Senator Fontana, pictured with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and city of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, accepts a plaque from Kimberly Lewis of the U.S. Green Building Council. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center was awarded Platinum certification under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance. Senator Fontana accepted the award as Chairman of the Sports & Exhibition Authority Board of Directors.
Last week, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a revised version Governor Corbett’s 2012-13 budget plan. Over the past few months, I have heard from individuals and groups through emails, phone calls, and meetings. When it comes to making a decision that will essentially affect all of my constituents in some form or another, I listen to your wants and needs before casting a vote. I am, after all, here to represent you.
As mentioned in an earlier edition of my News & Views, the General Assembly received good news when Pennsylvania's Independent Fiscal Office released projections showing the state bringing in over $500 million more this year than previously estimated. Therefore, Pennsylvania has additional money to work with during these budget negotiations to restore some funding. Now the discussions will focus on where and for what programs to use this surplus on.
I have stood alongside with my Senate Democrats and demanded restoration in many of the state's essential programs. We have made it clear what our priorities are and our voices really have made a difference. We have stood up to the Administration and made it known that these deeps cuts will not be tolerated.
Senate Bill 1466 (SB 1466), which is the General Appropriations for 2012-13, raises the spending level by $500 million, but restores a total of $650 million from the governor’s original cuts from the current year budget. Furthermore, this revised $27.656 billion budget is only a 1.8 percent increase over the current fiscal year, but remains a lower spending level than fiscal years 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11. Essentially, SB 1466 is fiscally responsible and restores key funding without raising taxes or incurring any new debt.
On May 9, 2012, SB 1466 passed in the Senate and I voted in favor of this legislation for several reasons. To begin, SB 1466 is not the final budget agreement, rather a vehicle to get the discussion moving forward. This is an important aspect in the negotiation process. What this bill does is sets the tone for what the Senate will view as our priorities. I feel that this legislation is a good starting point and something that all members can work with to reach a compromise.
In particular, many of the key areas that I have demanded restoration for are addressed in SB 1466:
- Increases funding for the Commonwealth Financing Authority by $9 million which will allow Pennsylvania to attract more businesses to start and expand within our state and essentially spur jobs creation/economic development
Early Childhood/Basic Education:
- Provides $50 million for the Accountability Block Grants, that were zeroed out in the Governor's proposal, which is used by school districts for kindergarten and pre-school programs, as well as for after school tutoring programs
- $50 million for Basic Education Funding
- A restoration for the Pre-K Counts Program to the 2011-12 level of $82.784 million
- Head Start Supplemental Assistance will also be restored to the 2011-12 level of $37.278 million
- This budget plan would reverse the Administration's attempt to combine various public education line items into one general allocation which many school districts have expressed would complicate their fiscal obligations
- Provides $50 million for distressed schools
- Restores $245 million in funds for the state’s 18 state-supported higher education colleges, putting back 97 percent of the $253 million in cuts from the Governor’s proposal
- Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) will receive an allocation of $8 million of addition funds for grants for students
- Furthermore, Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln have agreed that if their funding is maintained, these higher education institutions have all pledged to keep tuition hikes low if an increase must happen at all
- Restoration of $84 million of the $168 million, or 10 percent cut instead of 20 percent, for the county human services program
- The budget would add $10 million for persons with disabilities
- $35 million for hospitals and nursing homes would be restored
- Several non profit causes have been addressed under this revised budget including funding for poison control centers, hemophilia and epilepsy
Although this revised budget falls short in several areas, the proposal represents a positive shift in the priorities. Demanding more, the Senate Democrats offered amendments to SB 1466 to restore additional funding for education, human services, and child care services to name a few, however, our amendments failed.
As the General Assembly moves forward in the process, I will continue to fight for basic education, financial assistance through grants for students seeking a higher education, job creation as well as non profits that so desperately need funding. I also hope that the final budget agreement will address the issues raised when combining the seven human services program in a single block grant.
SB 1466 now heads to the House, where this legislation will undergo further negotiations between Representatives and the Governor. I encourage you to continue to reach out to the Governor as well as House members about your priorities. The fight is not over, we have just started, but this revised budget reflects positive changes towards the priorities our state has demanded.
Convention Center Receives LEED Certification
As Chairman of the Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA) Board of Directors, last week I was pleased to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, as the center unveiled its new Green Roof. The 20,000 square foot, South Terrace Green Roof, is a bookable and programmable vegetated space that will retain up to 80% of rainfall from storms, remove particulate matter from the air in an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 255 passenger vehicles, and remain fifty degrees cooler than conventional roof surfaces on the warmest summer days. In addition to these environmental benefits, 60% of the materials used for construction were locally manufactured or made from recycled materials.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, it was also announced that the Convention Center has achieved Platinum certification under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance rating system. Platinum is the highest level of certification issued by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) as part of their LEED rating system. The Convention Center is the first convention center to receive LEED certification under both the New Construction and Existing Buildings rating systems. In 2003, the Convention Center was awarded its first LEED certification.
I want to commend my colleagues on the SEA Board of Directors and thank the public officials for their commitment to the Convention Center that began with making sustainability a priority during the original design competition. Their leadership, coupled with the diligence of the SEA staff, SMG, Levy Restaurants, and the building trades to maintain the highest level of green practices, is the reason we can enjoy this LEED Platinum certification.
While the Green Roof and LEED Platinum certification are achievements in the continuous journey for sustainability at the Convention Center, it also represents something more. The transformation of a brownfield site, a former barge staging area during the height of the steel industry, into a Convention Center with two separate LEED certifications is a symbol to the rest of the world that Pittsburgh and the region is a place on the move. This was never more evident than three years ago, when leaders from around world descended upon Pittsburgh. At the conclusion of the Summit, President Obama said, “Pittsburgh was a perfect venue for this work. It serves as a model for turning the page to a 21st century economy, and a reminder that the key to our future prosperity lies not just in New York or Los Angeles or Washington – but in places just like Pittsburgh.”
Our regional leaders need to continue letting the rest of the world know that our region is ready to be a leader in the 21st century economy. Moreover, we must continue working with communities that strive to transform themselves in much the same way as has been done at the Convention Center.
Did You Know…
Did you know there are currently 76 LEED certified buildings throughout the city of Pittsburgh?
Columbia Gas Alerts Customers
Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania is asking customers to be on alert for possible thefts of copper piping and appliances from vacant homes and tampering with natural gas meters. Homes and businesses are experiencing increased incidents in the theft of copper pipe and wiring, with thieves often breaking into vacant buildings and removing piping and wiring. These removals and the removal of appliances hooked up to gas lines, poses a significant safety risk. When piping is improperly removed, natural gas flows into the premises and creates a hazardous situation in the building and surrounding areas.
Columbia Gas is encouraging anyone with vacant property, including real estate agents and homeowners leaving on an extended holiday, to either make arrangements for the premises to be monitored by a neighbor or contact Columbia Gas to temporarily disconnect service. Before requesting a service disconnection, please ask Columbia Gas about the temporary disconnection process, including any fees that may apply. Customers are also asked to be aware of unrecognized vehicles in their neighborhoods, particularly at homes known to be vacant, and to contact the police if they have any concerns.
If you suspect the theft of natural gas service you can contact the Columbia Gas Confidential Energy Theft Hotline at 1-866-515-9864. If you notice an odor of natural gas, immediately leave the area and upon reaching a safe location call Columbia Gas at 1-888-460-4332 or call 911.
2012 ATHENA Awards
The Allegheny Conference on Community Development is accepting nominations for the 2012 Greater Pittsburgh ATEHNA Award. The ATEHNA Award recognizes women who demonstrate excellence, creativity and initiative in their business profession, contribute time and energy to improving the quality of life for others in the community, and actively assist other women in realizing their full leadership potential. As they did last year, the local ATHENA committee will also recognize an emerging leader, age 35 or younger, with the ATHENA Young Professional Award.
To learn more about the ATHENA Awards and to submit a nomination, please visit www.ATHENA-Pittsburgh.com. Nominations are due June 29th at 5 p.m. and will only be accepted online. The annual ATHENA Awards Luncheon is scheduled for September 24th at the Westin Convention Center.
Cops & Kids Summer Camp
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Youth Programs Unit is hosting a summer camp for students that will help build self esteem and an understanding of the student’s role in maintaining a safe and healthy community. The Cops & Kids Camp will be held Monday through Friday during the weeks of July 16th, July 23rd, and August 6th and will run from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. All children, ages 10-14, who are city of Pittsburgh residents are eligible to attend. There is no charge for these sessions. The Cops & Kids Camp is filled on a first come, first serve basis and weekly sessions are limited to 50 children.
During the sessions, students will experience the inside workings of the police department. The classes they will attend are designed to increase knowledge of law enforcement’s place in society and aid students in making responsible decisions in their daily lives.
To learn more about the Cops & Kids Summer Camp please visit www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us or click here for an application. You may also contact Officer Kathy Curges at 412-323-7824 or email PBP_Youthprograms@pittsburghpa.gov for more information.
CCAC Celebrates National Women’s Health Week
This week represents National Women's Health Week across the country and Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) is celebrating with a free event at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) on May 19th. From 1 – 3 p.m. at the Tom Foerster Student Center, attendees will have the opportunity to receive tips on staying healthy at every age and view a farmer’s market cooking demonstration by Chef Jesse Sharrad. The cooking demonstration will show you how to cook with seasonal items and samples to taste will be provided. There will also be activities for children, including a hula hoop contest, and free prize drawings. All adults in attendance will receive reusable shopping bags filled with goodies, including a cookbook with recipes from the event.
National Women's Health Week is coordinated by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health in an effort to promote women’s health. National Women's Health Week seeks to empower women to make their health a top priority and encourages women to take steps to improve their physical and mental health and lower their risks of certain diseases. To learn more about National Women's Health Week please visit www.womenshealth.gov.
Beechview Car Cruise
The Beechview Merchants Association is hosting Cruising on Broadway, their 2nd Annual Car Cruise on May 19th. The Car Cruise will take place on Broadway Avenue in Beechview from 1 – 6 p.m. Classic, antique, custom, and muscle cars will share the boulevard for one super showing of personal tastes. Cars from all eras will be featured and are welcome to enter. Additionally, the specialty and anchor stores on Broadway Avenue will be present, featuring their unique delicacies offered at special event prices.
If you would like to register your car, please call Stephanie at 412-657-8689 or click on this link. To learn more about the Car Cruise and to view photos of some of the registered cars, please visit www.beechviewmerchants.org.
Bellevue Car Cruise
Bellevue Borough’s 4th Annual Classic Car Cruise is scheduled for May 20th, from 1 – 5 p.m. on Lincoln Avenue in Bellevue. Classic, vintage, and muscle cars as well as show bikes will be on display throughout the afternoon while local merchants and an assortment of food booths will be set-up along the sidewalk. Free parking is available on Lincoln Avenue, north of Jackson Avenue, and at the rear of the YMCA. Parking is also available on the street south of Fremont Avenue as well as in the three municipal lots located between South Sprague and Meade Avenues. For more information on the Classic Car Cruise, please visit www.enjoybellevue.org/cc2012. If you’re interested in serving as a volunteer and are able to provide an hour of time beginning at 11 a.m. to assist with logistics, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Known by many as the best way to enter an American city, the Fort Pitt Bridge replaced the old Point Bridge, which was built in 1927. For a decade after the opening of the new bridge, the Point Bridge stood unused until it's demolition in 1970.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana