Blake Applauds Early-Stage Investments in Lackawanna County

HARRISBURG, November 14, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today applauded the investment of over $170,000 by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) in regional economic development projects.

The funding, approved by the BFTP/NEP Board of Directors, is designed to develop and grow early-stage technology-oriented companies; help established manufacturers creatively apply new technology and business practices; and to promote an innovative community-wide infrastructure.

“I applaud the BFTP/NEP Board of Directors for their dedication to bringing early-stage investment back to Lackawanna County,” Blake said. “This program has been critically important to our economy and continues to make smart investments that develop and grow our innovative local businesses.”

In 2013, Senator Blake spearheaded the development and passage of the Innovate in PA program which provided for the sale of deferred tax credits in order to provide a source of investment capital for investment by the BFTP and others.

The following local companies received an early-stage company investment through the Ben Franklin Technology Partners:

  • ChannelApe (Scranton) received $100,000 to support customer integrations and marketing and sales efforts for an integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) for e-commerce store owners.
  • Pleasant Mount Welding (Carbondale) received $25,000 to complete an advanced wastewater treatment system that removes pollutants from wastewater at treatment facilities.
  • Simplex Industries (Scranton) received $25,000 to fully integrate and implement AutoCAD 3D architecture and line automation equipment and processes to improve production flow and increase throughput.
  • JED Pool Tools (Scranton) received $21,450 to implement an Enterprise Resource Planning tool.

Since beginning operation, BFTP/NEP has helped to create 17,415 new jobs for Pennsylvania workers and to retain 27,384 existing jobs, to start 492 new companies, and to develop 1,591 new products and processes.

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Blake Announces Nearly $2 Million in Regional Grant Funding

HARRISBURG, November 14, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today announced nearly $2 million in state grants for 11 projects throughout the 22nd Senatorial District.

The grant funding was approved earlier today at a meeting of the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) and was awarded through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development under the Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program; Sewage Facilities Program and the Multimodal Transportation Fund.

“The investment of $2 million in our regional economy to support critically important infrastructure and safety projects as well as much-needed recreation projects is wonderful news for communities across Northeastern Pennsylvania,” Blake said. “I applaud our borough officials for their work to secure these competitive state investments and for their continued dedication to improving the quality of life and the safety of our transportation infrastructure for our residents.”

The largest area grants were awarded through the CFA Multimodal Transportation Fund which provides grants to encourage economic development and ensure that a safe and reliable system of transportation is available to the residents of the commonwealth.

The following NEPA projects received multimodal funding:

  • Lackawanna County received $505,367 to pave a 1.2-mile section of Stauffer Road at the Stauffer Industrial Park in Taylor Borough.
  • Pittston Township received $453,229 for improvements to Freeport Road.
  • Covington Township received $229,425 for the Langan Road bridge/culvert improvement project.
  • Archbald Borough received $205,000 to make pedestrian safety improvements along Kennedy Drive, Columbus Drive and Main Street in the borough.
  • Blakely Borough received $200,000 to fund a streetscape project in the Peckville business district.
  • The Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority received $70,000 for preliminary and final engineering design associated with the downtown connector as part of the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail located in the City of Scranton.

Four projects in Lackawanna County received funding through the Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program.  This program was funded through the Marcellus Legacy Fund established by Act 13 of 2012 and allocates funds for planning, acquisition, development, rehabilitation and repair of greenways, recreational trails, open space, parks and beautification projects. A 15% match of the total project cost is required.

The following Lackawanna County projects received Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program grant funding:

  • The Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority received $100,000 Scranton Marvine Connector project along the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail.
  • Taylor Borough received $95,245 for the construction of a splash park at Derenick Park off of Union Street in the borough.
  • Greenfield Township received $85,737 for the Greenfield Municipal Veterans Memorial Recreation Park.
  • The U.S. Ecological Advanced Research and Conservation Hub received $27,200 for the Riverwalk Amphitheater Planning Project in Mayfield.

Lastly, the Covington Township Sewer Authority received $18,147 through the Sewage Facilities Program for the expansion of the Covington Treatment Plant. The Sewage Facilities Program is also funded through the Marcellus Legacy Fund and requires a 50% match of the total project cost.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) was established in 2004 as an independent agency of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).  The CFA consists of seven Board members: four legislative appointees and the secretaries of DCED, the Office of the Budget and Department of Banking and Securities. Project approval requires five affirmative votes, four of which must come from legislative appointees.

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Joint Legislative Hearing in Pittsburgh Focuses on Eradicating Blight

Wilkinsburg, August 4, 2016 – At the request of state Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, a joint state Senate-House Democratic Policy Committee hearing was held today on efforts and resources to fight blight within our communities, including the successes and challenges of land banks.

“Blight is a scourge that impedes both business and residential interest in a community,” Costa said. “We must do what we can to give our municipalities the resources, tools and flexibility they need to quickly eradicate blight and begin revitalization efforts.”

Costa said blight poses health and safety risks, reduces neighborhood property values, drains municipal revenue on enforcement and maintenance efforts, and discourages community investment and growth.

 

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said “transforming dilapidated properties from community liabilities to revitalization linchpins must be our shared goal.”

Boscola added that Pennsylvania has approximately 300,000 vacant properties – many of them eye-sores. She said legislators should steer clear of “one-size-fits-all solutions” and give local government leaders the “flexibility to tailor revitalization efforts that fit their unique needs.”

State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny), who co-chaired the hearing, said the state has passed several laws in recent years aimed at assisting local governments in blight removal and revitalization initiatives. He added that there are also numerous proposals under consideration in the legislature that would generate more funding for demolition and revitalization work and toughen penalties against absentee owners.

Costa said a 2012 law that established land banks provides an innovative way to acquire and ready properties for reinvestment. He pointed to the local Tri-COG Land Bank as a “promising program that numerous Allegheny county communities should look into.” Tri-COG recently received a pledge of $1.5 million in seed funding from the Heinz endowment.

A land bank acquires blighted properties, clears delinquent taxes and liens, and prepares the property for investment and revitalization – all aimed at returning the property to the tax rolls and productive use. A county or municipality must have a population of at least 10,000 to form a land bank. Local governments have the option of joining and must pay 5 percent of yearly delinquent tax collections to help fund the program.

Urban Redevelopment Authority Director Kyra Straussman lamented that a fourth of the city’s footprint is abandoned and vacant property that the government does not control.

“While our tax base is eroding, we are simultaneously directly paying millions in tax dollars annually to keep problem vacant and abandoned property just as it is,” she said.

Matt Madia, who serves as chief strategy and development officer for Bridgestone Capital investment program, discussed his firm’s revitalization work, including its $9.6 million effort to revitalize the Homewood neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He said some of their business loans have resulted in new businesses occupying commercial space that would otherwise be vacant. He said providing this core business sector with its products and services helps make a neighborhood “welcoming and livable.”

Mark Mohn, vice-chair state Association of Realtors Legislative Committee, said rising property local taxes has worsened the blight problem by making home ownership less affordable. He said lawmakers should consider shifting the tax burden away from homeowners to more broad-based local and state resources.

“It’s time to stop picking the pockets of homebuyers,” Mohn added, suggesting that lawmakers should consider allowing bond referendums and Social Impact Bonds where municipalities can pay back outside investors for transforming blighted properties into productive ones.

Others who testified were: Cynthia Whitman Daley, policy director of the PA Housing Alliance; Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation; A. William Schenck, TriState Capital Bank Board Member, Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh; An Lewis, Director, Steel Rivers COG; Daniel Lavelle, board member, Pittsburg Land Bank; and Liz Kozub, Community Development coordinator, Turtle Creek COG.

Joining Costa, Gainey and Boscola were Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland), Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), and Representatives Chris Sainato (D-Lawrence) and Paul Costa (D-Allegheny).

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Senate Democrats Outline Legislation to Combat Opioid and Heroin Crisis

Harrisburg, May 18, 2016 – With drug overdose deaths reaching epidemic levels, Senate Democrats unveiled legislation today to address the opioid addiction crisis from prevention through recovery.

“Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate and there is no easy solution to fix the problem,” Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said. “When addiction finds its way into a family, it can nearly paralyze them for fear of what the future may hold.”

Recognizing the need to provide support at all levels, the Senate Democrats’ legislation focuses on providing new opportunities for education and treatment as well as expanded support options in the community for addicts, professionals and families.

“We cannot address this problem in a vacuum and must work to provide the necessary services and support to everyone involved,” Costa said. “Families are being affected and communities torn apart as a result of opioid abuses and heroin addiction.”

Opioids are a class of drug that include heroin as well as the prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others. According to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study, fatal drug overdoses in Pennsylvania increased 14 fold between 1979 and 2014.

“We are in the midst of the worst ever overdose death epidemic and the worst public health crisis of the last 100 years, Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Gary Tennis said. “It will continue to take a collaborative effort among many partners to effectively address this crisis.”

The package of legislation includes:

Emergency Addiction Treatment Program – Charging the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs with establishing a comprehensive program that includes new addiction treatment facilities for those drug users that are currently going without care; new intake methods to provide information to those with addiction problems or their family and friends; advice and assistance in accessing treatment; and data collection to help identify patterns of addiction.

School Aged Children Opioid Awareness Education Program – Requiring the Departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs, Health, and Education to work cooperatively to design an opioid awareness education programs to be delivered in schools.

Addiction Treatment Professional Loan Forgiveness Program – Require the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) to develop an addiction treatment professional loan forgiveness program.

Opioid Addiction Prevention and Treatment Assessment – Impose a 10 percent assessment on the first sale of an opioid into the state. Revenues from the assessment will be used to support the purchase of naloxone for local law enforcement and emergency management personnel in addition to supporting addiction prevention and treatment programs.

Responding to the Senate Democratic proposals to the drug and alcohol problem, Deb Beck from the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania said that the drug and alcohol problem “has reached epidemic levels in the state and these proposals will be life saving in impact.”

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Legislative Redistricting Work Group Agrees on Reform Principles

Harrisburg, March 16, 2016 – Stressing the urgency to act soon, a bipartisan, bicameral legislative work group today announced agreement on redistricting reform principles and said they hope to reach consensus on a specific bill soon. The group urged the inclusion of these principles into any redistricting reform bill.

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[divider top=”0″] “The rallying cry is our shared determination to jettison politics from the redistricting process,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who has introduced legislation (Senate Bill 484) that would establish an 11-member independent citizens’ commission to draw state and congressional district boundaries. “As we advance in our effort to build a legislative consensus, I am pleased that our group is calling for an open, transparent and publicly accountable redistricting process.”

Rep. David Parker (R-Monroe) added, “My home county has been the poster child for the problems associated with our system of legislative redistricting. For 12 years, Monroe County was split among six Pennsylvania Senate districts, even though the population justified one or two. This was corrected in the latest round of redistricting, but to ensure that this does not occur again to any of the commonwealth’s counties, my bill (House Bill 1835) contains language to prevent counties from being carved up to the point where they lose representation. The measure also establishes a citizen commission and new updated standards to ensure a more open, transparent and fair process.”

In honing in on what specific bill the work group will support, its members announced that any reform measure should contain these seven core principle:

  • Assign redistricting authority to an independent citizens commission
  • Reform both congressional and legislative redistricting.
  • Prohibit districts from being drawn to favor or discriminate against a political party or candidate;
  • Use sound methodology when setting district boundaries;
  • Ensure transparency in the process with meaningful opportunities for active public participation
  • Make all districts as equal in population as possible with a minimum range of deviation; and
  • Respect political subdivisions and communities of interest.

Formed last June, the group said it hopes to soon hammer out an agreement on legislation that can pass both the House and Senate. To get a new redistricting process in place before the next redistricting round in 2020, lawmakers must pass legislation twice to change the state’s constitution – within two consecutive two-year legislative sessions. The proposal must also be approved by voters via referendum.

Responding to local government leaders who criticize the process for needlessly splitting municipalities between different districts, the group said it is urging municipal leaders around the state to pass resolutions in support of redistricting reform.

Group members said the last Legislative Reapportionment Commission largely ignored sound redistricting tenants such as compactness and community of interest. After the state Supreme Court ruled that the commission’s maps were “contrary to law,” lawmakers were forced to go back to the drawing board. This culminated in the reapportionment process finishing up two years late, causing confusion and the need to use of the old maps for the 2012 elections.

Many members of the work group also criticized the current system for producing Pennsylvania’s many oddly shaped, gerrymandered districts. They claim the current system is unfair, discourages competition and is used by political powerbrokers to protect allies and isolate opponents. With huge majorities of Democratic or Republican voters packed into districts, critics also claim that primary elections have become more important than general elections in those regions, producing lawmakers who are more likely to toe the party line and less willing to negotiate and find common ground on issues.

“The protracted budget impasse is a good example of what can happen when so many legislators are politically hesitant about supporting negotiated agreements because they are afraid of being ‘primaried,’” Boscola said. “During the 112th Congress, a meager seven members accounted for 98 percent of cross-party votes. The public needs to understand that gridlock is just a symptom. Our corrupt reapportionment system is the disease.”

Other lawmakers at the news conference included Senators Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry), John Eichelberger (R-Blair), Mario Scavello (R-Monroe), John Blake (D-Lackawanna), John Wozniak (D-Cambria) and Representatives Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery), Pam DeLissio (D-Phila./Montgomery), Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), Brian Sims (D-Phila.) and Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne). Also on hand were advocates and organizations that favor redistricting reform.

Carol Kuniholm, executive director of the Fair Districts PA coalition said, “We applaud the legislators who are working to make our electoral mapping process transparent, impartial and fair. We encourage public support for this effort and ask all of our legislators to help restore a government of, by and for the people.”

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