Good thing we're cutting all the funding out DEP. God knows they don't need it.

The Scripps News Service has a story out published in Ohio's The Republic on the poor oversight of natural gas drillers.

Data supplied by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources show that well operators in that state have received 14,409 notices of violation since 2000.

Many of the violations reflect paperwork oversights, but many others are for environmental harm. The Ohio data, analyzed by Scripps, show 1,972 violations alone for pollution and contamination. Nearly 2,000 violations have no electronic record of when -- or if -- they've been fixed.

Pennsylvania officials say their records are in similar shape. The state has issued 8,309 violations since 2007, but officials there caution that their files - which include thousands of violations that have no date of being fixed - cannot be trusted as accurate. Instead of keeping their books up-to-date, inspectors are devoting their limited manpower in the field rather than completing paperwork.

State Forest Drilling Moratorium bill, HB 2235, moves out of committee

What our state forests could look like with more drillingVitali's bill to put a moratorium on Natural Gas Drilling in State Forests (HB 2235) was voted out of committee just now. he and Rep. Levdansky led this charge, along with a coalition of Democrats calling themselves the Green Dogs. The vote was 16-9. GOP members Harper and Everett voted for the bill, which is great news.

Read HB 2235 here.

The Green Dogs believe that they were sold a bill of goods by the Governor last year. The Governor asked them to support his budget with some prescribed forest leasing. In exchange, he said he wouldn't ask to lease more land this year.

But he has.

Hit Read More, below, yo.

Natural Gas Drilling: Vitali to host public meeting on Marcellus Shale gas drilling in MEDIA, PA

Rep. Vitali put out this press release for a forum on natural gas drilling that he's hosting in nearby Media. I'm on the panel and so is Sharon Ward (who many of us know). Rep. Vitali is rightly trying to educate his constituents about what may well be the most serious environmental issue to hit our state since coal.

If any YPP'ers can join us, it would be great to see you there.

HARRISBURG, Dec. 30 - State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, will host an informational meeting on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19 in the large auditorium at Delaware County Community
College, 901 S. Media Line Road, Media.

"The purpose of this meeting is to educate the public and policy makers about the environmental and fiscal issues surrounding Marcellus Shale gas extraction. This will be an issue of increasing importance in the upcoming decade," Vitali said.

What it takes to be the next SRC Commissioner

Because you know, (effectively) ousted Commissioner Heidi Ramirez – who was the SRC’s first Latina member, was described as the SRC's "most qualified" member, had a doctorate in education, devoted her professional career to improving urban schools, and asked (gasp!) questions about needs, costs, budgets and performance assessments of programs during public meetings – really just didn’t cut it.

According to the Public School Notebook, this is the kind of Commissioner the state believes the SRC really needs:

  1. Male
  2. Attorney (Cozen O’Connor)
  3. PA finance chair for McCain/Palin 2008
  4. PA Chair Bush/Cheney 2000
  5. former SEPTA board chair (and we know how pleasantly they’ve acted in a school financial crisis)
  6. Education involvement: Two year stint as Chair of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools, 1999-2001.

In a joint announcement with Sen. Pileggi, Gov. Rendell gave this reason for why David Girard-DiCarlo should sit on the District’s top oversight body:

"He is committed to making public education better."

At least someone can define a floor.

Stream protection grows wider across PA - Report finds more and more towns requiring natural stream buffers on new developments

(Philadelphia) – More towns in Pennsylvania are protecting their streams and drinking water by requiring vegetated and tree-lined area along waterways. Clean Water Action released a report today that found more and more towns protecting buffers of natural vegetation in thirteen counties across the Commonwealth.

To see the full report, go to:

The report, “Buffers 100: Taking a positive trend statewide,” surveyed municipalities in more than a dozen counties across Pennsylvania and found that 192 municipalities had a riparian buffer ordinance and over 30% of those ordinances required 100 foot or greater buffers on at least some streams in the municipality.

School Chair Out? Politics All In for Philly Schools

In a shocking turn of events, both the Inquirer and the Daily News are reporting that School Reform Commission Chair Sandra Dungee Glenn may be off the SRC. Media reports say that she may be replaced by attorney Robert Archie.

A few weeks back, on the Public School Notebook’s blog, I wrote about the baffling secrecy and lack of transparency around choosing the members of the School Reform Commission, the city/state oversight body for the Philadelphia public schools.

In fact, a School Reform Commission appointment is probably one of the least transparent processes in the School District of Philadelphia. Decided upon in backdoor rooms, at the sole discretion of either the Governor or the Mayor, lacking any written set of responsibilities and expectations, and largely absent public standards for avoiding ethical and financial conflicts of interest, the Commission appointments have long baffled most parents and education observers.

Unfortunately, if true, the departure of Sandra Dungee Glenn won't do much to alleviate those concerns. Here are a couple of reasons why:

A seismic shift in school funding

Thanks to the federal stimulus package, the School District of Philadelphia stands to gain more than it has seen in decades.

What that means:

  • The state will stay on a six year track for bringing all districts up to adequacy level spending. Because of the economy, the state had backed down from the funding formula, claiming they would move to a “seven-year” plan.
  • Philly gets $361 million next year, $120 million into the general fund, and the rest?

    Many school officials, including those from Philadelphia, said yesterday they were still analyzing the proposal and could not say much about how they would spend any of the money.

Yikes. Kind of makes the gaps in Imagine 2014 more urgent than ever.

Rendell, gambling, and the politics of fear - Part Deux

And so we’re back here again:

Harrisburg is losing patience. Rendell yesterday said that he was "disappointed" that the city's two casinos are not open. Rendell added that he would have to "weigh very heavily" any legislation proposed to strip Philadelphia of gaming-tax benefits.

Or in case you didn’t hear him clearly enough:

When My Worlds Collide (Subtitle: Or maybe Jim Kenney's Conspiracy Theory is Right)

(You can read a more straightforward version of this cross-posted in the brand new Philadelphia Public School Notebook blog which launched today on a new website delivering education news and comments by Philadelphia’s education activists.)

When I first read City Councilman James Kenney’s comments in the press blaming anti-casino activists for their Machiavellian tactics in hijacking the library campaign and seeking to upset the balance of power in city government, I initially thought "Huh? I entertain good conspiracy theories as much as the next person, but really . . . . "

But recent news about Pennsylvania’s efforts to link casinos and education has me wondering about how my different worlds as an education activist and at Asian Americans United are now colliding. So I'm now developing my own insane conspiracy theory – the Evil Plot To Use School Funding As The Basis To Justify Gambling and To Tie School Funding to Pennsylvania’s Ability to Generate Gambling Revenue Theory of the World.

Here’s the connections:

  • Greco, as the Governor knows, serves on the board of the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, landlord of the Gallery shopping mall, which is now in negotiations to lease to Foxwoods Casino.

Now I have nothing against Rosemarie Greco, who is by all accounts an august citizen of the city, but it’s a curious set of coincidences nonetheless. And hence my own Kenney-esque conspiracy theory: One could argue (as he did) that these are the same set of folks wanting to push gambling, and that like those pesky anti-casino activists manipulating the library issue (Kenney: "They're [anti-casino activists] using libraries because everybody likes libraries."), here we have casino proponents manipulating the education issue.

Could it be a plant to usurp educational goals with gambling ones?

Casinos and the politics of fear

Because when basic economic theory or public support or Congress or the tanking casino industry itself turn against you, we can always rely on the politics of fear to try and force things to happen:

Rendell said sentiment across the state could really turn against Philadelphia if its two approved slot parlors are not open by the time Pittsburgh's casino is finished, which is expected late this summer.

"There will be a bill that will whip through the Legislature taking gambling proceeds away from Philadelphia," Rendell said during an annual question-and-answer with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile let's not forget that casino revenue hasn't stopped the state from plugging a $5.6 billion hole (Correction: $2.3 billion) or losing jobs or making us a national example of pork spending. But at a time when AC is going belly up, casinos are facing bankruptcy, and regular folks are struggling to hold onto every dollar they can, we can rely on our Governor to employ the politics of fear to force a bankrupt idea on his own city.

A Big Month to Fight for Healthcare in Pennsylvania

Over here at my new job at SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, health care workers across the state are locked in tight battles for healthcare for themselves and for every family in the Commonwealth. Last week, a major bill crossed the Governor's desk – banning mandatory overtime for nurses, certified nursing assistants, and the other bedrock health care professionals that keep us alive and thriving in hospitals or nursing homes. After a unanimous Senate vote and an overwhelming majority support vote in the House, the Governor signed it – forcing our health care institutions to hire enough workers to care for patients adequately, and keeping exhausted workers from making mistakes on the job.

And, while we're waiting until next term to continue the battle for the Governor's Prescription for Pennsylvania plan – bringing health care coverage to 800,000 Pennsylvanians, and fighting to prevent the hundreds of preventable deaths that happen to uninsured families every year in the state -- we can take action Thursday to hold Congress accountable to pass national health care reform! Hannah Miller has written eloquently on this Thursday's rally! See you there.

I'm working hard to support these campaigns, but my heart is especially invested in the struggle for home care workers, people with disabilities, and seniors across the state. I'm helping with a lot of efforts with the coalition – to establish a Consumer Workforce Council in Pennsylvania.

Lipstick on a pig: casino design and process

Last week, the Inky reported on a secretive meeting between the Governor, Mayor and Sugarhouse developer Neil Bluhm as Sugarhouse angled to gain the Mayor’s approval for its waterfront site. Bluhm offered to change the proposed big box design to curry the Mayor’s favor.

Nutter seemed non-committal, but two things stand out.

First, what’s up with all the secretive meetings? The decision to move Foxwoods to the Gallery and smack in the heart of Chinatown happened at a closed door August 21st meeting between the Governor, Mayor and Foxwoods. Now comes the news that the Governor, Mayor and Sugarhouse met in hotel corridors at the DNC in Denver to conduct side business.

In an interesting choice of words, the Governor’s spokesperson denied such a meeting as "nefarious." State Rep. Mike O’Brien had a different point of view:

O'Brien said the secretive nature of the meeting "doesn't build confidence" with the public and those who had complained about the process of selecting casino sites.

"The people were promised an open and transparent process," O'Brien said. "They deserve nothing less."

Why It Matters: property taxes and school funding

Sunday’s Inquirer laid out one of the best reasons for why reform in property taxes has to go hand in hand with school funding.

In a study of more than 500,000 tax records, the Inquirer reports that “wildly disparate property tax rates are widening the economic divide between have and have not towns.”

Consider this:

For instance, in some economically distressed parts of eastern Delaware County, such as the six towns of the William Penn School District, the tax rates are nearly six times higher than those in West Conshohocken, a Montgomery County borough jam-packed with office towers. Just five years ago, the rates were 31/2 times higher.

Those poorer communities also tend to have lower-achieving students and far fewer resources than wealthy neighbors. The William Penn district - composed of Aldan, Colwyn, Darby Borough, East Lansdowne, Lansdowne and Yeadon - spends $12,701 per pupil. West Conshohocken is in the Upper Merion district, which spends $18,158.

Between 2002 and 2007 in poorer towns in the suburban counties, increases in millages - the taxes per $1,000 of assessed property value - were double those in affluent communities.

So the famous line touted by Philadelphia Student Union organizers in 2001 during the state takeover was that the quality of a child’s school system shouldn’t have to depend on their zip code. But that is indeed what happens here.

Make insurers insure people again

A coalition of Democrats and Republicans who really support small businesses is forming to make certain that you can get health insurance at every phase of your life. They should soon send a bill to the Senate that will make our health insurance market make sense.

Can you think of an industry that makes its money by avoiding customers? Doesn't that seem like a really weird concept? Well, there is one: the health insurance industry. Private insurers, like Aetna, carefully screen their customers to keep the ones most likely to have health problems out, a.k.a., "cherry picking." They look for small companies filled with healthy, young workers and offer them great plans. Then, they just rake in premiums, because even at reasonable rates they are making money because the young turks don't get sick.

They can do this because Pennsylvania permits insurers to set rates based for an employer based on the health status of its employees. So, Blue Cross & Blue Shield have to insure everyone. All the middle-aged and older workers end up with the Blues, while Aetna and others steal the healthier workers. By "steal," I mean they rob these larger pools of the healthy workers who bring costs down. That's the same trade-off we've always had with insurance. I pay in now while I'm healthy so that, in exchange, I won't have to pay in so much when I'm older.

That's not how it works anymore. Click "Read More" to find out what legislators are trying to do about it.

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