January 30, 2013

Corbett Liquor Privatization Plan Gives $1 Billion To Education

Gov. Tom Corbett, joined by Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) Wednesday announced his plan to privatize the liquor system in Pennsylvania and committed $1 billion in proceeds from the process to education funding.
Corbett said that the $1 billion will be used to create the Passport for Learning Block Grant, which will provide flexibility to schools, allowing our public schools, instead of Harrisburg, to decide what their students need.
The grant will focus on four priority areas: school safety, enhanced early education programs, individualized learning and science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses and programs.
"Our proposal is part of my commitment to changing Harrisburg, streamlining government and moving Pennsylvania forward," Corbett said. "Our plan gives consumers what they want by increasing choice and convenience, and helps to secure our future by adding $1 billion in funding toward the education of our children, without raising any taxes."
The $1 billion in revenue will come from the three to four year process of selling the LCB: $575 million from the wholesale license process, $224 million from the wine and spirits retail auction process, $107 million from the wine/beer license application process and $112.5 million in the enhanced beer distributor application process.
"Pennsylvania and Utah are the only two states in the country who have fully state-controlled liquor systems," Corbett said. "Our plan sells both the wholesale and retail arms of the state-run liquor business."
"I want Pennsylvanians to enjoy the same convenience that virtually every other American today has," Corbett said.
"My plan gets the state completely out of the liquor business. The state will no longer be a marketer of alcohol; instead, it will now focus on its role as a regulator," Corbett said. "It also creates an unprecedented opportunity for economic expansion for private sector employers while remaining revenue neutral for the state."
Currently, there about 600 state stores in Pennsylvania, the governor's plan allows for 1200 wine and spirits stores.
During the previous decade, the state stores' expenses have grown faster than their revenues, Corbett added.
Corbett said that his plan will offer Pennsylvania consumers greatly increased convenience and choice, because they will be able to buy the products they desire in a simpler, more accessible and more rational way.
For example, consumers will be able to buy beer and wine where they shop for groceries, buy six packs of beer at a distributor instead of being forced to buy an entire case, and buy a six pack of beer at a convenience store.
Currently, Pennsylvania has far fewer alcohol retail establishments per resident than the average state. This proposal would allow the number of establishments to be naturally driven by the market, as it is in other states.
Corbett said that his plan balances the increased amount of retailers with additional enforcement measures.
The governor's plan calls for significantly enhanced fines for selling to minors and visibly intoxicated persons, with penalty ranges increasing from $1,000 - $5,000 to $5,000 - $10,000. The additional money from license surcharges and increased fines will be designated for enforcement efforts of the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, who will see a 22 percent funding increase under this plan.
Corbett also proposes a 75 percent funding increase for alcohol treatment and prevention efforts.
Corbett's plan also calls for mandatory minimum license suspensions for businesses convicted of second and subsequent offenses for sales to minors or to VIPs. This will cause violations to be more meaningful, instead of being considered just a cost of doing business.
New alcohol retailers, such as wine and spirits stores, grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores must all use an ID scanner device before they can sell alcohol.
Corbett also explained that his proposal is fiscally neutral. Every dollar not returned to the state due to the divestiture of the LCB is returned to the state through restructured fees. He also noted that history in other states shows that many of the private sector jobs created will have comparable compensation.
Corbett also noted that his plan includes measures for affected LCB employees, including tax credits for businesses that employ separated workers, educational credits, civil service credits, individual employment plans and a multi-agency committee to help displaced employees find re-employment.
Along with Rep. Turzai, Corbett was joined at the event by Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny; Rep. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland; Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong; Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams; Rep. Warren Kampf, R-Chester; Rep. Seth Grove, R-York; Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Westmoreland; Rep. Harold English, R-Allegheny; Rep. George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland and Rep. John Lawrence, R-Chester.
Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) released the following statement in reaction to Gov. Corbett’s plan--
“I stand with a growing number of Pennsylvanians who are very skeptical of the administration’s privatization efforts. In recent weeks, with no public input, the administration handed over one of our state’s most profitable public assets – the Pennsylvania Lottery – to a private company that quickly dished out multi-million dollar bonuses to corporate executives while simultaneously putting over a hundred Pennsylvania workers on the unemployment line.”
“Now, the Governor wants to put a for sale sign on another profitable public asset, the state liquor stores, and put another five thousand Pennsylvanians out of work. With chronic unemployment hovering over nine percent, how can putting five thousand people out of work be good for business in Pennsylvania?”
“The Governor’s fixation with privatization now includes a bizarre and unhealthy attempt to tie education achievement to what can only be described as a one-time alcohol funded stimulus package.”
Corbett Lays Out Plan For Liquor Privatization
Corbett Proposes Liquor Privatization To Fund Education
Corbett Liquor Store Plan Would Benefit Education
Corbett Offers Liquor Store Privatization Plan
Corbett: $1 Billion To Schools From State Store Sale

Poll: More Gun Control, Maybe Gas Station Tax, Same Sex Marriage OK, Economy #1 Issue

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found 57 percent on Pennsylvania voters favored stricter gun control, are divided on Gov. Corbett's proposal to uncap the Oil Company Franchise Tax-- 45 to 47 percent and lean toward supporting same sex marriage- 47 to 43 percent.
When asked what the most important issue facing Pennsylvania today, voters said-- the economy- 37 percent, education- 10 percent, taxes- 8 percent, the size of the budget- 7 percent, politicians- 7 percent, crime- 4 percent, gun control- 3 percent, fracking and drilling 2 percent, environment/pollution- 2 percent, welfare 1 percent, senior issues- 1 percent, handicapped/ disability issues- 1 percent, poverty/homeless- 1 percent, energy crisis/gasoline prices- 1 percent.
55 percent had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party (29 percent favorable), while 43 percent had a favorable view of the Democratic Party (42 percent unfavorable).
51 percent of voters also thought President Obama is doing a good job.
Poll: PA Voters Concerned About Possible Gas Tax Shift
Poll: PA Voters Want Stricter Gun Control Measures

Wednesday NewsClips

Corbett’s Poll Numbers Fall Again
Poll Is Bad News For Corbett
Poll Finds Corbett’s Approval Rate Plummeting
Poll: Voters Support Corbett’s NCAA Lawsuit
Poll Numbers Not Corbett’s Only Problem
Top Senate Republican Objects To Linking Budget Issues
Senate Leader Doesn’t Want To See Linkage Of Budget Issues
Corbett Getting Resistance From Senate GOP Leaders
Scarnati Urges Quick Approval Of Transportation Funding Plan
Baer: State Worker Pension Reform, No Will, No Way
Corbett To Unveil Liquor Privatization Plan Wednesday
Corbett Plan Said To Include Wine, Liquor, Beer
Corbett Budgeting To Train Hundreds Of State Troopers
State University Faculty Union Says Strike Threat Serious
Edinboro Students React To Possibility Of Strike
Editorial: State Universities Need Fiscal Lessons
Senate OKs Task Force On Mass Shootings
Group Gets More Time For Lawrence County Casino Plan
Justice Orie Melvin’s Defense Grills Central Witness
Judge: Ex-Health Secretary Over Egg Sandwich Lawsuit Continues
Rendell As Transportation Secretary?
Police Probing Jobless Benefits Hotline Problems
Jammed Unemployment Hotline to Improve
Groundhog Day Feb. 2, 10 Things To Know
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

January 29, 2013

Corbett Set To Unveil Liquor Privatization Plan Tomorrow

Just one day after Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said the Governor would unveil his liquor privatization plan during the budget address February 6, the Harrisburg Patriot-News is reporting Gov. Corbett will unveil his liquor proposal in Pittsburgh Wednesday at a 2 p.m. press conference.  Click Here to read the story.

Poll: 51 Percent Of Voters Say Corbett Doesn’t Deserve Second Term

A new Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday says 51 percent of those surveyed do not believe Gov. Corbett deserves a second term-- 54 percent of women and 48 percent of men.
“It’s halftime in Gov. Tom Corbett’s first term and if he were running a football team instead of a state, he’d fire his offensive coordinator,” said Tim Malloy, Assistant Polling Director. “Gov. Corbett has hit the 50 percent approval rating only once so far, mainly because of his bad grades from women.”
45 percent of those polled said they a very or somewhat satisfied with the direction Pennsylvania is heading in today.
On the state’s two U.S. Senators, 44 percent approved of the job Bob Casey is doing and 43 percent approved of Pat Toomey’s job performance.

Tuesday Clips

Tom Wolf Likely To Challenge Corbett
Pension Reform Tops Governor’s Budget Priorities
Corbett’s Budget Proposal To Require Pension Changes
Budget Battle Lines Drawn In Harrisburg
Corbett’s Budget To Affect State Employee Pensions
Zogby To Retirees: No Pension  Cut Worries
Corbett To Play Hardball On Pension Reform
Pension Reforms Badly Needed Panel Says
Sen. Orie Chief Of Staff Takes Stand
Orie Melvin Trial Continues Tomorrow
Senate Panel Wants Penn State Fines To Stay In PA
Editorial: Joe Conti’s Deal- Yech!
Editorial: Conti Retire Makes Sense By LCB Standards
State Denies Cyber Charter Schools
Editorial: Bills Offer Fairer Charter/Cyber School Funding
Barletta Opposes Emerging Immigration Plan
Editorial: Progress On Immigration
Western PA Unemployment Ticks Up In December
Unemployment Climbs In Northwest
Northeast Unemployment Highest In State
Midstate Unemployment Up In December
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

January 28, 2013

Budget Secretary Calls Pension Reform Top Corbett Priority

Budget Secretary Charles Zogby Monday told the Pennsylvania Press Club the Corbett Administration’s top priority for this year’s budget will be pension reform, but quickly listed transportation funding and liquor privatization as important.
He said the budget proposal will “continue to challenge us to think differently as to how best to meet the public’s needs and deliver on the core functions of state government.”  The Governor will unveil his proposal February 5.
Asked about the Governor keeping his no-tax increase pledge, Secretary Zogby said voters made it clear in electing Corbett they did not want to see an increase in taxes on Pennsylvania families.
He said the Corbett Administration did the tough work over the last two years of ringing out efficiencies, making cuts, sifting through choices of the must-haves and the nice-to-haves, saying it was a worthwhile exercise.
“Inheriting a mess, Gov. Corbett got to work getting our state’s fiscal house in order. We clearly have today a state budget this is leaner, more agile than when we found it a couple of years ago,” said Secretary Zogby.  “There’s a lot of things that have gone away in terms of funding that, frankly, I don’t think the world has missed too much.  The sun still rises in the morning, it sets in the evening and we go about our business.
“We’re at the point that with a healthy balance sheet we begin to look at where we can make investments, where we can grow state services in a way that’s sustainable going forward.”
On specific issues prompted by questions--
-- Liquor Privatization: The Governor should address the issue in next week’s budget address.
-- Pension Reform: If pension reform is not passed and with the Governor’s pledge not to raise taxes, that means $511 million this year and $550 million next year will have to be accommodated in the budget.  He clearly said the Governor has no plans to take benefits away from current retirees. Otherwise, the Governor is looking at everything being on the table.
-- Linking Pension Reform/Education Funding: The budget address will make it clear how pension costs will affect education funding if there is no reform.
-- Lottery Contract: There probably will not be an immediate need to raise taxes if the lottery privatization contract does not move forward, but with the state’s rapidly growing senior population and increasing program costs, something will have to give.
-- Transportation Funding: Good proposals take time (on the delay in the funding plan last week). Pennsylvania has chosen to fund transportation needs through a dedicated set of financing tools (like the Oil Company Franchise Tax) and the buying power of those tools have diminished over time.  The Governor is looking for ways to address infrastructure needs in a way that modernizes the system.
-- Medicaid Expansion: The Governor has not yet made a decision on expanding Medicaid.
-- Cyber/Charter School Funding: He doesn’t see a proposal coming out of the House (inspite of the fact House Republicans proposed a plan to increase funding last week).  It will be an issue discussed during the budget deliberations next Spring.
Pension Reform Tops Governor’s Budget Priorities

Monday NewsClips

Baer: Month Of Good Ideas Comes To A Close
Lottery-Casino Relationship Enters New Phase
State Pension Board Made Expensive Hedge Fund Bet
Municipalities Largely Forgotten In Pension Fights
Paperwork Follows Small Games Of Chance Changes
State Keeping Embossed License Plates
PennDOT Orders First Bridge Assessment
Water Damage Closes CCAC Building
High School Dropout Rate Hits Recent Law
Students, Safe, Thriving In Public Schools
Gasoline Prices Started Highest Ever For Year
Billions In Gas Drilling Royalties Transform Lives
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

January 25, 2013

Jan. 28 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The Jan. 28 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

Growing Leaner: Shrinking Commitment To The Environment Over Last 10 Years

On February 5 Gov. Corbett will present his FY 2013-14 budget proposal to the General Assembly outlining how he would spend the $28 billion or so in General Fund tax revenue received by the Commonwealth.
In anticipation of the Governor’s budget address, here’s a yardstick readers of PA Environment Digest can use to better judge the impacts of Gov. Corbett’s budget proposals on environmental programs.
Shrinking Commitment

There is no doubt about it, Pennsylvania isn’t Growing Greener, it’s Growing Leaner.

The last 10 years have seen a steady shrinking of the commitment to provide adequate funding and staff and innovation for environmental protection and restoration programs.  

In fact, over $1.7 billion has been cut or diverted from environmental programs over the last decade to balance the state budget or to provide funding to other programs which could not get funding on their own.
It all started with the record budget and staff cuts in each and every year of the Rendell Administration.
          Gov. Rendell's share of these cuts/diversions is $1.4 billion.  Gov. Corbett's share is $314.7 million, so far.  (Click Here for an itemized list of cuts and diversions.)
The cuts included support for operating local wastewater treatment plants, environmental education programs, training programs for staff, citizen water monitoring programs, and staff for water quality and many other programs.
The diversions included hundreds of millions of dollars to balance the General Fund budget taken from the Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund,  Keystone Recreation, Parks and Conservation Fund, Oil and Gas Fund and the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund and the Recycling Fund to name a few.
Programs like Growing Greener set up originally to fund watershed restoration, farm conservation and other on-the-ground projects with real, measurable environmental benefits were first bankrupt by the Rendell Administration and then hijacked to fund windmills, parking garages and other non-environmental projects.
DEP Staff Cuts
Significant cuts in staff have also occurred.  The state’s PennWATCH website confirmed in December DEP lost 615 permanent positions--  nearly 20 percent-- since FY 2002-03, from 3,211 to 2,596.
DCNR's now has 1,300 salaried employees, down from 1,391 in FY 2002-03.
The DEP numbers, however, include over 105 positions added or reassigned by DEP internally to regulate Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.  With these are added in, DEP lost over 22 percent of its permanent positions over the last 10 years.
The FY 2009-10 budget cuts alone by Gov. Rendell required DEP and DCNR to furlough or eliminate 333 full time positions. DCNR had to eliminate or reduce hours for 1,131 seasonal workers, putting appropriations for DEP way below 1994 levels and for DCNR below 1995-96 levels.
The Rendell Administration also diverted staff time to non-environmental protection and restoration programs.
Over 100 DEP Air, Waste and Water Quality field staff  were used as managers for federal stimulus projects, projects funded by the Energy Harvest and PA Energy Development Authority programs taking time away from permit reviews, inspections and compliance activities.
General Fund Budget Slashed
The state's General Fund budget has always been a huge part of how environmental programs and agencies are funded, but that has changed dramatically over the last 10 years.
In most cases, General Fund cuts to DEP and Agriculture resulted in significant reductions in agency staff complement with only a small portion being made up in things like permit review fee increases.  
In the case of DCNR, monies from the Oil and Gas Fund fed by Marcellus Shale drilling revenues on State Forest land made up many of the losses.
Here's some perspective on General Fund appropriations since FY 20003--
-- Environmental Protection: FY 2002-03: $728.2 million; FY 2012-13: $124.8 million
-- Conservation & Natural Resources: FY 2002-03: $322.9 million; FY 2012-13: $52.7 million
-- Agriculture: FY 2002-03: $274.3 million; FY 2012-13: $129.5 million
Fee Increases/More Funding
Some funding has been restored through increases in permit review fees and the Marcellus Shale drilling fee enacted in 2012.
In an attempt to make up for drastic reductions in General Fund support for environmental protection efforts, DEP adopted a series of permit fee increases totalling about $26.5 million over the last four years.
Last February the General Assembly, under the leadership of Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and others, adopted Marcellus Shale drilling fees under Act 13 which restored over over $200 million in environmental project funding to programs like Growing Greener, conservation districts and other selected state environmental programs.
The Corbett Administration also restored the full $10 million in funding for the Resource Protection and Enhancement Program farm conservation tax credit program to help Pennsylvania meet its federal watershed and Chesapeake Bay cleanup commitments.
The Rendell Administration did increase funding for alternative energy and energy conservation projects by passing the $625 million Growing Greener II program and an additional $650 million in funding, however, these initiatives actually diverted funding from real environmental protection and restoration projects.
The Growing Greener II bond issue put a cap on new project funding because annual revenues from the $4.25/ton municipal waste fee going to fund Growing Greener projects was actually used to pay off the bond issue collapsing the Growing Greener Program.
The result of a decade of budget and staff cuts has been a decrease in environmental compliance, an increase in the time between compliance inspections, permit review backlogs and few if any environmental and compliance education programs to improve compliance or our understanding of the environment.
There have also been no annual reports on DEP’s accomplishments or a detailed annual report on environmental compliance program by program to measure the agency’s progress and performance since 2003.
In addition, objective measures of indicators like acres of abandoned mine land reclaimed, miles of streams restored and miles of stream buffers installed are not being reported or measured.  In fact, there are still 16,599 miles of impaired streams in the state which do not meet water quality standards.
In December, the Budget Office released the general 2011-12 Report on State Performance which shows the percentage of sites in full compliance with DEP dropped significantly from 2001. (Click Here for full summary.)
The report said compliance dropped 12 percentage points since 2001, from 89.9 percent in 2001 to 77.71 percent in 2011-12 performance report and lower than in 2009-10 at 78.75 percent.
At the same time, the report said the percentage of inspections with violations increased by 0.6 percent-- 14.9 percent to 15.51 percent, and higher than in 2009-10 at 15.03 percent.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reported a 10,428 acre drop in the number of land acquired through fee simple acquisition or easements for conservation purposes, from 17,405 last year to 6,977 in 2011-12 and less than in 2009-10 at 11,936 acres.
DCNR did see a $2.3 million increase in Community Conservation Partnership Grants awarded in 2011-12-- $29.1 million to $31.4 million, which was more than in 2009-10 at $25.3 million.
Another result of all these cuts is the permit review backlog DEP said was already building in 2009 and in truth the last 7 years, delaying hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development projects across the state.
For example, the Rendell Administration left a backlog of 5,000 permits and approvals in DEP’s Southwest Regional Office alone, according to the Regional Director.
The Ridge and Schweiker Administrations left office in 2003 with few backlogged permit applications as a result of the 1995 Money-Back Guarantee Permit Review Program created by Executive Order 1995-5.
The recent efforts by the Corbett Administration through its Permit Review Guarantee Program will certainly bring some order back to the permit review process, but the fact remains it will take staff time to clear the backlog and address new permits, staff DEP the agency has too little of.
Of course, overall, DEP and DCNR still have the same amount of work to do, the same laws to enforce and the same State Forests and State Parks to protect and manage.
Neither the General Assembly nor the Governor eliminated any of the responsibilities of DEP or DCNR like private industry would do when faced with these kinds of significant cuts in budgets and staff.
In the case of DEP, they face the further challenge of new programs to get up and running, like the electronics recycling program, and the continuing challenges of regulating Marcellus Shale drilling.
Support For Green Funding
Public opinion surveys have repeatedly found significant support for environmental funding.
In December, the Growing Greener Coalition pointed to a newly released statewide survey as clear evidence of strong public support for state funding to preserve farmland and open space, provide parks and trails and protect rivers and streams.
Overall, the survey found that more than 92 percent of the 608 Pennsylvanians surveyed think that state funds dedicated to preserving farmland and open space, providing parks and trails and protecting rivers and streams should continue to be used for these purposes.
In addition, the survey found that nearly 78 percent of respondents support increasing state funds to conserve and protect open space, clean water, natural areas, wildlife habitats, parks, historic sites, forests and farms even if would cost the average household $10 more annually. Further, these high levels of support are constant throughout every geographic region and every gender, ethnic, educational and economic demographic throughout the state.
Bottom Line
Given the drastic cuts in funding and staff over the last 10 years, we face three options: consider which programs should be eliminated to match its shrinking resources; find ways to fund those programs without stealing; or take drastic steps to restructure programs.
As Gov. Corbett said during his campaign, shouldn’t DEP be returning to its core functions?
Here are some steps to think about.
Are there federally mandated environmental programs Pennsylvania should be returning to the federal government to administer--  Air Quality, Mining, Waste, NPDES Water Quality, etc.?
Should DEP really be spending money and staff time on alternative energy and energy efficiency programs when it lacks funds to restore the water quality in our rivers and streams?  (You Can’t Go Fishing With A Solar Panel)
Is climate change a “must” issue for DEP to address like it is now, or is it a “nice to have?”  Or should state government actually pay for it.
Should some programs be turned over entirely to other agencies on a fee-for-service basis, for example, county conservation districts?  The Chapter 102 erosion and sedimentation control program comes to mind.
Another option is to centralize things like permit reviews rather than have each of DEP’s six major regional offices and six district mining offices.  In this age of advanced communications technology there is no reason for certain functions to be repeated a dozen times in the field.
It seems pretty basic, but the General Assembly should not give DEP any new responsibilities without providing full funding for those programs.  Unfunded mandates can be imposed on state agencies as well as local governments and they have been repeatedly in the past.
Pretending DEP is now doing everything it’s required to do by law defies common sense.  
It’s time for state government leaders to deal with that fact and try to dig environmental protection programs out of the hole they spent 10 years excavating by either cutting, funding and restructuring programs.
And as a start, why not take some of the $75 million devoted to giving tax breaks to movies like Zack and Miri Make A Porno that was filmed in Pennsylvania, and make that money do some good for a change.