Monday, September 26, 2005

Enemies of the state: Pennsylvania’s pay raise villains

Technically speaking, Pennsylvania is a commonwealth, but who ever heard of the phrase "enemy of the commonwealth?" If you want to know what’s wrong with Pennsylvania, you need to look no further than its leadership. Below is a capsule look at the politicians behind the pay grab of 2005 and the people who run the worst state government this side of Louisiana. If you want to know what’s wrong with Pennsylvania, you need to look no further than its leadership. Here’s a look at the politicians behind the pay grab of 2005:

JOHN PERZEL — The most powerful politician in Pennsylvania is also the most arrogant and ignorant man ever to hold such high state office. Perzel, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, is the pied piper who led unsuspecting rank-and-file lawmakers to support the pay raise, then took off for a junket to China so the foot soldiers could take the heat. When he finally got back to his home base of Philadelphia from China (followed by vacations in Bermuda and Italy for more rest and relaxation), Perzel first claimed he didn’t know anything about the pay hike furor that has dominated the news for two months. Then he came up with some nutty story about migrant farm workers in Lancaster County making $50,000 a year, so he deserves to get paid three times that much. Perzel is a loon and an embarrassment to the Republican Party. He needs to go.

JUDGE RALPH CAPPY — The chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court all but admitted he orchestrated the pay raise debacle in a back-room deal with Perzel and Gov. Ed Rendell. It will be up to the state judicial ethics committee to determine the propriety of the state’s top judge working out a secret deal with the legislative and executive branches to hike his salary. His involvement in the pay raise travesty is unseemly at best. Revelations that Cappy and his fellow justices have billed taxpayers $164,000 in food, travel and lodging expenses (on top of their $170,000 a year salaries) is more proof that Cappy couldn’t care less for Pennsylvania taxpayers as long as he’s living in the lap of luxury. Cappy is not on the ballot any time soon, but there will be two Supreme Court judges seeking retention votes in November and two more judges on the November 2006 ballot. Vote "no" on all four judges to send a message to Cappy that no one is above the law.

ED RENDELL — Just months after a Washington, D.C.-based think tank gave Rendell an "F" for his economic policies, just weeks after the majority of Pennsylvania school boards rejected his Act 72 tax reform farce, Rendell gets himself embroiled in the pay raise fiasco. Is he trying to be a one-term governor? He’s already a part-time governor. Rendell spends more time from September to January concentrating on his other job as an Eagles football commentator than he does on state business. Maybe voters should do Rendell a favor and relieve him of his time-consuming duties as governor when he faces reelection. Former Lt. Gov. William Scranton, who will challenge Rendell in 2006, has already called for a repeal of the legislative pay hikes and a reduction in the number of legislators. That’s enough to earn my vote. This is what you need to know about Fast Eddie Rendell. On June 8, he told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he would never sign off on a pay raise for the legislature unless it approved an increase in the state’s minimum wage. On July 8, Rendell signed the pay raise bill for the legislature and himself even though there was no increase in the minimum wage. Around Aug. 8, Rendell was booed at a county fair as he waited in line to grab some food. He came out against the pay raise that he signed and defended a few weeks earlier. Fast forward to Labor Day and Rendell says the legislature must increase the state’s minimum wage. Where does Rendell stand on an issue? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind. The political wind. Rendell will say anything to anyone to get a vote. Gov. Scranton sure has a ring to it, doesn’t it?

ROBERT JUBILIRER — This is the Republican leader of the state Senate. A career politician from Altoona (with 30 years on the public payroll), Jubilirer is a junior version of Perzel, not quite as arrogant or ignorant, but trying to get there. Jubilirer’s wife is a state judge who also gets a hefty pay raise under the July 7 pay grab. The good news is that Jubilirer is up for reelection in 2006. Voters will get a chance to retire him permanently.

SECOND-TIER ‘BOSSES’ — The top bosses, those pocketing pay raises of 34 percent to 54 percent, won’t give the money back. They’re willing to sacrifice as many rank-and-file legislators as needed to calm the voters. The bosses are secure in districts carved out specifically for them. If you see any of these names on a ballot — Senate Majority Leader David J. Brightbill, Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow, Senate Minority Whip Michael A. O’Pake, House Majority Leader Samuel H. Smith, House Minority Leader William DeWeese, House Majority Whip David G. Argall, House Minority Whip Mike Veon — write in "Mickey Mouse" instead. Mickey can’t do any worse than these rats.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Friday, September 23, 2005

Legislators return to the scene of the crime

If you’ve ever watched a crime show on TV or read a mystery novel, you know that the criminal eventually returns to the scene of the crime. And so it is with the Pennsylvania legislature. After a refreshing 10-week vacation where the 253 co-conspirators had ample opportunity to figure out how to spend the $11,000 to $32,000 in pay raises they gave themselves, it’s back to the grind of three-day work weeks.

On Monday, both chambers of the Pennsylvania House of Lords will be in session for the first time since the middle-of-the-night pay grab on July 7. The Senate, where some members will get 54 percent pay raises while others collect up to $100,000 in additional income over the next four years, despite a Constitutional prohibition against collecting pay raises during their current terms, returned to Harrisburg on Sept. 19.

The House, where 14 yes-men were rewarded with committee chairmanships and $5,000 in additional pay by Democratic Party boss Bill DeWeese for stabbing their fellow Democrats in the back, will sneak into town Monday morning.

I say sneak because it’s going to be hard to avoid thousands of angry taxpayers who will descend on the state Capitol Monday. But I’m sure the House and Senate have private entrances to state garages where they can park their taxpayer-supplied luxury cars for free. Maybe they even have aides who will whisk them away in golf carts to their offices.

When you have 3,000 people on the payroll at the state Capitol, I’m sure there’s some job descriptions that include opening doors, fetching drinks and bowing before the members of the House of Lords during the 77 days of they year they’re in session in Harrisburg.

The July 7 slap in the face of taxpayers was supposed to keep us down. But something wonderful has been happening in Pennsylvania over the past two months. People are standing up to the overpaid, underachieving career politicians who populate the halls of the state Capitol. So far, 26 legislators who voted for the pay raise have backed down under pressure from constituents, who have flooded politicians with letters, phone calls and e-mails. But 132 others are taking the money. They need to be voted out.

The first order of business for the House of Lords should be to repeal the pay raise. Pennsylvania residents are suffering while career politicians are lining their own pockets. House Bill 1945 would repeal the pay raises. It has 40 sponsors so far. Is your state representative one of them?

The second item on the agenda should be to eliminate the unscrupulous practice of "unvouchered expenses" that allowed so many lawmakers to circumvent the state Constitution and accept the pay raises before the law allows.

Third on the list should be a written apology to every Pennsylvania resident, not only for the pay grab, but the complete failure of the legislature to address any of the state’s most pressing needs.

Gov. Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ralph Cappy and House Speaker John Perzel — the three-headed monster responsible for hatching up the pay raise plot — are living on another planet if they believe legislators deserve a pay raise. Pennsylvania already has the most expense state legislature in the country, but where are the results?

A study by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that only 19 percent of the bills introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature are ever signed into law. Twenty-eight states did better. California legislators, the only ones being paid more than our own Pennsylvania slackers, have a 60 percent success rate. The question one needs to ask about the pitiful success rate of people who are elected to enact legislation is this: Why are Pennsylvania lawmakers wasting their time introducing eight out of 10 bills that will never see the light of day?

Is the legislation bad to begin with or is the Pennsylvania legislature so large — so unwieldy — that nothing can ever get done? Why does Pennsylvania have the largest legislature in the country when states like California, New York and Texas can get more done with fewer people? Why are Pennsylvania taxpayers supporting this aristocracy that is not accountable to the people who elected them?

Once the pay raise issue is behind us, the legislature must enact property tax relief for the state’s homeowners. Rendell tried a public relations stunt by calling for a special session of the legislature to deal with property taxes, but it’s just another of Fast Eddie’s parlor tricks. I say the citizens of Pennsylvania should surround the state Capitol and not allow the 253 Lords out until they approve a tax reform plan that works. It may mean they have to put in more than 77 days at work this year.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Monday, September 19, 2005

What’s wrong with 'One nation under God?'

You can’t keep a good atheist down. Michael Newdow, the Cindy Sheehan of the heretic crowd, is back. He persuaded a liberal judge in California to rule last week that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional, forcing several Sacramento-area schools to ban the Pledge.

Newdow, you’ll recall, is the lawyer/medical doctor/intellectual moron who wants the words "One nation under God" stricken from the Pledge. He also wants "In God We Trust" rubbed off U.S. currency and he’s still steamed that President Bush recited the words "so help me God" when he took the oath to uphold the Constitution during his inauguration in January.

Newdow took his unholy crusade against the Pledge all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court last year, but the case was tossed out on a technicality. The justices never took up the merits of the case, leaving the matter for a future court to decide. It appears this case will be one of the first major decisions forced on the high court after John Roberts is sworn in as chief justice.

In a Sept. 14 ruling, activist Judge Lawrence Karlton agreed with Newdow that the Pledge’s reference to God violates the rights of children in three school districts to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God." That same decision was reached earlier by another crew of Left Coast judges who make up the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2002 agreed with Newdow that the Pledge is unconstitutional when recited in public schools.

The battle over church-state issues is at the heart of the cultural war that has divided this nation, pitting a motley crew of atheists, liberal extremists and card-carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union against the rest of America.

Polls show that 90 percent of Americans believe in God. Two-thirds of Americans say they are Christians. The current wording of the Pledge of Allegiance has been recited by American school children since 1954 and there has never been a single case of a child irreparably harmed by pledging allegiance to "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

But militant atheists like Newdow will stop at nothing short of removing all semblance of faith from public life in America. With the ACLU by his side, Newdow wants to turn the U.S. into a godless, totalitarian state where people’s lives are controlled by a socialist politburo — not guided by a higher authority. It was tried in the Soviet Union for 60 years and we all know how well that worked out.

The Pledge of Allegiance is not a prayer. It is not a religious oath. It is a statement of loyalty to the United States of America by its youngest citizens. It is a daily declaration of gratitude for the privilege of living in the greatest nation the world has ever known.

Newdow and his secular rabble use the "faith card" much like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson use the "race card" to enflame their followers and obscure real issues. The Pledge is not about religion. And what if it was? Look what’s happened to our education system since the Supreme Court banned school prayer in 1962.

The Founding Fathers guaranteed us freedom of religion not freedom from religion.

The liberal mantra of "separation of church and state" was not the intent of the framers of the Constitution or the leaders of the states that ratified the Bill of Rights. The church-state divide is part of a campaign of deception perpetrated by left-wing radicals who hide behind groups like the ACLU and People for the American Way.

There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution to suggest that a wall should exist between church and state. The First Amendment, adopted as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791, prohibits Congress from passing laws "respecting an establishment of religion" and forbidding laws "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In other words, the First Amendment says that Congress shall not recognize or favor a particular religion. It does not say the United States should be a godless nation.

The left-wing stormtroopers of the ACLU are forcing the removal of faith-based symbols from the public square every day. Try finding the cross, the Star of David, a nativity scene or a menorah — anything that symbolizes the Judeo-Christian heritage of this nation — on public display.

Meanwhile, the radical left pushes its secular agenda down our throats, forcing us to accept witchcraft, pornography and all sorts of perversion involving children as "constitutionally protected freedom of expression."

Students face discipline in our public schools for wearing crosses or uttering the word "God" in front of a classmate or a teacher. At the same time, children are forced to celebrate pagan holidays and study "Wican folklore" as part of their social studies’ curriculum.

Where in the Constitution does it say that the minority has a right to impose its wishes on the majority? When did the majority of Americans allow a fringe group of atheists, activist judges, media elite and radical college professors to hijack the moral compass of this nation?

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Thursday, September 15, 2005

California Dreaming: Pay raise doesn't add up for Pennsylvania legislators

Almost everyone in Pennsylvania is aware by now that our state legislature is the second highest paid in the nation — behind only California — since Pennsylvania lawmakers gave themselves pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent. Yes, 54 percent!

While it’s been widely reported that the pay raises range from 16 percent ($11,000 a year) to 34 percent ($32,000 a year), it turns out that some Pennsylvania lawmakers will make out like bandits, seeing their annual salaries go from $69,648 to $106,986 overnight under the July 7 pay raise they approved without debate at 2 a.m.

The vote approving the pay-jacking was 27-23 in the Senate and 119-79 in the House. Gov. Ed Rendell promptly signed the bill into law and praised the lawmakers for raiding the public treasury.

As the weeks went by and it became clear to Rendell that he might have made the biggest political mistake of his life, the governor flip-flopped quicker than John Kerry on the war in Iraq. Now Rendell is saying the pay raise was a mistake and probably against the law, and he is willing to sign a bill to repeal the measure, if the legislators would just up their ill-gotten gain.

Standing in Rendell’s way is Big Bad John Perzel, the most powerful man in Pennsylvania. Perzel, whose salary rose to $145,000 as speaker of the House, doesn’t want to give the money back. Not one penny.

In fact, Perzel thinks members of the Pennsylvania legislature are still underpaid, even though they now make at least twice as much as the average Pennsylvania worker and half of what a member of Congress earns. Perzel also thinks that the work of governing Pennsylvania is comparable to running California, so of course Pennsylvania legislators should be the second highest-paid in the nation.

The California comparison has been bugging me, so I decided to do a little research. Let’s throw out some facts and you can draw your own conclusions.

California is the most populous state in the nation with about 36 million residents. Pennsylvania is sixth in population with around 12.4 million and dropping. California has the fifth-largest economy in the world — not just the United States — but the world. Naturally, you would assume that a state that has three times the number of people would need a lot more legislators to run the place. Not so.

California has 40 state senators elected to four-year terms. California pays its legislators $100,000 a year. An independent salary board determines the pay of legislators in California. The board recently approved an increase that will pay California legislators $111,000 next year.) Pennsylvania legislators set their own salaries. Anyone see an inherent conflict of interest there?

Pennsylvania has 50 state senators, elected to four-year terms. Perhaps Mr. Perzel can explain why a state like Pennsylvania, which is one-third the size of California, needs more senators in its state capitol?

The disparity is worse in the House. California has 80 members in its House of Representatives. Pennsylvania has 203. Yes, 203! Can anyone explain why we need 203 politicians making at least $81,000 a year when California makes due with 80? Do the math. Multiply 80 times $100,000 and compare it to 203 times $81,000. Guess which state saddles its residents with a bigger bill to pay a corpulent legislative body?

California state senators can serve up to two terms and then have to get a job in the real world. That concept is foreign to Pennsylvania lawmakers. How do you make a career of feeding at the public trough if you can only serve eight years? There are no term limits in Pennsylvania, so politicians can leech off the public for 40 years if they so desire. And many do.

Over in the House, California residents may serve up to three terms of two years each. That’s it. Serve for six years and then you have to get a real job. In Pennsylvania, members of the House can serve as many two-year terms as they wish.

Did I mention that California legislators don’t get pensions? In Pennsylvania, a legislator who serves 20 years receives a taxpayer-paid pension of $57,000 a year. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

California also has an alien concept called democracy. In addition to constitutionally imposed term limits on politicians, California residents enjoy the power of initiative and referendum. Voters can petition to get a measure on the ballot. That’s how many propositions that have improved California (including term limits) have been passed. If Californians don’t like a law that the legislators have passed (hint: pay raise for themselves), they can use the referendum to repeal the law.

So let’s review. Because Pennsylvania has a bloated legislative aristocracy of 253 members, with 3,000 staff members to do their bidding, Pennsylvania taxpayers spend around $500 million a year to support their state legislature.

That gives Pennsylvania the distinction of having the most expensive legislature in the United States. Not only is Pennsylvania the No. 1 trash importer in the country, but we can also claim first place in the most tax dollars siphoned to pay career politicians.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Pay raise farce: The legislative aristocracy vs. those overpaid Pennsylvania farmers

State House Speaker John M. Perzel, the boss of bosses in the Pennsylvania Legislature, wants you to know that he works a lot harder than some lazybones farmer who get up at 4 a.m. to milk his cows.

Perzel, a Republican from Philadelphia, stood before a roomful of GOP faithful over the weekend and told them they can take their concerns about the July 7 legislative pay raise and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

Nobody works harder than John Perzel when it comes home to bringing home the bacon.

"The people in Lancaster County who milk cows are making $50,000 to $55,000 (a year). … You are paying a guy who milks cows $55,000, and (they’re) saying it’s too much to pay a member of the General Assembly half of what a member of Congress makes?" Perzel said.

Philadelphia isn’t exactly farm country, but I’m beginning to wonder what planet John Perzel is living on Guys who milk cows make $55,000 a year? The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau says the average salary for a person milking cows on a large farm is $20,500 a year. Perzel makes $145,000 under the pay raise he pushed through the legislature.

Perzel went on to say that the 16 percent to 34 percent pay raises lawmakers gave themselves were justified because politicians "work hard and make personal sacrifices to serve the people of Pennsylvania."

Never mind that legislators make at least two to three times more for their part-time jobs than the average Pennsylvania resident earns at his or her full-time job.

In another outlandish comment, Perzel called legislators "volunteers" who often have to work weekends and frequently miss "holidays" and "birthdays" in the name of public service. Pass me a tissue. I think I’m going to cry. Which are they, John? Full-time legislators who deserve to be paid a minimum of $81,000 a year or volunteers? Now, I’m really confused.

A "volunteer" is someone from the Red Cross who went to New Orleans to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. A state legislator making $81,000 to $145,000 a year for a part-time job is not a "volunteer."

If there was any doubt in your mind that Perzel and his flunkies need to be booted out of Harrisburg, his performance Saturday should put that hesitancy to rest. Perzel, a career politician whose own salary rose to $145,000 a year under the July 7 pay raise, is the poster child of everything wrong with the people we send to Harrisburg.

Not only are they not serving the people of Pennsylvania, but clearly the only concern Perzel and the rest of the legislators have is to line their own pockets.

While Pennsylvanians are struggling to make enough money to feed and clothe their children and provide shelter for their families, Perzel and the country club set in Harrisburg has lost touch with the average Pennsylvania — not to mention reality.

They’ve established themselves as new class of professional politicians — an aristocracy that is not accountable to the people. Their only purpose is to suck the lifeblood out of working Pennsylvanians.

Not only did they give themselves pay raises of $11,000 to $32,000 a year — just months after their last pay raise went into effect — but legislators also receive free health care, life insurance, a generous pension, $129 in lunch money, long-term disability insurance, an automobile allowance of $650 per month and all the free gasoline the gas tanks in their luxury vehicles can hold.

While the rest of us are scraping pennies to pay for $3 gas to get to work or take our kids to school, Perzel and the rest of the Harrisburg Hogs are riding around in SUVs and Cadillacs, with a full tank of gas courtesy of you and me.

It’s obvious Perzel has never worked on a farm. I’m not sure he’s ever worked a day in his life. Farming is a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day job. Most farmers will never see $145,000 in income in a year. The "job" of a Pennsylvania legislator consists of pushing paper around and looting the state treasury.

Over the past five years, the Pennsylvania legislature has been in session an average of 77 days a year. That’s all the time the job demands. The rest of the time, the Keystone State’s nobility are attending Rotary and Kiwanis breakfasts telling us what a wonderful job they do. Some of them take on tougher tasks such as cutting ribbons at store openings, riding around in parades or delivering oversize cardboard checks for various slush funds the legislator has created.

And if Perzel and his minions work so hard, why are we paying 3,000 other people to keep the state Capitol running? Do you think those form letters you get back when you write one of these moochers was written by them? They have staff to do the work. They have legislative assistants to draft the bills. They have aides to answer the phones and do the leg work at their district offices.

If you rounded up all 253 members of the Pennsylvania House of Lords and shipped them down South to do some honest work helping the hurricane victims, nobody in Pennsylvania would miss them. What’s there to miss? They don’t do anything.

There are close to 9 million registered voters in Pennsylvania. If 9 million people don’t show up at the polls next May to vote out every incumbent on the ballot, Pennsylvania is doomed. If we allow 253 leeches to continue to feed off the rest of us, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Friday, September 09, 2005

Pay raise revolt: Is there one honest person in Harrisburg?

"I am looking for an honest man."
— Diogenes (c. 400-325 B.C.)

Legend has it that the Greek philosopher Diogenes wandered the known world in the fourth century B.C. holding a lamp in his right hand as he searched for an honest man. Had Diogenes stumbled into Harrisburg circa 2005, he might still be searching for that one honest person today.

I’ve been using the term House of Lords to describe the royal lifestyle that members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly have established for themselves — at our expense. But it’s becoming clear that Pennsylvania is governed more like a feudal system run by warlords rather than a monarchy. And guess who’s serving the role of serfs? You and I — the beleaguered taxpayers of Pennsylvania.

Diogenes is best remembered for developing the notion of cynicism. Now that’s more like it. You can’t talk about the 253 "public servants" who inhabit the halls and offices of the state capitol without a healthy dose of cynicism.

Labor Day has come and gone and we’re still talking about the Great Legislative Pay Grab of 2005, the middle-of-the-night raid on the state treasury by 253 desperadoes. OK, it wasn’t that many. Some voted no, but I have yet to hear one of the legislators who voted against the pay raise come out and call their colleagues what they are — scoundrels who betrayed the public trust. As Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Too many legislators looked the other way or used the excuse that they were only "following orders" from the party bosses when the middle-of-the-night pay heist occurred. That’s not good enough. We don’t send representatives to Harrisburg so they can bow down and tremble before self-serving career politicians from Altoona or Philadelphia when the bosses decide it’s time to plunder the state treasury again.

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6:24

Who are the people we send to Harrisburg serving? Their constituents or the pay-jackers? Can any state legislator look a constituent in the eye and tell you in all honesty that taking a 16 percent to 34 percent pay raise for themselves at a time when so many Pennsylvanians are struggling is good for the folks back home?
We can’t give ourselves $11,000 to $34,000 pay raises. Most of us haven’t seen cumulative 16 percent pay increases over 10 years, let alone in one year and just six months after a 5.2 percent cost-of-living hike kicked in.

We can’t take 10-week vacations. We don’t get $129 a day for lunch. We don’t get taxpayer-paid luxury cars to drive around in. We have to shell out $3.50 for gas to get to our jobs. Legislators don’t pay for their gas. They stick the folks back home with the bill. And how many of us can retire after 20 years on the job and receive a $50,000 annual pension?

The fact that the legislative pay grab is the dominant story involving Pennsylvania government two months later is a victory in itself. Despite the conspiracy of silence among the 253 members of the Pennsylvania House of Lords, the pay grab is all anyone wants to talk about.

I ran into an acquaintance at the supermarket last week. Hadn’t seen the man in six months. After exchanging pleasantries, he starts up with, "How about those state legislators? Can you believe what they did? They’re not going to get away with it." This was not a man who ever discussed politics with me before. But he’s looking forward to 2006 so he can vote against the incumbents.

Just the other day, a car passed by me with two large signs taped to its side windows. The signs read "Impeach Legislators!" in big, red letters, followed by a list of transgressions committed by state lawmakers against the citizens of Pennsylvania.

Letters to the editor continue to appear in newspapers weeks after the issue should have gone away. The Mercury has collected nearly 7,000 signed letters from readers demanding the legislators give back the pay raise. Petition drives across the state have collected tens of thousands of letters. At least 15 candidates have publicly announced their intention to run against incumbents and the spring primary is still eight months away.

The Harrisburg Hogs underestimated the level of abuse Pennsylvania voters are willing to endure before they fight back. Pennsylvanians are tired of high property taxes, lousy roads, mediocre schools, underfunded libraries. The last humiliation voters are willing to take at the hands of the most bloated and ineffectual state legislature is to be forced to pay these politicians more money.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pay raise shame: Legislators deny life insurance to National Guard as they line own pockets

Among the many pieces of important legislation not enacted by the Pennsylvania legislature in 2005 was a bill that would permit the state to pay life insurance premiums for Pennsylvania National Guard members serving their country in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

More than 3,300 Pennsylvania guardsmen are serving in active combat zones overseas, and sadly, 11 have been killed in Iraq so far.

In the frenzy to line their own pockets with 16 to 24 percent pay raises before taking a 10-week summer vacation, legislators never bothered to vote on the insurance bill, or any other legislation to assist National Guard servicemen and women and their families.

The total cost to cover life insurance premiums for Pennsylvania’s National Guard soldiers and airmen for one year comes to about $1 million. The annual premium for a member of the National Guard or reserves is $312 a year, which provides $400,000 coverage for their families.

The $1 million cost of the program is a pittance in the bloated $24 billion state budget that was adopted by the legislature and signed by Gov. Ed Rendell in July.

At least one lawmaker was quoted in news accounts as saying he was looking for ways to save money and didn’t want to set a precedent by picking up the cost of the life insurance for guardsmen on federal duty because other government workers would expect the same benefit.

Ask any Pennsylvania resident where they would like to see the money go: in the pockets of the second-highest paid legislature in the country or to the families of National Guard members?

Our insensitive, greedy and unethical legislature never bothered to vote on the life insurance bill before heading for its summer vacation to spend the money its members gave themselves. In fact, lawmakers couldn’t even find the time to hold a hearing on the insurance bill, which was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tom Tangretti.

We keep hearing how hard our lawmakers work and how many hours they spend in Harrisburg. Apparently not enough hours to schedule a hearing on this important bill or bring it to a vote over the first six months of this year.

State lawmakers have an opportunity to correct this disgraceful error in judgment when they return to Harrisburg on Sept. 26. One of the first orders of business should be to pass the 12-bill package intended to assist National Guard members and reservists.

In addition to paying the life insurance premiums, the bills would establish a Military Family Relief Fund, provide college education assistance for service members, implement anti-discriminatory measures, provide extended paid leave for service members and ensure absentee voter privacy for service members.

The legislature’s reluctance to support Pennsylvania men and women who are risking their lives for their country and their state is reprehensible. It’s another condemnation of a legislative body that has miles to go to win back the public trust it betrayed with middle-of-the night pay hikes, revelations of slush funds and the blatant disregard of the state Constitution by taking early pay raises as "unvouchered expenses."

When giving yourself a pay raise takes priority over providing assistance for the families of Pennsylvania servicemen and women killed in the line of duty, it’s time for sweeping changes in Harrisburg.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Taxpayer dollars will be used to defend Legislative pay raise

This editorial was published in The Mercury on Tuesday, September 6. Talk about rubbing salt in the wound.

Where else but in Pennsylvania would taxpayers have to cough up the money to pay the lawyers hired by state lawmakers to defend themselves against a lawsuit challenging the middle-of-the-night pay raise legislators gave themselves?

No wonder thousands of Pennsylvania taxpayers are fighting so hard to take back their state government from a group of self-serving politicians who consistently vote to line their own pockets without a word of debate -- without any justification -- and then used a loophole to circumvent the state Constitution in order to collect the money early.

Pennsylvania law says that the state attorney general is responsible for defending the constitutionality of state laws, but the party bosses who control Harrisburg have hired outside law firms to defend them in a lawsuit brought by Harrisburg-area activist Eugene Stilp, who is seeking to overturn the controversial July 7 pay raise. The legislature also employs a large in-house legal staff at taxpayer expense, but those lawyers must be busy working on another pay-raise bill to represent their bosses in the lawsuit.

As long as they’re spending your money, the party bosses are willing to go hog wild with legal fees. The House has hired Philadelphia-based Stradley Ronon, while the Senate employed Kirkpatrick & Lockhard Nicholson Graham LLP, a law firm from Pittsburgh. Neither outfit comes cheap, but as the legislators would say, "It’s only taxpayer money, so just write a blank check."

Stilp was incredulous when he heard the news that House and Senate leaders had hired private lawyers to help them defend the pay grab. "It’s beyond belief that the defense of the illegal pay raise is being paid for by the people of Pennsylvania," Stilp said.

One of the problems with the pay raise -- in addition to the fact that lawmakers have done nothing to earn it and it’s repugnant to give yourself a pay raise -- is the fact that the attorney general, every judge in Pennsylvania and many members of the Rendell administration, including the governor, are included in the pay raise legislation. There is no place taxpayers can turn to in Pennsylvania to get an impartial hearing.

Regardless of how many lawyers the legislators hire, the judges who will end up hearing the case would have to give up their own pay raises if they rule against the legislature.

The deck is stacked against taxpayers. So don’t hold your breath waiting for justice in Pennsylvania. But don’t forget who brought us to this juncture in the first place -- the largest, costliest state legislature in the country. A group of 253 men and women who earn two to three times more than the average Pennsylvania worker doing a part-time job that requires them to be in session about 77 days a year.

Stilp, who is not a lawyer, will be representing himself as a citizen of Pennsylvania and a taxpayer when this case goes to court. Stilp won’t be alone. He has the moral backing of 12 million beleaguered Pennsylvanians who have been betrayed by their own lawmakers.

If the citizens of Pennsylvania lose this court case -- and the odds are long that justice will prevail -- they will have one more opportunity to restore rule of law to this state -- at the ballot box in 2006, when they can fire most of the legislators once and for all.

© Copyright The Mercury 2005

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Pay raise tally: 2 big idiots; 25 who saw the light

Kudos to the 25 Pennsylvania legislators who have seen the error of their ways and decided not to accept the "unvouchered expenses" that enable lawmakers to collect pay raises 16 months early, despite a Constitutional ban on midterm salary hikes.

Rep. John W. Fichter, a Republican from Montgomery County, is the latest lawmaker to reject the extra money after initially accepting it in his paycheck that went out Aug. 1. The 25 legislators are in the minority, but at least they're willing to heed the pleas of their constituents.

A total of 133 of the state's 252 Senate and House members have accepted the expenses, which increased lawmakers' pay by at least 16 percent to a minimum $81,050 a year. Fichter would have made $85,100 a year with the unvouchered expenses, getting an extra boost because of his subcommittee chairmanship post. Instead, he will make $69,647 this year.

The salary increases for all House members will take effect after the November 2006 election — unless they’re voted out of office before then. The Constitution bars midterm pay raises, but many lawmakers have used a loophole in the law to start collecting the money early.

Now let's turn to the Abbot and Costello of the Pennsylvania Assembly.

Daggers to Pennsylvania House Speaker John M. Perzel, believed to be the mastermind of the Great Pay Grab of 2005. Perzel, a Republican, made his first public appearance in Harrisburg since the raises were approved on July 7, but refused to answer questions about the fleecing of taxpayers.

Several reporters attempted to get Perzel to comment about the pay raise and the public backlash, but Perzel would only say, "There’s nothing to talk about. It was passed on July 7." Wrong, answer, Big John. There’s plenty to say about the middle-of-the night heist of taxpayer dollars without debate or public hearings. Not to mention the scandalous violation of the state Constitution by lawmakers who sneaked their pay raises early under the guise of unvouchered expenses.

Playing dumb, Perzel told reporters he knew nothing about plans by rank-and-file legislators to introduce bills to either rescind the raises entirely or repeal the unvouchered expenses scam.

"I haven't heard about it yet. If that’s what you guys are saying, I guess somebody's going to introduce it. We'll see what happens," Perzel said.

This is the most powerful man in Pennsylvania? The problems in Harrisburg start with the leadership and Perzel is Exhibit A.

Daggers to Senate Pro Tempore Robert Jubilirer, another party boss who instigated the 2 a.m. pay raise, for attacking critics (voters) in radio commercials.

Jubilirer, a Republican, doesn’t defend the middle-of-the-night pay grab in commercials airing in his home district near Altoona, but goes on the attack against a group call Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania, which is spearheading a campaign to expose the money-grubbing politicians who control Harrisburg.

"An outside special interest group is spending thousands of dollars on negative radio ads attacking our state senator, Robert Jubilirer. Don't believe them," the commercial trumpets. Attacking the messenger is a popular tactic when phonies are exposed. All the information presented by YCOP is a matter of public record.

Jubilirer voted for the pay raise and demanded loyalty from his rank-and-file members. Now that most Pennsylvanians are wise to career politicians like Jubilirer, the party bosses are going on the attack.

The primary election is still eight months away, but Jubilirer’s desperate attempt to cover his tracks shows us how worried politicians are that the voters are on to them.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Exploiting human misery for political gain

It came as no surprise that Cindy Sheehan, the troubled woman who spent the summer camped near President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, would find a way to blame the president for Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Judging from her previous rants ("The United States is the biggest mass murderer in the history of the world" and "This country is not worth dying for" and "George Bush is a killer"), Sheehan followed the script of her left-wing puppet masters by blaming the president for the death and destruction left behind by the hurricane.

If you haven’t been following Sheehan’s meteoric rise in the left-wing media as a 21st century version of "Hanoi Jane," Sheehan believes her son’s death fighting in Iraq was caused by President Bush — not the Islamic terrorists who killed Army Spc. Casey Sheehan. Doesn’t matter that her son volunteered for the Army and never objected to serving his country in a time of war.

"Baghdad Cindy" Sheehan wants the United States to surrender from Iraq and Afghanistan and abandon Israel. She also wants President Bush, whom she has called "the biggest terrorist in the world," a "filth-spewer and warmonger," an "evil maniac," and a "war criminal" impeached and put in jail.
The apologists for the radical left say Sheehan is exercising her right to free speech. Any reasonable observer would conclude she crossed the line into treason a long time ago.

Cindy Sheehan can stand in the Texas sun all day and scream obscenities at the president’s motorcade, but do we need to see her face on television every night or read her tirades in newspapers every day? Sheehan offers no alternative to facing the Islamic fascists who want to kill every man, woman and child in the United States except to surrender.

The United States is not worth dying for? Tell that to the millions of Americans who gave their lives in World War I and World War II and Korea and Vietnam. Tell that to the brave men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan who took the fight to the enemy to protect their homeland from another attack.

Openly sympathizing with the fanatics who killed 3,000 innocent Americans on Sept. 11 — not to mention her own son — is the mark of a lunatic. When the puppetmasters behind Sheehan — Michael Moore and his Hollywood pals, Democratic Party strategists (including Howard Dean’s former campaign manager) and The New York Times — are done using her for their purposes, they’ll toss aside.

Speaking of The New York Times, the newspaper’s editorial writers are complaining that President Bush gave "the worst speech of his life" when he announced how the federal government would respond to the hurricane relief effort. Didn’t give a good speech? Give me a break. The people of New Orleans don’t need inspiring speeches or political harangue. They need water, food, medicine and shelter. But the New York Times couldn’t resist taking a pot-shot at President Bush in an editorial titled, "Waiting for a Leader."

No criticism of the Democratic governor of Louisiana, who looked like a deer caught in the headlights of oncoming traffic during the first 48 hours after the hurricane struck. No criticism of New Orleans’ Democratic mayor, who got the first lifeboat out of town and abandoned the city’s poorest people to fend for themselves.

Cindy Sheehan is a pawn of the radical left. But how do you explain a string of Democratic politicians — Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Al Sharpton, New York Sen. Charles Schumer, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco — jumping on the "It’s all Bush’s fault" bandwagon?

All of them came out with absurd statements that the President’s environmental and economic policies somehow led to one of the greatest natural disasters in history. Last time I checked, New Orleans was settled 300 years ago. Bush wasn’t the president back then. He wasn’t the one who decided to build a city below sea level in one of the most active hurricane zones in the world.

And what kind of nitwit would hold a political leader responsible for floods, earthquakes, droughts or hurricanes? Criticizing the response to the natural disaster is one thing. But blaming the president for causing it?

Instead of working as one nation to rescue the people who are suffering and work to rebuild the devastated Gulf Coast, the Michael Moore/Cindy Sheehan crowd is trying to use the misery of the victims of Hurricane Katrina for political gain.

The left has already played the race card, calling the disaster a "Black Genocide," implying that a white president is intentionally killing black Americans.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. inexplicably compared the hurricane to the invasion of Iraq and questioned how a president who professes to be a Christian would allow the black residents of New Orleans to suffer? An NAACP spokesperson accused the administration of "disparate treatment" of the victims because most were black. An ACLU leader said the federal response would have been much different if white people were trapped in New Orleans. And the absurdity goes on.

"Baghdad Cindy" and the bottom feeders from the political left have done more harm to their cause than they realize. The floodwaters will recede. Homes, offices, churches and schools will be rebuilt. New Orleans, one of America’s great cities, will rise again. The left has lost what little credibility it had by using Hurricane Katrina for political grandstanding.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at