Mar 31, 2011

If You Tax It They Will Leave


Guest Column By Lowman S. Henry

"If you want to go to work you can find a job."


How many places in Pennsylvania, in fact in America can make that boast? They can in Bradford County where County Commissioner Doug McLinko explains that drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale deposit has been an economic boom for his region - this while the rest of the nation suffers through the biggest recession since the Great Depression.


One reason for the boom is that Pennsylvania has not killed off the still developing natural gas industry by enacting a severance tax that would make the activity less profitable and choke off or at least slow down the economic development which is currently taking place. But, there is growing political pressure to enact additional taxes on gas drillers. It should be pointed out that the companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale region are already paying every tax that is levied on every other business in the state. Severance tax supporters portray the gas companies as virtual robber barons who are pillaging Penn's Woods' natural resources and paying nothing for the privilege. That is simply not true. Pennsylvania has some of the highest corporate taxes in the nation. In fact we are the only state to impose both a Corporate Net Income Tax and a Capital Stock and Franchise Tax. The oppressive nature of the commonwealth's taxes is one reason why our economy has struggled in recent decades. Proposed steep cuts in K-12 public education and state support for higher education have added to the pressure for enactment of a severance tax. But the education community in Pennsylvania has been living high off the hog for many years, receiving budget increases far above the rate of inflation during both good times and bad. The education establishment finally got too greedy by attempting to incorporate temporary federal stimulus money into its funding base, and now must deal with budget cuts. The two issues should not be intermingled. No one industry in Pennsylvania should be singled out to pay for the overspending by state government in education and other areas. To over-tax gas drilling would simply put the brakes on development of the resource. The result of that would be a steep decline in the taxes they already pay, essentially negating the revenue from the severance tax. It is all rather academic, however, as Governor Tom Corbett has pledged not to raise taxes. Just last week, as the Marcellus Shale Commission began its work, Lt. Governor Jim Cawley stated flatly: "A severance tax is off the table." But possible impact fees are on the table. The danger is that impact fees could become a Trojan horse for implementing a state tax. There is logic behind the state empowering counties and municipalities in the Marcellus Shale region to impose impact fees to mitigate local infrastructure and environmental damage. Such taxing decisions should be made locally, by county commissioners and township supervisors, with the money flowing into their coffers not into the abyss in Harrisburg. Some at the capitol are already preparing to try and grab a share of the treasure. A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati is suggesting impact fees include funding for the state's Growing Greener initiative. When an impact fee bill begins its trip through the legislative process look for others to add their favored projects or programs to the proposed law. In an era of cuts, lawmakers will circle this bill like starving buzzards above a carcass. If a bill gets larded up with anything other than a local option impact fee it will certainly invite a gubernatorial veto. Levying an impact fee with any portion of the proceeds going to the state would be a clear violation of the governor's no new taxes pledge. Allowing counties and municipalities to assess fees dedicated solely for restoring infrastructure damage is not. The problem is leadership in the state senate still ascribes to the old school thinking that Pennsylvania has a revenue problem. Tom Corbett, having come to power in the age of the Tea party, understands that we have a spending problem. That is why he has not singled out one industry for extra taxation, and proposed a budget that spends within our means. Given that the old tax and spend mentality got us into the current fiscal mess, the time has come to try Corbett's different approach. Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His email address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.

Mar 29, 2011

Pressure is on state lawmakers to reduce spending

"Share The Pain" was the overwhelming theme of Governor Corbett's first budget address to the General Assembly. During his speech Corbett encourage state lawmakers to sort out the "must-haves" from the "nice-to- haves".

While much of the focus has been spent highlighting Corbett's proposed 50% cuts to higher education and the outrage that has followed, one glaring item in the budget has been barely touched. The overall operating budget of one of the most expensive state legislatures in the country.

At this point I don't think it is fair to blame Corbett. The Governor actually doesn't have the constitutional authority to reduce the General Assembly's operating budget, but the current slate of legislative leaders do have the authority to do so.

The question is do they have the certain leadership qualities needed to sort out the "nice-to-haves" within their own budgets as Corbett suggested?

If history is the ultimate predictor of the future, then the answer to the question I pose above would be a resounding NO! Remember this is a group lawmakers of whom many voted for a huge pension increase with Act 9 in May of 2001.

The formula passed in May 2001’s Act 9 with Governor Tom Ridge’s increase to state employees…allows full retirement at 35 year’s of service or with 30 years of service at age 62….in which the system typically attaches benefits at 87.5% of an employee’s salary, or about three times the average private pension. In addition, because retiree’s no longer pay 7.45% in social security taxes or 6% in pension fund contributions and may be eligible for Social Security payments, those retiring under the new benefit as incorporated in Act 9 can actually draw more income than they did while being employed and working.

And I'm sure voters haven't forgotten the July 2005 illegal pay raise that many current state lawmakers attempted to pass in the middle of the night without full disclosure to the public. Some still to this day believe that they deserved the raise and don't get paid enough.

With these past discretions in mind, the people of this commonwealth are demanding honest, sincere, positive signs that our elected officials are willing to absorb some of the pain that the rest of us are expected to absorb.

Teachers in some Pennsylvania school districts have agreed to a pay freeze to leave more money available for the schools to do things that might otherwise have to be cut due to the budget, etc. Penn State faculty and staff have also already agreed to do the same.

It be would nice if the House and Senate and other high-ranking state officials would do something nice like that.

Taxpayers pay $19,633 per lawmaker for their health insurance. State employees currently pay 3 percent of wages toward their health insurance, which Corbett contrasted to 6 percent in the private sector. Senators pay 1 percent. House members pay nothing but might begin paying 1 percent in July.

State lawmakers still get their automatic COLA and they don't have to itemize for per diems.

Why won't legislators listen to their constituents and reduce the extreme salaries, perks and benefits they voted for themselves?

It is time for state lawmakers to stop the outrages spending in their caucuses, to return their slush funds, stop the WAMS, stop the bonuses, and start contributing more to the "shared pained" which they more than anything else is mostly responsible for.

Where is the outrage? Where are the pink pigs? When Governor Corbet said, "We much change the culture in this place", I don't think he meant every department but the state legislature itself.

PA or Texas: Which State Has The Higher Unemployment Rate?

The Pennsylvania unemployment rate of 8.0 % in February is lower than the 8.2% unemployment rate in Texas.  See http://www.bls.gov/ and the Regional and State Unemployment Report for February.

Governor Corbett may want to rethink that line in his budget address about making Pennsylvania like Texas. 

How about celebrating Pennsylvania, our values, and our strengths?  Our economy as of February was doing better than the nation as a whole and better than that of Texas

The bubble bursts at Penn State


Guest Column By Michael Poliakoff

The story is told that when someone asked John D. Rockefeller how much money is enough, he responded, "Just one dollar more."

Penn State University's president, Graham Spanier, like most college leaders, seems to agree.

Pennsylvanians know the story: In the midst of a deep recession, Gov. Tom Corbett has announced that it's time for state government to find ways to do more with less. And yes, he even means that Penn State should give taxpayers more bang for their buck.

How does Penn State respond? So far, by darkly eyeing campus closures and demanding more money. If taxpayers don't pony up, we are told, tuition will skyrocket.

Parents are justifiably concerned. But there is a better way. It's time for this great university and its distinguished leader to seize the opportunity they have to set a national example for excellence in tough times. We suggest four simple steps.

Step one is to stop crying poverty. Their presidents rarely say it, but American colleges and universities spend twice as much per student as the average of other industrialized nations. No wonder more than half of the respondents to a recent survey conducted by Public Agenda said they think colleges could spend less without decreasing educational quality.

Penn State is a case in point. Between 2000-01 and 2010-11, it received nearly $3.5 billion from Pennsylvania taxpayers in the form of state appropriations. And even though its leaders are saying that more state appropriations mean lower tuition, in-state tuition and mandatory fees more than doubled over that period, from $6,852 in 2000-01 to $15,250 this year, growth that is far over inflation.

Step two is to answer this question: Since $3.5 billion didn't keep tuition down, were Pennsylvania taxpayers not generous enough, or was Penn State's spending not prudent enough? We can find some answers in U.S. Department of Education data and Penn State's own reports.

The former shows that between 2001-02 and 2008-09, Penn State increased its spending on administration (excluding teaching or research) by more than $66 million.

As for the latter, Penn State's own Strategic Plan has this to say about where the money went: "The University has invested heavily in both the construction of classroom and laboratory." The report adds: "Too often, these facilities are not fully utilized-and the University constructs additional facilities."

Step three is to remember Penn State's mission, which mentions before anything else that the university "educates students." Unfortunately, there again the news is not good. Almost 45 percent of the students at Penn State's branch campuses do not graduate from those institutions within six years, and even at the flagship campus, nearly 35 percent of the students cannot finish within the expected four years. This news comes at a time when national studies show that even those students who do graduate lack the skills and knowledge they need.

One report released by the federal Education Department found that 26 percent of graduates of four-year colleges could not reliably calculate the cost of ordering office supplies from a catalog. Meanwhile, the recent book Academically Adrift shows 36 percent demonstrate little gain in critical thinking skills over four (expensive) years in college. This is a national crisis, and Pennsylvania needs to address it.

Finally, step four is to lead courageously. Simply demanding more of Pennsylvanians' money, be it through taxes or tuition, following a three-year period in which the state's unemployment rate soared is careless, not courageous. Here are some better ideas:

Freeze salaries. Penn State speaks of a salary freeze with dismay; by contrast, many Pennsylvanians wish they had salaries to freeze.

Cut administrative bloat sharply.

Use classrooms to capacity, mornings, evenings, and Fridays.

Create incentives for students to finish in four years — or less.

Find ways for colleges, private and public, to share facilities and resources. Around the nation, university systems are discovering that they can reduce personnel costs by creating online consortia to deliver classes at multiple locations; Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education has been a national model in this regard.

Improve Penn State's core curriculum. Instead of hundreds of courses from which to choose for general education, develop team-taught core courses. They are less expensive than an array of esoteric and narrow topics, and they ensure that all students get the skills and knowledge they need.

Penn State has the opportunity to create a better and more equitable model of higher education. Right now, Penn State is telling parents that unless things change, they will face a hefty tuition increase. But the big changes need to start in Old Main, not the State Capitol.

Michael B. Poliakoff is policy director of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Mar 28, 2011

Under dysfunctional government, America’s problems mount


Guest Column By Jim Bowman

Our American government has become a fuzz ball for dysfunctional activity. Consider our mounting debt, quickly while it still hovers around $14 billion.

Check out all the state governments, especially the ones most privy to ongoing border invasions, which Washington refuses to even address. And how about the ease of initiating combat operations since the scuttling of the draft? Today, it appears to be Libya’s turn in the democracy barrel. Last but far from the least is our ongoing constitutional crisis, which our media generally chooses to ignore.

Can anyone get past the politics of politics for a minute in order to judge the inept insanity of our budget quagmire? Last year’s Democratically controlled Congress refused its basic responsibility for addressing the following year’s budget. Reason tells us that few wanted their names associated with the looming fall elections. So, if this becomes the norm, every other year will feature Congress passing the previous and the next year’s budget. As such, we the people may enjoy a reprieve from additional legislation during the year taken up by financial bickering.

Contrast Washington with the governmental leadership in Wisconsin. Here is a governor who recognizes the mounting injury to his state and its citizens yet suffers every abuse printable from our media. Given that Wisconsin is not a border state, the red ink still signals the need for change.

Also, I fail to see the need or reason for college students to act like spoiled little children while their contribution to the work force still is in waiting.

As a survivor of enforcing Washington’s foreign melees, I shudder when thinking of the unremitting overseas deployments our “volunteer Army” is asked to endure, all without congressional backup. As the saying goes, “Some things never change.” It certainly bears consideration as to the free hand this volunteer service has presented to bureaucratic bravehearts. Other than Lt. Calley, just who is accountable for our losses?

If all this isn’t bad enough, we at home have been fettered under an ongoing constitutional defiance that somehow does not merit journalistic attention.

In recounting this gross injustice to the enumerated powers of government, backroom deals, bribery and collusion greased the congressional passage of a health care bill, which the average man in the street readily understands to be unconstitutional. Still, congressional passage led to the bill’s presidential signing.

State after state joined in legal action against this usurpation into our medical industry. As it stands, after a Florida District Court of the United States ruled the entire health care law unconstitutional, the Obama administration continued on without any pause or recognition to the court order.

Having his ruling defiled, Judge Vinson once again ordered the defendants, in this case, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to file an appeal “within seven calendar days.” This appeal, which was filed within the specified time, is merely a formality prior to a Supreme Court review. Anyone with a working familiarity of our Constitution fully acknowledges the law’s unconstitutionality. Sadly, this is just one instance of this administration’s flagrant defiance.

For too long, the state of Arizona has been victimized by years of illegal entry from foreigners. As one of our southwestern states, Arizona has endured what our Constitution aptly terms an “invasion.” This disorder has reached the levels of outright criminal activity which has caused brutal loss of American lives.

Article IV, Section 4 of our Constitution states, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion …”

Not only has this protection been adamantly refused to Arizona, the federal government has taken legal steps against that state. Washington has also joined in a different suit against Arizona with other foreign countries.

The time is long since past when political ideologies carried the day. We are all Americans and what is done to one is done to all. I find it terrifying that this abandonment of one of our states can take place without a public outcry. This constitutional safeguard is exactly the meat of our NATO alliance of mutual assurance.

Should Arizona or our law of the land be of lesser importance? As this crisis continues, our media still finds difficulty in severing its umbilical cord with President Barack Obama. This dysfunctional behavior is classic to that of an enabler.

Mar 27, 2011

Part-time legislature anyone?


Guest Column By Thomas Clark-Jones

In this age of cost cutting in government on the state and national level, where the costs of the cuts will largely be borne by the poor and middle class, one wonders why legislators who believe so fervently in “small government” do not start the cuts at the logical place — the Legislature.

For 400 years, more or less, the commonwealth of Virginia has done well with a part-time Legislature. The House of Burgesses meets for only three months every other year. There is an executive committee of House and Senate to deal with day-to-day operations, and in an emergency the governor can call the Legislature back for weekend sessions.

In other words, serving in the Virginia Legislature is public service, not a full-time job.

Think of the countless dollars that could be saved by paying our legislators a daily stipend and a food/living allowance for a three-month period every 24 months. And, in the spirit of taking things back to the way the Founding Fathers envisioned them, this is it — a public service legislator who is one of the people, not a part of the oligarchy that rules the country.

And the idea has several advantages: It saves a lot of money; it doesn’t do it on the back of the poor; and the government shrinks, just like the tea party envisions. Let’s go for it.

Pennsylvania needs to eliminate collective bargaining


Guest Column By Stephen Morrow

I applaud [Wis.] Gov. Scott Walker for his courage to take on the powerful public employees’ unions that are bankrupting states nationwide on collective bargaining agreements.

Collective bargaining for public employees is structurally flawed and corrupt. Most federal government employees and members of the military do not have collective bargaining rights.

Negotiating CBAs with public unions, by politicians who were elected to office with large union campaign contributions, creates an unfair disadvantage for private sector workers and taxpayers who have to pay the bill.

Why would school boards and local governments across Wisconsin with huge budget deficits rush to reach agreements with public employee unions before a law takes effect restricting CBAs, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars?

I’ll tell you why. The politicians are bought and paid for by the public employee unions.

Instead of being advocates for the taxpayer, which is their job, they are taking care of a minority, special interest group — public employee unions. This is the perfect example for states to eliminate CBAs for public employees.

Mar 26, 2011

Obamacare a year later: It will prove costly

Guest Column By Michael Tanner and Nathan Benefield

In the days before the new health care law passed Congress last year, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said that we would “have to pass the bill to find out what is in it.”

Well, it has been a year since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed, and we are now learning what was in it — much to the detriment of Pennsylvania taxpayers, businesses, doctors and patients.

Here’s some of what we now know: You probably will not be able to keep your current insurance plan. Although the president constantly reassured us that Americans would not be forced to change their current insurance plans, that increasingly appears untrue.

For example, 877,000 Pennsylvania seniors participate in the Medicare Advantage program. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that PPACA “could lead many plans to limit the benefits they offer, raise their premiums or withdraw from the program.” And, the Medicare program’s chief actuary has testified that more than a quarter of seniors could be forced out of the program.

If you get your insurance at work, you will almost certainly have to change plans. The administration now admits that more than two-thirds of companies could be forced to change the coverage they offer their workers. For small businesses, the total could reach 80 percent. The new plans will have to offer additional benefits and meet new federal requirements, likely making them more expensive.

Already, thousands of Pennsylvania workers with Flexible Spending Accounts have seen how much can be contributed to the accounts cut in half, and FSA funds can no longer be used to purchase over-the-counter medications.

Workers with Health Savings Accounts remain in limbo, awaiting rules from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to determine if their plans will survive. Moreover, the law’s individual mandate continues to pose a threat to Pennsylvanians’ ability to keep their current coverage.

That mandate not only requires everyone to buy insurance, it requires insurance to meet strict government requirements, offering the benefits that the government thinks you should have, not necessarily the benefits you want or need.

The Congressional Budget Office officially “scored” the health care bill as costing $950 billion. However, those numbers do not reveal the new law’s true cost. For example, CBO’s estimates do not include roughly $115 billion in implementation costs such as the cost of hiring new IRS agents to enforce the individual mandate.

The arcane budget rules of Medicare, Social Security and the law’s new long-term care program also allow the government to double count savings while ignoring future costs outside the budget window.

Finally, the law front-ends taxes while deferring costs, providing a misleading 10-year budget outlook. True accounting suggests that the law will cost as much as $2.7 trillion over 10 years of full operation and add $823 billion to the federal deficit.

Any Pennsylvanian opening their health insurance bills recently can see that their premiums are not going down. BlueCross of Northern Pennsylvania was just granted permission to increase its rates from 9 percent to 15 percent. Capital BlueCross and Geisinger Health are predicting steady increases during the next decade. Highmark has increased its rates for small businesses by an astonishing 50 percent.

While not all of the increase can be traced to Obamacare, there is no doubt that the law has done nothing to slow rising health care costs. And the law does add its own costs. Aetna cites provisions of Obamacare as a significant reason for its recent 10 percent hike in premiums for its Individual Advantage Plan. Your taxes are going up. The PPACA imposes more than $569 billion in new or increased federal taxes during the next 10 years.

And, it’s not just federal taxes that are rising. PPACA will add more than 454,000 people to Pennsylvania’s Medicaid rolls, driving up the cost of the state’s program by more than $840 million by 2019. That means state taxes will go up or other state services will be cut. Now that we’ve had a year to see what is in the bill, Pennsylvanians should say “no thank you.”

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and Nathan Benefield is director of policy research at the Commonwealth Foundation.

Where is 'realist' position on Marcellus Shale drilling?

Guest Column By Anna Marie Sossong

The past year has brought an increasing number of articles on Marcellus Shale — addressing the science, the number of wells, the volume of gas and the actual and possible effects on the environment in the commonwealth. There are articles espousing the industry viewpoint — drilling is good, prosperity is just around the corner, the drilling industry would never do anything to hurt anyone.

There are an increasing number of articles from the naturalists — drilling is bad, radiation will contaminate our waters, the industry is evil. There seems to be no one espousing the realist position — the industry is here, the gas is here, we need to find ways to maximize the benefits and minimize the detriments to the commonwealth.

For several generations, Pennsylvania has suffered a decline in jobs available to its youth. High school and college graduates have left this state for greener pastures elsewhere. Pennsylvania’s population has declined as has its political influence. We are a state of older workers. Workers older than age 45 comprise more than 37 percent of our statewide workforce.

Pennsylvania used to be the center of the economic universe of the United States — supplying much of the coal and steel used to build railroads, bridges and other infrastructure that permitted nationwide industrial growth. During the last 50 years or so, we have stopped being an economic engine of prosperity and have settled into a familiar pattern of loss of manufacturing jobs, loss of our industrial base and increase in lower paying service jobs.

The Marcellus Shale gas play will permit Pennsylvania to again generate jobs and wealth for all its citizens — if properly managed by everyone involved, including the gas drillers and the commonwealth. The Marcellus Shale gas industry is here to stay.
We can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. We can’t, and shouldn’t, try to stop the drilling. What we, as Pennsylvanians, should do is make sure that the citizens of the commonwealth receive the maximum benefit from this new engine of prosperity.

What does that mean? It means that yes, we must regulate, inspect and oversee the industry to ensure that Penn’s Woods remains as beautiful and vibrant as possible. It also means that we must permit the gas drillers to drill, to use our water and to hire our citizens.

However, it also means that we must make sure that the wealth generated by the industry stays in the state — to build new businesses, grow our existing businesses and create new manufacturing and industrial jobs for Pennsylvania’s youth so they can stay in this state to raise their families and enjoy the wonders of the commonwealth.

As I see it, right now, there seems to be no concerted effort at the state or industry level to coordinate economic development efforts throughout the region so the commonwealth maximizes the benefits while minimizing the risk. DEP is racing to catch up on the regulatory side of the problem.

Labor and industry is concentrating on training Pennsylvanians for jobs in the drilling industry. The Governor’s Action Team in DCED hasn’t been at all visible. The Marcellus Shale Coalition is, rightfully, also concentrating its efforts on developing drilling industry jobs for Pennsylvanians. But I have seen no government agency or industry initiative designed with the larger view — creating economic development opportunities in nondrilling industries or assisting existing Pennsylvania businesses to enter the drilling industry.

The current budget crisis in the commonwealth will make it difficult to fund all the necessary DEP efforts to keep up with the inspections and regulations. Creation of a coordinated economic development initiative at the state level will be difficult to fund — unless the industry decides that it sees the economic and public relations value in such a program and decides to join the commonwealth in its funding.

Let’s hope that all the powers-that-be see that the Marcellus Shale gas play is here to stay and that it presents the commonwealth with tremendous opportunity for long-term growth and development that needs to be encouraged and managed by everyone.

Anna Marie Sossong is an attorney at Skarlatos & Zonarich LLC in Harrisburg.

Mar 24, 2011

Pay Freezes: A Modest Proposal


From Democracy Rising PA

It is encouraging to see that school professionals and their unions are willing to consider freezing their salaries in response to state and local budget problems. If only our state leaders would do the same.

Gov. Tom Corbett asked others for freezes, but he's paying his staff an average of 11% more than Gov. Rendell paid his staff. The legislature still sits on a surplus of $188.5 million. The judiciary still indulges in expensive perks. And lawmakers, the governor, cabinet officers, and judges get an automatic pay raise every December 1.

Gov. Corbett’s budget did not propose meaningful cuts for any of our aristocracy. So here’s a humble suggestion: Make the freeze for public employees contingent on the legislature repealing the automatic pay raise for the highest-paid people in state government and on the legislature returning all $188.5 million to the Treasury to use for better things than sitting in leaders’ slush funds.

Here’s how KDKA-TV’s Jon Delano reported on the issue: Lawmakers not asked to sacrifice in Corbett’s budget.

If the state’s leaders don’t lead by example, their arrogance, hypocrisy and selfishness will be on full display for next year’s elections.

Santorum Renews Call to Repeal Obamacare on One Year Anniversary

Washington, DC - Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) issued the following statement on the one year anniversary of Obamacare:

"This deeply flawed legislation has done nothing it was promised to do. Costs aren't lower, quality isn't better, and access isn't greater. All this law has done is put more power in the hands of the Obama Administration, and taken power away from the average American. Government control of healthcare is not the answer, and Obamacare must be repealed."

"What's worse is as more light is shed on what this bill includes, we are learning just how dangerous this bill is. Obamacare maintains a $105 billion "slush fund" that funds the implementation of the legislation. This fund bypassed Congressional budget processes and gives the legislation advanced appropriations. Further, more than 1,000 companies, businesses and even the state of Maine have received waivers to escape the new regulations Obamacare requires. Even labor unions, which lobbied for the law, have received waivers. Maybe if our elected officials had taken the time to read this bill before voting for it, they could have prevented these flaws."

"Obamacare is bad policy. It is hurting our economy with its increased costs, burdensome regulations and higher taxes, and it must be repealed."

Corbett: the lion tamer

Guest Column By Albert Paschall.

What does a new governor do when he inherits a $4.5 billion deficit from his free spending predecessor? There are only two answers: either raise taxes or cut spending.

In a time when people are hard pressed, unemployment is out of control and borrowing is difficult, raising taxes won't work so cutting spending is all that is left. Tom Corbett is going to try to do that and he's put one of Pennsylvania's most sacred cows on top of the chopping block: Penn State University.

Penn State's budget is close to $3 billion dollars. University president Graham Spanier likes to boast that he only takes $642,000 a year out of that number. Spanier's point might be well taken. If he were running a federally subsidized Wall Street empire of that magnitude $642K would likely just be his year end bonus. Like counterparts on Wall Street Spanier also gets housing, a car and the essential country club dues.

The Commonwealth's taxpayer subsidies of $304 million to Centre County's largest employer are by no means to a public school. It is entirely a private institution basing admission on class standing, academic achievement, test scores and something called a personal statement. It boasts students from all 50 states and 31 countries.

Therein lies the rub. While the state pumps the average annual earnings of over 7,000 Pennsylvania's workers on to Penn State's 24 campuses there's no guarantee that your kid could attend even the Altoona Campus, where last month he or she could have attended the free "Live Group Sex Therapy Show."

Corbett's case is plain. While Penn State has received subsidies of $3-1/2 billion over the last ten years it has increased tuition by 110%. Which institution: the state or Penn State's spending is out of control?

Corbett has picked his target well. Undoubtedly thousands of fans of the blue and white will cascade the state capital with pleas to the legislature for fiscal mercy. But someday if Tom Corbett can tame the Nittany Lions' voracious appetite for taxpayer dollars he'll have taken the first big step towards fiscal sanity in this state.

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Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations in Pennsylvania.lincolnpa@aol.com

Mar 22, 2011

You Don't Deserve More Tax Dollars

How are we going to get out of the financial mess we are in, both in Pennsylvania and in the nation? The Tea Party has been adamant about cuts and more cuts. To which the elites in the media, on the left and Washington in general say, "We can't just do it with cuts. We need to raise taxes."

To this I say, "YOU DON'T DESERVE ANYMORE OF OUR TAX DOLLARS!". There is talk of taxing I95 and 422. Talk of taxing gas drilling, eliminating the Bush Tax Cuts, a VAT tax, a Carbon Tax. This is but a small part of a much larger list. It does not take into account antiquated taxes that were never repealed when the times changed. Government has not been responsible with the money we have sent and continue to send to the treasury, by what reasoning should we send more?

We can not accept new taxes, whatever the form, unless and until government at all levels has proven that they are taking responsibility for SPENDING. The American people understand that there are some things that government must do and this requires revenue. Were we convinced that the government was being responsible with that revenue, then we would not have an issue. It is clear that this is not the case.

Why do we not see a responsible government? Because the money goes too far away from the people who earn it. When I send money to my township government, I can see where it is going. If I have a complaint I can go to the Mayor or the counsel and discuss changes to what is being spent. If I am still not satisfied, I can run for one of those local offices and take responsibility myself.

This is less so on the State and Federal level. The bigger the beaurocracy, and the more people represented by an individual Assemblyman or, Congressman, or Senator the more difficult is

a: to be heard.(It requires an expensive lobbyist or a rabble rousing community activist to be heard at these levels.)

b: to avoid the inevitable influence of big money on a large scale (again, the expensive lobbyists), or

c: to run for an office that will than allow me to take on the responsibility to make things right. (The bigger the office, the more complicated and expensive it is to run for it. This eliminates many citizen legislators from the pool of potential leaders.)

This was the genius of our Founding Fathers. They new this from their studies of history and from being beholden to a ruler that was a thousand miles away.

The trick to solving the problem is to leave the bulk of government responsibility with the local governments. Cut the Federal Programs (and mandates) and the Federal Taxes and let the local government handle things like police, health-care, homelessness, etc. If my Federal tax rate went down to 5% (or zero) but my local taxes went up to 5%, or 10%, we would be paying less, and I guarantee we would be getting more.

The larger the government, the smaller the individual. This Country has been a beacon of hope because it was founded on principles of allowing individuals to flourish in an environment of largely "self rule". It was not great because it was wealthy, it was wealthy because it was FREE.

DeWeese slams Corbett: Highlights Governor's Hypocrisy

It is incredible that Gov. Tom Corbett appointed the father of his former chief of staff/campaign manager as the $196,700 CEO of the Turnpike Commission, one of the highest-paid positions in state government.

During his time as attorney general, Corbett, through the 28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, Report No. 1, excoriated the General Assembly and openly proclaimed that our institution was trapped in a “time warp,” particularly as it relates to patronage jobs and the purported abuses they may engender.

Additionally, during my voluntary interviews with seven or eight senior Attorney General’s Office staff attorneys and agents, I was subject to their obsessive rage over the propriety of legislative leaders seeking state jobs for constituents and friends.

Why, then, does now-Gov. Corbett ignore the findings and recommendations of his own grand jury by hiring the father of his former, longtime chief of staff and campaign manager through three statewide campaigns? That person remains his top political adviser.

Corbett apparently has no problem using his key political strategist to help him fill top jobs, but he used a grand jury to question legislative leaders on this exact practice.

This is definitely a case of, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Mar 21, 2011

Reducing size of Legislature in Pa. urged


Guest Column By Senator David G. Argall

In the near future, I will again introduce legislation to reduce the size of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly to provide an important cost-saving measure. Since the state’s last Constitutional Convention in 1968, dozens of similar proposals have been offered, but all have failed. However, I believe the time is now right for the General Assembly to take decisive action on this issue.

Passing legislation to reduce the size of the Legislature is no easy task. However, the state’s recent financial hardships have created a “perfect storm” of factors that could allow the state to ultimately reduce the size of the legislature.

The Senate has taken a number of important steps to reduce costs, but I believe these cost-saving measures do not go far enough. The General Assembly cannot continue to ask state agencies to continue to cut costs unless we are also willing to lead by example.

It is important to remember that most major reforms are not accomplished overnight. This proposal would require an amendment to the state Constitution. To become law, the proposal would have to pass in two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly and be approved by the voters through a referendum.

My proposal would make several reductions in the number of legislators over a period of time, culminating in 50 fewer House members by 2053 and five fewer Senators by 2033. I believe it is important to offer a plan that will have a realistic chance of winning legislative approval instead of a more dramatic proposal that will end up languishing in various legislative committees.

If a majority of my colleagues in the General Assembly favor a faster reduction, I would gladly support that measure. However, I believe my proposal to enact incremental changes to the size of the Legislature has the best chance to garner support. I strongly believe that the pace of these changes is far less important than accomplishing the ultimate goal of winning final legislative approval.

With the state struggling to close massive budget deficits in recent years, it is important to consider every avenue to help save taxpayer dollars. As I worked with members of the Senate’s bipartisan Government Management and Cost Study Commission last year to identify ways to save taxpayers $400 million, reducing the size of the Legislature was the most popular suggestion submitted by members of the public. My bill would help save as much as $10 million annually. While this is no silver bullet to solve all of the state’s financial woes, this is a significant savings to taxpayers.

The public overwhelmingly favors a smaller Legislature, and I am hopeful we can now build on this momentum to get this legislation approved.

Senator Dave Argall is a Republican representing Pennsylvania’s 29th District.

Democrats try to spin special election results

Caution! You are about to enter the "No Spin Zone." With apologies to Bill O'Reilly, welcome to The Phyrillas Factor.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party along with its allies in the blogosphere and an ultra-liberal newspaper in Berks County have been working feverishly this past week to persuade anyone who will listen that a special election for a vacant state Senate seat has statewide, and even national, significance.

The spin put out by the Democrats and their allies goes something like this: The election of Democrat Judy Schwank to complete the final two years of the term held by the late Sen. Mike O'Pake is a message to Gov. Tom Corbett to raise taxes and not cut state spending, and to governors across the nation to leave unions alone.

"This election has marked a change in momentum, and one that we will carry through the 2012 elections," said state Sen. Daylin Leach, chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

Oh, please!

Anyone who believes the election of a Democratic candidate in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 margin is a seismic shift in the political landscape needs to put down the Kool-Aid.

Schwank won the seat O'Pake held for 38 years by a comfortable margin (58 percent to 42 percent) but the six-week campaign was hardly a referendum on state or national issues. (O'Pake won 71 percent of the vote when he last ran in 2008.)

Schwank and her Republican opponent, Larry Medaglia, agreed on most key issues, including lowering property taxes, creating a more business-friendly climate in Pennsylvania, fiscal responsibility and reforming the state Legislature.

If anything, the special election was seen by many Berks County residents as a way to pay a final tribute to the popular O'Pake, the only state Senator most Berks voters knew. Schwank shrewdly positioned herself as the heir to O'Pake's legacy. She invoked his name at every public appearance and in campaign literature. She also made a point to publicly announce she would keep most of O'Pake's staffers if she was elected.

Schwank won a heavily--Democratic district because labor unions in Berks County, and especially in the city of Reading, managed to get their supporters to the polls. Labor unions also accounted for most of Schwank's campaign contributions.

So before Democrats pop the champagne bottles thinking they've stopped the hemorrhaging from last year's disastrous midterm elections, let's step back and take in a dose of reality.

Turnout for the March 15 election was higher than anticipated at 22 percent, but still pitiful when you consider that eight out of 10 voters in the 11th Senate District did not bother to show up.

What is the significance of Schwank getting the opportunity to finish the remaining two years of O'Pake's term? Absolutely nothing.

Republicans held 30 of the 50 seats in the state Senate before the March 15 election. Republicans hold 30 of the 50 seats after the election.

Schwank winning the 11th District is akin to a Kennedy winning in Massachusetts. It's what you expect. Had Medaglia won, it would have been one of the biggest political upsets in Pennsylvania political history. Something similar to Republican Scott Brown winning Ted Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat in the 2010 special election.

You could even make the argument that residents of the 11th Senate District are worse off today than they were before Schwank won the election. After nearly 40 years in the Senate, O'Pake was the No. 2 leader among Senate Democrats. He built strong relationships on both sides of the aisle and had clout to get legislation passed. Schwank is now the Democrat with the least seniority in the Senate and ranks 50 in terms of clout. She will never get a bill passed and the Republican leadership in the Senate will make sure she doesn't get any money for projects back home.

Had Medaglia won, the Republican governor and legislative leaders would have steered state funding into the 11th District to bolster his chances of winning a full four-year term in 2012.

So why all the hoopla? Pennsylvania Democrats suffered a string of embarrassing defeats in 2010 and were desperate to win something — anything. The special election was the closest thing to a high-profile race anywhere in the state this year. Demoralized Democrats needed a win. Even table scraps are a banquet to a starving man.

How bad was 2010 for Pennsylvania Democrats? The party lost a U.S. Senate seat, five U.S. House seats, the governor's mansion and the majority it held in the state House for four years. Democrats failed to pick up a single state Senate seat last November despite pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into races across the state.

So keeping a state Senate seat that has been in Democratic hands since the district was created in 1961 — one that was never in danger of going over to the Republican column — is the glimmer of hope some Dems need to step away from the ledge.

That speaks volumes about the challenges Pennsylvania Democrats face in 2011 and 2012 to prevent becoming a permanent minority party.

Sen.-elect Schwank will be sworn in sometime in April, but nothing has changed in Harrisburg.

Tony Phyrillas, who writes about politics for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa., won a first place award for column writing in 2010 from the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors.

Mar 19, 2011

PA Public Welfare: The math and the message

There are 40 state agencies and departments in Pennsylvania that require funding in order to operate. These include Education, Economic Development, Public Welfare, the Liquor Control board, Civil Service, Ethics, Veterans Affairs and 33 others.

To operate these agencies, Governor Corbett has established a $63.6 billion dollar budget. The money to fund this budget comes from four different sources–with much of those four sources funded by you, the taxpayer. For the sake of perspective on public welfare, I’d like to break that $63.6 billion dollars down.

$27.3 billion dollars of this budget are funds collected from Pennsylvania taxpayers including state sales tax, state income tax and other taxes. These tax revenues go into what’s called Pennsylvania’s “General Fund.” $11.2 billion dollars of the General Fund is allocated for Public Welfare. That’s 43%.

$4.34 billion dollars comes from collection of other taxes and fees, such as gasoline tax and motor licensing fees. The monies collected from sources like these are part of what is called “Special Funds.” $121.3 million dollars of Special Funds is allocated for Public Welfare. That’s 3%.

$9.8 billion dollars comes from what is called “Other Funds.” “Other Funds” are dedicated for specific programs such as Workers Compensation and Unemployment Compensation. $1.8 billion dollars of Other Funds are dedicated to Public Welfare. That’s 18%.

Finally, some of the money for Pennsylvania’s operating budget comes from the Federal Government or “Federal Funds.” The Federal Government will give $22 billion dollars to Pennsylvania for 2011-12. $14.5 billion of those funds are specifically earmarked for Public Welfare. That’s 70% of the return on your federal tax dollars, going to Public Welfare.

There is great debate over how much each agency should require in funding, and much debate over whether each agency fulfills its mission, whether or not its mission is necessary at all, and whether or not there is waste and abuse within the ranks.

For one single agency, PUBLIC WELFARE, Governor Corbett will allocate 43% of the General Fund, 18% of Other Funds, 3% of Special Funds, and 70% of Federal Funds. That’s 43% of Governor Corbett’s $63.6 billion dollar operating budget, a budget funded by hard-working Pennsylvanians, that is allocated to just one agency.

There are 39 other agencies that do not receive such unprecedented priority, and many would argue that surely on one of these other agencies, perhaps Higher Education, or Economic Development, the priority would be better placed and bring greater return on the hard work that generates all those tax dollars.

Those are the facts. Where my opinion is welcome, I would offer that there is a clear message in these numbers. The message, in my humble opinion, is that toward those who do not demonstrate ability to contribute, the Government communicates an attitude of superiority that suggests these people are worth little, they are “uneducatable” and too stupid to realize their Government is cheating them by appeasing them with meager rations rather than giving a true helping hand. They laugh at these people who think they’re making out on the deal, and in some cases, they laugh even harder at those who think they’re getting one over on the system.

Toward those of us who have demonstrated ability to contribute, the Government communicates an attitude of arrogance and indifference that suggests we are not smart enough to realize our Government has cheated us as well. Rather than assist them in becoming fellow thinkers and contributors, they have insulted and forsaken our fellow citizens and us–and have done so at taxpayer expense. They have saddled on our back the resulting burden which is called “43%,” and they laugh as, like pack mules, we carry the load. I suppose we do look silly.

Mention Public Welfare and you’ll no doubt hear lament about the people who refuse to work, or illegal aliens who collect at the expense of legal citizens who will work. But this is not the real story of Public Welfare. These are just the symptoms.

Yes, people cheat the system, but the biggest, most egregious cheater is the Government who allows it, and their constituents to pay for it, because it’s more convenient than being honest and responsible. To focus collective anger toward those who collect from this bogus system serves only to misdirect the focus and absolve an irresponsible Government. Public Welfare tells a story, not about abuse by the people, but about abuse of the people.

Mar 17, 2011

Geist Has A Plan To Fix Infrastructure Funding Problems

Darrin Youker of the Reading Eagle highlights State Representative and Chairman of the House Transportation Committee Rick Geist's (R-PA 79th) plan to fix the transportation funding crisis facing Pennsylvania. In a speech to the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Geist outlined his plan that included tolling I-95.
Geist, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said his committee has approved legislation to create public-private partnerships to build and manage the state's highway infrastructure. The bill still needs full House approval, he said.

One road that could see improvement under a public-private partnership is the Schuylkill Expressway, the main artery into downtown Philadelphia, Geist said.

Geist also supports a measure to toll I-95, with the proceeds going to repairs on that highway . Click Here To Read More
Geist says that his plan makes a stronger case for tolling than previous attempts to toll I-80 which was denied by federal transportation regulators. Geist feels that tolling I-95 and using the revenue to fix the 7 billion dollars worth of reparis to the highway would be a great first step in solving our transportation funding needs. In his speech he also outlined plans to promote public/private partnerships to also help reduce costs on other major infrastructure projects.

Uncivil Unions: Thuggery is the main negotiating tool of the Left


Guest Column By Lowman S. Henry

A few short weeks ago the buzzword in American politics was "civility." The mainstream news networks, liberal newspapers, the left-wing blogosphere and their assorted allies were in high dungeon claiming Tea party conservatives and the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives was responsible for what they viewed as an uncivil tone in the national debate. They even suggested, in some cases stated outright, the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by a madman was somehow related to conservative rhetoric.

But, in the past couple of weeks it is the American Left which has come unhinged and engaged in some decidedly uncivil actions. A combination of new Republican majorities in governorships and legislatures across the nation and the inevitable fiscal impact of the recession on state budgets have thrown into reverse gear the gains liberal/progressives made over the past two years.

And they are reacting poorly.

The most visible example of leftist rage has come in the state of Wisconsin where new Governor Scott Walker and a newly empowered majority in the state legislature ended collective bargaining privileges for state employee unions. It was a fiscally necessary action, but the labor unions flew into a rage. This despite the fact comprehensive collective bargaining privileges for public employee unions are far from universal, with workers in 24 states not having them.

In Wisconsin, as with many other northern states, unions were accustomed to winning such fights. This time it was clear they were going to lose. In a childish move state Senate Democrats fled to Illinois in an unsuccessful effort to prevent the repeal of collective bargaining privileges from coming to a vote. Union workers abandoned their jobs to stage a raucous protest at the state capitol.

It would be charitable to describe the union protest as uncivil. The demonstrators were loud, frequently profane, borderline violent and generally unruly. It took days of negotiations to get them to leave the capitol rotunda at night so crews could clean. Contrast their behavior and the mess they left behind with that of Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally in Washington, D.C. last summer and you get a clear cut picture of how conservatives and liberals conduct themselves at public events.

Wisconsin is not the only state where leftist thugs have behaved inappropriately. In Idaho an education reform bill that would have eliminated tenure and seniority and allowed more charter schools to be established drew the ire of unions. The superintendent of Idaho's public schools, Tom Luna, who championed the reform plan, had his car vandalized. One protestor even showed up at the home of Luna's mother.

Here in Pennsylvania radical environmentalists invaded the offices of former Governor Tom Ridge's consulting firm. Ridge is now a high profile lobbyist for Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies. The protestors were angry over Governor Tom Corbett's refusal to place a severance tax on gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale reserve. Despite the fact Ridge is a private citizen and his office private property; they stormed the place demanding to talk with the former governor.

The conservative media has made much of this wave of uncivil behavior, but the establishment media has been largely silent. Imagine if you will that conservatives behaved in such a manner. If a deranged shooter who is a devotee of Karl Marx somehow unleashed liberal finger waggling, such behavior as exhibited by liberal activists by conservatives would have brought about a hail storm of condemnation.

Unfortunately we can expect more uncivil behavior from labor unions, radical environmentalists and other components of the Left. Republicans at the state level are grappling with massive budget deficits brought about by years of overspending and by the lingering economic recession. It is clear to voters that the current levels of public spending cannot be maintained, and the policies that created growing deficits must be reversed.

Given that labor is a substantial part of any state budget it is inevitable that public employees will have to join their private sector counterparts in paying more for health care and other benefits, contribute more to their pension plans, and do more work with fewer workers. Collective bargaining stands in the way of accomplishing those goals, so it will be a target in more and more states as the fiscal year progresses.

So far, unions and their allies have not handled the situation in a civil manner. Few expect they ever will, and fewer still expect they will be held to the same standards of public behavior as conservatives.

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

Is Governor Corbett Embracing Cronyism?

The Courier Times News published a great editorial today sharply criticizing some of Governor Corbett's administrative appointments. Corbett has looked to several political insiders, campaign contributors, and even family members of his campaign's inner circle in the case of the PA Turnpike to fill administrative vacancies.
From the The newly named head of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, for example, falls into that category. Roger E. Nutt is the commission's new chief executive officer, a job that pays $196,700 a year. If the name sounds familiar that's because Nutt, 70, is the father of Brian Nutt, who ran Corbett's campaign for governor and was later named the governor's chief of staff, a position he left for a job with a political consulting firm. Brian Nutt remains Corbett's chief political adviser. Click Here To Read More
The editorial rightly asks the question why someone who as Attorney General spent so much time fighting Harrisburg corruption highlighted by the convictions in the "Bonusgate" scandal, would revert back to business as usual when it comes to appointments to high level government positions as Governor?

I've stated before that despite Governor Corbett's anti government corruption crusade as Attorney General, he has always been a Harrisburg insider. He has never ruffled any feathers until the "Bonusgate" scandal.

Corbett was no where to be found during the Pay Raise scandal of July 2005 when state lawmakers passed pay increases for state lawmakers, judges, and top executive-branch at 2:00 AM in the morning without public review. He never questioned the unconstitutional "unvouchered expenses" trumped up by then Chief Justice Ralph Cappy. As the Commonwealth's chief lawyer representing the people, Corbett let us down then and it is not a surprise to me at least that he is hooking up his inner circle as Governor. Continuing the tradition of business as usual as Governor.

Mar 16, 2011

De-fund NPR & Planned Parenthood

De-funding NPR or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), since it is really the true corporate arm of NPR, along with Planned Parenthood, are logical since it is seriously objectionable to require taxpayers to fund organizations they find morally repugnant. More than that!

The US Constitution has no provision(s) within to legally justify such funding. Yes, there are probably 'conservative' causes that also are not mentioned in the constitution & yes, they too should probably be de-funded. Whats good for the goose is surely good for the gander. No problem here. Would mean less money spent!

In addition, the General Accounting Office (GAO) also recently released a report defining duplicate federal departments, agencies, bureau's, panels, etc., costing taxpayers over $200 billion. That number is astonishing to me.

By eliminating the duplicate agencies, the reduction in our budget deficit would be more positively affected than even the recently proposed $61 billion dollar federal budget expenditure cuts proposed by Republicans & summarily rejected by Democrats seeking, among other frivolous expenditures, to preserve taxpayer funding for Cowboy Poetry Festivals in Nevada!.

Obtuse is the only descriptive word that I can come up with. A $61 billion dollar reduction was rejected when we know of over $200 billion dollars in duplicative waste, simply provides additional justification to taxpayers that their government may no longer represent, the people.

The fact that continuing resolutions are needed to keep the federal government open for business, since there is not & has not been an approved budget for nearly two years now, demonstrates to the public that concentrated federal government, affected by suspiciously influential special interest groups, is as ineffective and potentially destructive, as the nations founders suspected it would be.

Obviously, this is why the founders did not want a strong central government.

Democrat wins special election for O'Pake Senate seat

There's a reason Pennsylvania's 11th State Senate District has been represented by a Democrat since it was created in 1961.

It's one of the most heavily Democratic legislative districts in Pennsylvania.

Democratic Sen. Mike O'Pake first won the Senate seat in 1972 and had two more years left in his current term when he died Dec. 27 at age 70 from complications following heart surgery.

Democrat Judy Schwank, a former two-term Berks County commissioner, won the special election Tuesday to finish O'Pake's term, with 20,124 votes to Republican challenger Larry Medaglia's 14,794.

The 11th District includes the City of Reading, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 5-1 margin. The most recent voter registration numbers show 82,727 registered Democrats to 48,674 Republicans in the 11th District.

Even with Schwank's victory, Republicans hold a 30-20 majority in the state Senate. Republicans also control the state House and the governor's mansion.

Mar 14, 2011

Some State Budget Debate Thoughts From Right Field

Here at PennPatriot Blog our revenues were down about 6,000 in fiscal year 2010 and we will be facing a 8,000 dollar projected budget shortfall in 2011. Mmmm......What should we do?

1. We could increase spending in 2011 so we can rack up even more debt. Yeah groovy!!

2. We could borrow more money to pay off the debt we already have thus increasing our interest payments and again end up increasing our overall debt.

3. We could renegotiate the terms of our debt forcing our lenders to extending the number of years we have to payback our debt passing the debt onto future blog contributors. Now that is an idea.

4. We could increase our revenues here at PennPatriot Blog if only we didn't have to pay more school property taxes, county property taxes, local municipal property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, local head tax, emergency services taxes, and gas taxes. Oh I forgot to add in the burdensome government regulation, insurance requirements, ObamaCare costs, and other government fees which also impact our bottom line.

5. We could move our operations to Florida where there is no income tax. That's and idea. Fun in the Sun!!

6. We could move our operations to a Right-To-Work state like Texas but then our union contributors and local news sources would march in the streets.

7. We could cut spending and asked our contributors to fork over more cash for expenses. Um that's not going to happen!

8. We we could stop blogging all together because it is too time consuming and no one cares what the hell we have to say anyhow!

Please read these options carefully and then think about our overall budget crisis here in Pennsylvania. Just a bunch of nonsense.

Maybe our elected officials at all levels of government have not learned anything from the election results in November. God help our Pennsylvania businesses and those state lawmakers who fully understand that we must cut government spending to get our economy moving again.

Mar 13, 2011

We must hold elected officials accountable


Guest Column By Steve Vogel

Ask not what they can do for us, but rather what we will do for them.

This should be the slogan of all politicians seeking to run for office or re-election. They all talk a good game, but bottom line is “it appears they are looking out only for themselves.”

With the federal deficit huge, I thought, maybe, if all the senators and congressmen had to pay more for their benefits it might help reduce it. So I inquired from Congressman Joe Pitts what do they pay for their benefits! I asked not once but twice and guess what? I did not get a response.

Did we not elect him? And yet he won’t answer a simple question. That to me says a lot and trust me, Mr. Pitts when up for re-election will not get my vote. We put them in office and then they do as they damn well please. They take trips and when they get caught say, “I was going to pay for it.” Sure you were.

If you worked for a company, you could lose your job for taking stuff from vendors, but we continue to let our elected officials do as they want. The answer is get rid of them and put someone else in and if they aren’t accountable get rid of them.

If we are going to improve this state and this country, we need to hold our elected officials accountable and we do not. Counties, states and the federal government are all operating in the red and it is the person who can least afford it that is forced to suffer. Wake up, people, and stand up for our country.

Listen to the song by Sugarland, “Standup.” It says it all. We need to take our heads out of the sand before it is too late. If you disagree with me, e-mail me and tell me why I am wrong.

Don't blame labor unions for budget woes


Guest Column By Jim Foster

These are troubled times for all levels of government.

Federal, state and local leaders are grappling with budget deficits. A significant part of the problem is public pensions whose obligations have not been fully funded.

Everyone agrees that this is a problem.

What gives me heartburn is the constant chorus telling us that this problem is caused solely by greedy labor unions.

Blaming unions for the current fiscal crisis seems to me a bit like George Steinbrenner, late owner of the New York Yankees, blaming Alex Rodriguez for negotiating the largest contract in baseball history.

There was no gun at George’s head as he agreed to take on A-Rod’s deal. But to hear some politicians and tea partiers these days, the unions were wielding automatic weapons when they negotiated the public sector pension deals.

The truth is that these pensions were arrived at fair and square through a series of negotiations between unions representing employees and elected officials representing us, the taxpayers. Both sides had legal representation and knew exactly what they were doing.

The problems arose after the negotiations. These pensions created liabilities. Government representatives were supposed to fund these obligations. They simply didn’t do it.

It is morally reprehensible for our officials to now blame the unions for the terrible sin of negotiating a deal and then expecting government to live up to it.

It is generally true that public sector pensions are better than those in the private sector. But again, is A-Rod to blame because he was able to negotiate a better deal than his fellow athletes? Another fact is that private sector pensions used to be better than they are now.

But during the past generation, retirement benefits in the private sector have declined significantly. Many companies have converted their defined benefit pension plans, where the company takes more risk, to defined contribution plans, where the employees take most of the risk. This hasn’t happened as much in the public sector because more public employees are represented by unions who haven’t allowed this.

Financial planners have been advising us for years to prepare for our retirement. That is what the public sector unions did for their members. Unions made sure that their employees had adequate pensions. In many cases, unions agreed to give up larger salary increases in return for better pensions. Now, in the fun house mirror world of today’s politics, they are the bad guys.

Do I detect a little pension envy here?

Here’s a concrete example. I worked more than 30 years in the private sector. My wife worked about the same length of time as a public school employee. We have graduate degrees. I consistently earned a paycheck of about one third more than her. But now she enjoys a pension benefit that is about three times more than mine.

In my opinion, that is because her pensions were negotiated through a collective bargaining process, and mine were not.

So, whom should we blame for the fix we are in?

I say it is the politicians who agreed to these pensions without adequately funding them.

So, hey, President Reagan, President George W. Bush and Congress — why did you cut taxes on the rich without first funding government pensions and our infrastructure needs?

On the state level, hey, Gov. Ridge, Gov. Rendell and state legislators — why did you agree to the pensions and early buyouts for state workers without providing adequate funding for them?

Ultimately, though, I think we all need to look in the mirror. We let our politicians get away with the charade of inadequate funding.

They told us there was a free lunch, and we were foolish enough to believe it. The most we can accuse the public sector unions of is being good negotiators.

We will all need to make sacrifices to fix our budgetary problems. However, it is a mistake to blame the unions.

Corbett takes poetic license with speech


Guest Column By Christopher Orchard

The Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley said that poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world. If he was alive today, he might have been surprised to find that politicians are pushing back and appointing themselves the unacknowledged poets of their own domain.

Last Tuesday, Gov. Tom Corbett headlined a political poetry slam when he evoked William Wordsworth and his contemporaries in his budget address.

There is nothing wrong with using poetry to add gravitas to a speech or displaying poetic cadence in the speech itself.

But politicians should not use verse irresponsibly or insert poetry without context. Poetry sound bites can backfire. January news reports from California showed various lawmakers there misquoted the famous line from S. T. Coleridge’s poem “The Ancient Mariner” that says “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink” in talking about water shortages facing their state.

Quoting that line is ironic because in the poem the lack of fresh drinking water is a punishment afflicted on the mariner for killing an Albatross. So rather than touch on water shortages, as the legislators intended, it actually touches on mankind killing endangered animals.

And two years ago, the former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, peppered his meandering reflections on his political misfortunes with quotes from various poets such as Tennyson and Kipling.

Blagojevich vowed to remain in office in the face of criminal and impeachment proceedings, quoting Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” which includes the lines: “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you ...¤ “ He left out the last line of the stanza: “And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.”

So in quoting from — but misreading — a snippet from a William Wordsworth poem, our own governor has good company.

We might expect politicians to feel poetic in inaugural addresses rather than budget speeches. The conceptions of poetry feel more appropriate when you are laying out a vision for a state’s future than when you are referencing statistics and crunching numbers. Corbett obviously thought it appropriate.

In his speech, he uses two lines from Wordsworth’s poem “The World is Too Much With Us.” Those lines — “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers” — were cited as poetic support for his talk about austerity and fiscal responsibility that Pennsylvanians need to embrace in the coming year. So far, so good.

However, what is ironic is that it was inserted in a speech lauded as pro-business, whereas the poem’s message is passionately environmental and anti-capitalist. Surrounded by the factories and other industries, Wordsworth was appalled, like many of his contemporaries, by the negative impact of capitalism on society.

In particular, Wordsworth was concerned about how man had become removed from his connection with Nature, to the extent, as he says later in the poem, “ Little we see in Nature that is ours.”

In a poem that regrets the way that man has become spiritually and emotionally disconnected from his natural environment, it is as much about how we are deaf to its magnificence and indifferent to its presence around us: “It moves us not.” Without this empathy, we exploit it.

Put Wordsworth in a time machine and transport him to Pennsylvania in 2011 and the sentiments of the poem would be pertinent as a critical voice concerning the negative impact of Marcellus Shale. What is ironic is that Wordsworth would be a more appropriate writer for a Democrat to quote, not a Republican presenting his first budget address.

Citation is not a neutral game in a public forum. Your choice of writer can signal all sorts of subtle associations, but you have to be sure the image fits your purpose. And that rule applies here.

Corbett also spoke about the intentions of several Romantic poets to build a utopian community on the banks of the Susquehanna River. This is true. Robert Southey and S.T. Coleridge discussed the possibilities on many of their walks together and approached random people to solicit their opinion on their plans for America.

And Corbett also is right that the concept never materialized. The poets hesitated because they were worried they would be exploited by shady businessmen and sold a bill of goods that did not match the description of the Pennsylvanian landscape.

They chose Wales instead. But Southey’s intent in 1794 was to establish a society equally ruled by all “where possessions were held in common.”

If they were visitors to the state capital in 2011, none of these poets would have seen eye to eye with the new governor. I might be wrong, but I do not think the pro-business governor has a socialist commonwealth in mind for his people.

I always tell my students to pay attention to the titles of poems because they frequently anticipate the theme that follows.

If the governor really intended the poem as a message about Pennsylvania’s financial condition, then to accept that ‘The World is too much with us” can only mean that we ignore all financial concerns, let alone focus on a budget.

Poets can be politicians and politicians can be poets, but poetry itself can only be effective if you know how to use it.

Christopher Orchard is an associate professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Seek sensible solutions to Marcellus tax question


Guest Column By Clifford Rieders

The debate rages as to whether Marcellus Shale drillers should pay a severance tax to the government.Add Image
The taxers say that the drillers are depleting the land and therefore ought to pay money representing a percentage of what they sever from the land because the asset will one day be gone.

The no-taxers say we need to incubate the industry to maximize the number of jobs and economic growth the drillers and their compatriots will bring. No-taxers point out that even though 38 other states have a severance tax, virtually every state that has gas in the ground, some of those states have a lower total tax when you count levies such as income and sales taxes.

Who is right? We can argue about the long-term cost of drilling as opposed to the long-term value and economic development. We can argue as to whether a severance tax would be lost in the general coffers of a money-hungry commonwealth or whether it would be used wisely to remediate damage caused by gas drilling and its associated fracking.

If there is no severance tax, would the economic activity be so much more as to make up for the cost of drilling? No analysis available to the public proves that argument. Do the states that tax oil and gas taken from the land wisely use that money? It depends on the state and who is in power.

Landowners who have gas removed from their property and benefit by royalties may or may not invest locally. However, from a tax point of view, the land depreciates as the gas is removed. This "depletion allowance" is a tax benefit to landowners by virtue of the theory that their land becomes less valuable as the mineral or other substance is removed. Therefore landowners can reduce the taxes they pay on the royalties by the extent to which the gas goes bye-bye.

That would not be so bad if the gas drillers paid taxes on all the money they make. Gas drillers also benefit by our corporate-cozy tax code. From their income, the gas drillers can deduct the cost of searching for the gas, drilling, research and development, tools, parts, equipment, employees, and royalty payments to landowners. The tax advantages to drillers and landowners are second to none in the tax code.

Considering that both landowner and driller make money from the activity and are afforded considerable tax savings, the question is properly asked as to who should pay the bill from any problems caused by the drilling. It seems as though those who are making money off the activity should be putting a little something aside for our grandchildren, who will have to deal with any problems caused by gas removal.

One good idea that has been floated is local taxation, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has suggested that the quirky doctrine of pre-emption prevents local municipalities from protecting themselves.

What about local excess user fees charged by school districts, social service agencies and municipalities for use of their facilities by drillers and owners? This can be based upon amortization or depreciation of the particular facility.

For example, a road would ordinarily be built so it would have to be resurfaced once every 10 years. But now because of the use of heavy-duty drilling rigs, the road must be replaced after five years and the projected cost of that activity could be levied against the users. The same thing could be done for other services provided by local government as demands of the burgeoning industry increase.

User fees have been a commonly accepted way of financing everything from museums to court systems.

The problem is that we spend more time arguing over philosophy and dogma than trying to wrap our arms around solutions to imminently solvable problems.

We need to put aside the Republican-Democratic schism and focus upon the cost to our local agencies by virtue of the gas-drilling cornucopia. Once we get a good handle on those costs, we must be willing to examine what is driving those costs and how best to address them without throwing out the baby with the bath water. Problems are solvable, even if attitudes are not.

Clifford Rieders is past president of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association.

Mar 12, 2011

‘Right-to-work’ needed now in Pennsylvania

Guest Column By Lowman S. Henry

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has chosen to fight a budget battle and engage in a playing field-altering confrontation with his state’s labor unions at the same time. Here in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett has decided to fight the budget battle first. But, to ultimately fix the structural budget deficit, he must also fundamentally alter the commonwealth’s relationship with public sector labor unions.

Unions in Wisconsin have capitulated to Gov. Walker on many of the financial issues involved in their standoff. But, they have dug in over so-called collective bargaining rights. That is because collective bargaining by public sector unions is what gives them an unfair advantage in contract negotiations.

It is wrong to think of collective bargaining as a right. It is not a right. It is a privilege. It is a privilege that essentially gives unions the ability to dictate the terms of their own contracts. Gov. Walker understands the power of collective bargaining which is why he wants to limit such privileges to give state, county and municipal governments a more level playing field.

But, let’s spot the unions a big one. Let’s not talk about taking away their collective bargaining privileges. Instead, let us simply demand equal rights for everyone. Since the unions are so vocal in support of their “rights,” we should expect they would be amenable to support and honor the rights of others.

The next battle should be to give all Pennsylvanians the right to work. Gov. Tom Corbett has said he would sign a “Right-to-Work” law if it made it to his desk. Republicans hold large majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. Since the GOP is supposedly the party of individual rights and free enterprise, there will never be a better time for passing a “Right-to-Work” law.

Simply put a “Right-to-Work” law would give every Pennsylvanian the right to hold whatever job he or she chooses without being compelled to join or pay so-called “fair share” fees to a labor union. Compulsory unionism is un-American on its face, and on the practical level, makes Penn’s Woods uncompetitive when it comes to attracting new businesses and jobs.

Republican leadership in the General Assembly, often elected with thousands in union campaign contributions, has been reluctant to support or bring a “Right-to-Work” law to the floor for a vote. But, Pennsylvanians are angry at state government overspending and the rampant corruption, which has plagued the Legislature. Voters and taxpayers are demanding action; not just Band Aid fixes, but real structural reforms.

There is strong public support for enactment of a “Right-to-Work” law. Over a 16-year period the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research has asked Pennsylvania voters whether or not they support a “Right-to-Work” law. They have consistently supported such a law by a two to one margin.

In the most recent poll 56 percent backed a “Right-to-Work” law, while just 30 percent are in opposition. In surveys of business owners, enactment of a “Right-to-Work” law is viewed as a necessary structural change to make Pennsylvania competitive with other states.

Gov. Corbett should give unions an option: Accept enactment of a “Right-to-Work” law, or cede your collective bargaining privileges. Unions, of course, will accept neither. But the time has come to stop letting labor unions —which represent a diminished and shrinking percentage of the work force — dictate the terms of public policy.

It is also time for the Republicans who now control state government to stand up and be counted. Last November taxpayers voted for change. The GOP was given the power to enact change. If that power is not put to use, then Republicans will have no argument for being returned to office the next time they face voters.

Labor unions argue they have the right to band together and bargain collectively. If that is true so is the reverse: Individuals have the right to work without being forced against their will to join or pay fees to a union to which they do not wish to belong.

It is time to level the playing field.

Lowman S. Henry is chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His email address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.

Take PSU's slice of budget pie and give it to others


Guest Column By Scott Paterno of RockTheCapital

The loud wailing you heard Tuesday coming from the old Mitchell Mansion, one of the nicest pieces of property in State College, was the sound of Penn State University President Graham Spanier losing his mind over the proposed state budget.

In case you missed it, the governor’s proposed budget takes a battle-ax to higher education funding — a 50 percent cut across the board for the 14 State System schools and Pitt, Temple, Lincoln and Penn State.

It adds up to $554.4 million in cuts.

Now, let me acknowledge the obvious: I have a family history with dear old state. I grew up a mere three blocks from campus, all of my family went there, and I hold two degrees from the original land-grant university. My parents have donated generously to the school and their name adorns the library. Yet against that backdrop, I still feel compelled to say the following:

Not only should the state cut $153 million from Penn State’s general appropriation — it should cut all $304 million. Every dime.

And I have a good policy reason: I want to shift those funds back to the State System schools — the 14 schools that serve the broadest swath of the commonwealth’s children.

In a perfect world no cuts would be necessary.

We live in tough times, and that means we have to make tough choices. Penn State, with its proven ability to raise private funds, is plainly in a better position to absorb these cuts than the other players at the education table. And while an “across-the-board 50 percent cut” looks like equal pain to all in higher education, it is not.

Putting Penn State’s cuts in perspective shows they are hardly “catastrophic” as claimed by President Spanier. On the contrary — the proposed cut in state funding represents a modest — but significant — 3.8 percent cut in Penn State’s overall budget of roughly $4 billion (athletics is self-funded, by the way).

By comparison, the proposed $232.6 million cut to the State System’s 14 schools represents 11 percent of its roughly $2 billion annual budget. In that light, the cuts proposed disproportionately impact the State System when compared with Penn State — some might even say catastrophically so.

(You can read a more detailed comparison at www.rockthecapital.com, from which this is adapted). So when you ask me “why cut Penn State more than others?” the question should really be “why are we asking so much more from the State System?”

After all, Penn State is a premium product and can afford to increase its price tag more easily than the State System.

That’s why I make the case that all of Penn State’s state funding should be cut if there are cuts to be made in higher education.

Surely Penn State can find a mix of cost savings, private giving and resource reallocation to survive such a hit — especially when you consider that it has a top 25 business department full of smart people to help.

More to the point, the only fair way to approach this is to view the cuts in terms of the institutions’ total budgets.

If we cut Penn State by $304 million and the State System by only $80 million, the result is more balanced in light of the total picture.

And there are many other reasons to start weaning Penn State off the public’s trough.

It is a huge corporation, it has a president making more than, well THE president, and it has gone from being an affordable option for Pennsylvania kids to the most expensive state school for in-state kids anywhere in the United States.

It has thrived — and expanded — in that time.

It also has had several high-profile failures (remember the Hershey/Geisinger merger? That cost millions of dollars), has built on an aggressive scale and has raised billions of dollars in private funds.

In many ways, it is only a state school in its origins; it is now so large and state funding is so small a part of the budget that it more closely resembles Penn than Bloomsburg — something that 30 years ago was not the case.

In that light, and understanding that the mission of state taxpayer higher education dollars are to educate the children of the commonwealth, it is only logical that Penn State take the biggest cuts in lean times as it has the ability to take them more easily.

President Spanier and the administration should look at it this way — we ask the richest Americans to pay the most taxes, largely because they can take the hit.

Likewise, Penn State will thrive even without $304 million of our dollars.

I don’t like the cuts, and I wish they didn’t have to be. But as a matter of policy, once we determine the cuts have to be made shouldn’t they be allocated in light of the total financial picture of these institutions?

After all, Penn State is as strong as it is because we built it — now we are asking it to move out of the house and live on its own, secure on the foundation we gave it.

SCOTT PATERNO is a consultant who lives in Derry Twp. and a contributor to rockthecapital.com.