Harrisburg, January 27, 2017 − State Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) and State Rep. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne) announced a $2.5 million low-interest state loan for the Hazleton City Authority to upgrade its filtration plant.
“With this funding, the Hazleton City Authority will be able to make the infrastructure improvements needed to continue to provide a high quality supply of water for our residents,” said Senator Yudichak. “We need to continue to support funding of these infrastructure projects as they will accommodate additional economic development and create construction jobs for our region,” Yudichak added.
Toohil added, “With these state loan funds, the authority will be able to expedite work on this upgrade. Hopefully, this will stave off additional repair work, service interruptions and enhance water quality and safety.”
The Hazleton Division of the Hazleton City Authority delivers approximately 6 million gallons of water per day to residential, industrial, and commercial customers in 14 municipalities in Luzerne, Schuylkill and Carbon counties. Repairs and upgrades are needed at the filtration plant’s aging treatment system to continue to assure water quality, quantity and uninterrupted flow.
The upgrades and repairs include: upgrades to clarifiers; replacing of fluoride feed system; repairing cracked concrete tanks; upgrading the main plant water booster system; placing efficient variable frequency drive starters on plant air blowers; replacing and upgrading the plant’s compressed air system, plant instrumentation, testing equipment, main filtration plant control servers, software/programming and replacing the control room’s fire protection system.
According to the Executive Director of the Hazleton City Authority, Randy Cahalan, the Hazleton City Authority Board of Directors thanks Yudichak and Toohil for working with local officials to obtain the low-interest one-percent loan. The board added that the project is expected to create 25 construction jobs and is not expected to result in any consumer rate hike. Additionally, the funding will allow the Authority to continue to sustain high quality water levels.
“This project will enable us to get to work on overdue upgrades and make our entire system more efficient and reliable,” Cahalan said.
The loan was approved at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) Board this week.
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NANTICOKE, January 26, 2017—The Department of Corrections issued a brief press statement today announcing that SCI-Retreat in Newport Township will remain open and the prison’s nearly four hundred jobs will be spared.
In early January, the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) announced that they would close two prisons from a short-list of five, which were selected by an internal committee without public comment or notice to state lawmakers. Today, DOC Secretary John Wetzel announced SCI-Pittsburgh, effective June 30th, will be closed.
State Senator John T. Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) praised the bipartisan effort of Luzerne County officials to successfully keep SCI-Retreat open and its 400 prison workers employed. Senator Yudichak said that SCI-Retreat would have been closed without the tireless advocacy of State Senator Lisa Baker and Representatives Gerald Mullery (D-Newport Township), Tarah Toohil, Aaron Kaufer, and Eddie Day Pashinski.
Senator Yudichak also highlighted testimony from Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri, District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, Newport Township managers, and local members of Pennsylvania Correctional Officers Association (“PSCOA”), led by Business Agent Mark Truszkowski, during a joint-committee hearing this week as instrumental to the DOC’s decision.
“I am proud that the people of Luzerne County have demonstrated once again that we stand strong and united to protect jobs and protect our community,” said Senator Yudichak. “I am convinced now, more than ever, that Pennsylvania must reform its protocol for closing prison facilities. However, I must thank the Wolf Administration and the Department of Corrections for listening to our case and ultimately, making the right call that SCI-Retreat should remain open.”
“I too was inspired by how our community rose to the occasion and I am pleased the Wolf administration heeded our calls to save SCI-Retreat,” said State Representative Gerald Mullery. “Going forward, we need to work with the Department of Corrections to continue criminal justice reinvestment and implement other administrative reforms that will vastly improve the quality of our corrections system and curtail costs so that prison closures are unnecessary until occupational capacity has been reduced to optimum levels.”
Paul Czapracki, Chairman of the Newport Township Supervisors and an employee at SCI-Retreat, thanked the Northeastern Pennsylvania delegation for standing united and opposing an ill-advised closure of SCI-Retreat. “From the day that the short-list was announced, our legislators spoke up, stood strong, and protected 400 families from an uncertain future.”
Harrisburg, January 23, 2017 – Numerous state lawmakers today joined prison workers today at a Capitol rally to protest the state Department of Corrections’ plan to close two prisons by July 1.
The department is expected to announce which prisons it plans on closing this Thursday. Numerous speakers at the rally urged the governor to delay the decision to allow more time to thoroughly study the ramifications of the decision.
SCI-Retreat is one of the five prisons under consideration for closure. Today’s rally, which followed this morning’s joint legislative hearing on the issue, was organized by Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon), Rep. Gerald Mullery (D-Luzerne) and the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (PSCOA).
“No one denies that Pennsylvania faces difficult financial choices in the coming months, but we cannot balance our budget at the expense of security within our correctional institutions and our communities,” said Sen. John T. Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon). “Budget decisions should be made through the public budget process, and the safety of corrections officers, who walk the toughest blocks in Pennsylvania, should not be undermined by closing prisons without an appropriate, full vetting of the consequences.”
Mark Truszkowski, who serves as PSCOA Business Agent for SCI Retreat and Waymart, said corrections officials have revealed “little rhyme or reason” for its closure decision. He said closing the prisons could compromise the safety and security of both prisoners and guards.
PSCOA President Jason Bloom added, “This decision would compromise safety just to save a dollar. I call on Governor Wolf to delay the decision and take a more transparent, thorough and vetted look at this.”
Sen David Argall (R-Berks/Schuylkill) added, “Thousands of people are at stake. Corrections officials need to take more time and do this right. There needs to be far more input and deliberation.”
Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne/Pike/Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming) called the Administration’s decision a “rush to judgment” that lacks community consultation and buy-in.
Other lawmakers attending the rally included Senator Michele Brooks (R-Mercer), and Representatives Gerald Mullery (D-Luzerne), Neal Goodman (D-Schuylkill), Tina Davis (D-Bucks), Jerry Knowles (R-Berks/Carbon), Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill), Aaron Kaufer (R-Luzerne), Cris Dush (R-Jefferson), Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne), Jonathan Fritz (R-Susquehanna), and Joseph Petrarca (R-Westmoreland).
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Harrisburg, January 23, 2017 − State Senator John T. Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) and State Representative Gerald Mullery (D-Newport Township) were joined by other northeastern Pennsylvania public officials today in Harrisburg for a public hearing—convened by the Senate’s Policy and Judiciary committees—on the Wolf administration’s plans to close two prison facilities before the end of June. The Department of Corrections is expected to announce their decision on Thursday, January 26th.
“Today’s hearings confirmed that rushing to close two prisons could have significant and irreversible economic and public safety consequences for those communities where these facilities operate,” said Senator Yudichak. “From the beginning, I have asked the governor to ignore Thursday’s deadline and allow the budgetary process to develop so that we can exhaust all of our options and present a balanced and responsible budget that will keep all five prisons open until Pennsylvania’s prison population has been reduced to its operational capacity.”
Senator Yudichak noted that while Pennsylvania’s prison population has declined slightly, it still remains—at over 49,000 inmates—36% higher than it was in 2000.
Representative Mullery argued that public safety should not have a price tag. “If the prison population continues to decline naturally then there could be a time to evaluate how Pennsylvania houses and rehabilitates its inmates, but that is not today’s reality,” said Rep. Mullery. “Instead, we are considering closing two prisons at a time when the prison population is higher than the DOC’s optimum levels.”
Many local officials traveled to Harrisburg to highlight the impact of closing SCI-Retreat on their constitutents. Newport Township Manager Peter Wanchisen emphasized that the township could not afford to lose its largest employer because it would jeopardize $115,000 in revenue, but also because it is impossible to accurately predict the full-extent of Retreat’s closure in a township that is one of the most economically distressed in Pennsylvania—23.4% of residents live in poverty. Wanchisen pleaded for a delay in any decision to close prisons and said “that Newport Township residents are looking for a helping hand from Harrisburg.”
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis cautioned that closing the prison could destabilize prison environments elsewhere in Pennsylvania and endanger the lives of corrections officers and inmates.
“When prisons are overcrowded, violent assaults increase. Instead of closing prisons, Pennsylvania should continue to invest in rehabilitative programs that will reduce recidivism, which in turn makes our communities safer,” said District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis. “We can save more money by continuing reforms in our criminal justice system rather than just shuttering two prisons.”
Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri testified that the administration should have a complete understanding of the financial costs of closing two prisons before Thursday’s deadline. He highlighted a recent case where the Commonwealth reimbursed Luzerne County more than $4,000 for prosecuting a prison assault case at SCI-Dallas.
“As a former prosecutor and now county manager, I can tell you that closing prisons prematurely will have unforeseen consequences that could jeopardize the security of some of the state’s facilities and drive up other expenses such as reimbursements to county prosecutors and public defenders, mandatory overtime, and civil litigation that could eviscerate any projected savings from shuttering two prisons,” said Pedri.
Harrisburg – January 18, 2016 – Opposed to the potential closure of correctional institutions across Pennsylvania, Sens. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), John Blake (D-Lackawanna) and John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) have spearheaded local meetings to examine the impact of facility closures to the region.
Since the recent announcement of upcoming correctional institution closures by the governor, Fontana, Blake and Yudichak have all been vocal critics of the proposed plan. This week, each of the three members spent time at facilities local to their district and at events focused on addressing the issues the potential closures could cause.
“While I support the Wolf Administration’s efforts to cut costs and operate state prisons more efficiently, I’m concerned that this decision is being made hastily and without enough consideration to community and economic impacts,” Fontana said.
“I am also disappointed in the Department of Corrections’ lack of responsiveness about its prison closure decision and selection criteria.”
Blake added, “I had the opportunity to tour SCI Waymart this week and discussed their specialized operations with some of the most dedicated and talented corrections employees in the Commonwealth. While I certainly appreciate the Wolf administration’s efforts to address the significant fiscal constraints in our state budget, decisions about our Corrections facilities are public safety issues. I do not believe that the consequences of closing any state prison have been fully vetted.
“I look forward to continuing our coordinated efforts to protect family-sustaining jobs in our communities. I also look forward to continuing public dialogue on this important matter in our town hall meeting in Carbondale and at upcoming Senate committee hearings.”
During a roundtable discussion at Luzerne County Community College today, Yudichak met with community leaders and advocates to learn more about the potential impact a facility closure would have on safety – for correctional officers working within the system and for those in the community where inmates may be transferred in the future.
“Auditor General DePasquale’s recent audit, that highlights a 10 percent spike in inmate assaults on corrections officers, should be a big red stop sign to Department of Corrections officials who want to close two prisons and push the inmate population over safe operational capacity standards,” said State Senator Yudichak. “The safety and security of the men and women who walk the toughest blocks in Pennsylvania should never become a casualty of tough budget decisions.”
Echoing the concerns of Yudichak at today’s roundtable discussion was Voices of J.O.E., an advocacy group for corrections officers and their families.
“Voices of J.O.E. believes that Governor Wolf should not close any prisons until the impact on corrections officers’ safety is fully understood,” said Don Williams, President of Voices of J.O.E. “The rush to cut costs may jeopardize the safety of a corrections officer on a block if this closure plan is not properly vetted.”
Nanticoke, January 13, 2017 − State Senator John T. Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) and State Representative Gerald Mullery (D-Newport Township) hosted a meeting today at the Greater Nanticoke Area High School to discuss the devastating impact a potential closure of SCI-Retreat could have on the Greater Nanticoke Area School District.
The meeting was attended by Dr. Ronald Grevera, Superintendent of the Greater Nanticoke Area School District, the Greater Nanticoke Area School District School Board members, and five members of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (“PSCOA”) who work at Retreat whose children attend school in the Greater Nanticoke School District.
“Governor Wolf wants to invest in schools, not prisons, but that is a false choice,” said Senator Yudichak. “Closing SCI-Retreat will jeopardize $1.6 million in funding for the Nanticoke School District and threatens important educational programs like Pre-K instruction.”
“A closure of SCI-Retreat means we could lose 90 families and over 200 students. We cannot absorb such a staggering exodus of families and students as well as the second-largest employer within the district,” said Superintendent Grevera. “It is simple math. If the prison closes, secure funding for our schools will be undermined.”
Senator Yudichak stressed that the prison facility is integral to the entire community both as an employer and as an important part of the criminal justice system. “The 139 heroin overdoses in Luzerne County demonstrates that drug abuse remains a problem in the county and crime remains an issue in our community,” he said.
“No one knows when the dominoes will stop falling if the governor closes prisons prematurely,” said Representative Mullery. “I have yet to hear a compelling reason why this decision needs to be made on January 26th let alone a compelling reason to target three prisons in northeastern Pennsylvania.”
Governor Wolf’s administration and the Department of Corrections have stated that they will announce which two prisons will be closed before the end of the month and will be decommissioned by June 30, 2017.
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NANTICOKE, January 10, 2017 — State Senator John T. Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) and the entire Northeastern Pennsylvania delegation visited State Correctional Institute at Retreat (“SCI-Retreat”) today and met with the prison’s senior leadership as well as prison employees to discuss the potential closure of the facility before the end of 2017.
In addition to Senator Yudichak and his staff, State Senator Lisa Baker and Representatives Gerald Mullery, Tarah Toohil, Aaron Kaufer, and Mike Carroll also attended. Representatives Karen Boback and Eddie Day Pashinski were represented by legislative staff and Luzerne County Manager David Pedri attended as well.
All lawmakers said that today’s visit was important to show that the entire delegation stands united against prematurely closing prison facilities in northeastern Pennsylvania. The delegation also wanted to convey to Retreat’s staff, employees, and their families that they do not stand alone in this fight and that every resource will be used to avert a premature closure of any prison facilities, especially SCI-Retreat. Lawmakers have repeatedly demanded that Governor Wolf’s administration indefinitely delay its prison closure plan and hold public hearings.
“Pennsylvania cannot uproot working-class families unless they can be assured that the process was open, fair, and based upon sound fiscal policy,” said Senator Yudichak, “Before they decide to close this facility, I would ask all public officials to come to Luzerne County, to come to Retreat, and see firsthand the ramifications of that decision.”
SCI-Retreat houses 1,103 inmates and employs 400 people—79% of whom are Luzerne County residents. If the facility is closed, the economic impact is estimated to exceed $57 million and it could jeopardize more than $1 million in annual tax revenue to local school districts, Newport Township, and Luzerne County. Newport Township itself could be reclassified as a second-class township if the prison closure forces families to relocate to ease the burden of a job transfer within the DOC or another state department.
“We all hope that Pennsylvania can successfully combat the ongoing opioid crisis and curtail violent crime, however, we need to set realistic corrections policy that is supported by the facts and not the most optimistic forecasts by the administration,” said Rep. Gerry Mullery.
NANTICOKE, January 10, 2017 – State Senator John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) announced today that American Paper Bag LLC will base its corporate headquarters and a manufacturing facility in Sugar Notch Borough located in Luzerne County.
“The Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber along with local and state officials have helped bring a quality, job producing business in American Paper Bag to northeastern Pennsylvania,” said Yudichak. “Adding an advanced manufacturing facility to the region continues our efforts to revitalize our local economy and create new jobs.”
“Today’s announcement represents a huge win for northeastern Pennsylvania and demonstrates how effective we can be when local and state entities work together for the greater good,” said Joseph Boylan, Vice President of Economic Development for the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber. “This team approach allowed us the opportunity to develop and deliver a competitive and winning workforce and funding strategy to attract American Paper Bag to the region – competing against several locations in North America. Congratulations to Ian Robson and American Paper Bag – a welcome addition to northeastern Pennsylvania.”
American Paper Bag will be located in a 42,000 square-foot building in the Hanover Industrial Estates. The company has promised to devote $5,425,000 million to the project and has also committed to creating 38 new full-time jobs within a three-year window. The hiring process for the new jobs will begin in April 2017.
NANTICOKE, January 10, 2016 — Senator John T. Yudichak (D-Carbon/Luzerne) announced today that Wilkes University will receive $1 million from the Transportation Alternative Program (“TAP”) administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”). The grant funds will be used to upgrade sidewalks, street lighting, and other infrastructure improvements along South Main Street–between South and Northampton Streets– in the city of Wilkes-Barre.
“This is a prime example of how we can harness colleges and universities to invest in our communities,” said Senator Yudichak, “With these grant funds, Wilkes University will begin the next phase of a streetscape project that has revitalized downtown Wilkes-Barre into an economic hub and a thriving residential community for the city and Luzerne County.” Senator Yudichak commended Wilkes’ president, Dr. Pat Leahy, and his staff for their efforts to secure this funding. He also noted that the Commonwealth has invested approximately $13 million for streetscape enhancements in Wilkes-Barre in the last decade.
Wilkes University will contribute $300,000 to the project in addition to the TAP grant. In addition to new sidewalks and lighting, the new TAP project includes curb ramps, the planting of trees and other improvements that will not only enhance the University’s campus, but encourage future business development on South Main Street. The project extends work promoting pedestrian safety already undertaken by Wilkes on West South and South Franklin streets. By the time the project is completed, the University will have invested more than $1 million in infrastructure improvements around its campus. Wilkes President Patrick F. Leahy said the investment reflects the University’s commitment to the community.
“This project makes visible Wilkes ongoing commitment to the community surrounding our campus,” Leahy said. “We are pleased to be in a position to pay the match required for a TAP grant, allowing Wilkes to make investments in our city and county where we can make the most impact.”
“This is an exciting time to be a student, resident, worker, or business owner in downtown Wilkes-Barre,” said State Representative Eddie Day Pashinski (D-121st District). “At a time when local governments are fighting to maintain basic services, Wilkes University is an example of an institution that has stepped-up its financial commitment to the city and its residents.”
In addition to the streetscape improvements, Wilkes University continues making enhancements to its urban campus. The improvements include the campus Gateway opened on South Main Street in fall 2015 and in 2017 the University will complete renovations to 141 South Main Street to house the Karambelas Media Center and a new home for the Sordoni Art Gallery. In addition, work on the South Campus Gateway project providing improvements to the campus on West South Street near the Henry Student Center also will begin this year.
City officials welcomed the new investment in the heart of the city. “With this funding secured in the downtown, the city can continue to expand opportunities into other neighborhoods of the city so that the resurgence of the downtown will spread to every part of Wilkes-Barre,” said Mayor Tony George.
“Pennsylvania has some difficult financial choices in the coming months, but we cannot simply cut our way to a balanced budget.” said Senator Yudichak. “Instead, we have a responsibility to financially support projects that will improve the local economy and help us attract and retain a new generation of students to Luzerne County.”
NANTICOKE, January 10, 2017 − State Senator John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) and State Representative Gerald Mullery met with SCI-Retreat corrections officers at an informational meeting hosted by the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officer Association (PSCOA). The meeting followed a conference call the legislators held earlier Monday morning with the Department of Corrections on the potential closure of SCI-Retreat in Newport Township.
“The only responsible course of action for the Department of Corrections is to remove the self-imposed closure decision deadline of January 26, and hold public hearings to allow legislators, union leaders, local officials and taxpayers to voice their concerns on the devastating impact the loss of nearly four hundred jobs will have on Luzerne County,” said State Senator John Yudichak.
Senator Yudichak and Representative Mullery were informed by Department of Corrections officials that the department will meet with the Department of Community and Economic Development tomorrow, January 10th, to begin the economic impact study of closing state facilities.
“How can you do a fair analysis in just eleven days on what the direct loss of $57.3 million will have on the community of Newport Township and the families of northeastern Pennsylvania,” asked Representative Mullery.
The Wolf Administration and the Department of Corrections have scheduled January 26, 2017 as the date when the closure of two state prisons will be announced. The two prisons selected for closure will then be decommissioned by June 30, 2017.
“We appreciate Senator Yudichak and Representative Mullery standing with the PSCOA and the workers at SCI-Retreat to challenge this misguided budget driven decision that will jeopardize public safety in our prisons and negatively impact the economy of Luzerne County,” said Mark Truszkowski, PSCOA Business Agent for SCI-Retreat.
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NANTICOKE, January 9, 2016 — State Senator John Yudichak and State Representative Gerald Mullery reiterated their opposition to the potential closure of the State Correctional Institute at Retreat. On a conference call Monday morning with the Department of Corrections, both lawmakers declared that closing SCI-Retreat will unfairly harm 400 prison employees, create excessive hardships for Newport Township, exacerbate already high unemployment in Luzerne County and yield minimal if any savings to state taxpayers when compared with other cost-saving measures.
“If you are going to rip $57 million and 400 jobs out of Luzerne County, our workers and taxpayers at least deserve a public hearing to make their case that SCI- Retreat should remain open,” said Senator Yudichak.
Senator Yudichak and Representative Mullery have joined with a bi-partisan coalition of regional lawmakers and the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officer Association (PSCOA), requesting the Department of Corrections to suspend any final decision on prison closures until public hearings are held to accommodate legislative and public input.
Representative Mullery stated that Pennsylvania has closed prisons before in an effort to save money, but the savings never materialized as much as public officials had projected. “In 2013, DOC closed two prisons because they were deemed expendable, but the Commonwealth could not resell the properties quickly and eventually accepted lower sales prices,” he said, “In fact, SCI-Greensburg remained vacant until February 2015, which required $2.5 million in additional upkeep while it sat unused.”
Senator Yudichak and Representative Mullery will meet with SCI-Retreat corrections officers on Monday night at a meeting hosted by PSCOA, and another meeting has been scheduled for legislators to meet with the senior management staff at SCI-Retreat for Wednesday.
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NANTICOKE – January 6, 2017 − Senator John T. Yudichak, (D-Luzerne/Carbon), strongly condemned a proposal made today by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to close two state correctional facilities and displace over one thousand state workers.
Five state prisons are under consideration for closure, including three in northeastern Pennsylvania – SCI-Retreat in Luzerne County, SCI-Waymart in Wayne County and SCI-Frackville in Schuylkill County.
“With an unemployment rate of 6.3% in Luzerne County that continues to climb higher than both the state and national average, what sense does it make to add to the economic distress of northeastern Pennsylvania by closing state prisons,” said Senator John Yudichak.
The State Correctional Institute at Retreat is the largest employer in Newport Township with four hundred employees. In addition to devastating job losses, Newport Township would also lose significant tax revenue that would further exacerbate the community’s challenging financial condition.
“The proposal to close SCI-Retreat demonstrates a short-sighted fiscal policy that will unfairly punish hard working state employees and deal a devastating blow to the taxpayers of Newport Township and Luzerne County,” said Senator Yudichak.
Senator Yudichak will work closely with colleagues in both parties, including Senators David Argall and Lisa Baker as well as Representative Gerald Mullery, to avert a premature, ill-advised closure of SCI-Retreat, SCI-Frackville, and SCI-Waymart.
Senator Argall, Senator Baker and Senator Yudichak recently voted for legislation that would have required public hearings before the closure of any state facility. The measure was advanced to ensure transparency in the process and to give a voice to the taxpayers and workers who could be negatively impacted by a closure of a state facility. The legislation passed the Senate, but failed in the House of Representatives. Work has already begun among area legislators and PSCOA, the union representing corrections officers and other prison employees, to call on the Department of Corrections to delay any decision on the closure of state prisons until a formal, public hearing can be held.
“Significant economic decisions are being made without legislative or public input thrusting us into a situation where within twenty days a thousand workers will have their lives turned upside down and the economy of northeastern Pennsylvania will take a major hit,” said Senator Yudichak.
“No prison worker should have to choose between uprooting their family and finding a new job,” said Rep. Mullery. “I will not support any plan that balances the state budget on the backs of the workers of northeastern Pennsylvania.”