Jul 25, 2010

Pork Perverts Process. WAM money flows even amid budget crisis

Guest Column By Lowman S. Henry

Thousands of state workers will be losing their jobs, the state's social service agencies are struggling to deal with delayed and reduced funding, roads and bridges across the commonwealth are crumbling, yet pork barrel spending on politically favored projects, many of dubious value, continues unabated.

For decades now many legislators have engaged in the process of requesting funding for projects within their districts. To be sure some have merit, such as grants to fire companies and money to build playgrounds. Others are egregious, like the millions earmarked for the Specter library and the John Murtha center. But, meritorious or not, the process by which funding is approved is blatantly political and, at times, borders on legalized bribery.

Both parties and all branches of government are to blame. The governor has borrowed and funneled hundreds of millions of dollars under the guise of "economic development" to politically favored businesses. Legislators, using the same Department of Community and Economic Development, divvy up state tax dollars to pay for projects in their districts.

Rather than eliminate the pork, defenders of the spending have chosen to engage in a battle of semantics. In Harrisburg parlance pork is known as "walking around money" or WAMs. Ask most legislators about WAMs and they will claim there are none. They prefer to call them "grants," which sounds much more philanthropic than WAMs. But the bottom line is pork by any other name still smells like bacon - and that is what the legislators are bringing home.

A kerfuffle has developed over the inclusion of $65.5 million in such pork barrel spending in the recently approved state budget. Given the cutbacks in many areas, pending lay-offs, and unaddressed fiscal issues that will explode upon the next governor, this year's legislative spending orgy is particularly reprehensible.

It is actually worse than reprehensible. Not only is pork fiscally irresponsible, it pervades and perverts the entire legislative process. Legislators often defend the spending citing the good uses to which the funding is put, for example helping to pay for a fire truck for the local volunteer fire company. But even if the end use is noble, the process by which the funding is allocated is not.

WAMs, pork, grants - whatever you may choose to call them - are not allocated based on community need or even the merit of the project. They are allocated based solely on political considerations. Leadership of the four legislative caucuses parcels out the goodies. They keep a disproportionate share for themselves so they can go back to their constituents and tout their clout in Harrisburg. Since the funding is not allocated equally among senatorial or legislative districts, that means taxpayer dollars in the districts of less senior members flow into the districts of leaders, regardless of the economic need of any district.

Worse, leadership uses pork as a stick with which to bludgeon members into bending to their will. If average Joe legislator wants pork for his district, he better vote the way leadership wants or his projects won't get funded. And, when leadership elections are held, pork is a virtual pay-off for keeping leaders in power. That prevents fair and free elections for leadership posts from ever happening.

Given Pennsylvania's dire financial situation the time has come to end pork. The $65.5 million in approved pork barrel spending in the current budget should not be spent and should be returned to the general fund as a small step toward addressing next year's anticipated $5 billion budget deficit. As well, the governor's pot of taxpayer treasure to be given out to favored business interests also should not be expended.

Some legislators will argue this means important community projects will not get funded. If these projects indeed should be given money from state taxpayers, then the legislature should set up a fair and impartial system for reviewing the projects that is free from political influence. Perhaps the state's many grant-making foundations could be called upon to design and contribute volunteers to run such a system. After all, they are expert at reviewing grant requests and making the most out of limited dollars.

The ongoing feast on pork in Harrisburg further taints public perception of an institution already viewed by taxpayers as dysfunctional and corrupt. Legislators could take an important step toward cleaning up their act by eliminating pork and ending the tawdry politics that flow from it.

Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.

Jul 16, 2010

Tom Corbett's economic recovery policy. Hey all you lazy bums. Get Back To Work!

Well I guess we can officially say that Tom Corbett strategy to solve the unemployment crisis in Pennsylvania as Governor is to simply tell people to stop being lazy and get back to work. In an interview with a public radio reporter last week Corbett stated the following about the state of unemployment in Pennsylvania and extending unemployment benefits for those who are currently out of work.
"The jobs are there. But if we keep extending unemployment, people are going to sit there."
So Corbett thinks that Pennsylvanians who are unemployed right now just don't want to work. Really! His comments are insensitive and are proof that he lacks the leadership qualities to be our next Governor. A politician running for any public office during one of the worst economic downturns in our country's history doesn't need to be saying that people who are unemployed right now are lazy and don't want to work.

Corbett must believe that President Obama's stimulus package really did create 400 million jobs and they are out there in the land of OZ somewhere. The fact is there are no jobs out there. Mr. Corbett it is time to start thinking about how you would create an environment in this state to create jobs not criticize people who lost their jobs. Something you should have done before running for Governor.

Corbett must be celebrating Christmas early this election year because he just gave Democratic candidate Dan Onorato an a neatly wrapped issue not to mention relevancy in this race. Onorato is knocking the crap out of Corbett for making these comments. Talk about taking a piece of meat out of someone running for office. I think Onorato just took a leg with the you tube video. This might just be Corbett's "I changed parties so I can get re-elected" moment in this campaign. If I was Onorato that would be the only ad that I would run from now until November.

Then to add fuel to the fire we at the PennPatriot compound have found out that Corbett is now lying about the context of the comments. Hattip Shelley Castetter of the Lancaster Express click here and also check out John Micek of Capitol Ideas blog. Click Here

O.K. I am now officially writing in Sam Rohrer for Governor in November.

Jul 8, 2010

Hey Fellow Pennsylvanians Don't Lose Your Shirts

Daily Missive: Wow it is a scorcher today here at the PennPatriot compound in Altoona. On tap? Finish painting my basement and then swimming in my little 2 ft pool for as long as I can.

Today's Rundown:

A Role Of The Dice: Today is the first day that you can play table games at various PA Casinos. Now the second most popular groundhog in PA, Gus, is urging all Pennsylvanians to lose as much money as possible so we can collect enough state revenue to prevent another budget shortfall next year. (Click Here)

Last year Governor Rendell and state lawmakers decided to legalize table games in a last minute budget deal as a way to plug projected revenue shortfalls in last years budget. The implementation was pretty much a debacle from the start. Debates over licensing fees and oversight made the process more difficult for Casino owners to implement the new table game law.

Since we were close to a billion dollars short last year and counting on federal stimulus money to bail us out this year, I guess counting on projected gambling revenue to balance a budget didn't work out so well. This also should remind us all just what a shame legalized gambling has become in PA. How is that promised property tax relief working out for you these days?

Take That State GOP Legislative Leaders: The quick passage of the state budget this year is continuing to fuel the fire of good government advocates in Harrisburg. At minimum I guess we can call the budget irresponsible for counting on close to a billion dollars of federal stimulus money that hasn't even been passed by Congress yet.

Some advocates have called this years state budget unconstitutional. I call this year's budget fiscally irresponsible, chalked full of shady projected revenue numbers. Basically this year's budget is a symbol of the lack of real leadership demonstrated by both GOP and Democratic leaders. This years budget simply does nothing to address our state's financial difficulties. But at least PA taxpayers can rest easy that their local school district got an increase in the basic education funding allocation.

The budget debate still rages on in Harrisburg and everyone seems to be in the cross airs of the opposition. Lowman S. Henry the founder of the Lincoln Institute takes a huge bite out of republican legislative leaders for allowing Governor Rendell to increase spending in a very tough economic conditions. (Click Here) Henry implies that the need to simply pass a budget on time in an election year compromised their republican principles. Got that Scarnati!!!

From the Rumor mill: The talk of the town in Harrisburg these days is reports that Governor Rendell is having an affair with his pretty blond lobbyist. (Click Here) Rendell's Apparent mistress is Dr. Kirstin Snow, the director of Commonwealth Media Services who was Miss Pennsylvania in 1994 and Mrs. Pennsylvania in 2005. I personally don't believe these rumors. I mean come on, Rendell a ladies man? He just seems too slimy to be attractive to Dr. Snow. Rendell is denying the reports fiercely. Apparently Harrisburg insiders are suggesting that Rendell's womanizing has gone on for quite a while during his two terms as Governor. I am just wondering how much of the womanizing and fraternizing has been paid for by state taxpayers? I just hope Ed's state health care plan isn't paying for the Viagra charges.

The must listen to song of the day? "Come Out and Play (Keep 'Em Separated)" by The Offspring

Jul 7, 2010

Democrats Feeling The Unintended Consequences Of The Health Care Bill

I think that President Obama and Congressional Democrats have made a huge political blunder over the new Tan Tax associated with the health care reform bill. Dumb blondes everywhere are outraged and are planning to organize the Tan Party to oppose the tax. Rumor has it that one of the "Jersey Girls" has volunteered to lead the new good government movement. The group's slogan. "Tan Our _SS"! "Tan Our _SS!"

In all seriousness, I think this tax will have an impact on the upcoming elections. Any tax that people are feeling in their pockets right now in this economy has to hurt no matter what it is levied on. Not to mention that the people paying the tax are mostly middle class women. A group I personally would not tick off in a contentious political environment. What's next the Fast Food tax? To be continued..........

Jul 4, 2010

Our Finest Hour‏, Americans assert their God-given rights

Guest Column By Lowman S. Henry

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." - Declaration of Independence

With those words the thirteen colonies that would eventually form the United States of America set forth on a grand experiment. In declaring independence from England the colonists asserted that their freedoms - our freedoms - came not from the sovereign King of England, but rather from our Creator. In what was a radical new paradigm for the times, the signers of the declaration were saying that it is government's role to secure our rights, not to grant us our rights, because rights are God-given.

Over the past eighteen months we have witnessed a dramatic erosion of those God-given rights, and the most far-reaching expansion of federal government power our nation has seen outside of war time. From a defacto federal take-over of the health care system, to bail-outs that made the federal government the largest stakeholder in financial firms and auto companies, to an ongoing effort to seize control of energy allocation via "Cap and Trade" legislation, Washington now exercises unparalleled control over our financial and personal lives.

When King George, III similarly oppressed the settlers in America the colonists reacted. In one of the most famous acts of resistance to the policies of London, protesters dumped tea into the Boston harbor to protest the Tea Act which levied what was considered an undue tax on a beverage apparently beloved by the populace. That iconic event was one of the pivotal stops on the road to the declaring of colonial independence on July 4, 1776.

After proclaiming their rights to be God-given, the signers of the declaration went on to make the then-startling claim that they also had the right to change any government which trampled on those rights saying: "That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness."

As we approach the 234th anniversary of signing of the Declaration of Independence, those words again take on amazing significance. The federal government today is under the control of individuals who, like King George, feel they know best what is good for us and it doesn't really matter what the people think. Their view is that the productive sector should sit down, be quiet, and pay taxes so they can apportion the nation's wealth in whatever manner they in their infinite wisdom see fit.

But, like the colonists of the 1700s, Americans today are not willing to sit down and shut up. It is fitting that the Taxed Enough Already, or TEA Party movement has taken its name from those colonial-era protestors who turned Boston harbor into a giant tea cup. It is also fitting that the TEA Party movement is a true grassroots movement that has sprung up spontaneously having witnessed government's systematic destruction of our rights.

Despite what the Obama Administration and the Reid-Pelosi congress have done, Americans still have the ability to "alter or to abolish" our government. And, amazingly, that is what is taking place. Beginning last January when the TEA Party movement lifted an unknown state senator named Scott Brown into the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat held for a generation by the late Ted Kennedy, grassroots victories have spread across the land.

In Florida, Marco Rubio forced an Obama-loving Republican governor out of the U.S. Senate race, in fact out of the party. In Kentucky, Rand Paul, a Libertarian-leaning Republican trounced the party establishment candidate to claim a U.S. Senate nomination, in Nevada, Sharron Angle bested two better-known establishment figures to win the right to take on Harry Reid, and Mike Lee prevailed in Utah. Other fiscal conservatives, such as Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, have had an easier primary season, but are poised to be part of the tide that turns the nation around.

Over two centuries later, amid a concerted effort by strong collectivist forces to steal away our rights, the power of the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence in that hot, dusty statehouse in Philadelphia still have the ability to motivate, to animate, to effect change. Like the colonists who first declared our freedom, Americans today are still willing to stand up and assert their God-given rights. And, for our generation this too may be our finest hour.

Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.

Jul 1, 2010

PA 2010 State Budget Passes Senate and House: An Example of Spending Money that We Don’t Have

For the first time in his ‘reign’ as Governor, Ed Rendell has a budget that passed through the State House and Senate before the June 30th deadline. Congratulations Governor Rendell! Congratulations, too, to the 37 Senators and 177 Representatives that signed on to that “pile of garbage” that they called a State Budget.

Why is it a pile of garbage? . . . Because it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Our legislature is REQUIRED BY LAW to pass a balanced budget. The budget that passed the House and Senate yesterday is balanced on federal funds that don’t yet exist and a tax on the extraction of Marcellus Shale natural gas that has yet to be passed. In essence, “the budget stands for nothing” . . . which is appropriate since that is also the case with many of our legislators.

Who is to blame?

The opportunity to STOP the budget was in the Republican controlled Senate. The budget bill passed the State Senate by a vote of 37 to 13. There were only 13 Senators that did the right thing by voting NO to this example of fiscal irresponsibility. What about the Senate leadership? Here are their votes . . . for the record.


YES - Joseph B. Scarnati III (President of the Senate)
YES - Dominic Pileggi (Majority Floor Leader)
YES - Michael Waugh (Majority Caucus Chair)
YES - Robert Robbins (Majority Caucus Secretary)
YES - Jake Corman (Majority Appropriations Committee Chair)
YES - Patrick M. Browne (Majority Caucus Administrator)
YES - Edwin Erickson (Majority Policy Committee Chair)


YES - Roberta Mellow (Minority Floor Leader)
YES - Michael O’Pake (Minority Whip)
YES - Vincent Hughes (Minority Caucus Chair)
YES - Sean Logan (Minority Caucus Secretary)
YES - Jay Costa (Minority Appropriations Committee Chair)
YES - Christine Tartaglione (Minority Caucus Administrator)
YES - Richard Kasunic (Minority Policy Committee Chair)

THIS PROVES that the Senate leadership MUST change . . . one way or another!

The budget bill passed the State House by a vote of 117 to 84. This is not a shock seeing that the House is controlled by Rendell Democrats. What is shocking in this number, however, is that 16 Republicans voted WITH the Rendell Democrats in order to achieve a supermajority which was required to waive a rule requiring 24 hours’ notice before a bill is voted.

If you would like to see how your Senators and Representatives voted, please refer to the voting records below:

June 30 Budget Vote in Senate is HERE
June 30 Budget Vote in House is HERE

What about Northwest PA?

MOST of the legislators from our region in Northwest Pennsylvania agree with my views on the budget, and MOST of them voted against the budget bill yesterday. Specifically . . .

Mercer County Legislators

Representative Michele Brooks (R) - NO
Representative Dick Stevenson (R) - NO
Representative Mark Longietti (D) - YES
Senator Bob Robbins (R) – YES

Crawford County Legislators

Representative John Evans (R) – NO
Representative Brad Roae (R) – NO
Representative Michele Brooks (R) – NO
Senator Bob Robbins (R) – YES

Republican Representatives (and Conservatives) Michele Brooks, Dick Stevenson, John Evans, and Brad Roae all did the RIGHT thing and voted NO to the budget.

Rendell Democrats Bob Robbins and Representative Mark Longietti voted YES to the budget. Representative Mark Longietti did what his caucus told him to do . . . in the end he supported his Governor and his Caucus (right or wrong). Republican Senator Bob Robbins PROVED his allegiance to the Democrats that WROTE HIM IN in the Primary (all 800 of them) and he also supported his fellow Democrat Governor and his new Caucus.

As a Republican LEADER in the Senate, Bob Robbins should be ashamed of himself. Even more important, his CONSTITUENTS should be angry with him. It shows that he was more concerned with getting rid of the “budget problem” in an election year that he was with standing on principles of good government and fiscal responsibility.

In press releases that were sent out last night, Bob Robbins fellow legislators from this area made their thoughts about the budget clear . . .

Representative Michele Brooks stated:

“Although this budget was passed on time – as it should be – it falls short to earn my support. I have many serious concerns about funding allocations and the source of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.”

“Many of us have concerns regarding whether this budget is constitutionally balanced as it relies heavily on $850 million in funding from the federal government, which has not yet been approved by Congress and there are some doubts whether it will be approved. It also has a structural deficit of approximately $3 billion.”
Representative Brad Roae stated:

“State budgets are about priorities,” Roae said. “This budget sets the wrong priorities for Pennsyvlania.”

“This budget literally spends money the state doesn’t have,” Roae said. “This budget is based on the hope of a federal bailout for the state. If the federal government runs up the deficit to pay for this bailout, taxpayers will be paying for it for years to come.”

“This budget doesn’t reflect my priorities and it certainly doesn’t reflect the wishes
of the people I represent,” Roae said. “We needed to reduce spending due to the recession, but the cuts in this budget weren’t applied fairly. This budget sets up huge tax increases or painful spending cuts for next year. I simply could not support a budget that is this irresponsible.”
According to these statements, it seems to me that the conservative legislators that represent our area need help to fight for fiscal responsibility in Harrisburg . . . and they are not getting that from their own Senator. Hmmmmmm.

Where do I stand on the subject?

Anyone that voted FOR this budget made a conscious effort to pull the wool over the eyes of taxpayers. This is not a VALID budget . . . no matter how you look at it.

It is the responsibility of our legislators to make certain that the state government does not spend beyond its means. If we don’t have the money, we ought not to be spending it. Federal dollars that simply aren’t there should not be considered in the calculations, and tax revenues from Marcellus Shale should NOT be considered in the equations either. IF the tax on Marcellus Shale extraction is pushed through (in October), it will be the worst fiscal decision in Pennsylvania . . . ever!

If I were the Senator in Pennsylvania’s 50th District, I would have voted NO to yesterday’s budget. I would have continued to vote NO until the budget was actually balanced on REAL numbers. More importantly, I would have been pushing for these changes back in February and March . . . when budget negotiations SHOULD have been taking place. Waiting until the 11th hour so that they can push through the equivalent of a legislative joke is shameful.

I usually sign off by stating "as alway, just my opinion". Today it is important that I sign off by stating the following:

This is not just my opinion. It is my official statement.

Roberta Biros
Editor, Mercer County Conservatives