Thompson Times April Newsletter (2010)

April 1, 2010

Pennsylvania's One Book Every Young Child literacy campaign:In support of Pennsylvania's One Book Every Young Child literacy campaign, U.S. Congressman Glenn Thompson reads to children at the Punxsutawney Head Start IV Center. Thompson read What a Treasure!, a picture book by Jane and Will Hillenbrand that illustrates the pleasures of friendship.

This is the fifth year Community Action Inc.'s Early Care and Education Project organized readings throughout Clarion and Jefferson Counties. Each of this year's 31 scheduled readings held at Head Start Centers, Pre-K Counts Classrooms, childcare centers and preschools throughout the bi-county area, emphasized the importance of reading early and often to children and engaging them in conversation and other activities involving books.

There Will Be No Tolls on I-80 – What's Next?: It is always gratifying to have a long fought battle end in success.  On April 5th, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) ruled for the third time that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation could not toll Interstate 80 as their application requested.

The letter to Governor Rendell from Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood read:  "Specifically, the lease payment would have the effect of diverting toll revenues collected from the operation of I-80 to projects on other facilities, which is contrary to the permitted uses of toll revenue under Section 1216(b)(5)(A) of TEA-21."  TEA-21 is the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century – or the 1998 Highway Bill.

That Act contained the Pilot Program under which the state applied for permission to toll I-80.  I said often and loudly that the State's application never met the letter of that law and FHWA agreed.

LaHood held up under great political pressure to make the decision to uphold the rule of law and I want to commend him for that action.

I had facilitated a meeting with FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez and other members of the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation in November last year.  In December I wrote a long and detailed letter to LaHood expressing all of the strong reasons why I-80 should not be tolled.

Later in December, Pennsylvania's members of Congress opposing I-80 tolling invited a number of State legislators to attend a briefing with FHWA Deputy Administrator Greg Nadeau.  Thirteen state representatives lead by Representative Matt Gabler had an opportunity to tell Nadeau what even the threat of tolling I-80 had already done to local businesses and industry in their areas.

Then in January, I invited Secretary LaHood to my office for a meeting attended by Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Erie, Paul Kanjorski , D-Nanticoke, and Chris Carney, D-Dimock. Again, we voiced our collective concerns on what the tolling scheme would do to Pennsylvania.

Throughout the time I have been working on this problem, my office continually has sent to FHWA, news clippings from throughout the State on tolling I-80.  The majority of them were against the application and much of that sentiment is due to the grassroots coalitions who worked tirelessly to fight this proposal and put an organized voice to the countless Pennsylvanians opposed to the efforts to toll I-80.

While I believe the decision was a victory for the citizens of the 5th District and for the entire state, this is no time for a victory dance.  The Turnpike Commission has borrowed a great deal of money based on the hope that I-80 might be tolled, and the Governor included anticipated I-80 toll money in his most recent budget..  That money must now be found elsewhere and there must be a way forward.

On the Federal side, the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T & I) Committee has begun preliminary work on the reauthorization of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act:  A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU—pronounced Safety Lou) – more commonly known as the 1995 Highway Bill.

In mid-June 2009, the T&I Committee released a blueprint for the upcoming reauthorization.  Included were the restructuring, consolidation and termination of 75 various programs including the Interstate Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Pilot Program (ISRRPP), which has been scheduled to be terminated. It was this program under which the Commonwealth applied for tolling.  Since 1998, no state has completed the program—currently Virginia and Missouri have taken two of the three available slots.

Since 2005, Pennsylvania has received $1.15 back for every $1.00 of liquid fuels taxes we send to the Federal Highway Trust Fund.  This formula may or may not change in the reauthorization process.  However, we are fortunate to have seven members of the Pennsylvania delegation represent us on the T&I Committee.

The Transit and Highways Subcommittee marked up an initial version of the bill on June 24, 2009.  It is called the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009.  It also included repeal of the ISRRPP. If the bill moves forward as written the ISRRP will not be included.

Consolidation and termination of inefficient or ineffective programming is a start.  I am interested in the savings that can be made there.  But the aim of the bill should be to promote further safety, reduce congestion and emissions, improve maintenance and find innovative ways to finance new construction.

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Private Public Partnerships (for existing toll roads or new construction of toll roads).
  • Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), a successful pilot program in Oregon in 2007 that measured miles traveled for taxation purposes rather than gallons of fuel purchased.
  • Infrastructure Bank—like war bonds, private financing could increase building and maintenance capacity
  • Gas tax at the pump, fairest to users—but need a way to make sure that fuel efficient vehicles, like electric cars, are paying their fair share.

I have been saying for some time, the Commonwealth needs to get its transportation financing structure in order.  As we move forward, I am willing to work with anyone, within my capacity as a federal legislator, to make sure the vision of a sustainable future for Pennsylvania's transportation needs becomes a reality.

Don't Fall For Scams: The lure of the almighty dollar leads some of our less praiseworthy citizens to become scam artists. Unfortunately, scams have already begun around the health care reform bill that is the new law of the land.

I read on McClatchy News Service's website that there are people going door-to-door to sell "ObamaCare" policies. There is no government health insurance program called Obamacare. The regulations for the new law have not been written and federal employees would not be out selling it door-to-door or by telephone.

The article cites Tina Waller, the president of the Better Business Bureau of South Alabama, who said a woman reported that a man told her he was "part of the government health care program. They told me they had a few spots left and needed my bank account number."

No government agency will ever ask for your bank account number over the telephone.

The National Consumers League gives the following advice:
  • Never buy health insurance advertised as "ObamaCare" or based on a suspicious piece of mail, flier or ad.
  • Never respond to a high pressure—"buy now!"—sales pitch.
  • Never give a salesman your bank account, credit card or Social Security number.
  • Never buy a policy online, over the phone or without any promises in writing.
  • Never buy a policy without verifying whether physicians, hospitals and other providers associated with it are legitimate.

I believe this is all good advice. The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office has a number you can call for information if you are approached on health care: 717-705-6938.

If you have questions involving a Federal program, feel free to call my district offices in Titusville: 814-827-3985 or Bellefonte: 814-353-0215.

Health Care to Cost More than Estimated: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a report on April 22, 2010, which reads the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will add 34 million people to the coverage rolls, but that it will increase national health spending by about 1 percent over ten years—equivalent to about $311 billion.  The report also reads the increase could be even more than that because Medicare cuts in the law may be unrealistic and unsustainable.

Perhaps the biggest warning that would affect the 5th District is that Medicare cuts could drive about 15 percent of hospitals and other institutional providers into the red, "possibly jeopardizing access" to care for seniors.

The report comes from the Medicare Office of the Actuary, non-partisan, independent actuaries at the Department of Health and Human Services.

They found the penalties for not buying health insurance, for both individuals and for companies, are low enough that enrollees may find it cheaper to end their current plans. 

"We estimate that such actions would collectively reduce the number of people with employer-sponsored health coverage by about 14 million. " So much for being able to keep your existing coverage through your employer. "In addition, roughly 2 million people with employer-sponsored health insurance would enroll in Medicaid for supplemental coverage."

The actuaries also found that the new government –run long-term care program that was touted as saving $72 billion dollars over the next ten years, will "face a significant risk of failure."

For those with pre-existing conditions, who are guaranteed they will not be denied coverage, will find: "By 2011 and 2012 the initial $5 billion in Federal funding for (high risk pools) would be exhausted, resulting in substantial premium increases to sustain the program."

Some 18 million of the remaining uninsured are estimated to go on Medicaid for their primary coverage.  In addition to burdening both Federal and state budgets, the actuaries caution this expansion will fail to provide meaningful access to health care.  As the actuaries put it:  "Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that a significant portion of the increased demand for Medicaid would be difficult to meet, particularly over the next few years."

They continue:  "For now, we believe that consideration should be given to the potential consequences of a significant increase in demand for health care meeting a relatively fixed supply of health care providers and services."  In other words, there will be shortages of both physicians and hospitals.
Many problems in this law need to be addressed.  The rush to pass it almost guaranteed that few would know what it actually contained.  Slowly, we are finding out.