I just want to take a moment to update you on the progress of this year’s budget and my other recent activities throughout Chester and Montgomery counties.
As you may know, the Senate recently passed an alternate spending plan that restores hundreds of millions of dollars to next year’s budget for education, vital human services and important environmental programs without increasing taxes.
Senate Bill 1466 restores $245 million to higher education, more than $100 million to basic education, $12 million for early learning programs and libraries and $84 million to county-provided social services – some of the areas that were targeted for significant and widespread cuts by Governor Corbett.
The Senate budget also restores $19 million for the Keystone Parks, Recreation and Conservation fund, a program that Corbett aimed to eliminate, despite its success in supporting and preserving more than 3,000 parks, open spaces and recreational area throughout the Commonwealth.
In addition, the Senate plan restores $59 million in funding for life sciences through the CURE program from the Tobacco Settlement fund.
We could not have made this progress without the significant outpouring of support for public education that was on display at the rally held in May outside the historic Chester County Courthouse, as well as the efforts of thousands of other individuals and organizations that lobbied the state lawmakers against these cuts.
However, the battle continues with the governor and many in the statehouse trying to reverse many of the cuts we have restored. Earlier today, the governor and Republican leaders announced that they have reached an agreement on a spending plan, but have not yet released any details. Next week (the week of June 25th) will determine the final budget, and I’ll have another update for your then.
You may have also heard about my efforts to keep our local streams and waterways clean and safe from the potential dangers of natural gas pipelines.
Recently, Senator Rafferty and I succeeded in persuading the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to give the public more time to comment on a natural gas company’s plan to install a new pipeline across the Brandywine Creek. DEP officials have expanded the deadline for public comment on the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company’s river-crossing plan through a July public hearing, which they also agreed to hold per our request.
Earlier this spring, Transco formally asked permission to replace pipeline crossing the Brandywine Creek’s Ludwig’s Run tributary by use of the open-cut/coffer dam method – a construction strategy rejected by DEP officials in 2009. The new pipeline would cross the section of the Brandywine Creek’s east branch approximately .8 mile upstream of the Downingtown Regional Water Authority on land located in East Brandywine and East Caln.
It is crucial that we have the time to study the implications of this pipeline project and explore alternative methods to ensure that our pristine streams are preserved and that our water supply is protected.
Again, the support of dozens of environmental advocacy organizations, local government officials and residents at our two meetings in May was a key factor in getting DEP to expand the comment period and hold a local hearing.
Medal of Honor Grove
I also recently had the opportunity to take part in a unique and historic event at the Medal of Honor Grove. If you are not familiar with the Grove, it is truly one of Chester County’s best kept secrets. The 52-acre Grove, located at Freedoms Foundation’s headquarters just off Route 23 in Phoenixville, is the nation’s oldest memorial site dedicated to Medal of Honor Recipients. It is divided into one-acre plots for each state, as well as Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and a plot for immigrants who received the medal but were not American citizens. Each plot features an obelisk and metal plaques set in the ground, honoring Medal of Honor recipients dating back to the Civil War.
I got involved with the Grove in the summer of 2010 because the site had fallen into disrepair and there were questions about its future. In response, I organized a massive community cleanup and more than 1,000 residents and volunteers came out to pitch in.
In turn, last year community leaders and several Medal of Honor recipients joined with the Freedoms Foundation to form The Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove, a nonprofit organization that maintains and cares for the site.
The Friends organization has been active in raising funds for the Grove’s upkeep and taking on a series of site improvements and enhancements. One of those was the addition of the names of 35 posthumous Medal of Honor recipients from Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq that were damaged or missing. The names were enshrined in the Grove at a touching ceremony in May that was attended by the families of several of the heroes being honored, as well as six of their fellow Medal of Honor recipients. It was an inspirational day and a poignant reminder of the sacrifices so many have made for our freedom and way of life.
In addition, I also recently organized a conference on changes and restructuring in the BioPharma industry, one of the major business sectors that keeps our region strong. I was joined by dozens of representatives from some of the many biotechnology, life science and pharmaceutical companies that call our region home, like Morphotek, Shire Pharmaceuticals, Nuron Biotech and Endo Pharmaceuticals.
The conference, which was hosted by West Chester University, focused on responding to shifts in the economy and BioPharma industry with new approaches and initiatives that prepare companies and employees for the challenges of tomorrow.
It was an incredibly productive morning, with a panel discussion and several small group discussions on pertinent issues to the industry. I am working on compiled a report that should be available shortly for those who could not make it.
As I said at the conference, Chester County’s economy depends on two farms – agribusiness and biopharming. While we continue to support the mushroom industry and traditional agricultural, it is imperative that we work together to develop solutions and approaches that deliver positive results for the Biopharma industry. Simply put, we cannot afford to wait while mergers, downsizing and outsourcing take a toll on local companies that have been key to our economic success.