The 8th Annual FontanaFest will be held on Saturday, September 15th from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at South Side’s Riverfront Park (bottom of 18th Street at the river). The event highlights the many family-oriented activities that can be done on or near Pittsburgh’s three rivers. Join us for a FREE day of family fun with activities on the rivers, free food and drink, entertainment, door prizes, numerous booth sponsors and a variety of events. Over the next two months, you can visit www.fontanafest.com for updates on the day’s activities, booths and sponsors. It’s Rain or Shine – but I have every confidence we will have another beautiful day, so please come out and enjoy!
Lights, Camera, Action!
The Pittsburgh region has many so many attributes to offer. From the meeting point of three major rivers, to the ethnically diverse neighborhoods, to the characteristic architecture offered throughout the city, we have gained the status of being a very scenic place to live and a destination to visit. Add to that the reputation of a hard working class of citizens and the reasonable cost of living, Pittsburgh has truly become a film friendly environment which will continue to have a positive and promising impact for the state of Pennsylvania.
Much excitement has led up to the release of Christopher Nolan’s final film in the Batman trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises.” The first two installments -“Batman Begins” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008) – have earned over $1.3 billion worldwide and the trilogy has become one of the most successful reboots of the Batman franchise. This series has real implications for our area because two of the three movies were partly filmed in the Pittsburgh region thanks to a tax credit Pennsylvania offers.
Act 55 of 2007 established a film tax credit which offers directors and producers who film 60 percent of their production within Pennsylvania a 25 percent credit in taxes. For the first fiscal year (FY) this credit was available (2007-08), $75 million was allocated for the tax credit. Over the years, due to tightening in spending and conflicts during budget negotiations, the tax credit has often been a point of contention between some republicans and democrats and sometimes seen as an area to reduce funding to or complete elimination. As a result, only $42 million was allocated for the credit in FY 2009-10, but rose again in 2010-11 and has remained at $60 million, including for FY 2012-13.
At first glance, the tax credit may be seen as another incentive for the large film industry which already has millions to spend. However, upon further examination one will see that local economies are often the ones who benefit the most from such a credit because the money is directly returned to our state in other ways.
When film productions come to Pennsylvania, our state becomes the temporary home for all involved. The Commonwealth’s various industries often supply the production company and individuals with necessities thus triggering the trickledown effect. Many supplies and food are purchased in the state, car and truck rentals increase, hotel rooms are booked in the dozens, electricians are needed to help produce the backdrops and special effects, extra police are hired for security and the list goes on and on. A boost in work also means more and busier union members. What this tax credit essentially does is create and attain jobs.
The benefits don’t stop when the filming ends. Many businesses continue to sell goods relating to a movie and people will visit Pennsylvania looking to see what we have to offer from all of the media coverage. Perhaps the biggest economic impact is often felt for the various movie theaters located in Pennsylvania. Many individuals who do not have an interest in the Batman trilogy may be interested in viewing the film, to see Pittsburgh and our city’s architecture and diversity play out on the big screens. Movie theaters across the state have prepared for the Batman opening by ordering extra food supplies as well as making sure they have enough staff to meet the demands. Furthermore, when people spend money, tax revenues continue to rise.
The numbers say it all. For the $242.5 million the state has awarded in film tax credits, $1.4 billion in local economic activity has been spurred as well as the creation and attainment of nearly 14,500 jobs since the program’s inception. At the local level, the impact has been equally as impressive. For FY 2010-11 alone, Pittsburgh saw the creation of nearly 3,000 jobs attributed to films produced by companies that applied for and were approved for tax credits during that year.
The film tax credit has been the stimulus for the film industry to discover the amenities Pittsburgh and the entire state has to offer. An example of the success the tax credit has achieved is the more than 70 pictures that have been filmed in Pennsylvania since 2007. In addition, the popularity of the program continues with nearly three-quarters of applicants being left with no incentive.
As more and more states implement programs similar to Pennsylvania’s we need to make sure the Commonwealth continues to offer this incentive and in fact increase the allocation. The tax credits have proven to be instrumental in ensuring continual growth in our region by attracting major film and television shows for many years to come. I voted in favor of Act 55 of 2007 and will remain an advocate for the film tax credit because I understand the implication it has for a city like Pittsburgh and the people who live in and on the outskirts of our region.
In closing, the movies should never be a place where people risk losing their life, rather somewhere individuals can go to relax, escape from the real world and be entertained. The event that took place in Aurora, Colorado, over the weekend was truly tragic and my sympathy goes out to all of the innocent victims and their families and friends.
Voter ID Law Update
Much has been written and said about the state’s new Voter ID law, that is scheduled to take effect in time for Election Day, November 6th. Recent reports suggest anywhere from 500,000 to over 1.4 million Pennsylvanians may lack the necessary forms of identification required to vote as a result of this law. As the state begins implementing this law, there have already been changes made to the process of obtaining a voter ID and recent news, as mentioned in this Post-Gazette article, suggests that more changes to simplify the process are coming in August.
To simplify the process, beginning in August, PennDOT license centers will issue a new “Department of State voter ID card” to registered voters who know their Social Security number and can provide two documents proving their address. This change will assist voters that cannot locate their birth certificates or social security card, both of which are required under the original law. This card would be free and only be able to be used for voting purposes.
While this proposal would make it easier for individuals to apply for a voter ID, it does not change the requirement that an individual visits a PennDOT license center to obtain this ID. Many of the individuals that do not possess identification to vote, like a current driver’s license, do not drive, yet are still expected to get themselves to a driver license center to obtain a voter ID. This is a hardship and an extreme burden for many registered voters. The state should be using the federal money it receives from the Help America Vote Act to make the process of obtaining a voter ID more convenient. Why not establish temporary locations in neighborhoods throughout the Commonwealth where individuals can go to get a voter ID? Taking this service into communities would be much easier on those individuals that can’t easily access a driver’s license center. I would be happy even to provide this service in my district offices!
This new law, Act 18 of 2012, is also being challenged in Commonwealth Court and a ruling on the constitutionality of the law is expected in the next week or so. The future of this law is unclear but I want my constituents to be aware of the current situation and to know that my office is, as always, ready, willing and able to assist you in obtaining any of the information required to obtain a voter ID if you are in need of one. Please do not hesitate to contact one of my district offices if you need assistance in obtaining a voter ID or if you have questions about whether an ID you possess is acceptable in order to vote.
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) has added a special incentive intended to assist buyers of newly constructed homes with a more affordable mortgage option. Through this incentive, buyers of new homes can apply for a closing-cost assistance loan of up to $6,000. This is significantly higher than the maximum closing-cost assistance loan of $4,000, or 2 percent of the sales price, available through PHFA for buyers of existing homes.
Since January, PHFA has announced several new mortgage programs intended to meet the needs of today’s homebuyers and keep the agency’s mortgage programs competitive in the marketplace. Other advantages available for homebuyers through PHFA mortgage programs include:
- Fixed-rate financing with competitive rates and lower fees.
- A new conventional mortgage program that provides up to 97 percent financing with no mortgage insurance, resulting in lower monthly payments for the borrower. This mortgage product has no first-time homebuyer requirement.
- FHA, VA and RD loans also are available, with no PHFA income limit or first-time homebuyer requirement.
- PHFA continues to offer no-cost homebuyer education to help buyers make better-informed home purchase decisions.
Anyone interested in additional information about PHFA’s affordable mortgage programs should call the Homebuyer Hotline during weekday business hours at 1-800-822-1174. More information is also available at www.phfa.org – look under the blue “Homebuyer” header.
Did You Know…
Did you know, since its creation by the legislature in 1972, the PHFA has generated $10.5 billion of funding for more than 147,000 single-family home mortgage loans and 83,000 rental units, while saving the homes of more than 46,000 families from foreclosure?
Contracting Opportunities for Small Businesses
The Pennsylvania Department of General Services has launched the Small Business Procurement Initiative (SBPI) and expanded the Small Diverse Business Program (SDBP). The SBPI reserves certain procurements for competition among only self-certified small businesses and enables them to participate in state contracting opportunities as prime contractors. These are businesses that employ 100 or fewer employees and meet maximum revenue requirements. The SDBP encourages and ensures open and equitable contracting practices are used by prime contractors in soliciting and contracting with small diverse businesses. This program has been expanded to allow small veteran-owned businesses the same opportunities as their small minority- and women-owned counterparts. More information on these two programs can be found on the newly created www.smallbusiness.pa.gov website.
Retail Workforce Development
Neighbors in the Strip, in collaboration with Pittsburgh Public Market, has received a private foundation grant to fund a one-year pilot project to provide retail specific training for individuals who receive, or are eligible to receive, unemployment compensation and/or public assistance (TANF). This training is for a period
of three months and involves one week in a classroom setting with the remaining 11 weeks spent doing hands on training by creating a permanent retail booth within Pittsburgh Public Market. The goal is for all trainees to obtain the necessary skills to secure a job in retail sales and potentially gain the knowledge and skills to open their own small business.
Selected participants will receive a stipend of $1,500 spread over the three month training period with the bulk of the stipend payable upon completion of the program. If you are interested in retraining or expanding your job skills in the field of retail sales or entrepreneurship, please contact 412-201-4774 or visit www.neighborsinthestrip.com.
Civic Leadership Academy
Applications are available for the city of Pittsburgh’s Civic Leadership Academy, a free 10-week course designed to educate residents about local government in the city of Pittsburgh. The weekly sessions begin September 12th and run through November 14th with sessions taking place on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Attendees will learn how different city departments work to ensure a safer, more livable city and session topics will include: city organization and vision; budgeting processes; city planning and economic development; public works and parks services; the protection of water and rivers; public safety efforts; and much more. City directors will develop their sessions to include tours, hands-on demonstrations and fun activities to provide an up-close and personal view of how their department helps operate the city. At the conclusion of the course, Mayor Ravenstahl will lead a graduation ceremony where participants will be awarded certificates.
Applicants to the program must be at least 18 years old and live within Pittsburgh city limits and/or be a business owner operating within city limits. Applications are due by 5 p.m. on August 13th. For more information on the Civic Leadership Academy and to apply, please visit www.cia.pittsburghpa.gov.
As the 2012 Summer Olympics get underway later this week, I want to acknowledge a local athlete competing on the world’s highest stage. Cassidy Krug, a 2003 graduate of Montour High School, has earned a spot on the U.S. Women’s Diving Team, and will be competing in the 3-meter springboard, August 3rd – 5th. Cassidy is a 10-time national champion and won a silver medal at the 2011 Pan American Games in the 3-meter springboard. The Kennedy Township native is a three-time Pennsylvania state diving champion. Please join me in congratulating Cassidy on the honor of representing the United States at the Olympic Games in London. Best of luck Cassidy!
Summer Activities in Buhl Community Park
The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh hosts the Solar Concert Series each Wednesday during July and August. Bring your lunch and enjoy free live music in the sunshine at Buhl Community Park at Allegheny Square. Concerts begin at 12:15 p.m. and feature a solar-powered sound system.
On Tuesdays and Fridays the Children’s Museum hosts the “Cook It!” series. Attendees can discover the joys of seasonal eating in this new series of interactive cooking demonstrations hosted by Big Red Room Café Chef, Angelo Galioto. Taste new foods and engage your whole family in the fun of cooking as Chef Angelo shows you how to prepare easy, delicious recipes using ingredients straight from the Museum Garden. This garden-to-table adventure begins at 12:15 p.m. each Tuesday and Friday during the summer.
For more information or to learn more about Children’s Museum events, please visit www.pittsburghkids.org.
The Pittsburgh Steelers begin their 80th season with the start of training camp tomorrow at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. Founded on July 8, 1933, the Steelers are the fifth oldest franchise in the National Football League. They were originally nicknamed the Pirates and played their first season in a 10-team NFL in 1933. In their first season, the “Pirates” finished with a record of 3-6-2 and recorded the first win in franchise history on September 27, 1933, 14-13 over the Chicago Cardinals.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana