Post-Gazette: Democrats hate electric deregulation

HARRISBURG — Deregulation of electric rates in 2010 in many areas of the state could constitute “the biggest tax increase in Pennsylvania history,” state Senate Democrats said yesterday.

Since 1996, the rate at which many Pennsylvania energy companies have been able to recoup power plant construction costs from consumers has been capped.

But by 2010, the rate caps will expire for customers in parts of western Pennsylvania served by West Penn Power, plus many residential and business customers in northeast and central Pennsylvania, along with the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia areas. Rate caps for Duquesne Light already have ended.

“Nobody is going out of business” in the state’s electricity industry, said Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia, noting high profit margins and well-salaried executive of electric utilities. “[Allowing these caps to expire] would be the biggest tax increase in the history of the Commonwealth since Ben Franklin.”

He was joined in his criticism by Democratic Sens. Jim Ferlo of Highland Park, Wayne Fontana of Brookline and Sean Logan of Monroeville.

“Utility shutoffs have already risen 37 percent compared to last year,” said Mr. Logan. “Unless we take decisive steps soon, I fear for how many people will be unable to pay and will have their electricity shut off when deregulation hits its statewide peak in 2010.”

Read the rest on Post-Gazette.com. Read some of the color interjected by Sen. Vince Fumo here. Image courtesy of The Cobb School.

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Post-Gazette: Towns to pay for state police

This as appearing in the July 2, 2008 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.This is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association (PLCA).

HARRISBURG — Tax rates would quadruple in Westmoreland County’s Unity under proposed legislation that would require some municipalities to pay for their state police protection, a township supervisor said.

House Bill 2563, introduced by Rep. John E. Pallone, D-New Kensington, would require all communities with more than 10,000 people that don’t have a municipal law enforcement agency to either establish a local police force or pay an annual fee of $100 per resident for state police protection. There are 21 such towns in the state.

The Pallone bill would be “an unfunded mandate,” objected Unity Supervisor Jacob M. Blank.

To pay for state police coverage under the plan, Unity’s 21,000 residents would watch their municipal tax rates balloon by perhaps more than four times, Mr. Blank said.

Read the rest on Post-Gazette.com.

Image of Westmoreland County, courtesy of Wikipedia. See the breaking news Web item I wrote on this story yesterday.

Number of Views:2007

History will tell: the great newspaper bubble of the 20th century

When our grandchildren read about newspapers, 2006 will be the bellwether year, when daily circulation dropped by nearly 3 percent and 3.5 percent for Sunday papers, the worst fall in the modern era.

Because, of course, in 50 years, beyond novelty, nobody will be chopping down trees and shipping them to be processed, milled, refined, shipped, designed, cut, printed and shipped to be read and then thrown out.

Of course, newspaper circulation was slipping for more than 20 years before then, but history forgets the details.

Look, the reality is that Baby Boomers will really be remembered in history books as the generation that lived through the great newspaper bubble of the 20th century. The dot.com bubble blew and burst awfully quick; newspapers are just seeing a slow-cooked version.

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Number of Views:11382

Vince Fumo at his best

HARRISBURG — Today state Senate Democrats held a press conference warning of impending utility deregulation that they say will cause electric bills to jump as much as 65 percent per month for some.

I have a story on the subject coming out tomorrow in the Post-Gazette, but it won’t include some of Sen. Vince Fumo’s finer moments.

After a heart attack in March and a looming trial in November, Fumo announced his retirement, surely freeing up the Prince of Darkness to speak even freer than he had in the past.

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Number of Views:3649

Post-Gazette: Municipalities to pay for state police under bill

Breaking news Web item for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, full story in tomorrow’s paper.

HARRISBURG – Municipalities with more than 10,000 residents that rely on state police for law enforcement would have to dig deeper into their pockets under legislation proposed today by two Democratic state legislators from Westmoreland County.

House Bill 2563, introduced by Rep. John E. Pallone, would require all communities with more than 10,000 people to either establish a local police force or pay an annual fee of $100 per resident for state police protection.

“This is a basic issue of safety,” Mr. Pallone said at a news conference. “State police are stretched way too thin.”

State police now provide police protection for hundreds of smaller towns around the state that don’t have their own municipal police forces.

Read the rest on Post-Gazette.com. Image courtesy.

Number of Views:4708

Sean Blanda launches Consumer Whore, changes the balance of commerce forever

It was sometime in the summer of 2008, history books will one day read, that media mogul, Internet Jesus and a hetero-life mate of mine, Sean Blanda launched another in a long line of his Web-savvy projects, Consumer Whore.net.

Every day the site features something strange and moderately accessible fiscally for you to buy. Already, I imagine, Blanda is being overrun with ideas and fodder.

Now if only he can turn a buck on the product. I suggested selling a spot on the blog to the highest bidder, but, you see, Blanda has far higher ethical standards than I realized even exist. Good for him and his dad.

He announced his role in Consumer Whore on his popular media blog on Saturday.

Number of Views:1994

Post-Gazette: State's $28 billion budget agreement

This a double byline with Tom Barnes, as appearing in the July 1, 2008 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.This is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association (PLCA).

HARRISBURG — Even though a handshake agreement was reached early yesterday on a new $28.2 billion state budget that calls for no tax increases, the House and Senate won’t take final action for several days.

Legislators’ goal is to vote by late Thursday, so they can be home on July Fourth for parades, picnics and politicking. Because it will take a couple of days to print and proofread the hundreds of pages of the document, and because the House sometimes waits for 24 hours before a final vote on bills, it’s unknown if the lawmakers will be back home Friday.

Another question is how many of the 100 amendments that House Republicans have prepared will be debated on the floor. Lengthy debate could delay final action by a day or more.

“People are hoping to have the budget all done by Thursday, so everyone can get out by July 4. It’s a heavy lift, but it can be done,” said Gary Tuma, spokesman for Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia, one of the Senate budget negotiators.

The proposed budget for fiscal 2008-09 is 3.8 percent higher than the spending package for the just-ended fiscal year, an increase that is near the rate of inflation. That was important to Senate Republicans, who objected to Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s original budget of $28.3 billion, which would have increased state spending about 4.2 percent.

Read the rest on Post-Gazette.com.

Photo of  House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, right, and House Majority Whip Keith McCall, D-Carbon courtesy of Daylife.com from AP photographer Carolyn Kaster.

Number of Views:2535

Post-Gazette: Environment, energy in budget deal

I contributed to this report by Bill Toland, as appeared in the July 1, 2008 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.This is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association (PLCA).

Part of yesterday’s budget deal included a rough agreement to spend $650 million on environment- and energy-related programs, $500 million of which will come from new borrowing over two years.

From the pot of $500 million, $180 million will be spent on solar power — $100 million to help residents and businesses install solar power equipment, and $80 million for capital projects relating to recruiting solar energy companies and jobs.

An additional $165 million over two years is earmarked for alternative energy projects, distributed through the Commonwealth Financing Authority, an agency that administers a variety of economic stimulus packages. On top of that, $40 million goes to the Ben Franklin Technology Partnership (a risk-capital investor attached with the state); $25 million goes toward the construction of “green” buildings; and $25 million more goes to help coal companies reduce their mercury emissions.

Read the rest on Post-Gazette.com. Image courtesy of Forums.

Number of Views:1959

Capitol Wire: Keystone Opportunity Zone program extended, expanded by Senate

This is my last story covering the State Capitol for Capitol Wire, a service for which you don’t have a subscription, so I can only give you a taste. This is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association (PLCA).

HARRISBURG (June 30) Builders developing underused parts of Pennsylvania would continue to see breaks from certain state and local taxes under a bill that passed the Senate on Saturday.

Senate Bill 1412, sponsored by Sen. John Pippy, R-Allegheny, would reauthorize Pennsylvania’s Keystone Opportunity Zone program, extending the tax-free status for unoccupied zones for an additional seven years, beyond the current Dec. 31, 2008 expiration date. Municipalities must opt into the extended program by July 31, 2009.

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Number of Views:1882