Feb 28, 2011

PoliticsPA Exclusive: More Good News for Casey in Latest Poll

By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor

Bob Casey continues to enjoy relatively strong favorability, according to a poll obtained by PoliticsPA from the firm Municipoll. 46 percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of Casey, compared with only 30 percent of voters with an unfavorable opinion.

The survey of 670 likely voters was conducted via IVR from Feb. 21-23, 2011.

These results closely resemble those in last week's Quinnipiac poll, which showed Casey with a net favorable job approval rating of 44 percent to 24 percent.

"Maybe Bob Casey isn't unbeatable but he's looking pretty darn good for a Democrat in a swing state that Senate Republicans are supposedly talking about targeting next year," said Ed Haggerty, President of Municipoll.

There is no front runner for the GOP nomination to challenge Casey, but the Senator performs well against several of the names that have been mentioned so far. Former US Senator Rick Santorum presents the stiffest challenge but Casey bests him 50 to 38 percent. Casey also beats Congressman Charlie Dent, 51 to 32 percent and Congressman Jim Gerlach, 48 to 34 percent.

The down side for Casey? After four years in office, 24 percent of likely voters still don't know enough about him to form an opinion.

The poll also found President Obama's favorability at 51 percent in the state (versus 44 percent unfavorable), again echoing last week's Quinnipiac poll.

Newly elected Republicans Governor Tom Corbett and Senator Pat Toomey enjoy net favorable ratings, with Corbett at 48 percent to 31 percent, and Toomey at 42 percent to 35 percent. However, by a 50 percent to 31 percent margin, voter expect Corbett to break his no texes, no fees pledge.

Voters favor a tax on Marcellus shale gas drilling companies and the sale of the state liquor stores, "to help close the budget deficit." (57 percent to 28 percent for the gas tax, 57 to 30 percent for selling state liquor stores).

And finally, former Senator Rick Santorum suffers a net unfavorable rating in PA, with 39 percent favorable and 44 percent unfavorable.

Pat Toomey: Congress must lead on debt

Washington’s chronic overspending problem is becoming a national emergency.

Judging by the budget he submitted to Congress, President Obama is abrogating his responsibility to provide the principled leadership we badly need to solve the problem. Instead, Congress will have to provide the leadership that the president will not. There is no more time to kick this can down the road.

In only the last decade — since 2000 — total federal spending has doubled. Last year’s level reached 25 percent of our nation’s economy — a post-World War II record and far higher than recent years have averaged. This spending surge has resulted in massive, record-breaking deficits. As recently as 2007, our deficit was only 1.2 percent of our gross domestic product. This year it is more than 10 percent, or $1.6 trillion. Our government is borrowing about 40 cents of every dollar it spends.

The recent, huge deficits have, inevitably, created a mountain of debt. Over the last 20 years, our debt had remained fairly constant as a percentage of our national output. From 1988 through 2008, federal debt averaged 41 percent of GDP. Today it’s 64 percent. It’s going to be 72 percent of GDP by October.

By the end of 2011, the debt will have more than doubled in only four years. President Obama has proposed tripling it by 2017. And, this is just a fraction of the problem that we have.
These debt figures include neither the government’s contingent liabilities nor the unfunded commitments we have taken on. Federal guarantees of just Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s outstanding obligations total $5.4 trillion, according to the Government Accountability Office.

And the unfunded commitments of the big entitlement programs — Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid — total well into the tens of trillions of dollars.

Economists who have studied the effects of excessive debt agree that it hinders economic growth and can lead to huge, sometimes repeated, financial crises. Many believe we are already experiencing the former and are on a collision course with the latter.

Yet the president just proposed another budget that continues deficit spending as usual.
Over the next 10 years, the president’s budget adds $7.9 trillion in new spending beyond his 2011 budget, $1.4 trillion in new tax increases, and still adds $8.5 trillion to our national debt. He proposes keeping the federal government bloated at nearly 24 percent of GDP and offers no reforms for the big entitlement programs driving our future deficits. And these deficits will likely be worse than the White House projects since its budget assumes stronger economic growth, lower interest rates, and lower inflation than many economists believe likely.

This irresponsible budget comes at a time when the country is only a few months away from hitting its statutory debt ceiling. Since ongoing tax revenue will fund only 60 percent of projected government spending, Congress would have to raise the debt limit to permit more borrowing and continue down the spending path we are on.

The president and his administration have demanded that Congress raise the debt ceiling, prior to reaching it, and with no conditions attached.

That would be a big mistake. An administration that gave us an $800 billion stimulus bill; a trillion-plus-dollar health-care bill; hundreds of millions in bailouts; and that even now advocates a $50 billion high-speed-rail boondoggle, cannot be relied upon to rein in spending on some indeterminate day in the future. We need to act now.

Congress should insist on real, immediate spending cuts and substantive reforms of our broken spending process as part of any debt-limit-increase package. The House has made a good start on the former with the bill it recently passed that funds the government for the rest of this year.

As for substantive, structural spending reforms, a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution would be an ideal fiscal straitjacket. But I would be open to other reforms including tough, statutory spending caps that would limit total spending and force Congress to live within its means.

If a family spends beyond its means for years, charging all of its excess purchases to an array of credit cards, when the family maxes out on the cards most Americans would say it was time for them to reform and cut their spending — before they got another credit card!

It should be no different for our government. Too much debt inhibits job creation now and dangerously jeopardizes our financial, economic, and even national security future. Before we authorize more borrowing, Congress should enact the reforms needed to put us back on a sustainable fiscal path despite the president’s objections. Anything less would be irresponsible.

Pat Toomey is the junior U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

Fiscal self-discipline isn't in U.S. vocabulary

Guest Column By Frank Ryan

President Obama announced the 2012 budget of $3.7 trillion with an expected deficit of $1.1 trillion. This will be the fourth consecutive year the nation has run a deficit more than $1 trillion, which will push the national debt into new territory as it tops $16 trillion. A national disaster is in the making.

When combined with exploding state deficits and other unfunded liabilities, the debt crisis will begin to unfold rapidly and unpredictably for our citizens. The Republican-led Congress responded with demands for budget cuts of $100 billion. The current debt crisis requires so much more, but it seems to not be politically feasible.

Some might question why America should be concerned. After all, our professors taught us that fiscal policy and the use of government to smooth out the business cycle is a legitimate way to govern.

This time, things are different. Fiscal and monetary policies, as with all economic measures, operate within constraints. The constraints have all been broken and the effects of these fiscal and monetary policies are uncharted and will lead to extremely volatile results.

The issues facing our nation are profound and made more so because of the constraints of our aging population, the coming retirement of baby boomers, the decline in education quality and a voter turnout of less than 30 percent in the 2010 elections does not bode well for reform.

I specialize in keeping organizations out of bankruptcy. In doing so, I have found elements that are critical to the success of the turnaround of the business. Most organizations ignore corrective actions early on such that a full-blown economic crisis ensues. For economies, this is part of the “creative destruction” described by professor Joseph Schumpeter as part of the natural economic process.

It is natural for a people to ignore warnings until it is too late. Enforced discipline is apparently preferable to financial self-discipline.

For a turnaround to be successful, everyone must understand the critical problems being faced. Everyone must be willing to sacrifice. I contend that with only 30 percent of voters engaged, we, as a nation, don’t quite get it yet.

The $100 billion in cuts might be all that is palatable to the electorate right now. Unfortunately, this token cutback is not sufficient to stop even one month worth of excess spending.

True reform is required, but my belief is that it is not politically acceptable as yet. Ending the departments of Energy and Education come to mind as possible candidates for cutbacks, but I doubt that such cuts would be enacted before the crisis becomes so severe as to not make any difference.

Second, the turnaround requires all to take a long-term view and not a short-term view. Self-discipline must win out over self-indulgence. If no one is willing to accept change or cutbacks, then all cuts will be cosmetic in nature and not yield substantive results. Ford Motor Co. and its unions negotiated the tough issues and solved them. They will emerge a great company and will survive. They remembered their customers and their dealers and not just themselves. GM took the easy way out and will lose in the long run.

A turnaround is not without discomfort. The longer the fixes take to be enacted though, the more painful the cure. Social Security, for example, was first identified as a problem in the 1970s yet no substantive corrective actions were taken. The final Social Security fix will not be pleasant, but it will be done.

Third, a successful turnaround requires spending less than you take in and not increasing your revenues at the expense of controlling your costs. Government cannot make up its deficiencies by volume.

Fourth, there cannot be any sacred cows in a turnaround. Every department must be viewed and waste eliminated. In the federal government alone, the effort must be undertaken to remove incompetent managers and employees to make government more effective and less costly.

Finally, the customer must take center stage. In a government, the customer is the taxpayer. It is the person paying the bills, not the recipient of the government largesse, but the financier of the government who must be looked at as someone to nurture and not vilify.

Without the steps above enacted in a timely manner, the turnaround will not work. The failed turnaround is marked by a situation in which the solution is forced upon us. I fear that is where we are headed. Our creative destruction is under way. The bad news is that it is not stoppable any longer.

The great news is that in the long run our vibrant people will survive and a greater nation is likely to emerge but only if we decide to get engaged in the fight and strive to remain faithful to the founding principles of our nation and our Constitution. I am confident that we will.

Frank Ryan of Lebanon is a CPA specializing in corporate restructuring. He lectures on ethics for the state CPA societies and is a retired colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.

Feb 24, 2011

Somebody should tell David Kessler he lost the election

I was driving along Memorial Highway (Route 662) in Oley earlier today when I noticed an odd sign in front of an office building. It read "State Representative David Kessler."

The problem with the sign is that Kessler lost his bid for re-election last November and is no longer representing the 130th State House District.

The new state rep for the 130th is Republican David Maloney, who has district offices in Douglassville and Boyertown, the two most populous parts of his district.

Democrat Kessler moved his offices to Oley, where he lives, for his convenience, while he served four years in the Legislature.

I've heard Kessler took the defeat pretty hard, but it's time to move on. There's no need to confuse residents of the 130th District about who their state rep is.

Citizen Kessler should take down his office signs.

It's not like the signs are etched in marble. A screwdriver is all that's needed to remove Kessler's signs.

Maybe Rep. Maloney, who was a contractor before winning a seat in the Legislature, could help Kessler take down the signs.

Pennsylvania needs a Marcellus drilling tax

Guest Column By Greg Vitali

Pennsylvania is the only major natural gas producing state in the nation that does not impose a drilling tax. Revenues from such a tax are now desperately needed to help fund Pennsylvania's looming budget deficit, support important environmental programs and compensate municipalities impacted by drilling.

I have recently introduced legislation that would impose a Marcellus drilling tax.

H.B. 33 would impose a tax slightly less than that of West Virginia -- about 6 percent of the market value of the gas. This rate was selected because it has proven effective in our neighboring state and therefore should not hinder the growth of Pennsylvania's natural gas industry

The tax would generate about $200 million in fiscal year 2011-12, increasing to nearly $420 million by fiscal year 2015-16. These revenues would be shared equally by the state's general fund, environmental programs and local governments.

With more than a $4 billion budget shortfall predicted, the Commonwealth desperately needs this revenue to help minimize drastic program and services cuts.

This tax is also needed to replenish Pennsylvania's Environmental Stewardship Fund (Growing Greener), which is running out of money. In the past four years alone, this popular program has helped preserve over 75,000 acres of Pennsylvania farmland and open space, restored 16,000 acres of abandoned mine land and improved over 230 community parks.

Drilling tax revenues are also needed to compensate municipalities for their added expenses in repairing and maintaining roads and bridges, preserving water supplies, and other costs from drilling.

Arguments by drilling companies that such a tax would drive them out of Pennsylvania do not bear close scrutiny. Of the 15 largest gas producing states, only Pennsylvania does not impose a drilling tax (California has a fee). Where would these companies go?

Additionally, Pennsylvania has the advantage of being located in the heart of the strongest natural gas market in the world -- the northeastern United States -- resulting in lower gas transportation costs for Pennsylvania drillers.

These drilling companies (many foreign) are hugely profitable and ought to pay their fair share.

The reality is the citizens of Pennsylvania are already paying a drilling tax -- on the gas we buy from other states that now impose it. It's time for Pennsylvanians to get some of the benefit.

Greg Vitali is a Democratic state representative from Delaware County and serves on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. He can be reached at greg@gregvitali.com.

Feb 23, 2011

Curbing Union Power‏

Guest Column By Matthew J Brouillette

There's a major battle brewing between the taxpayers and the public sector unions across the nation

Wisconsin's new Gov. Scott Walker and conservatives in the legislature have rolled up their sleeves and already brought to the floor a bill to curb public sector collective bargaining privileges and require government workers to pay towards their pension and health care benefits.

Similar waves of freedom are being sailed in places like Ohio, Indiana and Idaho. In Pennsylvania, with 17 of the 19 union contracts with the Commonwealth set to expire this year, concessions from Pennsylvania's government employee unions will have to be made to reach a balanced budget.

We need to make sure those "negotiations" include a requirement that government employees move from defined-benefit to a defined-contribution retirement plan, automatic pay increases are discontinued, and that unions can no longer hold taxpayers over the barrel on unsustainable labor costs.

Today, I'll be on WHP 580 AM in Harrisburg from 3:00 - 6:00 PM (and again on Thursday this week). I'll be talking about what's going on in Wisconsin with the head of our sister think tank in the Badger State, the MacIver Institute. I'll also be chatting with Drew Ryun of American Majority Action, one of the organizers of the Tea Party counter-protest this past Saturday.

Rick Dreyfuss, our senior fellow, will also join me to discuss public vs. private sector pay and benefits. And I'm sure we'll also get into school choice and liquor choice with your phone calls.

Tune in if you're in the area, or listen online at http://www.whp580.com/, today and Thursday!

The opportunity to put Pennsylvania back on a course to economic prosperity has been charted. No doubt the seas will be rough, but with your help we can make sure we reach our destination of more freedom and less government.

Matthew J. Brouillette is the President & CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation

Feb 22, 2011

Dems want to give Obama power to shut down the Internet

There's a big difference between the words Democrat and Democracy.

Congressional Democrats are pushing a bill that would give Barack Obama authority to pull the "kill switch" on the Internet.

If that sounds anti-Democratic or anti-American, perhaps you should find out where your Congressional representative stands on the issue of shutting down the free flow of communication and information.

Read more about the latest move toward fascism by the far left here.

Feb 21, 2011

Mary Young: Battle to eliminate school property tax gains steam - Reading Eagle

The effort to eliminate school property taxes is alive and well, according to a news alert e-mailed this week by the Berks County-based Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition.

The coalition cites three reasons:

During their campaigns, many of the new state House members, including those representing parts of Berks, promised to join the fight.

State Rep. Dave Reed, an Indiana County Republican who chairs the party's Policy Committee, has formed three subcommittees.

The panel charged with recommending GOP tax policy has state Rep. Jim Cox, a Spring Township Republican, as co-chairman.

Many of the members are for elimination, and Cox, who was re-elected in November to a third two-year term, has made tax elimination his focus this year.

He's formed a bipartisan property tax caucus that has nearly half the House's 203 members on board.

Cox's involvement is significant because he was a chief of staff for former state Rep. Sam Rohrer, a Robeson Township Republican.

He wrote much of Rohrer's proposed School Property Tax Elimination Act, which would have replaced the school tax with an expanded sales tax.

The proposal never got off the ground in the Legislature, even though it is the most popular plan among taxpayer groups such as the coalition.

Cox sent out a letter explaining that he formed the caucus because he felt a new approach was needed.

"We've been spending years trying to rally enough support to have a vote on the bill," he wrote. "I feel very strongly that we need to amass support for our cause before we put another plan out there that just sits in a committee and never comes to the floor of the House for debate and a vote."

The 85 members of the caucus, and more that could join, will formulate a proposal that has broad support before the proposed law is even written, according to Cox's letter.

He also stated that he's not looking for a compromise, but total elimination of the tax.

Another sign that the elimination movement is gaining momentum is a growth spurt in membership in the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations.

It now has 43 taxpayer groups involved, with five added recently. Five more are expected to join soon.

Cox is working with that group, too.

Is Tom Corbett a Revolutionary?

By G. Terry Madonna & Michael L. Young 

Revolutionary, radical, iconoclast, insurrectionist—these are not words one usually uses to describe Pennsylvania’s new governor, Tom Corbett. Yet if Corbett achieves most or all of his announced first term agenda, he will easily become the most transformative governor in modern state history. 

Compared to Corbett, Tom Ridge was a slacker, Bob Casey a slouch, Dick Thornburgh a shirker, and Milton Shapp a mere idler. 

Skeptical that Corbett will pursue his ambitious agenda? Then consider this: most governors, including recently departed Ed Rendell, actually accomplish most of their aims in office. Contrary to much received wisdom, most governors keep most of their promises most of the time. 

Just how sweeping is the Corbett change agenda? Its details won’t be revealed until his budget speech in early March. But this much is clear: Corbett and his Republican allies are proposing to remake state government in ways not seen in anyone’s lifetime.

Massive budget reductions are just the opening act. Corbett intends to shrink state government, eliminate the state liquor monopoly, reduce business taxes, institute school vouchers, pass lawsuit reform, restructure public welfare, reform the state legislature, and much more. 

And he has pledged to do all of this without raising taxes or fees.

What sets Corbett so apart from his predecessors is the scope of his goals. Past governors have run campaigns to “reform” and “change” the culture in Harrisburg. Running against Harrisburg is not new. Nor are many of Corbett’s ideas, such as privatizing liquor stores or instituting school vouchers. Both Dick Thornburgh in the 1980s and Tom Ridge in the 1990s pushed similar ideas. 

What is new, however, is that past governors never promised, as Corbett has, to pursue their reform agendas while scrupulously avoiding taxincreases. In fact, governors have done exactly the opposite during the last four recessions dating back to the 1970s. They have sought their policy goals by expanding the functions of state government and raising state taxes to meet budget deficits.

Milton Shapp illustrates the pattern. He won the governorship in 1970 not by eschewing tax hikes, but by embracing them. During his successful campaign he energetically called for the first permanent income tax in state history. Similarly, both Dick Thornburgh in 1983 and Bob Casey in 1991 supported income tax hikes during recessionary years.

Corbett, in marked contrast, has rejected any kind of tax hike, calling instead for major downsizing of state government along with wide-ranging privatization of governmental functions. He is attempting to tackle the largest change agenda in a century. In the process, he aims to fundamentally restructure the role and function of state government.

Can he do it?

Certainly there are some reasons to expect him to succeed. As noted earlier, most governors accomplish most of their agendas. Some, such as Ed Rendell, end up relatively unpopular, while others, like Tom Ridge and Bob Casey, leave office well liked. But liked or disliked, governors usually get the job done. 

A second reason to expect Corbett to succeed is the nature of the legislature serving with him. Since the infamous pay hike fiasco of 2005, almost half of the state House and one third of the state Senate has been replaced by new members, many of them committed to reform. Few, if any, past governors have been blessed with a legislature more likely to oppose new taxes, support privatization initiatives, and seek structural reforms in state government—all key Corbett goals. Moreover, Corbett will be aided by a new, vigorous GOP leadership dramatically more likely to support fundamental structural change. 

Nevertheless, there are two huge unknowns, both largely beyond Corbett’s influence, which may thwart him. One is the economy—how fast it will recover and how much it will grow. If the recession should unexpectedly deepen or the recovery slow materially, Corbett may have to deal with an even larger deficit, adding considerable pressure to increase taxes.

The second unknown is the amount of financial aid forthcoming from the federal government. Presently, the outlook for substantial assistance from Washington is not auspicious. Fewer federal dollars may generate strong pressures to raise state taxes.

Finally, perhaps the greatest unknown is Corbett himself. He is inmany ways a blank slate. A career prosecutor, he has never served in the legislature or Congress. Nor has he made policy as a member of the executive branch he now heads. His ideology is largely unknown. How he will react to unfolding challenges is impossible to forecast.

He may, as other governors have done, react pragmatically to the myriad challenges he faces, seeking solutions that work politically rather than ideas that resonate ideologically. On the other hand, he may evolve into the committed ideologue he has sometimes evoked, using his tenure in office to push a transformative agenda and bring fundamental change to state government.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Tom Corbett is going to work on what may be the greatest set of challenges faced by any Pennsylvania governor in a century. One thing, however, is certain. Either Pennsylvania is about to experience dramatic change in a short period—or Tom Corbett is.

Politically Uncorrected™ is published twice monthly, and previous columns can be viewed at http://politics.fandm.edu.

Generous unemployment benefits have put Pennsylvania in a bind

Guest Column By Kevin Shivers

Lawmakers in Harrisburg are properly occupied with the challenge of replenishing the state’s exhausted unemployment compensation fund. The National Federation of Independent Business, which represents nearly 14,000 small businesses in Pennsylvania, agrees that this must be an urgent priority.We believe as well, however, that a solution preferred by some, which starts with higher taxes on businesses, would drive unemployment higher and extend the recession.

It is important to remember that like many states, Pennsylvania drained money from the unemployment fund to pay for generous benefit increases when the economy was booming. NFIB warned against such irresponsibility, but the spenders in Harrisburg paid little attention. Now the chickens have come home, and the same people who cheered the spending binge then, and who helped to drag down Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness, are now urging Gov. Corbett to break his promise and siphon more money from businesses and wage earners.

The problem is not that Pennsylvania taxes too little. Indeed, we rank 10th in the country for unemployment taxes per employee. The average this year is more than $400 per worker. Raising the taxable wage base to $12,000, as some state lawmakers propose, would raise employer payroll taxes by more than $100 per worker and result in roughly 13,000 lost jobs. A proposal by President Obama to raise the taxable wage base to $15,000 would be even more costly.

Whether the taxable wage base is increased to $12,000 or $15,000, it is difficult to imagine a more powerful disincentive to hiring new workers than a massive tax penalty for hiring new workers. The real problem is that Pennsylvania has among the most generous unemployment benefits in the country.

Last year it paid out more than any other state except for California, despite that its population is one-third the size and its unemployment rate was lower. In fact, it is common for some individuals to collect more in benefits than they earned on the job. Another flaw in the system is that we don’t require beneficiaries to prove that they’re looking for new work as a condition of eligibility.

For starters, Congress should repeal a 2009 federal mandate that requires states to expand benefits in order to accept federal unemployment solvency funds. Second, Congress should extend the grace-period to allow states, ultimately employers, to repay the federal unemployment trust fund without interest and penalties.

To fix Pennsylvania’s state unemployment trust fund, small-business owners recommend a three-pronged strategy to reduce the cost of hiring and employment; require unemployed workers to seek and accept work; and implement initiatives and provide services that are most effective in assisting unemployed workers in returning to work.

Pennsylvania owes the federal government $3 billion, which is a deep hole from which to dig out. But starting with higher taxes is not the solution. In fact, our members are certain that they would make the hole deeper.

Kevin Shivers is director of the Pennsylvania office of the National Federation of Independent Business, the largest small-business advocacy group in the country.

Feb 20, 2011

Let's get rid of unneeded mandates

Editorial By Jeanette Krebs of The Patriot-News

Cut expenses. Scale back. Pull in the belt. Consolidate services.

Local government officials are hearing those phrases a lot these days and not just from residents fearing big tax hikes in tough times. State and federal officials, who know they won’t give our towns, cities and schools as much financial love this year, also are saying it. It is a good time, local officials are told, to adjust priorities and think about what communities can do without.

Here are a couple of things off the top of my head: Jury commissioners and some constable services.
Most counties in this day and age don’t have much use for a jury commissioner and have said publicly that they don’t want one (i.e., Cumberland County). Other staff and computers are handling the job.

Why then, you might ask, would a county waste your hard-earned money to keep jury commissioners on the payroll? The answer is simple: They can’t be fired.

It is a mandate, a requirement of the state that counties have to keep this position intact — barring only a few exceptions.

There’s more. Consider our constables. Under state law, counties are required to pay constables to be present at polling places each Election Day.

This is despite the fact that in some cases — a precinct in Susquehanna Twp. for one — people vote someplace right beside a police station.

If the rare voting booth melee actually ensued, couldn’t the police handle it? Taxpayers are right to ask: Why can’t we save money and keep the constables at home?

The reason? Another mandate.

So I guess the state’s thinking is that although a requirement might be outdated and unnecessary, it doesn’t mean that you and I shouldn’t still pay for it.

Just last week, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania released its top priorities for 2011, among them investing in farmland, methods for fixing bridges and improving emergency services. But the No. 1 goal of the group is mandate relief.

It isn’t just counties facing this problem. School districts deal with numerous mandates ranging from what must be taught and tested to how building construction is bid and when teachers can be furloughed.

During a year when Gov. Tom Corbett is talking about slashing $1 billion from public schools, they want some help.

For example, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association says the state must take a hard look at the prevailing wage laws. It is one of the most costly mandates on school construction.

Prevailing wage is determined by the hourly wage, benefits and overtime paid in the largest community in each county. It is then used to pay workers, laborers, and mechanics on construction jobs related to some government entities. PSBA is suggesting it be suspended for two years so that the recent federal stimulus money can be used to its maximum. This is something worth exploring.

The worst part for local governments is that even when they get less money from the state and federal government — which is certain this year — they don’t get a break on all the requirements — they are unfunded mandates.

Here’s another ironic example. Tax money is down because of the economy meaning counties have less revenue yet they are not allowed to collect real estate taxes through a county office they must use local tax collectors. Making the switch would save even the smallest counties $100,000.

Certainly there are mandates and statutory provisions that are important and need to be in place. But on other fronts, our local officials need to have greater flexibility in order to save money where they can. Lawmakers need to take a hard look at these mandates and provide relief where it makes sense.
Will it happen this year?

Brinda Carroll Penyak, deputy director of the county commissioners group, says lawmakers seem to be listening as county commissioners tell them of the grim realities they face. She said she is “pretty encouraged” that there could be changes this year.

With luck, she’s right.

When county officials look at their budgets at this time next year, let’s hope line items for jury commissioners, constables at polling places and some tax collectors, among other unneeded expenses, will have been removed.

Feb 19, 2011

The Rendell --- And Now Corbett--- Bailout: Build Ships With No Buyers

Freindly Fire Note:

On February 17, Governor Tom Corbett authorized the $42 million shipyard bailout.   Two ships will now be constructed --- even though there are no buyers, nor any in the foreseeable future --- and hundreds of union jobs will now be subsidized.  So much for the pledge of responsible government and fiscal restraint, especially in light of the $5 billion budget deficit.

The wildly successful model that Gov. Christie has given his colleagues --- popularity will rise if you stick to your campaign promises --- is, incomprehensibly, falling on deaf ears. It is bad enough Corbett is being labeled "Governor MIA" for scarce appearances during his first five weeks in office.  But when his first sign of life  is choosing a bailout associated with politically-connected powerbrokers over the taxpayers who just elected him, the idea that Pennsylvania is on the right track becomes a hard sell.

As of now, the status quo still rules the day...

Column originally published January 6, 2011:

Corbett Can Drop Anchor On Governor’s Taxpayer Boondoggle
In the movie Dave, Kevin Kline plays a presidential lookalike who finds himself running the country after the real President falls into a coma.  Convening a Cabinet meeting, this political novice uses common sense to expose the ludicrous mentality of the entrenched Business As Usual crowd.
Kline asks the Commerce Secretary about an ad campaign his Department has implemented to boost consumer confidence in the American auto industry.  “It’s designed to bolster individual confidence in a previous domestic automotive purchase,” the Secretary proudly explained.
Speechless at first, Kline fires back, “We're spending millions for somebody to feel good about a car they already bought? I don't want to tell an eight-year-old kid he's gotta sleep in the street because we want people to feel better about their car. Do you want to tell him that?”  The shocked Secretary (finally) sees the light, and the program is eliminated.
Incredibly, that mentality isn’t limited to fictional Hollywood scripts, but is a large part of the way our governmental leaders operate. Look at what Pennsylvania’s Ed Rendell is trying to pull off before he walks out of the Governor’s Mansion a few weeks from now.
Shortly before leaving office, Rendell authorized $42 million in taxpayer money to be sent to the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) to help bail out the sinking Aker Shipyard in Philadelphia.
The funding, we are told, would prevent Aker from going under, since it would be building two new tanker ships.
Of course, there’s one small problem.
There are no buyers for the ships.  And the prospect of that changing course anytime soon is virtually nonexistent.
Thousands of ships worldwide are lying at anchor because of the global recession, idled indefinitely because the demand for shipping is dismally low.  It’s gotten so bad that some ship owners are even scrapping their vessels to eliminate harbor costs, receiving pennies on the dollar. But the remaining glut of vessels is still huge, depressing prices for the foreseeable future.
So, let’s be “Dave” for a second and get this straight.
Rendell wants to spend money --- our money, since there’s no such thing as “state” money --- to build ships…that no one is going to buy, ostensibly so some 1,000 workers can keep receiving a subsidized paycheck. And since there aren’t any buyers, the ships obviously wouldn’t be built-to-order, further devaluing them and making their eventual purchase all the more difficult.
Rendell may not care, but I certainly wouldn’t want to tell a mother that her child died in a bridge collapse that resulted from a lack of maintenance --- because $42 million was spent on ghost ships instead of bridge repairs.
But what type of Rendell move would it be if he didn’t take care of his political pals and big-time fundraisers?
The Chairman of the PRPA is none other than John Estey, former Rendell Chief of Staff and a longtime partner at Ballard Spahr, the Guv’s old firm which has received the lion’s share of millions in no-bid legal contracts from the state.  And guess who the outside counsel of PRPA was?  Ballard Spahr.
This is the same John Estey who is also Chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), which is intricately linked to the PRPA, sending millions their way over the years.
The DRPA couldn’t dole out legal contracts fast enough to Ballard when it served as its outside counsel --- over $3.2 million since Rendell was elected in 2002, up from $480 the year prior. And when Chairman Estey voted to approve those legal bills, he was, in fact, approving funds that went directly to Ballard --- his own firm.
Ballard and its associated entities, by the way, have contributed $1.5 million to Rendell.
The Philadelphia Port Authority is nothing if not politically-connected, too: two Board members alone have donated over $350,000 to the Governor’s campaigns.
It must be nice (and lucrative) to represent both Authorities when all that “Other People’s Money,” to quote the legendary Vince Fumo, is flying around, but that’s another story.
But to make the story even more interesting, enter Manny Stamatakis, Chairman of the nonprofit Philadelphia Shipyard Development Corporation.  That is the entity which will receive the $42 million so it can buy Aker assets and lease them back to the company as part of the bailout.  Some might call that a shell game.
“If they don't build these next two ships, this yard is shutting down," Stamatakis was reported as saying.  Well then, let’s not mess around, Manny.  Let’s make it $420 million and employ 10,000 workers.  Or even $4.2 billion so that Aker can build 200 ships.  No one will buy them, either, but so what?  We’re keeping people employed and the political-elite will be happy.
Ironically, the entity that should be in the best position to throw money Aker’s way would be the DRPA with all the economic development money it controlled.  But it was under Manny’s watch as DRPA Chairman that much of the $500 million in such funds were blown --- pretty much on everything not related to bridges or ports.
And now Stamatakis is Chairman of the Shipyard Development Corporation.  Go figure.
Hope is not lost though.  Attorney General Tom Corbett must still approve the contract.
Sources have told Freindly Fire that the lobbying on Corbett to let this contract sail through before his January 18 gubernatorial inauguration by has been extremely intense.  Given the Rendell Administration’s track record with these types of contracts, that should be red flag enough to put the brakes on this deal until all questions are thoroughly answered.  And clearly, questions abound.
The Rendell legacy has been one of abject failure for all Pennsylvanians not linked at the hip to the Governor, and the attempted Aker bailout is a perfect illustration of how he achieved that dubious status.
Like two ships passing in the night, Corbett and Rendell could not be any more different in their direction. Here’s hoping Corbett drops anchor on Rendell’s last hurrah and charts a course for safer harbors.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris' recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX.  He can be reached at

Feb 18, 2011

'Judy Schwank raised our property taxes 52%'

If you watched "Journalists Roundtable" on the Pennsylvania Cable Network Thursday night, I predicted Republican Larry Medaglia would hammer Democrat Judy Schwank on her record of raising taxes while she served as a Berks County commissioner.

And guess what shows up in mailboxes all over Berks County on Friday? A mailing on behalf of Medaglia with big bold letters stating: "Judy Schwank Raised Our Property Taxes 52%"

Schwank voted for an 18% property tax hike in 2001 and followed it up with a 34% property tax hike in 2004.

The flier reminds voters: "She Raised Our Taxes Before. She'll Do It Again."

The special election to fill the unexpired term in the 11th State Senate District is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15.

"Journalists Roundtable" will be shown again Sunday at 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. and Monday at 10 a.m. on the Pennsylvania Cable Network. Check the PCN website for the cable channel in your area.

For more about the Medaglia campaign, visit his websiste at www.larrymedagliaforsenate.com

Feb 11, 2011

Ryan Costello is new Chester County commissioner

Chester County Recorder of Deeds Ryan Costello got a promotion Thursday.

Costello is the newest member of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, picked from 7 finalists who were interviewed for the post by the county's judges.

Costello, a Republican, will fill the unexpired term of Carol Aichele, who recently joined Gov. Tom Corbett's cabinet.

"I am honored to have earned the confidence and unanimous support of the board of judges to serve as interim Commissioner," Costello told The Mercury shortly after the announcement was made Thursday evening.

Aichele's term runs until the end of the year. Costello is a candidate for a full four-year term on the three-member commissioners' board.

The other two commissioners, Republican Terence Farrell and Democrat Kathi Cozzone, have also announced plans to seek re-election.

Each political party will nominate two candidates in the May primary and the top three vote-getters in the November general election will win seats on the Board of Commissioners.

Republicans have always held the majority on the commissioners' board and a Farrell-Costello team would have the advantage going into November.

Read more about Costello's appointment in a story by reporter Evan Brandt at the link below:

Costello tapped as new Chesco commissioner - pottsmerc.com

Feb 1, 2011

GOP has solid chance to win O'Pake Senate seat

Republican Larry Medaglia Jr. has launched a website in support of his campaign for Pennsylvania's 11th state Senate District, which covers most of Berks County.

The special election to fill the unexpired term of the late Sen. Mike O'Pake is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15.

Medaglia's campaign theme is: "The People's Choice for State Senate."

The current Berks County Register of Wills and former Berks Republican Party chairman, Medaglia is pushing four major issues: 1) Property Tax Elimination 2) Economic Growth and Job Creation 3) Reforming State Government and 4) Improving Basic Education

"This campaign is about the future of our community - a future where government leaders must be willing to make difficult choices and truly serve the community by lowering the tax burden and focusing resources on creating economic opportunities for everyone," Medaglia states on the website.

Medaglia's opponent is former Berks County Commissioner Judy Schwank, who voted to raise property taxes by 34% before leaving office four years ago.

Although Democrats enjoy a voter-registration advantage because the City of Reading is part of the 11th Senatorial District, Medaglia has a good chance of winning the election because he has waged successful countywide campaigns and the Democratic Party is split in its support of Schwank.

Many party loyalists wanted state Rep. Dante Santoni Jr., an 18-year veteran of Harrisburg, to be the candidate. Santoni's 126th House District is part of the 11th Senate District and Santoni is used to running campaigns and winning.

Schwank hasn't run for political office in more than eight years.

A party insider tells me Santoni and his supporters are very bitter at the way the party leaders picked a candidate and support for Schwank among active party workers is weak.

Visit Medaglia's website here.