Monday, July 31, 2006

Jim Gerlach's chances are looking better

I've polished my crystal ball and I'm ready to make a prediction. Republican Jim Gerlach will win re-election to Congress in the 6th District by a comfortable margin.

Gerlach narrowly won re-election in 2004 against Democrat Lois Murphy. Many pundits are predicting another tight race in this year's Gerlach-Murphy rematch. Not me. I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that Gerlach will win by double his margin of victory from 2004.

Murphy is the beneficiary of tons of money from every left-wing political group under the sun, but I have a gut feeling about this race. Murphy's negative campaigning, the only type of campaign she knows how to run, has grown tiresome.

Murphy spent the entire 2004 campaign bashing Gerlach and blaming him for everything that went wrong in the country the previous two years. The voters of the 6th District, which stretches from the liberal Philadelphia suburbs to more conservative western Montgomery, northern Chester and southern Berks counties, are wise to Murphy.

There was a terrific letter to the editor published in The Mercury a couple of weeks ago from a reader who bemoaned Murphy's latest attempt to demonize Gerlach. "I suppose voters in the 6th District should expect as much from a candidate whose only viable position is that she hates Rep. Jim Gerlach," wrote Jillian Nebenfuhr of Phoenixville.

Gerlach has been an excellent legislator. He's intelligent, energetic, responsive to his constituents and genuinely enjoys his job. Gerlach spends a lot of time in his district — not just when running for re-election, which is about the only time you see some members of Congress.

Murphy is old news. She's a tax-and-spend liberal who rode John Kerry's coattails in 2004 to come close to defeating Gerlach, but there won't be a presidential race this year. The 2006 ballot will feature embattled Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, running on a "vote for me and I’ll raise your taxes" platform, and Bob Casey Jr., a 6-foot-tall sleeping pill attempting to unseat Sen. Rick Santorum.

A lot of Democrats will be staying home this November.

Murphy is the darling of feminists and the radical left. A visit to her Web site shows support of every radical liberal organization in the country. She makes Hillary Clinton look like a moderate.

Murphy has no platform other than "I oppose everything Jim Gerlach supports." And another favorite line from the Murphy camp is that "Jim Gerlach is George W. Bush." Unfortunately for Murphy, that line simply isn’t true. Gerlach has shown an independent streak that has frustrated some of the more conservative voters in his district, but if they had to pick between Gerlach and Murphy, Gerlach wins hands down.

Murphy has been trying to portray herself as a reformer who wants to go to Washington to "clean up Congress." But she lacks credibility because she's a lawyer and lobbyist — exactly the wrong person to send to Washington.

Murphy also comes across as a puppet for Pennsylvania's liberal governor, who has presided over four years of massive tax increases and skyrocketing state spending. If you live in the 6th District and you're worried about the federal deficit, do you really want to send a free-spending liberal to Washington?

If you don't want to pay more taxes, why vote for a candidate who thinks government exists to tax people and redistribute wealth? That's the Ed Rendell philosophy of government. That's the Lois Murphy model, too.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Friday, July 28, 2006

Rick Santorum recognizes the threat

Sen. Rick Santorum is in the fight for his political life. The junior senator from the Pennsylvania, has risen quickly through the Republican ranks to claim one of the top leadership posts in the Senate at a fairly young age.

He has also become a lightning rod for the far left. He is the No. 1 target of the liberal smear machine and is the big fish Democrats want to land this November. A big part of the venom liberals have toward Santorum is the fact that he stands for something. As outlined in his best-selling book "It Takes A Family," Santorum champions traditional American values, the kind that have been under attack by the radical left for decades.

The other reason Santorum has been targeted by the left is payback for the defeat of former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle in 2004. Democrats want revenge. And Santorum, the third ranking Republican in the Senate, has a giant bull's-eye on his back.

The unfortunate part of all this is that Santorum is a good senator. Not only has he done a great job of representing Pennsylvania since 1994, but he has been a conservative standard-bearer at a time when most politicians won't take a position without first conducting a poll. The John Kerrys and Hillary Clintons of the world are all over the map depending on which special interest group is picking up the tab that week, but Santorum has stood his ground, even when it means opposing President Bush.

The most recent split between Santorum and the White House has been immigration. While Bush and many Republicans (including Pennsylvania's senior senator, Arlen Specter) are behind the Senate's "amnesty bill" for illegal immigrants, Santorum voted against it.

One issue that Santorum has never wavered on is the war on terrorism. In a remarkable speech largely ignored by the left-leaning mainstream media, Santorum outlined clearly what the United States is facing if we retreat from the threat posed by Islamic fascists.

In a speech delivered at the National Press Club, Santorum made a convincing case that the United States and its allies are engaged in a World War IV, which is no less dangerous than the two previous two world wars or the Cold War.

"In those wars we fought against European tyrants and their allies, from the Kaiser to Hitler to Lenin, Stalin, and their heirs," Santorum said. "We fought them because we knew that our survival was at stake. The tyrants would never stop attacking until they had defeated us, or we had defeated them."

While the Dean-Kerry-Kennedy wing of the Democratic Party has its head in the sand and the liberal media continues to mislead the American public, Santorum fully understands what's at stake if we lose in Iraq and Afghanistan and allow Islamic terrorists to destroy Israel.

"We are in the same kind of conflict today," Santorum said. "Some say we are fighting a war on terror. That is like saying World War II was a war on blitzkrieg. Terror like blitzkrieg is a tactic used by our enemy, not the enemy itself."

Santorum went on to say that "the threat of Islamic fascism is just as menacing as the threat from Nazism and Soviet communism. Now, as then, we face fanatics who will stop at nothing to dominate us. Now, as then, there is no way out; we will either win or lose."

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were the culmination of a 10-year campaign by our enemies that largely went unanswered by President Bill Clinton, according to Santorum.

"A group of Islamic fascists attacked the United States directly, at the World Trade Center, a month into Bill Clinton's first term," Santorum said. "So why is it so hard for so many Americans to see the nature of this war?"

Santorum answered his own question later in the speech: "I think in part because it makes us feel vulnerable. This is not just happening someplace thousands of miles away. The enemy is doing his utmost to kill us, because of who we are, wherever we are, at home or overseas."

Unlike the "Blame America First" crowd, which includes prominent Democrats such as John Murtha, Howard Dean, Ted Kennedy and Dick Durbin, Santorum believes we should not be afraid to confront the enemy.

"It is unfashionable in some quarters to speak about the Islamo-fascists, because of the misguided cultural reflex that condemns anyone who speaks critically about others' practices or beliefs. Therefore, we can't say or do anything that might offend Muslims," Santorum argues. "But that's backwards. The real offense to Muslims is to remain silent about an ideology that produces the systemic murder of innocents. Those who refuse to criticize Islamic fascism undermine the cause of freedom of religion because if the Islamic fascists win this war, no other religion will be permitted to flourish."

Santorum is a serious man. An intelligent man with a firm grasp of history. The kind of person we need in the Senate.

His opponent is an empty suit by the name of Bob Casey Jr., the son of the former Pennsylvania governor. Casey, hand-picked by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, is a younger version of John Kerry, but with a lot less hair. Bob Casey Jr. has flip-flopped on so many important issues he could open a pancake shop.

While Casey Jr. was attending a fund-raiser hosted by the increasingly embarrassing Murtha, the darling of the "cut-and-run" crowd, Santorum was standing up for his country by making his courageous speech.

"Islamic fascism is the great test of this generation," Santorum said. "We have an obligation as leaders to articulate exactly what this threat is, and to defeat it. The American people have always rallied to the cause of freedom, once they understood what was at stake."

Leadership is a rare quality. It's what we need to survive as a nation. Rick Santorum is a proven leader. Pennsylvania — and the nation — needs to keep Santorum in the Senate.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Monday, July 24, 2006

Ed Rendell takes credit for everything

The Ed Rendell Propaganda Machine is working overtime this summer.

The news media is bombarded on a daily basis by all sorts of junk cranked out by Rendell's spinmeisters, trying to sell the governor for another four years.

Rendell is taking credit for everything under the sun. I wouldn't be surprised to see a press release soon saying that there have been more sunny days since Ed Rendell became governor.

Just in from Propaganda Central, we learn that "Gov. Rendell Says Pennsylvania's Job Growth Remains Strong; State Job Count Hits Record in June; Up 124,800 Since January 2003."

Here's how the press release goes:

Gov. Edward G. Rendell today said Pennsylvania's job count rose in June to a new record high of 5,750,100 jobs, bringing to 125,000 the number of new jobs reported since the governor took office.
The number of new jobs in the commonwealth since 2003 continues to outpace all the other rust belt states with the exception of New York — Pennsylvania's job growth during that period is the largest among other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states. Pennsylvania's job growth remains strong, Gov. Rendell said. We are adding more jobs to the economy each month as we improve our competitive business environment. And companies are recognizing our efforts as they invest and expand operations. Along with the growth in the number of jobs, Pennsylvania's unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent in June, a full percentage point lower than it was in June 2003.

I remember Rendell campaigning with John Kerry in 2004 and blaming George W. Bush for Pennsylvania's lousy job growth numbers. So if the job picture has improved so much, shouldn't Rendell be sending a "Thank You" card to the president? Let's be fair. If it was Bush's fault that the job picture wasn't so rosy two years ago, shouldn't the credit go to Bush for turning the economy around and bringing all those jobs to Pennsylvania?

Rendell has been playing games with job numbers for years. This is why it's increasingly difficult to believe anything that comes from the Rendell Spin Factory.

On the same day as the nonsense job release came out, we got this gem from Rendell:

"Pennsylvania Governor Rendell Says Record Number of PA Motorists Are Using Seat Belts; Seat Belt Usage Rate Reaches 86 Percent."

Here's how the rest of the press release goes:

Seat belt use in Pennsylvania has reached a record-high of 86 percent — the highest rate since the state began tracking seat belt usage in 1988, Gov. Edward G. Rendell announced today.
For a growing number of Pennsylvania motorists, the act of buckling up has become second nature," Gov. Rendell said. "It is very encouraging that a record number of drivers and passengers now understand the simple fact that seat belts save lives.
Gov. Rendell thanked state and local law enforcement and other highway safety partners for their assistance in promoting seat belt use. These educational and enforcement efforts resulted in the record level of seat belt compliance in 2006, which reflected nearly a three-percentage-point jump from the 83.3 percent level reported in 2005. PennDOT estimates with every percentage point increase in seat belt usage, eight to 12 lives will be saved. In 2005, 578 unbuckled fatalities occurred on the state’s highways.

Wow. We have Gov. Ed Rendell to thank for seat belts. What a great guy. Did he invent the Internet, too? No, wait. That was Al Gore.

I did notice that Gov. Rendell is not taking credit for the increase in head injuries among Pennsylvania motorcyclists since Rendell signed the bill to repeal Pennsylvania's mandatory helmet law. I'm sure his PR people are working hard to find a way to spin massive head trauma into something positive.

And Rendell's propaganda squad needs to coordinate better with Lois Murphy, who is complaining about the Pennsylvania job picture in her bid to unseat Rep. Jim Gerlach. It appears Murphy is living in an alternate universe. According to her ads, Gerlach is responsible for the declining job situation in the 6th District, which last time I checked was part of Pennsylvania. So is the job picture good or bad? Rendell says it's good. Murphy, his tax-and-spend female clone, says it's bad. Which is it?

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Pennsylvania spending is out of control

Two interesting articles recently crossed my path. The first was an analysis of the growth in state spending under Gov. Ed Rendell by the Associated Press. The other was an examination of Rendell's fiscal year 2006-07 spending plan by Matthew J. Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank based in Harrisburg.

The conclusion of both reports is inescapable. Ed Rendell has presided over the largest spending spree in state history. He has shuffled money around like a carnival shell game. Somebody is going to have to pay for Rendell's out-of-control spending. And, regrettably, it's going to be the beleaguered taxpayers of Pennsylvania.

If Rendell is not stopped — and Nov. 7 is the day to put a halt to his spending orgy — Pennsylvania residents will face massive tax hikes in 2007 to make up for Rendell's runaway spending.

In a recent commentary on the Commonwealth Foundation's Web site, Brouillette points out that Rendell's tenure as governor has been a costly one for Pennsylvania families.

"When Gov. Ed Rendell assumed office in January 2003, the General Fund budget (which is only about half of what state government spends annually) cost the average family of four in Pennsylvania more than $6,731. With the recently passed $26.114 billion 2006-07 General Fund budget — a 7.6 percent increase in spending over last year's budget — the cost of state government to that same family jumped to $8,400, a 26.2 percent increase in General Fund spending, or $1,673 more, in just four years," he wrote.

The full analysis can be viewed at the group's Web site,

The Associated Press analyzed 20 years worth of spending increases and found that state government expenditures grew by 28 percent so far under Rendell. That compares to a 12 percent increase in Gov. Tom Ridge's second term and a 26 percent increase in the second term of Gov. Bob Casey, another tax-and-spend liberal.

State spending during Rendell's first three years in office increased faster than the national average, according to the Associated Press. Counting the budget for the current fiscal year, which Rendell recently signed, the state's General Fund budget has grown by $5.7 billion, or 28 percent, since Rendell took office in 2003, according to the Associated Press analysis.

Rendell has been funding his massive spending spree by dipping into reserves and taking from the spoils of the $1 billion earned income tax hike he pushed through in 2003 and a host of smaller tax hikes in subsequent years.

Rendell is also looking under his desk for money to fund the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. It seems that Rendell's pie-in-the-sky promise that gambling would solve all of Pennsylvania's fiscal woes is still a dream. He can't even scrape enough cash together to keep the Gaming Board in business while it reviews casino applications.

GOP gubernatorial hopeful Lynn Swann has criticized Rendell for what appears to be a clear violation of the state constitution. According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan group of government lawyers, Rendell violated the state constitution when his budget secretary authorized a $7.3 million transfer from the Department of Revenue to the state Gaming Control Board.

"Yet again, Ed Rendell is ignoring state law and he is shifting taxpayer dollars to cover our government's operating expenses," Swann said in a written statement. "Obviously, the governor does not think the laws of the commonwealth apply to him."

According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, it is unconstitutional to shift funds between state agencies without approval from the General Assembly. Rendell also sidestepped state law when he signed a budget that will drain more than half of Pennsylvania's "rainy day fund" without complying with the state's requirement for a two-thirds vote by the members of the Legislature, Swann says.

The way Rendell is spending our money, expect a tsunami to hit Pennsylvania in 2007.

Returning to TV and radio

I'll be making a return appearance on the "Journalists Roundtable" program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network. The one-hour panel discussion will be shown tonight (7/20) at 8 on PCN, which is available on most cable systems in the state. Consult your local listings for the channel in your area. "Journalists Roundtable" will be rebroadcast Sunday at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.

If you're near a radio Monday afternoon, tune in to the Nick Lawrence Show on WPAZ 1370 AM, where I will be Nick's guest in the studio beginning at 4 p.m. You can call the station with questions or comments about current issues while I'm on the air. If you're at a computer, you can listen to a live broadcast of the show over the Internet at

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Occupation of Cyprus enters its 32nd year

Cyprus has been in the news lately. As the fighting intensifies in Lebanon and Gaza, Western nations have begun evacuating their citizens from Lebanon to the nearby island of Cyprus.

As Islamic terrorists attack civilian targets in Israel, this is a good time to remind the world that Cyprus has been under occupation by a Muslim power for 32 years.

In the summer of 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, a tiny island-nation off the coast of Syria. In a clear violation of U.S. law, Turkey used "defensive weapons" sold or given to Turkey by the United States to attack a peaceful neighbor without provocation.

More than 6,000 Greek-Cypriots (mostly civilians) were killed by the Turks and another 1,600 disappeared behind Turkish lines. Thirty-two years later, there still has not been a full accounting by Turkey of the whereabouts of 1,300 men, 116 women and 133 children trapped behind the advancing Turkish army.

The invasion of Cyprus lasted a few weeks, but Turkey managed to drive out 200,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes in the northern part of the island. One out of every three Cypriots became refugees in their own country.

Turkish troops set up what became known as the "Attila Line" and a Turkish occupation force of 35,000 troops have guarded the occupied territory since 1974, preventing Greek-Cypriots from returning to their ancestral homes. Turkey continues to occupy 37 percent of Cyprus.

The Turkish regime set up a puppet state known as the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," recognized by only one nation — Turkey.

So when you hear on the news that Americans have been evacuated to Cyprus, it's on the southern end of the island, which is the officially recognized and legitimate government of Cyprus.

Over the past 32 years, more than 120,000 Muslim settlers have been brought from mainland Turkey to occupied Cyprus, forever changing the ethnic and religious balance of a Christian nation that once hosted the Apostle Paul, who preached on Cyprus during his first missionary journey. Paul also converted the Roman governor of Cyprus during his visit, establishing Cyprus as the first nation in the world to be governed by a Christian.

The invasion of Cyprus and the annexation of the northern third of the island by Turkey have been condemned repeatedly by the United Nations, but we all know how effective U.N. resolutions are. They’ve been ignored continuously by aggressor states like Turkey.

Relations between the United States and Greece have been strained since the 1974 invasion. And our so-called ally, Turkey, has repeatedly turned its back to U.S. requests to use its air space and U.S.-built military bases for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than 60,000 American soldiers were supposed to invade Iraq from the north in 2003 to prevent the escape of Saddam Hussein's army and sectarian militias, but Turkey refused to grant the U.S. permission to use its air space for the assault.

As a result of Turkey's decision, American soldiers are dying today in Iraq at the hands of fighters who escaped the 2003 invasion. Inexplicably, billions of U.S. dollars in military and economic aid continue to flow into Turkey each year. The top three beneficiaries of U.S. foreign aid are Israel, Egypt and Turkey.

Since the 1974 invasion, every American president has pledged to find a peaceful resolution to the Cyprus problem, but every single president — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — has failed to persuade the Turks to leave Cyprus.

The United States has always maintained a double standard when it comes to Turkey. The U.S. criticizes North Korea and Iran for human rights violations and aggressive actions against their neighbors, but will not do the same with Turkey, which has openly violated U.S. law and thumbed its nose at the U.S. repeatedly.

Had Turkey consented to allow the U.S. to open a second front against Saddam's forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, thousands of Saddam loyalists — the so-called insurgents who are now killing Americans — would have been captured or killed. Instead, they fled the advancing U.S. forces from the south and set up for the guerrilla warfare we now see in Iraq. Every time an American soldier dies in Iraq, Turkey has blood on its hands.

The only just solution to the Cyprus problem is the immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island and the removal of the 120,000 illegal Turkish settlers.

The only way to force Turkey to comply with U.S. and international law is to stop sending American tax dollars to Turkey. Write to your congressman and ask why billions of U.S. tax dollars are being spent to support a rogue nation like Turkey.

For more perspective on the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, check out or

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Returning to TV, radio

For some strange reason, they keep asking me back. Fresh on the heels of my appearance on the Lowman Henry Show on WHYL AM 960 in Carlisle last Saturday, I'll be hitting the airwaives again in the coming week.

(For those who missed Saturday's radio program, I'm told it can be downloaded at or

I'll be making a return appearance on the "Journalists Roundtable" program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network. The one-hour interview show hosted by Bill Bova will be shown Thursday (7/20) at 8 p.m. on PCN, which is available on most cable systems in the state. Consult your local listings for the channel in your area.

The topic of discussion will be the Pennsylvania governor and senator races. "Journalists Roundtable" will be rebroadcast Sunday, July 23, at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.

If you're near a radio Monday afternoon (7/24), tune in to the Nick Lawrence Show on WPAZ 1370 AM, where I will be Nick’s guest in the studio beginning at 4 p.m.

You can call the station with questions or comments about current issues while I'm on the air.

If you're at a computer, you can listen to a live broadcast of the program over the Internet at

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Rendell's minimum wage follies

Gov. Ed Rendell recently signed a bill raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania.

Rendell said the higher wage will help 420,000 Pennsylvania residents who are earning minimum wage. Rendell says a lot of things that have little to do with reality.

Do you know anyone earning minimum wage? Teenagers working at burger joints are in such demand that they often start at a salary much higher than the minimum wage.

I picked up a Sunday newspaper and looked through the help wanted section. There wasn't a single listing for a minimum wage job. But there were dozens of job ads seeking unskilled help for starting salaries almost twice the current minimum wage of $5.15 per hour.

A pharmaceutical company is hiring assemblers and light packers for $9.50 per hour. A cleaning company is willing to pay $8 to $10 for workers. One firm is seeking packers at $10.95 an hour. Another firm is seeking clerical help at $10. Foundry workers will be trained starting at $10 per hour. Another company is looking for machine operators, material handlers and laborers and is willing to pay a starting salary of $11.50. All this in just one medium-size newspaper that serves one county.

Where are those 400,000 workers that Rendell is trying to help and why can't he point them to the jobs paying $10.00 per hour? Has Rendell considered paying for a subscription to the local newspaper for these folks? It will be a lot cheaper than forcing employers to raise salaries.

And why did Rendell wait four years into his term as governor to help these people? Didn't these people need the higher salaries in 2003 or 2004 or 2005? Does it have anything to do with 2006 being an election year?

And don't start with the tired argument that the state legislature is controlled by Republicans so Rendell couldn't get the higher minimum wage bill passed.

When Rendell wanted to raise the state income tax by $1 billion in 2003, he had no problem finding Republicans to go along.

When Rendell wanted to bring 51,000 slot machines to Pennsylvania in 2004, he found plenty of Republican legislators to pass the bill.

When Rendell wanted to raise the salaries of Harrisburg politicians in 2005, he found enough legislators awake at 2 a.m. to get the job done.

Same goes for Rendell's tax rebate plan for low-income seniors that was recently approved by the legislature or Rendell's exorbitant $26 billion budget for the new fiscal year that increases state spending at twice the rate of inflation.

If Rendell wants something passed, he has enough Republican lackeys in the legislature to do it. Which brings us back to my original question. Is there any connection between the passage of a higher minimum wage with the fact that Rendell and most of the legislature face the voters less than four months from now?

Assuming there really are 400,000 Pennsylvania workers earning minimum wage, here's another problem I have with Rendell's plan to help them pay for basic necessities.

If these people are struggling to put food on the table today, why make them wait until 2007 or 2008 to collect the higher wage?

Under the bill Rendell signed, Pennsylvania's minimum wage will rise to $6.25 an hour on Jan. 1, 2007, then to $7.15 an hour on July 1, 2007. But the increase will be delayed for employers with 10 or fewer full-time employees (although franchises of larger chains will not qualify for that exemption). Employers that fall under the new law will pay $5.65 an hour beginning Jan. 1, 2007; $6.65 beginning July 1, 2007; and $7.15 on July 1, 2008.

When the Pennsylvania legislature gave its own members, the state's judges and the governor pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent, legislators started collecting the pay raise right away. And they took the money despite a provision in the state constitution that says legislators can't collect a pay raise during their current term.

Hundreds of legislators who were making a base salary of $69,000 -- much higher than the minimum wage -- felt compelled to violate the state constitution and collected their pay raise within weeks of the July 7, 2005, vote. The pay raise that Rendell signed into law last year was eventually repealed, but some 70 legislators still refuse to give back the money they took during the four months the raise was in place. In some cases, those politicians made more in four months than a worker making minimum wage earns in an entire year.

Do you sense duplicity in what Rendell says and does? If Pennsylvania workers want to see a real increase in their standard of living, they need to boot out a tax-and-spend liberal like Ed Rendell.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Lessons for Pa. from the N.J. budget fiasco

The budget crisis in New Jersey has been in the news recently. What made it front-page news across the country was the forced shutdown of the state's casinos, which can't operate without state inspectors on the premises. The three-day shutdown cost New Jersey millions of dollars in revenues and ruined the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people from neighboring states.

I watched the showdown between the N.J. governor and legislature with amusement. It appears Pennsylvania doesn't have a monopoly on foolish politicians. While Pennsylvania still has the worst legislature and governor in the country, New Jersey is a close second.

There were some interesting parallels between the fiscal crisis in New Jersey and what's happening in Pennsylvania. Here's a few thoughts.

Rendell, Corzine separated at birth?

Democrat Jon Corzine ran for New Jersey governor in 2005 on a campaign to lower taxes. As soon as he was sworn into office, Corzine proposed raising the state sales tax by more than $1 billion. Democrat Ed Rendell promised to lower property taxes when he first ran for governor of Pennsylvania in 2002. When Rendell took office, he pushed through a $1 billion increase in the state income tax. Four years into his term, Rendell still hasn't delivered on his promise to lower taxes. Do we need any more proof that tax-and-spend liberals like Corzine and Rendell would say anything to get elected?

Casinos are in control

The casino shutdown ended when the Democrats who control the N.J. legislature gave Corzine what he wanted: a boost in the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, which is expected to generate at least $1.1 billion a year in revenues for the state. Part of the money will go to property tax relief, but the bulk of it will stay in Trenton for politicians to spend.

The so-called compromise wasn't good public policy. It was the best politicians could do under the circumstances. New Jersey elected officials had a loaded gun pointed at their heads the entire time. The shutdown of Atlantic City's 12 casinos for three days cost the state $1.3 million a day in lost tax revenues.

In the end, the state's $30 billion budget was passed because the casinos had to re-open for business. The casino owners, not the elected representatives of the people of New Jersey, forced the deal. That's the insidious nature of gambling. Its tentacles are everywhere.

In Pennsylvania, Rendell pushed through legislation that will bring 51,000 slot machines to race tracks and casinos across the state. The slots are only the beginning. Once the money rolls in, politicians will expand gambling to include full-service casinos. Rendell has sold out Pennsylvania to the casino industry. The corporations that own the casinos will eventually call all the shots. Politicians cannot serve two masters. The choice will always be between the casino interests and the people. And the people will lose every time.

Any more excuses from Democrats?

One of the reasons so many Democrats in the Pennsylvania legislature opposed a plan to eliminate property taxes by increasing the state’s sales tax (or decreasing it and expanding the number of items that can be taxed) was the fear that Pennsylvania residents would flock to New Jersey to buy things if the Keystone State raised its sales tax. That's one of the main arguments the Philadelphia legislative delegation (controlled by Rendell) used to defeat the Commonwealth Caucus plan advocated by conservative Republicans. Now that New Jersey has raised its sales tax to 7 percent, why can't Pennsylvania do the same? The money from the higher sales tax could be used to provide property tax relief for all Pennsylvania residents.

Gambling is not the answer

New Jersey is facing a $4.5 billion budget deficit despite 28 years of additional revenues from the casinos. What makes Ed Rendell think that the cure-all for Pennsylvania's budget woes is to open the state to gambling? Politicians, like problem gamblers, are addicts. They become addicted to spending other people's money.

See you on the radio

I'll be the guest of Lowman S. Henry on WHYL AM 960 in Carlisle this Saturday at 9:05 a.m. The interview will also be posted at for a week, and at, which also has the audio available and archives the show. Henry is chairman and CEO of The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research Inc. in Harrisburg and has been one of the citizen activists leading the charge to reform Pennsylvania government.

The Voice of Pennsylvania is a Web site for television, radio and streaming media Webcasts focused on Pennsylvania government, politics, and culture. It was created and is maintained as a public service by the Susquehanna Valley Center for Public Policy ( based in York.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A day that will live in political infamy

On July 7, 2005, members of the the Pennsylvania legislature gave themselves pay raises of up to 54 percent in a middle-of-the-night vote taken without prior notice or any public debate. That vote led to an anti-incumbency movement that has claimed nearly 50 politicians so far. Gov. Ed Rendell could be the next casualty.
Has it been a year already? So much has happened. So much has changed. Some things will never be the same.

Do you remember where you were at 2 a.m. on July 7, 2005? Probably sleeping. We know where the 253 members of the Pennsylvania legislature were in the wee hours of the morning. They were voting themselves a pay raise.

We've reached the one-year anniversary of the infamous legislative pay-jacking. The ill-fated vote under cover of darkness would unleash a tempest that would forever change Pennsylvania politics.

Almost 50 legislators have been thrown out of office or forced into early retirement since the pay-raise vote. More legislators will face retribution in November.

If they knew now what they didn't know then, how many legislators would have gone through with the vote to increase their salaries by 16 percent to 54 percent? Not a single legislator spoke out against the pay raise, although dozens would later regret the vote, some publicly apologizing to voters. If they could turn back time, would Republican Senate leaders Robert Jubelirer and Chip Brightbill push for the pay raise knowing they were committing political suicide?

The Republican Party bosses, Jubelirer and Brightbill in the Senate and John Perzel in the House, decided ahead of time which legislators would vote for the raise, reasoning that veteran politicians would be immune to a voter backlash. The vote in the House was 119-79. The pay raise passed the Senate by a 27-23 margin.

It was a rare display of unity between the bickering political parties, who put aside their differences for one night to give each other, the governor and the state�s judges hefty pay raises. That kind of bipartisan unity would not be seen again on such important issues as the Commonwealth Caucus plan to eliminate property taxes, which was defeated by the Democrats.

The pay raise was quickly signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell, who commended the bipartisan effort by state politicians to line their own pockets. Following the script, Ralph Cappy, the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, emerged from obscurity to praise the "enormous courage" of the pay-jackers for their willingness to violate the state constitution by accepting the pay raise early as unvouchered expenses.

Despite the repeal of the pay raise last November, 60 House members and nine state senators continue to profit from the middle-of-the-night pay grab by refusing to return the higher salaries they received from July to November.

The pay raise vote led to the defeat of Cappy's colleague, Russell Nigro, who became the first Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice in state history to lose a retention election last November.

But the arrogant legislators continued to believe that the voters would forgive and forget. The legislators gave themselves a smaller pay raise late in 2005 in the form of a cost-of-living increase that brought the base salary of a Pennsylvania legislator from $69,000 to $72,000, second only to California.

The voters struck back again in May when 17 incumbent legislators -- including Brightbill and Jubelirer -- were thrown out of office in the primary. Fifteen of the 17 defeated candidates voted for the pay raise. By this time, voter anger wasn't fueled just by the pay raise. The unwillingness of the legislature and Rendell to come up with meaningful property tax relief played a big role in the clean sweep.

And speaking of clean sweep, the pay raise spawned a nonpartisan reform movement that has attracted national attention. Within days of the July 7 pay-jacking, Russ Diamond, a little-known businessman from Lebanon County scraped together enough money to start a Web site to protest the pay raise. The site, www.pacleansweep, would fuel the anti-incumbent movement for an entire year.

Nearly 600 Pennsylvania residents ran in the May primary, many drawn into politics for the first time by Operation Clean Sweep. Thirty-five PaCleanSweep-supported candidates won contests in the May 16 primary. More than 100 incumbent legislators will face general election challengers this November. Russ Diamond is working on an independent run for governor.

Many of the leaders of the citizen reform movement marked the one-year anniversary with a gathering Thursday in the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg. Among those attending were Andrea Stalnecker of PACleanSweep, Tim Potts and Kathleen Daugherty of Democracy Rising PA, Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital, John Kennedy of the Commonwealth Foundation, Richard Schirato of Pennsylvania Citizens for Legislator Accountability, Sandra Christiansen of Common Cause/PA, Gene Stilp of Stop the Illegal Legislative Pay Raise, Sandra Strauss of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches and Chris Lilik of the Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania.

The reform leaders concluded during the news conference that very little has changed in Pennsylvania politics. These courageous citizen activists shouldn't sell themselves short. They've planted the seeds of reform. It may take years, but those seeds will blossom into a revolution.

Despite the millions of dollars from lobbyists and special interests, the 253 members of the legislative elite and a mediocre governor can't hold back the tide of millions of angry Pennsylvania residents who demand a better government.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Republicans endorse lousy Rendell budget

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires the General Assembly to adopt a balanced budget before the start of the new fiscal year. That deadline came and went at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.

For the fourth year in a row, the most expensive state legislature in the United States failed to meet its constitutional obligation to approve a budget on time. Maybe we shouldn’t expect too much from these people.

Speaker of the House John Perzel told a TV interviewer that at least 30 members of the legislature had trouble qualifying for a credit card despite their $72,000 annual salaries. If these financial wizards can’t balance their own household budgets, how can they pass a $26 billion spending plan on time?

Unlike previous years, when the legislature missed the budget deadline by weeks, Harrisburg's finest managed to get the budget adopted less than 24 hours after the deadline this year. The budget passed the House by a margin of 130-68. All of the "no" votes were Republicans. It was closer in the Senate, 28-21, with eight Republican senators joining Democrats to give Gov. Ed Rendell everything he wanted.

Republicans in the Senate could have drawn a line in the sand against the free-spending Rendell, but decided to cave at the last minute and embark on their annual two-month summer vacation. The eight Republicans who gave ringing endorsements to Rendell's tax-and-spend ways included none other than Chip Brightbill and Robert Jubelirer, the two top GOP leaders in the Senate who coincidentally were tossed out by Republican voters in the May primary.

One of the reasons Brightbill and Jubelirer lost was the perception they worked too closely with the liberal Rendell. Brightbill and Jubelirer are either dense or they decided to stick it to the voters one last time by siding with Rendell.

Also supporting Rendell's budget were Republican Sens. Joe Conti, Charles Lemmond and Noah W. Wenger, three career politicians who voted for the infamous 2005 pay raise but decided to retire from the Senate rather than face the voters this year.

A look at the House vote also shows that many of the legislators who were voted out of office in the primary or who plan to retire this year also supported Rendell's budget.

The $26.1 billion spending plan is a 6 percent increase over last year even though the inflation rate is 3 percent.

Since Rendell took office in 2003 declaring that "government must live within its means," Pennsylvania General Fund spending has risen from $20.4 billion to $26.1 billion -- an increase of 26.2 percent, according to Matthew J. Brouillette, president of the independentCommonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg.

Skyrocketing spending under Rendell, coupled with the inability of Rendell and the GOP legislative leadership to deliver meaningful property tax relief to homeowners, prompted some legislators to fire a few choice words at their colleagues who joined the spending orgy.

"At a time when the men and women of the Commonwealth are working to make ends meet and the legislature has recently voted to restrict local school district spending, I cannot in good conscious support legislation that increases state spending," Republican Sen. Rob Wonderling said.

There was remarkably little discussion in the days leading up to the budget vote about returning any part of the $700 million to $800 million budget surplus to the taxpayers (where it came from originally as part of Rendell’s massive 2003 increase in the state income tax).

"Plans to spend these so-called 'windfall profits' rather than return it to the taxpayers who were overcharged by state government is unacceptable," Wonderling said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann appears to understand the fuzzy math Rendell and his legislative lackeys are using: "Simple math indicates that you can't spend at twice the rate of inflation and not soon run out of money," Swann said. "This out-of-control budget will dramatically hinder Pennsylvania's economy for the next several years."

Rendell has fumbled the ball on numerous issues, but Swann has yet to run with it. The budget fiasco on top of the pay raise Rendell signed into law and Rendell's shuffle on the tax cut issue is prime ammunition for Swann, who needs to catch fire to unseat Rendell.

"This bloated financial plan -- which Rendell and his staff constructed -- is just another example of the governor's inability to rein in out-of-control spending in Pennsylvania," Swann said.

It was no surprise that the lockstep Democrats in the House and Senate supported Rendell's spending plan, but the Republican defections to the Rendell camp must be answered swiftly by voters in November.

The same anti-incumbent fervor that led to the removal of 17 legislators on May 16 should continue this fall when all 203 members of the House and 25 of the 50 members of the Senate will face re-election.

If your state legislator voted in favor of expanding the Harrisburg bureaucracy and spending the $700 million surplus, it's time to vote him or her out in November.

And it's time to put an end to Rendell’s four-year record of broken promises.