Sen. Blake Applauds $ 675,000 Investment by State in PA Northeast Regional Rail

HARRISBURG, Feb. 25, 2014 – With freight rail service increasing in NEPA, state Sen. John Blake said today the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority will be better able to help businesses move goods due to a substantial investment by the State Transportation Commission.

The commission today announced its approval of a $674,800 investment from the state’s Rail Transportation Assistance Program.

“This support will help the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority add 7,700 linear feet of new rail and 8,000 ties, which will enhance regional capacity for rail-freight commerce,” Blake said.

“With the authority reporting a 6.5 percent increase in the number of carloads in 2013, this new infusion of state support promises to add to this growing segment of an otherwise struggling economy,” the senator said.

Blake said the volume of rail freight activity is a good historic barometer of how business is doing in a region, and said it is vital that we keep up with the demand and ensure reliable and safe rail infrastructure to serve local business.

“Add to that the authority’s announcement last month that more companies are looking to locate business along the Delaware-Lackawanna Railroad, this is a great time to be providing the PNRRA with this significant rail transportation investment,” Sen. Blake said.

The authority’s award was one of 32 across Pennsylvania totaling $34.7 million.


Six Local Districts to Make Schools Safer With $ 140k Investment, Blake Says

HARRISBURG, Feb. 25, 2014 – To better protect students throughout Northeast Pennsylvania, state Sen. John Blake today said six districts will share in more than $140,000 from the commonwealth’s Safe Schools Initiative.

The Safe Schools Targeted Grants help school administrators create and execute plans designed to reduce and prevent violence. One-hundred-ten districts throughout Pennsylvania received a total of $2.6 million this year under the program.

“Recent history has shown us that tragedies can happen in our schools,” Sen. Blake said. “It is unfortunate that such circumstances must occupy our attention, but it is very good news that we have resources to invest in our schools to make them safer for our students, teachers, and administrators.

“School is a place for learning; not fear. I am confident that districts in NEPA receiving Safe Schools grants will use them well to ensure students can stay focused on building knowledge and choosing careers for a better future in Pennsylvania,” he said.

NEPA districts receiving Safe Schools Targeted Grants include Pocono Mountain ($25,000), Monroe Career & Technology Institute ($25,000), Pittston Area ($25,000), Lakeland ($24,996), Valley View ($22,800), and Scranton ($18,990).

Grants were awarded following a competitive application process administered by the state Department of Education’s Office for Safe Schools.

Districts may spend the money to address school violence through some of the following:

  •  Conflict resolution or dispute management,
  •  Peer helpers programs,
  •  Risk assessment or violence prevention curricula,
  •  Classroom management,
  •  Student codes of conduct,
  •  Development and implementation of research-based violence prevention programs that address risk factors,  including bullying, and
  •  Comprehensive, district-wide school safety and violence prevention plans.

“The Safe Schools Targeted Grants will help districts provide peace-of-mind through proactive measures proven to work,” Blake said.



Court’s Voter ID Decision Wins Blake’s Approval

SCRANTON, Jan. 17, 2014 – State Sen. John Blake today issued the following statement in reaction to Commonwealth Court Judge John McGinley’s decision to strike down Pennsylvania’s law requiring voters to show proper identification before casting ballots:

“This ruling is a vindication of the position I and my Senate Democratic colleagues have held from the outset; that this was ill-advised public policy aimed at suppressing voting rights.

“We knew this law failed constitutional muster and needed to be eliminated. I am grateful that Judge McGinley agreed with the petitioners’ argument that ‘the right to vote is … irreplaceable’ and ‘necessitat[es] its protection before any deprivation occurs.’

“Voter deprivation and diminished democracy would be the result if this bad voter ID law was allowed to continue. I applaud the decision and hope the Corbett administration cedes its vision of a controlled electorate.

“Pennsylvania is a democracy and part of the greatest Democratic experiment on earth. Any law like voter ID that suppresses the vote and disenfranchises thousands of people who have always voted just by signing their name to the registry on Election Day is the antithesis of what our founding fathers intended and wanted.

“I understand Judge McGinley’s decision is appealable to the state Supreme Court, but it would be folly and a continued waste of precious tax dollars if that petition goes to the next level.

“We have to find ways to cover a more than $1 billion deficit for the new fiscal year. Spending more money on top of the millions already spent by the administration to defend this unconstitutional endeavor would be catastrophic.”


Sen. Blake Welcomes Student Ambassadors From NEPA

SCRANTON, Jan. 16, 2013 – State Sen. John Blake today welcomed 16 student ambassadors from 16 Northeast Pennsylvania high schools and gave them a firsthand glimpse of state lawmaking, citizenship and public service.

The students became ambassadors following a competitive application process. Blake said his first group of diplomats includes some of the region’s finest pupils and future leaders.

“I commend the 16 young men and women on having earned the support and the acknowledgment of their respective schools to represent those schools in our inaugural Student Ambassador Program,” the senator said. “They bring impressive credentials, academic performance and extra-curricular involvement.”

Between now and May, Sen. Blake will help his ambassadors better understand the ins and outs of state government and what it means to devote their efforts to helping neighbors and communities live better lives.

At today’s opening session, the 16 ambassadors traveled to Lackawanna College and first learned about Lackawanna County history from Mary Ann Savokinus of the Lackawanna Historical Society. Later in the day, the future leaders heard from Blake’s regional director, Larry West, and Lackawanna County Outreach Manager Fran Pantuso.

After lunch, the ambassadors traveled to Scranton City Hall, met newly installed Mayor Bill Courtright and toured city hall. President Judge Thomas Munley then shared his perspective of county government and the students were later introduced to the Lackawanna County Commissioners.

Sen. Blake also shared his thoughts and ideas about legislating. A freshman Democrat, the Archbald resident was elected in 2010 and has spearheaded significant job-creating economic development legislation and policies to better help the 22nd Senatorial District and NEPA. He has also earned a reputation as a voice of reason that his legislative colleagues have come to respect.

“I am delighted for the opportunity to inform the student ambassadors about government at all levels, but particularly about the important public policy debates and parliamentary procedures that attend my work in the Pennsylvania State Senate,” Blake said.

As part of the program, student ambassadors will later compete for college scholarship assistance through the completion of a critical thinking project and a presentation on a state-related legislative initiative of their choosing.


Editor’s Note: The list of Sen. Blake’s Student Ambassadors and their high schools:


Tom Racek, Abington Heights

Moriah Mauro, Carbondale Area

Abby O’Neil, Dunmore

Dylan Miller, East Stroudsburg South

Anthony Wilcox, Forest City Regional

Christian Anderson, Holy Cross

Bradley Lochen, Lackawanna Trail

Amanda Sheakoski, Lakeland

Matthew Caines, Mid Valley

Blake Bauman, North Pocono

Devon Brown, Old Forge

Steven Lee, Pittston Area

Daniel Shaykevich, Pocono Mountain East

Tyler Williams, Valley View

Cara Anzulewicz, West Scranton

Lauren Larar, Wyoming Seminary

Sens. Blake, Schwank Team Up to Help Struggling PA Cities

HARRISBURG, January 15, 2014 – To improve performance and brighten the economic future for more of Pennsylvania’s struggling cities, state Sens. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and John Blake (D-Lackawanna) today introduced legislation to expand a new program designed to drive significant economic development and bring people back to cities.

The City Revitalization and Improvement Zone program became law last summer when a more limited version of the proposal was incorporated into the commonwealth’s tax code.

[frame align=”right”]StrugglingCitiesPC_Jan15_2014[/frame]Forty-five of the state’s 53 third-class cities, including Scranton and Harrisburg, were immediately precluded from consideration under that version. Reading was one of eight cities that remained eligible for the program but was shut out of participation after the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development selected Lancaster and Bethlehem for inaugural CRIZ involvement.

“We are happy that Lancaster and Bethlehem were selected and are on their way to reaping the benefits of the CRIZ program. However, there are too many cities like Scranton, Reading and Erie that need and can use this, and they should have that ability now,” Schwank said during a Capitol Rotunda press conference.

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Blake called the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone program a “critical tool” that cities need to stir strong community revitalization and spark significant economic development.

“The state must be a better partner with our cities in fostering investment, stabilizing our local tax bases, and sparking economic growth and infrastructure investment. The CRIZ program can serve to revitalize Scranton, Reading and our other small cities without adverse impact on the state General Fund,” Blake said.

Under their proposal, DCED would award 15 City Revitalization and Improvement Zones between now and 2016. Bethlehem and Lancaster would be included in that total but spots would open for other communities based on population and other criteria.

After 2016, the state would add two cities every year to CRIZ, regardless of population. This is the current requirement under state law.

There would also be five pilot programs for boroughs and townships of at least 7,000 people, compared to just one under the current language. Additionally, Act 47 communities would receive priority status if they applied for CRIZ participation.

The CRIZ program was modeled after a Neighborhood Improvement Zone initiative that has proven to be an economic development marvel in downtown Allentown.

“Giving more cities the power of a CRIZ designation will bring new investment in local economies because it will target the problems that caused their financial suffering and eliminated the features that once made them vibrant,” Blake said. “CRIZ will redevelop eligible vacant, blighted and abandoned properties into commercial, exhibition, hospitality, conference, retail community or other mixed-use purpose facilities that residents will be proud of for years to come.”

“Reading, Scranton and other cities will still have to step up to the plate to qualify for CRIZ designations if this bill is adopted,” Schwank said. “Hopefully, we will give them that opportunity in time to help them.”

Properly managed, the senators said City Revitalization and Improvement Zones will not burden the commonwealth’s budget.