As we reported yesterday, Governor Rendell and legislative leaders reached agreement on a 2010-11 state budget yesterday that includes millions in cuts to health and human services, early childhood programs, agricultural programs, environmental protection, libraries and state parks. The state Senate has already approved it, and the House is expected to do the same today.
PBPC has done a preliminary review of budget line items provided by the Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee. According to the committee, state General Fund spending in 2010-11 is set at $28.043 billion, an increase of less than 1% from the current year. This is slightly lower than the $28.052 billion spending figure the Governor announced on Tuesday.
Despite the slight overall spending increase, the budget contains many cuts to offset rising mandated expenditures. Governor Rendell has said budget cuts will require 1,000 state employee layoffs.
Want to learn more?Click here for a brief budget overview, highlighting mostly cuts and a few increases in funding levels for education, health and human services, corrections, environmental protection, economic and community development, conservation and agriculture.
Yesterday, President Obama met with Senators at the White House and pushed them to pass comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. Still, the skeptics are spinning a monotonous web of negativity regarding what is achievable on this front. And, not surprisingly, the “mainstream media” once again has been asleep at the wheel in setting the record straight. Fortunately, we know that when this President rolls up his sleeves, he gets stuff done and delivers on his promises. One thing’s for sure; President Obama is anything but an underachiever!
Along these lines, President Obama held a press conference following the G-20 summit in Toronto. In response to a reporter’s question regarding how he would achieve his deficit reduction goals, the president responded:
For some reason people keep being surprised when I do what I said I was going to do. So, I say I’m going to reform our [health care system], and people say well gosh that’s not smart politics maybe we should hold off. Or I say we’re going to move forward on [Don’t Ask Don’t Tell] and somehow people say well why are you doing that, I’m not sure that’s good politics. I’m doing it because I said I was going to do it, and I think it’s the right thing to do. And people should learn that lesson about me, because next year when I start presenting some very difficult choices to the country I hope some of these folks who are hollering about deficit and debt step up cause I’m calling their bluff.
To that list of accomplishments, we could also add:
Creating or saving 2.2-2.8 million jobs, well on the way to Obama’s February 2009 pledge that he would “create or save 3-and-a-half million jobs over the next two years.”
Reforming Wall Street (likely to pass Congress any day now)
Overhauling the student loan market
Reaching a nuclear arms treaty with Russia
We could go on and on, but you get the point: anyone who continues, at this point, to be “surprised” when President Obama gets things done when he puts his mind to it is deep in denial. Or, as a previous president might have put it, they are wildly “misunderestimating” our 44th president.
Clearly, as we’ve seen over the past two years, underachieving is not a problem Barack Obama suffers from. Of course, even a superachiever like Barack Obama has an awful lot on his plate to deal with. And right now, one of the most important things on Obama’s plate is figuring out how to push comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation through the U.S. Senate. Along those lines, yesterday, Obama met with a group of Senators on this issue, reportedly holding firm in his call for putting a price on carbon emissions.
The question at this point is, will President Obama roll up his sleeves and deliver on another of his major campaign promise (as well as a major challenge facing our nation)? Given the long list of accomplishments mentioned above, it certainly wouldn’t be smart to bet against him. The fact is, Barack Obama usually succeeds in whatever he puts his mind to.
Given the nation’s increased focus on energy and climate issues – and the increased support by the American people for taking strong action as a result of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster – now is clearly the time for boldness and for bluff calling by our nation’s leaders. Today, President Obama has the opportunity to demonstrate once more that, when he rolls up his sleeves, he accomplishes what he says he’s going to do. In sum, today is clearly the moment for President Obama to prove the doubters and naysayers wrong – to call their bluff – yet again!
I spent Tuesday hiking along trail at the Bandelier National Monument which is just south of the Los Alamos Nuclear Labs. This is an ancient site where Anasazi Native Americans lived peacefully and communally. Do you recall those high school history classes about the cave dwellers of the Southwest? That was Bandelier. Archeologists continue excavating the kivas where the people lived and various caves where they dwelled. The site is in a narrow canyon filled with vegetation and wildlife. It is an ecotone which means several disparate ecosystems join at one place providing a rich variety of plants and animals. I took over 65 pictures and obviously can’t post them all here. I will upload all of them to Flickr when I get a chance. Today will be one spent getting some rest, catching up on email and processing pictures and video. Tomorrow I go to Taos on the High Road and that will enable many gorgeous pictures of the mountains. For more information about Bandelier go here, Wikipedia, or here.
For more pictures click below;
In this picture I’m looking down on the central plaza. Archeological tents are on the left. These were four story adobe kivas which were homes. Each family unit had three small rooms. All that’s left are these foundations.
If you look closely there’s a bee in this flower;
The walls of the cliff are covered with petroglyphs.
On my way to Bandelier I stopped in White Rock which has an overlook to a canyon where the Rio Grande sneaks along. The river begins in southern Colorado and snakes south through New Mexico before becoming the border.
Gov. Rendell yesterday announced an agreement on the state budget. Before getting too excited that a state budget might actually be passed on time I’m reminded of several such announcements last year which then fell apart. Nothing is official until it is passed and signed into law. This budget increases spending for economic development but cuts libraries, parks, agriculture and other vital programs. It does not include taxes on cigars and smokeless tobacco and leaves the massive Delaware Loophole so most corporations don’t pay taxes in Pennsylvania. All in all it seems like a bad deal, again, for Pennsylvanians. You pay, they don’t.
Governor Ed Rendell announced this afternoon that the legislative leaders and he agreed on a $28.05 billion budget plan for 2010-11. The budget would increase spending by $182 million, or less than 1% from the current year budget. That is $500 million more than Senate Republicans wanted and $1 billion less than the $29 billion spending plan proposed in February.
The budget will include a severance tax on natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, with details to be worked out by October 1. It does not include an excise tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco or a plan to do away with the sales tax vendor discount. Legislation to close the Delaware loophole and reduce corporate income tax rates also failed to make the final cut.
The Governor announced a few details on proposed spending cuts (dollar figures based on 2009-10 approved budget amounts):
9.1% reduction in library funding ($5.5 million)
9.2% cut to the Department of Environmental Protection ($14.6 million)
11% cut to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources ($10.2 million)
10% reduction to the Department of Labor and Industry ($9.2 million)
11.7% cut to the agriculture programs ($7.9 million)
7.5% reduction to the Executive Offices ($15.3 million)
The Governor also said the budget would require 1,000 state employee layoffs.
The budget would provide an increase in the basic education line item of $250 million, but overall education expenditures were cut by $126 million. Accountability Block Grants would be cut by $14 million – from $271 million in recent years to $257 million.
The Governor also said that the borrowing limit on the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), which provides grants for redevelopment projects, will be increased by $600 million.
The budget plan leaves recurring revenue sources – like the tobacco taxes – on the table and relies heavily on one-time funds. Among those one-time funding sources is $850 million in extended FMAP funds that have not yet been approved by Congress. The Governor said that if Congress fails to approve the FMAP funding, he and legislative leaders will have to identify additional cuts in the budget.
Overall, the Governor said this budget will put Pennsylvania in bad shape for the 2011-12 fiscal year when the state will have to deal with the loss of federal stimulus funds.
Most details on the budget are not yet available. As information is released, we will post updates on our website.
In the aftermath of 9/11, we saw thousands of workers develop devastating respiratory conditions and other illnesses as a result of exposure to toxic dust that filled the air in the days and weeks after the twin towers fell. To this day, these peoples’ plight continues to add misery to the ongoing tragedy of 9/11. What makes it even worse is that these people were assured the air was safe. As we all know now, it wasn’t.
Today, sadly, history may be repeating itself in the Gulf of Mexico.
Amazingly, despite reports like this one, BP “continues to pretend that – just like an oil spill of this magnitude could never happen – there also could not possibly be a worker health concern.” While the potential health hazards posed by chemical dispersants and oil itself are debatable, it is clear that significant risks existed.
Already, we’ve seen evidence of the impact that spilled oil can have on human health. For starters, an increasing number of workers and residents in Gulf Coast areas have reported “suffering from nausea, vomiting, headaches and difficulty breathing.” Considering that oil contains “petroleum hydrocarbons, which are toxic and irritating to the skin and airways”, as well as volatile chemicals “which can cause acute health effects such as headaches, dizziness and nausea” it’s no surprise that these symptoms are appearing.
So now, with the “60 exposure-related complaints filed with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals”, not to mention the “overwhelming evidence that many of the compounds found in crude oil are dangerous,” shouldn’t BP be protecting the people who are cleaning up this mess? If they aren’t doing so, why aren’t they?
The bottom line is this: people along the Gulf Coast deserve to know the facts regarding the dangers they are facing and how to protect themselves. It’s bad enough that their economic livelihoods are in danger of destruction in part due to BP’s greed and recklessness. But if their lungs and other organs are damaged by oil and dispersant particles in the air, more than their economic livelihoods could be damaged.
None of us should ever forget that this disaster was brought on, at least in part, by BP cutting corners to save a few (million) bucks, and by the government’s failure to prevent the company from doing so. As a result, the unthinkable has happened. We must learn from those grave mistakes, not repeat them. That means, in the long term, ridding ourselves of our dangerous, destructive addition to oil. But what must happen now – right now – is for BP to stop cutting corners with the health of the people cleaning up the Gulf.
At the minimum, BP must switch its philosophy from “hope for the best” to “do whatever it takes, whatever the cost, to make sure people are safe.” If BP won’t “make it right,” as the company’s ads like to say, then the government should force BP to do so. In the words of one Venice, LA mother: “I’ve got the two most beautiful children in the world. If something were to happen to them, how could I look in those baby blues and say, Mommy didn’t know?” It’s a great question. What’s the answer, BP?
The day before the state budget is due it doesn’t appear any will be passed. Both Parties report agreeing on a total dollar amount but disagree on the line items: where the money will be spent. Democrats want to increase spending on education another $300 million and the GOP wants to keep that flat. Gov. Rendell says layoffs could total in the thousands once again this year. Cuts in state spending, especially layoffs, have a serious effect on the entire Pennsylvania economy. Every dollar spent by government creates $1.42 in economic activity.
The passing of Sen. Byrd yesterday is endangering the watered down and weakened financial regulatory bill before Congress. Behind a massive lobbying effort and pushed by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) auto dealers are exempted from banking regulations. Car loans are now packaged and securitized just as mortgages once were and are being sold and marketed as securities. Car dealers are infamous for being crooks and their loan operations are the nexus of massive bank and consumer fraud. Exempting them is a travesty hoisted upon the public.
The Supreme Court is showing how important elections remain: this is a complete and total corporate Court. Every decision is expanding the power of major corporations at the expense of citizens. There are consequences to not voting.
Yesterday’s decision on gun rights greatly expands the Second Amendment, something which was written to quite narrowly define gun rights. According to a strict constructionist reading and interpretation only National Guard members have the right to bear arms. I suppose being an “activist Judge” and a “strict constructionist” only applies when it comes to social progress.
Elena Kagan’s SCOTUS confirmation hearing began yesterday and to listen to Republicans you’d think she was a radical threat to the nation instead of a moderate Democrat under whom military recruitment at Harvard INCREASED. Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions railed against the memory of the great Thurgood Marshall during his statement. I suppose I can see why someone from Alabama still harbors hate against a Black Supreme Court Justice, especially one bragging about the number of paintings of Robert E. lee in his home. Need we know anything more about his racist past than that? Of course there’s much.
The Healthy Youth Act, legislation in Harrisburg proposed by Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates (disclosure, I am a member of its Board of Directors) died when Democratic leadership declined to bring it to a floor vote. The age appropriate, fact based, reality based sex education bill would save countless teens from std’s, unwanted pregnancies, reduce the number of abortions and provide them with the facts of life necessary to become responsible adults.
Fringe Tea party candidates are finding their radical views are political poison to voters. Few Americans actually share their dislike for government, actually wanting agencies like the EPA, DEA, IRS, Energy and Education. Americans see the good the UN does and they love their Social Security and Medicare. The BP oil spill is reinforcing why we need effective, good government. No sooner did the oil begin washing on their beaches and destroying their tourism industries than these radical, small government, anti-regulation Republican Governors begin screaming for Big Government. Maybe Haley Barbour and Bobby Jindal should engage their own state resources first before criticizing the President’s response. National Guard troops approved by the White House have yet to be deployed by these Governors.
The reason we call ourselves progressives is that we believe in moving forward, not back. In Lancaster County two Commissioners wish to move that County back. It isn’t sufficient that many Lancaster Countians refuse even to join the 19th century but now these pols want to take everyone backwards, especially minorities. They are proposing to disband their Human Relations Commission. Not everyone chooses to be backward.
Joe Sestak is slamming Pat “Mr. Wall Street” Toomey for saying derivatives “were a major force for positive change.” I suppose the former Congressman thinks tossing people out of work, into tent camps along the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, out of their homes and into soup kitchens is “positive change.” It was for his Wall Street buddies who pocketed billion dollar a year incomes while paying less taxes then their secretaries. That’s Pat Toomey’s definition of positive change.
The Times Tribune is reporting that gas drillers in the Marcellus Shale region are going to force the legislature to allow them to extort mineral rights from homeowners in return for a severance tax.
New Mexico bills itself as The Land of Enchantment.” It is in Santa Fe and Taos where I love to come as often as possible. This region is an island of civility and manners in a sea of high desert where,as one local put it on radio yesterday, “the state sport is driving drunk and throwing beer bottles at the rocks as you speed by.” Drunk driving is New Mexico’s biggest problem outside a massive state budget problem. They are talking about closing schools here and are already closing rest areas along the interstates. Mind you this isn’t like home where you can exit anywhere and find services. Here in the desert there’s NOTHING between the towns and you might drive 50-100 miles between towns. Closing the rest areas means no where for tired motorists or truckers to get a respite.
Liquor stores abound and Las Vegas was filled with pawn shops, loan offices, payday lenders, cash advance places and the like.
They even have drive through package stores. Just like McDonalds you can go to the drive up window and buy your booze.
The prevalence of alcohol permeates small towns like Las Vegas. The liquor lobby is very powerful in New Mexico and taxes on booze are low. Efforts to balance the state budget by increasing taxes on alcohol get nowhere. The people here seem to think they have a divine right to drink, drive, be obnoxious and a danger to others. The western attitude of “its all about me and screw you” is everywhere. Only in Santa Fe and Taos do you escape this. Here the folks are engagingly polite and they won’t even proceed through an intersection until pedestrians are safely across. One of the things I truly love about Santa Fe is the great manners, civility and politeness of the locals. Perhaps that is because many of the locals here are transplanted from everywhere else. They come here for this atmosphere, for the climate, the arts, the beauty of this region. Go outside the immediate area however and you’ll find places such as Las Vegas. You’ll find the rudest people in the world.
The debate over alcohol in Pennsylvania is quite different. The Keystone State is grounded in puritanical thinking that beer and booze should be difficult to buy and controlled by the Commonwealth. The State Store system is, again, being reconsidered in Harrisburg to expand to privatized package stores. The opponents keep pointing to the risk of underage sales, alcoholism and, basically, the problems in places such as New Mexico. That. of course, doesn’t have to be the problem. Our surrounding states limit the number of outlets, the amount sold at one time, etc. It isn’t difficult to find a happy medium. New Mexico has major problem and they must tackle it with more zeal or risk losing their tourism. You simply cannot have horror stories like I posted below and expect tourists to come or return. Civilized people won’t tolerate such rudeness and out of control behavior. The worst part of my lost weekend, a time when I desperately needed some rest after a long journey, was that the children are being raised to think such behavior is acceptable. The cycle continues. This state is in desperate financial condition due to the Bush Recession and they cannot afford blogs like mine and radio shows like ours to send the message “don’t visit New Mexico.”
One of the results of the rampant alcoholism here is the prevalence of payday lenders, pawn shops, title loan businesses and the sort of trade which preys on the poor and the desperate. You see them everywhere just as signs of abject poverty are everywhere. In downtown Las Vegas I found locations that define the word blight:
I made a side trip on my journey to Santa Fe stopping in the old west town of Las Vegas, about an hour from The City Different on the opposite side of the Sangre De Cristo mountains which are the southern end of the Rockies. Located along the old Santa Fe mercantile trail (also the El Camino Real) it bills itself as the place “where the mountains meet the plains.” They seem to want to attract tourism but the locals drive the tourists away because they are the rudest people in the world. I spent three days there Saturday night finally forced into sleeping in the car. Mind you I’d just driven 1900 miles in four days and was exhausted. The side trip to Las Vegas was planned as some R&R before arriving and I looked forward to visiting the 900 historic, old west buildings, the plaza where Gen. Kearney declared New Mexico for the USA in the Mexican War and the local hot springs.
I rolled into the Comfort Inn Las Vegas around 3 PM. The drive up from Santa Rosa was beautiful and this town, at the foot of the mountains, promised some definite rest and relaxation, or so I thought. That was not to be because of the locals. When I stopped back into the tourism office Sunday morning to recount my night of horror the lady said “these are the locals, this is how they act.” If so they can kiss their tourism industry goodbye. This is NOT how you treat travelers and tourists if you ever want them to return. This is how towns get bad reputations and decline.
It began when I entered the lobby. Ashlee, the desk clerk couldn’t complete my check in for some reason (I went through Expedia). The manager was standing a few feet away watching the USA-Ghana World Cup soccer match (about an hour remained in the game). He refused to separate himself from the TV and aid her so I had to stand there for ten minutes until he deigned to check me into his hotel. I then stood in a hallway for fifteen minutes while my room was prepared by a maid named Anita. That was the best part of my experience at The Comfort Inn. The nightmare was but a few hours away. I set off to explore the Rough Rider Museum which closed at 4 PM, stop at the visitor center and explore Hot Springs Road where something called the Montezuma Castle is located. I returned to the hotel from hell and went to the pool and spa just down the hallway. The area is small for a hotel and was posted as allowing just 4 people in the spa and 9 in the pool at a time. That seemed reasonable considering their small sizes.
I lounged in the spa for about 45 minutes and another gentleman joined me just before four wild rug rats and their irresponsible mother entered the room. For some strange reason parents think spas and hot tubs are kiddie pools. In fact because the heated water elevates your pulse they can be dangerous. This is why hotels usually post rules disallowing children under 14 or 16 from their use. No such rule was posted here and the four kids, including a toddler in a diaper, jumped into the spa. No matter that two men were lounging in it and trying to relax, they swam around kicking our legs with no regard for manners or civility. They began jumping in and going underwater before exiting to jump into the 3-5 foot deep swimming pool. The posted rules clearly established that no running, jumping or diving was allowed. Maybe none of these out of control people could read but, more likely, they simply didn’t care. They didn’t care what anyone else was doing, thinking, or trying to do. It was all about them. Soon there were 11 of these wild children and many parents in the area, parents drinking openly and encouraging the kids to do somersaults into the pool, run around like wild animals and make our experience hell on earth. They drove everyone else from the pool/spa as they got louder and louder and the beer flowed.
The worst part for me was the toddler in the diaper. I simply cannot comprehend how any responsible parent would allow a child with no control of their bowels as yet to enter a spa with adults. I even mentioned this concern to the mother and she did nothing. Eventually the kid started drinking the water spritzing into the spa. Chlorinated water… The two girls loved this little feature and greatly enjoyed using it to direct the stream right into my face. I was sure one chubby boy about ten was going to smash his skull into the concrete side of the pool with his constant gymnastics into the 3 foot shallow end of the pool. I stayed thinking there had to be one responsible adult around to call 911 when it happened. Things got so loud and offensive from the alcohol flowing I left.
I got to my room, did some work on the computer and hit the sack, exhausted. I wasn’t able to relax much in the spa as my blood pressure kept rising due to the arrogant and unbelievable rudeness of these locals. They had 9 of them in the spa at a time and a dozen in the pool. No one else could enjoy the amenities and they didn’t give a damn what you thought about their wild behavior and absolute lack of manners. The pool/spa area closed at ten and they moved their party to their rooms. I was in 110 and they were in room 108. Adjoining rooms… That’s when it became hell. Finally at 2:38 AM local time (4:38 my time) I surrendered and went to sleep in the car. This didn’t work really well though since I couldn’t recline the seat (it was fully packed).
Morning arrived and I told the hotel I refused to pay for my room. I said these were the rudest people I had ever encountered and that I would be writing an article about my horrid experience in their town. That’s the danger with being home to the rudest people in the world, you never know who it is who you are mistreating. In this case it was someone with the wherewithal to write my story and put it out to the world. No one should ever consider stopping in this god forsaken town for any reason. Do so at your own risk because as the woman at the tourism office said: “these are the locals, this is how they act.”
As President Obama prepares for his meeting tomorrow with Senators at the White House to discuss clean energy and climate change legislation, he might want to check with the White House staff on an important matter first. No, not the details of the legislation, although that’s important of course. Instead, what President Obama might want to make absolutely sure about is the non-trivial matter of whether the White House air conditioning is in tip-top shape. I say “non-trivial,” but these days it’s more like “life or death.” How hot is it in the Washington, DC area? As NBC Washington puts it, “We're Talking Spontaneous Combustion.” (UPDATE: it's more likely this is apocryphal than literally true, but it sure feels like plants could catch on fire these days in Washington, DC!)
How hot is it? It's so hot that dead plants are spontaneously combusting in Frederick, Md.
Don't believe it? Just ask Frederick County Fire Marshal Marc McNeal, who told the Frederick News-Post that excessive heat caused a dead plant to catch fire Sunday afternoon in a hanging planter on the rear deck of a townhouse.
The hanging basket fell to the deck and burned some vinyl siding, causing about $3,000 in damages.
It has definitely been hot in the Washington region. Monday will be the 10th day in a row that we've reached 90 degrees or higher, and this will be the 17th day of the month that the thermometer has reached 90.
NBC4 meteorologist Tom Kierein said that when it's all said and done, June 2010 likely will be the hottest June on record in the District.
Dead plants catching on fire in the hottest June on record in the Washington, DC area? Sadly, this may not be an aberration, but a frightening sign of things to come in a global warming world. True, we shouldn’t draw broad conclusions about the earth’s climate from one heat wave in one specific geographic area, as certain climate change deniers dishonestly did during last winter’s “snowpocalypse” blizzards. However, when we see month after month, decade after decade of record-setting heat globally, it starts to get a bit hard to ignore.
In fact, climate scientists are not ignoring these heat waves and other phenomena. Earlier today, for instance, The Project on Climate Science reported that the “record-breaking heat wave” we are currently experiencing in the eastern United States “is consistent with climate change.” According to Tom Peterson, Chief Scientist for NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, “We’re getting a dramatic taste of the kind of weather we are on course to bequeath to our grandchildren.” Of course, as The Project on Climate Science points out, “individual heat waves can be driven by a number of factors.” However, they conclude, “more frequent heat waves are one of the more visible impacts of climate change already underway in the United States” and “will occur more frequently in the future.”
In sum, if you enjoy record-setting warmth – not to mention the stronger storms, mass extinctions and “record sea ice shrinkage” in the Arctic that go along with that warmth – you have a lot to look forward to! If not, then you should contact your Senator and let him or her know you want climate action now.
Come to think of it, perhaps we should all hope for the White House air conditioning to be broken tomorrow – or turned off on purpose – so that the Senators meeting there get a taste of what the planet will feel like everywhere if they don’t do something about it now. When you think about it, a bit of Senatorial sweat and a few stained shirts is not too high a price to pay if it results in long-overdue, comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation on the President’s desk sometime this sweltering summer. Is it?