News

Tax Credits Help Offset the High Cost of Adoption

Apr 20, 2015
Courtesy of Pete Rooke, via PublicSource

In 2011, the year Christi and John Rooke adopted two of their five children, the Pittsburgh couple filed for an adoption tax credit — $13,000 for each daughter who joined their family.

The couple used the $26,000 combined credit to pay off their debt, and to buy a 12-seat passenger van and a pop-up camper to take their family on cross-country adventures.

Though it may sound like a windfall, Christi Rooke said the family is strapped much of the time.

About 325 thousand older Pennsylvanians receive state subsidized prescriptions under the PACE and PACEnet pharmaceutical assistance programs. 

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has begun a performance audit of the $400-million-a-year programs.

“Since so many older people depend on these programs, we want to make sure that they are being operated as efficiently and effectively as possible to ensure that the prescription benefits will be available in the future to those who need it,” he said.

Borya / flickr

A conversation with award winning New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast about her graphic memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant” which takes a head on look at issues involved with aging, dying and death. She's speaking in Pittsburgh on Thursday at Temple Rodef Shalom in Oakland to benefit Family Hospice and Palliative Care.

Chast explains her reasoning for sketching her mother as she lay dying-- it jump started her memoir:

"It was something to do. There's nothing really to do when you're sitting at your parents' bed side and you want to be with them but they're in that stage of life where they're not really talking anymore and sleeping most of the time. I wanted to be with her in a deeper way and for me drawing is part of that."

Also in this program, Nancy Spielberg's latest film, Above and Beyond, tells the story of a group of Jewish American pilots flying for Israel in its War of Independence. 

A major Pittsburgh street will be shut down to cars a few Sundays this summer, but open for parades.

From 8 a.m. to noon on the last Sundays of May, June and July, 4.2 miles of road from Market Square to the Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville along Penn Avenue and Butler Street will be closed off to all motor vehicles and will be open for the public. People are encouraged to walk, run, dance, do yoga, or anything really.

Mary Wilson / WITF

Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle are speaking in unison on state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who is under threat of indictment.

Their message? We're not getting involved.

Spokespeople or leaders from all four legislative caucuses said recently that they're not calling for Kane to step down.

Allegheny County is about to get greener with the help of a $200,000 grant from Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. TreeVitalize will use the grant to plant about 1,000 more trees this year.

“Communities that want trees for their neighborhood come to us, and they go through an application process, and we work with them with our foresters, and we work with the communities to plant the right trees in the right place,” said TreeVitalize Director at Western PA Conservancy Jeffery Bergman.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Gov. Tom Wolf has asked various groups to start planning on increases in state funding for education, and the move is prompting criticism from Republican state lawmakers who oppose the governor's spending plan.

In 2013, there were 1.1 million firearm-related background checks conducted in Pennsylvania.

Now, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R- Washington/Greene) has introduced legislation that would eliminate that background check.

Currently, firearm customers need to register for the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) and the National Instant Check System (NICS) before they can purchase a gun. If Bartolotta’s bill passes, Pennsylvania will join the 36 states that solely rely on the national system.

Index Ranks PA Counties' Economic Competitiveness

Apr 18, 2015

A Pittsburgh-based consulting firm released on April 15 an index of Pennsylvania county competitiveness rankings that attempts to determine which counties are poised for future economic growth.

A proposal to give night owls a couple more hours at the bar doesn’t appear to be on the fast-track in the Republican-controlled state House.

The plan would let bars and restaurants apply for the power to keep serving alcohol until 4 o’clock in the morning.

“I’m not sure keeping bars open ‘til 4 a.m. is a priority in the House right now,” said Reed. “We’ve got bigger issues to deal with,” said GOP House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana). “I represent a college town so I’m not sure I want to keep the bars open an extra two hours with 15,000 college students.”

As the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre announced Thursday it would be entering the public phase of a $20 million school expansion project as it prepares to end its 45th season.

So far, PBT has raised $13.6 million in an effort to expand its campus in the Strip District and Lawrenceville, grow its $8 million endowment by 50 percent and establish an innovation fund to keep programs and performances going.

Lollie-Pop / flickr

What’s being described as a major effort to forge a new model of urban growth and development is underway. The P4 international summit has brought experts from around the world to the Steel City and we’ll talk with one of them, Amory Lovins, Co-founder and Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute. He’ll talk about what the renewable power revolution means for cities like ours.    Amory Lovins shares some of the benefits of using renewable energy in relation to fossil fuels: 

"Just the routine improvement in both wind and solar power have made them already cheaper than new gas power in almost all of the country."

 Also in this hour Jason and Melora Angst from the Artisan Tattoo parlor speak about their plan to save their shop, and Elaine Labalme shares the best hiking and biking spots in Pittsburgh. 


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Apr 16, 2015

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AP Photo/Matt Rourke

State budget negotiations are starting to take shape in Harrisburg. The backbiting has subsided for now, as meetings pick up between Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders.

The governor rankled Republicans recently when he said he was prepared to work on a state budget long after the June 30 deadline.

House Republican Majority Leader Dave Reed took umbrage at the remark, calling it "premature" and suggesting Wolf said it because he was "new at this process." By Wednesday, things had been smoothed over in a meeting Wolf held with GOP legislative leaders the day before.

Mark Knobil / Flickr

North Braddock has more than 300 vacant homes, many of which are beyond repair. About 100 of those are not secured, meaning they have doors or windows that are broken or missing.

On Saturday, about 40 volunteers plan to fan out in the neighborhood to clean and secure several of the properties.

Pittsburgh-based Brother’s Brother Foundation is partnering with members of the Ukrainian-American community and the U.S- Ukraine Foundation to package and send a tractor-trailer load of medical supplies for struggling hospitals on the front lines of Ukraine’s civil war.

 It’s Josh’s favorite time of year …

Happy Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week!

This week, Rachel and Josh interview Mike Pound, host of the Post-Gazette’s Beer Me blog, about several keynote events during Pittsburgh’s Beer Week (April 17 – 25).

With an abundance of established local breweries and new ones popping up every day, Pittsburgh residents can spend the next week purveying the regions’ craft beer culture, learning about home brewing, and – of course – sample great beer.

Highlighted events include:

Friday, 4/18: The Unofficial Kickoff of PCBW (With All Collaboration Beers)
Monday, 4/20: Point Brugge Strolling Happy Hour and 4/20 Beer Dinner
Wednesday, 4/22: The Imperial Breakfast @ Pipers Pub
Sunday, 4/25: East End Pedal Pale Ale Keg Ride 

Other Events:
Saturday, 4/18: Hops for HEARTH 
Sunday, 4/19: I Made It! Healthy    

via Keystone Crossroads

Jonathan Waldman’s new book — "Rust: The Longest War" — is an exploration of how corrosion eats away at the United States’ infrastructure, military equipment and monuments.

The U.S. spends $400 billion a year fighting rust. And it’s certainly something Pennsylvania’s cities—once producers of so much steel, now part of the Rust Belt — spend a lot of time dealing with.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The Commonwealth Court heard arguments Wednesday about the constitutionality of a state law that has made it possible for gun rights groups, like the National Rifle Association (NRA), to sue municipalities for their local gun ordinances.

Scott Davidson / flickr

This week a video was released of an Arizona officer using his police cruiser to intentionally run down a suspect-- the latest event involving a police officer's overt use of force. It comes shortly after the shooting death of Walter Scott, as he was running away, by an officer in South Carolina. Are law enforcement officials using an increasing amount of what is sometimes deadly force? We're posing that question to Pitt Law Professor David Harris.

Harris suggests that while it's unlikely that deadly force on the part of police has actually increased, video footage of it has become more common, and increased accountability has followed:

"I don't know that we have evidence that it's worse. I do think there's a greater awareness, a much greater likelihood that we'll have video proof, and, you know, when you see it, even on only a cellphone camera, it's just different than hearing a report of it afterwards. And that's why I think that this seems to be a kind of watershed moment." -- David Harris

Also in the program, a new book co-edited by Trabian Shorters observes the everyday lives of 40 black men, paining a picture of how black men are "living, leading and succeeding" in modern America.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner announced that her office will fully examine the property assessment appeals process. A previous audit has already looked at the actual property assessment processes.

“And now, since most of the appeals are wrapped up, we’ll be looking at the appeals process,” said Wagner. “We’ll be analyzing at lots of data, but with this, we also want the involvement of the public.”

What her office is looking for are the personal experiences of those who went through the appeals process.

Flickr user daveynin

A group of state senators is hoping toughen traffic laws around cell phone use.

Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin) earlier this year introduced a bill to make using a cell phone while driving a secondary offense.

“There would be no violation of this law, if it were to pass, unless the person was convicted of another traffic offense,” Teplitz said.

When House Republicans presented their own proposal to cut local property taxes, the sponsoring lawmaker threw down a gauntlet along with it.

Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York) said he doubts Gov. Tom Wolf's property-tax relief plan has support within his own party.

"Nobody over there has introduced his plan," said Saylor. "If he thinks his plan's so good, I would love to see a Democrat introduce his plan. And they've had more than, what, two months to do it."

Michael Lynch / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto makes his monthly visit to the show. He talks about this week's educational summit in Pittsburgh focusing on sustainable urban development and how it will establish Pittsburgh as "the city of the future" as well as the city's new bike share program.  

Peduto says that, after a long period of managing decline, it's time to help the city grow. When looking at sustainability, however, he says we still have to proceed carefully.

"We don't want to put too much salt in the soup. We want to be able to make sure that the growth enhances what we already have... We want to be able to hit standards that exceed world standards, or at least match them, to make Pittsburgh a world leader once again on a global scale."

Also in today's show, Margaret Krauss throws back to opening day 80 years ago, when the Pittsburgh Crawfords were the best name in baseball. President of the Senator John Heinz History Center Andy Masich reveals the contents of John Brashear's time capsule, found beneath the Pittsburgh factory where he worked as a leader in developing scientific tools. 

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

To mark National Equal Pay Day, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner called on the county to ensure women are paid equally to men for the same jobs.

“Nationally we know that women are compensated 77 cents on the dollar for every dollar a man makes, and that’s for the same work” said Wagner. “In the Pittsburgh area, it’s even worse where you have women compensated 74 cents for every dollar a man makes.”

The state Senate is advancing a plan to expand law enforcement’s ability to collect people’s DNA once they’re arrested for certain crimes, but before they’re convicted.  

The measure would let police and prosecutors collect your DNA if you’re arrested for criminal homicide, sex crimes, any felonies, and certain lesser crimes like criminal trespassing and assault.

Jon Dawson / Flickr

Detroit is known as "Hockeytown USA," but could Johnstown claim the title of “Hockeyville USA?”

That depends on if it receives enough votes, according to Chad Mearns, director of marketing and communications for the Johnstown Tomahawks.

Eleven years ago, Tina Gaser moved into a home in Lawrenceville and right away noticed that when the wind blew in just the wrong direction she could smell the McConway & Torley Steel Foundry just a few blocks away.

A few years later, her husband had a stroke that doctors say could have been indirectly caused by high levels of fine particulate matter in the air. Tonight she will speak at a public hearing calling on the plant to live under tighter environmental controls.

A new report from environmental advocacy group PennFuture says that in Pennsylvania alone, $3.25 billion went to subsidize the fossil fuels industry in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The report breaks down that that comes to $794 per taxpayer.  

Much of that subsists of tax subsidies to energy industries, such as shale gas development and legacy costs of oil, gas and coal.

Pennsylvania DAs Take Aim at Wolf's Death Penalty Moratorium

Apr 14, 2015

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association said Tuesday that Gov. Tom Wolf's death penalty moratorium could affect plea bargains and how judges and juries view executions, arguing it violates elements of the state constitution.

The association released a friend-of-the-court brief in a case before the state Supreme Court that challenges the governor's policy, saying he has misinterpreted the term "reprieve." The prosecutors said reprieves can only halt a criminal sentence for a defined period of time and for a reason that relates specifically to a particular convict.

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