Sunday, July 31, 2005

Politicians miscalculated; Voters will not forget

This is the editorial from the Sunday, July 31, 2005, edition of The Mercury, Pottstown, Pa.

Lawmakers count on voters forgetting the raise debacle

"Nothing more than a tempest in a teapot."

Those were the words of one legislative aide regarding the allegations that Democratic legislators were punished with committee demotions for voting against the recent pay raise for themselves.

The tempest that’s brewing regarding the pay raises is gaining some steam, but not enough to knock some sense into lawmakers. Pennsylvania’s tax-paying residents are angry and upset that their elected officials voted themselves a 16 percent pay raise at a time when most workers are seeing far smaller increases in their paychecks.

But the legislators, and particularly legislative leaders — who got even larger pay raises — are neither hearing nor heeding the outrage. Instead, they will be collecting their first super-sized paychecks on Monday.

In the latest revelation on the raises, it was reported that state House Democratic Leader H. William DeWeese demoted 15 Democrats from their committee posts as punishment for voting against the raises. The demotions affected 12 subcommittee chairmen and three committee vice chairmen.

Michael Manzo, chief of staff to DeWeese, said, "It's nothing more than a tempest in a teapot," referring to the reports about the demotions.

Rep. Thomas F. Yewcic of Cambria County, who lost his post as chairman of the economic development subcommittee, told The Associated Press: "We were told before the pay-raise vote that if people voted against it, we would be removed. It was punishment. People who had less seniority were promoted because they voted for the pay raise."

The pay-raise bill passed July 7 by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Ed Rendell increases legislators' base pay from $69,647 to $81,050. Subcommittee chairs and committee vice chairs, who previously were paid the same rank-and-file salary, receive an additional $4,050.

DeWeese, whose salary will increase from $100,911 to $134,771 annually, did not respond on Thursday to requests from The Associated Press for comment.

Speaking for DeWeese, Manzo said Democratic leaders determined that about a dozen of the 61 Democrats who voted for the raises would receive only the base pay because they did not currently hold positions as subcommittee chairmen or committee vice chairmen. "It is unfair that those who put up that vote should be paid less than those who did not," Manzo said.

The demotion news was the latest in a long list of reports out of Harrisburg that shock and disgust tax-paying citizens of the Commonwealth.

The Associated Press also reported last week that the raise will give members of the Pennsylvania Legislature a similar boost to pensions that are already considered generous when compared with many public employee retirement systems around the country.

A rank-and-file state representative who retires this month after 20 years in the Pennsylvania Legislature would get an annual pension of up to $40,000. But thanks to the pay raise, a 20-year rank-and-file House representative who gets the 16 percent raise and retires in three years could get an annual pension of roughly $50,000, factoring in cost-of-living salary increases.

Lawmakers who chair a committee will see a 28 percent salary boost — from $69,647 to $89,155. At that salary, a 20-year veteran who retires in 2008 could get an annual pension of roughly $55,000. (Unless, of course, the committee chair voted against the pay raise, and then he or she will be demoted.)

Lawmakers and judges defend the pay raises as a way to make their salaries commensurate with those of other public officials, such as school superintendents, or private sector employees. But in the private sector, raises are often withheld if employees do a lousy job and fail to produce results.

Pennsylvania ranks in the lowest tier of states in economic growth and jobs creation and for how schools are funded and how residents are taxed. The raises give the state the dubious distinction of being number one in legislative pay and benefits.

The salary vote and the controversies surrounding it speak volumes about the quality of our legislators — or lack of it. Several movements are afoot to oust current lawmakers the next time they come up for election. But will voters remember?

Apparently the legislators don’t think so, as they will interrupt their summer vacations on Monday long enough to collect their raise.

We, however, will not forget. This newspaper will continue to publish the names and addresses of those who voted for this raise and those who voted against it from now until the next time they face election. Make sure they know where you stand.

Copyright 2005 The Mercury

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Pennsylvania is No. 1 in trash, overpaid politicians

This editorial was published Sunday, July 24, in The Mercury, Pottstown, Pa.

Item: "Pa. trash imports drop, but state still No. 1"
Item: "Report: Pa. lawmakers’ payroll tops nation"

Those headlines from this past week should make every politician in Pennsylvania — from the governor to the newly-rich state Legislature — hang his or her head in shame.

Those are two areas Pennsylvania should not be ranked No. 1, especially when the state usually drops to the mid- to low-40s (out of 50 states) when it comes to education, health care, transportation, the environment and economic growth.
We can thank Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled state Legislature for both dubious distinctions.

The amount of trash imported into Pennsylvania in 2004 dropped for the third straight year because of high fuel prices, state officials said, but the Keystone state easily remained the nation’s top destination for interstate waste shipments, according to The Associated Press.

And it’s not like our state officials are doing anything to discourage New York and New Jersey from using Pennsylvania as a garbage can. The reason trash shipments are down is because companies increasingly are switching trash shipments from trucks to rail because of the high cost of fuel. And you thought there wasn’t a positive side to rising gas prices.

Turns out Pennsylvania doesn’t have direct rail service to its landfills, so we’ve been spared some of the refuse from our neighboring states.

Trash imports to Pennsylvania dropped by 446,000 tons, or about 4 percent, in 2004, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. At 10.1 million tons last year, Pennsylvania took 2.3 million more tons of out-of-state trash than the second-place state, Virginia, where trash imports increased by 1.2 million tons, or 18 percent, in 2004.

Gov. Rendell sponsored a contest last year to pick a new state motto. It appears to have been a waste of time. Pennsylvania already has a state motto: "America’s dumping ground."

While on the subject of waste, Pennsylvania’s legislative payroll is now the most expensive in the nation because of a pay raise that state lawmakers gave themselves earlier this month, according to a Harrisburg-based policy analysis group.

The state’s 253 lawmakers could earn nearly $20.5 million in base salary alone this fiscal year. According to the Pennsylvania Economy League, the base salary is enough to give the Pennsylvania Legislature the highest payroll — more than the $17 million base payroll in New York and $12 million in California.

Pennsylvania already had the largest state legislature in the nation but now the state’s beleaguered taxpayers will have to find another $20 million a year to keep their elected representatives in the luxury they’ve become accustomed to living.
The Pennsylvania Economy League report doesn’t make any conclusions on whether taxpayers are getting their money’s worth from their legislators.

"It’s a decision that each voter is going to have to make for him or herself," said Karen Miller, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Economy League.

Voters will be able to make that decision in 2006 when Gov. Rendell, the entire 203-member state House and half of the 50-member state Senate will face reelection.

Copyright 2005 The Mercury

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Taxpayers should sue legislators who gave themselves pay raises

This editorial was published Thursday, July 21, in The Mercury, Pottstown, Pa.

When somebody confronts you on the street and steals your money or breaks into your house and runs off with your valuables, you call the police. The judicial system is designed to protect law-abiding citizens from those who are not willing to live by society’s rules.

When elected officials commit crimes, residents have two options: vote them out of office or turn to the courts for relief.

The first option is on the minds of almost every Pennsylvania taxpayer who was recently mugged by their own elected representatives. Judging from the articles, editorials and letters to the editor appearing in newspapers across the state, the great money-grab of 2005 has galvanized citizens as nothing has in recent memory.
Unfortunately, the perpetrators knew what they were doing. This was a well-planned crime.

The members of the state legislature who voted themselves pay raises of 16 percent to 34 percent a year did so in a year when none of them face reelection. The entire House membership and half of the state Senate won’t be on the ballot until 2006, but that’s 10 months away for the primary election and 16 months until the general election. The politicians are counting on the public forgetting the holdup by the time they face the voters.

Which brings us to the courts. While the way the pay raise was approved is reprehensible (a vote in the middle of the night without any public discussion of the numbers agreed to in secret by party bosses), there’s no debate that the legislators had the authority to give themselves pay raises. They can grant themselves titles of nobility and prance around in crowns and robes if they want.

But what is questionable is the scheme the politicians concocted to collect their pay raises today even though the Constitution prohibits such action.

From the Pennsylvania Constitution: Article II, Compensation, Section 8 ... No members of either House shall during the term for which he may have been elected, receive any increase of salary, or mileage, under any law passed during such term.

Can the language be any clearer? The Constitution forbids members of the legislature who vote themselves a pay raise from collecting that money until their current term expires. The Constitution was written that way so politicians would have to win reelection before enjoying the spoils of a pay raise. But our esteemed legislators have decided to start collecting their ill-gotten gain right away as "unvouchered expenses."

They have made a mockery of the very Constitution they swore to uphold. A salary is not an "unvouchered expense." Maybe somebody should tip off the IRS that Pennsylvania legislators are collecting part of their salary under the table.

There have been rumblings by a few citizen activists of filing a lawsuit to stop the pay hikes. Something similar was tried in 1995, the last time the Harrisburg politicians robbed the taxpayers. Unbelievably, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court didn’t have a problem with this flagrant breach of the Constitution.

This is an issue the court needs to revisit. And we hope the current crop of justices are able to read. The problem is that the very justices who would be asked to rule on the constitutionality of the pay-raise issue are themselves getting a pay raise. If they toss out the Legislature’s vote, the judges would be rejecting their own pay raise.

The way the legislature went about handing itself more money "demeans the entire legislative and democratic process ... it’s just a cynical way to do business," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a non-partisan citizens lobby group.

A lawsuit by the citizens of Pennsylvania is the first step. Voting out every member who approved the pay raise is the next step. And if necessary, impeaching the judges who refuse to uphold the Constitution should be the third step.

Something’s rotten in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It’s becoming clear that a thorough cleansing of the ruling class in Harrisburg is the only way to eliminate the stench.

Copyright 2005 The Mercury

Monday, July 18, 2005

Voters must not forget legislative money-grab

The editorial below was published Sunday, July 17, 2005, in The Mercury, Pottstown, Pa. It lists all the legislators in The Mercury's coverage area and how they voted on the pay raise issue. The editorial ran with a cartoon of a couple in bed who wake up to find a burglar going through their belongings in the middle of the night. The burglar smiles and tells the couple not to worry. He's not a thief, he's their local state legislator.

Thieves in the night.

That description embodies a growing consensus among Pennsylvania taxpayers that the action by state legislators to raise their own salaries between 16 and 34 percent last week was outright thievery.

For those who may have missed the details, state lawmakers passed House Bill 1521 in the early hours of the morning on Thursday, July 7. The legislation drove the annual base salaries of Pennsylvania lawmakers from $69,647 to $81,050, making them the second-highest paid legislators in the nation. The House voted 119-79 and the Senate voted 27-23.

Committee chairmen’s pay will increase by 28 percent to $89,155; committee vice chairmen to $85,103. Majority and minority leaders’ pay increased by 24 percent to $124,788, and pay for the Speaker of the House and Senate Pro Tem jumped 34 percent to $145,553.

Gov. Ed Rendell, who signed and defended the bill, said he would forgo his $21,000 raise if reelected next year.

The bill will go into effect Dec. 1, 2006. However, lawmakers have figured out a way to collect their raises right away by authorizing the payment of "unvouchered expenses" equal to the amount of the raises until the new salary levels take effect.

In addition, Pennsylvania lawmakers receive fully paid health insurance, a fully paid pension and as much as $7,800 a year for vehicle expenses. Those who live more than 50 miles from the Capitol get $129 a day in travel expenses.

Among area legislators, state Sens. Michael O’Pake (D-11th) and Robert Thompson (R-19th) voted yes; state Sens. John Rafferty (R-44th) and Robert Wonderling (R-24th) voted no.

State Reps. Tim Hennessey (R-26th), Dennis Leh (R-130th), Raymond Bunt (R-147th), Jacqueline Crahalla (R-150th), and Curt Schroder (R-155th) voted yes.

State Reps. Douglass Reichley (R-134th), Tom Quigley (R-146th), and Carole Rubley (R-157th) voted no.

When asked about their votes, some said they thought it was justified. Other claimed the raise was long overdue.

Think again.

In private industry, pay raises are tied to performance. When did failing to solve the problems of a state ranked near the bottom in every economic development and educational spending criteria match up with stellar performance?

And overdue? How many workers in the private sector have enjoyed automatic cost-of-living raises every year?

Crahalla said the raise was justified for some legislators who, like herself, pour many hours into their job. She also said she voted yes because her husband, who is a local district judge, deserves a raise, and that was part of the package.

Although O’Pake, voted in favor of the bill, Bill Evans, his executive assistant, said he planned to give the money to charity. (Taxpayers may have preferred it stay in their pockets, and they give it to the charity of their choice.)

Although voting against the bill, Reichley said his decision was a "personal opinion" and stood up for the legislators who favored the pay raise.

"I have no contrary opinion to those who voted for it. The criticism is not justified," Reichley said. "If people had a better sense of what goes into the job requirements, then they might have a different opinion on this issue."

The opinions on the issue arise from the fact that few taxpayers have the luxury of deciding how much they get paid.

Those same taxpayers are struggling to pay taxes in a system that desperately needs an overhaul. While they struggle with a lack of growth in the state’s economy and a graying population with a growing number on fixed incomes, they question the performance of the legislators in correcting these ills.

As an answer, lawmakers give themselves a raise.

Newspapers throughout the state are reminding voters that if they don’t have a say in how much legislators are paid, they do have a say in who gets the money.

Remember the names of those who voted for this pay raise and then decide at election time if they’re worth the money.

Copyright 2005 The Mercury

Stop the presses! The New York Times admits bias

Dan Rather tried to swing the 2004 presidential election to John Kerry using faked memos about President Bush's National Guard service. Rather paid the price for his failed scheme when he was forced out as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" and the show where he broke the memo story — "60 Minutes II" — was canceled.

The New York Times tried something similar. Remember the front-page stories on the Iraqi weapons depot that was looted supposedly while U.S. forces were guarding it? That "scoop" on the eve of the election was part of a campaign of biased reporting at the Times to tip the election to Kerry. It failed, but nobody lost their job at the New York Times as a result of the "missing weapons" hoax. For the longest time, it looked like the newspaper would get away with spewing its leftist propaganda.

Should it matter to you what happens at the New York Times? Yes. The New York Times and the radical left have formed an unholy alliance. The newspaper legitimizes the left's extremist agenda and gives the Democratic Party a platform to contaminate the nation's political system.

The Times is an anti-Republican propaganda machine in the guise of an objective news source. The influence doesn't stop with the New York Times' declining readership base. The Times' parent company owns many other newspapers across the country and those papers use the same stories written by New York Times' reporters, exposing millions of Americans to its biased reporting.

Eight months after the phony weapons story was published (and obediently repeated by other newspapers and the evening news broadcasts on all three major networks), a remarkable report was released detailing a pattern of biased reporting at the New York Times. The report never made the front-page of the Times. But if you do a little bit of detective work, you can track it down on the Internet.

On the surface, the internal memo on the "newsroom culture" at the New York Times appears innocuous. But read the report carefully, get past the buzzwords and you come away with a startling conclusion. The New York Times' own reporters and editors acknowledge the newspaper has shown favoritism toward radical liberal causes and the Democratic politicians behind them.

The newspaper's Credibility Committee (is that a joke?) consisted of 19 veteran news people at the paper who spent eight months investigating a variety of concerns about the newspaper. The committee wants the newspaper's top brass to implement changes to address "an impression of one-sidedness" in the newspaper's pages. "The goal is not only to avoid appearing one-sided but also to find ways to present more contrarian and unexpected viewpoints in our news pages."

In other words, forget the Times' motto of "All the News That's Fit to Print." It's more like "What Our Radical Liberal Readers Want to Hear Today." A bad habit at the New York Times (and many other big city liberal newspapers) is inserting opinion into news stories and running opinion pieces on the front page and trying to pass them off as objective news stories.

Another suggestion the committee made is to hold regular seminars so reporters can learn how to cover "emotionally charged" topics in a "neutral way." If a reporter has gotten to the New York Times and doesn't know how to remain objective, there's a serious problem with the newspaper's hiring practices. The Credibility Committee wants the top editors to routinely look for "lapses that look like favoritism" in the pages of the New York Times and share those blunders with the rest of the staff.

The best line from the committee's report is: "Our news coverage needs to embrace unorthodox views and contrarian opinions." By "unorthodox" and "contrarian," the Times staffers are referring to such unusual persons as Republicans, conservatives, moderate Democrats, people who believe in God and attend a church or synagogue, heterosexuals and people who support U.S. troops in a time of war.

The smoking gun comes on page 14 of the 16-page report when the committee says, "In part because the Time's editorial page is clearly liberal, the news pages do need to make more effort not to seem monolithic."

The fact that the New York Times hasn't endorsed a Republican president since Abraham Lincoln should be a tip-off that the editorial pages lean radical left, but the key term in that sentence is "monolithic." What the Credibility Committee is saying is that the newspaper lacks credibility because its news coverage is just as biased as its editorial page.

The committee wants management to bring some "diversity" to the newsroom, but the committee isn't talking about hiring more minority reporters and editors. For the insular New York Times, "diversity" can be achieved by recruiting what the committee puts it as "talented journalists who happen to have military experience, who know rural America first hand, who are at home in different faiths."

In other words, everybody working at the New York Times hates the military, doesn't believe in God, came from a snobby Ivy League school and is a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

Do you suppose that fact alone may have something to do with how biased the news is inside the pages of the New York Times?

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Repeal the Legislative Pay Increase

I became aware Thursday of a campaign by Gene Stilp to organize a grass-roots effort by Pennsylvania taxpayers to repeal the money grab by our conniving state legislators and the governor, who signed the pay raise bill.

Gene Stilp is a Harrisburg-area resident who sued the state, governor and treasurer in 1995, the last time the politicos gave themselves a big fat pay raise. (That's not counting the automatic annual cost-of-living increases they voted themselves).

Mr. Stilp told The Associated Press he intends to sue again to overturn the latest travesty. The legislators are using the same sneaky tactic they invented in 1995 to bypass the state Constitution, which prohibits them from collecting the self-approved raise right away.

The Constitution says the scoundrels who gave themselves pay raises of 16 to 34 percent will have to wait until December 2006 to start collecting. But these unscrupulous "public servants" have decided to circumvent the Constitution by pretending that their pay hikes are "unvouchered expenses" so they can sneak the money into their pockets a year earlier.

Mr. Stilp's lawsuit was thrown out by a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel in 1997, but the court never ruled on the merits of the case. The fact that judges are also getting pay raises don't bode well, but maybe there are a few honest elected officials left in Pennsylvania and we can put a stop to this unconstitutional theft of taxpayer money and flagrant betrayal of the public trust by our so-called lawmakers.

Mr. Stilp has set up a Web site to help organize opposition to the highway robbery perpetrated on unsuspecting Pennsylvania taxpayers.

Visit the Web site at to learn more about the campaign to expose these charlatans. And by all means, spread to the word to every victim of this crime: your relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers in Pennsylvania.

And write to your state senator and representative and tell them there are too many witnesses to their crime to get away with it. Tell them to enjoy their pay raise for the next year because you will vote them out of office in 2006.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Why is Fast Eddie in such a hurry to pardon so many criminals?

If Dale Carnegie hadn’t come up with it first, an appropriate title for a book about Gov. Ed Rendell might be "How to Win Friends and Influence People." That pretty much sums up Rendell’s life. Rendell is the consummate politician. He tries to make people happy and he enjoys influence.

But the governor appears to be trying too hard to make friends from one particular group of Pennsylvanians — convicted criminals.

According to a recent review of clemency records by The Associated Press, Rendell is on a pace to set a new record for the number of criminals pardoned by a Pennsylvania governor.

Rendell, a Democrat, has granted 231 pardons and denied 31 requests during 2½ years in office, the vast majority for minor offenses, the AP reports.

Republican Tom Ridge, who campaigned aggressively to limit the clemency process, granted 270 applications and rejected 140 during nearly seven years in office, according to the AP.

If re-elected in 2006 and he maintains his current pace, Rendell would issue more pardons than any other modern governor, Democrat or Republican, who has served two terms.

Milton J. Shapp, a Democrat who served from 1971 to 1979 issued 475 pardons, and commuted 251 life sentences.

Dick Thornburgh, a Republican who served from 1979 to 1987 issued 61 pardons, and commuted 7 life sentences.

Robert P. Casey, a Democrat who served from 1987 to 1995 issued 302 pardons and commuted 27 life sentences.

In addition to the 231 pardons he’s issued so far, Rendell has another 133 appeals pending, according to the Pennsylvania Pardons Board.

The problem with being so quick to issue pardons is that pardons restore legal rights and privileges lost upon conviction, such as the right to vote, to purchase and carry a gun and employment rights.

The Associated Press discovered that half of Rendell's pardons involved theft-related offenses and one-fifth were granted to those convicted of drug offenses or drunken-driving. The most serious crimes among the governor’s pardons include aggravated assault, statutory rape, prison escape and arson.

Is the governor thinking of the safety and welfare of the majority of law-abiding citizens when he makes it easier for convicted criminals to acquire guns?

Rendell needs to make a better case to the people of Pennsylvania why he’s on a record pace to absolve criminals.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at