Friday, September 28, 2007
One of the most watched races on Nov. 6 will be the contest for Montgomery County commissioner. Republicans have controlled county government for more than 130 years. But some in the party are getting nervous as Election Day approaches.
The GOP candidates are incumbent Commissioner Jim Matthews and Bruce L. Castor Jr., the current county district attorney, who passed up what would have been automatic re-election to run for one of three open county commissioner seats.
The Democratic candidates are incumbent Commissioner Ruth Damsker and former U.S. Rep. Joe Hoeffel, who also served as a Montgomery County commissioner before winning a seat in Congress.
Although the Democrats have been chipping away at the voter registration lead Republicans had, the GOP is still dominant in Montgomery County. And while Damsker and Hoeffel have name recognition and lots of money to spend, they haven’t exactly electrified voters with their agenda of higher spending and a more government bureaucracy.
What worries Republicans more is fellow Republicans with their own agenda. The combination of a dull campaigner in Matthews, the inept leadership of Montgomery County Republican Chairman Ken Davis and the party’s ties to convicted felon Robert Asher could prove to be a huge obstacle for the party to overcome.
The Castor-Matthews ticket was a shotgun wedding forced on both men by the county Republican Committee, which has been split since Davis was narrowly elected chairman. Castor wanted a clean break from the Davis-Asher team that has presided over a string of embarrassing defeats for Republicans at the polls in recent years.
Castor also made it clear he won't take any money from Asher, who was convicted in 1986 on charges of conspiracy, five counts of mail fraud, four counts of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering, and one count of perjury. The case also involved former state Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer, who was convicted in the bribery scheme. Dwyer was the guy who shot himself during a televised press conference.
Despite his past legal troubles, Asher is the darling of a certain segment of the Republican Party, both at the county and state level. Some Republicans apparently believe that lots of money makes past sins go away.
Davis has also hurt the party because his lobbying firm was awarded a huge county contract by Matthews and Tom Ellis, the other GOP commissioner.
Matthews is one of those people who can't live without Asher's money or Davis' lousy political instincts. Visit Jim Matthews Exposed Web site for more.
A recent poll showed Castor ahead in the commissioners' race, with Hoeffel second and Matthews barely keeping ahead of Damsker, who brought up the rear. Instead of hitching his wagon to a winner like Castor, Matthews keeps running back to Davis and Asher.
Matthews has set up his own campaign fund and has hired his own consultants, which begs the question: Is Matthews trying to lose the race for the Republicans?
Castor is a proven vote-getter who appeals to Republicans, Democrats and independents. He has an outstanding track record as the county's top law enforcement officer and can keep the county commissioners in GOP hands for another four years.
From the start, Castor was willing to unify the party and run with Matthews as long as Davis and Asher kept their distance. That isn't happening. Matthews appears to be running his own campaign, with Davis and Asher pulling the strings. That is a recipe for disaster.
As the campaign enters the home stretch, Montgomery County Republican leaders better send a clear message to Davis and Asher to stop their meddling. The only people Davis and Asher have helped so far is the Democratic candidates.
My counter has recorded 34,000 unique visitors so far in 2007. Close to 40,000 page views.
My goal for the year was 35,000. I'll probably hit that by next week so I guess I'll have to set a new goal.
How about 50,000 by the end of the year? Tell your friends and neighbors.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
So what is the nation's most expensive state legislature dealing with today? Which crisis are lawmakers tackling?
Metal bats. Specifically, whether the state should forbid kids from using metal bats in baseball and softball games.
A bill introduced by Rep. Michael B. Carroll, D-Luzerne, would impose fines for youth baseball teams that do not start using wooden bats for their games. Players would be fined $25 and organizers $50 for using non-wood bats, according to the bill.
You wonder why Pennsylvania voters got rid of 1 in 5 state lawmakers in the 2006 elections or why the Legislature has a 30 percent approval rate?
It's not like there aren't enough real problems Pennsylvania lawmakers can address.
Rep. Carroll is worried that players who use metal bats, that's pretty much everybody in the past 25 years, are hitting baseballs too hard. Those line drivers could injure players, he argues.
Little League Baseball Inc. President Stephen D. Keener testified before the House Children and Youth Committee today. Keener said metal bats are not dangerous and banning them would hurt the sport. Keener said he's never heard of once case in the past 25 years where a child was injured as a result of using aluminum bats.
Is there a bigger waste of time and taxpayer dollars than this?
Somebody in Carroll's home district should seriously consider running against this guy next year. It's obvious he has too much time on his hands or he's taken a line drive to the head.
Has Carroll ever watched a youth baseball or softball game? The kids are lucky to make contact with the ball and it general doesn't leave the infield. Unless Little Leaguers are on steroids, there's not reason to ban metal bats.
Keener isn't the only person who thinks the proposed ban is batty.
Check out the Don't Take My Bat Away coalition's Web site: http://www.dtmba.com/
Also, a group of Olympic gold-medalists and current members of Team USA — the Team USA – the women's Olympic softball team – sent a letter to the Legislature opposing the proposed ban on aluminum bats.
The letter (printed below) was signed by 12 gold medal winners from the 1996, 2000 and 2004 teams, including: Michele Smith, Julie Smith, Laura Berg, Natasha Watley, Stacey Nuveman, Cat Osterman, Jessica Mendoza, Lovieanne Jung, Jenny Topping, Lisa Fernandez, Jennie Finch, and Amanda Freed, and three members of the 2008 Team USA – Andrea Duran, Alicia Hollowell, and Lauren Lappin -- which will go for gold next summer at the Olympics in Beijing. Sarah Pauly, an all-star softball player and current college assistant coach, (but not an Olympic athlete), also signed the letter.
Dear Chairman Bishop and Chairman Rubley:
As Olympic champions, gold medalists, current and former members of Team USA, and supporters of softball, we are writing to express our strong opposition to Pennsylvania House Bill 1482, introduced by Representative Mike Carroll, which would prohibit non-wood bats in amateur softball and baseball games in the State of Pennsylvania.
Despite good intentions, this bill won't improve safety one bit, but it will damage our game. Girls softball is one of America’s greatest success stories, not only for its contribution to fitness and athleticism, but for the values it has taught generations of young women: discipline, teamwork, competitiveness, and sportsmanship.
Softball is one of the safest sports, period. In the National Collegiate Athletics Association, women's softball has the lowest rate of game injuries among 15 of the most-played sports at the college level, according to the Journal of Athletic Training. Since 2000, the Amateur Softball Association has used bat performance standards to regulate the batted ball speeds (the speed of the ball coming off of a bat) of all its approved bats. These rules and standards have protected player safety.
Softball is also one of the most popular sports for girls to play, with over 75,000 girls playing fast pitch in Pennsylvania alone. This caps a long period of growth in the sport that has introduced many girls to competitive high school athletics for the first time in their lives. There is large body of evidence that participation in high school sports is a positive factor for physical fitness, academic achievement and developing the skills needed for success in life.
We've achieved this success not from government, but from the partnership of dedicated league officials, coaches, players and parents…and with respect, as the athletes who actually play the sport, we believe we have a greater understanding of its dynamics than do the politicians who have most likely never played the sport. We have dedicated ourselves to keeping our game great while at the same time protecting the health and safety of the players.
Amateur Softball is not broken and does not need to be fixed. We hope you will agree.
The resolution received widespread bi-partisan support and has passed the the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
It calls for the implementation of a United Nations-brokered agreement outlining the reunification of Cyprus. A crucial first step is the withdrawal of 35,000 Turkish occupation troops from the island of Cyprus.
On July 8, 2006, Republic of Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed to an UN-sponsored framework establishing a set of principles for the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to find common ground and ensure a lasting peace and eventual reunification, according to the American Hellenic Institute in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Bilirakis, who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee and is co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, said he was pleased with the bipartisan support for his resolution and the prospect of Congress lending its support to the July 8 peace process.
"The Committee has acted decisively today to demonstrate its support for a constructive and transparent process toward a reunification of Cyprus," Bilirakis said. "The implementation of the July 8 Agreement would make it possible for a Cyprus that is unified under a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with a single sovereignty, single international personality and single citizenship with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Cypriots."
H. Res. 405 acknowledges the key terms of the July 8, 2006, agreement, particularly the formation of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with territory allocated to the Greek and Turkish communities within a united Cyprus.
Bilirakis encouraged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take up the measure before the full House and for both Cypriot leaders to take the initiative and move toward sustained progress in implementing the July 8 Agreement.
"More than 33 years after the division of Cyprus, it is important that both sides now move forward on a dialogue that can pave the way for a more sustainable and lasting peace," said Bilirakis. "I urge Speaker Pelosi to move this important resolution before the full House for a vote. It is now time for this Congress to act in expressing its support for the unification of Cyprus."
Co-sponsors of H. Res. 405 include: Rep. Andrews, Robert E. (D-NJ); Rep. Berkley, Shelley (D-NV); Rep. Brown, Henry E., Jr. (R-SC); Rep. Brown-Waite, Ginny (R-FL); Rep. Capuano, Michael E. (D-MA); Rep. Carnahan, Russ (D-MO); Rep. Crowley, Joseph (D-NY); Rep. Diaz-Balart, Lincoln (R-FL); Rep. Diaz-Balart, Mario (R-FL); Rep Engel, Eliot L. (D-NY); Rep. Fortuno, Luis G. (R-PR); Rep Fossella, Vito (R-NY); Rep. Franks, Trent (R-AZ); Rep. Gallegly, Elton (R-CA); Rep. Hinchey, Maurice D. (D-NY): Rep. Hodes, Paul W. (D-NH); Rep. Holt, Rush D. (D-NJ); Rep. Inglis, Bob (R-SC); Rep. Kennedy, Patrick J. (D-RI); Rep. King, Peter T. (R-NY); Rep. Lee, Barbara (D-CA); Rep. Maloney, Carolyn B. (D-NY); Rep. McCotter, Thaddeus G. (R-MI); Rep. Pallone, Frank, Jr. (D-NJ); Rep. Payne, Donald M. (D-NJ); Rep Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana (R-FL); Rep. Roskam, Peter J. (R-IL); Rep Sarbanes, John P. (D-MD); Rep. Sires, Albio (D-NJ); Rep. Space, Zachary T. (D-OH); Rep. Van Hollen, Chris (D-MD); Rep. Watson, Diane E. (D-CA).
For more information about the Cyprus issue, go to the American Hellenic Institute Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org or click on one of the many links on this blog.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
One of the co-chairs of the Hoeffel-Damsker campaign resigned Tuesday after authorities busted a huge illegal gambling operation in Montgomery County. The case involves bars and other establishments housing video poker machines.
One of the businesses raided was Cisco's Bar and Grille in the 1500 block of Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown. Cisco's is owned and operated by Joanne C. Olszewski and her husband. Olszewski is an elected jury commissioner in Montgomery County and co-chair of the Hoeffel-Damsker campaign.
Everyone knows that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is now in the gambling business thanks to Ed Rendell, so Olszewski will have a hard time explaining why her family business is running video poker machines.
Olszewski is also first vice president of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee and a member of the State Democratic Committee. Read more about Olszewski's resignation in today's edition of The Mercury.
The other interesting quirk in this story (other than the timing) is that the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, which is handling the investigation, is headed by Bruce L. Castor Jr., who is a Republican candidate for Montgomery County Commissioner.
Castor said his First Assistant D.A., Risa Ferman, is handling the case, but Castor was pictured prominently in the press conference announcing the raids. Ferman is the Republican candidate to replace Castor as Montgomery County D.A.
Reporter Margaret Gibbons pointed out in her story that, "Even before the district attorney's press conference, a story taken from KYW-AM radio citing sources indicating that an unnamed county elected official was caught in the investigation went up on the Castor-Matthews campaign Web site."
Gibbons also asked Montgomery County Democratic Chairman Marcel L. Groen if the timing of the raids were politically motivated.
"I do not believe the underlying investigation was politically motivated, but the timing of the announcement of the investigation coming just six weeks before the election is interesting to say the least," Groen said.
Ferman denied any shenanigans.
"We don't accuse public officials of committing crimes unless we're sure," Ferman told Gibbons. "We're in the business of doing investigations and we understand that a public official's reputation is paramount."
Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Ken Davis isn't satisfied with Olszewski's departure from the Hoeffel-Damsker campaign. He wants the Democratic candidates to push for Olszewski's resignation as a jury commissioner.
"Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and I ask that the rights of Ms. Olszewski be observed as she deals with this difficult situation regarding an investigation for an illegally rigged gambling machine operated out of a business she owns, Cisco's Bar," Davis said in a written statement.
Because Olszewski is a key member of Damsker-Hoeffel '07, the Montgomery County Democratic Committee and State Democratic Committee who has donated and raised a significant amount of money for the Damsker-Hoeffel campaign and Democratic Party, Davis wants Damsker and Hoeffel to consider asking for her resignation as Jury Commissioner in light of these serious allegations.
"Her resignation simply from the Damsker-Hoeffel campaign is not enough," Davis said.
Hoeffel and Damsker have made numerous allegations about corruption in the Republican-controlled county. Davis wasted no time in turning the tables on the Democrats.
"Republican officials have repeatedly been exonerated from recklessly false claims made by both Damsker and Hoeffel," Davis said. "I hope that the alleged crimes of Ms. Olszewski, the only Democratic elected official in the Court House, do not represent the type of culture Damsker and Hoeffel want to establish in Montgomery County."
Davis wants Damsker and Hoeffel and the Montgomery County Democratic Committee to answer the following questions:
• Did Damsker, Hoeffel or any Democratic Party official hold campaign fundraisers at Ms. Olszewski's bar, Cisco's?
• Did Damsker, Hoeffel or any Democratic Party official at any time play, or encourage attendees/patrons to play, the allegedly rigged illegal video poker machines in Cisco's Bar?
• Did any illegal gambling proceeds from the video poker machines in Cisco's Bar find their way in to the campaign coffers of Damsker, Hoeffel or the Democratic Party?
• Have any representatives of JC Vending Inc. made campaign contributions to Damsker, Hoeffel or any Democratic Party organizations?
No sooner have reformers celebrated the unexpected exit of Ralph Cappy, the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, when we get the news that Richard Willey, the handsomely-paid CEO of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, is joining Cappy at the retirement home.
Willey, who makes $289,000 a year (the highest paid state official in Pennsylvania), has been the target of reformers, Legislators and even Ed Rendell for overseeing questionable spending by the agency in charge of providing student loans.
Willey himself pocketed a "bonus" of $181,000 this summer as part of more than $500,000 in bonus money awarded to top PHEAA executives.
That didn't sit well with Pennsylvania residents struggling to send their kids to college. PHEAA also spent nearly $900,000 on lavish trips to resorts for its executives and the board members assigned to oversee the operation.
The retirement of Cappy, one of the architects of the infamous July 2005 pay raise, and Willey can be considered victories for the reform movement in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvanians not only have the power to get rid of greedy politicians at the ballot box. The bully pulpit, consisting of a handful of citizen activists, aided by the state's thriving blogger community, talk radio and a few courageous newspaper columnists, has been instrumental in helping clean up this state.
The job isn't done.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
It's beginning to look that way as the incumbent Republican Montgomery County Commissioner proves once again to be his own worst enemy.
With the election just six weeks away, Matthews is keeping the fading Democratic Party challengers alive by continuing to accept money from convicted felon Bob Asher.
Matthews' bonehead loyalty to Asher is giving his Democratic opponents, Joe Hoeffel and Ruth Damsker, plenty of ammunition as they try to take control of the three-member Board of Commissioners.
Hoeffel and Damkser haven't had much success in attracting support with their raise taxes/make government bigger agenda, but they keep scoring points every time they point out that Matthews is funded by Asher.
Read today's edition of The Times Herald for more on the ongoing controversy.
The person you feel sorry for is Bruce L. Castor Jr., who is giving up his post as Montgomery County District Attorney in a valiant effort to keep Republican control of the commissioners' board.
Castor made it clear from the start that he wanted nothing to do with Asher (or his puppet, county GOP Chairman Ken Davis). Castor managed to push Republican Commissioner Tom Ellis, another Asher supporter, out of the race. But Montgomery County Republican Party Committee members would not support Castor's hand-picked running mate and instead endorsed Matthews to run with Castor.
It was a shotgun wedding that appears to be unraveling as we get closer to Election Day. If the party leaders knew now what they didn't know then -- that Matthews would continue to take money from Asher -- GOP Committee members would have dumped Matthews in favor of a Bruce Castor-Melissa Murphy Webber team.
Here's my advice to Matthews, who couldn't deliver Montgomery County for Lynn Swann in last year's governor's race and is running a distant third in a recent poll on the Montgomery County commissioners' race:
Return every dime you got from Asher, keep your distance from Asher, and listen to Castor, who has more political sense in his little pinkie that you do in your entire body.
If Montgomery County Republicans want to keep control of county government, they better wake up and insist that Matthews ditch Asher, who should do the party a big favor and leave Montgomery County until after Election Day.
Take a hint from the photo above, with Castor on the left and Matthews in the background. The best thing Matthews can do for the Republican Party is stand next to Castor at campaign stops and press conferences and say nothing. Let Castor to do all the talking until the ballots are counted on Nov. 6.
Otherwise, Republicans will wake up on Nov. 7 to Joe Hoeffel, an Ed Rendell-crony as the next chairman of a Democratic-controlled Board of Commissioners. And if that happens, no amount of money from Asher will get Republicans back in control of county government.
If you've been under a rock or you get your news from the left-wing mainstream media, you probably didn't know that The New York Times gave MoveOn.org a 60 percent discount for a full-page ad attacking Gen. David Petraeus.
It used to be that The New York Times would at least go through the motions pretending it was a newspaper that presented the news objectively. As the far left continues its stranglehold on the nation's mainstream media, The New York Times doesn't have to pretend anymore that its reporting is unbiased.
After two weeks of denials, The New York Times admitted on its own pages that it violated its policies to give MoveOn.org an opportunity to smear Gen. Petraeus.
The New York Times, which is hemorrhaging money due to massive drops in readership and advertising, decided to charge MoveOn.org just $65,000 for the full-page ad instead of its normal rate of $181,000.
The newspaper's "public editor" wrote in his weekly column Sunday that The New York Times violated its own advertising policy to assist MoveOn.org in placing the "General Betray Us" ad in the paper on the same day Petraeus testified before Congress about progress in Iraq.
Some of us have been wise to the New York Times for years. Check out my July 2005 column, "Stop The Presses: The New York Times Admits Bias."
You can also follow daily examples of left-wing bias on the pages of The New York Times at Times Watch and in the news media in general at Media Research Center.
Monday, September 24, 2007
But the thing that leaves people shaking their heads about the political process is the fact that many ex-lawmakers managed to land on their feet despite betraying the public trust by supporting the 2 a.m. raid on the state treasury.
All 55 lawmakers who were ousted in 2006 are enjoying lifetime pensions far more generous than anything beleaguered Pennsylvania residents can ever hope for. And many of the lawmakers have found better-paying jobs in state government or went to work as high-paid lobbyists.
A good example is former state Sen. Joe Conti, who went from making around $75,000 a year in the Senate to chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board at an annual salary of $150,000.
Politicians take care of themselves, their family and friends, the lobbyists and fellow politicians. That doesn't leave much room for constituents.
Berks County voters managed to vote out payjackers in 2006 and forced Rep. Sheila Miller into retirement. But guess who just came out of retirement to land a $65,000-a-year job as Berks County Agriculture Coordinator? None other than our old friend, Sheila Miller.
The Berks County Commissioners, controlled by Democrats, gave the Republican Miller the agriculture post last week. I'm not saying Miller isn't qualified for the job. She owns a farm and served on the House Agriculture Committee in Harrisburg. But was Miller the only farmer in the county who wanted the job?
Should the Berks County Commissioners reward a fellow politician who voted for the 2005 pay raise and took the money as unvouchered expenses?
The Reading Eagle reported that Miller was involved a 2005 study that recommended creation of the new post. Isn't it convenient that Mrs. Miller is now available to take the job herself?
That new $65,000 job, with great benefits and another taxpayer-funded pension, is on top of the hefty state pension Miller got when she "retired" from the House last year.
If you're wondering why so many people don't vote and don't really care about the political process, it's because the system has been corrupted by so many self-serving career politicians who always take care of their own.
Liberals can't make convincing arguments for their cause, so they resort to this. It's sad. It also helps explain how so many people with far left beliefs end up running newspapers or television stations in this country.
Colo. State U. paper's student editor says he won't quit over Bush editorial obscenity
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — The editor of the Colorado State University newspaper says he has no plans to resign amid criticism about an obscenity used in an editorial about President Bush.
The four-word editorial, published Friday in the Rocky Mountain Collegian, said in large type, "Taser this. (Expletive) Bush."
J. David McSwane, the Collegian's editor-in-chief and a CSU junior, said the newspaper's governing board may fire him but he won't voluntarily step down.
"I think that'd be an insult to the staff who supported the editorial," McSwane told the Fort Collins Coloradoan in Monday's editions.
The newspaper's business manager has said the operation lost $30,000 in advertising in the hours after the editorial was published, and that the pay of student staffers would be cut 10 percent to compensate.
McSwane said the newspaper's student editors decided to use the obscenity because they believe CSU students are apathetic about their freedom of speech and other rights.
"We thought the best way to illustrate that point was to use our freedoms," he said.
The editors chose not to seek advice from the newspaper's professional advisers to protect them from the controversy they knew the editorial would cause, McSwane said.
"We didn't want any kind of action taken against them by the university," he said.
The Board of Student Communication, which oversees the Collegian and other student media at the university, plans to discuss the editorial when it meets Tuesday night.
The Lancaster New Era reported on McDonald's campaign announcement over the weekend:
Sounding a theme of "Real Reform, Real Conservative" and criticizing what he termed a Harrisburg culture of "perks, pensions and pay raises," McDonald said he's running on his record of cost-cutting and technological innovation in the recorder's office.
After the 2006 primary, which swept dozens of incumbents out of office in the wake of the 2005 pay raise, voters thought change was coming, McDonald said: "Sadly, Harrisburg doesn't seem to get the message yet."
McDonald will attempt to oust Armstrong in the 2008 Republican primary.
Armstrong is a 20-year incumbent who voted for the July 2005 legislative pay raise and took the money as unvouchered expenses, a practice rule unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
2008 will be the first opportunity Lancaster County voters can punish Armstrong for the payjacking. Many of the Senators who voted in favor of the pay raise did not have to run in 2006 and they figured voters would forget about the 2 a.m. raid on the state treasury by 2008. Wrong. Voters still haven't forgotten the blatant betrayal of the public trust by career politicians.
For more on McDonald, check out his Web site.
Toomey is the president of the Club For Growth, a conservative political action committee. A former Congressman, Toomey came within a few thousand votes of ousting U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in 2004.
The column also discusses the difference between groups like Club For Growth and MoveOn.org
Thanks to everyone who spends part of their day here.
There's some interesting comments left by readers in some recent posts, especially the one about Pennsylvania having the worst government, "The answer is yes." They're worth reading.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
The column centers on incumbent Tom Gajewski, who has an albatross around his neck (he supported a 34-percent property tax hike in 2005) and appears to be having trouble breathing.
It's a fascinating piece on a politician who is about to be tossed out of office. Berks County is where the Commonwealth Caucus Plan to eliminate property taxes started and there's a strong anti-tax movement in the county.
Voters swept out several state legislators in 2006 and have set their sights on Democrats who failed repeatedly to deliver on their promises to do something about property taxes: State Sen. Michael O'Pake, Rep. Dante Santoni and Rep. David Kessler. All three are vulnerable in 2008.
But this November, Gajewski must face the voters after approving that 34-percent take hike. Good luck with that. Gajewski's political future can best be compared to the film, "Dead Man Walking."
The Republican candidates for commissioner, incumbent Mark C. Scott and newcomer Christian Leinbach, appear to be in the best position to win. Scott voted against the 2005 tax hike and Leinbach not only criticized the tax increase but he has promised not to raise property taxes in the next four years.
You can read Young's column, "Callers spoil BCTV forum for Berks Commissioner Gajewski," here.
If you want to see Gajewski unraveling before your eyes, the televised forum will be shown on BCTV Monday at 11 a.m. and Tuesday at 4 p.m., which is Channel 13 on Comcast in Reading and Hamburg, and Channel 19 on Service Electric Cable.
The answer is yes.
Read more at Policy Blog.
Friday, September 21, 2007
The paper reported today that a Pittsburgh lobbyist finds it "disgusting and insulting" that anyone would question her relationship with Gov. Ed Rendell. That "anyone" is probably state Sen. Jeff Piccola, a Republican who has ambition of being the next governor of Pennsylvania.
The case involves $75 million in tax credits for the film industry that Gov. Rendell included in the new state budget.
Leslie McCombs, 35, is a former beauty pageant contestant and TV anchor-babe who is now a lobbyist and an actress who helped get the tax credit into the budget.
She also happens to be a social friend of Rendell and she donated several thousand dollars to his re-election campaign last year.
Sen. Piccola, R.-Dauphin County, thinks there's more to the McCombs-Rendell relationship that meets the eye. In fact, Piccola wants to hire private yes to get to the scoop.
"Clearly, it is being suggested that I have an inappropriate relationship with the Governor. That suggestion is disgusting and insulting, and I am appalled that an elected public official can get away with such slanderous behavior," McCombs said in an e-mail sent to several media outlets. "It is deeply hurtful to me and my family."
The governor is keeping his distance and wants everyone to pay attention to his energy policy. Who's he kidding? Beautiful lobbyist seen in the governor's company or a discussion on the many uses of ethanol. Which would you rather read about?
The story has been picked up by MSNBC and it's all over the television in the Pittsburgh area. Stay tuned.
Gov. Rendell is a con artist
If you are not aware, Gov. Ed Rendell made the Who's Hsu list last week. In this case, the Hsu is Norman, the latest in a long line of Chinese bagmen, bundling cash for the culturally uncorrupt Democratic Party.
In Fast Eddie's case, the $38,000 indiscretion was donated to charity only after Norman, a convicted felon, skipped a court hearing, forfeited a $2 million bond and, as they say, went to ground. Attempts to locate Norman at his home, listed as a public library, were unsuccessful. If we have any state legislators without similar skeletons in their closet, the matter should be investigated. If we don't, it will be buried.
Am I the only person in the state who has grown weary of this con artist posing as a governor, formerly a con artist posing as a mayor? This is a guy who promised a 30 percent cut in property taxes standing on his head. What he delivered was gambling revenue to special interests.
This is the slickster who attempted to buy off an easily-bought Legislature and judiciary with a sweetheart compensation package. What has he done to rein in illegals and the criminals who knowingly employ them? Nada. What has he done to control an out of control public employee pension system? Zip. The list of unaddressed issues is longer than editorial space allows.
Ed Rendell has been an unmitigated disaster for Pennsylvania. Then again, what else could have been expected from someone who makes Machiavelli look like Captain Kangaroo.
For those who can supply the elbow grease, I will supply the rail.
Property tax system is broken
The public education finance system in Pennsylvania is antiquated, regressive, and totally out of sync with 21st century reality. More than 10,000 Pennsylvania homeowners lose their homes each year to tax sales and many more are forced to sell their homes because of relentlessly rising property taxes.
More than 100 Pennsylvania school districts are in financial distress, are unable to sustain adequate funding to give their children a quality education, and are in jeopardy of being taken over by the state. The system is broken beyond repair and the problem needs to be addressed now.
House Bill 1600 is exactly the same as the Act 1 referendum that was so resoundingly defeated in the May 2007 primary election. It imposes new, permanent taxes in return for a small amount of "relief" that will quickly be negated by continually rising property taxes.
It does nothing to address cost controls or funding inequity between school districts. It is a valueless Band-Aid approach to tax "relief" that does nothing to solve the underlying problems with education finance.
Rep. Levdansky has been vigorously trumpeting HB 1600 and is so desperate to have it enacted that he deliberately falsifies the facts of this legislation. Since it is of such meaningless value to true education finance, might there be other reasons such as pandering to special interests like the PSEA or others who would be hurt by the imposition of cost controls contained in competing education finance reform legislation? His motives must be examined when you consider how strenuously he has promoted this bill.
Rep. Carl Mantz (Berks) and Rep. Stan Saylor (York) have withdrawn their co-sponsorship of HB 1600. Rep. Mantz has stated that school property tax elimination is the only acceptable solution, while Rep. Saylor cited misrepresentations of HB 1600 as his reason for withdrawing support.
The get more facts on real property tax reform go to http://www.ptcc.us/
Administrator, Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition;
Member, Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations
Partisan politics must end
I am so disgusted with both the Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.
The two major political parties look out for their own special interest groups and are not accountable to the people who elected them. It doesn’t matter which party is in control. They do the same thing. They line their own pockets and answer to lobbyists, big business and foreign interests.
Gov. Ed Rendell has been promising tax relief for five years and we haven’t seen a dime. The legislators in Harrisburg only help themselves with big salaries and outrageous perks. Congress is worse. Billions of our tax dollars are wasted
Our Founding Fathers never intended for political parties to rule this country. People have to stop voting along party lines. Think for yourself.
Those are the conclusions of the 2006 Uniform Crime Report released by State Police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller.
The number of crime index offenses in Pennsylvania reported to state police through the Uniform Crime Reporting system increased by 1.4 percent last year, although the number of murders in the state dropped by 5 percent, Miller said in a prepared statement.
The 2006 report contains crime statistics submitted by 1,165 police jurisdictions in the state, a net increase of 57 jurisdictions over the number that reported for 2005, Miller said.
Overall, crime index offenses in Pennsylvania increased from 334,596 in 2005 to 339,237 last year, Miller said.
"Crime index offenses are those considered most likely to be reported to police and, as a result, are used nationally as a way to compare criminal activity," Miller said. "They include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, motor-vehicle theft and arson."
The breakdown of reported crime index offenses for 2006:
- Murders decreased 5 percent from 759 to 721;
- Forcible rapes increased 0.6 percent to 3,434;
- Robberies jumped 8.3 percent to 20,299;
- Aggravated assaults went up 1 percent to 27,978;
- Burglaries climbed 1.8 percent to 54,482;
- Larcenies/thefts increased 1 percent to 201,731;
- Motor-vehicle thefts inched up 0.1 percent to 28,280; and
- Arsons dropped 5.4 percent to 2,312.
Other highlights from the 2006 UCR:
- Arrests of juveniles for crime index offenses decreased 0.9 percent to 18,657 in 2006. Arrests of juveniles for all crimes climbed 3.3 percent to 111,315;
- Total number of crimes reported to state police increased 2.1 percent to 984,187 in 2006.
- Reported "hate crime" incidents decreased from 151 in 2005 to 129 in 2006. Hate crime incidents are those motivated by bias against an individual or group based on the actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity;
- Crimes reported on college campuses in the state increased 4.6 percent to 26,859;
- Arrests for driving under the influence increased 7.8 percent to 48,698. Of the total, 79.2 percent of those arrested were male;
- The number of assaults on police officers in Pennsylvania increased 5.1 percent to 3,120 in 2006.
Anyone can view the data as soon as it is submitted. "With the Web-based system, police can submit data at any time," Miller said. "As a result, the numbers listed in the 2006 UCR Annual Report are subject to change as police departments update or review their reports."
The full report is available online at http://www.psp.state.pa.us
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I've interviewed or observed hundreds of local, county and state officials over the past 25 years. I've known some good ones, a lot of mediocre ones and some who have no business holding public office.
Although he has never held elected office before, Leinbach is an impressive candidate, thoughtful, well-spoken and with a solid grasp of the issues.
Leinbach knows what he's talking about. He has devoted a lot of time in the past year educating himself on the issues facing county government. He's talked to county department heads, past and current office-holders and everyday people. He's done his homework and has a clear strategy for improving county government.
Leinbach's priorities are in the right place. He promises not to raise property taxes if elected and supports property tax elimination across the state. That's a refreshing position considering the current Democratic majority on the commissioners' board raised property taxes 34 percent in 2005. Incumbent Commissioner Tom Gajewski wants four more years after he pushed for a 34-percent? What do Berks County homeowners have to look forward to if Democrats retain control for another four years? A 50-percent tax hike?
In addition to his "No New Taxes" pledge, Leinbach wants the county commissioners to get more involved in fighting crime, which has spread from the City of Reading into the suburbs. The best the current Democratic majority has done over the past four years is hold endless meetings and hire consults to study the crime problem. Leinbach said there's been enough talk. It's time to start fighting crime.
"I will work with local law enforcement officials to make our neighborhoods safer," Leinbach said when he announced his run for commissioner. "These are the people who know Berks County and I have believe we should listen to local experts — not pay big bucks for outside consultants."
Leinbach's third priority is economic development. He is also concerned about the burden illegal immigrants are placing on Berks County taxpayers.
It would be refreshing to see a successful businessperson enter government. Tom Gajewski hasn't had a private sector job in more than 30 years. He's gone from one political post to another, collecting paychecks from taxpayers all the way. It's been my observation that lifetime politicians lose touch with the realities of everyday life.
Plenty of people talk about "running government like a business," but that's unlikely to happen as long as career politicians like Gajewski hold office. It takes somebody with practical business experience to bring fiscal accountability to government.
Leinbach is vice president of Westlawn Group, a graphics and marketing agency in western Berks County. He is also founder and publisher of Berks County Living magazine. You can learn more about where he stands on the issues at his Web site.
The other Republican running is incumbent Commissioner Mark C. Scott, who is seeking re-election to a fourth term. (Scott voted against the 34-percent tax hike that Gajewski supported).
Also running is Democrat Kevin S. Barnhardt, a last-minute replacement for Judy Schwank, who bailed out of the race instead of attempting to defend the 34-percent tax hike she and Gajewski approved.
Voters get to choose two commissioners on Nov. 6, with the top three vote-getters winning seats on the three-member board.
"You have to fight the status quo and the establishment that keeps people like Gib Armstrong in power," McDonald told the newspaper. "I'm going to stand with regular citizens of the district and fight that."
Armstrong, who has represented the 13th Senatorial District since 1985, voted for the July 2005 legislative pay raise and took the money as "unvouchered expenses," a practice later ruled unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
This will be the first time Armstrong faces Lancaster County voters since the pay raise vote because only half the members of the Senate face re-election in even-numbered years.
In 2006, five members of the 50-seat chamber were either forced into retirement or voted out of office. (Fifty members of the state House were also replaced by voters. Most of them voted themselves a pay raise.)
Many Senate payjackers, Armstrong included, did not have to face the voters and are counting on voters having short memories about the 2 a.m. raid on the state treasury. But their turn is coming in 2008.
McDonald, who has served as Lancaster County's recorder of deeds since 1998, has launched a Web site, where he makes the following pledge: "No perks. No Pension. No Pay Raise."
"As your State Senator, public service comes first," McDonald says on the Web site.
That's a refreshing message Lancaster County voters should embrace, especially after 22 years of self-serving actions by Gibson.
It's an uphill battle to oust an incumbent, but it can be done. Look no further than neighboring Lebanon and Berks counties, where incumbent Sen. David "Chip" Brightbill was defeated in the 2006 GOP primary by reformer Mike Folmer.
Hsu, a big-time contributor to the Hillary Clinton campaign, is in a Colorado jail awaiting extradition to California, to face 15-year-old criminal charges involving another fraud case.
Rendell had this to say about Hsu as recently as Sept. 1: "He is a man who has proved himself to be of good character," Rendell told The Philadelphia Inquirer in a story titled, "Rendell: Don't Rush to Judge Fund-raiser."
Rendell, a two-term governor of Pennsylvania and the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told the newspaper he had socialized with Hsu about 15 to 20 times over the years. He said he met Hsu "through my work" as chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2000.
The newspaper reported Rendell received nearly $40,000 from Hsu during 2005 and 2006, according to state campaign-finance records. Pennsylvania does not limit the size of contributions.After initially refusing to give up the tainted money, Rendell gave in to mounting pressure as the Hsu scandal grew and donated the $40,000 to nine charities in Pennsylvania.
Hsu's ongoing legal troubles and his shady dealings involving Clinton, Rendell and other Democrats, is the tip of the iceberg. Money has corrupted the American political system and nobody has taken advantage of loopholes in campaign finance laws more than the Democratic Party.
We face the prospect of the likely Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, dividing her time between campaign stops and testifying in the various fraud trials Hsu is facing in 2008.
The group says it has removed Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin from its list of judges who should be rejected by voters.
Orie Melvin's name was moved off the "No" list after PaCleanSweep received documentation Wednesday that the judge had returned $14,402.55 to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The figure represents the after-tax amount Orie Melvin received under the Act 44 pay raise during the years 2005, 2006 and through the end of 2007, PaCleanSweep says.
"We believe Judge Orie Melvin has done everything in her power to personally reject the judicial swindle," said PACleanSweep Chairman Russ Diamond. "We cannot hold her responsible for taxes deducted by government entities and we're inclined to believe she did her best in determining the net payback figure. We've been provided a worksheet which calculates the taxes withheld from a gross amount of $24,502.47.
Diamond issued a challenge to every other judge in the Commonwealth to follow suit and make good on their oaths of office.
"Only then should Pennsylvanians engage in debate regarding their rulings, opinions and decisions," Diamond said.
Say what you will about Diamond's efforts to sweep out all of the state's judges, but the fact that one judge felt compelled to do the right thing makes the campaign a success even before any ballots are cast. The defeat of even one appellate court judge on Nov. 6 would be another strong signal to the political aristocracy running Pennsylvania that the people have had enough.
You can read more about the group's "Judicial Clean Sweep" campaign to punish the state's judges for taking the July 2005 pay raise at www.pacleansweep.com
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
How about another scandal involving Pennsylvania's governor, who is already smarting from his connections with fugitive Norman Hsu, a big-time donor to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Rendell was forced to give away $40,000 of Hsu's tainted money to charity this week.
Rendell was also implicated in another financial scandal involving Hillary Clinton and a guy named Peter Paul. That story was reported Friday in The Wall Street Journal.
But the latest scandal has legs. And those legs belong to Leslie M. McCombs, a statuesque former beauty contestant and television anchorwoman, who is now an actress and lobbyist.
Rendell insisted in putting $75 million in the new state budget this year to entice Hollywood film makers to come to Pennsylvania. McCombs has been seen (and photographed) in the company of Gov. Rendell and pushed for the $75 million in tax breaks for Hollywood millionaires.
But she apparently failed to comply with Pennsylvania's lobbyist laws, which are already the weakest in the nation, according to news reports. A Republican state senator, Jeff Piccola, wants to investigate McCombs' role in influencing the governor. That's where the private investigators come in. Piccola wants to spend up to $10,000 in taxpayer dollars to find out exactly how much influence Ms. McCombs has on the governor.
McCombs is described as a social friend of Rendell's in news accounts. She's been spotted at dinner and baseball games with the governor. The photo above would be Ms. McCombs next to the governor in a box seat at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. She also donated $4,000 toward Rendell's re-election bid in 2006, according to campaign records.
The story was first reported by the online news service Capitolwire.com, but since you have to be a member to read it, we had to settle for the mainstream media picking up on it.
There's a story today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette under the headline "Rendell chides private eye use in lobby probe."
The incident was also picked up by John Baer, columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, who has a piece today called, "Guv, the blonde & lobbying law."
The Daily News' blog, Attytood also had some fun at the governor's expense.
And something called The Daily Examiner had this post: "Hot Blondes Make Even the Lamest Political Controversies More Compelling."
Also check out this column by Eric Heyl of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Gloomy governor ponders his woes."
So let's just pile on Rendell.
The money is relatively small compared to the $27 billion in the General Fund budget, but the tax breaks for Hollywood millionaires came at the expense of money to clean up hazardous waste sites in Pennsylvania.
That's right. Gov. Rendell found money to bribe Steven Spielberg to come to Pennsylvania, but couldn't come up with any money to clean up hundreds of hazardous waste sites in the state.
Is the governor looking to jump-start a film career, a la Fred Thompson?
An editorial in today's edition of The Mercury goes into greater detail about the debacle.
Southeastern Pennsylvania lawmakers vow to correct Rendell's folly as they return for the Legislature's fall session.
State Reps. Rick Taylor, D-Montgomery, and Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, announced this week they have introduced House Bill 1810 that would provide $30 million for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act Fund (HSCA) to keep removing pollutants from old industrial sites, according to Capitolwire.com.
Taylor and Vereb want to use money slated to be transferred to the Rainy Day Fund (aka Legislative slush fund) to keep HSCA afloat through the end of the 2007-08 fiscal year in June.
The two lawmakers say this will give the General Assembly time to provide a new, stable source of funding for the cleanup program, reports Capitolwire.com. HSCA had been funded by the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax, which is being phased out, and the available monies will dry up at the end of this year, according to Capitolwire.com.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, and Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Venango, unveiled a plan that would initially set aside $15 million from legislative reserve accounts to fund HSCA through the current fiscal year, Capitolwire.com reported. Those accounts fund the operations of the House, Senate and legislative agencies, Capitolwire.com says.
Beginning in 2008-09, cleanup efforts would then be funded with $40 million a year from the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax, according to Capitolwire.com.
State Sen. John Rafferty, D-Chester/Montgomery, is pushing a bottle bill that would impose a 5-cent deposit fee on all bottles sold in Pennsylvania, with the money going to a fund to pay for the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. To fund the HSCA program through the end of the year, Rafferty said he’d like to see $30 million taken from the existing state surplus.
The reason this is relevant is that Rendell has millions of dollars left from his 2006 gubernatorial campaign and he plans to spend the money to help Democrats keep control of the state House of Representatives. Whatever is left can also help next year's presidential nominee, most likely Hillary Clinton.
Rendell announced Tuesday that he was donating $40,000 of Hsu money to Pennsylvania charities, but the governor may have much more tainted money in his war chest.
Here's the Gleason press release:
HARRISBURG — Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Robert A. Gleason Jr. again called on Gov. Ed Rendell to return all campaign donations that were bundled by donors who have a relationship with Norman Hsu.
"The Governor needs to identify and return all of the money that can be traced back to Norman Hsu," Gleason said. "When others in his Party voluntarily donated the money they received from Hsu or his conspirators weeks ago, the Governor instead chose to opine about how Hsu was one of the ten best people he has ever met. Why has the Governor been so slow to separate himself from a man that is currently incarcerated? The Governor owes it to Pennsylvania to rid himself of any money that can be traced back to Hsu.
"I also am at a loss as to why people in the media have failed to point out Gov. Ed Rendell’s relationship to shady donors and Sen. Hillary Clinton. It appears that both Gov. Rendell and Sen. Clinton have no qualms about taking money from a low-life as long as he signs the check."
"I ask Pennsylvanians to remain vigilant, and keep a close eye on the Governor as this election cycle proceeds, especially if he contributes to the campaign accounts of judicial and county courthouse candidates," Gleason continued. "Those candidates should not take contributions that could be traced back to a man who avoided justice the past 15 years."
Norman Hsu, described by the Governor as "one of the ten best people I've met," is a criminal who made millions of dollars scamming Americans while also serving as a big fundraiser for Sen. Clinton and the Democrat Party.
Reportedly, Hsu defrauded investors out of $1 million in a latex glove scam in 1989. Hsu plead no contest to the crime and skipped town before the sentencing. He remained a fugitive from California authorities for the last 15 years, despite the fact that he hosted many high-profile Democrat fundraisers around the state.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Representing Pennsylvania on the list are Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat, and Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican.
Murtha, an 18-term member of Congress, represents the 12th Congressional District in western Pennsylvania. He rose to prominence in 2006 as the foaming-at-the-mouth, anti-Iraq War spokesman, but Murtha has a long and checkered history involving ethics violations, deals with lobbyists and pork spending. Murtha is a repeat offender from the 2006 list of most corrupt members of Congress.
Murtha was also singled out by another watchdog group this year for being one of the biggest offenders of pork projects in Congress. See previous post, John Murtha, King of Pork.
Murtha is also one of a dozen members of Congress subpoenaed in the trial of a defense contractor charged with bribing former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
Murphy is a third-term member of Congress, representing the 18th Congressional District, also in western Pennsylvania. "Rep. Murphy's ethics violations involve his misuse of official resources for political campaign activity," according to the watchdog group. Murphy currently is the target of a Department of Justice investigation, the group states.
The full report, "Beyond DeLay: The 22 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and two to watch)" is available at the group's Web site, http://www.beyonddelay.org/
This is the third annual report released by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington documenting "the egregious, unethical and possibly illegal activities of the most tainted members of Congress."
Somehow, I get the feeling the group could have come up with more than just 24 corrupt members of Congress. Sixteen members of this year's most corrupt list have been replaced from last year's list of 25. And yes, Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA), the man found with $90,000 in cash stuffed in his freezer, did make the list.California leads the way with five members of its Congressional delegation on the most corrupt list. Other states with more than one include New Mexico and Alaska, each with three and Louisiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, each with two.
Alaska has the dubious distinction of having both of its U.S. Senators -- Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski -- on the most corrupt list. That's pretty bad considering that only four members of the Senate made the list.Twenty of the 24 members of Congress on the list are Republicans. Maybe Nancy Pelosi was right about "draining the swamp," but that doesn't explain why Murtha is such an influential member of the Democratic caucus.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington compiles its list based on "members' transgressions," analyzing them in light of federal laws and Congressional rules, according to the Web site.
The Web site offers short summaries of each member's transgressions as well as the full-length profiles and all accompanying exhibits.Pennsylvania residents will have an opportunity to remove Murtha and Murphy from Congress next year. All 435 members of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate will be up for re-election in 2008.
Here are some additional issues the Pennsylvania Legislature is expected to take up during the fall session, according to state Sen. John Rafferty, R-44th Dist., and state Rep. Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist.Health care
The governor is also pushing his Jonas Salk Legacy Fund, which passed the House by a 103-98 party-line vote. Getting it through the Senate will be difficult.
"The problem with this plan is that it takes money from the tobacco settlement that is earmarked for research and development for cures, and puts the money toward 'bricks and mortar' building of research facilities," Quigley said. "It's another opportunity for the governor to hand out checks and take photos at groundbreaking ceremonies.”
Rafferty predicts a tough time for the governor’s plan in the Republican-controlled Senate. "I'd rather see the money go for actual research and development" of bio-medical technology instead of construction of facilities, Rafferty said.
The much-debated public smoking ban will be brought up this fall, but don't expect a quick compromise. The Senate rejected the House version of the bill in the spring and won't consider it unless the House agrees to major exclusions supported by the Senate. “They need to come up with a new bill,” Rafferty said matter-of-factly.
As for Gov. Rendell's proposal to provide health insurance to Pennsylvania residents who don't have coverage by forcing employers to pay a 3-percent surcharge, Rafferty and Quigley said it has no chance of passing the Legislature.Transportation funding
One area supposedly resolved in the spring — long-term funding for mass transit and repair of roads and bridges — unraveled over the summer and could create major contention this fall.
Rendell and the Legislature agreed on a proposal to fund transportation needs by installing tolls on Interstate 80, but two Pennsylvania members of Congress have introduced measures in Washington, D.C., to prevent the state from carrying out the plan.
This would jeopardize $1 billion in anticipated revenue that was going to subsidize the state’s failing mass transit systems and help repair roads and bridges.
Pennsylvania ranks No. 1 in the nation in "structurally deficient" bridges.
The potential collapse of the I-80 toll plan has prompted the governor to resurrect his controversial plan to privatize the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Leasing the Turnpike to a private company received little support in the Legislature earlier this year.
"The governor is talking to himself a lot," Rafferty said. "We’re not interested."
What Rafferty wants to see in the area of transportation is more transparency in the way the state seeks bids and award contracts.Government reform
Reform and open government will be hot topics of discussion this fall.
"On the reform front, look for something to happen on open records and campaign finance," Quigley predicted.
The House State Government Committee held hearings on these issues over the summer, and a vote, particularly on open records, is expected, Quigley said.
Rafferty, who has championed open government for years, has new ammunition for his crusade with the growing scandal over bonuses and excessive spending by the agency that provides student-loans in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency came under fire this year when it was revealed that it spent nearly $900,000 on lavish trips to resorts and provided expensive gifts for its executives, their spouses and members of the board that oversees it. The agency also spent $400,000 in legal fees in an unsuccessful bid to keep its expense reports secret when several news agencies sought access to them.
The final straw for many legislators was news that the PHEAA board approved $570,000 in bonuses to the agency’s highest-paid executives, all of whom collect six-figure salaries.
"There's been a very blatant example of where reform is needed and that's PHEAA," Rafferty said. "All three branches of government need to be examined more closely. This sort of thing may be going on in other agencies and we just don’t know about it."
Rafferty and Sen. Jane Clare Orie, R-Dist. 40, have co-sponsored legislation to restructure the PHEAA board, which consists mainly of fellow legislators. The bill would also force the agency to submit to independent audits.
Quigley said the House will take up more of the recommendations from the Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform.Illegal immigrants
One area that has been bubbling under the surface in the state Legislature could heat up this fall, according to Rafferty. Both the House and Senate are expected to take up measures to deal with the growing illegal immigrant population in Pennsylvania. Rafferty has two bills pending that would penalize employers who hire illegal immigrants. Republicans have also complained that Pennsylvania has done a poor job of policing its welfare rolls, allowing illegal immigrants to collect benefits. Senate Majority Leader Joe Scarnati, R-25th Dist., said in a recent television interview that Pennsylvania hands out $285 million a year in welfare benefits to illegal aliens.(If you want to read the entire 1,800-word story in one sitting, you can go to The Mercury Web site.)
"Which is more inept: the Eagles offense, or the Guv's administration?"
"Who is more clueless about the job they're doing? Rendell, who has failed to deliver on his promise of tax relief for five consecutive years? Or Andy Reid, who said after a game in which the Eagles offense fell flat on its face that the team was a "hair" away from turning things around.
Let's see: Lousy quarterback who couldn't get a touchdown despite being inside the 10-yard line four times, no pass protection, receivers who can't catch the ball and a coach who makes lousy calls. That's what Reid calls a "hair" away from winning?
I offer the following suggestion. Since Rendell has tried and failed as governor and since Reid is living in some sort of bizarro world, maybe the two should switch jobs.
Sadly, for Pennsylvania citizens that has been a recurring item on the state legislative calendar, and this year is no exception.
The Pennsylvania Legislature returns from its summer recess to plenty of unfinished business, including energy and health initiatives proposed by the governor, open government and campaign finance reform, a smoking ban, transportation funding and the conundrum of property tax relief.
These were among the issues debated for months without resolution before the House and Senate adjourned for summer breaks after a 16-day budget impasse that damaged the already battered reputation of the state Legislature, considered the most expensive in the nation.
At the top of that list in priority for many citizens are the twin issues of property tax relief and school funding reform.
One change on the property tax-reform front is that the state Senate seems to be waking up to the call for change.
State Sen. John C. Rafferty Jr., R-44th Dist., told The Mercury last week that he is working with a coalition that includes Sens. Jane Orie, R-40th Dist.; John Eichelberger, R-30th Dist.; and Mike Folmer, R-48th Dist., on a Senate bill to eliminate property taxes.
The group plans to hold a press conference this month to announce the tax relief measure, which is similar to the School Property Tax Relief Act of 2007 now working its way through the House.
State. Rep. Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist., said he has been working closely with Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-128th Dist., to bring House Democrats on board with the tax relief measure, formerly known as the Commonwealth Caucus Plan. Rohrer’s plan has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations, which represents 21 groups across the state.
House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese and Majority Whip Keith McCall have hinted they are willing to support the School Property Tax Relief Act of 2007, which would eliminate property taxes and replace them with an expanded sales tax.
While Rohrer and other Republicans have been meeting behind the scenes with Democrats to drum up support for the tax elimination plan, a public pronouncement of support for the plan by the House Democratic leadership is what is needed to get things moving, Quigley said.
In addition to the property tax measure he plans to introduce, Rafferty said the Senate wants to reform school funding. The formula the state uses to provide funding to schools has not been reviewed since the mid-1990s and has led to widespread discrepancies across the state, with some districts receiving 18 percent of their funding from the state while other districts receiving as much as 70 percent.
“We have to look at that formula and restructure it to make it fair to some of the districts that are only getting 18 or 19 percent from the state,” Rafferty said.
Rafferty said he is part of a group with Sens. Stewart Greenleaf, R-12th Dist., and Robert Tomlinson, R-6th Dist., that is working on legislation to address the inequity in state funding of schools.
The issues of property tax relief and school funding reform go hand in hand. Merely eliminating the property tax as a means of funding schools without creating a stable and equitable funding source would not move this commonwealth forward.
In the past, efforts in the House to address these issues have hit a stone wall when they got to the Senate. The fact that nonpartisan efforts are at work in both the House and Senate is encouraging.
Dare we hope? Is this a year when the stalemate may end with change on the taxation and education funding fronts?
Time -- and progress on unfinished business -- will tell.
Copyright 2007, The Mercury
Monday, September 17, 2007
The Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition, which represents more than 20 taxpayer watchdog groups across the state, now has a blog to go with its regular Web site.
The PTCC and its sister group, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations, advocate property tax reform in Pennsylvania. "True property tax reform entails the removal of all school boards' taxing authority in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and for the public school system to be funded directly by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, using a broad-based, statewide tax, specifically, the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007, also known as the Plan for Pennsylvania's Future," according to the blog profile page.
The most recent entry is "Defeat House Bill 1600 Now!" The tax group's blog can be found at http://pataxpayers.blogspot.com/
Another group looking out for taxpayers is Oley Concerned Citizens, which is blogging at http://oleyconcernedcitizens.blogspot.com/
The group's goal is to bring "Fiscal and Educational Accountability in the Oley Valley School District." Good luck with that.
The Oley area is also home to Rep. David Kessler, a Democrat who managed to fool voters in 2006 into thinking he's for tax reform. Kessler has been pushing to bogus House Bill 1600 instead of embracing the School Property Tax Relief Act of 2007, which has the backing of most of the Berks County legislative delegation.
The Oley Valley School District is experiencing rapid growth and has come under fire from residents because of its "Taj Mahal" designs for some of its newer schools.
I was impressed by the number of comments (several hundred) left at postings on this site. There must be a lot of people named "anonymous" living in the Oley Valley. This group may have struck a nerve with taxpayers and could play in a role in who gets elected to the Oley School Board.
Another new blogger I came across is Crankipants' Philly Rants at http://phillyrants.blogspot.com/
Crankipants' Philly Rants is a rare breed, a conservative blogger based in Philadelphia, where liberals rule (both the government and the blogging community).
"Philadelphia is not perfect, but it's home," states the anonymous Crankipants, whose favorite move is "Ski Party" from 1965.
The most expensive, least respected state legislature in the country is back in session. Hold on to your wallets.
The Pennsylvania Legislature returns from its summer recess to plenty of unfinished business and historically low job approval numbers.
The state Senate begins the fall session today. The House of Representatives returns Sept. 24.
Legislators expect to deal with many issues left unresolved in the first half of the year, including energy and health initiatives proposed by the governor, open government and campaign finance reform, a smoking ban, transportation funding and the conundrum of property tax relief.
If these issues sound familiar, that's because they were debated for months without resolution before the House and Senate adjourned for summer breaks after a 16-day budget impasse that damaged the already battered reputation of the most expensive state legislature in the nation.
Only 30 percent of Pennsylvania residents approve of the way the state Legislature is doing its job, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.
The poll also found that 47 percent of residents blame the Legislature for the budget impasse that brought a one-day furlough of 24,000 state workers and delayed approval of a state budget for the fifth consecutive year under Gov. Ed Rendell. Only 21 percent of those interviewed for the Quinnipiac poll blamed the governor and 20 percent blamed both parties equally for the partisan bickering.
Area lawmakers say the lack of achievement in 2007 was due partly to new leadership in both the House and Senate and an over-ambitious agenda proposed by Rendell.
State Sen. John C. Rafferty Jr., R-44th Dist., who is emerging as an influential member of several key Senate committees, expects the Legislature will rebound from its slow start and approve significant measures during the fall session.
Hazardous site cleanup
One of the first things Rafferty will push in Harrisburg is money for hazardous sites cleanup, a major concern for his constituents in Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties.
Funding for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act was left out of the 2007-08 state budget, much to the dismay of Southeastern Pennsylvania lawmakers.
Rafferty has been talking to Senate colleagues throughout the summer and anticipates that at least $30 million from the existing state surplus of $300 million can be diverted to fund HSCA projects for the rest of the year. A long-range solution to funding cleanup of hazardous waste sites could come from legislation Rafferty has proposed to impose a 5-cent deposit fee on all bottles sold in Pennsylvania.
A similar law in Massachusetts generated annual revenues of $32 million last year, Rafferty said.
"This is something that would benefit both the state's recycling efforts and cleanup of hazardous waste sites," Rafferty said.
Rafferty is also working with a coalition that includes Sens. Jane Orie, R-40th Dist., John Eichelberger, R-30th Dist., and Mike Folmer, R-48th Dist., to introduce a Senate bill to eliminate property taxes.
The group plans to hold a press conference this month to announce the tax relief measure, which is similar to the Property Tax Relief Act of 2007 that is working its way through the House.
State. Rep. Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist., said he has been working closely with Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-128th Dist., to bring House Democrats on board with the tax relief measure, formerly known as the Commonwealth Caucus Plan.
While some House Democrats have been pushing House Bill 1600 this summer, the bill has received sparse support during several public hearings held across the state. More than 200 people attended an Aug. 29 hearing in Berks County and nearly all panned the tax-shift proposal, calling it a rehash of the Act 1 referendums soundly defeated by voters in the May primary.
"I am hopeful that at the end of the day, the Democrat leaders with see that HB 1600 is another Band-Aid solution and realize that the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 is the way to go," Quigley said.
Rohrer's plan has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations, which represents 21 groups across the state.
House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese and Majority Whip Keith McCall have hinted they are willing to support the Property Tax Relief Act of 2007, which would eliminate property taxes and replace them with an expanded sales tax.
While Rohrer and other Republicans have been meeting behind the scenes to drum up support for the tax elimination plan from Democrats, a public pronouncement of support for the plan by the House Democratic leadership is what is needed to get things moving, Quigley said.
In addition to the property tax measure he plans to introduce, Rafferty said the Senate wants to reform school funding. The formula the state uses to provide funding to schools has not been reviewed since the mid-1990s and has led to widespread discrepancies across the state, with some districts receiving 18 percent of their funding from the state while other districts receive as much as 70 percent from the state.
"We have to look at that formula and restructure it to make it fair to some of the districts that are only getting 18 or 19 percent from the state," Rafferty said.
Rafferty said he is part of a group with Sens. Steward Greenleaf, R-12th Dist., and Robert Tomlinson, R-6th Dist., that is working on legislation to address the inequity in state funding of schools.
Energy is another topic that will occupy much of the Legislature's upcoming session. As part of the budget compromise reached in July, the House and Senate agreed to convene in special session this month to deal with Gov. Rendell's "Energy Independence Strategy" first outlined in February. Rendell wants to create an $850 million Energy Independence Fund that he says would reduce Pennsylvania’s reliance on foreign fuels, increase the state's clean energy production capacity and expand in-state energy production.
Just because the Legislature agreed to talk about Rendell's proposals for such things as wind power and other alternative energy sources and a tax on electricity use to fund the projects doesn't mean Rendell's agenda will get very far, Rafferty and Quigley predicted.
House Democrats have already announced a 16-bill package they plan to introduce during the Special Session on Energy. Republicans are planning to unveil their own comprehensive state energy plan Monday morning in Harrisburg. The GOP plan will emphasize lower energy costs for consumers, create new jobs and protect the state’s environment, according to backers.
A look at more issues the Legislature is expected to take up this fall tomorrow ... If you can't wait until tomorrow, you can read more at The Mercury Web site.
Friday, September 14, 2007
And to think we still have 14 more months to go until the 2008 election.
Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Chairman Robert A. Gleason Jr. issued a press release late Friday with the humorous headline of "Fast Eddie robs Peter Paul to pay Hillary."
But there's nothing funny about another fund-raising scandal involving Mrs. Clinton and Gov. Rendell, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and a top fundraiser for the party.
What was it Nancy Pelosi said about "draining the swamp"? Maybe the swamp leads all the way up to Harrisburg.
Peter Paul alleges that Ed Rendell, then Chairman of the Democrat National Committee, told him to lie about his involvement with a 2000
"Apparently, when Sen. Clinton and Gov. Rendell need campaign donations, they dial up the list of America’s most wanted as their list of supporters," Gleason said. "Americans need to look long and hard at all of the recent stories involving Sen. Clinton and Gov. Rendell's relationship with shady donors, especially after they both took hundreds of thousands from felon Norman Hsu.
Clinton and Rendell should come clean about the latest scandal, Gleason said.
"I find the allegations that Gov. Rendell, then Chairman of the Democratic National Party, asked Peter Paul to lie about his involvement in the Hollywood fundraiser deplorable! Although deplorable, it is not that surprising, considering Gov. Rendell has been quick to lie to Pennsylvanians about numerous things, including his campaign promise to deliver lower taxes.
"If Gov. Rendell thinks that Norman Hsu was one of the 10 best people he ever met, where does Peter Paul rank? I believe that a person running for president or a governor of a state should be a good judge of character, and clearly Sen. Clinton and Gov. Rendell are not!"
According to Friday's Wall Street Journal, Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign held a fundraiser in Hollywood organized by Peter Paul.
Paul is suing both Bill and Hillary Clinton claiming that he was misled into spending over $1 million organizing a fundraiser for her campaign based on the promise that Bill Clinton would become his business associate after he left the White House.
To read the full story, "For Clinton, 2000 Fundraising Controversy Lingers," in The Wall Street Journal, click here.