Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Efficiency May Be Easiest for PA to Meet EPA Carbon Rules

Deborah Courson Smith, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations to require carbon-pollution controls at existing coal-fired power plants are expected in about a week. There have been warnings about costs that would be passed along to consumers, but a study from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy shows that efficiency could meet carbon-reduction targets.

Report author Sara Hayes cited additional benefits.

"In Pennsylvania, the adoption of these policies would result in 16,600 new jobs and an increase in gross state product of $370 million," she said. "This approach saves ratepayers $1.1 billion."

According to the report, the numbers would be achieved by 2030 under a scenario of cutting carbon by 26 percent below 2012 levels.

Efficiency may be the easiest way for states to meet the EPA carbon-reduction plan. Efficiency policies include state energy savings targets, updating building codes, constructing combined heat and power facilities and adopting standards for major appliances.

"Energy efficiency is the ultimate resource," she said. "It's clean, reliable and cheap. The Environmental Protection Agency has the opportunity to improve air quality and our economy in one fell swoop."

Energy-efficient technologies in the EPA plan already have been tried and tested, she said, and many states already have adopted them in some form.

The ACEEE report is online at

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Keystone Progress: Love and Constitution win in PA Marriage decision

Keystone Progress applauds the ruling of the federal court in Whitewood v. Wolf, which declares that same sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and have their marriages recognized in Pennsylvania.  At long last, Pennsylvania joins the growing list of states to recognize the marriages of same sex couples and it becomes the final northeast state to grant that right.

“Keystone Progress and innumerable allies have been working for years to ensure equal rights for the LGBT community here in Pennsylvania and today is a validation of all that hard work,” said Brenda Barron, Organizing Director for Keystone Progress.  “Now that federal district court has ruled, we encourage Governor Corbett to be on the right side of history and to not appeal the decision and use any more taxpayer dollars to discriminate against Pennsylvanians.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 21 Pennsylvanians by the The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union, and volunteer counsel from the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller alleged that Pennsylvania's Defense of Marriage Act and refusal to marry LGBT couples or recognize their out-of-state marriages violates the fundamental right to marry as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The court agreed.

“It is important to note that, though this is a great victory for equality today, it is still legal to fire an employee for being gay.  That is why Keystone Progress and numerous other partners in Pennsylvania have been fighting to pass Senate Bill and House Bill 300 which would amend the PA Human Human Relations Act to protect Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accomodations, ,” said Barron.  “We must remember that the fight for equality is far from over.”

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Report: State Funding Continues to Lag For Colleges and Universities in PA

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. – College and university students in Pennsylvania are paying a high price because state funding cuts implemented during the recession aren't being restored, according to a new report.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) in Washington, D.C., identifies Pennsylvania as one of only eight states where the process of bringing funding levels for higher education back to pre-recession levels hasn't begun.

Sharon Ward, executive director, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, says it puts students at a distinct disadvantage, since tuition rates in the state already are among the highest in the nation.

"When higher education funding is stagnant, it invariably translates into tuition increases that make it harder for students to enter college, and it means that they leave with more debt," says Ward.

She adds that cuts have hit lower-income students especially hard, by hindering their access to higher education.

"That's bad for the Commonwealth, and it certainly means lower earnings and less advancement for those students who are not able to get a college degree," she says.

In terms of solutions, Ward believes Pennsylvania needs to prioritize spending. She notes that in recent years, as state funding for colleges and universities have decreased, prison spending has risen.

As she puts it, "Pennsylvania needs to make a plan to start to restore cuts to higher education and make sure that there are funds available to keep tuition from rising and make college more affordable."

In his 2010-2011 budget, Gov. Tom Corbett proposed slashing state funding for the state's four-year public institutions in half, but the Legislature agreed to a trim of between 18 and 19 percent. The next year, Corbett proposed cuts of 20 to 30 percent – and lawmakers shot them down.

The governor's latest budget proposal calls for keeping college and university funding level for the upcoming fiscal year.

See the full report online on the CBPP website.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fund PA Schools without Property Taxes? The Idea Has Its Critics

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A bill making its way through the Pennsylvania Senate would base school funding dollars not on property taxes but on state sales and income taxes. Opponents say it doesn't add up.

Senate Bill 76 is aimed at eliminating property taxes. In the process, however, some are concerned it would place school funding in Pennsylvania on shaky ground.

"So, at a time when maybe the economy isn't doing as well, the state isn't going to have as much money to then give to the school districts," said John Neurohr, a spokesman for the group Keystone Progress. "It's really going to place the disproportionate burden for filling those gaps on the school districts - and that's just not fair."

The proposal would raise the state personal income tax by more than 1.25 percent and the state sales tax by 1 percent, but not for items on the WIC food list. Backers of the bill call it a critical component to long-overdue property tax reform in the state, but Neurohr said it would have a disproportionate effect on low- and middle-income taxpayers.

Neurohr said the measure also threatens to put local control of school districts in jeopardy.

"We're not allowing the elected school boards in our districts across the state, if SB 76 becomes law, to do what they need to do to make sure that they are fully funding schools," he said.

A vote on SB 76 is expected in the Senate soon. The bill's text is online

Monday, May 12, 2014

More Than a Million Reasons For PA Minimum-Wage Hike

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The impact of a minimum-wage hike in Pennsylvania would benefit more than 1 million workers from all areas of the state, according to a new report from the Keystone Research Center. KRC Labor Economist Mark Price co-authored the study. He says boosting the state's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016 would have a major ripple effect from one end of Pennsylvania to the other.

"Of that million, roughly 340,000 of the people who would benefit from this minimum-wage increase live in the state's rural areas," Price says. "Those folks represent about 23 percent of the rural workforce, and that's a greater share than you would find in the state's urban areas."

Price says the prospects of a boost in Pennsylvania's minimum wage are well received because the idea makes good business sense.

"You're growing people's earnings from work, and they're going to take that extra money and they're going to pay a bill they've been putting off, get their car repaired, maybe just take their family out for a nice meal. That spending then filters out to the local economy," he explains.

Price adds that the reality of people struggling financially is one many people can relate to.

"We're talking about your neighbors, people in your family, so this is a common experience. That's why when debates about the minimum wage come up, these policies to raise the minimum wage are broadly popular," he points out, "popular among Democrats and Republicans."

In terms of value, Price says, today's minimum wage is 23 percent lower than it was in 1968, when adjusted for inflation. The result of a minimum-wage hike, the report shows, is that about 50,000 workers would be financially better off in each of Bucks and Lancaster counties and the Harrisburg and Scranton metros. More than 113,000 would benefit in Philadelphia, and in excess of 200,000 would be helped in Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Keystone Progress PAC endorses Rep. Mark Cohen and Sen. Christine Tartaglione

(HARRISBURG, PA)—The Keystone Progress Political Action Committee (KPPAC) announced its latest endorsements- Rep. Mark Cohen of Philadelphia (HD 202) and Sen. Christine Tartaglione (SD 2).  Both are in the middle of primary challenges.

“Rep. Cohen and Sen. Tartaglione have legislative histories that are clearly supportive of the progressive values we espouse,” said Michael Morrill, speaking for the KPPAC). “They have shown clear support for progressive values, including civil rights, workers’ rights, voting rights, protecting our environment, supporting public education and affordable health care.”

They are both strong supporters of quality public education for children; a raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour; closing corporate tax loopholes; a woman’s right to control her reproductive choices; marriage equality; and will work to protect our environment, our economy and our democracy.

The KP PAC is the political action committee of Keystone Progress. 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.

KPPAC’s prior endorsements are:

Rep. Ed Gainey (D, HD 24, Allegheny County)
Rep. Erin Molchany (D, HD 36, 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)
Linda Small (D, SD 28, York County)

You can contribute to the KP PAC here:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

[VIDEO] GOP Hearing to impeach AG Kane- excerpts

[VIDEO] GOP holds hearing to impeach AG Kane, Democrats walk out

Take action to support Attorney General Kane here.

Pa. state Rep. Michael O'Brien explains why House Democrats refused to waste time and taxpayer dollars on a partisan witch hunt led by the Republican chairman of the State Government Committee.

Millions of Legal Immigrants Skipping U.S. Citizenship

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

 HARRISBURG, Pa. - Many legal immigrants in Pennsylvania and across the nation aren't pursuing U.S. citizenship. Although more than 8 million people nationwide are eligible to apply, many have never even taken the first step.

Some immigrants cite the expense, which is about $700 in fees plus the cost of a lawyer. Others worry they don't speak English well enough to pass the citizenship test.

Mark Lopez, director of Pew Research Center's Hispanic Research Center, cited some key differences between having legal permanent status and being a U.S. citizen.

"Legal Permanent Resident status does come with a number of benefits: being able to work legally; they do have to pay taxes, they can travel," he said. "But it doesn't include the right to vote or never be deported, because once you become a U.S. citizen you cannot be deported."

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only 36 percent of Mexicans who are in the United States legally actually go on to become naturalized citizens. This percentage is much lower than that of other groups, including Cubans, Indians and Europeans.

The National Association of Latino Elected Officials is trying to encourage people to take the pathway to citizenship so they'll have the right to vote.

"Oftentimes, immigrants coming into this country do not come with a full understanding of the law of the United States," said Julissa Gutierrez, acting director of national programs and community relations at the association's educational fund. "They also come with experiences from their home country that may bar them as well. So, these are things that, you know, it's a learning process."

The Pew poll also found that the vast majority of immigrants and the American public support a pathway to citizenship.

This story is based on original reporting by Feet in 2 Worlds and made possible in part by the Voqal Fund.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Working The Phones For Education's Sake in PA

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. - The phones of Pennsylvania lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett may be ringing more frequently today, as residents dial them up to talk about education in the Commonwealth. The day has been deemed "A Call to Action," during which groups such as Education Voters of Pennsylvania hope people will speak up in support of public schools.

Susan Spicka with Education Voters says it is especially important, as budget negotiations heat up, that lawmakers have a clear understanding of what is going on in schools.

"A lot of kids today have fewer learning opportunities than their brothers and sisters had before them," Spicka says, "so this year, in an election year, it is vitally important for our children to get a fair budget out of Harrisburg."

Spicka says the true story of education in Pennsylvania can be brought to light when parents take the time to explain to lawmakers how their children are being affected by state laws and policies.

"When parents are saying, "My child lost music this year," or, "My child is sitting in a kindergarten class with 26 children," then they start to understand that what they're doing isn't working," she notes.

Callers are also being urged to point out to legislators the importance of making a $230 million increase proposed by the governor into permanent basic education funding and of restoring charter school reimbursement payments to local school districts, she adds.

Education Voters says among the major concerns facing education in the Commonwealth currently is the lack of a fair, transparent and accurate funding formula, one that provides funding to schools and their students based on current data and on the actual costs of educating students with different needs.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What SCOTUS Ruling on Cross State Pollution Means for PA

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. – It's being hailed as a victory for the environment. 

This week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on out-of-state pollution will mean less harmful emissions drifting into Pennsylvania.

Tom Schuster, the Sierra Club's Pennsylvania campaign representative, says the high court decision translates into healthier residents and saved lives in the commonwealth.

"In Pennsylvania specifically, up to 2,900 premature deaths will be prevented each year by this rule alone,” he stresses. “We have over 8 million people, which is two out of every three people in Pennsylvania, who live in areas that have currently unsafe levels of smog."

Late last year, Gov. Tom Corbett joined several other governors of Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to place stricter emission controls on Midwestern states with looser standards for coal-fired power plants and vehicle exhaust systems.

Critics of the Supreme Court decision say it allows the EPA to use the Clean Air Act to impose overreaching regulations that hurt American consumers and the economy.

Schuster maintains the problem of out-of-state pollution affects Pennsylvania from one end to the other.

"Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are in the worst 25 metro areas in the country for both smog and soot, which are forms of pollution that would be reduced by this rule," he points out.

Schuster says moving forward, Pennsylvania needs to take more concrete measures to control dangerous emissions being generated within its own borders.

"The Department of Environmental Protection recently released a draft plan for controlling smog-causing pollution with limits that are so lax for coal-fired power plants, that they wouldn’t require the plants to regularly operate at the pollution controls that they already have," he explains.

Schuster says the result is needless pollution inside Pennsylvania and in states downwind of it.