Dec 26, 2009

Expanded gambling not in the cards for Pa.

Guest Column By Lowman S. Henry

Who would have thought that half-way through the state's fiscal year the budget would still not be a completed document?

Our "full time" Pennsylvania General Assembly took a big chunk of the last three months of the year off, presumably to rest after the epic 101-day budget stalemate. True to form, one of the highest paid legislatures in the nation departed the capitol on Christmas break leaving a major component of the 2009-2010 budget still unresolved.

To end the budget deadlock of last summer and fall the governor and the legislature resorted to sleight of hand and included in the revenue projections $200 million from a source that did not — and to this day does not — exist. That would be fees and tax revenue from table games at the casinos which now dot the landscape of Penn's Woods.

The theory was that soon after passage of the budget the General Assembly would pass legislation legalizing table gaming and the commonwealth would rake in a windfall of $200 million in licensing fees. To keep things temporarily balanced, the legislature held off on approving funding for state-related universities, leaving them in a state of continued uncertainty.

That might have worked if the legislature had stayed in town to finish the job. But it didn't. Legislative leaders immediately closed up shop and headed home on a six week vacation that extended into mid-November. After putting in nominal effort prior to Thanksgiving, the "full time" legislature again adjourned to eat turkey and hunt deer. The $200 million revenue hole persisted, and students continued to wait for their funding.

With turkey in their bellies and venison in their freezers lawmakers returned to session. The state House finally did pass a bill legalizing table gaming, and so did the Senate. One small snag though: the bills were not the same.

All of this was just too much for House Speaker Keith McCall and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, who decided it was time to take a break to celebrate the holidays (Christmas having been banned from the public square).

And so here we are, six months — half way —- into the fiscal year and still $200 million short of the funds needed to balance the state budget.

That, however, is only part of the problem. Setting aside the revenue component of legalizing table gaming, the casino industry in Pennsylvania has been beset by a multitude of problems including but not limited to corruption, financial malpractice, and the failure to even get a casino up and running in Philadelphia.

The initial law legalizing slots casinos was one of those typically Pennsylvania pieces of legislation that was passed under pressure from leadership and without the inclusion of needed safeguards. Worse, promised property tax relief fell woefully short of expectations as lawmakers siphoned off tax revenue generated by the casinos for pet projects.

The current effort to expand gambling to include table gaming is shaping up as a rerun. Neither version of the expansion bill addressed the many serious deficiencies of the initial law. If gambling is to be expanded, it only makes sense to remedy the problems that have become evident over the past few years. In particular, there must be more oversight by law enforcement agencies over the activities of the casinos and their operators.

Keeping in mind revenue from the legalization of table gaming is supposed to plug a budget hole, media reports indicate lawmakers are now trying to stick their pet projects into the legislation. This means massive new government spending for projects that didn't have enough support to get into the state budget. Thus a new pot of WAM — Walking Around Money — will have been created with the ultimate impact being to fund projects that further legislators' re-election chances rather than address the state's revenue shortfall.

This is the Pennsylvania legislature at its worst. State employees have been laid off, a school for veterans' children has been closed, libraries and museums are cutting hours; but lawmakers are still grabbing fistfuls of our tax dollars to achieve the most important goal of all — re-election. It is important to understand that not all legislators are acting in this manner. But all too many are, and they apparently are the ones in control of the process.

The bottom line: Pennsylvania still does not have a completed state budget. State employees had their Christmas, er, holidays, ruined by Governor Ed Rendell threatening to lay-off 1,000 of them if the legislature doesn't deal with the budget shortfall by early January.

They better hurry up and get busy; after all, the Groundhog Day break is just around the corner.

Lowman S. Henry is chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is

Dec 24, 2009

Ah What's A Computer? State Senator Jane Orie Accused Of Using Her State Senate Office Resources To Campaign For Her Sister

The Tribune-Review is reporting that State Senator Jane Orie, the third ranking republican in the state senate, is under investigation for alleged misuse of state resources for campaign purposes. According to the article an intern complained to Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. that Orie's office was being used to campaign for her sister, Joan Orie Melvin, who won election in November to the state Supreme Court.
Orie, a former county prosecutor, comes from a prominent North Hills family. Her sister, Joan Orie Melvin, won election in November to the state Supreme Court, returning control of the seven-member court to the Republicans.

McDevitt contends Zappala is pursuing the case because of Melvin's victory over Democrat Jack Panella. The investigation began right after the election, he said.

McDevitt suggested the investigation might be focused on whether there was political activity in Orie's office for her sister.

An intern for Orie complained to the District Attorney's office about alleged campaigning in the office for Melvin.
Orie's lawyer, McDevitt, is naturally spinning the charges as being political motivated, but this is laughable considering Orie's own intern reported the abuses.

I find all this very ironic considering Orie is one of the most outspoken supporters in Harrisburg for reform. Kind of sums up the leadership in Harrisburg these days. Hubris run a muck

Also: Grand jury investigating state Sen. Jane Orie (Post-Gazette)

GOP Leaders Are Making Advances, But Representative Carney Says He Is Sticking With The House Democratic Leadership

The Times-Tribune has a nice article on the possibility of Representative Chris Carney switching parties. Carney says he is staying with the Democratic Party and is "flattered" by all the attention. According to the article, The Politico reported that many GOP leaders are reaching out to Carney in the hopes that he may think about switching parties prior to next years election meltdown by the Democrats. Senator McCain even contacted him at his residence to try and convince him to switch parties.
Mr. McCain on Wednesday called Mr. Carney at his home in Dimock Twp. to ask whether he would consider joining the GOP, a Carney spokesman confirmed. The effort to persuade Mr. Carney was first reported by Politico, which quoted a GOP aide who said the party received "a nibble" from Mr. Carney.

But Mr. Carney's spokesman, press secretary Joshua Drobnyk, rebutted that part of the report. Mr. Carney in a statement late Wednesday said he was "flattered" but not interested.

"I appreciate the Republican Party's outreach, but I have no plans to change parties," Mr. Carney said.
This is just another sign that Republicans are confident and that the Democrats are really in trouble in 2010. I have to give Carney credit for sticking with his convictions, but I have to pray that voters in his district will speak at the voting booth. Carney's district is heavily republican and the right candidate would be able to easily knock him out in this political environment.

Carney voted 91 percent with the Democratic leadership in the house. He is definitely out of touch with the political views of voters in his district. So one would have to asked the question why focus so much time on convincing him to switch parties when the GOP leadership should be finding quality candidates to defeat him in November?

Politico: McCain, GOP secretly courting another Dem to switch
Also: Republicans court Carney (The Daily Item)

Dec 22, 2009

Santa brings the House GOP an early Christmas present this year

The USA Today is reporting that Alabama Democratic Congressman, Parker Griffith, has officially announced that he is switching his party to Republican. This is more good news for the GOP faithful. All political signs are pointing to a banner year for the GOP in 2010.
Griffith, a radiation oncologist, had accumulated one of the most conservative voting records of any House Democrat.

He was one of seven Democrats to oppose Obama's economic stimulus measure early this year. He was one of 39 House Democrats who voted against a major health care bill that narrowly passed.

He also voted against an anti-global warming bill pushed strongly by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Democrats will hold 257 House seats to the GOP's 178 after Griffith's switch.
Wow this guy has a better Republican record than our own flip flopper, Senator Specter, who is fighting for his political life right now. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Griffith to the fold. May the force be with him!!!!

President Obama and the Democratic Congress's Strategy for 2010

With unemployment above ten percent, I just cannot believe that the idiots in Washington feel the need to shove Health Care reform down our throats. This just proves to the American People that the leadership in Washington is out of touch with the concerns of their constituents.

Then you add to this mess a massive stimulus bill that was full of Democratic Party pork and pet projects. They would have accomplished more stimulus if they would have passed tax breaks for Viagra users. Probably would have stimulated the economy more with that strategy.

Things are just crazy in Washington right now. Voters really have to question what exactly were the Democratic Party accomplishments this year? 2009 What a waste. "YES We Can" has turned out to be "Yes we can't"!