Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Rendell, Legislature stagger into 2006

There’s a new poll out on the job our distinguished governor and esteemed members of the state legislature are doing. It can be summed up in a few words: Dead Men (and Women) Walking.

How mad are Pennsylvania voters at Rendell and the other Harrisburg Hogs? The legislators are even less popular with constituents today than they were before they repealed the outrageous pay raise they gave themselves in July.

The poll by Strategic Vision was taken before Christmas, which means voters expressed their distaste for Rendell and the larcenous legislators before the Harrisburg Hogs packed it in for their holiday vacation having failed to agree on property-tax relief during the 11-week special session Rendell called back in September.

Not only did the legislature fail for the 30th consecutive year to deliver property-tax relief, but a package of tax breaks to help businesses, coupled with a slight reduction in the personal income tax, was vetoed by Gov. Rendell right before Christmas. Ebenezer Scrooge has nothing on Ed Rendell when it comes to sending a Bah, Humbug! to beleaguered Pennsylvania taxpayers.

Here’s a brief recap of Rendell’s first three years in office. Rendell signed a $1 billion increase in the state income tax in his first year. Rendell pushed through slot gambling in his second year (which is a form of regressive taxation because senior citizens who can least afford to lose money will be the ones turning over their quarters to the one-armed bandits when Rendell’s slot parlors open in 2007.)

And let’s not forget the $52 occupational privilege tax that Rendell imposed on just about every worker in the state. It’s called something like an emergency services tax, but it’s just another way for Rendell to lift $52 from your paycheck for the privilege of having a job in one of the most heavily taxed states in the union.

The Strategic Vision poll, based on telephone interviews conducted between Dec. 16-18 of 1,200 likely voters in Pennsylvania, ages 18 and up, shows that voters have long memories when it comes to the pay-jackers. The numbers do not bode well for Rendell, the 203 members of the House and half of the 50 state Senate members, all of whom face reelection in 2006.

Saying I’m sorry apparently isn’t good enough for furious voters, who are tired of empty promises by Rendell and the legislators.

Rendell’s failure to keep his campaign promise of tax relief for the third year in a row and the legislature’s unwillingness to reform Pennsylvania’s onerous property taxes appear to be the ingredients for a perfect storm that will sweep aside some of the biggest political names in the state in 2006.

Even Teflon Ed Rendell is losing his luster with voters. Less than half of the voters sampled -- 45 percent -- approve of Rendell’s job performance, while 37 percent disapprove and 18 percent are undecided.

The Strategic Vision poll has the GOP field down to a two-horse race, with NFL Hall-of-Famer Lynn Swann and former Lt. Gov. Bill Scranton way ahead of the other two candidates, Jeff Piccola and Jim Panyard. Strategic Vision asked voters "If the Republican primary were today, whom would you vote for?" This is how Republican voters responded: Lynn Swann, 39 percent; Bill Scranton, 36 percent; Jeff Piccola, 15 percent and Jim Panyard, 5 percent.

More troubling for Rendell was head-to-head matchups with the two leading GOP candidates.

If the election for governor was held today, and the choice was between Rendell and Swann, Rendell finished with 45 percent of the vote, followed closely by Swann at 41 percent. Not bad for a former football player who hasn’t formally announcedthat he’s running for governor. It appears Swann could clean Rendell’s clock in western and central Pennsylvania, leaving Philadelphia and its suburbs for Rendell’s last stand.

Scranton also matches up well against Rendell. If the election for governor was held today, and the choice was between Rendell and Scranton, here’s how the numbers shake out: Rendell 45 percent to Scranton’s 42 percent.

Rendell was leading Swann and Scranton by double digits just a couple of months ago.

The most telling numbers involve the hapless state legislature. Asked if they approve or disapprove of the Pennsylvania legislature’s job performance, only 18 percent of voters said they approve. A whopping 64 percent disapprove and another 18 percent are undecided. Hint to incumbent state legislators: When only two out of 10 voters think you’re doing a good job, you’d better start checking the help wanted ads.

The full poll results are posted on the firm’s Web site,

Just to show that Pennsylvania voters blameRepublicans and Democrats equally for the sad state of affairs in the commonwealth, the final question in the poll was, "Do you think Pennsylvania is headed in the right direction or wrong direction?" Only 32 percent said Pennsylvania is headed in the right direction, while 55 percent said the state is headed in the wrong direction and 13 percent were undecided.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Putting Christ back into Christmas

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was 30. Then for three years, He was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled 200 miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself.

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth — His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

This excerpt was adapted from a sermon by Dr. James Allan Francis in "The Real Jesus and Other Sermons," a collection published in 1926 by the Judson Press of Philadelphia.

I devoted space to the same essay last year and received a tremendous response from readers who are upset that so much of Christmas has been subverted by the secularist movement.

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and American Atheists Inc. have worked hard with their liberal allies in the mainstream media to subjugate the celebration of Christmas.

This year marks a turning point in the secular war against Christmas and all things Christian. The vast majority of Americans who consider themselves Christian — 85 percent of U.S. residents — are fighting back.

Facing such an overwhelming counterattack, the secular left has resorted to its tried-and-true diversionary tactics — denying it launched a war on Christmas in the first place.

Left-wing newspaper columnists and TV pundits have received their marching orders from their nefarious leaders (Screamin' Howard Dean?) and have dutifully written columns or made the rounds on TV news shows rejecting overwhelming evidence of the assault on Christmas. This amounts to a surrender by the left.

Christmas is not a winter festival. It is not a designation of a retail season. It is not about Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, red-nosed reindeer or colored lights. It is the celebration of the birth of the most influential figure in the history of mankind, Jesus Christ. It is both a federal holiday and a religious holiday in the United States, which today is the most populous Christian nation on Earth.

Christmas is not part of a triumvirate of equal December celebrations. Hanukah is a separate observance for Jewish people. It commemmorates a miracle, but it is not Christmas. Kwanzaa is a harvest festival invented by a California college professor in 1966.

Why Kwanzaa is considered in the same breath as Christmas or Hanukah is one of the great mysteries of the universe. (The truth is that Kwanzaa is a favorite holiday for the secular left because it does not involve paying homage to a deity. So the liberals can take some comfort in going around saying, "Happy Kwanzaa," which sounds a little better than "Joyous Winter Solstice" or "Happy Festivus," the fictional holiday from TV's "Seinfield.")

Those of us who grew up bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas did not see the true threat to the holiday posed by the secular left, which has been planning its all-out assault on Christmas for years.

I took my family last week to a well-known seasonal attraction that brags of having the largest display of Christmas lights in the world. For the first time in seven annual visits, I spotted a "Kwanzaa Tree" on sale in the gift shop. What exactly is a Kwanzaa tree? If I wanted to see a Kwanzaa tree, I would have visited Kwanzaa Village instead of Christmas Village.

To their credit, the owners of Christmas Village near Reading, Pa., have made no attempt to remove religious symbols from the celebration of Christmas at their attraction. There are crosses and mangers and Bible passages throughout the exhibit. I fully expect ACLU protesters next year demanding the removal of such Christmas traditions.

There are 256 million Christians in the United States. It’s time their voices are heard.

It’s time for parents to demand that schools celebrate Christmas again. If school administrators won’t allow Christmas back into their buildings, go to your local school board and demand action. If the school board members are too timid to act, vote them out.

If there’s a concert in your community and the organizers won’t play Christmas carols, walk out and never patronize the group again.

If your local department store wants to sell you "holiday" merchandise, pass on it. Tell the store manager you’ll come back to do your Christmas shopping when the store recognizes Christmas again.

The secular left, which quotes the Bible when it suits its sinister purposes, likes to remind Christians that they should be meek and turn the other cheek when they’re offended.

But there’s a time for Christians to stand their ground. I say stop turning the other cheek and fight for the restoration of Christmas to its proper place in American society.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Tony Phyrillas
Columnist, The Mercury

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A lump of coal for Pennsylvania legislators

Gift-giving is easy this year for the 253 members of the Pennsylvania House of Lords, who have spent 11 weeks in their gilded palace in Harrisburg and still haven’t come up with a workable plan for tax relief for the state’s taxpayers. The only thing our overpaid and under-worked legislators deserve this Christmas is a lump of coal.

Until this summer, the biggest response I received from readers was for a series of columns leading up to the November 2004 presidential election, culminating in my companion columns stating 30 reasons why George Bush deserved reelection and 30 reasons John Kerry should not be elected president.

Karl Rove may have gotten all the credit for Bush's victory, but let's not forget that George Bush carried 16 of the 24 municipalities where The Mercury has widespread readership. Rove delivered 51 percent of the vote to Bush nationally, but I delivered two-thirds of The Mercury's coverage area to the president. I’m still waiting for my Christmas card from the George and Laura.

Since July 7, when the House of Lords convened under cover of night to approve pay raises for themselves, the governor and state judges, I’ve received about 200 e-mails from readers thanking me for helping expose the greed and corruption that pervades Harrisburg. Every single person who wrote said they plan to carry their anger at their legislators into the 2006 elections. And I’m not even counting the 10,000 letters from readers that The Mercury delivered to the state capitol in September demanding that the Harrisburg Hogs give back the money.

The politicians aren’t going down without a fight.

Here’s a good example of the incestuous relationships our political class has established. The Democratic Party chairman in Berks County, William G. Evans, took offense to my recent critique of two of his cronies, career politicians named Mike O'Pake and Dante Santoni Jr.

The party boss believes the Republicans should be blamed for the pay raise fiasco. Never mind that legislative Democrats went along with the pay raise. Never mind that Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, signed the pay raise into law. Evans would have you believe that Democrats were innocent bystanders in the raid on the public treasury.

The problem with ideologues like Evans is that they will excuse the behavior of politicians as long as they’re in his party. Democrats and Republicans are equally at fault for the sad state of affairs in Pennsylvania. The people’s revolt crossed party lines. What this state needs is a fresh start. Political hacks like O’Pake and Santoni must go. Rendell must go. And the entire GOP leadership in the legislature must go.

Evans conveniently neglected to mention in a recent letter of indignation that he is also a candidate for the state legislature in 2006. There appears to be plenty of room to feed at the public trough. I would be curious to see if Messrs. O'Pake and Santoni will be contributing to Evan's campaign.

It's also worth nothing that Evans (unlike his GOP counterpart) has not uttered a single word of condemnation about the Great Pay Heist of 2005, blaming it on the GOP-controlled leadership in Harrisburg even though every Democratic state legislator from Berks voted for the pay raise and accepted the money as "unvouchered expenses." Evans appears on a weekly public access cable show in Berks County and so far has not been willing to admit that his Democratic buddies are equally at fault for the mess in Harrisburg.

So if you're a voter in the 129th District, don't be fooled again by electing another self-serving politician to represent you in 2006. As the great British philosopher Pete Townshend once said, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

And did you see the story about how much money the two state Supreme Court justices poured into their Nov. 8 retention vote when it became clear that voters would going to oust them to send a message to the legislators, who won't be on the ballot until 2006?

Justices Russell Nigro and Sandra Schultz Newman spent $800,000 between them to try to save their jobs. Newman, a Republican, managed to narrowly retain her job. Nigro, a Democrat, became the first state judge ousted by Pennsylvania voters.

Where did Nigro and Newman get $800,000? From the party bosses at the county and state level who control the Republican and Democratic parties in Pennsylvania. These warlords don't care about the average Pennsylvanian. They crave power and influence. That's why they supported the judges. They're the ones propping up nincompoops like John Perzel and Robert Jubilerer.

The key is now to continue the work started in 2005 but turning out as many incumbent state legislators as possible in the May primary and November general election.

We've got them on the run. We can take back this state. But we must remain united and focused on the ultimate objective: Restoring representative government in the birthplace of American democracy.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hands off my Christmas!

An open letter to the nuts who want to spoil my holiday:

To all of those who have taken it upon themselves to remove any vestiges of Christmas from the holiday season I politely suggest you take a flying leap.

To the ACLU: The time has come for us to limit your "free speech." It is not the National Rifle Association we fear, but you. You are an outlaw organization. You do nothing productive.

You do undermine the foundations and traditions of my country, and my country is the most powerful, most successful, freest, most open-hearted, open-minded and humane society to evolve since humans poked heads out of the darkness of caves. You are fouling it. You suck, get out.

To all the professors, judges, do-gooders, left-wing whackos, politically correct retailers, school administrators, elected politicians, members of various governmental agencies and just plain dunderheads who are fortunate enough to live in this glorious nation but who work to destroy its foundations and traditions because you have no idea what we are really about; to those of you who take our money with impunity and then fail to serve us; I say get off our backs. Keep your useless hands off of Christmas, "In God We Trust," "One Nation Under God," Nativity scenes, the "Ten Commandments," my church, my schools and my kids. It is time for you to go. Go now while you still have time.

I am declaring war on all of you, and I expect rational, proud, God-fearing, fun-loving citizens in this city, state and nation have also had enough and will join me.

To all of you. Your days are done. Not one step further will you take. Today I commit to take back my culture, freedoms and beliefs from those of you who think it is your "right" to remove anything that offends you.

You offend me, and I have had it up to here with your activities.

Here are the facts: 86 percent of Americans believe in God, family, baseball, apple pie, Christmas and the fundamental underpinnings of the goodness of the United States. I believe Americans are aching to join me and to take action and tell the other 14 percent of you who are not so disposed to pack up and get out. We are no longer going to tolerate your nonsense.

We are taking back Christmas, our schools, our government and our values. Go start your own country.

Finally, those are not "holiday trees;" they are "Christmas trees." It is not a "holiday pageant;" it is a "Christmas Show." It is not "holiday infant;" it is "the Baby Jesus." It is my Pledge of Allegiance, my prayer in school, my money and my country. And oh yeah ... have a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2005

And you thought I was conservative?

I've been on vacation so I haven't had time to write anything. I'm going to turn to faithful readers for a little help this week. In place of my usual rantings, I offer comments sent by readers on some of my recent columns.

The Internet is a wonderful thing. Here I am in my little cubicle in Pottstown and somebody halfway around the world is reading this after it's posted online. A member of the Air Force stationed in the Middle East sent me the following e-mail regarding the Democratic Party's call to surrender in Iraq:

"Bravo. You are correct (about the Democrats' defeatist drumbeat). For the safety of our families and country, we must vote them out of Congress in 2006. We need to send a message to the terrorists — and their Democratic allies. Also, we must hasten the demise of the mainstream media. The American people need to wake up to the facts and the lies of the liberals."

It turns out that not all teachers have to sign a loyalty oath to the radical left. A history professor at a prestigious private school sent these comments about the same column:

"I just finished reading your article and it is right on and brilliant! As a history instructor for 20 years at the high school and college level, it is so refreshing to see reason/wisdom about the war we are in! As you can imagine, the (political correctness) in my job is pervasive and destroying America. Keep up the great writing!"

And still another response to the same column from the founder of the Web site,

"What a great article. Keep reminding the left about other wars. God bless your talented words and skillful writing abilities. I'd love for you to become part of our growing family of conservative writers."

Some readers have been writing me on a regular basis for nearly two years. Here's proof that great minds think alike from one of my favorite regulars:

"Virtually every time I read one of your columns, I am prompted to sit down and write a brief note complimenting you on your efforts. Such was the case again a few days ago after my intentionally brief letter to the editor was published in The Mercury. It was relative to your column, which likewise touched on "wounded Eagle" Ed Rendell minding the constituents' store instead of concentrating on his seemingly full-time job as a TV commentator! After I make certain my name is not in small type on page 2 (that's where The Mercury publishes a list of the day's obituaries), I immediately go to the editorial page to check on your efforts to enlighten the liberals!

I seem to be attracting a growing international audience. In addition to the Air Force veteran stationed in Qatar, I've received e-mails from Australia, Canada, Cyprus, Greece and Great Britain. Another great thing about cyberspace is that columns I wrote months ago are still floating around out there. This note came just a couple of weeks ago from a fan in Plymouth, England, on a column I wrote in the spring:

"Just a quick note to say well done on the article titled 'If Syria leaves Lebanon, shouldn't Turkey leave Cyprus?' I am a Greek Cypriot born in the U.K. and have fond memories of the golden beaches of Famagusta and not a day has passed where my heart does not ache for the return of our ancestral homes."

I've had a big fan in the Pittsburgh area ever since I was interviewed on a radio talk show about one of my columns. He writes frequently.

"I am always amazed at how the liberals or should I say the socialists are always on the wrong side of American history and I think I have figured out why — they are un-American. They want America to be something different than the principles this country was founded on. The anti-American state was already tried and failed, it was called the Soviet Union."

I also received a nice e-mail from someone who works for the Rendell administration. For the record, I am willing to go to jail to protect the writer's identify should Gov. Rendell attempt to weed out the last remaining conservative in Harrisburg.

"God bless America and God bless you, sir. Please continue to write this very important and very powerful stuff. It is imperative that we get this message out as a constant reminder to all real and true America-loving Americans. These Democrats are play flat-out American-bashing nuts."

Well, there you have it. Just a sampling of fan mail from the past couple of weeks. And you thought I was a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy?

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at (and you too might make it into his next column if he doesn't feel like working too hard that day).

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The left declares war on Christmas

I warned you a year ago that the secular left would not rest until it abolishes all public celebration of Christmas. Some didn’t believe me. Others knew the war was on, but didn’t know how to fight back.

If you haven’t heard about the secular left’s assault on Christmas by now, you must be living in a cave. From John Gibson’s best-selling book, "The War on Christmas" to nightly updates on Bill O’Reilly’s top-rated news show to front-page articles in newspapers, Americans are starting to realize how sinister the secular left is as its hidden agenda is exposed.

Three groups — the American Civil Liberties Union, American Atheists Inc. and Americans United for Separation of Church and State — are the Grinches behind the attacks on Christmas.

Isn’t it ironic that all three have the word "American" in their names, as if they represent a large segment of Americans? That couldn’t be further from the truth. The largest member of the anti-Christmas Axis of Evil — the ACLU — boasts 400,000 members, but they’ve been caught in the past exaggerating their membership rolls. The other two groups don’t like to say how many members they have, which is a sign that they can have their annual conventions in a broom closet.

At least 85 percent of Americans are Christians, making the United States the largest Christian nation on Earth. Many Jews observe Christmas. Polls say that 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. So where does that leave the secular left?

If Michael Newdow, America’s most famous atheist, wants to lock himself in his room on Christmas and eat a bowl of gruel while rooting for Ebenezer Scrooge, let him. But don’t deny the rights of 255 million Americans to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

And speaking of holidays, I’m sure Newdow, who has sued the government to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance and the motto "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency is working on his next lawsuit, forcing the government to stop designating Christmas as a federal holiday.

That’s what we’ve come to in this country. A few atheists able to deny the Judeo-Christian heritage of the United States.

Who is fighting on behalf of the majority of Americans who treasure Christmas and look forward to celebrating this special day? Until recently, there was no organized opposition to the anti-Christmas brigade. But thanks to the Alliance Defense Fund and to the Rev. Jerry Fallwell, there is a wealth of information available on the topic. Go to or to American Defense Fund’s Web site at or to The Liberty Alliance Web site at to learn more about joining the battle to save Christmas.

Even political leaders are developing a backbone when it comes to defending Christmas. Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert presided over the lighting of the Capitol Christmas Tree last week in Washington, D.C. It had been known as a holiday tree since the start of Clinton administration.

Republican Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis of Virginia recently introduced House Resolution 579, urging that the symbols and traditions of Christmas be protected, and that references to Christmas supported.

"Who would have thought that we would live in a society where the display of Santa Claus and the mentioning of a Christmas tree would bring out the speech police?" Davis asked in a press release announcing her resolution. Davis said retail chains have banned workers from wishing people "Merry Christmas" and the Christmas tree has become a "holiday tree. "This is political correctness run amok," Davis said.

But it’s more than just political correctness or not wanting to offend anyone. I’ve never been one to believe in conspiracy theories, but when columnists and editorial writers at large newspapers across the country simultaneously defend the ACLU’s attempts to suppress public celebrations of Christmas, I’m beginning to sense a vast left-wing conspiracy at work.

The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, to name a few, ran almost identical opinion pieces in the past two weeks defending the radical left’s assault on Christmas.

If you are one of the 255 million Americans who believe Christmas should be celebrated in its full glory — and not just as a retail season — then it’s time to go on the offensive. Religious free speech is protected just like political free speech. It is your constitution right to celebrate Christmas as the religious holiday that it is. Start wishing everyone a "Merry Christmas." Tell store managers that you’ll take your business elsewhere if they keep up the "Happy Holidays" drivel or refuse to display a Christmas tree in favor of Frosty the Snowman or Rudoph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

"Efforts to morph Christmas into this generic 'winter celebration' go beyond the secularization of the day," Rep. Davis said. "Santa effectively took the Christ out of Christmas years ago, but this new effort looks to replace Christmas and even its secular symbols with the celebration of nothing. Christmas symbols symbolize Christmas, and Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Therefore, the purge of Christmas is the goal."

Will we allow it happen? I’m willing to fight for Christmas. Are you? Allow me to be among the first to wish you a Merry Christmas. God bless us, every one.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Hammy Awards for the Harrisburg Hogs

It’s been a tough year for the Pennsylvania House of Lords. They struck it rich on July 7 with a middle-of-the-night pay raise for themselves only to see that money vanish four months later when us ingrates (aka taxpayers) demanded they give it back. As a consolation for our hard-working Harrisburg Hogs, I’ve decided to start a tradition of handing out some end-of-the-year awards. Here’s my list of recipients of the "Hammys," named in honor of our gluttonous state political leaders. And the losers are...

ED RENDELL: The governor took a page from John Kerry’s flip-flop book and came out with at least five different positions on the payjacking issues, depending on how much public anger the polls showed. Exposing himself as a craven political opportunist, Rendell is as culpable for the Great Pay Heist debacle as the legislature. Rendell could have put a stop to the entire sorry episode by refusing to sign the pay raise bill. But he didn’t. He turned his back on working Pennsylvanians and that state’s struggling elderly population. Voters should get the last say in 2006 when Rendell is up for reelection. Rendell has as much chance of returning to the governor’s mansion as the Eagles have of playing in the Super Bowl.

SPEAKER JOHN PERZEL: Republican Perzel goes from the Kingpin of Pennsylvania government to a court jester in four short months. I’ve seen him on TV presiding in the General Assembly and I’m waiting for Perzel to walk into the House chamber wearing a white suit and hat while chomping on a cigar, a la "Boss Hogg" from "The Dukes of Hazzard." Was it the fact that Boss Perzel fled the country the day after he pushed the House into voting the pay raise? Was it that he feigned ignorance of the public outcry when he returned? Was it when Perzel lied to a fourth-grader about arriving at a school in a limousine when the kids saw the limo parked in front of the school? Was it his refusal to allow the repeal bill for a vote until his own party threatened to stuff an apple in his mouth and serve him on a platter? Buy him a red nose and oversized shoes. Perzel should be performing with the circus.

RALPH "HERE COMES THE JUDGE" CAPPY: The previously unknown chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court won’t face voters until 2009, but you can stick a fork in Justice Cappy — the maestro who orchestrated the pay grab is done. Only in Cappy’s world can judges sue taxpayers to force them to raise the judges’ salaries, as a couple of Cappy’s minions did this week. The state Supreme Court needs an overhaul. Two more justices will be on the November 2006 ballot. Doesn’t matter what their names are. Just vote no to regal justices.

THE ROYAL FAMILY: Let’s say you’re one of 253 members of the Pennsylvania House of Lords, the largest state legislature in the country. You’re making about twice as much money as the average Pennsylvania worker. Your state consistently ranks at the bottom in almost every measure of economic vitality. You put in about 77 days a year in Harrisburg and receive incredible benefits. You have job security for life — 90 percent of legislative incumbents win reelection. You can retire at a young age with a full pension and health care benefits. Why mess with a good thing? Greed? Pride? Arrogance? All of the above? Not everyone voted for the pay raise, but far too many legislators have been corrupted by the Dark Side. Too many lawmakers stood silently as the band of merry men robbed from the poor (taxpayers) to give to the rich (themselves). A clean sweep of the cesspool that is Harrisburg is the only hope for Pennsylvania.

GOP LEADERSHIP: "Boss Hogg" Perzel, House Majority Leader Sam Smith, House Whip David Argall, Senate Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer and Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill led their troops to ruin and may have found a way to hand majority control back to the Democrats in 2006. They promised their lackeys there would be no backlash from the pay raise vote. And Custer told the Fifth Cavalry the Indians were friendly. If the rank-and-file don’t revolt and start serving up the heads of legislative leaders on a platter, voters will finish the job in 2006.

BILL DEWEESE: The Democratic leader in the House found a bipartisan issue he could join with his GOP counterparts in supporting — fattening their own bank accounts. DeWeese cracked the whip on House Democrats so they’d vote for the pay raise. When 14 Democrats refused, DeWeese demoted them from committee chairman posts and promoted 14 yes-men in their place. So where does this leave DeWeese now that nobody is getting a pay raise? If he admits the pay raise was a mistake, how can DeWeese justify demoting 14 legislators who refused to vote the pay raise in the first place? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Bill.

MIKE VEON: The Last Man Standing. The Senate voted 50-0 to repeal the pay raise. The House voted 197-1 to repeal. Veon, the dapper House Democratic whip, stood his ground and voted against the repeal. I predict Veon will be the only person voting for Mike Veon when his name appears on the ballot next May.

DISHONORABLE MENTION: She’s a bit player on the Harrisburg scene, but who could forget the "Let Them Eat Cake!" attitude of Rep. Jacqueline R. Crahalla, 150th Dist., who was asked by a reporter in August if she would be willing to heed constituent pleas to repeal the pay raise. "I’m staying the course," said an incredulous Crahalla. "The nastier people get, the more stubborn I get." If you live in Crahalla’s voting district, you may want to clip this and take it to the voting booth in May as a reminder of what Mrs. Crahalla thinks of the people she was elected to serve. Other sponges who need to be permanently retired include Senate Democratic leader Robert J. Mellow and Senate Minority Whip Mike O’Pake.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Judges' lawsuit shows that greed is alive and well

This editorial was published Thursday, December 8, 2005, in The Mercury, Pottstown, Pa.

The greed in Pennsylvania hit another milestone this week.

Earlier this week, two Philadelphia trial judges filed lawsuits within a day of each other seeking to reinstate the unpopular government pay raises, claiming the legislature violated the state constitution when it repealed the increases two weeks ago.

The possibility of a lawsuit being filed by a judge has been rumored since lawmakers, worried about their re-election prospects next year, began publicly considering a repeal of the pay raises in early November.

The repeal became law on Nov. 16, after legislators endured four months of heavy public criticism that followed the July pay hike. The furor among citizens focused on the size of the legislative raises, the secrecy with which they passed the legislation, and the legal maneuver that allowed lawmakers to skirt a constitutional ban against midterm raises and collect the money right away.

The pay-raise fallout inspired movements to sweep legislators out of office, but without any lawmakers up for election this year, voters demonstrated their anger on Election Day by rejecting Supreme Court Justice Russell M. Nigro, who was running for a second 10-year term. Similarly, each of the state’s approximately 420 Common Pleas Court judges are elected to 10-year terms.

However, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Albert W. Sheppard Jr., who filed the suit this week, will soon reach the mandatory retirement age of 70, meaning he will not face voters again before he retires from his elected spot on the bench. So, it seems he had nothing to lose by suing to get back his raise. That is, nothing to lose except respect and a semblance of decency in this commonwealth, where greed and ineffectiveness are the rule instead of the exception.

The second suit was filed by Judge John W. Herron. Both suits cite a portion of the constitution that prohibits the legislature from lowering the salaries of judges during their terms of office “unless by law applying generally to all salaried officers of the commonwealth.”

The passage was created to stop state legislators from punishing judges by docking their pay. The suit seeks to reinstate the raises for all three branches of government. House and Senate leaders stressed that the repeal was not intended to punish judges, and that they believed it complied with the constitutional definition of “all salaried officers.”

“This is not intended to be punitive,” the Senate’s Republican leader, David J. Brightbill, said on Nov. 16 as he introduced the legislation on the Senate floor. “This is intended to rectify a mistake.”

Voters across Pennsylvania have made it clear they were not satisfied by the repeal; they are still smarting from the arrogance and greed displayed by the pay-raise vote in July and the ensuing reluctance among legislators to be held accountable. Judges are not above voters’ ire, as the ouster of Nigro demonstrated.

The vote represented the first time since retention votes were instituted that a sitting state Supreme Court justice has failed retention. Sheppard may not have cause to worry about his own retention since he will be retiring, but the integrity of public office and of judges is at stake.

The lawsuits demonstrate the pervasive qualities of greed among elected officials. They may have been filed by just two individuals, but voters have proven they are ready and willing to take out other elected officials to prove their point.

Sheppard and Herron have done a great disservice to their colleagues on the bench.

Copyright 2005 The Mercury

Monday, December 05, 2005

Legislators have not learned their lesson

Gov. Ed Rendell declared the issue of the Great Pay Heist of 2005 officially dead on Nov. 16 when he signed the bill repealing the legislative pay hike he signed into law on July 8.

"Today I am signing a bill that will, for all intents and purposes, put this debate behind us," Rendell said. "In this Capitol building, far too many days have passed without focusing on important issues. I urge the Legislature to return to the people’s business and hope that by signing this bill, we can channel the great interest and energy that was focused on this issue for the good of the citizens we serve." Yada, yada, yada.

It’s been 18 days since the Legislature got back to the "people’s business" but nothing much has been accomplished in that time. We still don’t have property tax relief, no increase in the minimum wage, no relief for small businesses struggling with skyrocketing health care insurance costs, and we’re still waiting for the Legislature to provide life insurance for Pennsylvania soldiers stationed in combat zones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo.

I know what you’re thinking. Let’s give these hard working legislators some slack. After all, they did take a 12-day Thanksgiving vacation during the past 18 days. I don’t know about you, but I only got one day off for Thanksgiving. And if you eliminate weekends (when Harrisburg is a ghost town), these exhausted public servants only managed to put in a couple of hours at the office in the past three weeks. Oh, but they did give themselves a pay raise on Dec. 1 when their automatic 3.6 percent cost-of-living increase kicked in.

Your entry-level Pennsylvania legislator now makes around $30,000 more than the median income of a Pennsylvania worker. And you should know this magic number by now: Pennsylvania legislators have averaged 77 days in Harrisburg in each of the past five years. That compares to the 245 days most Pennsylvanians put in at the office. Sure they tell you they work hard when they’re not in Harrisburg, but posing for a photo with a giant check or eating eggs at a Kiwanis breakfast is not what I call work.

And unlike state lawmakers, we have to pay for our own gas and provide our own vehicle to get to work. We have to pay for our own lunch. We have to contribute thousands of dollars a year to cover our health insurance and if we want to put a few bucks away for retirement in a 401(k) plan, our employer takes it out of our paycheck each week. State legislators get a big fat pension, courtesy of Joe Q. Public. They can retire in style at age 50 while you and get the bill for their pension … and their life insurance … and their long-term disability care insurance.

Some might say I’ve developed an unhealthy obsession about the Harrisburg Hogs, but I’m not ready to forgive and forget, especially when my own legislators — Sen. Michael A. O’Pake and Rep. Dante Santoni Jr. — a couple of sponges who’ve been living on my dime for most of their adults lives, have yet to apologize for their conduct.

O’Pake never met a camera he didn’t like — up until four months ago. Prior to that, his mug was in the newspaper or on local TV almost every night. If two or more people gathered anywhere in Berks County, O’Pake would find them and pose for a photo. He’s been keeping such a low profile since voting for the July 7 pay heist that I forgot what he looks like.

I predict Sen. O’Pake will serve out the remaining three years of his current term and retire. A couple other area Harrisurg Hogs (Sheila Miller in Berks County and Robert Flick in Chester County have already announced plans to retire instead of facing the voters in 2006) In four short months, O’Pake went from being the best-known and most popular politician in Berks County to somebody who is unelectable. And all he did was vote himself a big fat pay raise and thumb his nose at constituents for four months. Imagine that.

Santoni’s career in the House has been so indistinct that he’s been mistaken for a potted plant on more than one occasion. The guy has been in Harrisburg for a dozen years and hasn’t sponsored a bill or chaired a committee meeting. I guess the Democratic party bosses want to bring him along slowly.

Santoni’s claim to fame is following orders from the bosses by voting for the pay raise and accepting a low-level committee chairmanship when one of his fellow legislators was demoted for voting against the pay hike. Santoni represents a safe Democratic district, but all voters need is a choice and they’ll send Santoni a strong message about obliging the Harrisburg party bosses at the expense of the folks back home.

I received a mailing from Santoni in the spring that I’m thinking of having framed. In it, he claims credit for helping Gov. Rendell pass property tax reform by supporting the ill-fated Act 72 legislation. If that’s the best Santoni can say about his record in Harrisburg, he’d better update his resume. He’ll be looking for a real job after the 2006 elections.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Friday, December 02, 2005

The other pay raise kicks in for Pennsylvania legislators

An early Christmas present for our larcenous legislators?

Christmas comes early — and often — for the members of the Pennsylvania legislature. You didn’t think that an angry mob of voters was going to keep the larcenous legislators from lining their own pockets, did you?

Sure they repealed the July 7 pay raise as the noose tightened around their political necks, but they do not intend to part with the 3.6 percent pay raise they refer to as a cost-of-living increase. And where else but in the Pennsylvania legislature can you be on a two-week Thanksgiving break when your pay raise kicks in? They don’t even have to show up for work and they still get paid more for it.

The latest pay raise was put into place 10 years ago — the last time the legislators raided the public treasury — giving themselves immediate pay raises of 18 percent and enacting an automatic cost-of-living increase every year unless the legislators vote not to accept the higher pay. For the 10th year in a row, the legislators forgot to vote against the automatic pay raise. What’s in your wallet?

The legislators promised in 1995 that they would never seek or approve another pay raise for themselves as long as they could get an annual cost-of-living increase based on the inflation rate in Philadelphia. That "promise" apparently came with an expiration date. The July 7, 2005, pay raise vote by many of the same politicians who pledged 10 years ago never to give themselves a pay raise shows you can’t trust anything the Harrisburg Hogs say.

Our lawmakers have morphed into a permanent class of professional politicians, a legislative aristocracy if you will. Sadly, more than 90 percent of these freeloaders are reelected year after year. Two-thirds of them didn’t even have an opponent the last time they ran. That must change in 2006 or Pennsylvania is doomed.

Have state legislators enacted property tax reform in the past 10 years? No. Have they addressed Pennsylvania’s declining infrastructure? No. Are they willing to pass up donations from insurance industry lobbyists to place controls over skyrocketing health insurance premiums for Pennsylvania workers? No. Have they found a way to adequately fund public education, mass transit and libraries? No, no and no! Have they doubled their pension, upgraded their perks and given themselves pay raises for 10 consecutive years? Yes, yes and yes!

In the past decade, the legislature’s cost-of-living scam has increased base legislative salaries by 25 percent. As of Dec. 1, the base pay for a Pennsylvania legislator jumps from $69,647 to $72,300. Not bad for a part-time job (an average of 77 days a year spent in Harrisburg). Compare that to the median income in Pennsylvania of $42,950.

And does anyone buy the "we’re on call 24/7" rubbish that many of these arrogant public servants are spouting? When was the last time a state senator was called out at 3 a.m. to fight a fire? They’re not police officers. They’re not firefighters. They don’t work round-the-clock unless you count attending Kiwanis or Rotary breakfasts as work. Let’s just say there’s no heavy lifting involved in being a state legislator — if you don’t count picking up their big fat paychecks or their $129 daily meal allowance.

If you believe the legislators are truly contrite about the four-month pay-heist fiasco, you deserve the next tax increase Ed Rendell will sign into law if he remains in the governor’s mansion beyond 2006.

If you pull a bank heist and drop the money as police are chasing you down the street, you’re still going to go to jail for robbing the bank even though you didn’t get to keep the money. If you kidnap someone and have a change of heart, returning the hostage unharmed, you’re still facing kidnapping charges.

And don’t forget that more than 100 legislators have refused to pay back the extra money they reaped over the past four months as "unvouchered expenses" when they circumvented the state Constitution to collect the pay raise early. That’s about $4,000 per legislator.

Just because they voted to repeal the pay heist doesn’t mean they still didn’t stick up every Pennsylvania taxpayer in the middle of the night on July 7. Sorry won’t cut it. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Would you take a convicted criminal into your home? So why keep the larcenous legislators in the people’s house any longer?

The only way to reform Harrisburg is to run 99.9 percent of the current legislators and the governor out of town. That’s the only way you can protect you and your family from future assaults.

All 203 members of the House face reelection in 2006. At least 200 of them don’t deserve to return to Harrisburg. And 25 of the 50 state senators face the voters next year. At least 22 of them should be voted out. I’ll let you know soon which legislators deserve another chance in 2006. And let’s not forget Gov. Ed Rendell who signed the pay heist into law on July 8 and defended it for months before caving to public pressure. Pennsylvania has no future with Fast Eddie Rendell at the helm.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at