at home.

A search of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Safe Schools site shows that over the past five years, SWASD has reported zero instances of bullying at schools in the district. (SCREENSHOTS OF REPORTS FOR THE LAST FIVE YEARS AVAILABLE HERE) If bullying happens there every day, why were none of these instances reported, as required by law?

“Keystone Progress believes that schools should be safe havens for all young people, including those who are questioning their sexuality.  The South Williamsport Area School District owes parents, students, and taxpayers an explanation of their actions and words. Why did district officials feel it necessary to cover up the principal’s remarks about ‘homosexual themes’?  Why did they assert that 'Spamalot' had not been agreed upon when nearly two thousand taxpayer dollars had gone to purchase the license for performances of the play? And why do they allow bullying to continue in the schools and yet fail to report it as required by state law?” said Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill. 


“The more information we get, the more questions that are raised.  It’s clear that the administration would like this to be brushed under the rug, but they owe it to their students, the parents and the taxpayers in South Williamsport to be fully transparent.  This is about making sure all children feel that they can trust school administrators and feel safe in their schools. This is about a school administration’s responsibility to the community to be honest and upfront about how they run their schools.”

Keystone Progress PAC announces more endorsements

(HARRISBURG, PA)—The Keystone Progress Political Action Committee (KPPAC) announced its next round of endorsements today.  This included three candidates running for seats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
  • Frederick Sheeler, (D, H5, Berks County)
  • Rep. Stephen McCarter, (D, H154, Montgomery County)
  • Susan Rzucidlo, D, (H158, Chester County)
Here is the list of current prior 2014 endorsements:
State Senate
Christine Tartaglione (D, SD 2, Philadelphia)
Linda Small (D, SD 28, York County) 
State House
Rep. Ed Gainey (D, HD 24, Allegheny County)
Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D, HD 132, Lehigh County)
Vince Rongione (D, HD 163, 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)
Rep. Mark Cohen (D, HD 202, Philadelphia)
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.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pennsylvania Health Access Network’s Statement on Halbig v. Burwell


Harrisburg, PA -- Antoinette Kraus, Director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network issued the following statement on today's ruling in Halbig v. Burwell:

“Today’s decision in Halbig v. Burwell has no immediate impact on the ability of Pennsylvanians to use premium tax credits to lower the cost of their health insurance plans purchased through the Marketplace.

We are confident that when the D.C. Court of Appeals reviews this case en banc they will recognize, as multiple other courts have ruled, inlcuding the 4th Circuit Court in Virgnia today that the intent of  the law was that all Marketplace enrollees receive income-based financial assistance. We are optimistic that on appeal the rulling will uphold the right of all Americans to access tax credits no matter where they live.

The Affordable Care Act's premium tax credits have helped hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians afford quality, comprehensive health care -- many for the first time in years. In fact, 81% of the 318,077 Pennsylvanians who purchased coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace during the first open enrollment period used the law's tax credits to lower their monthly premiums.

Opponents of the law refuse to accept the reality that the Affordable Care Act is working for millions of Americans -- thanks in part to the tax credits that will still be available to them despite this one ruling. The Pennsylvania Health Access Network will continue to educate Pennsylvanians about the new choices, protections and financial assistance the law brings as we approach the second open enrollment period.”

Vertical Farming Taking Root in Pennsylvania

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
DALTON, Pa. - In a sprawling, formerly abandoned warehouse near Scranton, the proof is in the produce as a
vertical farming operation has reaped its first harvest.

Minnesota-based Green Spirit Farms is using the Scranton-area site to grow high-quality, pesticide-free, non-GMO fruits and vegetables. Green Spirit president Milan Kluko says vertical farming uses huge shelves, or palate racks, and can grow produce on multiple levels.

"It's nine feet across by four feet deep, so that's 36 square feet, and then at 36 square feet we can grow 1,016 heads of lettuce, or we can plant 1,016 basil plants," says Kluko. "We can plant up to 10,000 arugula plants, and we do it all in 21 to 30 days."

Kluko says the goal of Green Spirit Farms is to develop vertical farming using carbon neutral or renewable energy when practical, and also to use compostable and recycled packaging for their produce sold to retail customers.

For Kluko, the most compelling aspect of vertical farming involves water conservation. He cites overall water use in growing romaine lettuce in California and Arizona using traditional methods, as opposed to growing it vertically.

"In California, they use about seven-and-a-half gallons per one head," says Kluko. "In Arizona, they use about 25 gallons per head. We use 0.33 gallons per head because we recycle about 40 to 50 percent of the nutrient-rich water we use right back into the system."

Kluko says municipalities can look to vertical farming as a way to "reoccupy" land previously used for industrial purposes or some commercial uses, also known as brownfields.

"That particular building outside of Scranton was vacant for 12 years," says Kluko. "We came in about this time last summer to start the demonstration farm, so we've been growing there since June 9th and were up and running, and our first harvest before the fourth of July."

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Broader Scope: Hobby Lobby's Potential Impact in PA

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. - As the dust clears from this week's Supreme Court decision letting companies use religious objections to avoid paying for contraceptive coverage, what remains unclear is how that ruling will play out in Pennsylvania.

Concerns are being raised over the impact Tuesday's ruling could have on issues ranging from gay rights to vaccinations in the workplace. John Neurohr, communications director with the group Keystone Progress, says it puts Pennsylvania workers in an especially fragile position.

"They will now all be subject to the personal religious beliefs of their employers when it comes to health insurance and other benefits," says Neurohr, "and that's just not the kind of country we want to live in."

Neurohr adds the decision is an example of putting politics where it doesn't belong.

"Because of how weak the logic is of this particular opinion, I think there's no doubt now that even the Supreme Court has been hyper-politicized," says Neurohr. "I think that's really unfortunate."

Supporters of the decision call it a victory for the religious freedom of people of all faiths. Neurohr disagrees, noting religious freedom also includes a person's right not to have religion imposed on them by others.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pennsylvania Can’t Afford To Miss The Opportunity To Expand Health Care Access


New Council of Economic Advisers Report Shows Cost To Pennsylvania Over Failure To Expand Medicaid

HARRISBURG, PA – Today, the Council of Economic Advisers released a new report - “Missed Opportunities: The Consequences of State Decisions Not to Expand Medicaid.” The report shows the economic and health care costs to Pennsylvania over the decision by Governor Corbett and the GOP state legislature to put politics over people and failure to expand health care access to 305,000 people who fall into the coverage gap.

“States that are expanding Medicaid are seeing economic and health benefits in billions of dollars coming into their economy, reduced out of pocket health care expenses for their citizens and a healthier population,” said Michael Morrill of Keystone Progress. “Pennsylvania, due to the political priorities of Governor Corbett and the GOP state legislature, is seeing just the opposite. Women are getting fewer mammograms, our citizens fewer cancer screenings and doctor visits, while they are paying more for the care they do receive. Our state is throwing away new jobs and sending our tax dollars to states who are expanding instead of investing them back here at home. The CEA report provides even more evidence that expanding Medicaid comes with significant benefits we can’t afford to turn down.”

Key findings from the report include that if Pennsylvania expanded Medicaid — 

Health Benefits Include:
  • 11,100 more women between the ages of 50-64 would receive mammograms.
  • 17,600 more women would receive pap smears.
  • 25,000 fewer people will go untreated for depression.

Personal Economic Benefits Include:
  • 13,700 fewer people will face catastrophic out-of-pocket Medicaid expenses per year.

State Economic Benefits Include:
  • Pennsylvania will receive $8.2 billion in federal support through 2016.
  • 35,200 more jobs in Pennsylvania through 2017.
  • $6.18 billion in total economic activity through 2017 (GDP).

Monday, June 30, 2014

KP STATEMENT: Response to Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case


 HARRISBURG, PA – Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill made the following statement in response to today's Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. decision:

"The Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision today in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (et al) opens the floodgates to religious critiques, despite the majority's claim that the decision does not apply to religious objections to blood transfusions.  We agree with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent that say this is a 'decision of startling breadth.' 

"We believe that
 we will see religious liberty claims by for-profit businesses asking for exemptions from a host of federal statutes immediately, since this this is the first time for-profit corporations have won a court-authorized exemption from a neutral law.  This has dangerous implications for the ACA and creates new opportunities for religious business owners may be circumvent the law.  

"It is outrageous for a business to claim, as they have in this case, that birth control coverage amounts to sinful complicity with their employees’ purportedly sinful conduct, meaning business owners’ ability to withhold to their own religious tenets is encumbered substantially if they must maintain even indirect connection to their employees’ independent decisions. In the end, the way this case was argued by Hobby Lobby and other plaintiffs, we will see a dramatic shift in how the government can limit religiously-prompted conduct in a business setting.  This is a dangerous precedent in a country where we have both freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion."  

KP Statement on Harris v. Quinn

Brenda Barron, Organizing Director of Keystone Progress, issued the following statement on today’s Supreme Court Decision in Harris v. Quinn.
 
“This ruling is an attack on economic security of women and families across the country and Pennsylvania.  By limiting the ability of low-income workers to organize, the Supreme Court has effectively cut the ability of home care workers to earn a livable income.  The fact remains that homecare workers want to build their union, lift wages for caregivers, and ensure quality care for people with disabilities and seniors -- today's ruling makes that much more difficult.
 
"Here are some facts about homecare workers:
 
•           Over 90 percent of homecare workers and childcare workers are women.
•           More than half are people of color.
•           More than 20 percent of workers in these occupations live below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level, and half live below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.
•           The median age of these workers is 45.
•           Only 14 percent have employer-sponsored health insurance, and only 8 percent have any employer-provided retirement benefits.
 
 
“Attacks on public sector unions are not just attacks on workers, they are also attacks on the essential public services these workers provide.  The Supreme Court decision in Harris will significantly harm the recipients of those services, including many vital programs serving low income women such WIC, SNAP and HeadStart.” 

Read the Harris decision here

Here's the link to the Harris SCOTUS decision: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/11-681_j426.pdf

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Keystone Progress Response to McCullen v. Coakley Supreme Court Case Regarding Buffer Zones

HARRISBURG, PA – Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill made the following statement in response to today's McCullen v. Coakley decision:

"Clinic violence is real. Abortion providers and their patients regularly experience threats, intimidation and violence.  Since 1977, the National Abortion Federation has documented 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 181 arsons, 399 invasions, 100 acid attacks, and 663 bioterrorism threats targeting abortion providers and their facilities.

"The unfortunate decision today by the Supreme Court in McCullen v. Coakley will put women, men and families in potentially dangerous situations all across the country.

"Abortion providers and their patients deserve access to reproductive health care facilities free from threats, intimidation, and violence. Buffer zones help ensure that women and their providers can enter reproductive health care facilities safely, without fear of threats, intimidation, or violence.

"Laws securing women’s safe entrance into reproductive health care facilities are part of a long tradition of government action aimed at safeguarding the exercise of fundamental rights – like voting, going to school, and attending religious services – from interference by third parties.  The Supreme Court decision today is an unfortunate politicization of what should be a no-brainer — a safety issue and nothing more." 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Complaint filed against Sheldon Adelson for large PAC donation to Gov. Tom Corbett

HARRISBURG, PA -- Today, Keystone Progress board advisor Nathan Sooy filed a complaint with the Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board over an illegal donation made to Governor Tom Corbett's PAC by right wing financier and casino owner Sheldon Adelson.

The illegal donation of $987,844 from December 31, 2013 should carry with it a fine of over $1.3 million according to 4 P.S. § 1513, the Political Influence Ban. 
“The RGA and Adelson both say the donation was made mistakenly, but the intent is irrelevant” said Sooy.  “The Republican Governors Association Pennsylvania PAC received the money directly from Adelson.  That is money that went directly and illegally to Corbett and the Pennsylvania Republican Party.”

The RGA Pennsylvania PAC claims it returned the donation, but questions remain as to what communication has occurred between Mr. Adelson and Governor Corbett’s re-election campaign.  There is also some doubt about when the RGA returned the money to Adelson.

Mr. Sooy has not yet received a response from the PA Gaming Control Board.  His full complaint follows.
-END-

Keystone Progress is Pennsylvania’s largest online progressive organization, with over 400,000 subscribers.  KP uses the internet and new media to organize online at the state and local level; and utilizes cutting-edge earned media strategies to promote a progressive agenda and counter right-wing misinformation. 

Paul Mauro, Director
Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement
Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board
PO Box 69060
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9060

Dear Mr.Mauro:
I am writing to complain of a violation of 4 P.S. § 1513, the Political Influence ban, by licensed principal Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas, Nevada.  According to campaign finance reports, Mr. Adelson made a contribution of $987,844 to the RGA (Republican Governors Association) Pennsylvania PAC on December 31, 2013. 

Because Mr. Adelson is a licensed principal and chief owner of Sands Bethworks Gaming, LLC (the Sands Bethlehem Casino), he was absolutely prohibited from making a contribution to any “candidate for nomination or election to any public office in this Commonwealth, or to any political party committee or other political committee in this Commonwealth or to any group, committee or association organized in support of a candidate, political party committee or other political committee in this Commonwealth.”  (4 P.S. § 1513(a)).

This plainly is such a contribution, and Mr. Adelson’s being listed as its contributor manifests his intent to have made it. It does not matter whether Adelson knew that his RGA Pennsylvania PAC contribution would be shifted directly to Gov. Corbett’s coffers ($1,610,000.00, on April 30, 2014) [1] or the Republican Party of Pennsylvania ($2,500.00, 1/13/14; $5,000.00, 2/11; $2,500, 3/6/14; and $390,000.00, 4/30/14); his making the contribution to any political committee in the Commonwealth violated the law.



Under the statute, the penalty to be assessed against Adelson is clear, and significant:
 “The first violation of this section by a licensed gaming entity or any person that holds a controlling interest in such gaming entity, or a subsidiary company thereof, or any officer, director or management-level employee of such licensee shall be punishable by a fine equal to an amount not less than the average single day's gross terminal revenue and gross table game revenue of the licensed gaming entity.” (§ 1513(c)(1)). Moreover, “In no event shall the fine imposed under this section be an amount less than $100,000 for each violation. In addition to any fine or sanction that may be imposed by the board under this subsection, any individual who makes a contribution in violation of this section commits a misdemeanor of the third degree.”  (§ 1513(c)(3)). 

There is no exception for money which is subsequently moved out of the Pennsylvania committee, as Mr. Adelson’s allegedly was; there is nothing in the law which even considers mitigating factors. If the contribution was made, the penalty must be assessed. Based on the most current figures on the PGCB website, this would appear to be a fine of $1,344,442.09.[2]

In 2010, the General Assembly made plain the importance of these provisions, because of the state’s “compelling interest in protecting the integrity of both the electoral process and the legislative process by preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption which may arise through permitting campaign contributions by the gaming industry,” maintaining that “completely banning campaign contributions by certain individuals and entities subject to this act is necessary to prevent corruption, or the appearance of corruption, that may arise when politics and gaming are intermingled.” 4 P.S. § 1102.

Mr. Adelson’s contribution was massive, and strikes at the heart of why the Political Influence restrictions exist.  I urge the Board to act promptly.

Sincerely,
Nathan Sooy
Dillsburg, PA



[1]               There are conflicting news reports as to what happened here. According to a June 11, 2014 article in the Allentown Morning Call, Mr. Adelson’s spokesperson insists that "We made it crystal clear from the beginning that any contributions that we made could not be allocated to Pennsylvania," yet the RGA asserts that “Adelson did not direct that his donation go to Corbett or give any other instructions on use of his money.” Seehttp://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-pa-adelson-corbett-campaign-20140611,0,167625.story.
[2] Based on May 2014 figures of $26,648,810.85 in gross terminal revenue and  $15,028,894 in table games revenue. http://gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov/?p=232