Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pediatricians Rally for Access to Pre-K

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

About 120,000 children from low-income families in Pennsylvania have no publicly funded pre-K. (Chris Morgan/
About 120,000 children from low-income families in Pennsylvania have no publicly funded pre-K. (Chris Morgan/
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pediatric hospital residents rallied in Harrisburg this week, asking Gov. Tom Wolf and state legislators to invest more in high-quality pre-kindergarten education.

According to a new report from the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, quality pre-K programs help promote a child's healthy cognitive, social and emotional development. According to Suzanne Yunghans, executive director of the chapter, the pre-K years are crucial to healthy child development.

"That's when the child's brain is developing," she said. "That's when neurons are connecting. That's when children have the most opportunity to really take advantage of a rich educational environment."

The pediatricians are calling for an increase of $90 million in state spending on pre-KI education in the budget for the fiscal year that beginsJuly 1, giving an additional 7,400 3- and 4-year-olds access to pre-K programs.

The report said the stress of poverty actually can alter a young child's brain, undermining his or her ability to learn, think and interact with others. But Yunghans said nearly 70 percent, or about 120,000, of the children in low-income households in the state lack access to publicly funded, high quality pre-K.

"Providing pre-K opportunities for those children gives them a leg up," she said, "so that they're ready to learn when they hit kindergarten with their peers."

Pre-K programs also have been shown to promote better health in children and to lower rates of smoking, substance abuse, diabetes and heart disease throughout their lives.

As Yunghans noted, investing in children literally is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"Every child that doesn't have this opportunity now will never be able to recapture those preschool years," she said. "So by not funding it now, we've missed investing in these children in the future."

More information is online at

Friday, May 13, 2016

Senators Propose Solution to PA Budget Deficit

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Pennsylvania has been named one of the “Terrible Ten” worst states for tax fairness. (Jason/Flickr)
Pennsylvania has been named one of the “Terrible Ten” worst states for tax fairness. (Jason/Flickr)
HARRISBURG, Pa. - A state senator says he's found a way to help balance the Commonwealth's budget and spend more on education without raising taxes on low and middle-income taxpayers.

Pennsylvania's constitution doesn't allow legislators to tax the same kinds of income at different rates.

But Marc Stier, director for the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, says a bill proposal by Democratic Senator Art Haywood to raise taxes on certain kinds of income that mostly go to the wealthy would be allowed.

"We calculate that if we tax that second class of income at four percent rate, it would bring in about $788 million, which gets us about halfway to closing the structural deficit," says Stier.

That "second class" of income would include business income, dividends, capital gains, rents and several other kinds of income that most people don't receive.

The state currently is facing a structural deficit of $1.8 billion.

According to Stier, under Haywood's bill the 60 percent of households with incomes below $65,000 a year would pay between $2 and $28 a year more in taxes.

And those with incomes up to $200,000 would pay an extra $118 a year.

"On the other hand, the top one percent, people making $463,000 or more, would pay an additional $5,304 a year," says Stier. "And they're the ones who can afford it."

The Senate bill, S 1258, is based on a proposal the Budget and Policy Center brought forward last month.

When all state and local taxes, including sales tax, are taken into account, the lowest 20 percent of households in Pennsylvania currently pay about 12 percent of their income in taxes, while the top one percent pay only about four percent.

Stier says most states try to balance that by taxing high incomes at a higher rate.

"We can't do that in Pennsylvania," he says. "And that's why we're one of the 'Terrible Ten,' one of the 10 worst states in terms of tax fairness in the entire country."

Senator Haywood introduced the bill on Wednesday. What happens next is up to the leadership in both houses of the Legislature.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Most Voters Want Hearings for Supreme Court Nominee

Andrea Sears, Public News Service 

President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the U.S. Supreme Court on March 16. (The White House/Wikimedia Commons)
President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the U.S. Supreme Court on March 16. (The White House/Wikimedia Commons)
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Voters say the U.S. Senate should go forward with confirmation hearings on President Obama's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a new survey.

It's been almost two months since Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia, but Senate Republicans have refused to hold hearings, saying that choice should be up to the next president. Benton Strong, managing director of communications for the Center for American Progress, said a new poll of voters in five key states, including Pennsylvania, shows Republicans are losing that debate.

"In fact, voters, even more overwhelmingly than a month ago, see that the Senate should go forward and have a hearing and a vote on a Supreme Court nominee," he said. "They think that the president's done his job and now the Senate should do its job."

Almost 70 percent of voters, including majorities of Republicans and conservatives, told the poll they believe Garland should get an up or down vote in the Senate. Moreover, Strong said, voters say a senator's opposition to holding hearings would have a negative impact on their opinion of that senator, including Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey.

"What we found was that 38 percent of people would view him less favorably," Strong said. "That's over the just 20 percent of people who would view him more favorably."

Slightly more than three-quarters of all voters said they are likely to take a candidate's position on the nomination into account when they vote in November.

Strong said the poll also asked whether voters would be more likely to be concerned about the nomination process if a four-to-four split on the court could threaten issues important to them.

"Demographics such as African-American, Latinos, unmarried women, said absolutely," he said, "and larger numbers said we would get engaged in this process because we think that this is very important."

Almost two-thirds of voters polled said they think the reasons for not holding a confirmation hearing are political, not based on a conviction that it's best for the country.

The survey results are online at

Thursday, May 5, 2016

It’s Official: Senator Toomey Wants to Hand Supreme Court Appointment to...Donald Trump

From American United for Change 

Washington DC -- With Donald Trump becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Tuesday night after Senator Ted Cruz suspended his campaign, Americans United for Change President Brad Woodhouse issued the following statement on the implications for Senator Pat Toomey’s blockade of the President’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland, who brings to the table more federal judicial experience than any other nominee in history:

"It's official. Senator Toomey is refusing to do his job because he wants Donald Trump -- a racist, sexist, misogynistic, nativist, isolationist, pathological liar who said he would date his daughter if they weren't related and won't rule out using nuclear weapons in the Middle East -- to make the next appointment to the Supreme Court. Rooting for a Supreme Court seat to be turned into a reality TV show gameshow prize really reflects poorly on Senator Toomey’s own judgement. The longer Senator Toomey puts politics before the Constitution and keeps the Supreme Court a Justice short, the more dysfunction and uncertainty it invites for businesses and citizens across the country. The polling shows overwhelming public consensus from Independent voters in particular that Judge Garland deserves a hearing and up-or-down vote this year.  By hitching his wagons to the dangerous candidacy of Trump on top of taking this hugely unpopular and unconstitutional ‘no hearings’ stance, Senator Toomey has effectively signed a political suicide pact along with a number of his fellow vulnerable Republican Senate colleagues.”

§  PA Politics.4/28“Toomey said he would support the eventual GOP nominee”

§  Toomey Would Oppose Any Supreme Court Nominee Named By President Obama. According to the Associated Press, “‘I think the question before us now is ... should the outgoing president fundamentally change the balance of the court for the next one or two generations?’ [Pat] Toomey said. ‘I don't think that's reasonable. I think that it's more reasonable for the American people to have a more direct say in that process, which they will do through the election of the president knowing now with certainty that the next president is going to make this really important pick.’ If an Obama nominee comes to a vote, Toomey would oppose the nominee, he said, barring an unlikely Obama decision to nominate someone in Scalia's philosophical mold who would not change the court's balance. One fear, Toomey said, is that the court with a new Obama nominee might become less willing to block Obama from exceeding his legal or constitutional authority. ‘The president intends to change the balance of the court and I am not going to support him changing the balance of the court with nine months before an election, I'm not going to do that,’ Toomey said.” [Associated Press, 2/18/16]

§  A Long-Term Supreme Court Vacancy Leads to Federal Judicial Dysfunction, Uncertainty for MillionsOver 350 law professors warned in a letter to Congressional leaders: ‘A long-term vacancy jeopardizes the Supreme Court’s ability to resolve disputed questions of federal law, causing uncertainty and hampering the administration of justice across the country.’  Put another way: “Any 4-4 tied votes from the Court would result in a default upholding of decisions by regional circuit courts or state supreme courts. Some circuit courts could make federal law for the entire nation. In other areas of the law, Americans could have different constitutional rights in different parts of the country. The U.S. Supreme Court could hold some of these cases over until its next term—which starts in October—leaving millions of Americans waiting for justice.”  USA Today recognized signs of dysfunction are already apparent: “Cases large and small are ending in tie votes. The pace of decisions has slowed slightly, and fewer new cases are being granted.” 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Keystone Progress, CWA and other groups file FCC complaint against Verizon

Under Deceptive Policy, Verizon Refuses to Fix Customer Lines, Forcing Consumers to Take Fiber or Lose Service

FCC complaint exposes Verizon’s efforts to deceive customers and cut off service in violation of FCC’s rules

WASHINGTON — A complaint filed today at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) charges Verizon Communications with systematically deceiving customers, refusing to fix the phone lines of customers on its traditional copper network, and forcing them to switch to the company’s fiber network or lose all service. This is the first complaint alleging violation of the agency’s copper retirement rules, which took effect on March 24, 2016.

This practice is driven by an internal Verizon policy called “Fiber Is the Only Fix,” according to the complaint, which was filed by public-interest groups, including Keystone Progress, Common Cause and Public Knowledge, as well as the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

The complaint charges that Fiber Is the Only Fix is an institutionalized policy designed to deceive customers and constitutes “unjust and unreasonable practices” that violate federal law. The complaint also charges that Verizon has been giving retail customers as little as 15-days notice before ending their copper service, when FCC rules say they must be given at least 90 days notice. The complaint covers seven states -- VA, MD, PA, NY, DE, RI and MA.

“Instead of expanding public access to affordable communications, Verizon is systematically cutting off many customers from even the most basic telecom services,” said Meredith Rose, staff attorney at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that promotes freedom of expression and an open Internet. “At a time of technology transitions, it’s more important than ever that people are fully informed with adequate time to prepare for any changes, but Verizon’s deceptive practice cuts off service with no advance notice, and that’s a threat to public safety and an unacceptable violation of FCC regulations.”

How Does “Fiber Is the Only Fix” Work?
When a “Fiber is the Only Fix” customer calls in with trouble on their line — such as no dial tone or noise on the line — Verizon creates a “ghost” service order to transfer the customer to fiber service. The service order is called a “ghost” service order because the customer is not told about it.

Verizon then dispatches a technician on the ghost service order. The technician is instructed not to discuss the purpose of the dispatch prior to arriving at the customer’s location. At that time, the technician informs the customer that Verizon no longer repairs copper lines, and the customer must upgrade to fiber. If the customer does not want to upgrade to fiber, Verizon will not allow the technician to repair the copper line and advises the customer that Verizon will disconnect the line.

"Access to universal and affordable telecommunications is essential for democratic participation in our society, said Michael Copps, former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Adviser. "Copper still has plenty to offer, so an orderly transition to new platforms, with adequate notice and respect for the rules is essential. We expect the FCC to take prompt action to protect consumer rights and keep all Americans connected."

“By instituting this reprehensible policy to deceive customers, Verizon executives proved that only profits — not customer service — motivates this company,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America. “Verizon executives violated the law and are forcing our members to join in a program they strongly object to. With this complaint filed today at the FCC, we are standing up for our customers, just as we are standing up for them every day on picket lines from Massachusetts to Virginia.”

“CWA fully supports the conversion from copper to fiber, but we believe that consumers should be able to make this choice without pressure, threats and deception from Verizon,” Shelton added.

The FCC’s Copper Retirement rules require 90-days advance notice to retail customers to “ease the transition” from copper-to-fiber. The FCC specifically prohibited any exceptions when a carrier allows its copper network to deteriorate, effectively disabling service.

Verizon has slashed its workforce nearly 40 percent over the last decade. Workers say the company’s aggressive pursuit of profit — it made $39 billion in profit over the last three years — has come at the expense of both worker safety and quality service.

Service quality has deteriorated to the point that New York State’s Public Service Commission has convened a formal hearing to investigate problems across the Empire State. In the last few weeks, regulators in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have launched similar inquiries into Verizon’s operations.

Educators Call for Permanent Funding Formula

Andrea Sears, Public News Service 

Advocates are asking for $400 million in new school funding. (Kumar Appaiah/
Advocates are asking for $400 million in new school funding. (Kumar Appaiah/
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Education advocates traveled to Harrisburg this week to tell lawmakers that schools need to be fully funded in the next state budget.

In the budget that was finally adopted for the current fiscal year, the Legislature did apply the bipartisan funding formula educators have requested for years. But Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center, said the formula is only as good as the money that goes into it, "which is why we now need the General Assembly to take the next step and appropriate more dollars to go through the basic education funding formula in the next year."

The funding formula, which was put in place through the state's fiscal code, only applies to the current budget year, which ends June 30, but advocates want the formula to be made permanent.

The budget impasse forced schools to borrow almost $1 billion to keep their doors open. On Monday, the House Education Committee approved a measure that would keep money flowing if the next budget isn't in place by mid-August.

Klehr said she hopes political battles never again force schools to close, but added that she feels this bill may not be the answer.

"We are concerned that this legislation could take the pressure off of Harrisburg to pass a comprehensive budget package that begins to restore needed resources," she said.

The Education Law Center estimated that the school budget is about $3 billion short of the amount that would adequately fund education in the state. Klehr said Pennsylvania has the largest gap in spending between rich and poor school districts of any state.

"We are asking the General Assembly to appropriate $400 million this year," she said, "as a step towards adequacy and closing those gaps."

Gov. Tom Wolf had proposed a $400 million increase in school funding for the current fiscal year, but the Legislature was unwilling to raise taxes to pay for it. So far, the lawmakers' position has not changed.