Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dunmore Advances Swiss Cheese Budget

According to the Scranton Times, Dunmore’s Council, led by Democrats Melanie Naro and Jerry Hart and joined by Democrats Thomas Hennigan and Michael Cummings have advanced a budget with a $1 million deficit.

While passing the unbalanced budget, the same Democrat Council Members also passed a motion to borrow $1.2 million to close a budget hole for 2008.

It may seem odd to pass an unbalanced, deficit laden budget but Democrat Council Member Naro stated that only the final budget must be balanced, not the tentative budget. When discussing solutions to fix the problem, Naro is quoted as saying “no one has a solution.”

To cut costs, Dunmore is evaluating cutting services. Items mentioned were sidelining the cleanup week, adding a $25 fee for pickup of larger garbage items, charging residents to rent DPW dump trucks, and cutting the police budget by brining in more “reserve” police officers. The controversy related to the statements made by council members regarding the Senior’s Center seems to have removed their necks from the chopping block. It appears that council will no longer be seeking funds from the cash-strapped seniors.

2009 Scranton Election Update

In 2009, Democrat Mayor Chris Doherty; Democrat Tax Collector Flynn; Democrat Council Members Fanucci, Gatelli, and Evans; and Democrat School Board Directors Brazill, Hartman, Jeffers, and Lesh will be up for re-election in 2009.

According to the Scranton Times Democrat Chris Doherty will see re-election and may face a primary challenge from former opponent Democrat Gary DiBileo, current Democrat Council Member Janet Evans, or current Democrat School Director Chris Phillips.

For Council, Judy Gatelli has indicated that she will seek re-election, Sherry Nealon-Fanucci is not sure if she will seek re-election. Janet Evans is probably waiting to determine if she will seek the Mayor’s post. They face potential challenges from Democrat Tom Charles, Democrat Giovanni Piccolino, Democrat Pat Rogan, Republican Karen Bazzarri, and Republican and Party Chairman Paul Catalano.

Democrat Bill Courtright, re-elected in 2007, is entertaining the idea of running for Tax Collector against appointed Democrat Marilyn Vitali-Flynn.

No word on if the Republican Party will complete the council slate, have a mayoral candidate, challenge the tax collector, or seek any school director positions. If past history holds true, the answer will be no. Since assuming control of the party, Catalano has captained a ship with very few candidates.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Scarnati Calls for Lawmakers to Return Raises

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports that Republican Senator and soon-to-be Lt. Governor Joe Scarnati has called on Pennsylvania lawmakers to give up their 2.8% cost of living salary increase.

Pennsylvania faces a looming $2 billion deficit under the leadership of Democrat Governor Ed Rendell.

The Democrat controlled house has been silent on the issue. There is no indication from Democrat Speaker Keith McCall or Democrat Majority Leader Todd Eachus as to whether or not they will join the call to reject the COLA pay raise as Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati has suggested.

Dunmore Senior Center Update

According to the Scranton Times, Dunmore Democrat Council member Melanie Naro is now asking the Senior Center to pay $1000 a month to use the facility. The Borough of Dunmore is facing a 2009 deficit in excess of $1 million.

A local resident has offered to pay the heating bill for several months for the senior center. Jeanne Hugenbruch, Executive Director of the Senior Center, stated that the funding requests are scaring seniors into thinking they will have to pay up. Hugenbruch also stated that the Senior Center’s budget barely breaks even annually and makes the inference that they would not be able to meet the demands of council.

Democrat Councilman Hart denied that they were asking each senior to pay but rather would like to see a per diem rate paid by the number of seniors using the facility or some other paradigm to exact funding from the senior center.

The only Dunmore Council Member that seems to be outraged by this is Paul Nardozzi. He is quoted as saying “it is a shame that is comes down to this…We should be taking care of seniors they took care of us growing up.”

Local Bailout Money

The Times Leader is reporting the cash-strapped municipalities of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton and the deficit laden state of Pennsylvania will work together on a bailout package to save Boscov’s Department Store.

The governmental bodies will assist in the form of loans with monies financed through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development program guaranteed with federal Community Development Block Grants.

The total price tag on the endeavor is $300 million with Scranton and Wilkes-Barre both loaning $3 million each. Pennsylvania will loan $35 million.

The Boscov family is also contributing $50 million in their own cash. Other municipalities that host Boscov’s Stores are also committed or in the process of attempting to secure funding as well.

According to Examiner.com the funding will be used so that Al Boscov and Edwin Lakin can purchase the assets of Boscov’s. There was talk of selling to Philadelphia-based Versa Capital Management earlier in the year. Talks were progressing but now they seem to have torpedoed that plan. Because of the change of plans, Versa may now be entitled to a $4 million breakup fee.

Sterns Launches Campaign Website

Republican Senate hopeful Gretchen Sterns has launched a website.


Senate Committee Rejects Blues Merger

The Morning Call reports that the Pennsylvania Senate Banking and Insurance Committee rejected, by a vote of 10-4, the merger of Independence Blue Cross and Highmark. The vote is non-binding. The committee asked that Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario block the merger because it would ultimately reduce competition among Pennsylvania’s healthcare insurance providers.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Barletta Out?

PolitickerPA interviewed Mayor Lou Barletta about his political future. After his narrow loss in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District, Barletta said that he hasn’t thought about whether he will give it another shot in 2010.

The PA-11 race was heralded as the best chance a Republican had to win a Democratic district. Barletta lost to the embattled incumbent by 4% despite independent polls suggesting Barletta would win.

Barletta attributed his loss largely to the Obama Election Day operation. He feels he wasn’t beaten by Kanjorski but by Obama’s efforts.

Barletta lost by 4% in the most Republican-hostile environment in modern history.

Barletta ultimately refused to rule out another run for higher office stating “I don’t think I’ve hurt myself at all politically in this campaign so I would not rule out in the future running for another office.

I doubt we have heard the last of Hazleton’s popular Mayor, Lou Barletta.

The Republican Senate

The Times Leader ran a story touting our State Senate on a national level. Pennsylvania is the only state in the union North of Virginia and East of Ohio to maintain a Republican-controlled State Senate. Of the 12 states that fit this criteria, a spirit of pragmatism and bipartisanship is cited as a major factor.

Bob Asher, RNC committeeman for the Keystone state, suggests that their should be a campaign school in Harrisburg to show other candidates how it is done.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Luzerne County Considers Charging Beneficiaries of Flood Protection

The Times Leader reports that the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority is considering a fee to be assessed for those homes which benefit from the county’s flood protection system.

The communities that would be subjected to the new fee would be Wilkes-Barre, Hanover Township, Plymouth, Kingston, Edwardsville, Swoyersville, Forty Fort, Pringle and Luzerne.

The fee, which would be around $41 per household, would be used to pay the annual million dollar levee maintenance bill as well as $11 towards the repayment of the loan to build the levee system.

Wilkes-Barre Activist Vindicated

The Times Leader reports that a federal jury awarded city fire house activist Denise Carey $67,000 in her federal civil rights case against Wilkes-Barre and its Democrat Mayor, Tom Leighton. At issue was whether or not Leighton retaliated against Carey for her work to keep open a firehouse on East Northampton Street. The jury, after deliberating for nearly four hours, ruled that the Mayor did retaliate against Carey by trying to have her pay attorneys fees in connection with her attempt to preserve the firehouse.

Wilkes-Barre city attorneys promised to appeal the decision.

House Republican Leadership

From Philly.com:

Minority leader: Rep. Sam Smith of Jefferson County.

Whip: Rep. Mike Turzai of Allegheny County.

Minority Appropriations Chairman: Rep. Mario J. Civera, Jr. of Delaware County.

Caucus chair: Rep. Sandra Major of Susquehanna County.

Policy Committee chair: Rep. Stan Saylor of York County.

Caucus administrator: Rep. Merle Phillips of Northumberland County.

Caucus secretary: Rep. Jerry Stern of Blair County.

House Democrat Leadership

From Philly.com:

Speaker-Designee: Rep. Keith McCall, 48, of Carbon County. The full House will vote on his nomination on Jan. 6.

Majority Leader: Rep. Todd Eachus, 46, of Luzerne County.

Whip: Rep. Bill DeWeese, 58, of Greene County.

Caucus chairman: Rep. Mark Cohen, 59, of Philadelphia.

Majority Appropriations committee chairman: Rep. Dwight Evans, 50, of Philadelphia.

Caucus secretary: Rep. Jennifer Mann, 39, of Lehigh County.

Policy Committee chairman: Rep. Mike Sturla¸ 52, of Lancaster County.

Caucus administrator: Rep. Ron Buxton, 60, Dauphin County.

Mellow in Hot Water

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a story dealing with the controversy surrounding Democrat Senator Bob Mellow and his recent appointment to the board of Blue Cross of NEPA. Board members receive $25,000 annually plus up to $36,000 in bonuses. At issue, is whether the Senator’s board membership should preclude him from voting on measures like the proposed merger of Highmark Inc. and Independence Blue Cross.

The group, Rock the Capital, claimed to have filed an ethics complaint on WILK Radio Tuesday. Senator John Gordner, chairman of the ethics committee, could neither confirm nor deny that any such complaint has been received due to senate ethics rules.

PA-29 State Senate Update

Senator James Rhoads died prior to the 2008 General Election, but was re-elected to the post. Now, there must be a Special Election to fill the vacancy.

So far, the pool of candidates consist of Pottsville Attorney Gretchen Sterns and son-in-law of the late Senator Chris Hobbs on the Republican side. Schuylkill County Democrat State House Member David Argall has also officially declared his candidacy.

Some controversy has developed over the nomination process that the Republican Party is using to select their candidate. A letter has been circulated to petition those involved to use a lottery system to choose delegates that will ultimately nominate the candidate. It appears to be a fight between the grassroots workers and the party leaders. A copy of the letter can be found here.

City of Scranton Settles Demolition Suit

The Times Leader covered a settlement against the City of Scranton for wrongfully demolishing a Pine Brook neighborhood home. The home suffered a fire in 2004. The city, under Democrat Mayor Chris Doherty, notified the owner that the home must be repaired within 20 days or face demolition. Despite their warning, the city took no action to demolish the structure until 2006, apparently with no additional notice.

The crux of the case was whether or not the homeowner had a chance to appeal the decision to demolish the home. The court ruled that he did not and thus, was denied his rights of due process by the Doherty administration. The owner’s claim was for $283,000 but was settled for an undetermined amount.

Cash Strapped Dunmore Seeks to Raid Seniors, Leaves Them in the Cold

According to the Scranton Times, Dunmore Democrat Council Member Melanie Naro ordered the thermostat lowered below acceptable standards in the Dunmore Senior Center to save heating costs. Seniors were forced to wear winter jackets within the facility to keep warm. Naro coupled that with a request that the seniors begin paying their own way in the facility. Dunmore Democrat Councilman Jerry Hart stated that he found the “free ride” that the seniors enjoyed at the facility was “unacceptable.”

In an apparent attempt to dig the hole even deeper, Councilwoman Naro stated in another Scranton Times story that the seniors are setting a bad example to the youth of the community for seeking to use the facility for free.

Jeanne Hugenbruch, the senior center’s executive director, said that the Pennsylvania Department of Aging regulations require a thermostat to be set at 70 degrees in a senior facility. No word if any official action will be sought.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pennsylvania Blowing Marcellus Shale Opportunity?

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that Atlas Energy Resources LLC is pulling up stakes in Western Pennsylvania. This is not for lack of resources or investment. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale drilling. The cause seems to be Pennsylvania’s government.

The developers blame confusing and inconsistent drilling requirements and a slow permit process.

Environmentalists argue the new regulations are needed to preserve water quality. The state has hired more inspectors for wells and more geologists in DEP to keep up with the demand from the new use of water in the horizontal drilling process.

Barletta’s Stalker Exposed

According to the Times Leader, Kanjorski paid $10,000 to have a man follow Mayor Barletta and film his interactions with the public. According to the story, the videographer tried to mislead the Barletta campaign by signing up to volunteer on the campaign and asking for a campaign button under the false pretense that he supported Barletta’s campaign.

When asked for comment the cameraman referred questions to a spokesman for Paul Kanjorski’s campaign. Terry Madonna, professor of public affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, was also interviewed for the story. When asked about the attempt to infiltrate the Barletta campaign, Madonna said it “borders on sleazy.”

Card Check Legislation has a Friend in PA

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the AFL-CIO and other Employee Free Choice Act proponents have a friend in PA, Arlen Specter.

At stake is the ability of employees to cast a secret ballot in either the affirmative or the negative to unionize. Labor is pushing to remove the secrecy of the ballot. Businesses are pushing to keep the ballot secret for fear of bullying and retribution against employees who vote against unionization.

According to the story, labor now represents only less than 8% of private sector jobs and about 37% of public sector jobs. Many in labor see this as their last chance to reinvigorate the slipping labor movement.

Murphy Flips to Beat Shimkus

The Scranton Times ran a bit of analysis on the Murphy Shimkus rematch for the 113th in NEPA. Murphy ran against Shimkus in 2006 but was defeated. In 2006, both Murphy and Shimkus were perceived as friends of Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty. This time, Murphy flipped on many of his past positions including his support of Mayor Doherty to win the Election.

In the past, Murphy supported Doherty’s controversial recovery plan and was one of its greatest supporters. The recovery plan in question has been used to hold up union contracts within the city. Now, Murphy has not only taken himself out of the Doherty camp, but also pledged to work on Act 47 reform. Act 47 is the legislation that authorized the recovery plan.

The 113th Legislative District comprises several areas outlying areas as well as Scranton’s North and West Side neighborhoods as well as a portion of the Green Ridge section. Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and the majority of Scranton’s City Council are up for Election next year.