Blake, Local Officials Talk Budget, State Issues at Legislative Breakfast

CLARKS SUMMIT, February 14, 2013 – – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today hosted nearly 100 elected and appointed local officials from around the 22nd Senatorial District at his 3rd annual legislative breakfast at the Ramada Inn in Clarks Summit.

“During my campaign for Senate, I made a pledge to be accessible to citizens of the 22nd District and to be responsive to the concerns and needs of our communities and local officials,” Blake said. “This annual legislative breakfast is a great opportunity to continue dialogue with local officials and ensure they have full understanding of the state budget process and the major public policy debates occurring in Harrisburg.”

At the event, Blake discussed details of Governor Corbett’s proposed executive budget and provided details, and his position, on several other issues likely to be addressed in 2013-14 legislative session including transportation funding and the Governor’s proposed state pension reforms and liquor control system privatization. The Senator outlined his legislative agenda and his commitment to fostering tax fairness while advancing economic growth and jobs in Northeastern PA and throughout the state.

Nathan Byerly, Deputy Director the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, gave a presentation on the state’s Open Records law. Blake, a proponent of transparency and open government, is currently the prime sponsor of a Senate bill that would amend the state’s Open Records law to include the four state-related universities.

The annual legislative breakfast is an opportunity for elected and appointed municipal officials and school district officials from Lackawanna, Luzerne and Monroe Counties to interact with the Senator and to discuss issues of interest and concern to their communities.

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Senate Democrats Applaud Attorney General Kane’s Decision on Lottery

Harrisburg, February 14, 2013 – State Senate Democrats applauded Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s decision to reject the Corbett Administration’s plan to privatize the management of the Pennsylvania Lottery to a U.K.-based company Camelot Global Services.

“The Attorney General made a proper decision,” Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said. “Pennsylvania seniors and all Pennsylvania residents can rest easy now that the Attorney General took this action and put a stop to the expansion of gaming without proper authorization.”

“The entire plan was flawed.” Costa, the Democratic Leader said. “It is clear that there are ways for current employees of the Lottery to be given the latitude to implement changes that will produce better results and even more money being generated.”

At a news conference today in Harrisburg, Kane said that she could not approve the deal negotiated between the Corbett Administration and Camelot. The Attorney General cited several reasons for her denial including that the arrangement infringed on the legislative powers of the General Assembly, that the plan was an illegal expansion of gaming without proper authorization and that the plan involved a waiver of sovereign immunity.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) who serves as Democratic Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee said that Kane took the correct course in refusing to approve the Private Management Agreement (PMA.)

“We do not need a foreign-based company managing the operations of the Lottery when we have Pennsylvania residents with the ability to produce more dollars to bolster senior programs.” Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Sen. Vincent Hughes said.

“The AFSCME study indicated that there were many pathways available for Pennsylvania officials to take to generate new dollars without privatizing the Lottery,” Hughes said. “There are tools available for the legislature to give to the Lottery that will produce a better deal. Plus, we can be transparent with our action and deliberation.”

The recommendations made by AFSCME were contained in a counterproposal that the union generated following the governor’s decision to privatize the Lottery. AFSCME indicated in its presentation that it could generate $1.5 billion more in lottery profit.

“We can do a better job and do it in an open process involving the current Lottery personnel,” Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware), the Senate Democratic Whip said. “The Attorney General was clear that the General Assembly needs to be involved and that arbitrary action cannot be taken by the administration.

“There is no reason why we cannot open the process and allow the Lottery to suggest ways it can generate even more profits.”

State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe), the Democratic Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said that there were so many questions about the privatization scheme that went unanswered and that the whole process needs to be restarted at the beginning and include the General Assembly.

“From the time the PMA was announced there has been great unease about the process and the procedures that were included in the deal,” Blake said. “I am pleased that Attorney General Kane put a roadblock up today and announced her decision to deny the PMA.

“Now members of the General Assembly can look at ways on building on the strengths of the successful Lottery that we now operate to generate more funds for seniors, using employees of the Lottery who are Pennsylvania residents.”

Costa said that he especially appreciated the fact that Attorney General Kane removed politics from the decision, focused on the legal issues involved in the contract and made the right call on behalf of Pennsylvania’s seniors.

Hughes said that there is no question that lawmakers will be able to generate the $50 million that was part of the agreement and that was included in the governor’s budget presentation.

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Costa, Blake to Gov: Let Lottery Implement AFSCME Approach to Raise Profit

Harrisburg, February 11, 2013 – State Sens. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) and John Blake (D- Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) said that instead of outsourcing the Pennsylvania Lottery’s operations to a U.K. company, Camelot Global Services, the governor should allow the Lottery to implement AFSCME’s recommendations to raise new revenue.

“Instead of privatizing the management of the Pennsylvania Lottery, the governor should instruct the Lottery to move on many of the recommendations made in the AFSCME report so that hundreds of millions in new revenue can be generated,” Costa, the Senate Democratic Leader, said. “If current Lottery employees were given the latitude that is called for in the PMA with Camelot, they would clearly equal or exceed the revenue projections of the proposed contractor.”

“Instead of privatizing lottery operations without the consultation of lawmakers, we should be using our current, dedicated and capable Pennsylvania employees to grow the Lottery and generate more revenue to aid our seniors,” Blake said.

Blake, who serves as the Democratic Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said that it would make more sense to build on the strengths of a successful system and a successful Lottery workforce rather than turning the entire operation over to a private, for-profit enterprise.

“I see no reason why we need to privatize the Lottery using a foreign concern when we can implement many of the recommendations made in the AFSCME report to boost revenue,” Blake said. “The governor should reconsider the decision on outright privatization and instead build on our successful system by expanding its discretion and simply augmenting its operations with any needed outside marketing or managerial experience.”

The recommendations made by AFSCME were contained in a counterproposal that the union generated following the governor’s decision to privatize the Lottery using a Private Management Agreement (PMA). AFSCME indicated that it could generate $1.5 billion more in lottery profit.

A recent Franklin and Marshall survey indicated sixty-four percent of registered voters who were asked oppose privatization of the Pa Lottery.

“The AFSCME proposal contains recommendations that will boost revenue, institute more internal controls and provide for greater accountability. We need to give our Lottery and our workers a chance to create more revenue and expand before we send the management of our system overseas,” Costa said.

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Blake: Smoke and Mirrors Budget Proposal Fails on Job Growth

HARRISBURG, February 5, 2013 — State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding Gov. Corbett’s proposed $28.4 billion budget.

“Today the Governor expressed optimism for our state but there was little in his budget – or in his policy priorities – to convey confidence or optimism to the people of Pennsylvania”.

“We should be focusing our energy and our resources on jobs and economic growth – but these issues are not foremost in the Governor’s spending plan. Pennsylvania currently ranks 34th out of 50 states in job growth and steep declines in sales tax revenues evidence further deterioration in consumer confidence. There is little in the Governor’s budget, or in his policy priorities, that will change this economic trajectory.”

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“As it relies upon one-time, unconventional revenue sources, the Governor’s budget is speculation at best and it is not focused on our long term economic vitality. The Governor proposes to balance the budget with $50 million from an ill-advised lottery privatization; a speculative $100 million plus from so-called “pension reform”; and $1 billion for public education – but only if we put 5,000 state workers out of a job and set up 20,000 new retail outlets to dispense alcohol across the state.”

“The Governor also noted today that we need to work together to provide access to greater and affordable health care. With 500,000 working class Pennsylvanians without health insurance and forced away from preventive care and into the highest cost access point to our health care system – emergency rooms – we simply cannot afford a budget proposal that leaves an estimated $675 million in federal assistance on the table.”

“Fortunately, the General Assembly will have a say in the final 2013-14 spending plan for this Commonwealth. The Governor’s budget, as a starting point, has us pointed in the wrong direction. We can and we will do better.”

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Blake: Lackawanna and Monroe County Projects to Receive Over $3M in Grants

HARRISBURG, January 29, 2013 – – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today announced state grants totaling over $3 million for 14 projects located throughout Lackawanna and Monroe Counties.

“The Local Share gaming funds continue to provide a much-needed revenue stream for projects that improve our quality of life, enhance public safety, encourage economic development and create jobs. These projects throughout Lackawanna and Monroe Counties are important to our communities, and, thanks to the hard work of local officials, have earned state support,” Blake said. “I also applaud the House delegation of Lackawanna, Luzerne and Monroe Counties for their hard work in advancing the approval of these funds.”

Projects that received funding in Lackawanna County include:

  • The City of Scranton received $500,000 to pave streets over several blocks throughout downtown and surrounding neighborhoods that have been destroyed by cracks and potholes.
  • The City of Scranton received $440,000 to assist Lace Building Affiliates, LP, with a portion of the Scranton Lace Company Industrial Complex remediation project through demolition and remediation activities.
  • Lackawanna County received $400,000 to assist Geisinger Health Systems with the purchase of new laboratory, women’s health, pediatric, radiology, and primary care equipment at the Mount Pleasant Outpatient Center in the City of Scranton.
  • Dunmore Borough received $345,000 to renovate and build an addition to the existing firehouse located in the borough.
  • Scott Township received $275,000 to construct a new gravity sewer line from Scott Technology Park to the township central sewer system.
  • The City of Carbondale received $275,000 for façade and building improvements at six locations in the designated Enterprise Zone along historic Route 6 in the Salem Ave./North Main Street corridor.
  • · Jefferson Township received $120,000 to acquire land as part of establishing a recreational facility in the township.
  • · Olyphant Borough received $65,000 for the construction of a 970 square foot ADA compliant field house and a 330 square foot pavilion at Condella Park.
  • Jermyn Borough received $70,000 to install a new roof on the borough community center.
  • Moosic Borough received $60,000 for construction, infrastructure, and engineering costs to widen East Corey St. – the dividing line between the Borough and the City of Scranton.
  • Clarks Summit Borough received $19,987 to purchase four Hoenni Loadmaster Wheel Load Weighers and related equipment to start a Commercial Vehicle Enforcement project.

Projects that received funding in Monroe County include:

  • Coolbaugh Township received $511,699 for the preparation and acquisition costs associated with the construction of a left-hand turning lane at the intersection of State Route 196 and entrance to A Pocono Country Place main gate.
  • Barrett Township received $20,000 for the purchase of an emergency generator for The Shepherds low-income senior housing center.
  • Monroe County Industrial Development Authority received $50,319 to assist the American Red Cross of the Pocono with the purchase of an emergency response vehicle.

All projects were approved Tuesday at a meeting of the Commonwealth Financing Authority. The funds were made available through the allocation of gaming funds for community and economic development projects.

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