Keystone Crossroads

State Pension Crisis: Where Do We Go From Here?

22 hours ago
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.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

This is the third story of a three-part series on the state's bridges.

About seven years ago, the Bridge Maintenance Engineer for the South Carolina Department of Transportation, Lee Floyd, was concerned about one of his bridge’s ability to hold up while a replacement was built. He placed sensors on the bridge to monitor how it behaved and found that actually he could keep it open without any temporary repairs.

The State of PA's Bridges, Part 2: Rebuilding Them Faster

Dec 9, 2014
Keystone Crossroads

This is the second story of a three-part series on the state's bridges.

Twenty-three percent of Pennsylvania's bridges are structurally deficient, and many need to be replaced. But between permitting, design, and construction, building a new bridge takes years.

That's why the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is trying to speed things up.

The State of PA's Bridges, Part 1: How Are They Holding Up?

Dec 8, 2014
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

This is the first story of our three-part series on the state's bridges.

If you drive in Pennsylvania, you've probably crossed a structurally deficient bridge. Maybe you're driving over one right now.

Pennsylvania has more than 30,000 bridges. Some span rivers, like the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, and others are much smaller, crossing rural creeks and highways. More than 6,000 of these bridges are structurally deficient. (We put together an interactive map of the state's structurally deficient bridges.)

Regulated Tent Cities for Homeless Pondered But Improbable in PA

Dec 2, 2014
Image courtesy of Eric Weiss

Frank Fairweather says poor health forced him to quit truck driving just shy of his 50th birthday. He kept a roof over his head for a while but then one roommate was jailed for a parole violation, and the other skipped town.

Before he could find replacements, Fairweather fell behind on rent. He ended up joining several others camping under an interstate bridge near downtown Harrisburg.

Fairweather didn’t leave for three years, staying through winters and Tropical Storm Lee, until one night earlier this fall.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

To drive through Wilkinsburg is to tour the ravages of a post-industrial Pittsburgh, a suburb of the comeback city that just hasn’t come back, yet. Houses stand empty, there are open lots, drug deals go down in broad daylight. And then, glimmering on a corner lot: a house painted gold.

90.5 WESA hosted a public forum last night along with Keystone Crossroads, a project focused on urban issues statewide.

A New Municipality In Antietam Valley?

Sep 30, 2014
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

Pennsylvania has more local governments than any other state except Texas and Illinois. There are some downsides to this, including the inefficiency and expense of duplicated services, and the potential for competition among municipalities.

State law allows municipalities to consolidate or merge, but it doesn't happen all that often because the process can be fraught with tension. But two communities in Berks County are trying to give it a shot— this November, residents will vote on whether they should consolidate and form a new municipality.

Keystone Crossroads Holds Statewide Town Hall Meetings

Sep 29, 2014
Lindsey Lazarski / WHYY

On Tuesday evening, the third Keystone Crossroads community forum will be held at the Community Broadcast center on the South Side. Titled, “Rust or Revival: Which Way is Our Town Heading?" these evenings are all about community engagement.

Similar forums have been held in Philadelphia and Harrisburg with the goal of parsing out our community problems and potential solutions. 

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