Keystone Crossroads

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Eve Picker takes her computer out of her bag and clicks through a mostly empty website of filler text and stock photos. Picker is a Pittsburgh-based developer with a portfolio of complicated projects, but she says this one is probably the most difficult thing she’s ever done. In just a few weeks, the newest real estate crowdfunding platform, Small Change, will launch.

Pennsylvania's Population Becoming Older, More Diverse

Jun 30, 2015
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Pennsylvania's older and minority populations continue to grow, according to a new report released by Penn State Date Center. 

The number of Pennsylvania residents 65 and older reached more than 2.1 million in 2014 — that's one in six people — continuing the trend of the state's increasing older population.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Scranton’s double-pension payments – offered as a retirement incentive to 35 city workers – were improperly implemented, and cost the city $2.9 million in unapproved costs.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a report this morning which found “the transactions surrounding the doubling of pension payments revealed a disregard for the applicable laws governing pension plans by the officials charged with fiduciary responsibility for the Plan – the Mayor, City Council, and the Pension Board.”

Pittsburgh has been trying to attract immigrants to bolster the city’s population – less than half its peak in the 1950s. Monday Mayor Bill Peduto released the plan detailing how, exactly, to do that best.

Aside from growing the city’s population and increasing diversity there’s an economic reason to woo immigrants: they tend to be more entrepreneurial  than native-born Americans.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Pennsylvania cities have more low-income households and fewer higher-earning households than the national average.

The Brookings Institution, analyzing data from the American Community Survey, broke up cities’ populations by what quintile of the national income distribution households fell into. The Brookings analysis found that “collectively, the smaller cities mirror the national income distribution almost exactly. In large cities, by contrast, both low-income (bottom 20 percent) and very high-income (top 5 percent) households are overrepresented.”

Gridlock And Grudges: Toxic Relationships In Pennsylvania Cities

Jun 11, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

The Commonwealth’s Act 47 program to help cash-strapped local governments doesn’t address how elected officials might get along better, despite how critical relationships are to their financial well-being.

Local officials who have trouble getting along have some options for mending their relationships.

Schools In 40 PA Counties Would Struggle With Keystone Graduation Requirement

Jun 10, 2015
Map via Research for Action

Pennsylvania students in the class of 2017 are the first who will be required to pass standardized Keystone exams in algebra, literature and biology in order to graduate high school. A new brief details how complicated it could get to help students graduate who can't pass those exams.

State law passed under Gov. Ed Rendell and implemented under Gov. Tom Corbett says that if students can't pass the tests after two tries, schools must help them to complete a project-based assessment.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Hormann Flexon makes high-speed roll-up doors for commercial buildings. The company, located west of Pittsburgh, has doubled in size over the past three years and recently moved into a new building. Company President, Mark Haley, attributed the growth to shrinking lead times; Hormann Flexon delivers a custom door in two to three weeks, significantly faster than their competitors, he said.

State Pension Crisis: Where Do We Go From Here?

May 21, 2015
Emma Lee / WHYY

There may not be three more yawn-inducing words in the English language than: "public employee pensions."

But considering the $53 billion dollars worth of state employee pension debt currently saddling the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, those words are at the center of nearly every conversation in Harrisburg this spring.

State Pension Crisis: How Did We Get Here?

May 19, 2015
AP Photo/Chris Knight

Pick your favorite issue or cause in Pennsylvania: public education, services for the poor, tax breaks for businesses.

Chances are, there's going to be less money for any of these moving forward because the state's public employee pension bill is growing exponentially, with a current unfunded liability of $53 billion.

How The Port Authority Is Trying To Make It Easier To Ride The Bus

May 12, 2015
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Have you ever tried to take a city bus without planning ahead? We're talking no Google maps, no bus tracker apps, no folded paper timetables. Just you, walking around a neighborhood, trying to catch the bus somewhere.

Probably not. Because in most places, that's not easy to do.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Homer City Police Chief, Louis Sacco, is one of just three people – two active and one retired – in his pension plan. He drives around the tiny borough, about 50 miles East of Pittsburgh, with views of looming power plant stacks in the distance and a partly shuttered Main Street.

Emily Previti / WITF

Some Pennsylvania lawmakers say the rules governing public pensions need to change, but not everyone follows the guidelines already in place.

And it looks like they might not have to.

Sounding The Alarm For Volunteer Firefighters

May 6, 2015
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

The idea of volunteer fire departments originated in Pennsylvania and it's certainly a hallmark of the state: around 90 percent of Pa.'s fire departments are volunteer. But these departments are facing big challenges. Volunteer numbers are down and for many municipalities, funding is an ongoing headache.

Is It Fair For City Workers To Use Overtime To Spike Their Pensions?

May 6, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

At the end of 2011, the city of Allentown had a problem. There was a gaping hole in its fire department.

No, not a literal hole. Forty-three of its firefighters retired at once. Not only did the city lose wisdom and experience. But suddenly, it owed millions of dollars more every year in retirement benefits it couldn't afford.

Are Young Municipal Workers Bearing The Brunt Of Pension Reform?

May 5, 2015
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

Many Pennsylvania municipalities are already taking steps towards reforming their pension plans. Because municipalities cannot legally break pension obligations already promised, reform usually means changing the pension plans for new employees while older employees' pensions remain intact. So what does that mean? Is the younger generation bearing the brunt of pension reform?

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Standing in a sun-drenched room, Jim Rosipal pointed to a framed assemblage on the wall. In it, a police officer’s uniform shirt, a medal for valor, a gas cap cover from the Harley Davidson he rode, and valve stem covers in the shape of little pigs. “Back in those days we were called pigs every now and then,” Rosipal said. “Didn’t bother us at all.”

At Penn State, Researchers Looking For The Next Big Thing In Infrastructure

Apr 27, 2015
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

On the surface, Dr. Farshad Rajabipour's job might not sound that interesting. He's an associate professor of civil engineering at Penn State. And he studies concrete.

"It's actually a material that's used pretty much everywhere in the world," Rajabipour said. "It's so common that people don't notice it."

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

In this first podcast in a new series called Multiple Choices, senior education writer Kevin McCorry joins with Paul Socolar, publisher and editor of the Public School Notebook, and Notebook contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa to explain and explore the history, complexities and controversies of public education funding in Pennsylvania.

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.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Community colleges educate almost half of all college students in the country. And a new report by University of Pennsylvania researchers finds these institutions play an oversized role in educating blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans.

Investments in Pittsburgh companies and the city’s technology sector continue to grow. A report by Innovation Works, an investment firm, and Ernst & Young LLP, a professional services company, found:

Tax Exemption Payback Could Stabilize PA Communities, Some Lawmakers Say

Mar 10, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

State Rep. Rob Freeman, D-Easton, wants to use liquor tax proceeds to make up for local government revenue lost to property tax exemption.

Freeman first pitched this to an enthusiastic House Local Government Committee in 2007, but the recession hit before it got any traction.

(Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

 

Cities are working hard to plow snowy streets. Sidewalks are an additional challenge. Property owners are generally responsible for clearing walkways and some cities issue fines for uncleared sidewalks.

But Reading has stopped fining residents for not shoveling snow from their sidewalks. Why? Because Reading Public Works crews haven’t been able to clear the mess from the 100 city-owned properties, either.

Gage Skidmore / flickr

Florida Governor Rick Scott came to Philadelphia this week to meet with company heads, to try to lure business to the Sunshine State. Scott campaigned on the promise of growing private sector jobs in Florida and one of his tactics has been to visit other states – including California, Illinois, and Maryland – to recruit job creators.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said it’s a bit unusual for a governor to show up like Scott did in Philadelphia “but it is not unusual at all for that state government to make calls into other businesses to urge them to relocate into their state. I did it very very often when I was governor.” States, and even municipalities, are competing for companies everyday. 

Six Documentaries Featuring Pennsylvania Cities You Can Stream Online

Feb 19, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

As a winter cold front settles in over most of Pennsylvania and the eastern U.S., you may find yourself surfing your Netflix queue for something to escape the deep freeze and cabin fever.

May we suggest a few “home grown” documentaries worth watching that you can easily steam online? 

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

When Ian McMeans became Homestead’s borough manager three years ago the borough had only one email address and the secretary printed the messages and hand delivered them to everyone. “That stopped very shortly thereafter,” said McMeans. Then McMeans built a website. But progress has been slow. The borough is still entirely paper-run. 

Pennsylvania's Income Growth 'Lopsided'

Jan 27, 2015

The Economic Policy Institute and Economic Analysis and Research Network released a report today measuring income growth inequality state by state.

The report looked at Internal Revenue Service pretax income numbers before and after the Great Recession to determine which portion of income earners have benefited the most from recovery.

Auditor General: Pennsylvania Needs to Better Monitor Corporate Tax Incentives

Jan 8, 2015
Marielle Segarra / WHYY

Every year, Pennsylvania gives out hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, loans, and other financial help to companies. In exchange, the companies promise to invest. Maybe they'll build a new office, or create a certain number of jobs, for instance.

The Department of Community and Economic Development gives out this money, and it's also responsible for holding companies to their promises.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

In 2011, a group of designers put together a development proposal to make Pittsburgh’s airport more than just a landing pad. The plan included ideas to transform the airport into a larger transport hub that would attract businesses to the vicinity, making for a dense commercial zone.

One of the theoretical models in the proposal included something called New Town, literally a new town that would absorb the people coming to take advantage of all the new businesses and jobs the future growth of the airport would spur.

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