Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Transit users, some in tears, warn of fallout from proposed transit cuts

Posted By on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 12:50 PM

Tina Janoss's voice broke as she explained the implications of cutting bus service in her Homestead neighborhood. Her son has special needs; her husband also suffers from multiple health issues. She says her family of four can't afford a car, and she already walks to work.

If Port Authority officials carry out proposed service cuts, she worried, "They will be leaving us with no options."

Janoss is one of dozens today expected to testify on the implications of a proposed 35 percent service reduction to Port Authority bus and light rail service. Paratransit through ACCESS would also be reduced under the plan, and up to 600 could be laid off. Port Authority has proposed the reductions as a result of a $64 million budget deficit as a result of a lack of adequate state funding.

The hearing goes until 8 p.m. at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center downtown. More than 345 riders are expected to testify.

Continue reading »

EDMC fights on in court, Congress

Posted By on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 9:23 AM

The United States Department of Justice says it has never condoned the incentive-based recruiter compensation plan of Pittsburgh–based for-profit educator Education Management Corporation ... despite the company's claim to the contrary in a federal lawsuit.

Continue reading »

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Note to female-type citizens: Here's why you need to seek more (pro-choice) female candidates

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 2:35 PM

If you read this blog, chances you are a remarkably informed citizen. (Not to mention your keen taste for luminous prose!) So you've probably heard the furor surrounding House Bill 1077, Harrisburg's charmingly misnamed "Women's Right to Know Act." This is the legislation that requires any woman seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound first, on the apparent theory that she's too stupid to realize that abortions are for women who are pregnant. Or, as the bill touchingly puts it:

A woman considering an abortion has the right to receive complete and accurate information regarding the development and health of her unborn child.

In recognition of the importance of a woman's dignity in making an informed choice, the factual information provided by an ultrasound test should be provided to a woman as an integral part of the informed consent necessary to undergo an abortion.

Unsurprisingly for a Republican-backed bill, this concern for "a woman's dignity" only extends so far. It does not, for example, allow her to opt out of having the ultrasound -- though she may avert her eyes from the screen. As noted in this space before, Republicans' normally boundless faith in the wisdom of consumers doesn't extend to pregnant women.

All this you know. But what you may not realize is that while this is primarily a Republican bill, when it passed the state House committee on Health, local Democrat Dan Deasy sided with the GOP on every substantive vote.

And will Pittsburghers who oppose that position have any recourse at the polls this year? They will not.

Deasy did at least vote with Democrats on a pair of motions to delay the measure. But otherwise, he marched right along.

On an amendment to remove penalties for waiving the "right" to have the ultrasound? Deasy voted with Republicans, and against Democrats, to leave the penalties in.

On an amendment to explicitly state that nothing in the bill "may be constructed to limit a woman's right to refuse medical advice and treatment"? Deasy voted with the GOP, and against his fellow Dems.

On an amendment requiring the "use of ultrasound to rule out natural miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy"? Deasy was the only Dem to support the GOP position.

And finally, on the motion to report this bill out of committee and move it along the legislative process? Deasy was one of two Dems to vote with the GOP majority.

It's not as if Deasy's vote would have changed the outcome here. Republicans have a 14-10 majority on the committee. But Deasy's role -- the only Democrat to vote with Republicans on every change to the bill's language -- is conspicuous. And he'll have a chance to repeat such performances this time next year too.

Continue reading »

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dennis Roddy lives! And he may be posting in a blog near you!

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2012 at 6:50 PM

As regular readers know, this space has nurtured a minor obsession over the doings of Dennis Roddy, late of the Post-Gazette and long one of the city's finest journalists. Roddy left the P-G a year ago, to join Gov. Tom Corbett's communications team. And while evidence of Roddy's handiwork has cropped up once or twice since then, his voice has scarcely been heard in Pittsburgh.

Until this week, when he waded into an online debate at a blog opposed to Corbett's education spending.

The blog, Yinzercation, was recently launched by Dr. Jessie B. Ramey, a college instructor and Pittsburgh Public Schools parent. (In the spirit of full disclosure -- and because this post will concern a debate over the need to disclose things -- I should note that while reporting this story, I discovered that Dr. Ramey's brothers are childhood friends of my brother and I, though none of us have seen each other in decades.) Ramey says the blog, and an associated Facebook page, is "a grassroots place to organize for the fight" for more education funding in the state budget. Ramey says about 300 people follow the site. While its first concern is with Pittsburgh schools, she says, it is attracting supporters -- and linking up with similar efforts -- from around the region.

It has also attracted the attention of Roddy, who has taken issue with its characterization of Corbett's budget priorities ... and with the growth of educators' salaries and benefits.

Continue reading »

Come Fly With Me...to Milwaukee

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2012 at 9:50 AM

What's the worst part of flying to Milwaukee? When you get off the plane, you're in Milwaukee.

Ba-dum-dum

And what's the best part of flying to Milwaukee? Hopefully for area travelers it's the additional flights to come.

On Friday, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that Frontier Airlines will recommence daily non-stop flights from Pittsburgh International to Frontier's Milwaukee hub. The service — the area's only direct flight to the region — ended unexpectedly in December but will begin again May 17 with two flights a day. (The schedule appears in the full press release, below.)

 "These new flights from Milwaukee General Mitchell International Airport will enhance nonstop service at the Pittsburgh International Airport.  This is an important destination for business and we are thrilled with Frontier Airlines' decision," Fitzgerald said in a statement.

While any expansion at the airport is nice, on its face travelers might not be willing to get too excited about a direct flight to Cheese State. Still, aside from the fact that an additional direct flight to a hub airport anywhere opens up choices for travelers, this also marks a very early victory for the Fitzgerald's team.

At a press conference over the summer, during the height of his election campaign, Fitzgerald talked about driving traffic through the airport. It struck me as normal campaign rhetoric; his Republican challenger was saying the same thing, after all.

But when I talked to him afterward, he legitimately seemed to have a plan to get more flights into the airport. That plan involved starting small, bringing back flights and growing new flights using smaller carriers — basically building it back up in pieces, methodically.

It's certainly easy to understand why today's announcement of a non-stop to Milwaukee may initially give one a feeling of "So what?" But Fitzgerald's administration isn't even 60 days old, and it's nice to see that he's already able to make an announcement like this. 

Let's hope it's just the first of many; we've got a million dumb jokes about a lot of other cities all ready to go.



Frontier Airlines to Resume Pittsburgh to Milwaukee Service

PITTSBURGH - Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced today that Frontier Airlines will resume Pittsburgh to Milwaukee service with two flights a day beginning Thursday, May 17, 2012.  The news came as the Executive, the Airport Authority and business leaders work cooperatively to provide more direct flights for the region's businesses and residents.

"Increasing the direct flights for our region is a priority of my administration," said Fitzgerald.  "These new flights from Milwaukee General Mitchell International Airport will enhance nonstop service at the Pittsburgh International Airport.  This is an important destination for business and we are thrilled with Frontier Airlines' decision."

Frontier Airlines had ended its direct service to Milwaukee last January, leaving the region without any direct service to the Wisconsin market.  The news was well-received in the region because it means increased access for business and leisure travelers.  

"Frontier Airlines is pleased to bring Pittsburgh travelers their only nonstop access to Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport," Daniel Shurz, Frontier's senior vice president, commercial. "Customers will enjoy Frontier's low fares in Milwaukee and on connections to destinations across the United States and Mexico."

Flights can be booked today at Frontier's website:  http://www.frontierairlines.com/.  The flight schedule for Pittsburgh (PIT) – Milwaukee (MKE) is:

  • First travel date 5/17/12
  • Depart PIT 07:29 – Arrive MKE 08:05
  • Depart PIT 13:19 – Arrive MKE 13:55
  • Depart MKE 10:25 – Arrive PIT 12:53
  • Depart MKE 18:50 – Arrive MKE 21:18

Friday, February 17, 2012

Road Rage: Dems and Republicans square off over transportation

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 6:01 PM

In the mounting fight over funding transportation in the state, Republicans and Democrats each fired shots today.

First, Gov. Tom Corbett – in Pittsburgh to tour Calgon Carbon Corporation -- told reporters that Democratic lawmakers were "ballsy" for criticizing him on not acting yet on a transportation funding solution, the Tribune-Review reported.

Noting that Democrats had failed to provide a lasting funding source during 8 years under Governor Ed Rendell, Corbett said: "For them to call on me and say, 'We need to fix this problem in the first 14, 13 months you're in office ... It's ballsy."

Democratic lawmakers had their own take on the situation. Democratic leader Frank Dermody D-Oakmont was "amused by the governor's colorful language, but notes that both Democrats and Republican lawmakers have pleaded with the governor to do something," says Bill Patton, Dermody's spokesman, in an e-mail. "Tom Corbett took office 13 months ago, established a commission to study transportation 12 months ago, received the commission's recommendations seven months ago, and in his second annual budget address 10 days ago Mr. Corbett claimed to have 'developed some workable solutions.'"

Dermody also upped the rhetorical ante today, issuing a co-sponsorship memorandum asserting that he planned to introduce legislation that would rename the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to the "Department of Deferred Maintenance."

According to Dermody's memorandum, the bill "would serve an important purpose in highlighting that Gov. Corbett's inaction on transportation funding has effectively changed the mission of the Department ... While I have full respect for the Secretary and the work done by thousands of dedicated PennDOT public servants under the most difficult circumstances I believe that changing the name to Department of Deferred Maintenance is appropriate and reflects a situation the Governor created by his failure to lead."

One Pittsburgh puts out the welcome mat for Corbett

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Outside the Duquesne Club today, members of One Pittsburgh protested proposed state budget cuts to education and health services by laying out a human "red carpet" outside the club, where Gov. Tom Corbett was said to be attending a business luncheon.

The protesters' chants varied from "Hey Gov, where's the love? Give some dime to the 99," and "Hey you, millionaires, pay your fair share." Business-suit clad members of the private club walked around them or into the streets. Shortly before noon, when the luncheon was reportedly to start, six protestors rolled out a red carpet and laid underneath it on the sidewalk.

"All of the time, red carpets are laid out for so-called dignitaries," said Bob Glidden, of Point Breeze, who was under the carpet. "This is symbolic of how they are walking all over people to accumulate wealth."

Corbett did not make an appearance. But as protesters lay down, a security guard from the club asked that they move from the sidewalk. After One Pittsburgh members countered that it was a public space, the security guard said, "Fine, have it your way." A few minutes later, city police arrived on bicycle and motorcycle, and eventually four cars arrived.

"You can protest but we just need you to stand up," said Sgt. Robert Miller. "You can't block the sidewalk and force people out on the streets. We're trying to make this as peaceful as possible."

The protestors complied and rolled up the carpet, and remained in front of the club for a short while after chanting, before marching away yelling "We'll be back!"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

City council approves partial settlement in Miles case

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2012 at 3:25 PM

City Council unanimously approved a $75,000 partial settlement Wednesday between the City of Pittsburgh and Jordan Miles, freeing the city of "direct liability" in the Homewood resident's civil suit stemming from his high-profile beating and arrest at the hands of three city police officers two years ago.

The settlement, which doesn't impact the complaints against the individual officers, eliminates sections of the lawsuit claiming that the city failed to properly train, supervise and discipline its officers. But while it is no longer a defendant in the civil suit, the city could eventually be financially liable for a verdict or settlement involving officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak, since the city typically insures its employees against job-related lawsuits.

As a result of the settlement, the civil suit will no longer include an entire section entitled, "Municipal Liability." Included in that section are charges that the city "failed to establish a training program, disciplinary or supervisory procedures adequate to enable police officers to carry out their duties."

The lawsuit continues: "The failure of the Defendant City to provide the proper training, supervision and discipline has caused the Plaintiff and others to suffer violations of their Constitutional rights and created an environment which encourages police officers to take the law into their own hands."

Settling with the Miles family is certainly a good thing for the city, but it's hard to say what indirect liabilities the city could face in the future. Neither city Solicitor Dan Regan nor police union attorney Bryan Campbell immediately returned phone calls for comment. (We will post an update as soon as we hear from them.)

This isn't the first settlement the city has offered Miles. In June, the Miles family rejected a $180,000 settlement, which would have ended the litigation entirely.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Op-Ed: Ruth Ann Dailey explains why you can't have nice things

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2012 at 2:39 PM

One of the quirky things about Americans, especially those on the right of the political spectrum, is this: While we live in fear of government oppression, we accept the tyranny of our employers with a shrug.

When a Pennsylvania school district, mindful of the childhood obesity epidemic, suggested that it might be better for parents not to send cookies in school lunches, Sarah Palin was on hand to decry the war on cookies. But when employers begin punishing workers for being too fat, by contrast, the news is met with a shrug.

That's one reason there's so much to say about the Obama administration requiring church-affiliated employers -- like parochial schools or Catholic-run hospitals -- to offer employees health insurance that covers birth-control. The debate has put conservatives in an awkward position: telling you that in order for you to be free, you have to be bullied by your employer.

Take Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ruth Ann Dailey, who wrote about the issue this week. Like many conservative critics, Dailey asserts that -- although the Obama policy exempted churches themselves -- applying the rules to parochial schools and other church-related workplaces is an "assault on their constitutional rights."

Nor is Dailey (or the Catholic bishops) appeased by the concession Obama made last week: While employee insurance must still cover birth control if workers want it, the church would be exempted from any need to advise them of the benefit. Insurers would have to notify clients directly. The church's only obligation would be to look the other way ... a skill which Catholic bishops have spent considerable time honing in recent years.

Dailey calls the policy shift mere "window dressing" since "the cost [of insurance] will be passed back to the employers." And that, it seems, infringes not just on their freedoms ... but your own:

Apparently one of the things government ought to do "on your behalf" is force your employer to provide you with contraception, sterilization and abortifacients. Left-wingers want the government out of your bedroom -- unless it's standing there with a handful of "free" pills.

This is the crux of the argument as Dailey, and many others, have formulated it. And it's based on a bit of sleight-of-hand. The first sentence is about the compulsion government is placing on your employer. In the second sentence, however, Dailey treats the policy as if it's a burden placed on everyone.

Continue reading »

Friday, February 10, 2012

Do you have to go to Washington state to find a compassionate Republican? Maybe

Posted By on Fri, Feb 10, 2012 at 5:59 PM

As Pennsylvanians know, when it comes to to gay marriage, Republicans are often the ones standing in the way. But as Washington state prepares for its governor to sign a gay marriage bill into law on Monday, one Republican representative deserves some credit: Rep. Maureen Walsh.

Walsh, one of two Republicans who voted for the bill, stood on the house floor and gave an emotional, but honest, speech about her thoughts on supporting the bill. It’s since gone viral.

Among the highlights, Walsh talked about the death of her husband six years ago, and what she learned from that relationship:

"I don't miss the sex. You know? To me that’s kind of what this boils down to ... I mean I certainly miss it. But it is certainly not the aspect of that relationship that incredible bond I had with that human being that I really, really genuinely wish I still had. So I just I think to myself, 'How could I deny anyone the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life?' To me it seems almost cruel."

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