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City & State Pennsylvania

January 26, 2017


EDITOR’S NOTE / Contents Even though John Adams, our second president, said that “facts are stubborn things,” this trenchant quote is frequently attributed to Ronald Reagan. Which is ironic, considering that the party of Reagan now finds itself explaining, excusing and simply ignoring the alarmingly elastic relationship President Donald Trump has with facts, from the relatively benign issue of crowd counts at his inauguration to his truly disturbing lie that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for millions of undocumented immigrants casting votes against him. No one should ever turn to elected officials expecting to hear unvarnished truths, but it shouldn’t be asking too much for them to have a tacit, cordial relationship with facts. As it becomes increasingly clear that this won’t be the case, it is even more incumbent upon the press to not just call a lie a lie, but to keep our eyes on the prize – to pay attention to agendas overt and covert that may be obfuscated by a calculated campaign to condition citizens to pay more attention to outrageous quotes than outrageous actions. In closing: Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed a change in the masthead. Michael Johnson, the founding editorial director of City & State Pennsylvania, has moved on. I and everyone here owe him a debt of gratitude for shepherding us through the launch of the magazine, website and First Read. And welcome to Jon Lentz, who takes over the chair!

Greg Salisbury Editor





Advocates and politicians on both sides are bracing for a pitched battle over the fate of sanctuary cities like Philadelphia.

The grass-roots movement to eliminate property taxes in Pennsylvania is closer to success than ever before.





Physicians and politicians join forces on legislation that could prove to be a turning point in the war against opioids.

How Pennsylvania’s elected officials and citizens are working to protect the populace.



Tom Ferrick unpacks Trump’s victory in Pennsylvania and whether it is a boon or death knell for the state’s GOP.


January 26, 2017


SHELTER SKELTER Advocates and politicians on both sides are bracing for a pitched battle over the fate of sanctuary cities like Philadelphia. By NATALIE POMPILIO


January 26, 2017

LIKE VIRTUALLY ALL politicians who win re-election, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey returned to Capitol Hill eager to get back to last session’s unfinished business. At the top of his agenda: reintroducing a bill that would withhold federal dollars from so-called sanctuary cities, which limit their cooperation with immigration authorities. That could land Philadelphia, which has more than 1.5 million of Toomey’s constituents, among the cities caught in Toomey’s crosshairs. The senator’s bill is supported by President Donald Trump, who said that one of his post-election priorities would be cutting federal funding to sanctuary cities that have caused “so many needless deaths” due to their immigration policies. Toomey’s latest version of the bill targeted Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funded $38.8 million of affordable housing, economic development and public improvements in Philadelphia last year. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for U.S. attorney general, wants to punish these cities by withholding law enforcement funding. In fiscal year 2016, Philadelphia was allocated $1.68 million in justice assistance grants from the U.S. Department of Justice that would be cut under Sessions’ plan. With so much on the line, should citizens and leaders in sanctuary cities be concerned? Responses from immigration experts boiled down to: “Meh, not really. … Maybe a little. … Everyone settle down.” First, they said, it’s important to realize that this isn’t a new issue. Members of Congress have been pushing similar bills for years, according to Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute. She previously served as acting commissioner for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Reagan administration and as INS commissioner during the Clinton administration. “None of them have been enacted, and part of the reason is because it’s been quite difficult to come up with a way of doing what some in Congress want to do and what the administration wants to do,” she explained. “It’s one thing to say, ‘We’re going to withdraw funds.’ It’s another to figure out how to accomplish it.” Another challenge is defining just what a sanctuary city is. Sundrop Carter, executive director of the Pennsylvania

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WHAT ABOUT SANCTUARY CAMPUSES? PENNSYLVANIA STATE REP. Jerry Knowles is poised to introduce legislation that would withhold state funding from so-called “sanctuary campuses.” But just as sanctuary cities legislation on the state and federal levels faces many challenges if passed, so, too, would sanctuary campuses. Knowles announced his legislation


soon after University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann sent an email in November to students, faculty and staff saying the school would not allow immigration officials on campus without warrants. While the term “sanctuary campus” wasn’t used, it was heavily implied. Gutmann wrote, “Penn is and has always been a ‘sanctuary’ – a safe place for our students to live and to learn.” In an interview in late December, Knowles said he was prompted to create his bill, which he estimated would get about 30 co-sponsors, after seeing Gutmann’s note. Knowles added he probably wouldn’t need to push the bill if Gutmann would rescind the policy, since “there’s no indication any other colleges are going this way.” (It should be noted Penn is a private school that does not receive state subsidies.) A few days after Gutmann’s email,

though, Swarthmore College’s president, Valerie Smith, sent a message promising community members the same protections. Swarthmore, too, is a private school. And a growing number of campus groups want state-funded Temple University leaders to declare the Philadelphia school a safe place for all students. Jennifer Lee, a professor at Temple’s Beasley School of Law, said a letter bearing more than 1,000 signatures – including those of faculty members, students and the heads of campus leadership organizations – was sent in December to President Richard M. Englert and Provost JoAnne Epps asking the school to not cooperate with federal immigration authorities without warrants and to provide more support for undocumented students. “The label is not the significant thing; it’s the statements and policies that are ultimately in place,” Lee said. “This is about protecting students and learning communities.” In August, the state Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf increased Temple’s funding for the 2016-2017 fiscal year to

$150.6 million. Since Knowles’ bill has not yet been finalized, it’s unclear how much of that funding could disappear if it became law. Lee urged lawmakers not to act in haste. “They may think withdrawing funding from state universities is taking a principled stand over the federal immigration debate, but they’re just hurting all students,” she said. “We’re not asking the university to do something unlawful. Short of a court order, you don’t need to comply.” It was also still unknown how state officials would determine which campuses were eligible for sanctions if college leaders hadn’t made a previous declaration. “I’m not looking to send someone out there to do an investigation,” Knowles said. “To me, this is just common sense … We’d be a hell of a society if we all picked the laws we wanted to abide by and ignored the others.”

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Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, said the misnomer is creating a lot of confusion about what U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can do. “There are no cities where people are protected from deportation. ICE can walk into any building in any city in the U.S. and deport them,” Carter said. “This is not about policy. This is about rhetoric. Who is the real American? Is it the white American, the Christian American, or do we include black and brown people and Muslims?” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said his preferred term is “Fourth Amendment city,” since local authorities will not cooperate with immigration officials unless they have a signed warrant. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says “people” cannot be held against their will without a warrant. Since it does not specify “residents” or “citizens,” some interpret that to mean it covers any individual in the U.S., legally or not. Kenney and leaders in other sanctuary cities say their interpretation keeps law enforcement officers free to concentrate on public safety. They contend that turning local officers into immigration enforcers can damage their relationships with immigrant communities, discouraging some from reporting crimes against them. “That could create a community where people can prey on people who can’t report crimes – it makes the whole community much more volatile as a whole,” said Avideh Moussavian, a policy attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. He said withholding police funds to punish sanctuary cities, as Sessions had proposed, seemed “completely counterintuitive. People in law enforcement know that to do their work, they need to encourage the comfort and safety of their community members, to engage them and encourage them to report information, whether they are crime victims or witnesses,” he said. Another challenge would be identifying which municipalities deserve to be disciplined. Philadelphia is wearing its heart – in the form of its sanctuary city policy – on its sleeve. But what about Pittsburgh, which has not raised a sanctuary city flag, but has similar policies? Timothy McNulty, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said media reports that the Pittsburgh City Council was considering a formal sanctuary city

declaration were false. Asked to explain the city’s practices regarding immigration, McNulty said, “Pittsburgh’s policy is to work with all federal agencies, including ICE, to detain criminals being sought for arrest. At the same time, we protect the constitutional rights of our citizens from being questioned without reason about their immigration status. Pittsburgh Police are not immigration officers.” Pittsburgh seems to be following the same policies as Philadelphia. But without any official declaration, would it be eligible for potential sanctions? Organizations on both sides of the immigration debate estimate there are about 400 jurisdictions with written policies that mandate cooperation with immigration authorities. But what about


the rest of them? Would federal officials need to consider every municipality individually to determine which ones should be punished? How much would that cost? Meissner, of the Migration Policy Institute, said it’s safe to assume that even if a bill denying federal funding to sanctuary cities were to pass, those affected would immediately file lawsuits to block the action. And they’d have a



strong case, she said, especially if the funds being withheld had nothing to do with immigration. “There are court decisions that say the federal government can’t engage in coercive actions where funding is concerned,” she said. This is not to say that there have never been efforts on a federal level to control state decisions by threatening to withdraw money. In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which allowed it to withhold 5 percent of federal highway funding from states that did not establish a minimum drinking age of 21. The law was challenged by South Dakota. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law by a 7-2 margin and established a five-point rule for considering the constitutionality of funding cuts. Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in the majority opinion that since the cut was a small percentage of the total federal funding, “The relatively small financial inducement offered by Congress here … is not so coercive as to pass the point at which pressure turns into compulsion.” While the president and his supporters have been vocal about punishing jurisdictions they feel violate the law, longtime policy watchers, like Moussavian of the National Immigration Law Center, encourage keeping calm while also being observant. “This has been a prominent issue for the president, but that doesn’t change the limits on the federal government’s ability to tell cities how to do their work,” she said. “Just because someone says something loudly doesn’t make it more true.”


January 26, 2017


war The grass-roots movement to eliminate property taxes in Pennsylvania is closer to success than ever before. By RYAN BRIGGS

DAVID BALDINGER IS eating a slice of pizza inside an Italian restaurant outside of Reading when his cellphone rings. The balding, 70-year-old cancer survivor’s eyes light up as he listens to the voice on the other end. It’s state House Majority Leader Dave Reed’s office. They’d like to set up a meeting, please. Baldinger, a retired radio and TV producer, is quick to animation and articulation in a way that belies his age, but nothing outwardly differentiates him from any other guy in the pizza shop. His phone’s caller ID is the only indication that he leads Pennsylvania’s most powerful grassroots anti-tax coalition and is the public face of a legislative push to make it the first state to abolish property taxes. “There’s no such thing as property tax reform; there is no such thing as property tax relief,” he said. “It’s the only tax we

have that isn’t based on your ability to pay. We just need to get rid of it.” His group, the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition, and its mission to eliminate the state’s largest source of school funding, once elicited eye rolls in Harrisburg when they first began lobbying legislators 13 years ago. Today, politicians are calling him – a testament to his group’s organizing and advocacy, he said. Baldinger believes his organization is on the cusp of a great victory. “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen in 2017 – the system has just gotten out of hand,” he said in a deep voice that harkens back to his days in Philadelphiaarea radio. “The media doesn’t want to talk about it, but people want it.” The “it” is House Bill 76 and Senate Bill 76, legislation Baldinger frequently refers to as “our bill” and for which he takes

personal credit for co-authoring. It’s a sweeping proposal that would eliminate more than $14 billion in school property taxes, replacing that revenue by increasing the state income tax to 4.95 percent and the state sales tax to 7 percent – 61 percent and 17 percent increases, respectively. To hear Baldinger tell it, the shift will transform Pennsylvania into an economic Xanadu, reversing years of population decline and job losses in many parts of the state, while unburdening homeowners buffeted by constant property tax increases. The state will actually collect more tax revenue in the long run, tax abolitionists like Baldinger say, by abandoning a system he describes as antiquated and regressive. As Baldinger puts it, the legislation would “turn the whole state into a Keystone Opportunity Zone” – a reference to geographically-specific tax breaks meted

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out by the state. Across the table from Baldinger sit the heads of two allied organizations: Ron Boltz, a burly, crewcut electronic technician who heads Pennsylvania Liberty Alliance, and Jim and Sue Rodkey, the husband-and-wife team behind The Lebanon 9-12 Project. Boltz said that while conservative groups like his have helped propel SB 76 forward, property tax elimination is a bipartisan issue. “The studies show that it's going to be economically prosperous for you whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or a Libertarian,” he said. “This bill will treat every single taxpayer exactly the same way. It’s no longer going to be based on your ZIP code.” For those unfamiliar with the movement, this talk often seems like exactly that: tableside chatter about a proposal too

radical to ever be taken seriously. Indeed, for years, PTCC was mostly humored by many legislators. Receptive members such as state Sen. Dave Argall, state Rep. Jim Cox and former state Rep. Sam Rohrer were in the minority. Later, after Baldinger has finished his lunch and left his compatriots behind, he drives back home in a pickup truck marked with two SB 76 stickers on the tailgate. Standing in his driveway in the frigid January weather, he reflects on his battle with lung cancer. He survived the disease, but during his darkest moments, he was forced to put the Rodkeys in charge of the PTCC and watch the 2015 SB 76 vote from a hospital bed. “This is what keeps me alive now,” Baldinger said. IN LATE 2015, despite vicious opposition

from school administrators, the state Senate unexpectedly tied a vote on SB 76. In a kind of precursor to President Donald Trump’s populist surge, tax abolitionists said most of the political elite were too disconnected from ordinary people to know just how ready many homeowners were ready to burn down the current system. “This bill is exactly what people want. They don’t want their property taxes reformed; they want them gone,” said Argall, for whom reintroducing SB 76 is a top priority. “If you go to Indiana County or Berks County, it’s a huge issue. I can’t sit down at a lunch counter to buy a hamburger without someone asking me about property taxes.” The 2015 measure failed after a tiebreaking vote cast by Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, garnering limited press amid a larger, long-stalled state budget fight.


Opponents of SB 76 comforted themselves with the knowledge that the bill wouldn’t have cleared the House due to fierce opposition from Speaker Mike Turzai or gotten a signature from Gov. Tom Wolf anyway. But Baldinger and coalition supporters were jubilant. They were one vote away from getting their bill through the Senate. The eyes had finally stopped rolling. That was in 2015. Suffice it to say, a lot has changed since then. Voters just sent a raft of new Republican senators to Harrisburg – the PTCC takes direct credit for knocking out incumbent Sen. Rob Teplitz – all of whom ran on platforms that included slashing property taxes. By many accounts, Wolf is weaker than ever, and advocates think he’s too concerned with his impending re-election fight to bet his career on vetoing their bill. There’s a good chance they’re right: Earlier this month, the governor’s office sent City & State a statement for this article that read, in part, that Wolf “could support taking steps towards elimination.” Just a week later, the governor told Philadelphia Inquirer business columnist Joe DiStefano, “I am for elimination of the property tax.” The messaging is significant, although in both statements Wolf was quick to note that he had “serious problems” with the specifics of how SB 76 was currently written. Details have always been the flaw at the heart of the PTCC’s 13-year mission to pass SB 76, which is a necessarily complex piece of legislation. Property taxes are unpopular, but even with concessions in the current bill designed to make it more politically palatable, the bill calls for sweeping tax hikes that many Pennsylvanians may not yet fully understand. While eliminating nearly all property taxes would surely have upsides – increased property values and direct tax relief for certain overburdened homeowners – there are likely to be unknown side effects of such a sweeping bill. “This will shift the tax burden from homeowners to other segments of the population. It may hit some segments of the population very hard, particularly people with kids in school,” said Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, one of the bill’s biggest opponents. “If you have five kids and are paying more in sales tax, plus your earned income tax goes up, you’re hitting the very people schools are serving,” he said. PASA has good reason to be opposed

January 26, 2017

By the numbers

Average effective state/ local tax burden: 13th-highest nationally

Total education spending in Pennsylvania:

$26.1 billion Total education spending from local property taxes:

$14 billion

Average effective property tax rate in Pennsylvania: 1.54% (of assessed home value) The state’s top income tax rate is the secondlowest nationally The state’s corporate income tax is the secondhighest nationally

*Source: Education spending figures from Commonwealth Foundation report on the 2013-2014 school year; tax burden figures from the Tax Foundation, 2015

to the bill – it would overturn one of the most stable school funding streams and make a sometimes hostile state Legislature entirely responsible for distributing educational funding. While the bill would be a step toward ending unequal funding between rich and poor school districts – long a goal of educational advocates – the current legislation would freeze current inequities in perpetuity as a sop to wealthy school districts. “What’s the difference between this and our current system, anyway?” Boltz asked. But many in Harrisburg, including some officially in favor of the legislation, expressed concerns about the unforeseeable repercussions of SB 76. “I think it could potentially pass this year,” said Drew Crompton, chief of staff to SB 76 supporter Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati. “What happens after that? I’m out. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows.” IF THERE IS one thing everyone seems to agree on, it’s that Pennsylvania has a big problem with property tax inflation. But it’s a problem that is more acute in certain parts of the state, particularly in places where population has increased while incomes have stagnated. While Pennsylvania’s population has remained relatively flat, places like Berks County and Monroe County saw explosive growth during the housing bubble. The latter saw its population jump 30 percent between 2000 and 2010. Today home to some of the most tax-burdened school districts in the country, millage rates across Monroe County doubled while median incomes increased by just 26 percent.

For some homeowners, that means that 10 to 15 percent of their income is going solely to local property taxes. “An income tax is connected to your ability to pay today, but your property tax is connected to something you may have been able to pay 20 or 30 years ago,” Argall said. Monroe County in northeastern Pennsylvania is a worst-case scenario: Homeowners can pay anywhere from less than 1 percent to more than 2 percent of a home’s value in property taxes each year. The state’s average property tax rate is the 13th-highest effective rate nationally, according to the Tax Foundation. But while rates may vary, virtually every school district in Pennsylvania has turned to successive property tax hikes to cope with skyrocketing pension, health care and special education costs. Pennsylvania spends $26.1 billion annually on education, but 55 percent of districts drew the majority of that funding from local taxes. Jim Rodkey summarizes the problem in his view: “We’re throwing people out of their homes to help other people pay for their retirement.” The notion of extreme waste by school boards and administrators also looms large with property tax abolitionists. Jim Rodkey points to “ghost teachers” as a cause, although in places like Philadelphia, this kind of inefficiency accounts for just .02 percent of annual spending, according to a report by NBC 10. Baldinger cites other forms of lavish spending, like a $2 million synthetic turf upgrade at his local high school football stadium, in the Governor Mifflin School District. The contractor’s website proclaims, “The [Mifflin] Mustangs can rightly claim to be on a level playing field

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with some of the biggest names in sports.” “Why does that matter, and at whose expense?” Baldinger wonders aloud. THESE FEELINGS OF outrage are inflamed by the repetitive nature of increases – Baldinger said his own property tax bill has doubled to nearly $8,000 annually on a modest house in a Berks County suburb overlooking Reading. Those steep tax bills and his own retirement drove him to form the PTCC in 2004. Over the years, through hundreds of barnstorming town hall meetings, an aggressive online presence and a simple message, the septuagenarian gradually amassed nearly 87 allied political organizations and some 8,600 Facebook followers. The PTCC Facebook page doubles as a sounding board for media coverage of SB 76 – bad and good – and as a repository for

organizations. Baltz’s Pennsylvania Liberty Alliance is a product of the tea party movement and the Rodkeys’ Lebanon 9-12 Project is one of many similar groups inspired by right-wing commentator Glenn Beck. While the PTCC downplays these affiliations and promotes the universality of the bill, some will find it hard to embrace the legislation as written because of its negative redistributive effects for many lower-income residents. Baldinger frequently refers to the findings of a 2012 Independent Fiscal Office report on the potential impact of an older, but fundamentally similar version of SB 76 to validate his claims of a possible economic boom. The report also states that “retired homeowners would realize the largest relative tax cut and working-age renters would realize the largest relative tax increase.” The report does predict an average 10


according to advocates, by staving off future rental increases related to property tax hikes – although this assumes that the law of supply and demand is the main driver of rising rents. “Some people are going to see decreases in their rent,” Baldinger said. “Most landlords we’ve talked to said they would do the right thing. And fewer people will be renters in the long run because it will become more affordable to own a home under SB 76.” But Nora Lichtash, executive director of The Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities, spoke with her colleagues around the state about SB 76. While many were eager to see some reduction in property taxes, which are a legitimate housing pressure, all feared the current bill would do so by burdening vulnerable renters. “We do not think landlords are going to pass through any of those savings to

“THIS WILL SHIFT THE TAX BURDEN FROM HOMEOWNERS TO OTHER SEGMENTS OF THE POPULATION. IT MAY HIT SOME SEGMENTS OF THE POPULATION VERY HARD, PARTICULARLY PEOPLE WITH KIDS IN SCHOOL.” — MARK DIROCCO, executive director of the tales from thousands of homeowners who feel burdened by property taxes. “My wife and I are looking to move out of PA,” reads one message from a commenter. “I can’t handle the taxes anymore. It’s a shame. We have lived here all our lives. But can not afford to live here anymore.” An affiliated blog,, compiles dozens of similar testimonials and features a four-minute video explaining the key points of the proposed legislation, frequently referred to as the Property Tax Independence Act. The official PTCC website features a page titled, “Tips to Respond to Naysayers,” and an SB 76 tax savings calculator. Baldinger credits these outreach efforts and the broad appeal of SB 76 with the growing, bipartisan popularity of his movement. While the bill has bipartisan support, much of the movement’s growth has come through connections to conservative

Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators

percent increase in property values along with possible employment growth and a reduction in operating costs for businesses with large landholdings, such as farms. Other positive side effects could include a $40 million to $80 million increase in corporate tax revenues and the realty transfer tax. The PTCC includes its own summary of the positive findings online, and for good reason: The complete report is actually quite scathing. The first line of the report’s summary points to a projected $2.02 billion revenue shortfall two years after the enactment of SB 76 and the need for subsequent increases to the sales and income taxes. Abolitionists say these fears are overblown – SB 76 allows for inflationary increases and the government would raise other taxes anyway – as are the negative impacts on the poor. Renters do pay for property taxes; it’s just included in their rent. Life will actually improve for renters,

renters,” Lichtash said. “And coming from Philly, I don’t see our constituents being able to even get mortgages to buy a house. Even people at 100 percent of the city median income really struggle to get a mortgage … They are very far from being able to buy a home.” Lichtash said that, in general, lowincome renters are less able to deal with increases to the personal income tax or sales tax. Under SB 76, the sales tax would include new items and services, like hygiene products and day care, that are not currently taxed. While abolitionists frequently raise fears of homeowners losing their residences over unpaid taxes, in places like Philadelphia, the rental eviction rate is nearly six times higher than the foreclosure rate. Nearly half of all renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. “It’s true there are wealthy renters in Philly who live in places like Center City, but I think it is also true that most people


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SB 76 would ...

... add items that are not currently taxed to the sales tax including: legal and ... eliminate the schools portion of accounting services, train tickets, day care property tax completely, except for and certain health services, entertainment spending on debt service, and it would keep (cable television and tickets to events), the county property tax in place. funerary services, certain types of food, clothing and more. ... raise state sales tax from 6% to 7% — a




... raise income tax from 3.07% to 4.95% — a


who rent are poor or in working-class jobs,” Lichtash said. “The issue for me (with SB 76) is who’s paying – and who’s paying their fair share. Corporations and people who live in fancy houses probably should be paying their fair share in taxes.” Baldinger likes to say that after 10 years of advocating for abolition, he has an answer for every critique of the bill. But he is sensitive to these particular kinds of statements, which he waves off as mere “class warfare.” “Do I care if a guy in a million-dollar house gets a tax break if I don’t have to pay taxes?” he asks rhetorically. The problem is that other people might. And the wealthy would likely see a big break: 70 percent of school tax is collected by the wealthiest half of school districts in the state. Because the bill provides an inflation-adjusted, dollar-for-dollar reimbursement of current education revenues – distributed out of a educational stabilization fund – the spending enjoyed by wealthier school districts would continue to be paid out of this fund by a wider base of taxpayers. A Pittsburgh renter making $50,000 today would see her income taxes jump by $1,000 under SB 76, in part to help maintain the largesse amassed by wealthy school districts in the Philadelphia suburbs. This is one of several concessions Baldinger acknowledges were incorporated into the current bill to ease its passage. Although he privately hopes for full abolition someday, SB 76 leaves county property taxes in place, and school boards could technically use referendums to raise additional local revenues in the future. The bill also exempts portions of school property taxes that fund a district’s debt service obligations. Reading, which Baldinger’s home overlooks, would

likely see around 20 percent of its school property tax remain in place. The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, an extremely outspoken critic of the bill, said this undermines PTCC’s promises. “We think so-called ‘property tax elimination’ is actually not property tax elimination,” PASBO Executive Director Jay Himes said. “In a good amount of districts, it’s not going to eliminate the schools portion entirely. In some districts, it will be minimal because they have high debt – places like big urban or small rural districts.” But perhaps more damaging to PTCC’s assertions that SB 76 will provide an economic boon that outweighs its costs is opposition from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. The last time the bill came up for a vote, Al Boscov, patriarch of the Reading-based Boscov’s department stores, submitted testimony against it. Citing “unanswered questions” about SB 76, the business organization generally favored decreasing PA’s corporate tax rate, the nation’s second highest. While 25 percent of school funding comes from commercial landlords, most businesses and offices lease space or write down their real estate costs and many could end up paying higher salaries to compensate for increased income taxes. Abolitionists describe the business chamber as dominated by corporate interests. “It’s always the big chains that come out against us, but small businesses love us,” Jim Rodkey said. However, it is far from a certainty that eliminating property taxes alone will right Pennsylvania’s flagging economy. Texas, a generally low-tax state with high property

taxes, has little trouble attracting residents or businesses. West Virginia, meanwhile, struggles to kickstart job and population growth with one of the nation’s lowest property tax rates. THERE IS A tendency for PTCC members to dismiss some legitimate, bipartisan concerns about SB 76, particularly with an apparent victory tantalizingly close at hand. Nearly all opponents of the bill are often painted as self-interested elites or outright liars working “out of the same playbook.” Educational organizations are simply “self-serving special interest groups.” Anxious legislative aides are mostly “former lobbyists” working against the interests of the average voter. Business groups are shills for big corporations looking to protect specialized tax breaks. But ideologically disparate groups


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“We haven’t found any yet.” To be fair, staying on message against all odds is part of an activist’s job. But ultimately, frustrations with hyperlocal spikes in property taxes, broken school funding structures and intransigence in Harrisburg over how to deal with all these issues are as real as the flaws with SB 76. To abolitionists, perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the bill is that it might actually stand a shot at passing in Harrisburg due to a fear among legislators of becoming “the reason you still pay property taxes.” More nuanced property tax reforms – which notably lack zealous, grassroots supporters or a realistic statewide school funding plan – have been stalled for so long that advocates treat them like a punchline. In fact, abolitionists genuinely believe that simply passing SB 76 will

create so much friction that it will finally force Harrisburg to confront many other problems. Legislators simply won’t have the option of punting on equitable education funding or pension reforms, for better or worse. The advocates’ strongest argument in favor of a nuclear approach to property taxes is Harrisburg’s inability to pass literally any other, less drastic reform package. It’s taken so long, in fact, that an old man armed with a computer and an unwavering belief has succeeded in raising an army to back up his own radical solution to the problems state government has proved incapable of correcting. “That’s just David – it’s like he’s in the room, even when he’s not in the room,” said Sue Rodkey, of Baldinger’s successes. “The state legislators could take a page from his book, if you ask me.”


oppose the bill, including the progressive Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and the conservative Americans for Prosperity. The Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg free-market think tank, articulated conservative fears about the bill, which spokeswoman Gina Diorio described as “merely a tax shift.” “It doesn’t solve the problem of school spending, which will continue to cause taxes to rise unless addressed,” she said. “High property taxes are just a symptom.” Asked how he interpreted resistance from conservative, liberal and even nonpartisan groups, like the IFO, Baldinger described a mixture of misinterpretation and outright lies. Asked if there are any legitimate criticisms of the bill, Baldinger responded almost reflexively,





January 26, 2017

Physicians and politicians join forces on legislation that could prove to be a turning point in the war against opioids. By MELISSA JACOBS HE DIDN’T LOOK LIKE an addict. The 50-year-old suburbanite sitting in Dr. Charles Cutler’s Norristown exam room was a husband, a father and a long-time patient. When he asked for an opioid prescription to deal with his pain, Cutler had no reason to doubt his sincerity. But because of a new state law that took effect last summer, Cutler was legally obligated to look up his patient’s records on Pennsylvania’s new, online prescription drug monitoring program, or PDMP. Upon doing so, he was surprised to see that the man had recently filled an opioid prescription from another doctor. When Cutler asked what happened to those pills, the patient admitted that he doubled up on them. “Then I knew we had a problem,” Cutler recalled thinking. Cutler isn’t just an internist; he’s president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. His organization and many others advocated for creating the PDMP, which was proposed as Act 191 and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2014. Overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, PDMP attempts to curb opioid abuse by flagging pill seekers who go from

doctor to doctor asking for prescriptions to feed their addictions. Now, prescriptions for everything from oxycodone to codeine must be entered into the PDMP when they are filled. Physicians are also required to check the PDMP before writing prescriptions for new patients or writing new prescriptions for existing patients. PDMP is statewide, superseding regional systems such as the HealthShare Exchange of Southeastern PA and the Keystone Health Information Exchange in central Pennsylvania. It’s also interstate, widening the scope to New Jersey and Ohio. “Patients who shop for controlled substances will go anywhere,” said Mike Evans, a clinical investigator and associate vice president of strategy and innovation for Geisinger Health System. “Think you’ll just slip over the border and get a scrip? Not anymore.” In September, more legislation further tightened restrictions on opioid prescriptions. Act 122 limits the quantities of opioids that can be prescribed by emergency room and urgent care physicians to seven days. Act 126 put restrictions on opioid prescriptions for minors. Further legislation is expected; Wolf has repeatedly stated that combating opioid abuse is a central piece of his agenda. Creating the PDMP was a first step, although not a particularly innovative one. Pennsylvania was the 49th state to enact such a database. Nevertheless, the PDMP was a significant step forward in enlisting the medical community in the fight against pharmaceutical addiction. Its effectiveness has allowed advocates to ask the freighted question of whether an alliance between government and physicians can really curb opioid abuse, or if this is a case of government overstepping its jurisdiction by legislating how and what physicians prescribe. Dr. Mike Lynch said yes to both questions. As medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center and an emergency physician at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Lynch has seen many pill seekers and many patients with acute injuries that necessitate

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using opioids for pain management. While the PDMP is a good tool, Lynch said, he will always rely on his medical judgment. For example, Lynch won’t deny opioid pain management to a patient with a broken bone just because there are previous opioid prescriptions in the PDMP. “What the ER staff and I like about the PDMP is that when I’m making decisions to responsibly prescribe opioids, I can have objective, factual information at my disposal,” he said. On the other hand, patients can have opioid addictions, past or present, that aren’t documented in the PDMP or anywhere else. Title 42, a federal regulation authorized by the Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act of 1979, protects the confidentiality of patients’ records, including their diagnosis and treatment for drug abuse. “In case of a car accident or other trauma, a physician may give a patient opioids and accidentally restart an addiction or put a patient at risk for that,” said Evans, who, in addition to his other roles, is co-director of Geisinger’s Center for Pharmacy Innovation and Outcomes. Evans would like to repeal and replace that law. Doing that would certainly help pharmacists, who form another line of defense in the war on opioid abuse. Pat Epple, CEO of the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association, advocated for the creation of Pennsylvania’s PDMP. “We’d seen it work in many other states,” Epple said. “Any tool we have to fight prescription abuse is a tool we want.” That said, her organization did push back against some of the PDMP’s initial components, saying that they placed an unfair burden on pharmacists. For example, the original law mandated that pharmacists update the PDMP in real time, as prescriptions were being fulfilled. PPA pushed for a 72hour timeline so pharmacists could phase in the system. “There was a lot of debate and discussion about that,” Epple said. “Real time is expensive and costly. The next business day is as close as we can get – that’s where the

majority of pharmacists are now.” Her group also wanted to limit government intrusion on how pharmacists make decisions. “We wanted to preserve pharmacists’ rights to execute their judgment in the fulfilling of prescriptions,” Epple said. “Our members know the red flags of drug seekers: new customers, paying cash, exorbitant amounts of pills and odd combinations of them.” What do medical providers do when those red flags are raised? Are they required to call law enforcement or recommend some kind of treatment? “There isn’t a mandated protocol – and shouldn’t be,” Lynch said. “How we use the PDMP information remains in the hands of individual providers. The culture of medicine has shifted to being very conscious in understanding the power of opioid medications. We certainly educate our patients about their potential addictiveness. But it also is not our intention to leave pain untreated.” That’s especially problematic for chronic pain, Cutler said. “Pennsylvania Medical Society recognizes the need for better treatment options for people with chronic pain,” he said. In his practice, Cutler uses evidence-based treatments as a first line of treatments for chronic pain. If those prove ineffective, Cutler talks to patients about acupuncture, chiropractic and physical therapy. But those treatments, while proven to be at least somewhat effective, can become cost-prohibitive for patients because most insurance plans don’t cover them or only allow a certain number of sessions. The federal government can lead the charge in changing that. “The largest health care provider is Medicare and Medicaid, so government can play a role in covering more services like physical therapy,” Cutler said. “Commercial insurers would likely follow suit. If it provides an option to opioids, why not try it?” Epple wants more to be done to stop people from getting started – or restarted – on opioids. “There has been overprescribing of


opioid products in the past,” she said. “I’m not pointing fingers, but it has to slow down. And then we have to provide resources for people who are already addicted.” That’s the biggest hazard of the PDMP: cutting off prescriptions without having readily available treatment options for opioid addicts. Government can lead the way there, too. “One good way to facilitate treatment that people can afford is to have it reimbursed by Medicaid and Medicare,” Lynch said. “Affordable, accessible addiction treatment is our most urgent concern for the short term.” Lynch repeated what every medical provider knows: When prescriptions or money to fill them runs out, opioid addicts often turn to heroin, which is less expensive and more readily available. Heroin usage in Pennsylvania is at epidemic proportions. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked the state eighth in drug overdose deaths. Overdose deaths rose 23.4 percent in 2015 and heroin played a role in 55 percent of those deaths. The problem is statewide: 59 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties reported heroin as the main cause of overdose fatalities. State and federal government agencies have legalized and trained first responders to use naloxone, the drug that can counteract an opioid overdose. But getting addicts help before they overdose is the overarching goal. To that end, Wolf designated $20.4 million to create 45 new drug treatment centers throughout Pennsylvania. When and where they will be built has yet to be announced. Geisinger isn’t waiting. In 2017, the health care system will open three new addiction medical centers. “We have a shortage of outpatient treatment centers for patients who are addicts,” Evans said. “It is a chronic disease. We need to help patients manage it on a day-to-day basis wherever they are.” Why don’t more health care systems have extensive drug treatment centers? Cutler said it’s a matter of insurance reimbursements, which the government could also change. The Affordable Care Act mandated that insurance companies cover annual mammograms and other services. It could do the same with addiction, Cutler said. But one hurdle in doing that is the stigma of addiction. For example, Americans rally around efforts to raise awareness and funds for all kinds of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and many others, but not addiction. Cutler said the medical community is equally to blame. “Almost every major university and medical school has a cancer center that cares for patients and does research into new cancerfighting treatments,” he said. “Why don’t we have that for addiction?”


January 26, 2017


PUBLIC SAFETY Keeping citizens protected from harm is part of the mandate for elected officials at every level of government, from Duncannon’s Borough Council pulling the plug on its police contract in favor of the Pennsylvania State Police to the “American carnage” section of President Donald Trump’s inaugural address. As evidenced by the disparate views on the issue revealed during the presidential campaign by Trump and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, how we define public safety can depend as much on where we live and our political affiliations as on data sets and metrics. In this spotlight, we move beyond partisan positioning to explore the myriad of challenges facing both those elected and appointed to protect Pennsylvanians – including the changing role of the state police, how state and local officials are responding to the continuing crisis of lead in homes as well as how the citizens’ groups are driving both sides of the gun control debate in the state Legislature.









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Second Amendment defenders and gun control groups square off for another year of legislative battles.


HERE IS NO debate that gun violence – whether gangrelated, terrorism-inspired, lone wolf attacks or suicides – must be stopped. It’s the question of how to achieve that goal that has long caused legislative stalemates at all levels of government around the country. Pennsylvania is no exception. For years, gun control advocacy groups have been stymied in their attempts to pass what they call “common sense gun reform.” Shira Goodman has learned to focus her energy. As executive director of CeaseFirePA, the state’s largest gun control lobbying group, Goodman is dedicated to the seemingly Sisyphean task of passing gun control laws. “We’ve been working with a Legislature that is heavily Republican, although gun violence doesn’t break down

For Gun Safety, Gabby Giffords’ nonprofit, Americans For Responsible Solutions and a cadre of Pennsylvania-based groups, including Mothers In Charge, the AntiViolence Partnership of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. But the alliance has been mostly ineffective in the Keystone State, thanks, in large part, to Kim Stolfer, the kryptonite of Pennsylvania gun control. Stolfer is co-founder and chairman of Firearm Owners Against Crime, a Second Amendment advocacy group based in McMurray. A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Stolfer was a mechanic and crew chief for one of the Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters that evacuated the U.S. Embassy during the fall of Saigon, Vietnam in 1975. “In the pictures, you can see my helicopter,” Stolfer said.


along party lines,” Goodman said. “The main frustration is that there hasn’t been a whole lot of appetite to bring these things up in committee, let alone on the House floor.” Goodman and her colleagues hope that state Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) will change that. Dean is co-chairwoman of PA Safe, a caucus of mostly Democratic legislators formed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and reorganized in March 2016 after the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. “Our work begins by repeating the facts about the insanity that is gun violence,” Dean said. “Until we actually wrap our minds around this absolute horror, epidemic and scandalous set of statistics, we’re not going to get anywhere.” Dean and Goodman have the support of Michael Bloomberg’s nonprofit, Everytown


January 26, 2017

“SUICIDES HAVEN’T STOPPED IN CALIFORNIA, HAVE THEY? AND CALIFORNIA HAS UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS. WHY IS IT THAT IN JAPAN, WHERE ALMOST NO ONE OWNS GUNS, SUICIDE RATES ARE ALMOST TRIPLE WHAT THEY ARE IN THE U.S.?” — KIM STOLFER, co-founder and chairman of Firearm Owners Against Crime Dismissing Stolfer as a gun-toting, “Oorah”-ing Vietnam vet from the red part of the state is a tactical error. Since forming FOAC in 1994, Stolfer has made target practice out of bills proposed by gun control groups. Not only does Stolfer frequently testify at hearings, but he and FOAC’s attorneys have consulted with legislators on language written into new bills. Goodman described Stolfer as “to the right of the NRA,” but he has minimal dealings with that organization. Stolfer formed FOAC to focus on affecting Pennsylvania legislation. “We work with the NRA when we can, but otherwise, it’s like that old saying: Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way,” he said. With 108,000 supporters and multiple chapters across the state, Stolfer leads a statewide charge to protect the Second Amendment, and it’s hard to argue with his success rate. “We present information that is irrefutable,” Stolfer said. “That’s what people in the state Legislature have relied upon for more than 20 years. We document our positions, use credible sources and prove our points.” For example, Dean said that gun control is a must because, in America, 33,000 people a year die of gun violence, with two-thirds of those deaths classified as suicides. “That’s utter nonsense,” Stolfer said. “Suicides haven’t stopped in California, have they? And California has universal background checks. Why is it that in Japan, where almost no one owns guns, suicide rates are almost triple what they are in the U.S.?”

Stolfer’s statistics check out: Multiple sources cite Japan as having almost airtight gun laws – and as the country with the second-highest percentage of suicides. Dean’s statistics are also correct. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 33,736 deaths from guns, of which 21,334 were suicides. Nevertheless, Stolfer said that blaming guns for suicides is like blaming Chevys for drive-by shootings. “If we want to deal with suicides, which are a big concern, we have to look at the reasons that people go down that path,” Stolfer said. “The anti-gun groups’ intent is not to make people safer, but to create a regulatory climate where people are scared to execute their right to bear arms.” Stolfer wants the justice system to prosecute offenders of existing laws. “In 80 percent of the crimes where people are killed with guns, the victims have a prior criminal record, often a substantial one,” he said. “Virtually the same percentage of perpetrators of the crimes have criminal records. So neither side, victim nor perpetrator, was allowed to lawfully possess a firearm. Why don’t we try to fix that?” That was the intent behind the 2016 introduction of HB 921, the FOAC-backed move to eliminate the Pennsylvania Instant Check System. Maintained by the Pennsylvania State Police, PICS parallels the background checks done by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check. Sponsored by Republican state House Speaker Mike Turzai, the bill didn’t make it out of committee, something Dean and Goodman cited as a big victory for gun

control groups. “The work that PICS does is greater than what the national system does,” Dean said. “Our system is very effective and we ought to be proud of it.” Pure poppycock, Stolfer said. He called the 1998 implementation of PICS “a power grab by the Pennsylvania State Police and not an intention to make people safer.” Pennsylvania should use only the FBI database, like 36 other states do, he said. He claims there is a big backlog of criminal records that have not been uploaded to PICS or NICS, making both ineffective. Stolfer wants to repeal and replace HB 921, redistributing the annual $6 million cost for PICS into updating NICS. “The PICS system leads to crime,” Stolfer said. “We want to end that. These records have to be put in one comprehensive database to streamline the background check process, which is something even Madeleine Dean should be able to see is good.” Stolfer hasn’t given up on eliminating PICS. He’ll push for it in 2017 and oppose other “laws that restrict the right to bear arms without reducing crime.” Dean’s 2017 legislative agenda includes reintroducing HB 1010 (expanding background checks to include the sale of long guns like shotguns and semi-automatic rifles), HB 1020 (a 72-hour reporting requirement of lost or stolen guns) and HB 1030 (creating a “firearm restraining order” against people who are a threat to themselves or others.) Though all three were quashed last session, Dean is optimistic about their chances because she’s enlisting Republican colleagues as co-sponsors. She hopes that will provide political cover for legislators on both sides of the aisle. “The biggest hurdle has been that these bills can’t get out of committee,” Dean said. “But we know that eight out of 10 Pennsylvanians want us to close the background check loophole. Gun owners also think we should close that loophole. But we have legislators afraid to bring it to an important vote.” Or they think those are badly written laws, Stolfer contends. Expanding background checks is a colossal waste of resources, he said, and hasn’t stopped crime in states where it’s been enacted. HB 1020 and 1030 put unfair liabilities – possibly criminal ones – on people who legally own guns. Create laws that will be effective and enforce those already on the books, Stolfer said, instead of punishing people who follow the law and execute their constitutional rights. “The right to bear arms isn’t an obscure amendment,” he said. “It’s the second one.”

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January 26, 2017

COLONEL TYREE C. BLOCKER Commissioner, Pennsylvania State Police

You retired from the Pennsylvania State Police in 2005 after a 20-year career before coming back to lead the agency in 2015. What has changed in that time? The agency mission hasn’t changed; our role and mandate is still to protect and serve. What has changed is the technology we use as a policing service. We must continue to embrace technology. We need to do that across a vast spectrum of areas, from criminal investigations to forensics to ensuring that we are able to better communicate not just internally but externally with all of our partners in criminal justice. What are some of the challenges currently facing the state police? We have been assuming

PALAK RAVALNELSON, PH.D. Director, Environmental Health Services for the City of Philadelphia

What is your purview? Our goal is to promote health education, which we do through investigation, assessment and monitoring of four programs: lead in homes, environmental engineering, vector control – the critters that carry and spread disease to humans, like rats, mice, roaches and mosquitoes – and the office of food protection. How did you decide on a career in public health? I knew I wanted to help people from the time I was 5. I always thought it would be as a doctor. I went to med school and soon realized it wasn’t the way for me – I wanted to do other things. My second day on the job as a health inspector, in 1996, I was able to remove expired infant

duties and responsibilities for municipalities that have done away with their police departments or have trimmed their departments from full time to part time. There are 2,500 municipalities in the commonwealth – the Pennsylvania State Police provides full- or part-time services for 1,500 to 1,600 of those municipalities. We are always challenged to do more with less, to be more efficient in our services, which is where technology comes into play We must also enhance our recruiting efforts to ensure the Pennsylvania State Police is an attractive organization to prospective applicants. We must ensure that we have the requisite infrastructure in place to attract qualified individuals. What we emphasize here is that policing

is about people – we are in the people business. As such, all troopers must possess superior interpersonal skills – it provides the edge to providing quality professional services.

formula off the shelves of a bodega in Kensington – and I fell head over heels in love with my career. I realized this was the most impactful way for me to help people. “Public health is defined by the public that is experiencing it.” I heard that in one of my master’s courses. It’s kind of obvious and kind of isn’t because we in government sometimes put our views of what people need over what they actually need. I always try to remember that public health is filled with generality and specificity at the same time.

increase our enforcement rate to get people to stop selling it to youths and minors. For lead, it’s about getting into more homes to help desperate families get the remediation they need and holding landlords accountable for the work. For vector control, we want to make sure we’re on top of investigating rat bites and monitoring mosquitoes for West Nile (virus) and Zika (virus). For environmental engineering, we are working to develop an online application for swimming pools; we inspect swimming pools and tattoo/body art places as well. For food protection, it’s really about increasing our compliance rate through the notion of cease operations orders. We don’t want you operating to cause foodborne illness.

What are your public safety priorities for 2017? We want to get tobacco retailers appropriately permitted and

What public safety issues will you be focusing on in 2017? One thing I would encourage is that the motoring public understands the rules of the road and be mindful of how important it is to be respectful of others. With today’s technology, we see a lot of distracted driving, and it is increasingly problematic. We are also working diligently in the area of drug law enforcement. With the increase of heroin and opioid challenges, we spend an awful lot of time focusing on drug law enforcement in the commonwealth.





With almost three-quarters of Pennsylvania homes thought to contain lead paint, remediation will continue to be painfully slow and overly dependent on tenuous funding.

January 26, 2017


ENNI DROZDEK THOUGHT she’d taken every precaution to keep her daughter, Mina, from becoming one of the approximately 13,000 Pennsylvania children diagnosed with lead poisoning. The family’s 19th-century row house in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood was newly renovated, with no chipping paint or deteriorating windows. The tap water tested safe. It was only when 1-year-old Mina’s blood test revealed significantly elevated lead levels that the Drozdeks learned they had been tracking toxic residue from the soil in their post-industrial neighborhood into their home. Mina had been crawling on floors laced with lead. “I was horrified,” said Drozdek, who works in education for

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the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She’d considered herself informed, having signed leases with lead hazard disclosures in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia – disclosures that together with weak, poorly enforced laws and inadequate funding for lead remediation have done little to ameliorate a persistently toxic environment in the state’s aging homes, schools, playgrounds and parks. That environment is the devastating legacy of lead paint, which the federal government banned in 1978 for indoor use after research overwhelmingly revealed the heavy metal to be a potent neurotoxin. But lead lingers in virtually every structure built before that year, including 70 percent of Pennsylvania homes – a number that rises to 95 percent in Philadelphia. In use since Colonial times to improve paint’s durability and texture, lead is still widely found in exterior paint on outdoor structures like bridges. AFTER THE FLINT, MICHIGAN, water crisis propelled lead into the headlines in 2015, the issue has been getting renewed attention across the Keystone State, where local lead poisoning rates – caused primarily by deteriorating paint in old homes – routinely dwarf the Michigan numbers. Reuters recently reported that 5 percent of Flint children tested positive for elevated lead levels, compared to 36 percent of those tested in Warren, Pennsylvania. Flint reminded people that lead, when ingested or inhaled by small children, can permanently lower IQ and cause lifelong developmental and behavioral problems. According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, every dollar invested in lead hazard control results in societal savings of as much as $221. “People are starting to look at the other long-term impacts,” said state Rep. Donna Bullock, a Philadelphia Democrat whose own young son was diagnosed with lead poisoning a few years ago. Bullock pointed out that lead-poisoned youngsters are far more likely to require costly special education, drop out of school and land in trouble with the law, imposing enormous social costs. “It’s all collateral damage,” Bullock said. The stakes are clear. While the numbers have been declining, one of every 10 children tested statewide has a blood lead level of more than five micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood – the threshold for intervention set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which cautions that there is no safe level of exposure to

lead. In Lehigh and Warren counties, more than one in five children tested has elevated blood lead levels, contradicting the perception that lead poisoning is an urban scourge. And nobody really knows how widespread the problem is, given that only about a quarter of Pennsylvania children even undergo lead testing. “I will say that there is a lot of bipartisan agreement that this is a very, very severe issue,” said state Rep. Mike Schlossberg, an Allentown Democrat who, along with Rep. Angel Cruz of Philadelphia, has championed a series of recent proposals that call for universal childhood lead testing, more testing for lead in water, and mandatory testing and disclosure of lead

“IT IS PRESENT IN EVERY COMMUNITY. THE SAME HISTORIC ARCHITECTURE THAT WE LOVE IS ALSO A HIDDEN DANGER TO OUR FAMILIES.” — state Rep. DONNA BULLOCK hazards in rental apartments. But when asked about the feasibility of solving the problem, Schlossberg was candid. “Feasibility requires investment, and investment requires money, and it also requires political will,” he said. “And I don’t know if enough of these things exist.” While a defeatist perspective has bred complacency over the decades, the examples of other municipalities make it clear that Pennsylvania’s shocking figures are hardly inevitable. New York City, which also has an older housing stock and a high percentage of poor residents, successfully tackled its lead problem through stricter regulations and greater investment in remediation and enforcement. Last year, The New York Times reported that New York City’s lead poisoning rate is just 2 percent. But in Pennsylvania, “the can’s been


kicked down the road for decades with this issue,” said Eric Walsh, a spokesman for Environmental Hazards Control, a certified lead abatement specialist in Lancaster, where the juvenile lead poisoning rate is twice that of Flint. In December, the Lancaster City Council passed a resolution calling on the state to adopt the CDC’s lower lead poisoning threshold, implement a comprehensive testing protocol and – most urgently – enact legislation requiring that all rental housing be certified safe from lead. “LEAD POISONING IS not a partisan political issue,” said Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who spearheaded the city’s 2012 law mandating lead disclosure, testing and remediation for dwellings rented to families with children. “It is a public health issue that causes permanent and severe damage to all those affected, in particular our city’s children,” she said. In November, alongside council proposals to tighten school water safety standards and expand the Lead Paint Disclosure and Certification Law to include water lines, Reynolds Brown introduced a bill that would require Philadelphia child care centers to certify that they are safe from lead before receiving a license to operate. It is the kind of simple, effective measure that, were it applied to rental apartments, could virtually eliminate the state’s lead poisoning epidemic, as Lancaster County officials proposed. But while testing is cheap, lead remediation is expensive – about $4,000 to $8,000 for a typical dwelling – and cost has been a significant deterrent in cashstrapped Pennsylvania. Even where laws are in place to ensure safe conditions for tenants, cost is again the obstacle, as cities like Philadelphia lack the funds to enforce compliance on landlords that routinely shirk their obligations. For example, a child’s blood lead level has to reach 10 micrograms per deciliter – twice the CDC threshold – before the Philadelphia Department of Health intervenes to pressure landlords to remediate the lead, a process itself that is fraught with dangerous delays. The scope of the problem reflects the deficits of the city’s 2012 lead law, acknowledged Karen Guss, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections. “We know for a fact that only a small number of landlords are complying,” said Guss, referring to the requirement to certify units with young tenants as

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safe from lead. Nobody holds landlords accountable when they lie about whether children live there or whether the unit has been tested, and more than one anonymous landlord told a reporter that it’s common to discourage tenants with young children from renting. The Homeowners Association of Philadelphia declined requests for comment. Such stories are common enough that Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney recently announced the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Plan, which aims to plug yawning holes in the existing regulations. Jeff Moran, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said the city plans a campaign to promote lead awareness, as well as a crackdown on landlords who flout the law. The city also hopes to develop technology allowing the city’s health department to share data with the city’s licensing agency. Someday, rental licenses could be contingent on lead law compliance. Yet again, funding remains the wild card. A day after Moran said money for the initiative was “under discussion currently as part of the budget process,” state Sen. Vincent Hughes announced a $35,000 grant to train certified lead inspectors and another $90,000 for lead remediation – a promising start, but a fraction of the investment required to achieve the city’s goals. “The only real solution to this problem is the systematic renovation of homes where people live,” said Dr. Marilyn Howarth, a physician at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology. “And for that

to happen, more money has to come in.” Howarth pointed out that while children are more commonly affected, lead poisoning can have serious consequences for adults. Lead exposure has been blamed as a probable contributor to neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. “Pennsylvania has the highest rate of lead-poisoned workers in the country,” said Howarth, who has treated miners and construction workers with severe anemia, kidney disease and other symptoms of lead poisoning. Some of it may be attributable to the manufacturing jobs common in Pennsylvania, but Howarth cites lax enforcement of workplace safety laws as well. Experts also agree that water lines contaminated with lead may be more of a factor than people realize, given Pennsylvania’s complex patchwork of water utilities and pipes of varying age and provenance. As scrutiny increases, there may be more announcements like the one from the York Water Company earlier this month: The utility said it will replace all its water lines after finding that six out of 50 buildings it tested exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for lead in water. The announcement was one more reminder that while lower-income families are disproportionately affected, the metal itself does not discriminate. In addition to poor children poisoned by crumbling doorframes, Howarth has treated affluent families poisoned by renovation dust, or by the lawns near remodeled houses where

scraped-off lead paint has settled into the soil. As gentrification revives neighborhoods from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, playgrounds are built where factories once disgorged their toxic materials. “They call it the Rust Belt for a reason,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, who for years watched funding for lead abatement decline alongside the local manufacturing economy. This year, the department won a $3.4 million lead grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – part of a fluctuating, unpredictable pool of money for lead initiatives across Pennsylvania. “The fact that the Flint situation happened has dramatically increased awareness,” Hacker said. “A lot of people living in these communities want change to happen.” But the unreliability of funding means even promising initiatives wither before they have a chance to bear fruit. Colleen McCauley, a veteran lead safety advocate, pointed to a CDC-sponsored state program called Lead Safe Babies that coordinated remediation for the lead-impacted homes of pregnant women and newborns. Statistics show it was highly effective in reducing lead poisoning, but the program was cancelled when funding disappeared. “What’s particularly challenging is, we’re still talking about a problem that has existed for a long time, and it’s ubiquitous,” said McCauley, the health policy director at Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia. Like many others, she sees a pattern of


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· You can arrange your own lead test. A certified lead specialist can take samples in less than an hour, and may charge several hundred dollars, depending on dwelling size. · Pay special attention to friction points like doorframes and windows, where paint can chip and dust is generated.

Cleaning and remediation

— BLONDELL REYNOLDS BROWN, Philadelphia city councilwoman

neglect for an issue often dismissed as an urban problem. “It does disproportionately affect people who have smaller incomes and people of color, in the Southeast in particular, and it is more challenging to have folks pay attention,” McCauley said. For Philadelphia, that challenge may be even greater if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, a process which began in Congress earlier this month. Philadelphia is one of five U.S. cities receiving lead hazard funding from the CDC under a little-known provision of the ACA called the Prevention and Public Health Fund; James Garrow, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, said the CDC has provided $292,000 annually since 2014 for lead poisoning prevention, a three-year grant whose renewal is imperiled by the possible repeal. IF FUNDING WERE to return in earnest, McCauley has some ideas to borrow from other municipalities. Rochester, New York, requires rental properties to be inspected for lead at designated intervals, and the city monitors inspection companies as a check against corruption. In Rhode Island, Medicaid pays to remediate lead in the homes of affected children. New Jersey, which has a similarly old housing stock but a far lower lead poisoning rate than Pennsylvania, pays for a state remediation fund with a tax on paint, awarding lead abatement grants to lower-income families. But Pennsylvania relies heavily on the CDC and HUD, which have sharply decreased lead funding over the past


decade. HUD recently awarded $2.9 million to the Pennsylvania Department of Health to combat lead paint, which health department spokesman Michael Gerber said will be used to assess and remediate lead in 186 homes around the state. HUD also awarded $1.4 million to Allentown and $1.2 million to the Lancaster for their own lead initiatives. Those numbers may sound big, but they barely scratch the surface of what is ultimately required to make Pennsylvania safe again. And for now, there are few resources to help low-income renters. “It’s in almost all of our homes, and you can’t just pick up and move your family,” said Bullock. “It is present in every community. The same historic architecture that we love is also a hidden danger to our families.” For Bullock, it was hidden in plain sight: her own mother’s house, where her 3-yearold son spent many afternoons drawing on the lead-dusted windowsill. “You say, as a parent, ‘Have I failed them? Are they going to reach their fullest potential?’” recalled Bullock, whose son is now 6. When she ran for state office last year, Bullock was determined to be part of the solution. Together with her state House colleagues, she is working on legislation that would fine derelict landlords to create a remediation fund. “At the end of the day, it’s about finding the dollars and the resources to remediate or rebuild our cities,” Bullock said. “Until we figure out how to deal with old housing on a grand scale around the commonwealth, we’ll have this issue.”

· Never peel chipping paint, which creates lead dust. · Low-tech ways to contain chipping paint include masking tape and sealing the area with plastic. · Avoid sweeping floors; vacuum instead with a HEPA filter, then mop. · Clean with wet techniques such as wipes, sponges and mops, which remove lead residue without spreading it through the air. · Lead is a heavy metal; it concentrates on horizontal surfaces, and so should you when cleaning. · The most effective remediation measure is to replace old windows. · Old windows and radiators can leach lead residue even when undisturbed. Pre-1978 windows are safest when left shut; even then, wipe dust from windowsills regularly. Old radiators are best replaced, but can be covered; mop underneath regularly.


· Wash hands religiously, especially after coming indoors and before meals. · Remove shoes at the door. · Feed children foods high in iron and calcium, which slow the absorption of lead. Good sources are beans, red meat, leafy greens and dairy. · Wash toys regularly and try to keep them off the floor. · Run the cold water taps for three to five minutes first thing each morning. Consider installing a faucet-mounted filter (around $25). · Test children for lead at ages 1 and 2, and whenever there is concern, for instance, during a home renovation. Lead accumulates quickly; every month counts.


January 26, 2017


UNLOCKING THE KEYSTONE STATE To decode how Donald Trump turned Pennsylvania red, you have to play the numbers game.




City & State Pennsylvania

January 26, 2017

AS ANY CANDIDATE will tell you, losing an election by 10 percentage points is far preferable to losing by one point. Lose by 10 points and you can go to bed knowing that there was nothing you could have done to change the outcome. The time and tides were against you and that’s that. Losing by a single point, as one campaign manager once put it, is like dying from a thousand paper cuts. You enter your own private purgatory of “if”: If only I had raised a bit more money. If only I had run that last flight of negative ads. If only I had gone to that town one more time. If … if … if … Hillary Clinton’s purgatory is located in Chappaqua, New York, where she can ponder in solitude – if not in peace – all the ”woulda coulda shouldas” of the 2016 presidential race, which she lost to Donald Trump, despite winning the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes. In Pennsylvania, Clinton lost by three-quarters of one percent, receiving 44,292 fewer votes than her Republican rival, out of a record 6.1 million votes cast, according to certified returns from the Pennsylvania Department of State. So close, and yet so far. There are plenty of analysts, looking in the rearview mirror, who will be happy to tell Clinton how she could have won the state. But let’s not diminish the tremendous feat Trump accomplished. Not only was he the first Republican presidential candidate to win Pennsylvania in 28 years; he overcame the usually insurmountable barrier of losing southeast Pennsylvania. Clinton won in the eight-county Philadelphia media market by a margin of 660,000 votes – nearly the same margin that Barack Obama won in 2012. Trump had to overcome that deficit in the rest of the state – a mathematical improbability, given that 42 percent of the state’s electorate lives in the southeast. Yet, he did it by getting higher-than-normal turnout in his strongholds and by getting a greater share of the vote than recent Republican candidates. One example: Mitt Romney won the 14-county Harrisburg media market by 163,000 votes in 2012. That was not a surprise. This area is the state’s Republican



heartland. In November, Trump won the same area by 228,000 votes over Clinton. In central Pennsylvania, Clinton received fewer votes than Obama did four years ago and Trump got more than Mitt Romney did in 2012. Outside the southeast, that pattern was repeated in every other area of the state: Obama voters defecting to Trump and Trump energizing additional conservative voters. There were 214,000 more votes cast statewide in 2016 than four years before. Looking at the county-by-county turnout figures, most of those new voters cast their ballots for Trump. What makes Trump’s feat all the more impressive is that he drew this support without any field operation and without airing many TV ads in Pennsylvania – certainly not in comparison to the Clinton campaign. In short, he won while breaking every rule in the modern campaign playbook. And he did it while there was a strong third-party candidate on the ballot who surely drew away conservative votes: the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. Johnson was on the ballot in 2012 as well. He got 50,000 votes then. He got 147,000 votes in November. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, was on the ballot as well in 2012. She received 21,300 votes then. In November, she got 49,900 votes. It’s another “if” to ponder over the next four years – as in, if Stein wasn’t on the ballot, could Clinton have won the state? There are lots of ways to characterize the presidential vote: red vs. blue counties, conservatives vs. liberals, white vs. multi-racial cultures. In looking at the returns, though, what strikes me is how this election fell into another category: the big cities and their suburbs versus the small towns and rural areas of Pennsylvania. It harkens back to the earliest division in American politics: the rural Jeffersonians versus the urban Hamiltonian federalists. I won’t overdo the parallels other than to point it out. I will add one final question to the pile to hopefully be answered over the next four years: Is this the beginning or the end? Are we at the dawn of a statewide conservative resurgence that will reverberate for years to come – for instance, when Gov. Wolf seeks re-election in 2018? Did Trump create the template on how to overcome the dominance of the southeast in the electoral equation? Or, is this the crest of the Republican wave, a once-in-a-generation event made possible by a oneof-a-kind candidate? Trump, after all, is not a traditional mainstream Republican. He’s not a traditional mainstream anything. And he didn’t win his party’s nomination, so much as lead a hostile takeover. The good thing about that question is that it will be answered eventually. Trump’s persona may have enthralled voters, but he also lured them in with a promise to restore their status in the world, no longer to be undermined by immigrants, nor ignored by the financial and political elites. Like all great salesmen, he sold them a dream. Now, all he has to do is deliver on it.

Tom Ferrick is an award-winning reporter and columnist who has covered state and local government politics since the 1970s.


January 26, 2017

CITY & STATE PENNSYLVANIA Publisher David Alpher Editor Greg Salisbury

With the state Legislature and Philadelphia City Council coming back into session this week, we can tell you who the biggest winners are: political junkies looking to get their fix from something other than the latest meme-generating rumpus emanating from the nation’s capital. But you’re here for something more substantive, so let’s get to it!

Staff Reporter Ryan Briggs Finance and Office Manager Allison Murphy

President/CEO Tom Allon

LOSERS JOSH SHAPIRO AND JOE TORSELLA The commonwealth’s newly swornin attorney general and treasurer, respectively, take over offices that are in dire need of a decisive reset following scandals that did in their predecessors.




Chairman Steve Farbman

Editorial Director Jon Lentz Managing Editor Ryan Somers

DWIGHT EVANS The freshman congressman got a wake-up call to the unforgiving nature of the national stage during an on-air dustup with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who took Evans to task for not familiarizing himself with President Trump’s “New Deal for Black America.”







Philly’s mayor had a productive week that included a number of appearances at the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors, coming out in support of a ban on the widely discredited practice of “gay conversion therapy” and standing up to Comcast’s threatened suit over legislation that would address wage discrimination in the city. Marking the second consecutive week that Temple lands a win, the professor at the school’s College of Education was chosen by Kenney to serve on the city’s School Reform Commission.

Creative Director Guillaume Federighi Copy editor Eric Holmberg

Vol. 2 Issue 1 January 26, 2017

That didn’t take long. After landing in the winner’s column recently for a fractured field in his re-election bid, the Philly DA takes another loss for being the recipient of a record-setting fine from the Philadelphia Board of Ethics and for being the subject of a billboard/lawn sign campaign by a Fraternal Order of Police lodge eager to see him go. The Allegheny county executive had to walk back his comments that the county jail’s inmate population was “the lowest it’s been since the jail opened.” In fact, it has increased 70 percent in the past 20 years. The timing was especially bad, considering the state’s plans to close two prisons this year.



January 26, 2017

Cover illustration by GUILLAUME FEDERIGHI

Copyright ©2017, City and State PA, LLC

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