Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller received a welcome from the city during a reception at the Pyramid Club in Center City on Friday, April 27.
Attendees consisted of foreign dignitaries and prominent Philadelphians including: Stanley Straughter of the Mayor’s Commission of African-Caribbean Affairs; City Councilman David Oh; and former Mayor W. Wilson Goode.
“Our contribution belies the size of the population of Jamaica,” said Miller during her speech to the crowd of well-wishers. “Anywhere in the world you go, you will find Jamaicans making a valuable contribution.”
Miller was honored with the Liberty Bell Award given to her by Straughter.
“I am here on behalf of Mayor Michael Nutter to receive the prime minister and to give her the highest honor that anyone has ever received from the city of Philadelphia – the Liberty Bell,” he said
According to Straughter, the reception was a great opportunity to meet the prime minister and to hear her aspirations for Jamaica.
Although he couldn’t attend, Karen Stokes of the governor’s office read a statement written by Gov. Tom Corbett.
“As governor of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I am delighted to welcome her Excellency, Portia Simpson Miller, prime minster of Jamaica,” read the governor’s statement. “The Jamaican people, their culture and sport, hold a unique spot in the history of Pennsylvania.”
Afterward, guests flocked to introduce themselves and have photos with Miller
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence from British colonialism, a fact referred to repeatedly during the program. Time Magazine also named Miller one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Miller sits on the Council of Women World Leaders and serves as Vice Chairperson of the Caribbean Forum of Ministers responsible for Decentralization among other accomplishments.
She told attendants about an incident, which occurred during her meeting of the Summit of the Americas in Columbia.
Miller had the opportunity to be one of only three women engaged in a discussion on education and development. During the summit, a moderator asked Miller how she hoped to compete against Ivy League universities and preparing her constituents for the world of work.
“I felt something rise up within me,” she said. “If we could produce the person that did the song of the millennium, Bob Marley, If we could give to the world Marcus Mosiah Garvey – those men and women who fought so hard for our freedom. What can we not do?”
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was joined by Mayor Michael Nutter and a broad coalition of federal, state and local lawmakers; members of law enforcement; the clergy; and community leaders as she introduced a bill banning assault weapons.
The measure, Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, would ban the sales of military-style assault rifles and high capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Feinstein was the author of the first assault weapons ban that was allowed to expire under the Bush administration in 2004 allegedly behind pressure from the National Rifle Association. Feinstein said she has no illusions, and that the measure faces a stiff uphill fight in Washington.
“The bill introduced today is the product of more than a year of work, with input from across the country,” Feinstein said in a press release. “Getting this bill signed into law will be an uphill battle, and I recognize that — but it’s a battle worth having. We must balance the desire of a few to own military-style assault weapons with the growing threat to lives across America. If 20 dead children in Newtown wasn’t a wake-up call that these weapons of war don’t belong on our streets, I don’t know what is.”
Nutter, who has been pushing for stronger gun laws in Philadelphia, also spoke during Feinstein’s announcement, saying stricter gun laws are needed now.
“Again and again and again, Americans have been stunned by senseless acts of violence involving assault weapons and large-capacity magazines: Columbine, April 1999, 13 murdered; Virginia Tech, April 2007, 32 murdered; Tucson, January 2011, 6 murdered, 12 wounded including one Congresswoman; Aurora, July 2012, 12 murdered; Oak Creek, August 2012, 6 murdered. The December 14 tragedy, which killed 20 young children and six educators in Newtown, remains incomprehensible to us all. Too many times during the last year, mayors have expressed shock at a mass shooting. Even more frequently, many of us must cope with the gun violence that occurs on the streets of our cities,” said Nutter, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Weapons of mass destruction are destroying our communities, our streets and our families. The first police officer we lost after I became mayor was killed by an AK-47. Citizens have been killed on Philadelphia’s streets by handguns with high capacity magazines as well as assault rifles. This needs to end now.”
The new proposal would ban the manufacture, sale, transfer and importing of over 150 military-style assault weapons owned by gun enthusiasts. It would also ban an additional group of firearms that can use detachable magazines and prohibit large-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The legislation would protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens who use guns for hunting, household defense or legitimate recreational purposes. The Assault Weapons Ban on 2013 includes a grandfather clause that exempts all assault weapons lawfully possessed at the date of enactment from the ban. The legislation also requires background checks on transfers of assault weapons covered by the legislation, including sale, trade and gift.
“I believe this bill is a big step toward ending the mass shootings that have devastated families across the country,” Feinstein said. “It’s time for Americans to stand up and tell the gun manufacturers that the lives of our children are more important than their profits and get these dangerous weapons out of our schools, our workplaces, our malls and our theaters. It’s time to take action and we’ll get it done, no matter how long it takes.”
The Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 is among a series of measures being proposed by the Obama Administration after the Sandy Hook massacre.
The senator’s announcement came one day after a protest in Harrisburg where gun control activists, community leaders and those victimized in some way by gun violence called for stricter gun control laws in Pennsylvania.
The protest, called Day of Action to Fight Gun Violence, was spearheaded by CeaseFirePA and was part of a coalition of Pennsylvania mayors, law enforcement officials, community organizations and those directly impacted by gun violence. Protestors were calling on Governor Tom Corbett to enact stricter gun laws.
“To change the status quo, we must make our voices heard. That’s what Pennsylvania mayors, teachers, students, parents, faith leaders and victims of gun violence did today. And it’s what Pennsylvanians must and will continue to do until we achieve meaningful reform,” said CeaseFirePA’s executive director Shira Goodman in a press release.
CeaseFirePA is also calling on Pennsylvania lawmakers to enact laws that would require background checks for all gun sales and ammunition sales, a statewide requirement that gun owners report lost or stolen guns to the police and a ban on military-style semi-automatic assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
“The governor and the legislature need a reason to act,” Goodman said. “We must give it to them. They must hear our voices every day, in letters, emails and visits. We must make clear that this call to action will be ongoing until we see real change. Together, the people of Pennsylvania must demand action. Together, we are an unstoppable force, and our children are depending on us to make our voices heard.”
One day after a Republican judge issued a ruling in support of the state’s controversial and hotly contested voter ID law, attorneys for the petitioners filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court.
The law, which opponents said was rushed through the state Senate and the House of Representatives to the desk of Governor Tom Corbett to sign, requires voters to produce a valid state-issued identification card at the polls and was challenged in court. On Wednesday, Judge Robert Simpson issued a ruling stating that the petitioners didn’t present convincing proof that the law violated the state constitution or would cause undue hardship to the elderly, the poor and student voters in the upcoming November presidential elections. Simpson said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support issuing an injunction.
“Hundreds of thousands of voters could be effectively shut out of the election process under the guise of voter fraud,” said Democratic state Senator Vincent Hughes. “Without any evidence of this so-called fraud, this law is nothing more than another way to tip the odds in favor of the Republican presidential candidate this November. This is an extremely partisan law that Pennsylvania is ill-prepared to implement. It is my plan to continue to fight this voter suppression law, and assist the public with obtaining the necessary documentation to vote in November.”
Democratic legislators said the law tramples on the constitutional rights of voters and amounts to nothing more than a re-formulated poll tax or literacy test that was once used to discriminate against Black and other minority voters. Opponents say the law is nothing less than voter suppression.
“We should not make it harder for people to exercise their right to vote,” said state Senator Mike Stack. “The passage of the voter ID measure into law and subsequent court ruling are extremely disappointing because this law was crafted for partisan advantage, rather than voter protection. When laws are crafted for partisan political gain, we lose the public’s trust.”
House Bill 934, now Act 18, was passed on March 14, 2012. Republican lawmakers who backed the measure said it was to prevent voter fraud, but legal experts on the state and federal level could find no reports of voter fraud. Democratic lawmakers warned from the initial introduction of the measure, sponsored by Rep. Daryl Metcalf, R-Butler, that its purpose was voter suppression and its real purpose was to stack the odds in favor of Mitt Romney in November. Governor Tom Corbett quickly signed Act 18 into law once it passed the Senate and Pennsylvania House of Representatives, making the Commonwealth one of 16 Republican-controlled states to have such a law.
Votes by four justices would be needed to overturn Judge Simpson’s ruling. At present the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is split between three Republicans and three Democrats. Republican Justice Joan Orie Melvin was recently suspended following allegations of corruption.
“We’re going to need four of the six justices to vote in our favor if we’re to get an injunction,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of ACLU Pennsylvania. “Our legal posture was to block enforcement of the law to basically give all parties a chance to review its legality and merits. We’re still analyzing Judge Simpson’s decision. We filed a motion to expedite everything and while there may be an oral argument, we’re expecting a decision by September 10. If the justices rule in favor of the law, it’s going to be a sad day for democracy and we’ll see exactly what that means in November. Hundreds of thousands of people will be unable to vote and we’re not just talking about poor minorities; what about poor whites in rural counties? This law applies across the board.”
Showing just how turbulent statewide politics can be, mere hours after Democratic State Sen. Vincent Hughes won committee and senate passage of his sweeping Medicaid expansion legislation — House Bill 1075 — House Rules Committee Republicans eliminated Medicaid expansion language from the Welfare Code Bill.
Rubbing salt into the wound, according to a report by Politics PA, the full House instead passed a Medicaid expansion-free version of the Welfare Code Bill.
Although disappointed, an undeterred Hughes vowed to fight on, noting that the benefits provided by Medicaid expansion are too great to ignore.
“I’m deeply disappointed that House Republicans voted to remove the Medicaid expansion language from House Bill 1075. Expanding Medicaid would provide health insurance to 500,000 low-income working adults in Pennsylvania. These are the people who clean our buildings, serve our food, care for our seniors, and work other low wage jobs,” Hughes said. “They deserve to have access to high-quality health care without breaking the bank. The vote this morning by the House Rules Committee shows an unacceptable callousness to the plight of the uninsured.”
A glimmer of hope remains. Once the House sends the Welfare Code Bill back to the Senate for concurrence, members of that body could soon reintroduce Medicaid expansion language. But it would still need to get through the House Rules Committee, and if that committee doesn’t change its mind, Medicaid expansion most likely won’t come up again until the General Assembly returns in the fall.
Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett couched House Republicans’ opposition to Medicaid expansion as reform enough, giving the state more time to “examine the program more closely and work on fixing existing problems.”
“As we looked more closely at the Medicaid program as part of the decision-making process over the last year or so, it’s become more and more apparent that reform is absolutely critical,” Corbett said at the time. “That’s why we’ve been working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ask for common sense ways to make the program more sustainable and effective, whether through requiring those on the program to contribute a moderate co-payment if they can afford it, promoting a pathway to independence through a work search requirement, or better aligning benefits to meet their needs.
“By making our program more effective, we can reserve taxpayer dollars for those most in need, now, and well into the future.”
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, spending on Medicaid programs accounts for 75 percent DPW’s $27.6 billion budget, including state, federal and other funds. DPW’s budget constitutes 39 percent of the state’s annual budget with Medicaid being the number one cost driver at 30 percent of Pennsylvania’s General Fund.
“The costs of the current Medicaid program in Pennsylvania continue to grow. Maintaining that cost growth is requiring substantial new state revenue. The costs to fund DPW are projected to grow by nearly $400 million in fiscal year 2013-2014. These costs do not include additional costs that the state may incur as a result of the Affordable Care Act,” read, in part, an explanatory note from DPW. “
While Medicaid is a very important program, the continued annual cost growth is placing an increased strain and burden on Pennsylvania’s budget and is making it more difficult for the state to invest in other important programs.”
That, along with reports from the Independent Fiscal Office trumpeting the benefits of Medicaid expansion, is enough for Hughes to believe the decision by the House is shot-sighted and “fiscally irresponsible.”
“The Independent Fiscal Office found that the Commonwealth would realize $154 million in budget savings by accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid. It makes no sense that House Republicans want to leave money on the table. We should not walk away from this opportunity,” Hughes said. “I will keep fighting and hope that we can implement Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania.”
Members of the Marine Corps were honored during a ceremony held at Shiloh Baptist Church at 2040 Christian St. on Sunday during the church’s 170th anniversary.
The celebration also marked the 15th anniversary of senior pastor the Rev. Edward Sparkman, who was honored for his ministerial work. Gov. Tom Corbett and Mayor Michael Nutter both sent citations congratulating the pastor and the congregation on their service in the community.
“This is a blessing because, when you think of 170 years, it makes you realize that your past helps bring you to the future; we don’t want to forget but we want to move forward,” said Sparkman.
When asked what impact he felt the church had on the surrounding community, he replied, “I think outreach and letting people know that the church is not just open on Sunday and we’re reaching out to let everyone know that we’re here to tell God about the goodness of his blessing and to tell everyone regardless of race, creed, or color.”
The event was described as one “celebrating the sacred marriage between pastor and people” and it is this interdependence which Sparkman stated as some of the changes he witnessed during his 15 years as pastor. This, according to Sparkman, was evidenced by more closeness between its members and the community and the close way in which they walk together.
Julius Richardson, a trustee at the church, praised Sparkman as a man of great leadership who extended the services of the church to the community.
“He took us a mighty long way since he has been here,” said Richardson. “We have many outreach programs that connect with the community as well as other religious institutions and organizations.”
Richardson calls the pastor, “The right man for the right season.”
Sparkman said he couldn’t have done it alone.
“I like to call it the ‘we syndrome, ’let’s all put it together. Let’s not put it all on the pastor, let’s do it together,” he said.
The church was filled with well-wishers, members of the congregation and residents who joined in the celebration of the church’s anniversary as well as to witness the honors bestowed upon the remaining members of the Montford Point Marines, the all-Black unit founded in 1942 and the country’s first Black marine unit.
The Montford Point Marines has played a significant role in the church’s legacy, according to Sparkman. Lt. Col. Willie was joined by fellow Montford Point Marine members Joseph H. Geeter III, a former president of the Montford Marine Association, Lucius Snowpen and Phillip Herout.
“One of our former member’s husband was a member of the Montford Point Marines and the president awarded them the Congressional Medal of Honor in June,” said Sparkman. “In helping her prepare for this date, I did some research and found out also that my father was a Montford Point Marine.”
The pastor, whose father received a gold medal posthumously, said that most of his family was there to witness the award dedication.
It was Lt. Col. Clarence Willie who contacted the members of the Montford Point Marine Association to request their participation at the dedication ceremony. One of the recipients was his uncle, Charles Hines, of Philadelphia.
“I really wanted to see his widow get his just due, I also discovered that uncle Charles attended this church and that Rev. Sparkman’s father was also a Montford Point Marine and so I’m here present the Congressional Gold Medal to these two gentleman,” said Willie.
The Montford Point was formed in 1942 to 1949. They were named after the camp in Montford, New River, N.C. Despite racial discrimination, the Montford Point Marines went on to distinguish themselves in service. They were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on June 27.
What had been merely a rumor has now been confirmed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett: Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Ron Tomalis will end his controversial tenure as the top education official in the state when he vacates the position on May 31.
Corbett’s administration announced Tomalis’ departure, which comes shortly less than two years after Tomalis’ January 2011 appointment, via a statement that highlighted Tomalis’ career to this point.
“Secretary Tomalis has worked hard to make Pennsylvania’s public education system benefit all Pennsylvania students,” Corbett said, “to ensure their successes beyond graduation.”
Corbett’s administration hailed Tomalis’ record, which included implementing sweeping education reforms, including making changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system, while also putting an added emphasis on standardized testing.
Although characterized as a zealous education reformist, Tomalis’ tenure hasn’t been free from controversy. Tomalis was one of the first to endorse and embrace the crumbling No Child Left Behind plan, and initiative that many states are petitioning to the Department of Education to opt out of the program. Many have seen Tomalis as the point-man for the controversial Common Core Standards testing method — a Corbett-sponsored initiative that the governor himself has hinted to postponing, due to protests from teacher and parent groups concerned with the governor’s plan to boost pupil outcomes while simultaneously cutting public education funding.
Still, Corbett praised Tomalis for his work in creating the helpful Opportunity Tax Scholarship Program and the further implementation of the Schools for Sciences summer program.
Calls and emails to the Pennsylvania Department of Education seeking comment on Tomalis’ departure weren’t returned as of Tribune press time.
And it appears that Corbett will reward Tomalis for his work, as Tomalis will become special advisor to the governor on higher education. Tomalis’ new appointment will require state senate approval.
Corbett is looking to replace Tomalis with a career educator with local ties.
Dr. William E. Harner, Corbett’s likely nominee, is currently the superintendent of the Cumberland Valley School District, which is based in Mechanicsburg. After a 20-year career in the military, Harner worked his way up the education administration chain, first by becoming principal of a middle school in South Carolina to becoming deputy chief executive officer of the School District of Philadelphia.
“From his days at West Point to his service at Cumberland Valley, Dr. Harner has shown himself as an effective problem solver able to unite all side in a common goal of educational excellence,” Corbett said. “Those who have worked with him describe Dr. Harner as an accomplished student, born manager and decisive leader who can carry out our agenda of educational excellence in the face of any challenge.”
And those challenges facing Pennsylvania public education are severe; more than 75 percent of the state’s roughly 500 school districts have had to raise taxes to meet costs, and many of those have been labeled as “distressed” by the PDE. Compounding matters is the issues orbiting the School District of Philadelphia and its massive, $304 million projected budgeting gap for the coming school year.
For his part, Harner seemed acutely aware of the issues and appears up to task.
“I am truly honored that Governor Corbett has asked me to serve as the next secretary of education,” Harner said. “I look forward to working closely with the governor and members of the General Assembly as we strive to provide all Pennsylvania students with an exceptional education.”
While Corbett’s nominee still needs the approval of state legislators, the choice of Harner received an endorsement from the influential Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which hailed Harner’s career and managing methodology.
“Dr. Harner’s brings years of field experience leading schools and school systems in a wide array of educational environments across the state and the nation. His energy and enthusiasm for education and the students of Pennsylvania are contagious,” said PSBA Interim Executive Director Stuart Knade. “Dr. Harner is a respected leader in Pennsylvania’s education community with the ability to foster open dialog with school districts, career and technology centers, intermediate units and other school entities in the commonwealth.
“The association members and leadership look forward to working with Dr. Harner in his new role as nominee for secretary of education.”
Proponents of the statewide charter/cyber-charter reform bill have reloaded, and this time, they are carrying even more potent ammo: a scathing Special Report from Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner — one that is sure to add weight to the Charter School and Cyber Charter Reform and Accountability Act, championed by State Rep. Mike Fleck and a few of his colleagues.
While the Fleck-authored House Bill 2364 simply lays out options the commonwealth can undertake to stem what supporters consider the overfunding of charter schools — such as limiting unassigned fund balances, removing the so-called “double dip” in pension funding, limiting the amount of special education funding and requiring end-of-year audits — Wagner’s report outlines the consequences if Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, the General Assembly, and Pennsylvania Department of Education fail to act.
According to Wagner’s report, Pennsylvania spends roughly $3,000 more per student to educate a child in a charter school — and more than $3,500 per student in cyber charter schools — than it does on students enrolled in traditional public schools. By using those figures, Wagner’s report concluded the state could save $315 million by bringing the per-student expenditure more in line with that of traditional public schools. Wagner’s report also found that an additional $50 million could be saved through the elimination of the double-dip pension funding loophole.
“With the tightening of school budgets and funding available to school districts throughout the state, Pennsylvania’s flawed and overly generous funding formula for charter and cyber charter schools is a luxury taxpayers can no longer afford,” Wagner said. “While I have long supported alternative forms of education, as the state’s independent fiscal watchdog, I cannot look the other way and ignore a broken system in which charter and cyber charter schools are being funded at significantly higher levels than their actual cost of educating students.
“It is time for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, along with the General Assembly and the Corbett administration to fix Pennsylvania’s flawed funding formula for charter and cyber charter schools.”
While both Wagner’s report and HB 2354 outline ways the commonwealth can save money, neither document says the recouped money will be directly used to prop up the public education funding, especially in light of Corbett’s budget, which slashes the state’s funding of public education.
And how this plays out in Philadelphia remains to be seen, as more than 43,000 students attend either a charter or cyber charter school, according to the School District of Philadelphia. In the 2010-2011 academic year, the district paid $8,600 per pupil to the city’s charter schools, and paid those same charters $18,500 for every pupil that required special education. The district has already taken drastic steps to curb charter school funding on its own, with the creation and implementation of the Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools, which calls for a seven percent reduction in per-pupil funding, and an overall decrease of $149 million in charter school funding over the next five years.
The charter school reform issue has the support of State Representative James Roebuck, putting him at odds with charter school supporters such as fellow State Representative Dwight Evans and charter school pioneer Dr. Walter D. Palmer. Palmer has vowed to fight in court any moves to restrict charter school funding.
“At a time when public schools are still coping with last year’s state education cuts and local property taxpayers want to avoid another round of trickle-down tax hikes, it is only fair to taxpayers for all schools to play by the same rules,” said Roebuck, who also serves as the Democratic Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, of HB 2364. “These reforms should be in effect starting with the 2012-13 school year. We can provide this relief immediately to school districts and their taxpayers. These reforms would provide at least $45.8 million in savings for the coming school year, and probably much more than that."
Evans, long a proponent of school choice and charter schools, has stated he would use his full political might to fight off any challenges to charter schools - entities which he feels add more to society than critics want to admit.
“What I think is that people sometimes miss that charter schools are public schools first, and that second, parents have them as choices and options available to them,” Evans said. “Third, it’s an economic development opportunity.
“So you have the academic aspect, and the commercial,” Evans continued, noting that when a charter school is built, it creates immediate jobs and goes a long way toward community beautification. “Of course I am against [HB 2364].”
Still, charter reform has its supporters, including the powerful Pennsylvania School Boards Association, a non-profit statewide association of school districts.
“Charter and cyber charter funding formulas must be reflective of actual instructional expenses, predictable and based on logic,” said PSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel via a statement released by his office. “HB 2364 provides much needed charter school accountability to protect taxpayers and school entities from escalating costs.”
Just days after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett penned an open letter to Pennsylvanians in support of the governor’s push for pension reform, the influential nonpartisan think tank Keystone Research Center presented data that dispelled much of Corbett’s pension reform plan, and said the plan will actually cost the taxpayers millions to implement.
KRC officials, relying on data provided independently by the Hay Group and Buck Consultants, said during a press call earlier this week that the Governor’s plan would cost taxpayers upward $40 million annually, on top of the pension kick-ins and other income-related taxes.
At issue is the governor’s attempted reform of the state’s two public pension systems — the State Employee Retirement System and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System.
“These independent actuarial studies reinforce the point many have made since the Governor’s plans were first announced,” said Dr. Stephen Herzenberg, economist and executive director of the Keystone Research Center. “We cannot afford to dig a deeper pension hole, raise costs for taxpayers, and undermine retirement security. Advanced in the name fiscal restraint, the Governor’s proposal would leave taxpayers picking up a $42 billion tab.”
In his letter, Corbett again voiced his support for transferring the pension plans of newly hired state and public school employees into a defined contribution plan, while allowing only current employees to still participate in the defined benefit program as currently defined.
“At its core, the root cause of the public pension crisis in Pennsylvania is the type of plan afforded to state and public school employees, which is called a defined benefit plan. The plan is archaic by today’s standards, because it guarantees public employees a specific benefit upon retirement, regardless of investment performance,” Corbett wrote. “By contrast, most workers employed in the private sector have a defined contribution plan, commonly referred to as a 401(k), or no retirement plan at all. Under a defined contribution plan, retirement benefits are determined by employer and employee contributions and the actual return on investments.
“In my view, conversion from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan is the most responsible way to provide an adequate retirement for state and public school employees.”
KRC officials and other pension reform critics, however, accuse the governor of trying to mask budgetary shortcomings.
“It is more clear to me than ever that the Governor has not proposed a pension reform plan,” said Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord via a statement released by KRC. “He has proposed a scheme to allow him to close a hole in this year’s budget at both far higher costs for taxpayers and far lower benefits for retired workers down the road.”
While Democratic state legislators have roundly criticized Corbett’s plan — including State Senator and Democratic Chair of the Senate Financial Committee John Blake, who blasted Corbett’s plan and said “a $42 million price tag should be reason enough for us in Harrisburg not to make another irresponsible decision about our pension system” — some of the hottest blowback came from those outside of Harrisburg.
“The higher fees associated with individual accounts in 401(k)-type plans mean that Main Street Pennsylvania employees have less money in their accounts and retirees have significantly less money to get by on when they retire,” said Diane Oakley, Executive Director of National Institute on Retirement Security. “Switching to 401(k) type accounts loses a very important cost advantage of Pennsylvania’s existing defined-benefit pensions.”
In Corbett’s letter, the governor said that at the end of 2011, both pensions had a combined debt of $41 billion, and at the end of 2012, that deficit had expanded to $47 billion — an increase of more than $6 billion per year, or $510 million per month.
“For example, for fiscal year 2010-11, the commonwealth’s General Fund contributed 518 million in state taxpayer dollars to SERS and PSERS,” Corbett wrote. “By fiscal year 2017-18, that contribution is expected to rise to $3.359 billion, a staggering 548 percent increase.
“At its core, the root cause of the public pension crisis in Pennsylvania is the type of plan afforded to state and public school employees … and as I have stated countless times, my plan does nothing to affect the benefits of retirees or the benefits of current employees that have already been earned.”
Yet a fourth critic, National Institute of Retirement Security Diane Oakley released a statement deriding Corbett’s attempted reform, saying that Pennsylvania taxpayers and retirees will lose in the long run.
“The higher fees associated with individual accounts in 401(k)-type plans mean that Main Street Pennsylvania employees have less money in their accounts and retirees have significantly less money to get by on when they retire,” Oakley said. “Switching to 401(k) type accounts loses a very important cost advantage of Pennsylvania’s existing defined-benefit pensions.”
Through a partnership with the city and state, financial services company Janney Montgomery Scott LLC will retain its headquarters in Center City.
Gov. Tom Corbett and Mayor Michael Nutter joined Janney President and CEO Timothy C. Scheve in unveiling plans for a new 146,000 square-foot headquarters to be located at 1717 Arch St., Three Logan Square.
The company, which employs 550 in Philadelphia, is slated to move to its new headquarters next summer.
“Our new headquarters is going to provide the team with a vibrant and flexible workspace that is going to improve how we’re able to interact with each other, our clients and the community at large. It’s going to position us for sustained, long-term profitable growth,” Scheve said during a press conference Wednesday at Janney’s 1801 Market St. offices.
“Our new Philadelphia headquarters is going to enable us to continue to attract talented financial services professionals to relocate to Philadelphia.”
Janney plans to create 100 new jobs in Philadelphia during the next three to five years. The new jobs will be in a range of professional financial service positions, including traders, financial analysts and investment bankers and associated administrative staff.
Corbett and Nutter thanked Janney for deciding to maintain operations in Philadelphia. Delaware was one top competitor for Janney’s business.
“When this was presented to the governor’s office initially, it was important to the office that we keep you here in Philadelphia,” Corbett told Janney officials.
“The role of governor, in addition to governing and making decisions, is to do one thing — create jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
“Today is a win. It’s a win for you. It’s a win for Philadelphia. It’s a win for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” he added.
“We could not be more excited especially considering the overall economic climate all across America. It’s been a tough, tough time but you’re demonstrating that this is a smart city and I would say it was a smart choice,” said Nutter.
“Janney Montgomery Scott has made a smart choice by deciding to expand its headquarters here in Center City,” he said.
“Janney is an exceptional corporate citizen in our community; I am convinced that the firm will continue to grow, adding jobs and keeping more professionals living and working in our region.”
Despite the challenging economy, Janney has maintained strong financials and created jobs in recent years. According to Scheve, Janney’s Philadelphia workforce has grown by more than 130 people within the last five years and the company has increased its Philadelphia taxable wages by $23 million. The firm employs almost 1,000 statewide.
Established in 1832, Janney provides comprehensive financial advice and services to individual, corporate and institutional investors.
Advocates doubt schools will get emergency funds
Candlelight vigils, mass student walkouts, an entire staff working pro bono, and even the prodding from one of Philadelphia’s top grassroots organizations may not be enough to save the Chester Upland School District.
Indeed, all hope is about lost, as Danyel Jennings, who organized a petition and signature-signing protest on Change.org, and has two children enrolled in the district, seems to now recognize.
“I don’t think [the state] is going to release any money,” a somber Jennings said, against the din of a massive student walkout Friday morning. “The teachers said they will work as long as they can, but it now depends on the individual teacher — some may stay for a few days, or perhaps a week or so.
“Many teachers are complaining that they aren’t being told the whole story.”
Jennings was speaking as a large crowd of students marched on the Chester Upland School District’s headquarters.
Thom Persings, a spokesman for the Chester Upland School District, is more optimistic about the chances of the state releasing emergency funds.
“The school district has filed a federal suit to get the state to release the funds, and that is proceeding very rapidly,” Persings said. “I am very optimistic that we’ll receive the funding. I just cannot believe the state would just abandon these students, and let poor people, minority people, suffer.”
The crisis facing the Chester Upland School District has raised the awareness and support of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, as Jennifer R. Clarke, the center’s executive director, sent a letter to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, urging him to reconsider his position.
In that letter, obtained by The Tribune, Clarke stated, “some 3,700 students are threatened with being deprived of the education which they need — and to which they are clearly entitled.
“The state constitution and laws place the ultimate responsibility for providing a thorough and efficient system of public education upon the state … the district is an instrumentality of the state to provide that education,” the letter read in part. “If, for whatever reason, it is unable to provide the 180 days of school required by law, this is a failure of the system set up by the state.”
Their efforts could be all for naught, given comments by Pennsylvania Board of Education spokesman Tim Eller, who recently noted the district’s terrible fiscal management history — and the fact the state has had to bail out the district at least twice before. Eller and Corbett seem to indicate an unwillingness to bail it out for a third time.