HEARD ON THE HILL / IN CITY HALL

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McGEEHAN KEEPS TRANSPORTATION CHAIR

State Rep. Michael P. McGeehan (D-Northeast), the first Philadelphian to serve as Democratic chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has been appointed to a second consecutive term in that role.

Embarking on his 12th consecutive term, McGeehan is the longest-serving State Representative in 173rd Legislative Dist. history.

McGeehan’s goals for the 2013-14 legislative session include developing a comprehensive transportation funding package to address one of the state’s most-pressing needs, and monitoring the dialogue on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s plan to move to All-Electronic Tolling.

“I am pleased the Governor has indicated he will reveal a transportation funding package in early 2013 and I hope he keeps that commitment,” McGeehan said. “On this vital issue, we need the Governor to lead. I look forward to working with him and the legislature’s three other Transportation Committee chairmen. One of my priorities is making sure any package includes adequate funding for mass transit.”

KELLER CONTINUES DEM LABOR CHAIR

State Rep. Bill Keller (D-S. Phila.) has been reappointed to serve as Democratic chairman of the House Labor & Industry Committee for the 2013-14 legislative session.

The Labor & Industry Committee reviews legislation on issues such as the state’s minimum wage, unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, building and construction codes, and workplace health and safety. The committee also has oversight responsibility for the Dept. of Labor & Industry, State Civil Service Commission, Labor Relations Board, Unemployment Compensation Appeals Board of Review, Industrial Board, Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board and the Office for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired.

“This past session, we saw several attempts by the Republican majority to weaken worker wages and bust the collective-bargaining rights of unified workers,” Keller said. “House Democrats managed to fight off many of those attempts with the help of the public and fairness on our side. But with many more Republican legislatures across the nation pushing so-called ‘right to work’ legislation, which only works to drive down worker wages, we’ll be on the lookout for movement here.”

Keller said he also plans to reintroduce legislation that would ease the wait time and frustration of UC claimants attempting to file their benefits through the state’s UC call centers. Among the problems unemployed Pennsylvanians have experienced in the past several months are repeated busy signals over several days, being kicked out of the automated system, and long wait times when calling for information. Keller’s bill would authorize the Dept. of Labor & Industry to supplement federal funding for administration of the UC system with a portion of employees’ UC tax for use in staffing service centers, in training to ensure a ready workforce and to perform the necessary upgrades to claims filing systems.

At least 14 other states already supplement the federal funding. According to Keller, federal funding is the single source of funding for Pennsylvania’s UC administration and has long been inadequate. Federal funding losses already have resulted in the recent closure of the Philadelphia UC Service Center and the reduction of staff and hours at call centers throughout the state.

“Unemployed Pennsylvanians, who have lost a job through no fault of their own, should not be subjected to such barriers to collecting their benefits,” Keller said.

STACK ANNOUNCES RUSH STATE PK. GRANT

State Sen. Mike Stack (D-Northeast) has announced  the City of Philadelphia has been awarded a $500,000 state Key 93 grant toward a project to enhance Benjamin Rush State Park in Northeast Philadelphia. The funding will be used toward the construction of a 1.5-mile paved trail connecting Junod Playground at Dunksferry Road & Mechanicsville Road to Poquessing Creek Park and Benjamin Rush State Park.

“This trail will connect folks through several natural spaces,” Stack said. “This project will be another enhancement to our city’s only state park, and will encourage walkers, joggers, and bicyclists to enjoy the outdoors in their own community.”

The project includes site preparation and excavation, erosion control measures, trail paving, bridge and stream-bank restoration, drainage, and landscaping. Amenities include benches, trash receptacles, and picnic tables.

The Pennsylvania Dept. of Conservation & Natural Resources administered the Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation (Key 93) funds.

WASHINGTON WARNS S.D. ON SCHOOL CLOSURES

Last week, the School District of Philadelphia’s released the details of its Facilities Master Plan, which will affect 37 public schools, potentially recovering $28 million from a $282 million budget deficit.

As a result of the discussion forum held in her district, State Sen. LeAnna M. Washington (D-Northwest) issued the following statement:

“I understand Superintendent Hite has inherited a difficult situation; however, I am concerned that the administration is losing sight of what’s really at stake with this plan: our children’s futures.

“Total compensation packages for top officials have totaled up to half a million dollars, while deficits have grown exponentially. How can we say there is nothing left to cut? Has the district truly made substantial top-down reductions in its $2.5 billion budget? Will administrators feel the same kind of pain as our teachers, students, and parents?

“Additionally, the Pennsylvania legislature appropriates funding to the Philadelphia School District each year, and yet we have seen very little accountability for how the funds are spent to better our students. The last four Superintendents have each come from out of state, commanding half a million dollars in contracts per year. This costs us millions of dollars in extra incentives and pricey contract buyouts. If we hired from Pennsylvania’s pool of talented and qualified education professionals – folks who understand the needs of our education system – the money that we save could go directly back into our school system to help our students learn.

“The district would have us believe closing all of these schools is the only path to solvency, but even if the FMP is implemented as is, we will only reduce our deficit by 10%.

“The officials at the top have become complacent in their quest to reform, and our children are at risk.  “In the coming weeks, I look forward to meeting with district officials, staff, parents, and students to discuss the details and potential impacts of this plan. I understand this will be a complicated process for our city’s schools, and I will do everything I can to ensure that our students come first.”

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