Rendell ready to help Yanks

Governor Rendell is preparing to give a major boost to the Yankees.

No – not the New York team that beat his beloved Phillies in the World Series, but their Triple-A affiliate, who play in Lackawanna County. The team’s stadium, PNC Field, needs major renovations, and Rendell says he’s willing to release 20 million dollars in already approved state bond money to help foot the bill.

The 2008 Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) bill provided $35 million for “acquisition, infrastructure improvements, developments and construction of Lackawanna County Baseball Stadium and adjacent property.”

Rendell’s press secretary, Gary Tuma, says the governor has consistently approved state bond money for minor league stadiums, because he believes they’re “economic catalysts.”

Not everyone feels that way.  House Republican Whip Mike Turzai of Allegheny County says he opposes using public money – especially borrowed funds – to pay for stadiums. “It’s suspect. I think it’s wrong,” he said – ironically from Virginia, where his son’s baseball team is playing in the quarterfinals of the Pony League World Series. “I mean look – have they created jobs in our state? No. I mean they haven’t. If you want to prioritize it, pay for it as you go. If that’s what you think it’s an appropriate expenditure, pay for it as you go.”

PNC Field would be the eleventh minor league ballpark to receive RACP money during the Rendell Administration. Others include Harrisburg’s Commerce Bank Park ($18.5 million in 2009), Centre County Baseball Stadium ($12 million in 2004), and a park in the Lehigh Valley, which received a total of $14 million in 2004 and 2006.

I asked Tuma whether the Yankees’ six-game triumph in the 2009 Fall Classic dissuaded Rendell from giving money to their affiliate’s park.

But Turzai says the Yankees connection does add insult to injury.

I’d point out to Turzai the $20 million in question is just a bit less than what Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira will make this year.

OAG table displays campaign lit

Late to the game on this one, but a picture distributed by Team Onorato caused a bit of a stir yesterday. The campaign blasted out a photo taken at a Bradford County fair. The picture shows an Office of the Attorney General table with “Corbett for Governor” literature and buttons on it.

That’s  a bit of a problem for an office busy prosecuting people for using state resources to conduct campaign work.

“It’s unfortunate,” OAG spokesman Nils Fredericksen told Capitol Ideas. “What this incident will do is cause us to limit access to the materials we have.” He says he doesn’t know who put the campaign swag on the table, and that agents removed it as soon as they noticed.

PA2010 was first with the story.

Onorato threatens to withhold drilling permits

Image courtesy of DEP

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato says he’d pressure natural gas drilling companies to hire Pennsylvania residents by threatening to withhold state drilling permits.

Both Onorato and Republican Tom Corbett say they want more Pennsylvanians employed at natural gas drilling sites. Right now, a majority of well workers come from out of state. Both candidates promise to commit to training commonwealth residents to do the complicated jobs, but Onorato says he’d go a step further.

Onorato says he’d be justified to use permits as leverage, arguing, “I think all governors apply pressure on every industry. The whole idea of being governor is you try to bring jobs and improve the economy of your state. We have a golden opportunity here, with the Marcellus Shale find. But we get one chance to get it right.”

The problem is, Onorato’s idea isn’t legal. “It’s not what we do,” says Governor Rendell. “And you might be able to do that, but you’d probably have to change some regulations or get some legislation.” Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger, who oversees well permitting, agrees. “That’s not one of the grounds for rejecting a permit in the Oil and Gas Act,” he explains, adding he worries a measure mandating companies hire Pennsylvanians would run afoul of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Still, Hanger applauds Onorato’s mindset. “I think it’s more than reasonable for Pennsylvania  public officials to turn up the heat on getting Pennsylvanians hired,” he says, pointing out companies have been drilling in the Marcellus formation since 2005. “We want Pennsylvanians to be hired. I think everyone has seen the proliferation of Texas, Wyoming and other out of state plates on trucks and all sorts of vehicles around Marcellus operations.”

What does Corbett think about Onorato’s proposal? “That’s  quite a threat that he has out there. My idea is, we get the people trained, they’re going to hire our people. And that solves the problem.” Would Corbett use permits as leverage, I asked during a campaign appearance. “I don’t threaten people,” he said.

Rendell: basic ed increase a likely FMAP victim

Governor Rendell is angry about FMAP. You can hear it in his voice when he defends his June insistence that the General Assembly include the $850 million of extended federal aid in the state budget.

It’s nearly August now, and Congress still hasn’t voted on the bill. Rendell says he’ll begin the process of slashing the money from the spending plan on Monday, when he sits down with legislative leaders in his Harrisburg residence. In Rendell’s mind, the money should have arrived long ago. “Both houses of Congress passed it in separate bills and the president’s for it. Why wouldn’t you assume it was going to get done? And my guess is it’ll still get done, but I can’t wait.”

What killed – or delayed – FMAP? In Rendell’s mind, the culprit is emboldened Republicans who have seized on the ballooning federal deficit as a campaign issue.  “It became such a talking point for the Republicans,” he said during an interview in his Capitol office today. “Because they passed it once, and they didn’t insist it had to be paid for. And now, all of the sudden, it has to be paid for. They just passed an increase in war funding, and strangely that didn’t have to be paid for.”

Rendell says the impending cuts – in the past, he’s warned up to 20,000 workers may lose their job – “make [him] sick.” “It should have been avoided,” he laments. “For them not to be able to get it done shows the partisan gridlock that’s gripping Washington DC.”

Earlier this week, state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said he wanted Rendell to eliminate the budget’s $250 million basic education increase, if the $850 million was being cut out. Rendell concedes the boost he fought so hard for will likely have to go.

Rendell says he recently spoke to  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who told him a vote is still possible in September. “If they do, the people that were laid off will be called back to work,” Rendell says.

More from my interview with Governor Rendell — including his take on the Onorato-Corbett race — tomorrow.

Rendell on “The View”

I just got back from an interview in Governor Rendell’s office. I’ll have more posted soon — including an FMAP update, Rendell’s thoughts on the governor’s race, and the consequences of the General Assembly punting on transportation funding. But for now, know this: Rendell would not do the Comcast Eagles show, if he’s ever elected president.

I followed up on why Rendell criticized President Obama’s decision to go on “The View,” pointing out he appears on cable news shows about once every 20 minutes.

Here’s Rendell’s answer:

Logan to retire. Much much more detail below

Allegheny County State Senator Sean Logan is stepping down. His staff is so moved by the departure, they’ve written a 15-HUNDRED WORD RELEASE on the subject.

The treatise is pasted in below. No word yet on which will be longer – this press release, or Robert Caro’s next LBJ book.

LOGAN ANNOUNCES SENATE DEPARTURE

MONROEVILLE, July 29, 2010 – After 10 years of serving the people of the 45th District, state Senator Sean Logan (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) plans to depart the Pennsylvania Senate and assume the role as Vice President of Community Relations for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

Effective August 24, Logan will vacate his Senate seat in hopes of expanding on his lengthy record of advocating for programs to help Pennsylvania families.

“The decision to move on from the Senate was not an easy one,” Logan said. “I was honored to serve the people of the 45th District for the past ten years and would like to thank them for giving me that opportunity and putting their trust in me.  We worked tirelessly on a number of issues and together saw a number of successes over the past decade.”

“I have been presented with a great opportunity to build on a decade’s worth of work in the Senate. Whether it was addressing the needs of our emergency responders and their families or expanding access to health care for children, I always tried to bring the needs of the individual in the community to the political maze that is Harrisburg,” added Logan.

The move brought a positive response from a number of public officials. “I have had the pleasure of working with and knowing Senator Logan both prior to and during his tenure in the Pennsylvania Senate,” said Attorney General Tom Corbett. “He has served the citizens of Monroeville and all of Pennsylvania well and will continue to do so as he embarks on this new phase of his career.”

“Sean has been a valuable asset to Allegheny County,” said Dan Onorato, Allegheny County Chief Executive, “He was very effective in Harrisburg and secured vital state funds for important projects here in the county.”

Senator Logan developed a strong record of reform while serving in the Senate.  He pushed colleagues to pursue and implement a number of measures to make the legislative process more transparent, co-authoring bills which gave the public greater access to the legislative process. As a result, it is now mandated that each vote taken in the House or Senate be posted on-line. The journal of each legislative session day is now posted as well.

“I am proud of the progress that was made to ensure behind-the-scenes, late-night sessions became a thing of the past,” Logan said. “Public scrutiny is the number one ingredient for fostering accountability.”

In an effort to prevent 11th hour changes to legislation, Logan also helped to create a system that requires bills to be considered for a set period of time. Bills which require spending of state funds are now referred to the Appropriations Committee and receive a fiscal note outlining the cost of its implementation before a vote.  “Having Sean on the Appropriations Committee was beneficial in a number of ways,” explained Sen. Jay Costa, Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman. He was always cognizant of the fact that we were dealing with the taxpayers’ money and they were entitled to know every detail of how it was spent.”

When Logan was elected vice chairman of the board of Directors at Pennsylvania’s Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) three years ago, he and the board moved swiftly in a bipartisan effort to reform and restore confidence in the agency by eliminating management bonuses, automatic salary increases, and instituting one of the nation’s strictest business and travel expense reimbursement policies. Those reforms saved taxpayers more than $77 million.

“We took on our leadership posts at a difficult time for PHEAA and had to take aggressive measures to restore faith in the agency,” said Rep. Bill Adolph, House Republican Appropriations Chairman and PHEAA Chairman. “Changing the way PHEAA operated was no small feat, but Sean was steadfast in his desire to make extensive and meaningful changes. Sean’s bipartisan approach was critical in making the reform process a smooth one that was able to gain support from both sides of the aisle.”

PHEAA, which is financially self-sustaining, secured a federal contract to service the nation’s direct student loan portfolio. This will secure the agency’s financial stability and ability to benefit future generations through its administration of the State Grant Program.

The legislative members of the board were successful in passing legislation signed into law this month to restructure the PHEAA board of directors to replace legislative seats on the board with private-sector individuals who can lend expertise in banking, investments and information technology to promote better decision making. The legislation also reduced the board member term to improve accountability.

Logan has been an advocate and friend of police, firefighters, and other emergency responders.

Over the last five years, Logan worked tirelessly to ensure that the survivors of police, firefighters, and EMTs killed in the line of duty receive 100 percent of their loved one’s monthly salary. “When Senate Bill 369 was signed into law in the fall, it was ensured that the families of those who sacrifice their lives will be cared for,” said Logan. “It was years in the making and serves as a shining example of how working together in a bipartisan way can bring tangible benefits to Pennsylvania families now and in years to come.”  Logan was also a founding member of the Law Enforcement Officers Caucus in the Senate. The goal of the caucus is to help police officers be as effective, efficient, and safe as possible.

Shortly after being elected, Logan introduced legislation to guarantee volunteer fire and ambulance companies, which save taxpayers billions of dollars, annual grants each year. These annual grants now assist with projects related to construction or renovation of facilities, purchase or repair or equipment, and certification and training.

Economic development has been another major component of Logan’s agenda, dating back to his tenure as Community Development Representative to Congressman Mike Doyle. “From the beginning, Sean has shown an unwavering commitment to bringing steady growth and opportunity to the area,” added Doyle.

When the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Monroeville was shaken by scandal, Logan was brought in as a member of the re-constituted Board of Directors and elected president by the rest of the board members. Logan began working along with all parties who had an interest in the success of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Input was sought from owners and operators of local hotels and restaurants.  All possible measures were pursued to make sure the agency was reformed from top to bottom.

Restoring checks and balances to the bureau was just the first step in putting the tourism industry and the businesses that are part of it on a path to success.  Through creation of a public/private partnership, a new convention center site was secured. The transformation of an abandoned furniture company into a new convention center guaranteed economic stability for local restaurants and hotels and saved valuable jobs.

“Sean Logan gets things done – period. Without his intervention and persistence the new Monroeville Convention Center and so many other important community and economic development projects would never have been built,” said David Matter, retired CEO and Chairman of the Executive Committee of Oxford Development Company. “But, in some ways, even more important than his ability to get results is the sense of public purpose Sean brings to everything that he does. He is an exceptionally able person of unquestioned integrity – a combination that is all too rare in public life today and one which will serve him well in his new career with the region’s premier health care provider.”

“Sean understands how one community has an effect on its neighbor and the entire region,” said McKeesport Mayor Jim Brewster. “When it comes to bringing new business where there is blight, you need to take a team approach to spur success, especially in this economy. Working with him to secure vital development dollars for McKeesport, I knew he understood how this investment would not only help my community but the surrounding area.”

Logan’s time in the Senate is also characterized by steps to advance the lives of working families. Whether protecting the interests of small business or improving funding for public education, he championed measures to make Pennsylvania more competitive. Annual increases in the basic education subsidy triggered measurable improvement in recent years. Logan also participated in efforts to make health care more accessible through expansion of adultBasic and the CHIP program. He co-authored legislation that was enacted to mesh the state’s PACE/PACENET prescription assistance program with the federal Medicare Part D to broaden coverage.

Senator Logan will give up his Senate post on August 24 and begin his work as Vice President of Community Relations at UPMC on September 1.  “I will remain steadfastly committed to my desire to attract the kind of growth and development that can translate into long-term success for the region. This next chapter is just an extension of the many years I’ve spent trying to bridge the needs of the individual with an institution that serves them,” said Logan.

Corbett talks taxes and tourism at Longwood Gardens

Corbett speaks to a Longwood Gardens employee.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett is trumpeting his “no tax” pledge on the campaign trail.

Against a backdrop of waterfalls, palm trees and lush vegetation, Corbett told a group of supporters at Longwood Gardens he’s the only candidate who will lower state spending next year. The AG says Pennsylvania’s taxes are too high, and the levies are dragging down the state’s economy.

Corbett is referring to the alcoholic drink tax that helped fund the county’s Port Authority.

The next governor will likely face a multi-billion dollar deficit in 2011. The Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, has said he “doesn’t see how” Corbett could pass a budget without raising new revenues, and Governor Rendell has also expressed skepticism about the pledge. Onorato, who’s also promising to lower taxes, has called Corbett’s vow “a gimmick.”

The Republican’s main reason for the Longwood Gardens visit — side-note: it’s a HORRIBLE idea to hold a press conference in a greenhouse when it’s 90 degrees — was to talk up Pennsylvania tourism. “Supporting the tourism industry is something Corbett feels can boost our state economy as a whole,” read the press release his sweltering staffers handed out.

But with the vow to cut spending, how could Corbett afford to fund tourism marketing? “Budgets are made by what we have to fund first,” he explained, “and then after that, what’s left over? What’s discretionary spending?”

So what camp does marketing fall into? Discretionary or necessary?

This year’s budget spends $5.2 million on tourism promotion. That’s a steep drop from the $15 million spending level in the 2008-2009 budget, and about a million dollars less than the state spent last year.

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