April 29, 2015

State Employees’ Retirement Board Sets Contribution Rate

The Board of the PA State Employees' Retirement System Wednesday formally adopted the employer contribution rate set by current law at 25 percent of payroll as the composite employer contribution rate for the commonwealth's 2015-16 fiscal year.
"Over the last four years policymakers and our employers have made the tough decisions and have done the hard work to remain disciplined to meeting their pension obligations outlined in Act 120," explained SERS Executive Director David Durbin. "That hard work is already yielding results as the funded ratio has improved over the past two years and that improvement is expected to accelerate over the next two decades."
The composite employer rate represents a weighted average of 18 different rates for the system's various classes of service; SERS will notify each employer of the actual rates for its employees.
The board adopted the employer rate following a report by the system's actuary, Hay Group, on the key results of the 2014 actuarial valuation.
The employer rate adopted reflects a 4.5 percent "cap" established by Pennsylvania Act 2010-120, which limits year-to-year increases in employer contributions while increasing funding to the pension system over time.
The key results indicated that the actual cost of retirement benefits earned by people who join SERS in FY 2015-16 – the "employer normal cost" – is approximately 4.95 percent of payroll.
That is the rate employers would pay if there were no unfunded liability and all other actuarial assumptions proved to be exactly accurate over the year. Incorporating the unfunded liability, however, the composite employer rate to fully fund the system would be more than 31.5 percent of payroll without the Act 2010-120 rate cap.
The key results also show that SERS ended 2014 with a funded status of 59.4 percent on an actuarial basis and 61.1 percent on a market value basis. The system's assets were valued at approximately $26.6 billion and liabilities at approximately $44.8 billion, resulting in an unfunded liability of approximately $18.2 billion.
The key results include a new page reporting the system's liabilities and net position calculated according to new reporting standards issued by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) and required for valuations for fiscal years ending in 2014.
The new reporting standards, commonly referred to as GASB 67, don't impact the funding of public systems but are geared to improving reporting consistency across systems.
According to the GASB 67 standards, SERS' unfunded liabilities are $3.3 billion less than as calculated and reported according to the system's actuarial methods, resulting in a funded ratio of approximately 65 percent compared to the 59.4 percent funded ratio calculated and reported according to the system's actuarial methods.
Hay Group will proceed in producing the full 2014 actuarial valuation report to be published in June.

PA Supreme Court Announces Court Administration Leadership Changes

Zygmont A. Pines, Esq. will step down July 31, 2015 as Court Administrator of Pennsylvania and be succeeded by Deputy Court Administrator Thomas B. Darr, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts announced Wednesday on behalf of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Established in the state constitution, the Court Administrator of Pennsylvania serves as the chief administrative officer for the Supreme Court in exercising its supervisory and administrative authority over the Unified Judicial System.
Pines has been a part of the judiciary staff nearly his entire career, as a law clerk, staff attorney, Chief Legal Counsel to both Superior Court and the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts and, since 2000, as Court Administrator of Pennsylvania.  
During his career with the judiciary Pines also served in 1987 as counsel to the Governor’s Commission on the Study of the Judiciary (popularly known as the “Beck Commission.”)
Pines was the 2010 recipient of the National Center for State Courts’ Warren E. Burger Award for Excellence in Court Administration. In 2013-2014 he served as president of the national Conference of State Court Administrators and on the National Center’s board.  
His interests in court administration have included judicial emergency preparedness and he was co-chair in 2014 of the Supreme Court’s Task Force on Elder Justice in the Courts.  Pines will continue to serve on and consult for the Elder Justice in the Courts Advisory Council which was established as one of the Task Force’s recommendations.
Much of Darr’s career has also been in state government, from 1979 through 1985 in the office of Gov. Dick Thornburgh and beginning in 1988 at the AOPC. Since 1996 he has been deputy state court administrator.  Darr also worked briefly as a reporter for Governing magazine and as a producer at C-SPAN, both in Washington, DC.
Based in Harrisburg, Darr has played a key role in professionalizing the AOPC while serving as a senior advisor to recent Chief Justices.  Darr has also been involved in various projects of the National Center for State Courts, was president of the national Conference of Court Public Information Officers, and a past participant in the American Bar Association’s Central and Eastern European Law Initiative.
Darr earned graduate degrees from Northwestern University (journalism) and the University of Pittsburgh (public administration) and his undergraduate degree in political science from Grove City College.

Gov. Wolf’s First 100 Days, A Review By The Governor

Gov. Tom Wolf Wednesday put out a review of his actions during his first 100 days in office in the form of a memo and video to media.  Here’s what it said.
During his inauguration, Gov. Wolf said he does not want to be part of the first generation of Pennsylvanians who have to tell their children they have to go elsewhere to achieve success.
He said that in order to build a better Pennsylvania, his administration will be dedicated to three simple things: jobs that pay, schools that teach and government that works.
Pennsylvania can achieve these three goals, but we need to act now. During his first 100 days in office, Gov. Wolf has taken concrete actions and introduced bold proposals to secure a better future for Pennsylvanians.
-- Gov. Wolf’s Budget - a Blueprint for Pennsylvania: Gov. Wolf’s budget fixes the deficit, makes historic investments in education, rebuilds the middle class by strengthening manufacturing and workforce development, and provides property tax relief to middle-class families and seniors.
“A majority of Pennsylvania voters support Gov. Tom Wolf’s spending plan that aggressively increases education funding, a statewide Franklin & Marshall College poll found. And they agree with the first-year Democratic governor that a natural-gas extraction tax should be imposed and lower property taxes should be swapped for higher state taxes, the new poll shows. The survey found 59 percent of registered voters back the budget proposal.” [LNP, 3/26/15]
-- Making Gas Companies Pay Their Fair Share: Gov. Wolf proposed a severance tax on natural gas so we can fund our schools for a change.
“A severance tax makes sense and is fair — which is probably why a solid 61 percent of Pennsylvanians support it...” [York Dispatch, 2/14/15]
-- Gov. Wolf’s GO-TIME Identifies $109 Million in Savings: In only two weeks, Gov. Wolf’s GO TIME initiative identified $109 million in savings.
“The results are in from Gov. Tom Wolf’s initial search for inefficiencies in state government. Mr. Wolf’s office announced Thursday that his team has identified $109 million it believes it can save in the next fiscal year.” [Post-Gazette, 2/27/15]
-- Restoring the Public’s Trust in Government: Gov. Wolf Signs Gift Ban and Legal Contracting Reform: Immediately after his swearing in, Gov. Wolf hit the ground running. He signed two executive orders; one banning gifts for all employees of the executive branch and another reforming the way the commonwealth chooses outside legal firms.
“Gov. Tom Wolf's first actions after taking office Tuesday included signing a gift ban for all political appointees and state workers under his jurisdiction and a requirement that all private legal contracts go out to bid. The move was part of Wolf's campaign pledge to improve transparency and work to end the practice of state officials accepting gifts from special interests.” [PennLive, 1/20/15]
Gov. Wolf didn’t stop there. He also decided to proactively release his public events each night and his calendar every Friday.
“Wolf is making his schedule available daily via email to the media, the day before events — even when he has no events. Other governors, including Republican Tom Corbett and Rendell, would put out some events but usually when it suited them. The weekly calendar of where Wolf was and what he did is truly novel. Wolf puts it out on Fridays.” [Tribune-Review, 3/28/15]
-- Gov. Wolf Travels the Commonwealth: Gov. Wolf has visited schools and businesses to talk about his plans to rebuild the middle class in Pennsylvania. He’s made 20 trips to talk with teachers and students about how to fix Pennsylvania’s schools and 15 visits to small businesses and workforce development centers.
-- Communicating in New Ways: Gov. Wolf has also introduced new ways to communicate with the public - he held the first ever governor’s Twitter and Facebook town halls where he responded directly to people asking him questions.
“Gov. Tom Wolf is earning a reputation as a social-media savvy executive. Wolf took to Facebook to answer questions sent in from around Pennsylvania….Topics ranged from Wolf's budget proposal and plans for tax increases and accompanying tax relief, to his desire to raise the state's minimum wage and sign legislation protecting Pennsylvanians from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” [WITF, 03/31/2015]
The governor has also made efforts to reach out to members of the legislature by dropping into their offices and inviting them to policy discussions at the residence.
"’In a bipartisan way, he's walking the halls, talking to members - that's been unheard of in my 15 terms,’ Rep. Tony DeLuca (D., Allegheny) said...‘’I think it's a new way and a new day, and we should recognize that.’” [Inquirer, 2/13/15]
-- Protecting Our State Parks and Forests: Gov. Wolf signed an executive order reinstating a moratorium on new leases for oil and gas development in state parks and forests.
“Abundant natural gas is a great resource for Pennsylvania. But so are the abundant forests for which the Commonwealth is named. Gov. Tom Wolf restored perspective Thursday when he issued a new moratorium on drilling under state park and forest land.” [Times-Tribune, 1/31/15]
-- Governor Wolf Expands Medicaid: Gov. Wolf acted swiftly to expand Medicaid and simplify a complicated process and ensure hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians have greater access to the health insurance they need.
More than half a million Pennsylvanians be healthier, preventing more costly health problems and avoiding unnecessary emergency room visits, while the surge of new federal money boosts the state's economy and creates more jobs. All in all, it's just what the doctor ordered for Pennsylvania. [Patriot News, 2/13/15]
-- Gov. Wolf Ensures Families will Keep CHIP Coverage: As a result of Gov. Wolf’s continued efforts, Pennsylvania families get to keep their CHIP coverage.
“Families of about 3,600 Pennsylvania children enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program Buy-in Plan won't have to find new health insurance for them this year after all… On Friday, Wolf announced that after further negotiations, [CMS] agreed to let families stay in the plan for 2015 without being subject to the individual mandate fee.” [LNP, 2/14/15]
-- Gov. Wolf Eliminates Wasteful SNAP Asset Test: Gov. Wolf eliminated the SNAP asset test; a decision that will save millions in state funds and better protects Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable.
“As of Monday, Pennsylvanians who apply for food stamps will no longer be subject to an asset test to determine their eligibility for the program. And it will actually save taxpayers money… the asset test was designed to root out waste and fraud, but did little more than burden caseworkers, deprive people of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to which they were entitled, and cost the commonwealth $3.5 million per year.” [Observer-Reporter, 4/28/15]
-- Gov. Wolf Works to Increase Oil Train Safety: Gov. Wolf is focused on the safety of Pennsylvanians and protecting people from the potential disaster resulting from Bakken crude oil train derailments
“Gov. Wolf has made oil train safety a priority during the first 100 days of his administration.” [StateImpact, 4/28/15]
-- Gov. Wolf Works to Equip PSP with Life-Saving Drug: Gov. Wolf’s administration initiated a cross-agency collaboration to equip the State Police with the live-saving drug, Naloxone.
“Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to expand access to a drug-overdose antidote will save lives… Further expanding access to this life-saving antidote will save still more vulnerable people who fall prey to the ravages of dangerous drugs.” [Pocono Record, 4/9/15]
Pennsylvania can have a bright future, but we cannot simply do the same things over and over and hope for different results. Over the next 100 days and beyond, Gov. Wolf will continue to work to rebuild the middle class by pushing three priorities: jobs that pay, schools that teach, and government that works.
Click Here to watch Gov. Wolf’s video on the first 100 days.

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April 28, 2015

Annual Report On Casino Gaming Impact On Horse Racing Industry Released

The Gaming Control Board Tuesday released its annual Racetrack Casino Benchmark Report. Since its first release in 2008, this annual report has concentrated on the impact of Pennsylvania casinos on the state's horse racing industry.
In accordance with the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, approximately 11 percent of revenue generated from slot machine gaming was earmarked for the racing industry and agricultural initiatives in 2014.
As a result, more than $242 million in slot machine tax revenue was generated for the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund. Of this amount, approximately $230 million was distributed to both the thoroughbred and standardbred racing industries to enhance purses, assist breeding operations, provide health and pension benefits for horsemen, and provide resources for proper regulatory oversight.
"Individuals and businesses are continuing to participate in live racing in Pennsylvania due to enhanced purses, breeding incentives, and improved living and working conditions," says the PGCB's Director of the Office of Racetrack Gaming Kevin Kile. "This participation from horsemen who investment directly into the Commonwealth's economy demonstrates the size and scope of Pennsylvania's racing industry which is due, in large part, to the success of legalized casino gambling."
Among the specific findings in this year's report are:
— Racetrack operators have contributed $60 million through the end of 2014 in new and renovated racing facilities. Property specific details have been included in this new report.
— Racing is providing an additional amenity for patrons who frequent casinos with over 827,000 patrons attending live racing in 2014.
— Average daily gross terminal revenue generated from slot machine gaming by the six racinos that host racing was higher on race days when compared to non-race days over the past five consecutive years.
— Over 18,000 individual horses raced in Pennsylvania in 2014 making more than 91,000 starts throughout the year, demonstrating the size and scope of Pennsylvania's racing industry.
— Approximately $765 million was wagered on races held in Pennsylvania in 2014 representing a decrease of 5.3 percent when compared to the previous year.
— Live racing handle in 2014 was 32 percent higher when compared to the same time period before casinos gaming commenced in 2006.
The full report is available online.

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April 27, 2015

Judge Releases Kane Grand Jury Presentment

PA Commission For Community Colleges Board Elects Executive Committee

The Board of Directors of the PA Commission for Community Colleges elected new offers to its Executive Committee at the Commission’s Annual Meeting on April 13 in Harrisburg.
Named as officers to the Executive Committee of PACCC’s Board of Directors are: Chair Thomas P. Leary, President of Luzerne County Community College; Vice Chair Dr. Stephanie Shanblatt, President of Bucks County Community College; Secretary Kimberly D. Geyer, Trustee of Butler County Community College; and Treasurer Robert Fehnel, Trustee of Northampton Community College.
“This Board of Directors includes of leaders who are committed to expanding student success, access and affordability across the state, and I look forward to working with them over the next two years,” said Elizabeth Bolden, President and CEO of PACCC.
The Board of Directors is the governing body of PACCC. Executive Committee members serve two-year terms, beginning on July 1, 2015.
“I am pleased to hand over leadership of the Commission Board to Tom Leary,” said Dr. Nicholas C. Neupauer, outgoing PACCC Board Chair and President of Butler County Community College. “He has a clear understanding of the issues faced by Pennsylvania’s community colleges, as evidenced by his long tenure at Luzerne County Community College, and is passionate about meeting the needs of LCCC students and the community.”
Leary, whose term as Vice Chair of the PACCC board concludes on June 30, began his career at Luzerne County Community College more than thirty years ago as Assistant Director of Admissions.  During his career, he has served in several senior leadership positions.
In February, 2008, Leary was inaugurated as the sixth President of the College.  He also serves as an Adjunct Professor of History and Political Science.
"I look forward to working with my fellow presidents in our continued efforts to ensure that a community college education remains the most accessible and affordable option for receiving a quality post-secondary education,” said Leary.  “With the support of the Commission, we will carry on our work of identifying and implementing measures to support the success of our students across the state."
Dr. Stephanie Shanblatt begins her first term as a member of PACCC’s Board of Directors as Vice Chair. Shanblatt is the fourth president of Bucks County Community College, having joined the college in October 2012 following a unanimous vote by the colleges’ board of trustees.
Prior to coming to Bucks, Shanblatt served for 13 years in leadership roles at Lansing Community College in Michigan, the last three years as Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs.  Shanblatt was also a member of the National Advisory Committee on Improving Outcomes for Men of Color in Community Colleges.
This is Secretary Kimberly D. Geyer’s first appointment to the PACCC Board of Directors. She has been a member of the Butler County Community College Board of Trustees since July 2011, and has served on the Trustee Finance Committee and the Trustee Quality Assessment Committee.  Geyer is also a member of the BC3 Education Foundation, Inc. Board of Directors.  
She has been involved in public education for many years, serving on the Mars Area School Board for 12 years, and on the Midwestern Intermediate Unite 4 Board of Directors.  In 2010, Geyer was recognized by the Pennsylvania Senate for contributions to education policy throughout the Commonwealth.
Geyer is a graduate of Butler County Community College where she earned an associate degree in liberal arts.  She currently serves as Vice-President at Geyer Construction and as a Policy Analyst and Consultant at Mars Research & Retrieval Services.
The 2015-17 term marks Treasurer Robert Fehnel’s second election as Treasurer of the PACCC Board of Directors. He was elected chairman of the Northampton Community College Board of Trustees in August of 2014, after serving as vice chairman for ten years. Fehnel has served on the NCC Board for nearly thirty years, including 25 as chair of the Board's Finance and College Facilities Committee.
Fehnel's commitment to community service and public education can also be seen in his 28 years of service on local school boards, including 20 years as president of the Wilson Area School Board and his recent election to the Easton Area School Board.
He is a graduate of Northampton Community College, where he earned an associate degree in applied science.  He is employed as the director of print and mail operations for Berkheimer One Source in Bethlehem, PA.
For more information, visit the PA Commission for Community Colleges website.

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