Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Kilbuck landslide

A double byline today with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review…

HARRISBURG — The state Department of Environmental Protection would need to approve excavation in geologically sensitive areas, under legislation recommended Monday by a legislative panel in response to the September 2006 Kilbuck landslide.

A developer was working on the site of the former Dixmont State Hospital when the slide dumped 500,000 cubic yards of debris onto Route 65, snarling traffic for two weeks and disrupting interstate train travel on adjacent tracks for days. Wal-Mart, which planned a superstore at the site, has abandoned plans to develop the property and is working to stabilize the site.

The landslide apparently occurred because of slide-prone geological conditions and blasting the day before, according to a report issued by the panel.

The task force chaired by Democratic Rep. Tom Petrone of Crafton issued a 130-page report recommending legislation to prevent similar incidents. Petrone said he would file the legislation this month and predicted the odds for its passage are “excellent.”

Read more on Pittsburgh Live. Image courtesy.

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Those who don't want to pay I-80 tolls in Pennsylvania

Filed for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

HARRISBURG — Tolling Pennsylvania’s portion of Interstate 80 would create an “economic Chernobyl” in areas along the interstate, a Bloomsburg businessman said.

Paul Eyerly, president of Press Enterprises, was one of the two dozen people who rallied at the state Capitol Monday to oppose tolling I-80.

“We’re going to drive people away from Pennsylvania,” state Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Altoona, said.

A few of the rally’s 25 attendees attacked Act 44 — a transportation funding law from last July that would institute I-80 tolls.

The groups, including truckers, cited congestion and loss of business as reasons to repeal Act 44.

Under Act 44, I-80 tolls would help raise nearly $1 billion annually for transportation infrastructure. Lawmakers would need to find a funding source if Act 44 is overturned.

The federal government hasn’t approved tolling the interstate.

“I have never seen legislation that so threatened my business,” said Pat Kahle, whose grandfather founded Zacherl Motor Truck Sales in 1940. His company is just off I-80 in Clarion, and he fears truckers will find ways to avoid I-80 and so choose other truck parts providers. “Customers will absolutely bypass us.”

See it on Pittsburgh Live.

Number of Views:1839

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Rendell and furloughs

A double byline for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

HARRISBURG — A showdown over Gov. Ed Rendell’s threat to furlough more than 24,000 state workers on July 1 is set for Tuesday.

A Republican state senator will grill administration officials about the threatened furloughs of “noncritical” employees if a state budget is not in place by June 30.

During a budget impasse with Republican legislators last year, Rendell furloughed nearly 25,000 state workers on July 9, resulting in a one-day closure of state parks, driver’s license centers and state environmental permitting services.

That move contributed to a budget agreement signed into law seven days later. Critics called the furloughs unnecessary and said Rendell used them as leverage to get a state spending plan more to his liking.

More on Pittsburgh Live. Image courtesy.

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Bill’s Graduation Lessons (Newsweek submission: 6/9/08)

By Christopher Wink | June 9, 2008 | Newsweek submission

Bill Cosby told me I shouldn’t worry. No one was going to remember anything I said anyway.

In May, I graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia and was honored to address my peers and their families as our student commencement speaker. For my portion, I urged Temple graduates of 2008, in addition to those of the past and those yet to come, to stand by our obligation to leveraging our intellectual capital in the communities that surround the university’s Main Campus in central North Philadelphia.

Temple’s gift is that it is surrounded by neighborhoods that aren’t as near to any other university as large and as influential. I hope my fellow graduates and I remember and forever appreciate that, I said.

Cosby – the seminal 20th-century entertainment icon turned controversial race commentator – addressed my fellow graduates after I did.

“I told Wink,” Cosby said to nearly 10,000 new-alumni and family members. “Wink, don’t give that speech. Nobody’s going to remember a thing you said, Wink.”

He told me something similar before we went on.

“Nobody will even be listening,” he assured me.

Of course, despite what I might want to think, the Cos knew what he was saying.

Each May universities parade big name celebrities, politicians and intellectuals through their graduations to get attention, to display prestige and, perhaps, to make a meaningful experience a memorable day. But we mostly forget who spoke at graduations of the past. These speeches have become routine and predictable. I am not foolish enough to think my seven minutes were anything anyone will remember for very long, if anyone was listening at all. Graduations are full of children and grandparents, lots of people who are there for one face of thousands, not the speeches, not the pomp, not the circumstance. The words of this 22-year-old have likely already been completely forgotten by most.

Cosby’s address though was something different for my graduating class.

Bill Cosby was raised in Philadelphia and went to Temple. He is among our best known alumni and a member of our Board of Trustees. What’s more, rather than trot our celebrities or politicians, Cosby was the lone speaker at Temple’s commencements throughout the 1990s through 2003.

But he hadn’t spoken at a university-wide event since August 2004, when he welcomed the Class of 2008 – my class – by promising to be at our graduation four years later if we were there. In the last weeks of my college career, The Temple News, the university’s student newspaper, wrote editorials calling on Cosby to be true to his word. But his publicist didn’t call back, and Temple’s administration had “no official stance.”

Some said the relationship started to fracture after January 2004 allegations that he sexually assaulted a former Temple employee. Some said Cosby’s book tour that featured him critiquing elements of black America didn’t help.

But he showed up, and then he walked into the Liacouras Center – with me at his side – and it sounded like a rock concert – not too bad for a 70-year-old (July 12, 1937). Young faces of every color and background – the hallmark of the self-labeled ‘diversity university’ – dressed in black gowns, draped over each other to stick out digital cameras and cell phones. Bill Cosby and I, preceded and followed by university dignitaries, split the graduates down the middle of our college’s basketball court, thousands of mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and sisters and brothers and cousins and friends applauding from their feet.

Temple’s graduations are not known to be reserved affairs.

“They weren’t cheering for you,” he would later tell me.

Of those pictures that so many screaming Temple graduates accidentally took of me when Cosby strode too quickly, the comedian had a similarly cutting remark that still makes me laugh.

“They’ll crop you out by tomorrow,” he promised me.

After I spoke, University President Ann Weaver Hart introduced Dr. William H. Cosby. The crowd again rang out, like we were at one of his comedy shows, not our own graduation.

“Thank God nobody has yet asked you to follow your dream,” Cosby said. “Because you never really slept that well so that you could dream.”

And we laughed.

“You have no clear idea what is forward,” he said of our futures. He gestured up to the families crowded on the second level of our basketball arena. “Only the people sitting up here have any idea where you should go and what you should be.”

And we cheered.

Temple is a big-name, professional research institution like many others in this country. In many ways, the college experience has merged into a single story. Leave home. Drink beer. Study. Frisbee. Study. Throw your cap in the air to the tune of the same speech. One from the biggest name a university can bring in, or the most sentimental story that can be told or the advice from some 22-year-old who is too young to know much of anything.

No one from Temple’s Class of 2008 will remember my speech, but I suspect they will remember Bill Cosby. I know I will.

As submitted to Newsweek magazine’s ‘My Turn’ column in June 2008.

Number of Views:4137

Press release of the day: new bathrooms

Anyone bored in Philadelphia tomorrow morning, there is only one place to go. Check out this press release that just came through here in the State Capitol newsroom here in Harrisburg, Pa.

School District of Philadelphia: Overbrook High School unveils improved restroom facilities.

Text of June 5 media advisory.

PHILADELPHIA — School District of Philadelphia officials today announced Ethelyn Young, Principal, Overbrook High School will unveil improved restroom facilities previously visited by Dr. Arlene Ackerman, newly appointed Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, on Friday, June 6, 2008 at 8:30 a.m., 5898 Lancaster Ave., 1st floor.

The District’s operations, facilities, and maintenance teams began work on Tuesday, June 4th to quickly address facilities issues and provide students with basic restroom amenities.

WHO: Ethelyn Young, Principal, Overbrook High School

WHAT: Overbrook High School, Unveils of Improved Restroom Facilities,

WHEN: Friday, June 6, 2008 at 8:30 a.m.

WHERE: Overbrook High School, 5898 Lancaster Ave., 1st floor.

Please be advised that Dr. Ackerman will NOT be at Overbrook High School that day.

Image from Penn Partners.

Number of Views:2090

State government comes down to vandalism

Take a break from state property taxes, the state smoking ban proposal and Philadelphia exemption for a moment and enjoy some good old vandalism.

HARRISBURG — The phone and power lines were cut in the district office of state Rep. Jim Marshall, R-Beaver, just before 4 a.m. today.

“Somebody had to know what they were doing,” said Gina Kane, the manager of Marshall’s office at 1612 7th Ave in Beaver Falls. “Everything was cut except for the main power line, which would have electrocuted them pretty good.”

Kane found the office’s electrical box on the ground near the rear employee entrance when she arrived at 8:20 this morning. It was confirmed by the office’s phone service provider that service was cut at 3:47 a.m., Kane said.

Nothing was taken and police found no evidence of forced entry, she said.

By 10:30 power was returned and by noon all office activities had resumed.

Police noted a string of burglary attempts over the past two weeks in the area and the office’s alarm could have scared those involved, Kane said.

“But they didn’t even try to get in here.”

Read it on Pittsburgh Live. Photo courtesy of Ironic Sans.

Number of Views:2037

Statewide smoking ban passes conference committee

I covered a Pennsylvania House-Senate conference committee hearing on a statewide smoking ban this morning for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

HARRISBURG — A House-Senate conference committee today approved a statewide smoking ban, but a member of the panel blasted the agreement, saying it amounted to telling Allegheny County to “go to hell.”

The agreement must be approved by the full House and Senate. It carves out a partial exemption for casinos and some bars.”

Read the rest on Pittsburgh Live.

It marks a laborious, 10-month joint effort to find compromise between a state Senate and more restrictive state House bill. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, made note of the long process.

This has probably been the longest [conference committee] in the history of the commonwealth.”

Hear Greenleaf speak on a statewide ban last month.

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Tribune Review: Property tax elimination seems doubtful

MY FIRST CLIP appears in this morning’s Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

HARRISBURG — One Republican lawmaker wants to eliminate school property taxes by broadening sales taxes across Pennsylvania, but at least one Democratic leader says the bill doesn’t have a chance.

“I don’t want to see someone lose their life defending their home against a government official,” said state Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-Berks County, who sponsored the legislation.

Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, said the Legislature’s packed agenda before the June 30 budget deadline will doom Rohrer’s bill.

Read the rest at Pittsburgh Live.

Photo source.

Number of Views:1873