Senate Drilling Fee Moves Forward, with Changes that Further Weaken Bill

Drilling RigPennsylvania State Senator Joe Scarnati's legislation to enact a Marcellus Shale gas drilling fee was amended and voted out of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee by unanimous votes Tuesday.

Unfortunately, the amendment offered by committee chair, state Senator Mary Jo White (R-Venango), makes an already weak bill a lot weaker.

Umbrellas on a Sunny Day

On a recent sunny lunch hour, several dozen advocates for children and working families opened umbrellas overhead as they gathered outside Philadelphia City Hall. Not because of anything in the weather forecast, but to send a message to lawmakers in Harrisburg that when it comes to the state's finances, it is still raining in Pennsylvania.

Third and State This Week: Preserving Tobacco Funds for Health Care, Fasting for PA's Vulnerable and the May Jobs Report

This week, we blogged about the latest job numbers, efforts to preserve tobacco settlement dollars for health care services, paid sick days legislation and more.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

  • On health care, intern Emma Lowenberg blogs about an effort by consumer health advocates to urge the state Senate to preserve Pennsylvania's share of tobacco settlement funds for health care purposes.
  • On the state budget, Chris Lilienthal writes about the "Fast for PA's Vulnerable," an effort by Harrisburg faith leader Stephen Drachler to draw attention to the impact of budget decisions on Pennsylvania's most vulnerable by abstaining from solid foods.
  • On unemployment and the economy, Emma sums up the May jobs report by turning to the expert analysis of four leading economists.
  • And on workplace issues, Steve Herzenberg shares a recent op-ed he coauthored with economics and labor studies professor Lonnie Golden on the benefits of paid sick days in Philadelphia.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

Advocates Ask Senate to Keep Tobacco Funds for Health Care

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Emma Lowenberg, InternBy Emma Lowenberg, Intern

Consumer health advocates from across the state came to Harrisburg Wednesday to speak out against a plan that would redirect the state’s share of a legal settlement with tobacco companies away from health care purposes.

Since 2001, tobacco settlement dollars have helped seniors age at home, reduce tobacco- related health care costs, and offset some of the costs for hospitals treating uninsured patients. They support life sciences research that brings jobs and wealth to the Commonwealth.

And until March, tobacco funds helped provide health insurance for the uninsured through the state’s adultBasic program. That program was ended in March after another funding source expired.

Now, a state budget plan that passed the House would eliminate the Tobacco Settlement altogether and fold those funds into the state’s General Fund. The Governor has also proposed diverting $220 million from the fund to create a business loan program.

In meetings with senators and at a Capitol press conference, advocates working with the Pennsylvania Health Access Network made the case for preserving the tobacco funds as a dedicated source for health care funding.

The Benefits of Paid Sick Days

In recent weeks, I've written here and here about legislation before Philadelphia City Council that would allow every worker in the city to earn paid sick days.

To round things out, I am now passing along an op-ed I co-authored with Lonnie Golden, a professor of economics and labor studies at Penn State Abington, that was published last week in The Philadelphia Daily News urging City Council to pass the paid sick days bill. Post a comment to let me know what you think.

Summing Up the May Jobs Report: Four Leading Economists Weigh In

Emma Lowenberg, InternBy Emma Lowenberg, Intern

Economist Jared Bernstein pretty much sums up the latest data on U.S. job numbers with this first impression: "YUK."

That comment comes in response to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Friday release of data on unemployment and payroll statistics for May. While the national jobs report was pretty disappointing, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve projects another decrease in the Pennsylvania unemployment rate this May from 7.5% to 7.4%.

Bernstein is one of four leading D.C. economists to sum up the bleak jobs picture. He, Dean Baker, Heidi Shierholz and Heather Boushey all interpret the fundamentals of the national report similarly: Job growth is stagnating, industries across the board are adding fewer jobs than before, and, when placed in the context of the past three months’ numbers, the future is not looking bright.

Fasting for Pennsylvania's Most Vulnerable

Fast for PA's VulnerableAs the state budget debate enters its final weeks, Harrisburg faith leader Stephen Drachler is abstaining from solid foods to draw attention to the impact of budget decisions on Pennsylvania's most vulnerable — children, seniors, people with disabilities and families living in poverty.

Third and State This Week: Public Health Experts on Alcohol Privatization and a Paid Sick Days Follow Up

It was a short week at Third and State, but Steve Herzenberg managed to pen blog posts on a group of public health experts' recommendation against further privatization of alcohol sales and how a paid sick days bill could make Philadelphia a high road city of opportunity. Plus, the Friday Funny is back.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

  • On workplace issues, Steve Herzenberg asks whether Philadelphia wants to attract employers that have advanced and effectively enforced labor standards, including paid sick leave, or employers with low standards.
  • On privatization, Steve writes that national public health experts are recommending against further privatization of retail alcohol sales based on evidence that it would increase excessive alcohol consumption and related problems.
  • Finally, today's Friday Funny brings a little of The Simpsons' sense of humor to the question of how we prioritize spending on schools and prisons.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

Friday Funny: Our Schools, Our Prisons

I've been thinking a lot about this classic episode of The Simpsons, in which school administrators, faced with a funding crisis, decide to rent out the cloakrooms at Springfield Elementary to the overcrowded prison system.

What, you ask, has me thinking about a 1995 episode of The Simpsons?

Could it be that the budget approved by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives cuts close to a billion dollars for schools, while increasing the state's corrections budget by $171 million?

Public Health Experts Advise Against Further Privatization of Alcohol Sales

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Back in April, a group of public health experts put out a statement with little fanfare recommending against the further privatization of alcohol sales.

This recommendation is based on evidence that privatization would increase excessive alcohol consumption and related health and social problems. It was released in an April statement from the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, an independent, volunteer body of public health experts created in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The debate over privatizing Pennsylvania’s wine and spirits shops may be taking a backseat to the state budget these days, but as the conversation returns to privatization in the fall, lawmakers and journalists should read the Task Force’s findings. It is the most definitive statement on retail alcohol privatization issued to date by U.S. public health researchers.

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