Monday, November 28, 2005

Homegrown Energy Solutions from the Rendell Administration

Governor Rendell has been aggressive in developing homegrown energy solutions. His efforts include:

  • The East Coast’s first commercially viable biofuels storage and blending system in Middletown, Dauphin County. The plant will replace 3.2 million gallons of foreign oil with domestically produced biodiesel and will keep about $6 million worth of energy dollars in the commonwealth by reducing the state’s need to purchase imported fuels.

  • The nation’s first-ever waste-coal-to-diesel plant and creation of a fuel consortium that will purchase nearly all of the cheaper, cleaner, diesel fuel that will be produced at the Schuylkill County facility. The plant, which is being built by Waste Management and Processors Inc. of Gilberton, Schuylkill County, will use waste coal to produce as much as 40 million gallons of clean-burning diesel annually. Construction will create as many as 1,000 jobs. Operating the plant will produce another 600 permanent, high-paying, positions. The company expects to break ground and start construction as early as spring of 2006.

  • The Pennsylvania Energy Harvest Grant Program, which funds projects that build markets for advanced and renewable energy technologies that use biomass, wind, solar, small-scale hydroelectric, landfill methane, energy efficiency, coal-bed methane and waste coal. The program has awarded $10 million and leveraged another $26.7 million in private funds since its inception in May 2003.

  • The Renewable Agricultural Energy Council, which focuses on developing and expanding agricultural energy industries in Pennsylvania. Renewable agricultural energy has the potential to support and grow the agriculture industry by providing as many as 64,000 additional jobs. Renewable agricultural energy can help diversify agricultural activities and stimulate the growth of crops that strengthen the agriculture industry.

  • Expansion of the state’s Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant Program, which invests in enhancing the infrastructure necessary to expand the state’s capacity to produce alternative fuels. AFIG also helps residents purchase alternative-fuel vehicles and finances related fuel projects to create new markets that can have measurable impacts on pollution reduction, environmental protection and economic growth.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Philadelphia Marathon Breaks Participation Record

Last weekend’s 12th annual Philadelphia Marathon was the largest ever, with 1,500 more runners than last year. The event is ranked among the top 20 marathons in the nation. Of note, the women’s division winner was a local, Emily Kroshus – age 22 - of Manayunk.

Instead of TABOR...

What would be a responsible plan for imposing spending caps on state spending?

If legislators are serious about capping spending, they should tell the public where state spending should be reduced and then they should seek to enact such spending cuts when they vote on the annual state budget.

Before locking the Commonwealth into spending cuts with unknown consequences, the General Assembly should hold public hearings on any spending cap proposal they are considering. So far the House and Senate have not held a single public hearing on any spending cap proposal. They have already taken votes on these important legislative proposals without one opportunity for the public to comment on or question the cap proposals. Hearings would allow the Administration and citizens affected by state programs to discuss the impact that caps could have on the Commonwealth’s goals to increase educational attainment, accelerate economic growth, enhance environmental protection, and protect public health.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Hybrid Technology for the Home

The Braintree Electric Light Department in Massachusetts is launching a pilot program to test new “mini-power plants”; natural gas-powered hybrid energy systems that can be installed in private homes. The units generate enough electricity and heat to satisfy a household’s daily needs. These systems produce electricity more than twice as efficiently as an average power plant and are already used – where else - in Japan and parts of Europe.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Is PA Spending Out of Control?

No. In 2003 (the most recent year for which Federal data is available), Pennsylvania ranked 26th in spending per capita, slightly below the average for all 50 states.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

TABOR? Why Not Just Follow the Constitution?

Article 8, Section 13 of Pennsylvania's state Constitution requires a balanced budget. The Constitution states that the General Assembly shall not make appropriations that exceed actual and estimated revenues and surplus available in the same fiscal year. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania cannot adopt a budget that exceeds its revenues.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Turkeys in the Commonwealth: The Legislature

So, some in the State Legislature would like to pass a "Taxpayers' Bill of Rights" bill that would limit budget expenditures to inflationary levels. What has our fiscally prudent legislature been doing over the past three budget years to reduce its spending? Nada mucho. Between the 2002-03 and 2005-06 fiscal years, the Legislature has increased its budget by nearly 35% – from $252.4 million to $340.4 million. This compares to 5% annual growth in the overall budget, and a 9% cut imposed by Governor Rendell on state agency operating budgets. The message? "Do as we say, not as we do".

Turkeys in the Commonwealth: Not the Legislature

The Commonwealth ranks 9th nationally in turkey production, with 9.5 million birds raised on PA's 704 turkey farms. The average market price for a turkey was 47 cents per pound, making turkey production a $101.4 million industry in our state.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ethics/Reform Movement Presses On

From the Committee of 70, "Members of the Law and Government Committee voted today to push forward six pieces of ethics-related legislation with minor amendments. The bills now move to the floor of the entire Council where members will have the opportunity to take the next step in ethics reform and answer the voices of the voters who made it clear on November 8th that they want change."

Germantown Condomania

According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, Westrum Development Corporation has preliminary plans to build between 200 and 400 townhouses on a portion of Germantown Community Health Services' campus.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Benefit Bank

The Benefit Bank is a web-based software program – developed by Solutions for Progress (a Philadelphia-based company) - that helps low and moderate income individuals apply for benefits and tax credits that they and their families qualify for. Billions of dollars go unclaimed because applying for state/federal benefits are time-consuming and confusing; this program aims to lower the barriers to application.

University City Condomania

According to the University City District, the Hanover Company (out of Houston) has broken ground on a project they’re calling “Domus” (that's a Roman word for “house”). It’s a $71 million project that will include 290 luxury homes and will rise eight stories on a former surface parking lot at 34th and Chestnut.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook

For those who want to know more about what's going on in the Philadelphia School District - arguably the entity most integral to our City's long-term social and economic success - might AHT recommend The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, which, according to their website is "an independent quarterly newspaper that serves as a voice for parents, students, teachers, and other members of the community who are working for quality and equality in Philadelphia's public schools."

Friday, November 11, 2005

Pennsylvania’s Agriculture Economy

The National Agriculture Statistics Service recently released information about Pennsylvania farmers' 2004 cash receipts. Milk accounted for 36.4% of the $4.9 billion in gross sales across the Commonwealth. Rounding out the top five were cattle/calves with 9.5% of sales, greenhouse & nursery products 8.8%, Agaricus mushrooms 7.8%, and eggs 7%. Broilers, hogs, corn, hay and turkeys occupied the remaining top ten positions. Other commodities were each less than 1% of the total gross sales.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Victory for Nutter and the City of Philadelphia

Councilman Nutter’s ethics reform ballot initiative passed yesterday by a 6-to-1 ratio, the largest margin for such a measure in 15 years. The huge margin of victory dispels two myths:

(1) That Philadelphians don’t want an ethical, reform-oriented government; they clearly expect it, and

(2) That Councilman Nutter is a “lone wolf” and that he has no political base. From getting this measure through Council to galvanizing overwhelming public support at the polls, Councilman Nutter has shown himself to be quite adept at both the “inside” and “outside” components of the local political game.

Did You Know? Random PA Factoid

The Commonwealth's hardwoods and forest products industry generates $5.5 billion in sales annually, according to the PA Department of Agriculture. There are 16.7 million acres of forests in Pennsylvania, covering 58% of the state. This industry is growing in PA, with increasing lumber, paper and log exports, along with secondary wood products such as cabinets and flooring. Fortunately, because PA is a national leader in implementing sustainable forestry practices, our forests will continue to be a great resource for future generations, both economically, for recreation, and for the flora and fauna that live there.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Center City Hotel Occupancy Strong in September

Center City hotels had a 78.8% occupancy rate in September, up 12.3% from the same month in 2004. Year-to-date, Center City hotels are up 4.5% over 2004. RevPAR (i.e., "revenue per available room") is up 12.8% this year so far, according to Smith Travel Research. Some of this improved performance is attributable to the conversion of over 1,000 hotel rooms to condos.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Comcast Center Update

Two new tenants have signed leases at the Comcast Center, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. TelAmerica Media, a cable-industry "media aggregator" serving 72 million households, has leased a 24,000 square foot floor. Center City Film & Video will occupy 11,000 square feet. Comcast is leasing 39 floors - according to the developer - Liberty Property Trust. The building - now 70% leased - is scheduled to open in Fall 2007.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

How Philly Works

Two remaining sessions in "How Philly Works" cover how the Philadelphia Department of Streets (Nov. 10) and the Department of Public Health (Nov. 17) use Geographic Imaging Systems ("GIS") technology to provide basic city services. The presentations will take place at 5:00 p.m. at the Atwater Kent Museum, 15 South 7th Street. There is no cost. For more information, call (215) 685-4830. This is a great opportunity for residents to get some insight into the vast array of services that the City of Philadelphia provides - competently and professionally - to its residents.

Rittenhouse Hotel Receives Honor

The Rittenhouse Hotel ranked #38 in Conde Nast's "Readers Choice Awards" of the top 75 U.S. hotels, as revealed in the November issue of Conde Nast Traveler. Last year, the Rittenhouse was #68.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

New Center City Retail

According to the Center City District, a slew of new retailers have recently located in Center City, are planning to open or are reporting to be looking for space, including:
  • Del Frisco steakhouse will open its 7th U.S. location at the former Jack Kellmer store on the 700 block of Chestnut.
  • Barney's Co-op and Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa are committed to a new—unidentified—building near Rittenhouse Square.
  • BCBG is coming to 1601 Walnut St., L’Occitane to 1606 and American Apparel to 1611.
  • Theory, Club Monaco, Levi, and Sephora, the cosmetics giant, are reported scouting for locations.
  • South Moon Under, a women's retailer, is committed for the 1700 block of Chestnut.
  • BoConcept, a furniture retailer, is opening later this year at 1719 Chestnut St.
  • Capogiro, the gelati place on 13th, is opening a second location at 20th and Sansom.
  • Estia, a new restaurant, is now open at the former Toto's location on Locust Street.
  • West Elm furnishings is opening in mid-December on East Chestnut; Lucky Strike bowling will open at the same building in the spring.
  • Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, a furniture retailer, has opened at 1308 Chestnut.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Nutter Bill would Promote Interests of Philadelphia Construction Workers

Councilman Nutter is sponsoring an ordinance - #050950 - that would amend Chapter 17-1000 of The Philadelphia Code and is entitled "Employment of Low-And Moderate-Income Persons by City Contractors." If passed, it would require those performing work under certain construction contracts supported by City funds/financial assistance to have a percentage of construction hours performed by City of Philadelphia residents.

New Condo Project at Washington Square

According to the Center City District, the Goldenberg Group and Brown Hill Development plan to redevelop the N.W. Ayer building at 210 W. Washington Square. The structure will be converted into 56 condominium units and will cost approximately $50 million.

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