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Monday, October 30, 2006

33 reasons to vote out Ed Rendell

With a week to go until Election Day, the polls and pundits are saying that millions of Pennsylvania voters will walk into the voting booth Nov. 7 to re-elect Gov. Ed Rendell.

This will mean four more years of rising taxes, runaway spending and an overall decline in the standard of living for most Pennsylvanians. Are you better off today than you were four years ago when Rendell took office?

If you're still thinking of voting for Rendell, consider the following 33 reasons why Rendell does not deserve re-election:

1) Rendell signed the scandalous July 2005 pay raise bill into law and praised it as "good legislation." That breach of public trust alone is reason enough to deny Rendell another term.

2) While running for governor in 2002, Rendell promised to cut property taxes for every Pennsylvania homeowner by 30 percent. He failed to keep his promise for four consecutive years.

3) In 2003, Rendell signed the biggest income tax increase in the state's history, taking away $1 billion from the paychecks of working Pennsylvanians.

4) Rendell signed the worst gambling bill in the nation into law in July 2004, clearing the way for 61,000 slot machines to be brought into Pennsylvania, along with crime, corruption and gambling addiction.

5) State spending has increased at twice the rate of inflation under Rendell to a staggering $26.1 billion in a state where population growth is stagnant. People familiar with state finances predict that Rendell will propose another massive tax hike in 2007 to pay for his exorbitant spending.

6) Under Rendell, Pennsylvania ranks at the bottom of the list of states when it comes to forcing people off welfare rolls and into jobs.

7) Rendell siphoned $412 million in federal highway money in 2005 to keep SEPTA afloat so Philadelphia transit workers will continue to get paid and keep voting for Rendell. Meanwhile, the state’s highways and bridges are crumbling.

8) Instead of property tax reform, Rendell signed Act 72 in 2005 and Act 1 in 2006, two terrible bills that failed to address runaway spending by the state’s 501 school districts.

9) Rendell raided the state Lottery fund to come up with the $200 million for rebate scheme to bribe low-income seniors into voting for him this November instead of working for real property tax reform.

10) Rendell killed the Schuylkill Valley Metro rail plan by failing to support the project or making the case for the state to come up with its share of the funding needed to build it.

11) Rendell imposed the $52-a-year emergency services tax on most of the state's workers. In almost every case, the money did not go to fund "emergency services," but was spent elsewhere by local governments. It's a typical shell game Rendell plays with taxes.

12) Nearly 1 million working Pennsylvanians do not have health insurance coverage and Rendell refuses to support legislation that would level the playing field for the huge "for-profit" insurance companies operating in Pennsylvania.

13) Pennsylvania continues to be the No. 1 importer of garbage in the country. Rendell believes that taking in garbage from New York City, New Jersey and Puerto Rico is a good use of Pennsylvania land.

14) In each of Rendell's first four years in office, truckers have ranked Pennsylvania roads and highways as the worst in the nation.

15) According to FBI statistics, Pennsylvania has become a more dangerous place to live in the years Rendell has been governor. The murder rates in Philadelphia, Allentown, Reading and most other cities have reached historic highs and the governor continues to ignore the rise in violent crime.

16) College-educated young people are fleeing the state in record numbers to find good jobs as Pennsylvania fails to address the "brain drain" under Rendell.

17) Pennsylvania leads the nation in teacher strikes, another sorry achievement for the so-called "education governor."

18) A task force formed by Rendell reports that Pennsylvania is experiencing a transportation crisis. The state's infrastructure has been neglected to the point where roads can no longer handle the volume of traffic. The state’s transit systems have failed. Pennsylvania needs to come up with an additional $2.2 billion a year to deal with the problem.

19) Corporate welfare is Rendell's idea of stimulating the economy, with millions of taxpayer dollars going to build sports stadiums and support corporations that contribute to Rendell's campaign.

20) Rendell vetoed the Voter Protection Act of 2006, a bill that would prevent voter fraud in Pennsylvania in general and in Philadelphia in particular.

21) Rendell broke his promise to sign a tort reform bill that would control outrageous awards by juries and help keep doctors in Pennsylvania. Less than 10 percent of doctors educated in Pennsylvania stay in the state because of skyrocketing malpractice premiums.

22) Rendell gave political crony Joe Hoeffel a cushy $104,000-a-year state job as payback for Hoeffel dropping out of the race for lieutenant governor in 2006.

23) Pennsylvania is among the biggest spenders for public education, but test scores consistently rank among the lowest in the country. And what about the revolving door in the Education Department? Rendell went through three education secretaries in three years.

24) Rendell brought the "pay to play" system he nurtured in Philadelphia to Harrisburg, turning the governor's office into a Turkish bazaar, with the highest bidder having access to government. How else do you explain the $30 million in campaign contributions to Rendell?

25) Pennsylvania consistently ranks in the bottom rung of states when it comes to a business-friendly business environment. Rendell vetoed a Republican-backed measure to lower the state's corporate net income tax, which is the second highest in the nation.

26) Rendell has pardoned more convicted criminals in his first three years in office than any other Pennsylvania governor has done over the same time frame in the past 25 years.

27) Despite amassing a $1 billion budget surplus this year because of the 2003 income tax hike, Rendell refused to consider returning any of the money to taxpayers.

28) Rendell wants to impose California emissions standards in Pennsylvania, forcing motorists to pay higher inspection fees. More than 40 states have rejected the California rules.

29) In four years, Rendell has missed the constitutional deadline to sign the state budget four times.

30) It's unseemly for the governor to moonlight as a football analyst after Eagles games. If Rendell wants a career in broadcasting, he should give up the governor's job.

31) Rendell has used a state plane to shuttle from his shore home in Ocean City, N.J., to campaign events back in Pennsylvania at least a half-dozen times.

32) If Rendell wins re-election and decides to leave office in 2008 to take a post in Washington under a Democratic administration, Pennsylvania is left with Catherine Baker Knoll as governor.

33) Rendell insulted millions of Pennsylvania seniors by saying their lives are drab without casinos. Seniors should make Rendell pay for his insensitive remarks.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Why should Pa. settle for mediocrity?

"Governors who have cut taxes and spending the most receive the highest grades. Those who have raised taxes and spending receive the lowest grades."

That conclusion is from the 40-page executive summary of a new report grading the nation's governors on fiscal policy.

The eighth annual survey was prepared by the Cato Institute, a non-profit policy research foundation in Washington, D.C. The institute is named for Cato's Letters, a series of libertarian pamphlets that helped lay the philosophical foundation for the American Revolution, according to the group's Web site.

Inexplicably, Gov. Ed Rendell received a C in the fiscal report card. Those of us living in Pennsylvania know firsthand that Rendell has tried everything in his power to destroy the state's economy over the past four years.

That includes raising taxes, increasing state spending to record levels, imposing burdensome regulations on businesses and borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars. That's a surefire recipe for fiscal disaster.

But the folks at the Cato Institute saw fit to give Rendell a C for his first term in office. That's an improvement over the F grade the Cato Institute gave Rendell for his first two years.

I'm not so sure the folks at Cato have been following Rendell's tenure closely because nearly every independent account of Pennsylvania's business climate has ranked the state near the bottom of the barrel. Rendell is also a master of propaganda. He could sell a snow cone to an Eskimo. He has a lot of voters believing he's going to cut their taxes even though he's raised taxes repeatedly since taking office in 2003.

Independent observers closer to home, such as the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, a free-market think tank in Harrisburg, have been far less kind to Rendell, giving the governor an F minus for his economic policies in a survey released earlier this year. Rendell also earned an F minus in the Commonwealth Foundation’s "Liberty Index" two years ago.

Back to the Cato rankings. While C is somewhere between average and mediocre, it beats the Ds and Fs earned by other governors.

Only one governor of the 46 reviewed earned an A this year — Republican Matt Blunt of Missouri. The next two highest-scoring Republicans are Rick Perry of Texas and Mark Sanford of South Carolina. The highest-scoring Democratic governors are John Lynch of New Hampshire and Phil Bredesen of Tennessee.

Blunt earned the gold star for cutting his state's budget, eliminating hundreds of government jobs and restraining Medicaid spending, according to the Cato Institute.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who topped the 2004 governors report card with an A, drops to a D this year due to an overall increase in his state's budget.

The "Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors: 2006," by Cato director of budget studies Stephen Slivinski, emphasizes the importance of tax cuts and provides evidence showing that "states that reduce taxes improve their prospects for economic growth," the institute states on its Web site.

The report card grades the governors on 23 objective measures, awarding the highest grades to those who have reined in spending and cut taxes.

Nine governors receive Fs. They are Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, Michael Easley of North Carolina, Kenny Guinn of Nevada, Christine Gregoire of Washington, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Bob Riley of Alabama, and Brian Schweitzer of Montana.

Governors who received good grades in previous editions of the report card but have lower grades this year include Schwarzenegger (current grade, D); Jeb Bush of Florida (current grade, C); Bill Owens of Colorado (current grade, D); George Pataki of New York (current grade, D); and Bill Richardson of New Mexico (current grade, C).

The complete report can be viewed at the Cato Institute's Web site, www.cato.org

Pennsylvania voters will go to the polls Nov. 7 to decide if they want four more years of mediocrity with Ed Rendell or give Lynn Swann a chance to turn Pennsylvania around.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Rep. Dante Santoni is a phony

Most people don't know this, but I began my career as a political columnist with an article about my do-nothing state representative.

His name is Dante Santoni Jr. and the column, published in March 2004, asked the question, "What have you done for me lately, Dante?" I now have the answer to that question.

Thanks to Dante Santoni, I am now one of the most widely read political commentators in Pennsylvania. Three hundred columns after my initial "Dante" offering, my articles are not only published in The Mercury, but are linked to more than a dozen political Web sites and blogs.

I've been a guest on 17 radio shows and a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network three times in the past six months. I've received e-mails about my columns from readers in 18 different states and six foreign countries. I've also been invited to speak to community groups about state and national politics.

For all that exposure, I'd like to publicly thank Dante Santoni for getting me started. It turns out Dante has done something for me after all. But he still hasn't done anything for the residents of the 126th House District, which is why Santoni is in the political fight of his life as the Nov. 7 election approaches.

Santoni barely survived the May primary, receiving just 45 percent of the vote. Unfortunately, two challengers split the other 55 percent, giving Santoni the Democratic nomination. It doesn't change the fact that the majority of voters in his own party rejected Santoni at the polls.

As we get closer to Election Day, Santoni appears to be self-destructing. A mailing on behalf of Santoni accusing his Republican opponent, Hal Baker, of questionable conduct while Baker worked as personnel director and acting county administrator for Berks County is pure fiction.

Santoni, who voted for the July 2005 pay raise for himself, concocted a wild story that Baker gave himself a pay raise while working for county government. A Berks County commissioner who sat on the board at the time of Baker's promotion issued a public statement saying that Baker's salary was set by the commissioners and it was based on merit and the fact that Baker was taking on addition responsibilities.

When Baker challenged Santoni about the political smear job during a debate on local cable television, Santoni blew a gasket. Like his good friend, Ed Rendell, Santoni got caught telling another fib.

Keep in mind that my March 2004 column criticizing Santoni for never sponsoring a bill, chairing a committee or delivering any substantial funding for projects in his district was written a full 16 months before Santoni voted himself a pay raise and took the money as unvouchered expenses, a practice ruled illegal by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In other words, the last two years haven't been a picnic for Santoni. In 14 years as a state legislator, Santoni has voted repeatedly to increase taxes, has raised his own pay twice and doubled his taxpayer-funded pension.

For the $1 million taxpayers have paid Santoni in salary and perks over the past 14 years, their state lawmaker has sponsored a grand total of one bill to rename a section of a highway in honor of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.

While the sentiment honoring a fallen soldier is a nice gesture, that's not why voters in the 126th District are sending Santoni to Harrisburg.

Santoni has promised for 14 consecutive years to deliver property tax relief to the residents of Berks County. He has broken that promise 14 years in a row. How many more chances are voters willing to give him?

Santoni is the poster child for everything wrong with the culture of Harrisburg. He votes 100 percent of the time with the Democratic Party bosses. He is beholden to lobbyists and special interest groups. He hides from constituents until election season rolls around.

While he's popular with the political establishment because he's a Zombie Democrat (no mind of his own), Santoni has failed to show any concern for his constituents back home who are struggling to stay afloat.

Santoni supported Ed Rendell's massive hike in the state income tax in 2003. He supported Rendell's flawed gambling bill in 2004. He voted to raise his own pay in July 2005. Santoni voted for the $52-a-year tax on working Pennsylvanians. He has rubber-stamped $6 billion in new spending during Rendell's first four years in office.

For his loyalty to Rendell and the Democratic Party bosses, Santoni has been showered with tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, which allows him to run television commercials, touting all sorts of "accomplishments." Unfortunately, none of it is true.

When Santoni calls himself a "reformer" on TV and says "Harrisburg is broke and I'm working to fix it," he's full of baloney. Santoni couldn't spell R-E-F-O-R-M if you spotted him four of the six letters.

Voters in the 126th House District have a clear choice. Hal Baker is a dedicated public servant who wants to bring genuine reform to Harrisburg. Baker has come out of retirement because the people of his district need to send a public servant to Harrisburg.

Santoni is a career politician who has failed his constituents. Santoni is part of the problem. Baker is part of the solution.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Pennsylvania by the numbers

253 --The total number of members in the Pennsylvania Legislature. That includes 203 members of the House and 50 state senators.

120 -- The total number of members in the California Legislature. That includes 120 members of the House and 40 state senators.

341,000,000 -- The number of dollars it costs Pennsylvania taxpayers each year to pay for the largest full-time legislature in the U.S.

77 -- The average number of days the Pennsylvania Legislature was in session each year over the past five years.

72,187 -- The number of dollars in the starting salary of a Pennsylvania legislator.

27 -- The number of state senators who voted in favor of the July 2005 pay raise of 16 percent to 54 percent. Twenty-three voted against it.

119 -- The number of House members who voted for the July 2005 pay raise. A total of 79 House members voted against the pay raise. (Five legislators missed the 2 a.m. vote)

1 -- The number of people who could have stopped the July 2005 pay raise. His name is Gov. Ed Rendell, who could have vetoed the pay raise bill, but instead signed it into law and praised it as good legislation.

17 -- The number of incumbent state legislators voted out of office in the May 2006 primary.

31 -- The number of incumbent state legislators who decided to retire in 2006 rather than face the voters.

141 -- The dollar amount each legislator can collect daily as a per diem payment for just showing up for work. This is on top of salary and other benefits.

26,400,000 -- The dollar amount of campaign contributions for Gov. Ed Rendell.

9,000,000 -- The dollar amount of Rendell campaign contributions that came from Pennsylvania. Makes you wonder why so much out-of-state money ($17.4 million) has poured into Rendell’s war chest and what those contributors expect for their donations.

8,100,000 -- The dollar amount of campaign contributions for GOP governor candidate Lynn Swann. So much for the Republicans being the party of the rich.

1 -- Philadelphia's rank on the list of most violent large cities in the United States, according to a new survey issued by the FBI. (Just to jog your memory, Ed Rendell was District Attorney for two terms and Mayor of Philadelphia for two terms.)

650 -- The amount of taxpayer dollars a member of the Pennsylvania Legislature can use each month to lease a vehicle.

38 -- The number of Pennsylvania counties on the list of the 750 most heavily taxed counties in the United states, according to the Tax Foundation.

74 -- The highest number of votes the Commonwealth Caucus plan received in the House in 2006. It takes 102 votes to pass a bill. Not a single Democrat in the House supported the plan to eliminate property taxes.

0 -- The amount of money Pennsylvania residents have received in property tax cuts during the first four years of Gov. Ed Rendell's tenure.

0 -- The amount of money Pennsylvania residents can expect to receive in the next four years of Gov. Ed Rendell's tenure.

18 -- The number of counties Ed Rendell won in the 2002 race for governor.

49 -- The number of counties Ed Rendell failed to win in the 2002 race for governor.

864,000,000 -- The amount of surplus dollars in the 2006 state budget that Gov. Rendell and the Legislature decided not to return to Pennsylvania taxpayers.

13 -- The number of teacher strikes in Pennsylvania in 2005.

8 -- The total number of teacher strikes in 2005 in all the rest of the states combined.

109 -- The number of Republicans in the 203-member Pennsylvania House. Democrats can take control of the House by a net gain of eight seats.

29 -- The number of Republicans in the 50-member state Senate. (Because only half the senators stand re-election every four years, it's nearly impossible for Democrats to capture a majority in 2006).

1,900,000 -- The number of Pennsylvania residents who receive welfare benefits from the state. That compares to 1,500,000 welfare recipients when Ed Rendell came into office in 2003.

5,700,000,000 -- The amount in dollars that state spending has increased under Gov. Ed Rendell's tenure.

4,742,000,000 -- The amount of dollars that Pennsylvania taxpayers will have to pay by 2015-16 to fund pension plans for retired teachers and politicians. That compares to $693 million in fiscal year 2005-06.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Berks GOP candidates push reform

Politics makes for strange bedfellows.

Ten Berks County candidates have combined forces to run as a reform coalition for the state Legislature. The group includes three incumbent legislators and an assortment of political newcomers. All have signed a formal statement titled "Promise to Berks."

The candidates have a few things in common besides their focus on reforming state government. They're all Republicans and their districts include portions of Berks County.

The group also has some differences. Three of the 10 either voted for the 2005 legislative pay raise or took the money as unvouchered expenses, a practice the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional. Several of the first-time candidates in the coalition condemned the pay raise vote and defeated heavily-favored Republican incumbents in the May primary.

The coalition candidates are willing to put their differences aside because keeping a Republican majority in the Berks County legislative delegation is important to them. Only three of the dozen seats in Berks are held by Democrats. Berks has been a key battleground in the people's revolt against incumbent politicians since the Legislature voted itself pay raises of up to 54 percent in July 2005.

Four of the five incumbents who voted for the pay raise and had opposition in the primary were defeated by voters. The only incumbent who survived the voters' wrath was Democrat Rep. Dante Santoni Jr., who won the nomination for the 126th District because he had two challengers and his opponents split the majority of the vote. Santoni attracted just 45 percent of the vote from his own party.

Santoni is vulnerable not just for voting himself a pay raise, but he's one of the biggest underachievers in Harrisburg, unwilling or unable to introduce a single bill in 13 years. Santoni's opponent in November is Republican Hal Baker, a respected former Berks County government administrator who defeated two other Republicans in the primary to win the GOP nomination.

The members of the reform coalition are incumbent state Reps. David Argall, Doug Reichley and Sam Rohrer, incumbent state Sen. John Rafferty (44th Dist.) and six political newcomers: Baker, Jim Cox (129th Dist.), Mike Folmer (48th Senate Dist.), Gary Hornberger (125th Dist.), Carl Mantz (187th Dist.) and Billy Reed (130th Dist.)

Argall, Reichley and Rohrer bring some political baggage to the new reform coalition. Argall and Rohrer voted for the pay raise. Reichley voted no on the pay raise, but took the money as unvouchered expenses. (Rafferty voted no on the pay raise and did not accept the raise.) Argall and Reichley have returned the money. Rohrer said he voted "yes" on the raise because that was the only way he could get a House vote on the Commonwealth Caucus plan to eliminate property taxes.

Rohrer said he never took the pay raise money but did manage to get the Caucus plan on the House floor for a vote, but it attracted only 74 of the 102 necessary votes. The plan was defeated because every Democratic member of the House voted against it. (This is why it's hard to swallow Gov. Ed Rendell's claims that the Republican majority failed to deliver property tax relief. It's the Democrats who vote as a block and take their marching orders from Rendell.)

The "Promise to Berks" reads: "We believe that every elected official is responsible to serve the people, not to be served. We believe that we are accountable not just to the voters but to the generations who will follow, as well as those who have gone before us. Our responsibility is to support and defend the founding principles of this great nation as noted in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. These are the foundations of our freedoms and adherence to them is the best hope of freedom for the generations to follow."

If elected, all 10 Berks Republicans promise to tackle the following their legislative priorities:

• Real tax reform by permanently eliminating school property taxes and opposing all new unfunded mandates to the counties, municipalities and school districts in Pennsylvania, which shifts tax increases to these bodies. It will also work to eliminate current unfunded mandates.

• Controlling spending by implementing the Taxpayers Bill of Rights to strictly limit increases in state spending to the concurrent rates of inflation and population growth and requiring a three-fifths majority to pass a tax increase.

• Reforming the Legislature by requiring an independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of the General Assembly for fraud and mismanagement, enacting term limits on committee chairmanships and leadership, enact a five-year waiting period for former legislators and cabinet officials to become lobbyists and opposing passage of any legislation that has not met the procedural rigor detailed in Article III of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Although the burden is still on the three Berks incumbents to show they've repented for their pay raise votes, Berks County has an opportunity to change the culture of Harrisburg by electing a block of reform candidates to the state Legislature.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Broken promises from Ed Rendell

Randy Bish, the talented editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, recently drew a cartoon that cuts to the heart of the race for Pennsylvania governor. In the drawing, an elderly man is sitting at a table writing a letter to Gov. Ed Rendell. The letter goes like this: "Dear Governor — Is the property tax reform you are now promising us the same tax reform that you promised us in 2002?

Is there anything else that needs to be said about Rendell’s failed first term as governor? He promised to cut everyone's property taxes by 30 percent, but in four years, not a single Pennsylvania homeowner has received a penny in tax cuts. Why vote for someone who broke his No. 1 promise?

Rendell is backpedaling so fast on his tax cut promises that he's in danger of pulling a muscle. In the Oct. 4 debate in Pittsburgh, Rendell blamed the Republican-controlled Legislature for not helping him keep his word on the tax cuts. In the Oct. 10 debate in Philadelphia, Rendell changed his tune. "Five governors for 30 years promised property tax relief. I've delivered." Really, governor? Delivered what? Empty promises?

When one of the reporters on the panel asked Rendell to explain how a promise to use future gambling revenues amounts to delivering a tax cut, Rendell fumbled around a bit and came up with this brilliant response: "I wanted to do more. I wanted to raise the sales tax and use 100 percent of that money to deepen the property tax cut. We couldn't get it through the Legislature. We have to go back and keep at it."

Now I'm really confused. The governor says he "delivered" property tax relief, but he actually wanted to raise taxes so he could cut taxes. Are you with me so far? Rendell eventually admitted that only about 200,000 low-income senior citizens will get rebates under the "tax relief" bill he signed earlier this year. As for the other 12.3 million Pennsylvania residents, Rendell apparently wasn't counting us when he promised to cut taxes.

Leave it to GOP challenger Lynn Swann to step in to help translate what Rendell was trying to say when he borrowed money from the Lottery fund for his tax rebate scheme.

"He doesn't do anything to reform the structure of property taxes in the Commonwealth," Swann said of Rendell. "So if you get a little bit of money today, fine. But tomorrow, your property tax bill may go up $200 or $300, so it's meaningless."

If you didn't tune in to the Oct. 10 debate, you missed political newcomer Swann verbally pummeling a career politician whose rhetoric has grown tiresome. I'm not sure even Rendell believes the words coming out of his mouth anymore. He spews phrases like "One gun a month" and "Everyone gets property tax relief from the gaming funds" but his rhetoric doesn't match reality.

Rendell's lackeys in the liberal Philadelphia media dutifully reported that their man won the second debate. I'm not sure any of them watched the event. Swann was the clear winner in both recent debates. Swann was relaxed and confident. Rendell was fidgety and verbose.

Even on issues that you would think Rendell has the advantage, like crime, Swann prevailed. Rendell kept repeating "One gun a month" as the quick fix to violent crime, but bumper-sticker clich├ęs are not the answer. Rendell failed to explain how restricting the ability of law-abiding citizens to purchase guns from stores would help reduce the slaughter of Philadelphia residents.

Rendell has ignored rising crime in Philadelphia and most other large cities in Pennsylvania for nearly four years. Two months before the election, Rendell wants to hire 600 more police officers and institute gun control. (Swann wants to hire up to 5,000 new cops.)

Where was the governor when 315 Philadelphia residents were murdered in the first 285 days of this year? Rendell is, after all, the former District Attorney and Mayor of Philadelphia. Surely, he has options to fight rising violent crime that don't infringe on the Second Amendment, which guarantees "the right of the people to keep and bear arms."

Swann said gun violence in Philadelphia is rising because our schools are failing and we're not providing good jobs for young people.

"Guns don't cause crime," Swann said. "It's the lack of hope. It’s the despair. The poor quality of education … children are receiving. The lack of opportunity and jobs."

Rendell's response? Gun control. Gun control. Gun control. Gun control.

This election is about politics as usual under Rendell or Lynn Swann's approach: Thinking outside the box to find solutions to make Pennsylvania a better place to live, work and raise children.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Welcome to Ed Rendell's 'Taxsylvania'

If Gov. Ed Rendell was Pinocchio and his nose grew one inch every time he told a fib, Rendell's schnozz would stretch across the entire length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Rendell has been telling us for months by way of those tedious television commercials that he's cut taxes in Pennsylvania. If anyone out there has seen his taxes fall under Rendell, I'd like to hear from you. Rendell also keeps telling people that the business climate in Pennsylvania has improved since he took office in 2003. Again, that appears to be a tall tale.

Truth is Pennsylvania residents are paying $2 billion more in property taxes today than they were when Rendell became governor. Rendell also signed into law a $1 billion increase in the state income tax. So how does he get away with saying he's cut taxes? He has unlimited money from lobbyists and corporate fat cats and telling the truth is not a requirement in television commercials.

The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group based in Washington, D.C., has released a new study that shows the tax burden on Americans broken down by counties. Pennsylvania has 38 counties on the list of the top 750 counties where homeowners pay the highest property taxes.

Five Pennsylvania counties — Chester, Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery and Monroe — made the list of the Top 100 most heavily taxed counties in the United States. Expand the list to the Top 150 and you can add Northampton, Berks and Lehigh counties.

The median tax paid by a Chester County homeowner was $3,678 per year. In Montgomery County, the median tax was $3,474 per year. In Berks County, the median tax was $2,592. The median means half the homeowners paid higher taxes and half paid less.

Homeowners in suburban counties closest to New York City topped the list of highest property taxes by county, with Westchester County coming in at $7,337. Second was Nassau County, where the median property tax is $7,025. Of course, the median value of a home in Westchester County is $541,000. In Nassau County, it's $469,000. That part makes sense. If you own a $500,000 home near your high-paying job in Manhattan, you’d expect to pay a lot in taxes.

Twenty of the 21 highest-taxed counties were in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, the survey showed, and most of those were tightly clustered around New York City, according to the Associated Press.

The Pennsylvania counties shouldn’t be that high on the tax list. The median home price in Chester County is $229,000. In Montgomery County, it's $263,000. In Berks County, it's $138,400. So why are Pennsylvania homeowners paying so much?

Good question for Ed Rendell, who promised to cut property taxes for every Pennsylvania homeowner by 30 percent when he first ran for governor in 2002. After nearly four years in office, Rendell has failed to deliver one dime in property tax relief.

U.S. Census data released last week showed that homeowners in every state but Alaska spent more of their incomes on housing costs last year than at the start of the decade, the Associated Press reported. You can review the full breakdown of taxes by county at the Tax Foundation's Web site, www.taxfoundation.org

It's noteworthy that 15 of the Pennsylvania counties on the list of counties where homeowners pay the highest property taxes were among the 18 counties that Rendell won when he was elected governor in 2002. Yes, only in Pennsylvania can you lose 49 of 67 counties and still be elected governor.

Why would anyone living in those 15 counties re-elect a governor who broke his promise to lower taxes, increased state spending to record levels, signed a horrible casino gambling bill into law and still can't explain why he supported the July 2005 pay raise? We'll find out Nov. 7.

Rendell's other truth-challenged claims come in the area of whether Pennsylvania is a good place to do business. Rendell thinks so, but a variety of business publications who have no stake in the governor's race keep ranking Pennsylvania at the bottom when it comes to business friendly taxes and regulations.

The latest survey comes from Inc. Magazine, which rated the 26 governors up for re-election in 2006. The ratings were based on a star system, with four stars signifying a governor who is "a true friend" to business and whose policies "benefit businesses over the short and long term."

Rendell didn't make that list, but four other governors did. The next level, three stars, went to governors who display "creative and diligent" policies, but still need work. Thirteen governors earned three stars. Rendell didn't make that list either.

Pennsylvania's governor was awarded two stars by the magazine, reserved for those whose "achievements are mitigated by mistakes, failures or oversights." That sounds a lot like Rendell's Pennsylvania.

It could have been worse. One governor, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, earned one star, signifying "policies have negatively affected entrepreneurs."

Inc. Magazine also ranked the states in several other categories such as technology, health care, unemployment rate, fiscal policy and the cost of doing business. Pennsylvania did not rank high in any of those category, but the magazine singled out the Keystone State as having the highest corporate income tax rate among the 26 states surveyed.

As GOP challenger Lynn Swann so aptly put it during last week's televised debate, Rendell ranks high on rhetoric and in promoting himself, but falls far short in the areas that count: Reform and results.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lynn Swann the clear winner in debate

And the winner is … Lynn Swann. In both delivery and substance, GOP challenger Lynn Swann outclassed Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell in the first of two scheduled televised debates this month.

Swann, who is trailing in the polls with about 30 days to go before the election, won the debate by holding his own against Rendell, widely regarded as the "consummate politician."

Rendell was hesitant and rambling and lost his temper a few times under stinging criticism from Swann. Rendell fired off a few cheap shots at Swann, calling the NFL Hall of Famer a "celebrity" and ridiculing Swann's plan for property tax relief, calling it a "disaster."

Swann kept his composure the entire time. He recounted Rendell's record of failures and broken promises.

Rendell appeared condescending several times and his attempts at humor bombed. In contrast, Swann looked and sounded like a serious candidate for governor. While Rendell spouted off statistics and rattled off bureaucratic gibberish, Swann shared a positive vision for Pennsylvania's future.

Forget the spin from Rendell's pals in the liberal media. I watched Wednesday's debate twice, the first time to gauge the candidates' composure and demeanor. The second time I listened to every word as Swann and Rendell answered a dozen questions posed by TV and newspaper journalists from Pittsburgh. The next debate is Tuesday in Philadelphia.

If Swann does as well next week, he could narrow the gap against Rendell, who has millions to spend on television ads.

Here's a look at how the candidates did at various stages of the debate.

OPENING REMARKS: Swann was animated and persuasive as a citizen politician who wants to clean up the mess in Harrisburg. "I believe in the two R's. I believe in reform and I believe in results," Swann said. "My opponent also believes in the two R's. He believes in rhetoric and he believes in Rendell." In the other corner, Rendell was visibly uncomfortable as he grasped for any accomplishments during a first term in which he raised taxes, increased state spending to record levels, ushered in the flawed casino gambling plan and signed the infamous July 2005 pay raise bill.

THE BLAME GAME: After admitting that signing the pay raise was a "mistake," Rendell offered several excuses for failing to deliver on his promise of a 30-percent property tax cut for every Pennsylvania homeowner. His worst was: "Let's begin with the proposition that no governor over the past 50 years all promised tax relief and didn't do it." In other words, Rendell didn't have to keep his promise because his predecessors also lied to get elected. Lame.

MORE BLAME: Rendell also blamed the Republican-controlled legislature for failing to deliver property tax relief, conveniently ignoring the fact that every Democrat in the House voted against the Commonwealth Caucus plan to eliminate property taxes by expanding the sales tax.

PROMISES: After blaming everyone else about his failure to deliver property tax relief, Rendell had the nerve to ask voters to give him another extension on his four-year-old pledge: "I'm going to go work to see if we can do some tax shifting next year."

HONEST ED: Gov. Rendell admitted Pennsylvania is facing a potentially devastating fiscal crisis if it does not address the astronomical costs of funding pensions for teachers and state workers. By 2011, the state will have to spend at least $1 billion a year to fund those pension plans, Rendell said. And local school districts may go bankrupt trying to pay their share of the pension costs. That was a rare moment of honesty from Pennsylvania's chief spin doctor.

BEST QUESTION: A reporter asked Rendell if the tax increases school districts will impose over the next few years will offset the promised tax cuts from casino revenues. The governor admitted sheepishly: "They might and that's why we have to do more and give broader tax relief." Is that another way of saying Rendell’s tax relief plan is a sham?

NO REPLY: Rendell had no response to Swann's charges that Pennsylvania doctors are fleeing the state because of skyrocketing medical malpractice premiums or why 10 Pennsylvania hospitals have shut their doors or why 900,000 working Pennsylvanians can't afford health insurance.

NO REPLY II: Rendell did not counter Swann's charges that Pennsylvania schools are failing despite more money being poured into public education. In a splendid response after Rendell boasted of spending money to buy laptop computers for inner-city students, Swann said, "Having a laptop computer is a great tool, but what good is it if you can't read?"

FUTURE BLACKMAIL: In a statement that could come back to haunt him, Rendell said he will not seek an expansion to full casinos during his second term, even though neighboring states have table games and the casino industry will tell you Pennsylvania won't be competitive with just slots.

SWANN'S WORST ANSWER: Swann offered no plan for dealing with future pay raises for elected officials. Rendell endorsed the concept of an independent citizen commission to set salaries. Of course that won't work either, but at least it's a plan.

ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL: Rendell sliced apart Swann's plan for providing tax relief, but Swann failed to counter, other than saying, "Ed's numbers are wrong." Swann needs to do a better job of explaining his tax plan to voters.

SWANN'S BEST COMEBACK: After Rendell washed his hands of the tax cut promise, Swann struck this body blow: "Ed Rendell made a mistake. He promised us 30 percent and he didn't deliver on it. Now the fact that he didn't deliver, he wants a do-over. When does the governor become accountable for making a bad decision?"

SMOKERS BEWARE: If re-elected, Rendell promised to ban smoking in all public places in Pennsylvania, including bars and restaurants. Swann said he didn't think the government should tell business owners how to run their establishments.

CLOSING REMARKS: Swann finished strong. "Government shouldn't be this complicated. And with all the experience this administration has, they still failed to give us the kind of leadership we need. The pay raise was still signed. So ask yourself what you would like to see over the next four years. Reform and results, or rhetoric?" Rendell rambled on with the standard liberal view that government should be involved in every aspect of a person's life. In Pennsylvania, that usually means having someone reach into your pockets.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Democrats promise to raise your taxes

Every month the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue puts out a press release bragging how much money the state collects from you and me.

The numbers are staggering. The limitless ways state government has found to tax Pennsylvania residents is remarkable.

The state collected $2.5 billion in General Fund revenue in September alone, according to the Department of Revenue. And that was $76.5 million, or 3.2 percent, more than anticipated.

Since the new fiscal year began on July 1, Pennsylvania has managed to relieve residents of $5.8 billion, which is $55.7 million, or 1 percent, above estimate.

Here's a recap (provided by the Department of Revenue)of how many different ways the state can tax and how much money it removes from the economy:

Sales Tax receipts totaled $706.8 million for September, which was $12 million above estimate. Sales Tax collections year-to-date total $2.2 billion.

Personal Income Tax (PIT) revenue in September was $939.8 million, which was $35 million above estimate. This brings year-to-date PIT collections to $2.2 billion, which is $28.9 million, or 1.3 percent, above estimate.

September Corporation Tax revenue of $573.2 million was $28.2 million above estimate. Year-to-date Corporation Tax collections total $725.4 million, which is $49.4 million, or 7.3 percent, above estimate.

Other General Fund revenue figures for the month included $59.6 million in Inheritance Tax, which was $3 million below estimate. This brings the year-to-date total to $181.1 million, which is $14.6 million below estimate. (I'm guessing not enough people are dying in Pennsylvania to suit the tax collector.)

Realty Transfer Tax was $52.3 million for September, bringing the total to $164.3 million for the year, which is $3.6 million less than anticipated.

Other General Fund revenue including the Cigarette, Malt Beverage and Liquor Tax totaled $124.6 million for the month, or $5.3 million above estimate, and brings the year-to-date total to $319.5 million, which is $4.9 million below estimate.

In addition to the General Fund collections, the Motor License Fund received $208.3 million for the month, $7.7 million above estimate. Fiscal year-to-date collections for the fund total $653.5 million, which is $10.7 million, or 1.6 percent, below estimate.

No wonder we need tens of thousands of state workers. How else can you keep track of all the money the government takes in?

If you think you're not paying enough in taxes, licenses fees and other tolls, you should definitely vote for Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.

In a speech last week, Rendell would not rule out increases in the income tax or sales tax or a combination of those taxes, even though Pennsylvania ended the last fiscal year with nearly $1 billion in surplus. That means the state collected $1 billion more in taxes than it needed to fund state government. The government is good at taking your money. Giving it back is another story.

I'm not sure if it's overconfidence or pure chutzpah, but a lot of Democratic candidates are saying they are willing to raise taxes or eliminate existing tax breaks if elected.

Lois Murphy, who is challenging Republican Jim Gerlach in the 6th Congressional District promises to repeal the tax cuts Congress approved in 2001 and 2003. Ed Rendell never met a tax hike he didn't like. Bob Casey, the Democrat for U.S. Senate trying to unseat Republican Rick Santorum, also supports the repeal of existing tax cuts.

If Democrats regain control of the House, Charles Rangel, the ultra-liberal from New York would end up chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Rangel said last week he would not rule out scrapping any of President Bush's tax cuts in the quest to curtail the alternative minimum tax while balancing the budget. "If we spend billions to bring equity, we have to find some place to do it," Rangel said at a news conference. Rengel said a variety of tax increase would be "on the table."

Here's what rolling back the Bush tax cuts would mean:

Pennsylvania's married couples would face an average of $2,726 more per year in taxes.

Pennsylvania's families with children would face an average of $2,084 more per year in taxes.

Rolling back the tax cuts would mean the average family of four with two children, that today has a $50,000 annual income, would see a 132 percent higher tax bill.

If the Democrats regain power in Harrisburg or Washington, hold on to your wallets.