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Study gives state a D+ for policies on keeping teachers

January 30, 2009 - 5:41am

A report released Thursday says Pennsylvania doesn’t offer incentive pay to keep good teachers, but several Allegheny County school districts say money isn’t necessarily an issue.

Pennsylvania’s policies to identify and keep good teachers need to be reviewed, the National Council of Teacher Quality concluded in its annual report on retention policies. Pennsylvania, with a D , was among the 35 states plus the District of Columbia to receive a D or F on teacher retention policies in the report that cited a need for retention bonuses and other financial benefits.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Judicial hopefuls seek backing

January 30, 2009 - 5:34am

Candidates for six statewide judicial seats will gather before the Women’s Caucus of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party in Harrisburg today, one day before the state party committee decides on endorsements for the May primary.

The seats — one on the Supreme Court, three on Superior Court and two on Commonwealth Court — are the only statewide offices in contention this year.

The forum, open to the public, begins at 6 p.m. at the Sheraton Harrisburg-Hershey Hotel. It’s the 12th hosted by the caucus, said its treasurer, Joanne Tosti-Vasey. PCN will air the forum at 8 p.m. Tuesday.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Uninsured in Pennsylvania top 1 million

January 30, 2009 - 5:26am

The number of Pennsylvania residents without health insurance has increased to more than 1 million, according to a state Insurance Department survey released Thursday.

The debate over how to reverse the trend has already created a deep divide between Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration and Republicans who control the state Senate. Reaching a compromise this year could prove more difficult as the state tries to tackle a mounting budget deficit.

The uninsured account for more than 8 percent of all state residents, up from 7.5 percent in the department’s last survey in 2004. More than half have been without coverage for a year or less, while nearly 18 percent have been uninsured for more than five years.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Luzerne County Judges Suspended

January 29, 2009 - 3:31pm

I am disturbed by the second-to-last paragraph of the article below? Will Pennsylvania ever be free of the shadow cast by the 1980s/1990s high court?

from his judicial and administrative duties Wednesday following an announcement he and a colleague have been charged with accepting payments from the owners of a private juvenile detention center and making decisions in favor of the center’s owners.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Pennsylvania Delegation votes on HR 1 Economic Recovery Act

January 28, 2009 - 7:45pm

In a spirit of bi-partisanship, Rep Kanjorski voted with ALL Pennsyvania Republicans against HR 1, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The official House roll call vote can be found here:

Categories: PA Politics

PHEAA leaders hope to keep their posts, restructure board

January 28, 2009 - 6:33am

The two legislators who have guided the state’s student aid agency during a rough spot in its history want to remain in their board leadership roles for another year.

Rep. William Adolph, R-Delaware, will be nominated at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency’s board meeting on Thursday to serve as its chairman for the third consecutive year. Sen. Sean Logan, D-Allegheny, will be nominated to remain as vice chairman. The board will elect officers in February.

Both members plan to introduce legislation in the coming months to change the board’s composition. Specifically, they want to reduce the number of state legislators on the 20-member board. Currently, three-quarters of those seats are held by lawmakers.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

PennDOT anticipates $1.25B in federal stimulus

January 28, 2009 - 6:29am

PennDOT estimates it would receive $1.25 billion for highway and bridge projects under a federal economic stimulus proposal and would not have to spend all of the money this year, state Transportation Secretary Al Biehler said Tuesday.

The projected windfall is $250 million less than anticipated but would give PennDOT freedom to spread the work over two construction seasons, alleviating concerns there might not be enough “shovel-ready” work this year to make use of every cent.

“It’s required that 50 percent of the work be obligated within 180 days and the remaining 50 percent be obligated no later than August 2010,” Biehler told the Senate Transportation Committee about using the stimulus money.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Rendell may cut payroll by 2,000

January 28, 2009 - 6:27am

The state work force might be reduced by 2,000 employees in an effort to balance a worsening budget crisis, Gov. Ed Rendell’s spokesman said Tuesday.

Through layoffs and attrition, Rendell is expected to announce a reduction of 1,000 to 2,000 state workers next Wednesday when he addresses the Legislature with his budget proposal, press secretary Chuck Ardo said.

Pennsylvania faces a two-year budget deficit of about $5.5 billion that lawmakers need to offset by June 30, according to House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

PA unemployment benefits extended

January 28, 2009 - 6:23am

Pennsylvania labor officials say jobless residents can now receive as much as 33 weeks of federal emergency unemployment compensation after their state benefits run out.

The maximum for the federal benefits was previously 20 weeks, according to Associated Press.

Labor and Industry Department spokesman David Smith said Tuesday the benefits are being expanded because the state’s rate of jobless residents covered by unemployment insurance is just over the 4 percent threshold the state must meet to qualify.

Pennsylvania’s jobless rate rose to 6.7 percent in December — the highest level since March 1994. Smith says the state has distributed $639 million in federally funded unemployment compensation since the
end of June.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Fumo defense witness: Senate staffs often aided campaigns

January 28, 2009 - 6:20am

The executive director of the Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee testified yesterday at former state Sen. Vince Fumo’s federal corruption trial that it was not unusual for senators to have staff do campaign work on Senate time.

Paul Dlugolecki, as a defense witness for Fumo, was responding to a question by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Zauzmer about a September 2000 e-mail in which Fumo directed a staffer in Philadelphia to do opposition research on a Republican senator from Northeast Philadelphia.

Dlugolecki said that Fumo was not the only senator who used staff for campaign work on state time. He said that prior to 2000 it was part of the “culture” in Harrisburg and that it “was across the board.”

“Name one,” Zauzmer said.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Luzerne County Judges Plead Guilty to Wire Fraud

January 27, 2009 - 3:42pm

The dark cloud over Luzerne County’s courthouse grew darker Monday as two judges agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud charges and spend more than seven years in federal prison.

President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Judge Michael Conahan are named in a 22-page indictment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. It alleges that the two judges took kickbacks in exchange for facilitating the construction of a juvenile detention facility, the Associated Press reported.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Castor Testifies for Fumo Defense

January 27, 2009 - 8:33am

The defense team in former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo’s corruption trial called its first witness yesterday, former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor, who testified that he had fired one of Fumo’s chief accusers because the man was “sneaky.”

Castor, who was district attorney before being elected county commissioner, lit into former Fumo aide Christian Marrone, who is estranged from his father-in-law.

Castor told the jury he dismissed Marrone in 2004 as a county assistant district attorney because Marrone had double-crossed him in the Republican primary for state attorney general – first backing Castor, but then endorsing his rival.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Towns cut back, cut out police budgets

January 26, 2009 - 6:32am

Homicide and attempted-homicide investigations are no longer a concern for Sunbury’s 12-member police department.

State police will now investigate those crimes in the city of just under 10,000 in Northumberland County. As of Jan. 1, the Sunbury City Council decided, the state police have more resources to handle these investigations, and the change will save the city money.

Jack Lewis, a state police spokesman, said he is not aware of any other municipality adopting a policy of asking state police to handle all cases of a certain type because of budgetary concerns.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Cuts at libraries mean Philly students could have nothing

January 26, 2009 - 6:28am

Though Philadelphia’s public library services recently landed on the chopping block, the city’s public school students have watched school library services dwindle for years.

Today, more than half of the district’s 281 schools have no library staff. In one region, it’s up to 78 percent.

It’s a worsening problem.

At one point, every one of the 200-plus city schools had a library and a librarian. By 1991, the number of librarians had dropped to 176. Now, there are only 77.

So if some city libraries close, the district is woefully underprepared to pick up the slack for its 167,000 students, library supporters said.

District officials know they have miles to go.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

What to expect from Fumo's defense

January 26, 2009 - 6:24am

Now that prosecutors have spent 14 weeks battering former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo with 77 witnesses and 1,300 exhibits, the defense is poised to present his side.

After an erratic heartbeat Thursday sent Fumo to the hospital for a couple of days, the federal corruption trial is scheduled to resume this morning with the final hours of prosecution testimony. The government is then likely to rest its case, and defense lawyers will start calling their witnesses.

From many hours of cross-examination, the basic outline of Fumo’s defense is clear. In large part, lawyer Dennis J. Cogan has not disputed that his client received benefits ranging from free tools to free yacht trips, but he has insisted that Fumo got the goodies in an entirely lawful way.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Slots funds unlikely to offset states's red ink

January 26, 2009 - 6:18am

One major addition to Pennsylvania’s landscape this year will be another nearly 10,000 slot machines — a potential bright spot amid gloomy state revenue collections.

But the impact of increased slots revenue might be impossible to recognize in the red ink of government budgets.

Last year, Pennsylvania distributed about $660 million to millions of households to cut taxes and give low-income seniors a break on their property taxes and rent.

Since then, the source of that money — Pennsylvania’s seven slot-machine casinos — has held up comparatively well, even as the economy has deteriorated and casinos in many other states have watched revenues fall.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

2 more Philly City Council members take pay cuts

January 26, 2009 - 6:16am

Two more City Council members agreed last week to take voluntary pay cuts, after a Daily News editorial slammed members who had not made salary reductions and printed their photos in a “rouge’s gallery.”

W. Wilson Goode Jr. and Joan Krajewski decided to take the 5 percent reductions. They join Council members Anna Verna, Marian Tasco, Frank DiCicco, Jim Kenney, Bill Green and Curtis Jones Jr., who had previously agreed to salary cuts.

But Goode insisted the Daily News editorial had nothing to do with his decision.

“I believe I have been very fiscally responsible in controlling my budget,” said Goode, noting that he had cut 20 percent from his overall budget. Still, he added: “I don’t mind making the additional sacrifice as we move forward.”  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

GOP seeks candidate to take on Scranton's Doherty

January 26, 2009 - 6:13am

As the mayoral race in Scranton looms on the horizon, the Lackawanna County Republican Committee is talking to three potential candidates to take on incumbent mayor Chris Doherty, according to committee chairman Paul Catalano.

With his large “war chest,” the two-term Doherty will be prepared to spend a lot of money, Catalano said.

During an event earlier this week, the mayor said he is confident of winning re-election. He added he is not aware of any opponents stepping into the ring yet.

Catalano pointed out prospective candidates may see their chances of winning as “not favorable.”  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Feds Raid Contractor With Murtha Ties

January 25, 2009 - 7:00pm

Federal agents on Thursday raided the offices of a Pennsylvania government contractor with close ties to Rep. John P. Murtha, chairman of the powerful Defense panel on the House Appropriations Committee.

Agents from the FBI, IRS and Defense Criminal Investigative Service searched the offices of Kuchera Industries and Kuchera Defense Systems in three different locations in Pennsylvania.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics

Toomey: I'd Rather Be Governor Than Senator

January 24, 2009 - 1:12am

Former Lehigh Valley Congressman Pat Toomey has decided against a repeat run for Senate in 2010, turning instead toward a possible bid for governor as he reaches out to Republicans statewide to assess his potential candidacy next year.

Toomey, president of the anti-tax group The Club for Growth, is scheduled to sit down with several influential and deep-pocketed Lehigh Valley Republicans in early February to “discuss his thinking of a possible gubernatorial run,” according to an e-mail invitation sent out Friday on behalf of Arcadia Properties founder Richard Thulin.

He has also put calls out statewide to supporters this week with the aim of raising money to do some preliminary polling.  read more »

Categories: PA Politics