Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Ex-Pa. Treasurer Barbara Hafer pleads not guilty in federal corruption case

Wallace McKelvey, Harrisburg Patriot News

Monday, August 1, 2016

Former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that she lied to FBI and IRS agents who were investigating corruption, including "pay to play" deals. U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Schwab set an Oct. 4 trial date for Hafer and Richard Ireland, a businessman who allegedly shared millions of dollars in fees from the Treasury Department, after the two contested the charges against them. The trial will take place at the Federal Building in Harrisburg. Prosecutors charged Hafer, who served as treasurer from 1997 to 2005, with two counts of making false statements to federal agents in an interview, allegedly in order to conceal payments of $500,000 from the businessman after she left office. Ireland faces 79 counts, including charges related to money laundering, in what prosecutors said was an effort to bribe former state treasurer Rob McCord between 2009 and 2014. McCord, a Democrat, resigned his office and pleaded guilty last year. Hafer, 72, of Indiana, began her tenure as treasurer as a Republican but switched parties to become a Democrat in 2003. She also previously served as the state's auditor general. In a written statement last month, Hafer's attorney John A. Knorr said the charges against his client were based on "little more than simple lapses in memory." After Hafer, McCord and Budd Dwyer, a Republican who fatally shot himself during a 1987 press conference after being convicted of conspiracy charges, Pennsylvania has seen three of its state treasurers face federal indictments. That troubling statistic prompted a public statement from current Treasurer Timothy Reese, who stepped in after McCord's resignation: "While I will not comment on the ongoing legal proceedings, it is important to note that these indictments do not allege any improper use or mismanagement of public funds entrusted to Treasury."

Pennsylvania government overtime grew 10 percent last year

The Associated Press

Monday, August 1, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania state workers were paid a two-decade high of $250 million in overtime last year, an increase of nearly 10 percent over 2014, according to a report. An analysis of payroll records by The Sunday Times of Scranton showed a five-year trend of increased use of overtime, a trend the newspaper said was driven by hiring freezes and unfilled vacancies. The need for around-the-clock medical care at state hospitals and state police staffing for Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia in September are other major factors driving the hike in state government overtime. The paper said prison overtime has doubled since 2010, from $49 million to $100 million, while its workforce and the number of prisoners are both down by nearly 3 percent over that period. Prison overtime rose by $23 million last year alone. The state's payroll last year for all workers under the governor's jurisdiction, salary and overtime combined, was about $4.4 billion. The nonpartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee is currently examining the benefits of utilizing prison overtime versus hiring more staff. "The study should give us a better understanding of why overtime costs continue to soar while the inmate population declines," Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, told the newspaper. He worries the increased hours may take a toll on correctional officers. Prison vacancies reached a peak of 1,500 because of a hiring freeze several years ago, but dropped to less than 500 by April. It can take a year for new officer to be fully trained on the job. "The ultimate goal is to keep overtime spending down, but the reality is our agency experiences an average of 600 correctional officer separations/transfers/retirements per year," said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sue McNaughton. Pennsylvania's 16,000-employee Department of Human Services racked up almost $37 million in overtime last year for a one-year increase of $5.5 million. [MORE]

Proposed legislation would crack down on Pennsylvania Turnpike toll cheats

Brad Bumsted, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Monday, August 1, 2016

HARRISBURG — Motorists blow past Pennsylvania Turnpike toll booths every year, resulting in millions of dollars of losses. The agency that manages more than 500 miles of highway is supporting legislation to punish those scofflaws. A bill pending in the state Senate would “give us the hammer we need to go after habitual toll cheats,” Turnpike Commission Chairman Sean Logan said. “This measure would ensure that everyone pays their fair share. There are no free rides.” The bill by Senate Transportation Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery County, and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, would allow PennDOT to suspend the registrations of motorists until they pay. “We're giving the turnpike the teeth to collect like other states have done,” Rafferty said. Maryland, Texas and New York have moved to punish scofflaws, according to the Turnpike Commission and news accounts. An exact count of states taking such steps wasn't available from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Pennsylvania has shown no interest in publishing the names of scofflaws, as some states have done, an agency spokesman said. In 2015-16, Pennsylvania wrote off more than $5.4 million in losses from drivers who refused to pay after receiving first and second warnings, agency figures show. That can't be ignored for an agency with $7 billion in debt, Rafferty said. “Toll revenues are vital so the turnpike can continue to improve and expand our aging toll-road system and provide supplemental funding to PennDOT, which helps public-transit agencies keep fares reasonable for riders across the state,” said Logan, a former Democratic senator from Plum. Unpaid toll losses skyrocketed by 45.34 percent from 2014-15 to fiscal year 2016, agency figures show. “It is because we did see both traffic and revenue increases,” including a new E-ZPass-only interchange in the Poconos, said Carl DeFebo, a turnpike spokesman. [MORE]

Mike Bloomberg endorses Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania Senate race

Jonathan Tamari, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Monday, August 1, 2016

WASHINGTON -- Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg endorsed Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) for reelection Monday, throwing his weight, and potentially money, behind the incumbent in a critical Senate race. Bloomberg, an independent who spoke out forcefully in favor of Hillary Clinton at last week's Democratic National Convention, also endorsed two Pennsylvania Democrats: Josh Shapiro, who is running for attorney general, and Joe Torsella, a candidate for treasurer. "Chances are that no candidate is ever going to be perfect for you on every issue, but when brave people buck party orthodoxy and demonstrate bold, pragmatic leadership, they deserve support from all of us,” Bloomberg said in a statement released by his Super PAC, Independence USA. Bloomberg's support gives Toomey the seal of approval from a big name known for defying typical partisan loyalties. Facing Democratic attacks painting him as an extreme conservative, Toomey has worked hard to appeal to moderate, middle-ground voters, who are likely to be keys to a hard-fought race targeted by both parties. Bloomberg, one of the country's most vocal proponents of tougher gun laws, singled out Toomey's work as the co-sponsor of a bill to expand background checks for firearms purchases, making him one of the few Republicans willing to support such measures. “His pragmatic leadership in Washington deserves the support of every Pennsylvanian," Bloomberg said in the release. Toomey is competing with Democrat Katie McGinty in a race that could help determine control of the Senate. McGinty has criticized Toomey's more recent votes on gun laws, including his opposition to a Democratic measure aimed at barring terror suspects from buying guns. Toomey said the plans did not provide enough recourse for people wrongly added to federal terror watch lists, and voted for other proposals aimed at tackling the issue. [MORE]

State DEP declares portion of Susquehanna River 'impaired'

John Hayes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The state Department of Environmental Protection has declared a portion of the Susquehanna River to be “impaired,” the first-ever designation of that kind for a major Pennsylvania waterway. The finding is based on a multi-agency report on a long-term fish sickness and pollutants emptied into Chesapeake Bay. The controversial designation releases undetermined state and federal funding and actions. But representatives of stakeholder groups that participated in the report suggest the narrow ruling covering just 4 miles of water is itself controversial. “Despite how long this has been going on, all the research that’s been done, this doesn’t address the issue,” said John Arway, executive director of the state Fish and Boat Commission, who for years has been lobbying for Susquehanna River remediation. The joint study released this year by the DEP, the state Fish and Boat Commission and a half-dozen partner agencies showed a connection between a widespread smallmouth bass disease and agricultural runoff and municipal sewage discharge, with parasite infestation a secondary complication. Mr. Arway said the long-awaited DEP action addresses only a local problem involving catfish contamination by PCB chemicals. “The local issue that the DEP deals with here has nothing to do with the health of the bass and the larger problems that we researched,” he said. “The primary decision about whether to list [as impaired] or not was because of the health of the bass. They deferred their decision on the bass until 2018.” The DEP extended an existing fish consumption advisory to additional parts of the river, but Harry Campbell, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the impairment decision does not address bay pollution. “Considering the plight of the smallmouth bass, not declaring the lower Susquehanna to be impaired is another example of Pennsylvania’s continued lack of leadership, dedication and investment when it comes to following through with its … commitment that dates back to 2010,” he said in a statement. [MORE]

Tesla and SolarCity Agree to $2.6 Billion Deal

Mike Ramsey & Cassandra Sweet, The Wall Street Journal

Monday, August 1, 2016

Tesla Motors Inc.on Monday said it had reached a deal to buy SolarCity Corp.for less than the price it originally proposed, as Elon Musk takes the next step forward with his plan to combine his electric-car and solar-energy companies. The all-stock deal values SolarCity at about $2.6 billion, with SolarCity stockholders receiving 0.11 share of Tesla for each share of SolarCity, valuing them at $25.83 apiece, according to Friday’s closing prices. That is below the original range of $26.50 to $28.50 per SolarCity share that Tesla had proposed in June. Mr. Musk said Monday he wasn’t involved in the decision making about the valuation of the purchase. If it is approved by shareholders, the deal would double Tesla’s workforce to nearly 30,000 employees and create a unique combination of solar, power storage and transportation, which Tesla says would be the world’s only integrated sustainable energy company. The new company also would tie together two money-losing entities, dependent on borrowing from the market, adding potential risk along with opportunity. Mr. Musk, who owns more than 20% of both companies and is the largest shareholder in both, plans to vote his shares in proportion to the voting by the companies’ publicly held shares. He said earlier in July that he expects two-thirds of shareholders to approve the deal, which the companies expect will close in the fourth quarter. “It’s really all part of solving the sustainable energy problem,” Mr. Musk said during a conference call with analysts to discuss the deal. “That’s why we are all doing this, to accelerate the advent of a sustainable energy world.” Some analysts were skeptical of the deal’s value for Tesla, saying that buying an unprofitable solar company may not be the best financial move for Tesla, which up to now has primarily been an auto maker. [MORE]


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