Jul 26, 2011

"Hope and Change" has become "Despair and More of the Same"

It was painful to watched President Obama's speech last night. I have finally come to the conclusion that the man has no idea what the hell is going on in this country. It is obvious the President has no plan to move our economy forward, so how can he seriously help facilitate a debt ceiling compromise between Senate Democrats and House Republicans if he doesn't have a plan of his own.

And that is a fact that can't be disputed my democratic friends. During this entire debt ceiling debate, President Obama never once put forth a written plan nor did he ever have the vision to lead on the issue. Obama had a chance to lead when his own Bipartisan Debt Commission issued their report last year. But in true Obama fashion, he decided to scrap the report and submitted a budget that actually increased federal spending in May that was rightly voted down by every U.S. Senator including members of his own party.

Now that is not leadership!

At some point a president has to rise above partisan politics and give the children (John Boehner and Harry Reed) a time out and show them who is in charge. Not to mention do what is best for our country. Obama should have met with Congressional leaders and said here is my plan. Vote on it, and if you don't good luck in the next election.

President Obama can't facilitates a compromise on the debt ceiling without coming to the realization himself that our government spends way to much and that our 14 trillion dollar debt is like a yet blanket crippling private enterprise and our financial system. We can assume by his recent actions that he is there yet. As evident when he walked out of a meeting after a deal on the debt ceiling was done between House Republicans and Senate Democrats after demanding that the debt ceiling be raised until after the 2012 elections.

In my lifetime, I never thought the biggest threat to our country would be the president of the United States. Candidate Barack Obama promised hope and change before he was elected. What a political disappointment he must be for many who voted for him.

"Hope and Change" has turned into "Despair and More of the Same".

Since in office President Obama has spent more than $4 trillion that we don’t even have. It looks like our president is trying to bankrupt the Treasury Department. Just how much further ahead has Obama's 1 trillion dollar failed stimulus package got us. If he is allowed to continue with his agenda for America, we will fail as a nation and our economy will collapse. It is time to dump Obama in 2012.

Irresistible force meets immovable object

Guest Column by Lowman S. Henry

Washington, the financial world and much of the nation are transfixed by the political stalemate over the looming national debt ceiling. Amid the charges of "playing to the base" and political posturing is the reality that voters themselves set up the current stand-off.

U.S. Senator Barack Obama was elected President in 2008 as voters handed Democrats lopsided congressional victories for the second cycle in a row. Despite having run for office on the vague promise of "hope and change," the new president took his election as a mandate for implementing a wide range of policy changes. Those changes dramatically expanded the size and scope of the federal government setting the nation on the path toward soft European-style socialism. This was, of course, accompanied by a massive increase in spending which has triggered historic federal deficits.

In reaction to this over-reach, millions of voters became active in tea party groups and other grassroots organizations. Last year this movement re-energized the Republican Party which went on to sweep Democrats out of power in the House and diminish their control in the Senate. These new members of Congress headed to Washington determined to rein in spending and reverse the tide of government expansion.

So what we have serving in Washington are two dispirit groups of elected officials each sent to Washington on different waves of voter sentiment and each remaining loyal to the base that sent them there. The Democrat base wants higher taxes on the wealthy and more benefits for the poor and middle class. Republicans reflect the views of their constituency which want both taxes and spending to be cut significantly.

America's two competing governing philosophies have landed fore square in opposition to each other in the debt ceiling debate. Neither side is willing to compromise because their core governing beliefs are at stake. And, while some temporary fix will be devised to get through the debt ceiling issue, it will take the 2012 elections for the future course of the nation to be decided.

There is no doubt the debt ceiling will be raised. The nation has spent — and will continue to spend — beyond its means. Slowing the rate of that spending will take time, more time that is available before the current debt ceiling it reached. So the real question is will the debt ceiling be raised and the profligate spending continue, or will there be serious spending cuts and a blueprint established for restoring fiscal responsibility?

Republicans have rallied behind the concept of "cut, cap and balance." This consists of immediate spending cuts, in the range of $4 billion, capping future spending and enactment of a balanced budget amendment. President Obama appears willing to agree to some spending cuts, although not as many as Republicans are demanding, but has flatly rejected a balanced budget amendment.

Democrats want to raise taxes and have adroitly found several loopholes benefitting wealthier Americans to use as public relations fodder. But, the bottom line is tax hikes always depress economic growth. With the nation struggling to emerge from a stubborn recession — and job creation at a virtual standstill — higher taxes would be a dagger plunged into the heart of the economic recovery.

Having been swept into office just months ago on a promise to cut spending and not raise taxes, Republicans cannot give into Democratic demands for tax hikes. Most remember that President George H.W. Bush violated his "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge and lost the support of his party's conservative base and ultimately the White House.

Democrats, meanwhile, have dug in on the issue of entitlement reform. Given the amount of the federal budget consumed by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid it is impossible to contain spending without restructuring these programs and restoring their financial stability. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has drawn a line in the sand vowing to oppose any diminishment of entitlements.

And so we have an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Each side was sent to Washington by voters with different instructions on what to do. This makes it highly likely no long term solutions will emerge from the current crisis, but rather look for some clever gimmick that merely kicks the can down the road. Next year, voters will come to a fork in that road and will have to make a historic decision on which path to take.

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

Jul 24, 2011

Bumsted: PA Union Bosses Defend High Salaries

Brad Bumsted of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has a great article today highlighting the alarming salary levels of the top six public employee union bosses here in Pennsylvania.

In his article, "Pennsylvania union leaders defend top pay", Bumsted points out that Pennsylvania's top union bosses made a combined salary exceeding 1 million dollars according to the figures released in 2009 the last time they were made public.

Wendell Young (pictured right) is the president of a Philadelphia-based union local representing about 2,500 state store clerks makes 233,000 dollars a year. When you compare Wendell's salary to the average state store worker in Pennsylvania who makes only 29,000 a year one can see the lack of balance.

Young tries to defend his salary, but looks like a buffoon doing it. (Remember he is a registered lobbyist)
Young argues that the state store clerks are only some of the 22,000 workers in the public and private sectors he represents as president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776. His job is comparable to that of a CEO in industry, he said, except that he earns much less. He cites multimillion-dollar benefit packages for Philadelphia-area CEOs.

"My salary is not relative to what the members make," Young said. "We look at the jobs, and we try to be comparable to the jobs. We're a democratic organization. We have an executive board. All of it is done through discussion, analysis and comparison, and ultimately the decision is made by the board."
Really Mr. Young? You really think you are deserve a salary compatible to a CEO of a business that actually produces something? In reality you are just an overpaid empty suite that negotiates contracts while running a pyramid scheme that milks hardworking Americans out of their money.

These union bosses are simply slopping it up off the public trough like a bunch of hogs. Every person that pays taxes here in Pennsylvania should be outraged about these salaries not to mention union members themselves. It really ticks me off that my tax dollars are funneled through public employee unions to support these sleazy individuals.

Selling liquor is not legitimate government role

Guest Column by Kevin Shivers

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board was established in 1933, four days before Prohibition was repealed. Its purpose, according to Gov. Gifford Pinchot, was "to discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as expensive and difficult as possible." On that standard, the PLCB has been a gleaming success.

The purchase of alcohol in Pennsylvania is every bit as expensive and difficult as Pinchot imagined. The National Federation of Independent Business believes that the private sector is able to deliver legal products to a free market better, less expensively and more efficiently than the government.

We also believe that with appropriate oversight, private businesses can sell alcohol just as safely. There's no evidence that Pennsylvania is more effective than the 48 states that allow private sales at preventing substance abuse or underage drinking. Private businesses would have an incentive to operate responsibly, including the threat of prosecution, lawsuits and license revocation. Plus, Pennsylvania trusts the private sector, under reasonable supervision, to sell firearms, tobacco and other dangerous products.

State Rep. Mike Turzai has introduced legislation that would privatize liquor sales and bring us into the 21st century. Our members think it's time to toast the end of the PLCB.

Kevin Shivers, State Director, National Federation of Independent Business

Jul 23, 2011

After years of excess, Americans are trying to downsize

Guest Column By Barbara Harmon

The lush green of a Pennsylvania summer grabs at the breath with unparalleled beauty amid the return of perennial bloom. Crops wave in the country. All is lovely, a toe-spreading, arm-opening, head-lifting season of delight but for a singular blight that clamors forth in the midst of this bliss.

It creeps from the basement and down the attic stairs. Out of the closet it spills, spreading, spewing, till at last it belches forth upon the sunlit lawn, staining the green with the ugly secret contained within. It is the American yard sale, the seasonal revealing of our “Too Much Stuff.”

The last decade of our nation’s brazen excess sprawls out on driveways and sidewalks. Here are the Skittle-colored children’s clothes stacked like loaves of bread upon the folding tables, the plastic cartoon character toys, the video games, TVs too square and large to be tolerated.

It was once a season of frolic, a delight for buyers, but as the recession tightens its grip, there is a new spirit upon the land. It is a desperate desire to get rid of the evidence, to make the stuff go away and, with it, the reminder of what we once spent on our every whim.

“We’re downsizing,” the sellers say, eyes pleading “Please take it!”

For others, there is no luxury of pride. Cash is needed. These are the ones who never had excess, even in good times, and they are scrambling. At the flea market, one or two come on a gamble and are now desperate for gas money to get back home.

When the economy suffers, the stuff rolls out, but what if there is no one to buy?

Flea market buyers stroll by, amusing themselves with the displays and taking in the weather. A $10 item gets an offer of $5. At the antique show, wares that once sold get few glances. Dealers share war stories of defeat. A rare cabinet, shaped like a spool of thread, is priced $500. “Ten years ago, I sold one for $1,600,” the seller says.

The downturn produces a boom for the bottom layer, for the truth is we cannot overcome our need to consume. Minivans race the rounds of the yard sales, disgorging riders. They buy used what they once bought new.

What cannot be sold is expunged. It is an exorcism of excess made possible by simply pulling up to the thrift shop’s back door. The store rooms are stuffed to the ceiling like a barn readied for famine. The stock is testimony to a turning point, a departure from the days of “must have.”

Yet the thrift store’s parking lot, usually full, testifies to the continued drive to buy.

The parking lot at my antiques shop, an 1850s grocery-and-drugstore compound, lies empty. I am open just two days a week: Wednesday, a busy market day, and Saturdays, when tourists are most likely to stop.

At my counter, I overhear the whispering: “I don’t need any more stuff.”

Pretty dishes have not sold for years. Furniture goes in fits and starts but mostly sits. I can sell an $18 chair for the yard, a tin pail for flowers, silver-plated iced teaspoons. Little things don’t make such a dent in the wallet or conscience.

Our town has lost at least 600 jobs with several major plants closing in recent years. To survive, my shop depends on dollars coming across the mountain from bigger towns, such as State College, and from tourists here to experience Amish country nostalgia. Their eyes lift to the shop’s pressed tin ceiling, asking “What did this store used to be?”

A Chinese grad student, here to study economics at Penn State, waits as his wife browses. He explains that his own country is feeling the ripple. Americans are not buying what they did.

His own people are too set in their ways; they save too much, he says, citing 30 percent savings. They put money away to take care of their needs if a crisis comes. If the Chinese had some kind of welfare, like the U.S., then maybe they would spend more and save less, he says.

He is practicing his English with me, and I am stunned.

When I close the shop, I bring in the open placard and the red, white and blue antiques flag. At the corner, the telephone pole is plastered in neon orange and green announcing the latest yard sales down the street.

Barbara Harmon is a former newspaper reporter. She now owns Victory Antiques in Belleville, Mifflin County.

Specter says debt ceiling fallback plan is an abdication of Congress' responsibility

Guest Column By Arlen Specter

Washington traditionally boasts about its' profiles in courage. Today, facing arguably the greatest potential financial crisis in American history, politics trumps economics as officials focus on the next election instead of the public interest.

The leader of the parade in profiles in cowardice is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with his ingenious, diabolical proposal, which avoids tough votes for Republicans and places all the blame on Democrats. It's all inside the beltway maneuvering and hard to explain, but it is indispensible for the American people to understand it so public opinion can be mobilized to stop it.

Senator McConnell wants an act of Congress to give the president the authority to raise the debt ceiling on his own and then to decide where federal expenditures would be cut. Congress could overrule the president with a resolution of disapproval calculated to fail because it would be vetoed and an override by two-thirds of both houses would be a practical impossibility. This cynical plan would enable Republicans to vote for the sham resolution of disapproval and then claim no responsibility for raising the debt ceiling or for cutting popular programs. The Democrats would have to provide the votes to sustain the veto and get the blame for increased borrowing and curtailing popular social programs.

The plan is patently unconstitutional because Congress cannot delegate its' core responsibilities to the president. For example, Congress cannot give the president its authority to declare war. The Supreme Court held the legislation granting a line item veto unconstitutional because Congress could not authorize the president to eliminate individual appropriated items, appropriations a core Congressional power. Thus, the president could not today be empowered to unilaterally say what appropriated programs would be stricken. Congress has historically been indifferent to the constitutionality of legislation, leaving it to the courts to decide years later after the crises have passed.

The 87 newly elected House tea party representatives have good reason to defeat the McConnell plan because it relieves the pressure to achieve their objectives of reducing the deficit, the national debt and the size of government. If the House Republicans settle for posturing with votes to cut spending, cap the size of government and pass a balanced budget amendment but in the end enact the McConnell palliative, there will be many more profiles in cowardice.

Right now, the McConnell plan appears to have a real chance of winning with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joining the effort and the White House intimating it might be acceptable as a last resort. Washington has a long record of taking the easy way out — kicking the can down the road, deferring problems to another day.

This could be the exception if President Barack Obama hangs tough, rejecting the McConnell plan and sticking to his earlier declaration, "don't call my bluff." A few weeks ago, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were negotiating a long term "grand bargain" for $4 trillion in deficit reductions, including $1 trillion in increased revenue. When House Republicans continued their adamant refusal to consider any tax increase, Speaker Boehner withdrew, though he and the president have reportedly resumed secret meetings. Now it's Senate Democrats who are objecting to the prospect of an Obama-Boehner deal.

Meanwhile, the so-called "Gang of Six," a bipartisan group of senators that has been working for months to craft a deficit reduction plan, has advanced a proposal similar to the Obama/Boehner "grand bargain," with $3.7 billion in deficit reduction including $1.2 billion in increased revenue. The plan has the potential for considerable bipartisan support; 49 senators —25 Democrats and 24 Republicans, including some staunch conservatives — held a closed-door meeting earlier this week to discuss it, with generally positive reviews. Republican House leaders indicated some interest in the proposal, with Mr. Boehner citing the "many similarities with the framework" of the Obama/Boehner proposal and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor noting it had "some constructive ideas to deal with our debt."

In assessing the political blame game, Republicans have to be concerned about a recent Quinnipiac poll showing 48 percent of Americans will blame Republicans if the debt ceiling gridlock precipitates an economic crisis. Just 34 percent would blame President Obama. They also remember that then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republicans got the blame for closing down the government in 1995. There may be enough pragmatic Republicans to join with Democrats to provide the votes to pass legislation like the Gang of Six proposal.

In 1982, an impasse was avoided when President Reagan agreed to $99 billion in higher taxes for $280 billion in reduced spending. That formula could work now.

Arlen Specter served as a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania from 1981-2011. In the fall, he will teach a course on the relationship between the Congress and Supreme Court at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Jul 22, 2011

Fed Up with Politicians During the Debt Ceiling Debate

Last year, the co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s deficit commission Republican Alan Simpson called senior citizens "the greediest generation" and referred to the Social Security program in an email as a, "milk cow with 310 million tits!"

Comments like this during the current debt debate masks the truth when it comes to the current state of Social Security. First Social Security is not an entitlement program at least the last time I checked my pay stub. Current workers pay a "tax" to the United States Treasury to support the benefits of those currently retired.

Now since Social Security's implementation there has always been more workers paying into the system than individuals receiving benefits. So what happen to all money paid into the system by workers that didn't go towards individuals receiving benefits during the past 76 years?

You guessed it. Our politicians in Washington D.C. spent it!

This is why Social Security will soon be insolvent in 15 to 20 years. Because our so called leaders mismanaged the program. It is time to wake up, people. The Social Security dollars were originally placed in an interest-bearing account. The account has been hijacked numerous times over the years, pushing the system toward bankruptcy.

Now think of this when you decide who's fault the current debt crisis is. Then ask yourself can trust current members of Congress to reduce the deficit or with more of our tax dollars? Come on people you know what the answer is!

The system is broken and what has happened with Social Security is a perfect example of why we desperately need a true balance budget amendment to control spending in Washington D.C. Incompetent and politicians in both parties spend our tax money poorly and keep spending even as they run out of money.

Ask yourself how our members of Congress can compromise when they themselves can't even be truthful to the American People?

Our representatives have driven America to the edge. It is time to stop. And our president should stop with the arrogant remarks and threats regarding Social Security. Voters are not stupid. We see what is happening and our politicians know we know it. We need to take this frustration to the voting booths in 2012.

Jul 20, 2011

Two years that changed America, Washington, and me

Guest Column by Senator Jim DeMint,

If conservatives want to continue our successes in 2012, it is essential we understand why we were so successful in 2010.

The 2006 and 2008 elections were disastrous for Republicans. When Republicans controlled Washington, spending and earmarks exploded. Democrats were more than happy to help us expand federal control of health care and education, increase the national debt exponentially and ignore our job-killing tax code.

We didn't keep our promises to reform Medicare, Social Security or reduce the size of the federal government. You could accuse the Republican majority of many things, but certainly not of being too conservative!

When I expressed my disappointment and frustration with the way Republicans in the Senate were doing business, one senior member of my party's leadership told me, "Jim, you can't change the Senate."

That's when I realized the people in the Senate were not going to change, and it was time to change the people serving in the Senate.

"The Great American Awakening: Two years that changed America, Washington, and Me" is a behind-the-scenes look at what was happening in Washington as Americans took to the streets all around the nation to protest spending and debt.

I also share my personal battle for freedom in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections. By working outside of traditional party structures and directly with grassroots activists, engaged Americans made my Senate Conservatives Fund the No. 1 political action committee in the 2010 cycle.

Unlike most other campaign funds, SCF only supports rock-ribbed conservative candidates, even in primary races against other incumbent Republicans.

I knew it would be very controversial for a sitting member of the U.S. Senate to oppose another member of his own party, but I could no longer quietly serve with Republicans who seem to have no commitment to anything except their own re-election campaigns.

That's why I've said, much to the chagrin of some of my colleagues, "I'd rather have 30 Republicans who believe in the principles of freedom than 60 who believe in nothing at all."

I wasn't the only one who was fed up. In the late winter and spring of 2009, spontaneous Tea Parties began springing about all over the country. Thousands of Americans flooded town hall meetings to express their frustration with politics as usual.

As I waded through Tea Parties that began springing up in early 2009, people told me three things that I continue to hear today. "Thanks for fighting," "We're praying for you," and "What can I do?"

These events were not partisan; Republicans, Democrats, independents and many people who have never been involved in politics before attended. But, they all felt it was time to "throw the bums out." I couldn't have agreed more.

That summer SCF made its first endorsement for former Rep. Pat Toomey against incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter. The response from the grassroots was overwhelmingly positive, confirming my belief that Americans would support conservative candidates if they could find them.

The SCF later went on to endorse former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio when he was down more than 20 points in the polls against Gov. Charlie Crist.

Rand Paul was SCF's preferred candidate in the Kentucky Republican primary, even though the entire Washington establishment was behind another candidate.

In Utah, SCF helped Mike Lee replace incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Bennett. And, when the political newcomer Ron Johnson announced his candidacy against Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, SCF quickly endorsed him.

At nearly every step in this journey, fellow Republicans made derisive comments about our strategy. But, I am happy to report that today I serve in the U.S. Senate with Sens. Toomey, Rubio, Paul, Lee and Johnson.

Today those new senators are doing much of the heavy lifting when it comes to entitlement reform, proposing spending cuts, repealing Obamacare and ensuring our national security.

An American Awakening had taken place that shook Washington to its core. Reckless spending set off alarms that stirred Americans from complacency and apathy. Now, with the hardest work still ahead of us, I hope we don't hit the "snooze" button and go back to sleep.

The 2012 election may be our last chance to rescue America from disaster. There's no time left for equivocation. The cynics will always say Republicans must moderate and compromise their principles to win.

Not true. Now, more than ever, the country needs candidates who will relentlessly and passionately fight to defeat the crushing debt that threatens the country's future.

If they have the courage to do this they will find, as they did in the 2010 elections, that a groundswell of Americans stand at the ready to support them.

Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina is a conservative voice in the U.S. Senate and supporter of the Tea Party movement.

Jul 18, 2011

Numero Rubio! Florida Senator Marco Rubio Sets The Debt Ceiling Debate Record Straight

I love how uber-liberal Bob Schieffer gets his lunch handed to him by Florida Senator Marco Rubio on his own show, "Face The Nation", while trying to defend President Obama's Record. Everyone who watches this clip needs to listen carefully to how the mainstream media is painting Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Listen carefully to the first point Schieffer makes and it is straight out of the Democratic playbook for the upcoming 2012 Presidential Election. Right off the bat Schieffer tries to blame former President Bush for the sluggish economy. Then Schieffer tries to paint House Republicans as unreasonable while suggesting President Obama is the only one making concessions in the debt ceiling debate. Unbelievable!

Senator Rubio's comments regarding the debt ceiling crisis is probably the most honest and straight forward assessment from any politician on both sides of the aisle. Rubio's honesty with the American People is a fine example of the leadership this country needs moving forward to face our challenges head on! I love the line, "Washington went along with his (Obama's) prescription for joblessness, which was the stimulus package." That is classic. Draft this guy for President already please! Numero Rubio in 2012!

The Time for a Balanced Budget Amendment is Now

Guest Column by Representative Pat Meehan

Every day families in southeastern Pennsylvania make tough decisions in order to live within their means. Many are forced to cancel their family vacations, put off a car repair, or cut out purchases they can no longer afford. When it comes to our country’s bank account, however, both parties in Washington have not been practicing these same responsible habits.

Our country’s debt has been growing at a dangerously rapid pace. We cannot continue on this path of massive borrowing and runaway spending. The United States’ rate of spending has held steady under 19 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) since World War II. Yet over the last two and half years, the rate of spending has increased to an average of 24.4 percent of GDP. We need to get serious about changing the way Washington works, and look toward long-term solutions to ensure we will not face a crisis like this again.

The only way to ensure that Congress and the President will not allow the U.S. to be driven further into debt is to pass an amendment to the Constitution forcing our government to balance the budget every year. Promising to make cuts in federal spending is one thing, but an amendment to the Constitution demanding it is quite another.

A Balanced Budget Amendment would legally force Congress to spend only what it takes in, and it protects taxpayers and small businesses from the threat of higher taxes to cover Washington’s spending habits. In addition to finally getting our nation’s fiscal house in order, a balanced budget creates certainty among small business owners and will subsequently lead to a better environment for job creation.

In 1995, Congress came within one vote of passing a Balanced Budget Amendment. Here we are 16 years later, and more than $9 trillion has been added to our national debt since – a 180 percent increase. Unemployment is over 9 percent. I can’t help but wonder how different things would be had that Amendment passed.

Our national debt is currently higher than any time in American history, and it is on track to surpass the size of our entire economy in just a few years. We are borrowing roughly 40 cents of every dollar we spend – much of it from China. Worst of all - we are passing this crushing debt burden to our children and grandchildren.

Congress now has an opportunity to get it right today when we vote on legislation to require a balanced budget amendment be sent to the states for ratification. I will support this amendment because if Pennsylvania families have to live within their means, so must Washington.

Jul 15, 2011

Reaping the benefits of single-party government

Guest Column by Dwight Weidman

Gov. Tom Corbett and members of the General Assembly have passed a fiscally responsible, reality-based budget that puts Pennsylvania on a course towards job growth and economic prosperity.

Republicans are forcing government to live within its means with a budget that decreases bloated government spending without raising state taxes by a single cent.

Republicans have honored Pennsylvania's constitutional mandate to pass a fiscally responsible budget on time. This is the first time in eight years that a state budget has been passed before the June 30 deadline. During those eight years, spending increased by 37 percent while inflation grew only 21 percent. It's clear that the practices of the past were not sustainable and were in desperate need of change.

Our new pro-growth, job-friendly budget decreases government spending by about 4 percent, or approximately $1 billion in reductions. This is the largest decrease in government spending in generations.

Gov. Corbett and Republicans in the General Assembly have trimmed their own spending by reducing the cost of administering state government by 10 percent over the next four years. This includes eliminating more than 1,500 positions in state government, many of which are vacant.

This budget also does not contain any "walking around money" or WAMs, that has been previously used for spontaneous and hidden pet projects. All line items are now accounted for, bringing additional transparency and openness to our state government.

This budget also contains tax relief for job-creators, including the reinstatement to phase out the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax, which is expected to provide more than 100,000 job creators more than $70 million in tax relief. That's $70 million that employers can use to hire more Pennsylvanians. This budget saves and expands key tax credits to encourage growth. The Job Creation Tax Credit and the Film Production Tax Credit are maintained, while the Research and Development Tax Credit is increased to $55 million.

Businesses may now write off 100 percent of the value of new equipment on their tax returns so that they can spend more money on business expansion and investment. This tax savings will translate into more jobs and a stronger economy.

The new budget also does not contain additional taxes or levies upon Pennsylvania job creators, including the Marcellus Shale gas industry. The Marcellus Shale gas industry already pays more than $1 billion in corporate income, sales, royalty and personal income taxes. All Marcellus Shale gas drilled in state land belongs to the people of the commonwealth, and the commonwealth receives hefty royalty fees when this gas is sold. These royalty fees far exceed the estimated revenue that any state-level tax would generate.

Despite the fact that our budget has been trimmed to deal with the fiscal mess created during the last eight years, Gov. Corbett and Republicans in the General Assembly have funded the core government services that Pennsylvanians depend on.

This budget fully funds emergency and public protection services, including $8.65 million for trauma centers, $3.78 million for burn centers, and $3.57 million for critical care hospitals. This budget also fully funds many of the necessary Veterans Affairs programs that serve our veterans.

The budget gives $10.5 billion to the Department of Public Welfare to provide support for our commonwealth's neediest citizens. Republicans have also supported Pennsylvania?s most vulnerable, by including $22 million dollars for Domestic Violence Prevention and $7 million for Rape Crisis services.

Republicans have restored basic education funding for all school districts to pre-stimulus (2008-2009) levels.

In 2008, the state budgeted $5.2 billion dollars for Basic Education. In 2009 and 2010, the state received federal stimulus money, in which Gov. Ed Rendell allocated towards basic education. He then decreased the amount of Pennsylvania tax dollars allocated for basic education funding, relying on the temporary stimulus to make up the difference. Districts were warned to use these funds for one-time expenditures, but unfortunately, some didn't, and worked in these funds into their annual operating budget.

There were no gimmicks this time. Gov. Corbett restored basic education funding to 2008 levels to put Pennsylvania schools back on the path towards sustainability.

There is also $100 million for Accountability Block Grants budgeted. Schools often use these to fund kindergarten programs.

Finally, this budget prevents school property tax increases beyond the rate inflation at the local level. This budget amended Act 1 -- the bill that governs school property taxes -- requiring voter approval for property tax increases above the rate of inflation.

Republicans have hit the reset button on Pennsylvania's finances, stopping the out-of-control and unsustainable spending that became commonplace over the past eight years. It's a good start, and now we have a governor and legislative majority who aren't afraid to set Pennsylvania on the right track.

Dwight D. Weidman is chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party

Jul 12, 2011

New direction leads away from big government

Guest Column by Kevin Shivers

The General Assembly closed its session last month having enacted a number of highly consequential initiatives that mark a sharp departure from the destructive governing philosophy that dominated Harrisburg during the previous eight years.

Eight years ago, Harrisburg’s answer to a similar problem was very different. The previous governor responded to a much smaller deficit with more than $1 billion in higher taxes, including a 10 percent increase in the personal income tax. He also proposed new or higher taxes or fees every year of the last administration.

On the spending side, the budget adopted last month is smaller year to year by more than $1 billion. It’s the largest spending reduction in decades — made necessary because the last administration increased spending more than 40 percent during the previous eight years — nearly twice the rate of inflation.

And a new law reforming the state’s unemployment system, one of the most expensive and unaccountable systems in the country, will save hundreds of millions of dollars over the long term. One new element requires that beneficiaries actually look for work as criteria to collect. Another prevents payments to people who receive giant severance packages from their former employers. Sensible as they are, these reforms would never have been approved by the crowd that left in January.

So in fiscal terms alone, Harrisburg today is unrecognizable as the special-interest playground it was just last year. But the changes are even deeper.

Not only does Harrisburg spend less, it interferes less in the private economy.

Earlier this year, the legislature repealed a law requiring that all new homes be equipped with fire sprinkler systems. Experts testified that the law increased the price of a home in Pennsylvania by about $10,000, a substantial sum to new homebuyers and a burden on the state’s already weak housing market.

It adopted a law that transforms the regulatory culture, requiring agencies to provide scientific data that justify new regulatory mandates. In other words, the state can no longer impose costly new burdens based only on the whims of regulators and activists. There has to be a provable need and a measurable public benefit before the government can restrict whole industries, block projects or impose mandates for their own sake.

Perhaps the most dramatic change in Harrisburg alters the heavily unbalanced legal system, which is recognized as one of the worst in America and a major threat to everyone but personal-injury lawyers.

Despite withering pressure from personal-injury lawyers, Gov. Tom Corbett and the legislature last month repealed the so-called Joint and Several Liability doctrine. Under that system, defendants in civil lawsuits could be ordered to pay 100 percent of the jury award even if they are proved to have caused only 1 percent of the damages.

For decades, businesses were under constant threat of being dragged into lawsuits not because they were actually guilty, but because they had insurance and assets to attack. It was especially brutal on small businesses, an uncounted number of which were destroyed by predatory lawsuits.

Under the new law, defendants will pay in proportion to the damage they actually caused. In other words, if a business is found to have caused 5 percent of the damage, it would pay 5 percent of the jury award. Not only will the new law result in fairer outcomes, but it will discourage junk lawsuits from being filed in the first place.

Pennsylvania still faces many challenges. And it is encouraging to see that Corbett and legislative leaders like Rep. Mike Turzai, RAllegheny, and Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, are not content, even after having made such remarkable progress so quickly. But the results of what has already been achieved will be more freedom, more competition and more jobs for Pennsylvania.

Kevin Shivers, of Harrisburg, is Pennsylvania director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Jul 11, 2011

Balanced-budget amendment and fundamental reform are overdue

Guest Column by Chris Chocola
Enough with the backroom deals that result in higher taxes! Enough with spending “cuts” that are spread out over 10 years or longer and forgotten almost instantly! And enough with phony federal “budgets” that are never in balance and are drowning America in red ink! It’s time for Congress to come together to pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

We face a debt crisis of massive proportions precisely because the budget process in Washington is as fundamentally sound as the Titanic, post-iceberg. The national debt is $14.4 trillion and rising. That’s $46,334 per citizen. That’s simply too much.

There are things we can do in the short, middle and long term to attack this problem.

Congress can make immediate spending cuts in the short term to cut the deficit in half. Congress can pass enforceable spending caps to keep spending under control. But these are nothing without fundamental reform.

The final piece, a balancedbudget amendment, would be a game changer for the federal budget process. Conservative leaders are calling this plan “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” and are sponsoring a pledge at CutCapBalancePledge.com to force Congress to act.

The most important piece, the balanced-budget amendment, should be a no-brainer. Forty-nine of the 50 states are required to balance their budgets. Every family has to balance their budget. There is simply no argument against a balanced-budget amendment unless you are interested in spending more money and going deeper into debt — precisely where we find ourselves right now.

The arguments that opponents on both sides of the aisle make are tenuous at best and at worst belied by history and fact. Some are worried about political fallout from voting for a balanced budget.

Some members of Congress are actually worried that they might lose their jobs by voting for a balanced budget. For some of our representatives in Congress, the thought that not spending more than you take in might be unpopular politically often meanders through their minds.

All public polling points to the contrary. A Mason-Dixon poll in May, for example, put the support of a balancedbudget amendment at 65 percent, with only 25 percent opposed. Eighty-one percent of Republicans and 68 percent of independents support a balanced- budget amendment. Even 45 percent of Democrats support it.

Some opponents of the amendment think Congress should not be ceding its own spending authority. The fact that Congress has to decide on whether to pay off the Visa with the Mastercard, yet again, should tell you all you need to know.

The federal government has produced deficit after deficit. How we got here is the fault of both Republicans and Democrats. It won’t get fixed by allowing Congress to operate under the same set of rules. Going forward, we must handcuff Congress with the Constitution so we can stop the endless cycle of spending, debt, and taxes.

My organization, the Club for Growth, supports a balanced- budget amendment that includes a spending limitation and a super-majority for raising taxes, in addition to balancing revenues and expenses, in exchange for raising the debt ceiling because such a balancedbudget amendment is a permanent change to how Congress spends your money.

If Republicans lost control of the House — or if enough conservatives lose re-election — then Democrats and liberal Republicans could simply raise the debt ceiling the next time it came up without a balanced- budget amendment, and gains made by spending cuts would be lost.

With a balanced-budget amendment, it would be very difficult for a future Congress to raise spending, increase the debt ceiling, or raise taxes.

If President Barack Obama wants to raise the debt ceiling, then cut, cap, and balance are what we should demand in exchange. All three are nothing without the balance part, and doing nothing is no option at all.

Chris Chocola, a former Republican congressman from Indiana, is president of the Club for Growth ( www.clubforgrowth.org).

We can't postpone tough choices

Guest Column by Senator Pat Toomey,

For months, President Obama's administration demanded a clean increase in the government's $14.3 trillion debt limit ceiling with no conditions attached. Despite a $1.4 trillion deficit for 2011 and the unsustainable fiscal trajectory we are now on, administration officials want to continue massive deficit spending. They have shrilly argued that failure to increase the debt limit, almost immediately upon reaching it, will result in a catastrophic default on America's debt.

The administration is right that defaulting on our debt would be catastrophic. But its insistence that a delay in raising the debt limit will cause a default on our debt is a calculated political maneuver designed to intimidate Republicans into raising the debt limit with no meaningful spending cuts or process reforms.

The truth is, the federal government collects more than 10 times the tax revenue needed to service its debt, and the Treasury has the authority to prioritize federal spending. So, even absent a hike in the debt ceiling, we will not default on our debt. Just to take the possibility of default completely off the table, I have introduced legislation requiring the Treasury to make debt service its top priority.

Let me be clear: I support raising the debt limit provided the increase is accompanied by serious spending cuts and structural spending reforms — such as spending caps and a balanced budget amendment. I have always acknowledged that a delay in raising the debt limit would cause a disruptive, partial government shutdown, which is best avoided. However, a disruptive shutdown is not the same as a catastrophic default.

And there is something worse than a temporary disruption of some government services. That is signaling to the world that we lack the political courage to correct the biggest challenge facing our nation today: our unsustainable deficits.

The most irresponsible thing Congress could do is to continue on the reckless path of excessive borrowing and spending. Since the administration shows no interest in curbing its spending appetite willingly, we should force the concessions by making our support for a higher debt limit contingent on restoring fiscal prudence. We do not have the luxury of postponing the tough choices for another day.

Jul 7, 2011

Tea Party Senators Force Reid To Focus On Spending, Debt and Deficit Crisis

Guest Column by Richard A. Viguerie, Chairman of ConservativeHQ.com

Normally, I would agree with nineteenth century New York Judge Gideon Tucker that, “No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” and figure that the Senate leaving Washington is a good thing.

However, the successful effort of Tea Party Senators to buck the establishment and force the Senate to skip the Fourth of July recess and stay in session to work on solving the spending, debt and deficit crisis confirms what I’ve been saying for two years – the Tea Party can succeed in changing Washington.

Freshman GOP senators, including Paul, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Marco Rubio of Florida, threatened a recess revolt that would force both parties to take an embarrassing vote to skip town.

Naturally, this minor victory in the war to force the federal government back into its constitutional boundaries engendered one of Democrat Harry Reid’s typical political stunts; canceling the Senate’s traditional July 4 recess to hold a vote in favor of Obama’s adventure in Libya.

Tea Party-backed Senators, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) spent the weekend calling colleagues to urge a "no" vote, and by the afternoon it became clear that Democrats wouldn't be able to line up the 60 votes needed to proceed with the Libya resolution.

“The United States Senate has not passed a budget in over two years. And I’ve certainly understood how broken Washington is,” Tea Party-backed Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told reporters after Reid scrapped the Libya vote. “The Senate is basically fiddling as America goes bankrupt.”

Reid responded by proposing a resolution expressing a sense of the Senate that households earning $1 million or more need to make "a more meaningful contribution to the deficit reduction effort."

Ayotte nailed Reid in a statement on the schedule change, ""We cannot tax our way out of more than $14.3 trillion in debt… Instead of bringing forth a budget plan, a debt limit proposal, or a Balanced Budget Amendment, the majority leader is wasting valuable time on a political stunt that will do nothing to substantively address our debt problem.”

"This isn't a trade-off of spending cuts for tax increases," Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania told Fox News. Toomey noted that Democrats in Congress and the administration know that a $3.6 trillion budget is just too big, especially when the government is working with a $1.4 trillion deficit.

Echoing the feelings of millions of Tea Party and conservative movement activists, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul set the tone for the next month’s debate on the spending, debt and deficit crisis, “Last week a group of us said, ‘No more.’ We do not want to discuss anything else until we start discussing solutions for the debt, solutions for the looming debt crisis. We said, ‘No more…”

From the Managment: Facebook Comment Integration

Dear PennPatriot Blog visitors,

I have now finally figured out how to fully integrated the comments section of PennPatriot Blog with Facebook. The old blogger comment boxes are gone. Many people use Facebook as a way to debate articles and share them with their friends. This new app will allow you to do that all in a couple clicks. So go ahead and share your opinions.

At the end of each article you will see a Facebook comment section. This will allow you to post a comment for other visitors to see as well as sharing the comment along with the article with your friends on your Facebook profile page. This is pretty exciting. If you have any issues with the new system please contact me.

I think I am now a Facebook Developer not to mention a cool blogger :) Just kidding. I hope you enjoy it!


Randy Potter
PennPatriot Blog

Jul 6, 2011

The $16 Billion Dollar Dump

Seemingly unnoticed in the new budget, is the incredibly giant leap in state spending on Public Welfare from $8.8B to $11.2B. This budget has obligated Pennsylvania taxpayers to permanently sustain a standard of living for welfare recipients that had been made 'temporarily' possible by one-time Federal stimulus dollars, and no one is batting an eye. It's a $2.4B increase in state spending, overnight. Just like that.

Last year, and the year before last, Pennsylvania received $2B per year in Federal stimulus grants for welfare, and $1.5B each year for K-12 Education. This year, with the Federal Government tightening its belt, Pennsylvania was not issued those previously enjoyed stimulus funds.

Governor Corbett's proposed budget created quite a stir when he allowed state spending on Education to return to pre-stimulus levels--even though he had executed exactly what was necessary and he encouraged school districts to do the same: operate within available means. Unfortunately, however, Governor Corbett did not apply the same principle he'd preached to the Education community when he laid out his proposal for spending on Public Welfare.

Last year, $25.2B was spent on Public Welfare in Pennsylvania, but most of that amount was funded by the Feds who gave roughly $16.4B. Pennsylvania taxpayers were obligated for the other $8.8 Billion. This year, however, rather than $16.4B from the Feds, Pennsylvania received only $14.4B because the Feds did not include the $2 Billion in stimulus funds as they had the previous two years. The lack of stimulus funds would have reduced spending on Public Welfare in Pennsylvania from $25.2B to $23.2B--that is if Governor Corbett had allowed spending to return to pre-stimulus levels as he did with Education, but he didn't. Instead, Governor Corbett made up for the lack of Federal stimulus dollars by allowing the PA taxpayer obligation to leap from $8.8B to $11.2B. That's a $2.4B spike. It's $2.4B added to the General Fund Budget. Without it, the General Fund budget would have come in at $24.7B rather than the $27.1 that passed on June 30.

To put the gravity of this $2.4B increase in perspective, it took former Governor Ed Rendell eight years to boost the taxpayer burden for Public Welfare by $2.4B. When Rendell took office, the taxpayer obligation to Public Welfare was $6.4 Billion. Eight years later, when he left, the taxpayer’s obligation had risen to $8.8 Billion. Governor Corbett and this Legislature have accomplished an increase of the same amount in less than one half of one year, of Corbett's first term. It's simply amazing.

Rather than return spending to the level that existed before the federal government’s one-time enticement, as he did with Education, when confronted with the choice, the Governor proposed to obligate the taxpayers to a gargantuan increase, for years and administrations to come--and the legislature voted to allow it.

With this budget now passed, as presented by the Governor, the taxpayers of the Commonwealth are now obligated to $2.4B in additional spending this year, next year, the year after and the year after that. Spread over Governor Corbett's four-year term, that's increased spending that adds up to more than $8B--and if Corbett secures a second term, the increase adds up to $16B assuming there is no increase. That’ll be $16 Billion not available for meeting known state debt. It's $16B Governor Corbett might have allowed us to keep in our pocket or put back into our businesses. It's $16B literally dumped on Pennsylvania taxpayers. Astounding.

Getting What We Want and Wanting What We Got

Guest Column by G. Terry Madonna & Michael L. Young

The new Pennsylvania budget—love it or hate it, we now own it. Literally at the stroke of midnight on June 30, Tom Corbett and his GOP legislature accomplished what no one had the past eight years. They passed a budget on time.

The state has metaphorically torn up its credit cards and put itself on a diet. In the new fiscal year, we will save more and spend less—interrupting a steady trend of upward state spending stretching back to the 1970s.

But is this good or bad, fish or fowl, hopeful or hopeless? These are all questions yet unanswered.

On the one hand, we are now living within our means, perhaps for the first time in nearly a decade. The new budget raises no new taxes, imposes significant program cuts, and tackles the structural deficit of roughly $4 billion. That’s both good and hopeful.

On the other hand, we are absorbing enormous cuts in spending to vital education and economic development programs. The state subsidy to local school districts is down some $900 million while aid to higher education is down almost 20 percent. Inevitably, local education cuts to programs and personnel will occur while sharply rising tuition at state universities is certain. That’s neither good nor hopeful.

Equally murky are the political implications of the new budget. In the short run, Governor Corbett and his Republican party have scored a coup of some consequence. Simply passing a budget on time is an accomplishment in a state where such has not happened for nine years.

Moreover, he did it without a tax increase and in keeping with his major campaign promises. In doing so Corbett has firmed up what has been a shaky first year in office for him. He has enhanced his reputation as a straight-talking, straight-dealing politician who says whathe’s going to do and then does it. These are all political plusses for him and his party entering the critical months before the upcoming presidential election.

But Corbett’s short-term gains could become long-term losses. The newly minted budget comes complete with some considerable coststucked carefully into what may be a slowly ticking time bomb. Much of what Corbett has accomplished raises the specter of tax shifting: where one level of government lowers spending or taxes, in turn shifting the onus to another level of government compelled to fill the vacuum. This is a smoke and mirrors gambit with which Pennsylvanians are only too familiar.

Tax shifting, if it occurs, will impact local government. In fact, three quarters of the state’s 500 school districts are already in the process of raising property taxes.

To its credit, the Corbett administration has acted to discourage tax shifting by amending Act 1 of 2006, which neverworked as intended. In theory, Act 1 was supposed to make it difficult for school districts to raise property taxes without a local referendum. In practice, however, the state routinely granted exemptions from the referendum requirement. Consequently, school districts routinely raised property taxes without voter approval.

An improved Act 1 notwithstanding, the pressures to raise property taxes will be relentless. Meanwhile, students and families will increasingly face the draconian dilemma of either borrowing more to attend college or abandoning higher education altogether.

Even worse, all of this could hardly come at a less propitious time. Raising property taxes in a moribund or declining housing market looks like a recipe for economic disaster, and increasing college tuition for economically struggling families seems both bad policy and bad politics.

Corbett, in effect, has shut down the exits. For years we tried to have our cake and eat it too. The Corbett budget is telling us that we are out of cake. Consequently, the electorate now must decide what it really wants—lower taxes or reduced expenditures, with the consequences that come along with each.

In holding our collective feet to the fire, Corbett has fired a direct hit on what may be the predominant paradox of American political behavior: we hate taxes but love spending. We wax rhapsodically when politicians promise to lower our taxes but reflexively recoil when that same politician cuts our spending. Schizophrenic it may be; quintessentially American it certainly is.

Corbett isn’t having any of this. He is giving us both no new taxes and reduced spending. That’s what we said we wanted when we elected him last November. That’s what he said he would do. And that’s what he has done.

Now it’s our turn, as millions of Pennsylvanians begin to struggle with the issues created by the new budget. We got what we said we wanted; soon we will find out if we still want what we got.

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

Jul 5, 2011

State Budget: The Good, The Bad and The Undone

The Commonwealth Foundation praised Gov. Tom Corbett and the General Assembly for closing Pennsylvania's $4.2 billion budget gap without raising taxes on working Pennsylvanians, but a thorough review of the final budget and other policy changes found some good, some bad, and some critical pieces of legislation left undone.

"By fulfilling his promise to balance the budget without raising taxes Gov. Corbett took a major step toward growing our economy instead of growing our government," said Matthew J. Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation. "We commend the House and Senate members who helped the governor pass a fiscally responsible budget, but it is clear we still have a lot more work to be done."

Among the good:
  • The total state operating budget is reduced for the first time in at least 40 years at $64 billion—more than $2 billion less than the previous fiscal year.
  • Lawmakers passed legislation to give voters a greater say in school tax increases, moving Pennsylvania closer to the controls taxpayers in every other state benefit from.
  • Pennsylvania will soon become the 37th state in the nation to put all state government spending online.
  • Lawmakers refrained from imposing an additional tax on natural gas drilling, one of the few bright spots in Pennsylvania's economic and job growth.
The bad:
  • State government is not paying all its bills, including not adequately funding pensions and pushing the liabilities on to future generations.
  • Too many corporate welfare programs continue to be funded to the tune of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
  • State union contracts failed to establish greater private-sector parity in compensation and health care benefits for unionized government workers.
The undone:
  • Too many mandates on public schools remain intact, including prevailing wage requirements and the inability of school boards to furlough teachers for economic reasons.
  • Legislators failed to protect Pennsylvania's children by not throwing educational lifelines to children trapped in violent, failing public schools.
"While some choose to point fingers instead of finding solutions, thousands of children from across the Keystone State will now prepare to go back to violent and failing schools," said Brouillette, a former teacher and charter school board member. "It's unacceptable to keep the status quo in these failing schools and we hope our legislators will keep their commitment when they return in September to throw these children an educational lifeline."

SOURCE: Commonwealth Foundation

Jul 4, 2011

School choice backers must get on same page

Guest Column by Lowman S. Henry

In January, at the dawn of the current legislative session, it appeared as if Pennsylvania was finally headed toward giving parents of children in failing schools the right of school choice in Senate Bill 1, an appellation that indicated its priority status.

The Legislature is now on the cusp of its summer recess and not only has school choice not been enacted into law, competing versions of the bill have been introduced and pro-school choice grassroots groups have split into bickering camps. Institutional foes, such as labor unions, have had to do little more than stand on the sidelines and watch the fratricide occur.

Focal point of the school choice debate remains Senate Bill 1. Conceived in a bi-partisan alliance between Sen. Jeff Piccola, a mid-state conservative Republican; and Sen. Anthony Williams, a Philadelphia Democrat, Senate Bill 1 concentrates first on introducing school choice into failing schools, then expands the program over the course of several years.

As with most legislation, Senate Bill 1 got watered down in committee. Already falling short of the universal school choice most advocates wanted, Senate Bill 1 became the target of attack from grassroots groups wanting a stronger, not a weaker, bill. The proposal emerged from committee, but has yet to be brought to a floor vote, apparently because leaders don’t yet have enough votes to secure passage.

The lull in Senate action had a profound impact across the capitol rotunda in the House of Representatives. School choice is a highly controversial topic inciting strong passions. Divisions on the issue don’t fall along the normal partisan lines, but break more by geography and income. Voters in more wealthy, better performing public school districts are less supportive than those in poorer, under-performing districts because their children are getting good educations.

Worse, opponents of school choice demagogue the issue by stoking fears in better performing, largely suburban school districts that the quality of their schools will decline due to an influx of students fleeing the under-performing schools. There is a subtle and unconscionable racial overtone to this tactic that further debases the debate.

Against that backdrop the House passed an expansion of funding for the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program which allows businesses to take a tax deduction for contributing to schools. That move was supposed to be the House version of “school choice,” but the diversion failed and was declared dead on arrival in the Senate.

Two more school choice bills have been introduced, essentially moving the debate in opposite directions. Responding to school choice backers who want universal school choice, state Rep. Curt Schroder, R-Chester County, introduced a more expansive version without “income discrimination;” while state Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, introduced a more restrictive, hybrid bill that would provide vouchers to low-income families in failing schools combined with EITC expansion to assist middle income families.

All of this has created a modern-day Tower of Babble within the school choice movement. There is clearly strong support for introducing an element of choice into Pennsylvania’s public school system, which has consumed an ever-increasing amount of tax money without a corresponding improvement in educational achievement. But advocates have been unable to unite behind one proposal leaving the issue momentarily dead in the water.

Against this backdrop anger is building at the grassroots. Advocates have been working for decades to get school choice enacted and are seeing their best chance since the Ridge administration slipping away. Groups such as Freedom Works are becoming more militant, with talk of political retribution in the form of primary challenges to Republican legislators.

Most of the oxygen in Harrisburg has been consumed by dealing with the state’s $4.5 billion budget deficit, and with the budget deadline at hand, school choice has not yet risen to the top of the legislative agenda. The General Assembly will take the balance of the summer off, returning in September.

Pennsylvania’s primary is early next year since it is a presidential election year, so the campaigns get under way in January. There is a short window between Labor Day and Christmas for controversial issues to be addressed, after that the Legislature becomes notoriously timid.

It is imperative that school choice advocates get together over the summer months and unify behind one course of action.

Otherwise, the opportunity to rescue hundreds of thousands of children from failing schools and empower parents across Penn’s Woods with the right of choosing their child’s school will have been squandered.

Lowman S. Henry is chairman & chief executive officer of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.

Happy 4th of July Everyone!

On this day we celebrate our liberty and our freedom as Americans. So let me send out a big Happy 4th of July to all of you. The 4th of July for many American families traditionally involves food, friends and fireworks. Unfortunately, as with many holidays, it's easy to lose sight of why we're celebrating.

America's independence is significant in part because, to many people worldwide, it's the defining characteristic of our country and its citizens.

Many other countries came together because of a common language, religion or ethnicity. That's how the countries in South and Central America, for example, came to be. The United States of America, by contrast, was born because its founders believed in a series of principles and ideas. Having escaped religious persecution in Europe, the first non-native Americans were firm defenders of a number of things including: liberty, freedom and opportunity.

These concepts are the bedrock of our country's rich history, and have guided us in the 232 years since we declared our independence from Britain. And although we haven't always lived up to these ideals, the American spirit to strive for perfection has always prevailed.

Ultimately, the genius of our country lies in its people. Previous immigrant waves began with the first pilgrims from England, and included Germans, Irish, Polish, Chinese and Italians, among others. Today's Hispanic Americans are just the latest in a long list of those who left their homelands and their families in search of a better future.

And yet, precisely because there are no requirements or preconditions to become an American (other than an understanding and appreciation for all that bind us together), immigrants have an obligation to honor and love our country. Like those who came before us, it is vital to know our country's history, customs and language.

Only then can we ensure that future generations of Americans can be as blessed as we are to live in such a great country.