April 13, 2010 |

Wheatley hopeful about this year's state budget process

A Beltzhoover/Knoxville town meeting hosted by State Rep. Jake Wheatley, Jr., attracted about 50 residents, and speakers state Sen. Wayne Fontana and District 3 Councilman Bruce Kraus.

The meeting at the St. Paul A.M.E. Church was held in conjunction with the Beltzhoover Concerned Citizens Development Corp., Beltzhoover Neighborhood Council, and the Upper Knoxville Block Watch.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Wheatley said the state budget process took 101 days to complete last year.

This year, the House passed a budget 100 days before the deadline. He is hoping the Senate will pick up the House budget, work out differences, and get it to the governor before June. By law, a budget must be passed by June 30.

He said 86 percent of tax dollar spending goes to three departments: education, welfare, and corrections.

Of the welfare expenditures, two-thirds goes to the elderly, disabled, and children, he said, with the elderly consuming the majority.

Two potential, troubling issues are that Port Authority Transit might cut services due to federal cuts; and the state pension system could encounter future problems if mass retirements occur at the same time.

Mr. Fotana said another problem is the two-year federal stimulus money is going away. Potential sources of funding, he said, are taxing the lucrative Marcellus Shale drilling, and closing the "Delaware loophole" tax shelter for corporations.

Mr. Kraus, speaking about snow removal, said the number one priority on the Sunday following the 24-inch snowfall was getting heat and electricity restored; noting 2,000 homes in Beltzhoover were without power after the storm.

Council, staff, Public Works, and other departments "did the very best we could," he said, even camping out in offices for 10 days as safety was everyone's number one priority.

A resident later commented no one knew of the warming stations as there was no power to view the TV newscasts.

"There needs to be a better

way of communicating with residents other than electricity," she said.

Mr. Kraus suggesting keeping batteries at home for radios when electricity is lost.

A city snow task force formed to look at how to improve snow removal is expected to issue a report by mid-May. Suggestions may be made by going to http://snowtaskforce.pittsburghpa.gov.

To Mr. Wheatley's comment that the fastest growing industries in the U.S. are building prisons and sports arenas, an attendee commented that "young black men are in line to fill those prisons."

Mr. Kraus said it is about "economic opportunity." He also said easy access to guns must be taken away.

A "lost or stolen firearms" ordinance the city passed requires an owner to report a lost or stolen firearm after discovery of its loss or theft. Its aim is to crack down on "straw purchasing" in which people who pass criminal background checks buy handguns for criminals who are legally prohibited from possessing them.

When police trace the handgun back to the original purchaser, the person claims it was lost or stolen, and the investigation comes to a dead end.

Mr. Kraus said when it failed to pass at the state level, a new strategy was adopted of first passing it on the local level. So far, 37 municipalities have adopted similar ordinances. The hope is to build a coalition, and then try for state passage again.

Mr. Wheatley said as a former Marine, he fought for the right to own guns. But "common sense" must prevail, he said, in that people should not be allowed to walk down a street with a loaded gun.

To a question about taxing non-profits like UPMC and colleges, Mr. Fontana said he wrote such a bill but it did not get anywhere.

"No one wants to mess with the non-profits," he said. He is currently rewriting the bill that would tax the land.

To a question about demolishing vacant structures, Mr. Kraus said the property must be condemned before the city can take it down. What often happens, however, is the owners secure a building permit at the 11th hour just before demolition, thereby stopping the demolition.

An attendee commented it is "irritating" there are no neighborhood schools for elementary or middle school students while three former school buildings sit empty.

"Give us a school. Something to be proud of," said another resident, noting it would foster community pride in the neighborhood.

The meeting began with news of a community festival, "Pop Up Pittsburgh. Up on the Hilltop!," from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sat., May 15. It will be held on Warrington Ave. between Beltzhoover and Arlington avenues.

The free event will be hosted by Leadership Pittsburgh Inc.'s Leadership Development (LDI) Class XVII.

"It's about having fun and meeting the people," said the LDI representatives. Attractions include live performances, food from Hilltop restaurants, sports activities, church tours, and more for children and adults.

For more information, visit: www.popuppittsburgh.com.

The other brief presentation was by Sean R. Farr about the faith-based Amachi Pittsburgh.

Mr. Farr said the organization provides mentors for youngsters, ages 4 to 18, who have an incarcerated parent. Such children are seven times more likely to end up in jail, he said.

Mr. Farr was there to recruit members and churches to work with. He also wants to hear about kids in need of mentors.

For more information, visit: www.amachipgh.org.

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