Saturday, March 31, 2007
STOP (Stop Taxing Our Properties) joins the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition in urging voters to reject the referendums regardless of their language.
Pennsylvania school board were forced by Gov. Ed Rendell and the Legislature to place a referendum question on the May 15 ballot asking voters to approve a tax shift from property taxes to either an earned income or a personal income tax.
"STOP urges all voters to vote NO on this carnival shell game they call tax reform. It is nothing more than a hidden tax increase," says STOP coordinator John Czekanski. "Any school property tax reduction you vote for in the referendum would be temporary. There is nothing to prevent the school board from later raising your school taxes every year through a millage increase. Then you will be paying more school property taxes again and the increased earned income taxes as well. "
The May primary referendum does not address county and municipal property taxes at all, Czekanski notes. Increases in those two property taxes mean you will be paying ever higher property taxes and the increase in the earned income tax, he says.
The referendum does not prevent reassessments on your property which can substantially increase your property taxes, Czekanski says.
"Act 1 legislation mandating this referendum was enacted by Gov. Rendell and the Legislature to pass the buck to the school board and now to you when the leaders in Harrisburg didn't have the courage or wisdom to properly address true property tax reform," Czekanski says.
In addition to voting No on the school property tax referendum in May, both taxpayers groups also urge Pennsylvania residents to contact their legislators and demand demand repeal of Act 1.
For more information about STOP, go to its Web site at http://www.grandoldusa.com/
For more information about PTCC, check out its Web site at http://www.ptcc.us/
Friday, March 30, 2007
Gov. Ed Rendell was taken to the woodshed this week by several newspapers that usually coddle the Democratic governor.
The criticism comes after the release of independent report of the state's handling of a winter storm on Interstate 78 that left thousands of motorists stranded for up to a day without food, water, medicine or heat.
Here's a sampling of editorials:
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Snow job: No one is accountable for stranded Pennsylvanians
The Post Gazette editorial writers are livid that Gov. Rendell said nobody would be fired for the fiasco. "Four months after his re-election, Ed Rendell has gone wobbly on demanding accountability from his lieutenants. Had this been an issue four months before the election, we're confident his reaction would have been different. Heads would have rolled; the state's chief executive would have laid down the law. Instead, Gov. Rendell says all-too-magnanimously that public servants must be judged on their overall "body of work."
To read the full editorial, go to http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07088/773364-192.stm
From the Philadelphia Daily News:
PA. EMERGENCIES: BE VERY AFRAID
STATE IS DANGEROUSLY UNPREPARED FOR DISASTER
The editorial blasts Gov. Rendell for deciding not to fire James Jones, head of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. "Gov. Rendell tried to take the hit after the storm. He said there had been a total breakdown of communication. But his decision to keep Jones, who botched the storm, sends the message that when it comes to the state's emergency management, the governor is satisfied with the inept status quo."
To read the full editorial, go to http://www.philly.com/dailynews/opinion/20070329—PA——EMERGENCIES——BE—VERY—AFRAID.html
From The Allentown Morning Call:
Failure at top of executive branch added to poor handling of I-78 disaster
The editorial notes "that Gov. Ed Rendell and his cabinet simply did not pay enough attention to emergency preparedness." It also hammers Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, who is supposed to be in charge of emergency preparedness in Pennsylvania. The editorial quotes from the independent report on the state’s response to the I-78 storm and notes that "the current Lt. Governor does not have an operational role in emergency management." Ouch.
To read the full editorial, go to http://www.mcall.com/news/opinion/all-editorial1mar30,0,7986378.story
All three newspapers endorsed Rendell for re-election in 2006. Oddly, the state's biggest newspaper (and Rendell's No. 1 cheerleader) hasn't found time to editorialize on Rendell's handling of the Interstate 78 fiasco. Not a peep out of The Philadelphia Inquirer this week. I wonder why.
If you want to read the full report prepared by former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, go to the James Lee Witt Associates Web site of and download it as a PDF.
The Web site is: http://www.wittassociates.com/
So far, 11 of the state's 501 school districts have gone on record opposing the Act 1 tax shuffle passed by the Legislature last year and signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell.
The latest school boards to take a stand on behalf of taxpayers are in the Wyomissing School District in Berks County and the Tunkhannock Area School District in Wyoming County.
Berks County is leading the taxpayer revolt, followed closely by Bucks County.
Five school districts in Berks (Antietam, Boyertown, Conrad Weiser, Governor Mifflin and Wyomissing) and four districts in Bucks (Central Bucks, Pennsbury, Centennial and Bristol Township) have passed resolutions opposing Act 1. The Coatesville School District in Chester County also adopted the resolution. And the Tunkhannock School District in Wyoming County is on record against Act 1.
If your school district isn't on the list, find out why your school board members aren't on your side. This is a good time to get school boards to stand up for you because hundreds of school board members are seeking re-election on May 15.
Act 1 is a tax shift scheme that Rendell and the Legislature cooked up last year to destract voters until after the November 2006 elections. With Rendell and the majority of incumbent legislators re-elected, property tax relief is no longer a priority in Harrisburg.
You can learn more about the flaws in Act 1 and see a copy of the resolution by going to the Web site set up by the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition.
The group's Web site is http://www.ptcc.us/
Thursday, March 29, 2007
The House passed a resolution last week by a 218-212 margin setting a date for pulling troops out of Iraq. Speaker Nancy Pelosi couldn't persuade all 233 Democrats in the House to support the withdrawal plan, but that hasn't stopped her from ratchetting up the rhetoric.
When President Bush stated emphatically Wednesday that Congress must replenishment $90 billion in war funding with no strings attached, Pelosi urged him to "Calm down with the threats. There's a new Congress in town."
Sounds like Speaker Pelosi has been watching too many movies abourd her taxpayer-funded jumbo jet.
Pretty bold talk from somebody who doesn't have the votes to override a presidential veto.
Senate Democrats appear to have the same problem. The Senate's surrender resolution was approved by a 51-47 vote, mostly along party lines.
Forty-eight Democrats and "independent" Bernard Sanders of Vermont were joined by two Republicans, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon Smith of Oregon, in voting for the measure. Opposed were 46 Republicans and Connecticut independent Joseph Lieberman. Two senators, Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., missed the vote.
Democrats don't have the two-thirds vote needed to override a presidential veto in either chamber. So what's the point of all this?
Democrats are politicking, playing to their far left base, and providing fodder for their allies in the liberal media.
While Democrats control the purse strings, Bush has the upper hand in the Iraq war debate.
"The clock is ticking for our troops in the field," the president said. "If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible."
Over in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid is also spinning the "cut-and-run" measure he wants Democrats to support.
"Why doesn't (Bush) get real with what's going on with the world?" Reid said. "We're not holding up funding in Iraq and he knows that. Why doesn't he deal with the real issues facing the American people?"
Someone should remind Reid that Democrats hold a tenuous 51-49 majority and one of those Democrats is Sen. Joe Leiberman, who has shown a willingness to put partisan bickering aside and vote for what’s best for his country.
Too bad the same can't be said of Pelosi and Reid.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
When I read an interview with my state senator about the growing scandal over spending for lavish trips to resorts by employees and executives of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, I kept hearing Sgt. Schultz's memorable catch phrase.
I've decided to award state Sen. Michael A. O'Pake the first Sgt. Hans Schultz Memorial Award for the worst job of overseeing a state agency.
Despite serving on the PHEAA board of directors for nearly 20 years, O'Pake told the Reading Eagle he had no idea that the agency had spent nearly $900,000 for extravagant trips and outlandish personal pampering.
O'Pake admitted to reporter Kori Walter that he went along on one of the trips about six years ago, but he was otherwise oblivious to the fact that the agency staffers and executives took these trips regularly while failing to provide any justification for the expenses.
"We don't approve or even see the expenditures that the working staff and the heads of this agency have," the Berks County Democrat told the newspaper.
O'Pake said he has not attended a PHEAA retreat since 2001. "In between the retreats there was lots of money being spent on the higher-ups (at PHEAA)," O'Pake told Walter. "It was just never raised at any of the board meetings."
In other words, "I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!"
What kind of expenses are we talking about?
A $10,000 bar tab. A $75 pedicure and $15 tip. A $3,900 hot-air-balloon ride. A $175 charge for falconry lessons. A $115 tab for a European facial. Greens fees totaling $2,659 on a golf outing. A limo ride for $966. Fly-fishing lessons for $836. Cigars costing $665. A $128 bill for a tuxedo rental. Meal expenses totaling $47,000 for a three-day trip. "Client appreciation" expenses, including spa treatments, costing $21,308.
Those are some of the jaw-dropping bills Pennsylvania's student-loan agency ran up for a series of "educational" trips to lavish resorts.
Can anyone explain how any of those expenditures helped one student get a loan for his college education?
PHEAA has fought hard to keep this information secret from the taxpayers of Pennsylvania, claiming that its expense records are "trade secrets." It took a lawsuit by three news-gathering organizations to force the independent state agency to release records of its extravagant spending.
PHEAA uses income from its student-loan business to pay for its operating costs, which totaled about $261 million last year, according to the Associated Press. But the wire service also points out that PHEAA received around $500 million a year in state tax dollars that it spent on college grants and subsidies.
And who is supposed to be looking out for that $500 million in taxpayer dollars? PHEAA answers to a 20-member board of directors made up mostly of Pennsylvania legislators.
The "fiscal watchdogs" include: Rep. William F. Adolph Jr., Sen. Sean Logan, Rep. Ronald I. Buxton, Sen. Jake Corman, Rep. Craig A. Dally, Sen. Jane M. Earll, Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, Rep. Sandra J. Major, Rep. Jennifer L. Mann, Rep. Joseph F. Markosek, Sen. Michael A. O'Pake, Sen. James J. Rhoades, Rep. James R. Roebuck Jr., Rep. Jess M. Stairs, Sen. Robert M. Tomlinson.
Also serving on the PHEAA board is Gerald L. Zahorchak, Gov. Ed Rendell's education secretary, one of four appointees by the governor to the PHEAA board so "Teflon" Ed Rendell shares some of the blame in this disgrace.
While O'Pake and his legislative cohorts were obviously asleep at the wheel, other lawmakers are attempting to clean up the PHEAA mess.
State Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, and state Sen. Jane C. Orie, R-Allegheny, unveiled a plan to restructure the current appointment, reporting and accounting procedures of the PHEAA board.
This legislation will require PHEAA to contract with a third party accounting firm to conduct an annual forensic audit of the PHEAA board which must be submitted to the House and Senate Finance Committees by April 1 of each year. PHEAA would also be required on that date to submit a report to the Senate and House Finance Committees which contains all expenses and revenues associated with the operations of the PHEAA board.
This legislation also requires that all appointees to the PHEAA Board selected by the House and the Senate be approved by a majority vote in their respective chambers. It would prohibit standing legislators from serving more than two consecutive terms on the PHEAA board.
"Our goal is to bring greater accountability and fiscal responsibility to PHEAA and ensure that funds are not spent in a wasteful or unnecessary manner," Rafferty said. "The recent stories of financial mismanagement and over-the top-spending have made it necessary for us to take a closer look at the Agency’s fiscal bottom line."
Orie added that the legislation will ensure that PHEAA revenue is used for the purpose it was intended — to provide low-interest grants and loans to students.
"Lavish trips, tuxedos, and spa visits are not defensible expenses and should be stopped," Orie said. "This legislation will ensure that money is spent prudently and put PHEAA on notice that it has to be accountable to the Legislature and the citizens of Pennsylvania."
Accountability. Fiscal responsibility. What a novel concept for a state agency.
So far, nine of the state's 501 school districts have gone on record opposing the Act 1 tax shuffle passed by the Legislature last year and signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell.
The latest school board to take a stand on behalf of its taxpayers is the Boyertown Area School District, which straddles communities in Berks and Montgomery counties.
The board voted 6-2 calling for repeal of Act 1.
Board members John S. Matthews, Joseph M. Nichols, John R. Crossley, Ruth A. Dierolf, Barbara W. Hartford and Gwendolyn W. Semmens voted for the resolution.
School Board President Michael A. Kulp and board member John F. Dugan opposed the resolution. Taxpayers in the Boyertown School District should find out why Kulp and Dugan won't do the right thing. (Kulp is seeking re-election to the school board on May 15 so keep his vote against genuine tax relief in mind when you go to the polls.)
The anti-Act 1 movement is centered in Berks and Bucks counties. Four school districts in Berks (Antietam, Boyertown, Conrad Weiser and Governor Mifflin) and four districts in Bucks (Central Bucks, Pennsbury, Centennial and Bristol Township) have passed resolutions opposing Act 1. The Coatesville School District in Chester County also adopted the resolution.
Act 1 is a tax shift scheme that Rendell and the Legislature cooked up last year to destract voters until after the November 2006 elections. With Rendell and the majority of incumbent legislators re-elected, property tax relief is no longer a priority in Harrisburg.
You can learn more about the flaws in Act 1 and see a copy of the resolution by going to the Web site set up by the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition. The group's Web site is http://www.ptcc.us/
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Hundreds of motorists were stranded, some for almost a day, without food, water, medicine or heat on one of Pennsylvania's busiest highways during a winter storm in February.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which spends $6 billion a year, couldn't figure out how to clear the snow and ice from Interstate 78. The Pennsylvania State Police didn't close off the road so more trucks and cars wouldn't get stranded. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency failed to respond and neglected to inform the governor about the disaster until 8 p.m. on the second day of the storm.
That pretty much sums up the findings of the $130,000 independent evaluation of the Interstate 78 fiasco released Tuesday.
The state's response to the disaster revealed "a remarkable lack of awareness and understanding" — even among senior officials — of the state's emergency management system, according to the Associated Press' account of the findings of James Lee Witt Associates. Witt is the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but not the guy running FEMA during Katrina.
Everything that could go wrong with the state's storm response did, Witt concluded. He cited staffing deficiencies, incompetent supervisors, inferior technology and poor communication on the part of PennDOT, PEMA, the state police and the Pennsylvania National Guard.
In case you were wondering, Gov. Edward G. Rendell is in charge of all those agencies.
After releasing the report at a noon press conference in the state Capitol, Rendell said he instructed the heads of those agencies to begin implementing Witt's recommendation that emergency planning be given a higher priority. (They better get get moving. Only nine more months until winter comes back.)
According to the Associated Press, Witt's report showed:
- The PennDOT district in Berks County did not have enough operators to man its available snow plows for more than one 12-hour period and was in violation of recommended staffing levels. Also, the entire Berks County management team had been in place for less than a month since the former team retired in January.
- Although the storm was anticipated and nonessential state employees were given the day off at 6 a.m., PEMA did not raise the activation level of the state emergency operations center — a step that brings in liaisons with other state agencies — until nearly 14 hours later.
- Neither Rendell nor state police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller was promptly alerted to the seriousness of the problems on Interstates 78, 80 and 81. The governor learned about it from stranded people who called his office early on the evening of Feb. 14. Miller heard about it a few hours earlier from a fellow Cabinet member who had been stranded for three hours.
- PennDOT does not subscribe to a contracted weather-forecasting service, causing disparities in the information available to its district managers that hindered the department's overall response to the storm.
- A sophisticated technology network designed to enhance PennDOT's awareness of road and traffic conditions was not functioning at the time of the storm.
Welcome to the real world, governor.
Rendell is a creature of government. He believes government is the solution to all our problems. Rendell believes bigger government is always the answer. But in the real world, government usually causes or exacerbates most problems.
As President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.' "
The Interstate 78 fiasco is living proof of that.
The Pennsylvania Legislature should keep this in mind as it prepares to review Rendell's mammoth $27.3 billion general fund budget for the 2007-08 fiscal year starting July 1.
Rendell has presided over the biggest increase in state spending in Pennsylvania history. What do we have to show for all the billions Rendell has spent since 2003?
We have a transportation department that can't plow our highways, a state police that can't staff its barracks and an emergency response office that can't respond to an emergency.
The Antietam School Board voted 8-1 on Monday to send a letter to the state Legislature and Gov. Ed Rendell asking them to repeal the tax shift scheme and replace it with meaningful property tax relief.
The only Antietam board member to vote against the best interests of taxpayers was Julia Kleiman-Baer. Voters should remember that name when they go to the polls on May 15.
Antietam is now the eighth school district in Pennsylvania to seek repeal of Act 1.
Antietam joins the Governor Mifflin and Conrad Weiser school districts in Berks County in opposing Act 1. Other school boards that passed resolutions against Act 1 include Central Bucks, Pennsbury, Centennial and Bristol Township in Bucks County; and Coatesville in Chester County.
When will your school board start looking out for taxpayers instead of special interests that have driven up the costs of public education in Pennsylvania? Start writing letters and attending school board meetings to demand repeal of Act 1.
All 501 school districts in Pennsylvania should adopt the Act 1 repeal resolution and demand an end to the Act 1 shell game approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rendell. Find out if your state legislator supported Act 1 and vote them out of office in 2008.
You can learn more about the flaws in Act 1 from the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition. The group's Web site is http://www.ptcc.us/
Monday, March 26, 2007
Nearly all Congressional Democrats fell in line with party leaders Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha in raising the white flag.
The Democratic members of Pennsylvania's Congressional delegation -- Jason Altmire, Bob Brady, Chris Carney, Mike Doyle, Chaka Fattah, Tim Holden, Patrick Murphy, John Murtha, Allyson Schwartz and Joe Sestak -- all voted to retreat from
What you may not know is that Democrats attached $24 billion in unrelated, non-emergency spending to the $100 billion supplemental spending on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This bill (HR 1591) is fiscally irresponsible and constitutionally flawed," Republican Congressman Joe Pitts said. "If Democrats really want to support our troops, they should offer a clean bill that provides the funding needed to achieve victory. Instead, this legislation defies the Constitution by seeking to micromanage the war, and insults the taxpayer by using our troops as leverage for billions of dollars in pork spending."
Some examples of wasteful spending included in the Democrats' "Pork and Retreat" bill:
· Spinach: Provides $25 million for payments to spinach producers that were unable to market spinach crops as a result of the FDA Public Health Advisory issued on Sept. 14, 2006.
· Shrimp: Provides $120 million to the shrimp industry for expenses related to the consequences of Hurricane Katrina.
· Peanut Storage Subsidies: Provides $74 million to extend peanut storage payments through 2007. The Peanut Subsidy Storage program, which is set to expire this year, pays farmers for the storage, handling, and other costs for peanuts voluntarily placed in the marketing loan program.
· Aquaculture Operations: Provides $5 million for payments to "aquaculture operations and other persons in the U.S. engaged in the business of breeding, rearing, or transporting live fish" (such as shellfish, oysters and clams) to cover economic losses incurred as a result of an emergency order issued by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Oct. 24, 2006.
· NASA: Provides $35 million to NASA, under the "exploration capabilities" account, for "expenses related to the consequences of Hurricane Katrina."
· HUD Indian Housing: Provides $80 million in tenant-based rental assistance for public and Indian housing under HUD.
So much for looking out for working Americans. So much for doing something about the federal deficit. So much for "draining the swamp" of corruption. You're probably kicking yourself right about now for falling for the Democratic Party's lies.
Nothing has changed in Washington since the November 2006 elections except that Democrats (instead of Republicans) are now wasting our tax dollars.
Well, one thing did change. Democrats informed our enemies when to expect the U.S. to run from the battlefield. Terrorists just have to bide their time until next year. And they can keep their fingers crossed that a Democrat will win the White House in 2008 so the terrorists' victory can be complete.
Friday, March 23, 2007
More than 83 percent of the people who voted in an online poll conducted by The Mercury newspaper in Pottstown believe Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter is too old to seek another term in 2010.
Specter turns 80 in 2010. If he wins a sixth term in the U.S. Senate, he will be 86 by the end of the term.
The Mercury's poll was conducted over a two-day period on the newspaper's Web site, http://www.pottsmerc.com
Seniority is a big deal in the Senate, so maybe Specter's age will be a plus ... if he can get past the Republican primary (which he almost lost in 2004 to unknown former Congressman Pat Toomey.)
Toomey is the darling of conservative Republicans and has helped many other conservatives win national elections as president of the Club for Growth.
Specter surprise announcement this week that he will seek re-election (three years before his current term expires) is seen by some pundits as a way to discourage potential opponents like Toomey from challenging Specter.
On the other hand, Toomey now has three years to raise money (and doubts in the minds of voters about Specter's advancing years).
Thursday, March 22, 2007
It's about time.
State Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) and state Sen. Jane C. Orie (R-Allegheny) recently unveiled a plan to restructure the current appointment, reporting and accounting procedures of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) board.
The legislation will require PHEAA to contract with a third party accounting firm to conduct an annual forensic audit of the PHEAA board which must be submitted to the House and Senate Finance Committees by April 1 of each year.
PHEAA would also be required on that date to submit a report to the Senate and House Finance Committees which contains all expenses and revenues associated with the operations of the PHEAA board.
Imagine that. An audit of an agency that spends hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it taxpayer dollars, during the course of the year.
Why didn't the executive director of PHEAA think of that? This legislation also requires that all appointees to the PHEAA board selected by the House and the Senate be approved by a majority vote in their respective chambers.
It would prohibit standing legislators from serving more than 2 consecutive terms on the PHEAA board. (Some of the current PHEAA board members have served for 20 years).
This is where it gets good. The PHEAA board, made up mostly of state legislators and members of Gov. Rendell's administration, has been asleep at the wheel for decades while the agency wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Some familiar legislative names on the PHEAA board include Rep. William F. Adolph Jr., Sen. Sean Logan, Rep. Ronald I. Buxton, Sen. Jake Corman, Rep. Craig A. Dally, Sen. Jane M. Earll, Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, Rep. Sandra J. Major, Rep. Jennifer L. Mann, Rep. Joseph F. Markosek, Sen. Michael A. O'Pake, Sen. James J. Rhoades, Rep. James R. Roebuck Jr., Rep. Jess M. Stairs, Sen. Robert M. Tomlinson.
"Our goal is to bring greater accountability and fiscal responsibility to PHEAA and ensure that funds are not spent in a wasteful or unnecessary manner," Rafferty said. "The recent stories of financial mismanagement and over-the top-spending have made it necessary for us to take a closer look at the agency’s fiscal bottom line."
Orie added that the legislation will ensure that PHEAA revenue is used for the purpose it was intended – to provide low-interest grants and loans to students.
"Lavish trips, tuxedos, and spa visits are not defensible expenses and should be stopped," Orie said. "This legislation will ensure that money is spent prudently and put PHEAA on notice that it has to be accountable to the Legislature and the citizens of Pennsylvania."
Ken Schaefer, chairman of Vote For Integrity, a citizens' watchdog group, has called for the immediate resignation of Richard Willey, president and CEO of PHEAA.
Willey, who makes $470,000 a year and was awarded a $180,000 bonus last year, should step down immidiately or be fired. The $900,000 was wasted during his tenure and the agency cannot regain public confidence as long as Willey remains CEO.
All incumbent PHEAA board members should also step down. These career politicians failed to perform their oversight duties over PHEAA.
(It's also interesting to note that most of the legislators on the PHEAA board voted themselves huge pay raises in July 2005. These people have a serious judgment problem.)
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
In a joint statement issued minutes ago, Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. and incumbent Montgomery County Commissioner James R. Matthews announced they will run as a team for county commissioner in the May 15 Republican primary.
"We thank the many party leaders who helped bring us together, and we look forward to a spirited campaign in the fall," the statement said. "We will have more to say about our unified ticket in the coming days."
Castor's hand-picked running mate, former state Rep. Melissa Murphy Weber, officially withdrew from the race today. Matthews' hand-picked running mate, incumbent Commissioner Thomas J. Ellis, withdrew his name from the race on Tuesday. (The other two Republicans, Kate Harper and Jill Govberg, also dropped out today.)
That leaves Castor and Matthews, who don't really like each other, to run as a team and attempt to keep Republican control of the three-member Board of Commissioners.
Castor and Matthews were scheduled to hold a press conference this afternoon, but they postponed the media event. Too bad. The first question that Castor will have to answer is why he changed his mind about teaming with Matthews.
Castor said as recently as Monday he could not run with Matthews because Castor felt he would be tainted by the lobbying contract that Matthews and Ellis awarded to a firm connected to Montgomery County GOP Chairman Ken Davis.
Davis' firm has received about $300,000 in taxpayer dollars over the past four years to lobby on behalf of the county.
I'd also like to know what Matthews had to promise to get Castor to run with him. Castor didn't need Matthews on the ticket. He's a proven vote-getter and could have carried the ticket with anyone else. Matthews needed Castor on the team to have any chance of keeping the Republican majority on the commissioners' board.
I'm not sure if you can read anything into this, but the header on the press release issued Wednesday says it's from the Matthews-Castor '07 campaign.
Murphy Weber does get a consolation prize for her brief entry into the race. She will serve as one of the "Honorary Chairs" of the Castor-Matthews campaign.
The Democratic candidates for county commissioner are incumbent Commissioner Ruth Damsker (the proverbial third wheel in county government) and perennial candidate Joe Hoeffel, who has to run for political office at least once a year.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
The plot twists from ABC’s "Lost" are easier to follow than who will run on the Republican ticket for Montgomery County commissioner.
A civil war has been brewing for months inside Montgomery County Republican circles.
An uneasy truce is expected Wednesday, the last day for candidates to withdraw from the May 15 primary ballot.
Incumbent GOP Commissioner Thomas J. Ellis officially dropped his re-election bid Tuesday. Very reluctantly. More like kicking and screaming.
Score one for Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr.
Castor, the best known and most respected political figure in Montgomery County, entered the commissioners' race to prevent Ellis from gaining one of two GOP nominations. Castor also wanted to bump incumbent Jim Matthews off the ticket because of Matthews' close ties with county GOP boss Ken Davis.
That didn't happen at last week's Montgomery County Republican Committee endorsement meeting. More than 750 of the 800 county delegates cast ballots, settling on Castor and Matthews as the party's endorsed candidates. Castor wanted to run with former state Rep. Melissa Murphy Weber. Matthews wanted to run with Ellis, his partner on the commissioners' board over the past four years.
Castor has been saying for months that the GOP would lose majority control of the three-member commissioners' board if Ellis and Matthews were the party's nominees. The GOP delegates appear to have forced a shotgun wedding between Castor and Matthews.
Castor says he's in the race to stay and win though the November general election, regardless of who the other GOP candidate will be. Murphy Weber will have to decide by the close of business Wednesday whether to withdraw her name from the primary ballot. If she stays in the race, it will get nasty with Castor and Murphy Weber trying to bump off Matthews.
Castor's other goal is to sever a $7,500-a-month lobbying contract a firm connected to Montgomery County GOP Chairman Ken Davis has with the county commissioners. Castor believes it's unethical for a political boss to be awarded taxpayer dollars after his hand-picked candidates got into office. It happens all the time, but it still doesn't make it right.
"No one can convince me that paying taxpayer dollars to the firm of the party chairman each month is not unethical," Castor said in an e-mail to supporters. "Running with Jim (Matthews) paints me with that brush. The contract is wrong, should never have been agreed to and should have been repudiated as soon as Davis became chairman (one month after the award of the contract)."
The other GOP candidates, state Rep. Catherine "Kate" Harper and Lower Merion School Board President Jill Govberg, were not serious contenders for the party's nominations and are expected to drop out Wednesday.
While the Republicans are beating themselves up, the two Democratic candidates, incumbent Commissioner Ruth Damkser and former Congressman Joe Hoeffel, are sitting back and enjoying the GOP battle royal. They believe a divided Republican Party will implode come November, opening the door for Democrats to take control of the commissioners' board in one of the most heavily Republican counties in Pennsylvania.
In the interest of party unity, Ellis wants everyone to withdraw and get behind a Castor-Matthews ticket.
"Our party faces a formidable challenge in November from Democratic incumbent Ruth Damsker and her running mate Joe Hoeffel," Ellis said in a statement. "The only way for us to retain control of the courthouse and continue the Republican tradition of good government, lower taxes, open space conservation and public safety is to have a UNIFIED Republican ticket going into the fall campaign."
The real villain here is Ken Davis.
Davis has been a complete flop as county chairman, failing to bring various factions of the party together and allowing Democrats to make significant inroads in voter registration and in winning statewide and national elections. Montgomery County, once a guaranteed win for the GOP, has leaned Democratic in recent elections, all under Davis' watch.
Davis is the main cause of dissension in the Montgomery County Republican Party. His unwillingness to share power and insistence on hand-picking candidates (bypassing the voters) could end up costing the party control of county government for the first time in 100 years.
Regardless of the outcome of the commissioners' race, Davis should step down as party chairman.
"There are a lot of important things to be done and finally after being here to acquire some seniority, I'm in a position to do that," the 77-year-old Specter told the Associated Press. "I'm full of energy and my wife doesn't want me home for breakfast, lunch and dinner."
If he wins in 2010, Specter will be 86 by the time his term ends. That's kind of young for the geriatric Senate, where Democrat Robert Byrd, a former Klansman, continues to serve into his 90s. This is also the legislative body where Strom Thurmund served until he was 100.
I don't have a problem with Specter's age. I have a problem with Specter running as a Republican.
Arlen Specter is no Republican. Specter is the poster child for the term RINO (Republican In Name Only).
He is a back-stabbing liberal Democrat who has worked against Republican legislation for decades. His is pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-taxes, pro-illegal immigration, pro-gay rights. And nobody knows where he stands on the war on terror.
If Specter wants to run for another term, he should have the decency to run as a Democrat and stop pretending he's a Republican.
The good news about his early announcement is that real Republicans in Pennsylvania have plenty of time to find a candidate to run against Specter in the GOP primary. That's where Specter must be defeated.
If he gets past the GOP primary in 2010, he'll win another term because he already has the Democratic vote wrapped up. That's what happened in 2004. Specter easily defeated liberal Democrat Joe Hoeffel because Specter was just as liberal as Hoeffel.
The tragedy of 2004 was that Republicans couldn't oust Specter in the primary despite a valiant effort by conservative Pat Toomey, a former Congressman.
Toomey, who now heads the Club for Growth, came very close to beating Specter, but he was betrayed by Rick Santorum and George Bush, who backed Specter.
Specter, in turn, stabbed Santorum in the back in 2006 by offering a tepid endorsement of Santorum and hardly campaigning for the junior senator from Pennsylvania. Santorum lost to a liberal lightweight named Bob Casey Jr.
Specter has been stabbing George W. Bush in the back on judicial nominees and the war in Iraq ever since 2004.
Republicans are wise to Arlen Specter. As I wrote in 2004, most GOP voters held their nose when they voted for Specter over Hoeffel. Voters shouldn't be placed in that position in 2010.
The Republican Party has an obligation to defeat Specter in the 2010 primary. He's a phony who gives Republicans a bad name.
Anybody have Pat Toomey's number?
Monday, March 19, 2007
His reasoning is that Pennsylvania won't have a say in picking the next president if it waits until April to hold its primary. Several big states, including California and New Jersey, have moved up the dates of their primaries.
Rendell is also the governor who signed Act 1 into law, forcing the state's 501 school districts to seek voter approval to shift taxes. Those votes take place during the primary election.
If Pennsylvania moves up its primary to Feb. 5, 2008, it will force school districts to finalize their 2008-2009 school budgets during the fall of 2007 so they can prepare ballot referendums for the Feb. 5 primary.
How can a school district anticipate its funding needs two years down the road, especially when the state doesn't have to adopt its budget until the end of June 2008?
While it would nice for Ed Rendell to tour around Pennsylvania arm-in-arm with Hillary Clinton, Rendell made his bed by forcing Act 1 on Pennsylvania residents.
Thanks to Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania will still be left in the cold when it comes to presidential politics and taxpayers will continue to get the shaft from Rendell's tax shift sceme.
Pennsylvania's most liberal newspaper (the one that thinks Rendell can do no wrong) has offered a "solution" to Rendell's dilemma. The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests Pennsylvania hold the presidential primary on Feb. 5, but keep the local primaries on the fourth Tuesday in April.
Here's two reasons why that's a stupid idea. It would cost nearly $20 million to hold an extra election and we can't get 20 percent of registered voters to come to the polls now for spring primaries. Why would anyone want a third election? Imagine the voter turnout in April, where 9 out of 10 voters probably won't bother to vote).
It used to be that Iowa and New Hampshire got first dibs on selecting the respective Democratic and Republican candidates. But there's too much money and too much ego involved in presidential contests. Every state wants to be first or at least early enough to matter.
The game of leap frog the states are playing with their primary dates is getting ridiculous. California just decided to move its primary to Feb. 5, joining a bunch of other states in what is being described as a "decisive one-day, mega-primary across the country."
The Republican Party in Pennsylvania is already on record opposing a move in the 2008 primary.
Republican State Committee Chairman Robert A. Gleason Jr. testified last week at a joint hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate Republican and Democratic Policy Committees on the plan to move the primary up from April.
"Our governor needs to consider that moving our primary election date to February 5th affects the timing of committee planning, candidates meeting with voters and committee members, the circulation of petitions, school board budgets, and would create an environment where politicians would be campaigning during the holiday season," Gleason said.
Those are all valid concerns. And look how difficult it is for many counties to hold problem-free elections now every six months (May and November). What makes you think counties can handle the job of holding an election with only three months of preparation time?
While Rendell wants to be a player in the 2008 presidential race and there's still talk that he would head to Washington, D.C., if a Democrat is elected to the White House, is it worth inconveniencing so many people in Pennsylvania to satisfy the desires of political junkies?
There's no doubt in my mind that incumbents would benefit from moving the primary up next year. I'm talking about the members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate. All 203 House members and 25 of the 50 Senate members will have to run for re-election.
These politicians have so many advantages already. They're running non-stop, year-round re-election campaigns. They also use the power of incumbency to shamelessly promote themselves.
Gleason has the same concerns.
"In the new day of openness and transparency in our state government an earlier primary may be seen as a contradiction to that movement, as I have heard from some in (the Republican Party) who view this effort as an incumbent protection safeguard," Gleason said. "It is my belief that an earlier primary would leave less time for candidate organizations to mobilize the petition process and candidate endorsement."
Moving the primary to Feb. 5, 2008, virtually guarantees the re-election of incumbent legislators. And the majority of them don't deserve re-election.
Rendell has failed to make a strong case for moving the primary date in Pennsylvania other than to satisfy his own ego, protect his political cronies in Harrisburg and to screw the state's taxpayers even more. That's three strikes against the Rendell plan.
Friday, March 16, 2007
A colleague pointed out this amusing item posted on the county's Web site under a button labeled "Liberal Leave."
My first impression was that only liberal county workers were allowed to leave work while those dedicated conservatives had to say for their entire shift.
It's possible. The Board of Commissioners consists of two liberal Democrats, Thomas W. Gajewski and Judith L. Schwank, and a lone Republican, Mark C. Scott
Here's what the Web site says:
LIBERAL LEAVE POLICY IN EFFECT
Friday, March 16, 2007
Berks County Government Offices will be open. The Commissioners and President Judge have invoked the Liberal Leave Policy for all County and Court Employees.
If you're a county worker and didn't know you could leave when the weather was bad, you obviously need to check the county's Liberal Leave Policy (HR Section 9.5) for additional information or contact Human Resources.
It doesn't look that way. We might be seeing a St. Patrick's Day meltdown by the state's embattled transportation department.
I spent 40 minutes on Route 422 today and did not see a single PennDOT truck on the road during that time. I also saw no evidence of plowing or salting.
This isn't an interstate highway, but Route 422 is still once of the most heavily traveled roads in Pennsylvania.
So, where's PennDOT? Did it send all its trucks to Interstate 78 to avoid another debable?
In a 10-mile stretch of 422, I passed one accident where a car struck a utility pole on the side of the road and came up on a near crash when another vehicle slid into the next lane.
It was obvious the road wasn't pre-treated to prevent icing.
When I did make it into work, I came across a press release from PennDOT urging motorists to "avoid unnecessary travel." I guess that's the PennDOT strategy. Stay home until until the storm passes.
"Forecasters are now calling for everything from a mix of sleet and snow to nearly two feet of heavy, wet snow depending on location," state Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler said in the release. "Motorists should travel this afternoon and evening only if absolutely necessary -- for their own safety."
Isn't that comforting? Once again, motorists should know that they travel at their own risk on Pennsylvania roads. Where does that $6 billion we spend every year on PennDOT go?
I know Gov. Ed Rendell has a habit of diverting highway funding to his transit union pals in Philadelphia. Has funding for PennDOT been gutted to such a degree that it can't even plow the state's roads during a winter storm?
Does anybody have a pickup truck with a plow that PennDOT can borrow?
In case the governor is preoccupied watching basketball on TV today, here's a message I'd like somebody to pass on: The roads are in terrible shape and PennDOT is AWOL again.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
You decide to allow your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, etc., to drive the car. He or she crashes the car. You tell several different versions of how the car was damaged when the boss finds out it was involved in a crash.
Let's see a show of hands. How many of you would still have a job after you wrecked the company car, broke company policy against non-employees driving it and then trying to cover up the crash?
Now, let's say your boss is Ed Rendell. And the vehicle you wrecked is paid for by the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. Do you lose your job? Nope. You're suspended and your privilege to drive a state-owned care are taken away. And you have pay for the damage. But you still get to keep your job and your big fat state pension. Is this fair?
Ask Gov. Rendell. This is exactly what happened. Rendell has a history of cronyism. It's not good public policy. It's not government. It's not good business practices.
Here's the Associated Press account a Rendell aide who broke all kinds of rules but still got to keep his job:
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — An aide to Gov. Ed Rendell returned to his job this week, more than two months after being suspended following the crash of his state-issued vehicle.
Norman Bristol-Colon, executive director of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, served the paid suspension from Jan. 5 until Monday for allowing someone else to drive the vehicle when it was damaged in a Dec. 20 crash, the governor's office said.
The driver, Adriana Malpica of Lancaster, veered off Interstate 283 near Elizabethtown and hit a highway sign and parked truck, according to police.
Only state employees may drive state vehicles, and Malpica was not a state worker.
"He is going to have to pay for the damage to the automobile, he's going to have to pay for the damage to the truck that they hit, and he is no longer allowed to drive a state car," Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said Wednesday. "So there are consequences."
Ardo said there was also "some dissatisfaction with the accuracy of his reporting" regarding the crash.
Bristol-Colon filed a state report saying conditions were foggy and wet, the tractor-trailer was parked illegally and his vehicle brakes malfunctioned. A police report said it was clear and the road was dry, the truck was parked properly and the brakes worked.
A phone message left for Bristol-Colon at his office was not immediately returned.
Before he made a name for himself as coordinator of RockTheCapital, Epstein was best known as a watchdog over the nuclear power plant industry. Epstein was a co-founder of Three Mile Island-Alert, an activist group that continues to monitor radiation levels in the area of the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history.
This recent op-ed piece by Epstein raises some good questions about Pennsylvania's ability to handle emergencies.
If you can't get a few hundred people off an interstate highway during a snowstorm, how will Pennsylvania handle millions of residents fleeing a nuclear disaster or a terrorist attack in a major population center?
I don't know about you, but I have zero confidence that an Ed Rendell administration can deal with a major crisis.
Here's Epstein's article:
As we thaw out from winter's icy grip, it has become apparent how much work needs to be done to prepare for sudden disasters.
What happened recently on I-78 was the latest example of how ill prepared Pennsylvania is to handle an unannounced emergency. People were stranded for more than 24 hours in sub-freezing temperatures. How could Pennsylvania have been caught so off guard? Where was the governor? Where was PEMA? Where was the Lt. Governor who chairs the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council?
The state has had 28 years to prepare for emergencies since pre-school children and pregnant women were evacuated from the Three Mile Island-area on March 30, 1979. While improvements have been made, these kids remain unaccounted for in the event of another meltdown.
Katrina, this summer's flooding, and the most recent snow emergency demonstrate that we are ill equipped to evacuate large populations in the event of a radiological emergency. If we can’t get people off a highway for more than 24 hours due to snow and ice, how are we going to evacuate an entire population living in the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone around a nuclear power plant?
After 9/11, TMI-Alert reviewed Pennsylvania’s emergency plan and found day care centers and nursery schools had been left out even though a 1984 federal law required their inclusion. TMIA filed suit at the NRC. The author of the 1984 NRC law agreed with TMIA, and filed a formal complaint. This 40-year nuclear veteran recommended that the NRC compel the Commonwealth to include preschool children and nursery schoolers in the nuclear emergency plan, or risk losing their license.
The NRC denied TMIA's request that the NRC enforce its own law. Gov. Rendell, PEMA, and the nuclear industry continue to argue that it is not their responsibility to help these kids get out of harm's way. Playing a nuclear shell game with children is not emergency planning.
Three Mile Island Alert Inc. is a safe-energy organization based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and founded in 1977. TMIA monitors Peach Bottom, Susquehanna and Three Mile Island nuclear generating stations.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
I don't recall Gov. Ed Rendell mentioning the state's pending fiscal crisis when he ran for re-election last fall. I do recall Rendell taking credit for "balancing the budget" in each of his first four years in office. That was a nice sound-bite, but Rendell was being dishonest.
The Pennsylvania Constitution mandates a balanced budget every year. It's not something the governor deserves credit. But running up a $1 billion to $2 billion deficit? Now that's something you can place squarely at the governor's feet.
During the campaign, Rendell also touted the fact that he took over a state that was in debt under Republican Gov. Tom Ridge and turned over a surplus of nearly $1 billion by 2006. Rendell also claimed he cut $1 billion in government waste during his first term.
What happened to that $1 billion surplus? How did the surplus magically disappear after Rendell was safely re-elected to a second term? And why is Rendell's own budget secretary now warning about a $1 billion deficit? Only a master illusionist like Ed Rendell can these questions.
During several hours of testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Rendell Budget Secretary Michael Masch acknowledged that Pennsylvania is facing a budget deficit of at least $1 billion. Masch, parroting Rendell, blamed the shortfall on George W. Bush and pending cuts in federal money for Pennsylvania. But the state knew about phase-outs of certain federal spending for years. Why didn't Rendell anticipate the cuts and tighten his belt?
Why did Rendell preside over the largest spending orgy in state history during his first term? State spending has increased by $6 billion since Rendell took office in 2003.
And now Rendell is proposing to spend another billion dollars for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Rendell has an easy solution to cover his spending binge. Raise taxes. Lots of taxes. That's always his first option. He wants to raise the sales tax, the gasoline tax, the cigarette tax, the electricity tax and taxes on trash disposal. And don't forget the payroll tax on businesses to fund Rendell's health care plan. That will force businesses to close or lay off workers so they can pay the tax if they decide to stay in Pennsylvania.
Remember when casino gambling revenues were going to bring property tax cuts to all Pennsylvanians? That was a lie.
Rendell is now promising to cut property taxes if he gets the Legislature to raise the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. But only part of that new tax increase would go to property tax relief. Three-quarters of the tax revenues would go to cover the Rendell's deficits of the past four years and continued increases in state spending as long as Rendell is in office.
How many times do Pennsylvania residents have to be lied to by Ed Rendell? How much more damage will Ed Rendell be allowed to do to Pennsylvania's economy?
Why isn't the $2 billion lie on the front page of every newspaper in Pennsylvania?
Here are the magnificent seven school districts standing up for their taxpayers: Central Bucks in Bucks County; Conrad Weiser in Berks County; Pennsbury in Bucks County; Governor Mifflin in Berks County; Coatesville in Chester County; Bristol Township in Bucks County; and Centennial in Bucks County.
Notice a pattern here? All seven are in Southeastern Pennsylvania. What about your school district?
When will your school board start looking out for you instead of the special interests that have driven up the costs of education in Pennsylvania? Start writing letters and attending school board meetings to demand repeal of Act 1.
All 501 school districts in Pennsylvania should adopt the Act 1 repeal resolution and demand an end to the Act 1 tax shift sceme approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rendell.
You can learn more about the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition and the effort to repeal Act 1 at http://www.ptcc.us/
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Ever had the wind knocked out of you? Then you know how the members of the Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform felt like during Monday's voting session to change the way the Pennsylvania House of Representatives does business.
This was supposed to be easy. The reform commission consisted of 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans. They met for two months and came up with recommendations to make fundamental changes in how the House conducts the people's business. A total of 32 reforms made it out of the commission meetings by garnering support from a majority of both Democrats and Republicans on the panel.
Those were the ground rules. Nothing would get to the floor for a vote by the full House unless it had the support of the majority of the bipartisan commission.
These were the no-brainer reforms like not voting on bills after 11 p.m. (unlike the legislative pay raise of 2005 or the casino gambling bill of 2004, both of which were approved at 2 a.m.)
A funny thing happened on the way to the state Capitol.
Turns out that the majority of the 203 members of the House don't want to change. They like the way things are. They enjoy basking in wealth and privilege. They want to keep all their perks. They don't have a problem with denying the wishes of the majority of their constituents.
As I have been telling you for two years, the only real reform in Harrisburg will come when more incumbents are thrown out of office. Voters knocked out 55 incumbents in 2006, but that wasn't enough. Voters returned nearly 200 others. Therein lies the problem.
We're not talking about 300 Spartans here. These are not brave men and women who will stand up for what's right. These are cowardly career politicians who are perfectly content with gorging themselves at the public trough.
They came, they saw, they chickened out.
Among the most cowardly votes on the House floor Monday were the defeat of measures designed to get more power into the hands of the rank-and-file, term limits for committee chairmen and a ban taxpayer-supported election-year public-service broadcast ads.
All were voted down by the House.
Democratic and Republican leaders led the opposition to a measure designed to prevent the Appropriations Committee from amending another committee's bill beyond fiscal matters. This continues to concentrate power in a small group of legislative leaders.
"This is, quite frankly, about power — nothing more, nothing less," said Rep. Curt Schroder of Chester County. "There is too much power concentrated in the hands of a few members of the General Assembly. It would be better for that power to be diffused somewhat so all representatives could better represent their districts."
The final vote was 149-50 with nearly every Democrat in the House voting against the reform measure. I warned you about those brain-dead Democrats you voted into the majority last year. They do as the party bosses tell them to. They dance to the tune of Ed Rendell and Bill DeWeese. They are not looking out for you.
The House also rejected a proposed election-year ban on buying broadcast time to air public-service announcements that feature representatives' voices, faces or names.
"For the most part they've been used to promote a member's name recognition as the primary purpose, and public benefit only as a secondary purpose," said Rep. Greg Vitali, a Democrat from Delaware County.
Vitali said incumbents spent $6 million of your tax dollars in 2006 on public service announcements. The ban on PSAs was defeated 39-160.
The House also rejected, by a 67-132 vote, a measure sponsored by Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from York County, that would have limited committee chairmen to four consecutive terms.
Committee chairman are often the targets of lobbyists who can keep important legislation bottled up for years as long as they keep the committee chairman on a short leash.
Two measures regarding state-subsidized vehicles were both defeated, allowing lawmakers to continue riding around in luxury automobiles paid by taxpayers.
House members also turned down a proposal to ban smoking in most areas of the state Capitol. While the Legislature is moving forward with plans to ban smoking in public places in Pennsylvania, it appears the lawmakers will exempt themselves from the smoking ban.
If you're keeping score, here's how things went Monday. The House voted on 18 of the 32 reform recommendations, approving 10, but rejecting 8 others. All 18 should have been approved. All 32 reform recommendations deserve approval.
The House resumed debate on reform measures Tuesday morning, but don't get your hopes up. The jig is up. We've met the enemy and it's the 253 lawmakers we keep sending back to Harrisburg.
It's clear the only way the people of Pennsylvania can take back their state government from the political aristocracy that has usurped all the power is to drive out the majority of House members.
All 203 House members (and 25 members of the Senate) will seek re-election in 2008. Maybe this time, you'll take my advice and vote out most of the incumbents.
Monday, March 12, 2007
$47,000 to cover meals on a three-day trip.
$21,308 in expenses related to "client appreciation," including spa treatments.
Those are some of the jaw-dropping bills Pennsylvania's student-loan agency ran up for a series of "educational" trips to lavish resorts for its staff members.
The total bill? Somewhere between $750,000 and $900,000. And that's just the money we know about. The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) has fought hard to keep this information secret from the taxpayers of Pennsylvania, claiming that its expense records are "trade secrets."
It took a lawsuit by three news-gathering organizations to force the independent state agency to release records of its extravagant spending.
The Associated Press and the Harrisburg Patriot-News filed requests seeking records of luxury excursion by PHEAA employees and board members. Last month, PHEAA released more than 13,000 pages of receipts and vouchers sought by WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh for airfare, hotel rooms, meals and other expenses incurred by PHEAA's 2,700 employees between 2003 and 2005.
PHEAA uses income from its student-loan business to pay for its operating costs, which totaled about $261 million last year, according to an article by Martha Raffaele of the Associated Press.
But Raffaele points out that PHEEA also received around $500 million a year in state tax dollars that it spent on college grants and subsidies.
And who is suppose to be looking out for that $500 million in taxpayer dollars? PHEAA answers to a 20-member board of directors, which includes 16 members of the Pennsylvania Legislature.
Some familiar legislative names on the PHEAA board include: Rep. William F. Adolph Jr., Sen. Sean Logan, Rep. Ronald I. Buxton, Sen. Jake Corman, Rep. Craig A. Dally, Sen. Jane M. Earll, Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, Rep. Sandra J. Major, Rep. Jennifer L. Mann, Rep. Joseph F. Markosek, Sen. Michael A. O'Pake, Sen. James J. Rhoades, Rep. James R. Roebuck Jr., Rep. Jess M. Stairs, Sen. Robert M. Tomlinson.
Members of the very same Legislature that has been fleecing taxpayers for years.
Also serving on the PHEAA board is Gerald L. Zahorchak, Gov. Ed Rendell’s education secretary, one of four appointees by the governor to the PHEAA board so 'Teflon' Ed Rendell shares some of the blame in this disgrace.
According to Raffaele, the expense records released by PHEAA show receipts for golf outings, banquets, spa treatments and entertainment related to a three-day, $135,638 retreat in June 2005 to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort near Pittsburgh.
One invoice grouped the expenses into three broad categories, the largest of which was more than $79,000 for meals, events and meeting expenses, Raffaele reports.
From Raffaele's story that moved Monday:
Dinners alone amounted to more than $47,000 over three days, one of which featured a "Tour of Italy" themed dinner buffet, a mashed-potato bar, and carving stations with bourbon honey mustard-glazed ham and southern-fried turkey breast. The total included a bar tab of $10,726. Another category included $21,308 in expenses related to "client appreciation." Spa treatments totaling $9,542 accounted for the largest single expense in that category, followed by almost $9,000 for golf outings. More than $34,000 in expenses were related to lodging. The board has also taken trips to resorts in California's Napa Valley, Maryland's Eastern Shore, Virginia and West Virginia.
How many Pennsylvania students could have used the $900,000 wasted by PHEAA to cover loans for college? Only Ed Rendell and the Pennsylvania legislators on the PHEAA board know.
Ken Schaefer, chairman of Vote For Integrity, has called for the resignation of Richard Willey, president and CEO of PHEAA. Willey is also the highest paid public official in Pennsylvania.
Even Rendell, no stranger to excess government spending, says changes must be made at the student loan agency.
"It has to have a total housecleaning," Rendell told reporters earlier this month. "When the cost of college is more and more challenging to Pennsylvanians and their families, we can't have the abuses that PHEAA has had for so long."
It should be noted that most of the "abuses" took place under Gov. Rendell's watch.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
O'Pake, who has served in the Legislature for nearly 40 years, is big on rhetoric, but short on results. He is the master of the sound bite or newspaper quote, but has little to show for four decades in Harrisburg.
This is one of my favorite comments about O'Pake came from blogger Al Walentis when O'Pake couldn't be found to comment on the legislative pay raise furor:
"Funny thing, some of our fat-walleted lawmakers aren't too quick to get on the horn and communicate with their constituents through the media. Stop the presses! Mike O'Pake clamming up!
This is a guy who can sniff out a camera crew from two counties away. He's like the Forrest Gump of the 11th District -- whenever there's a photo op to be found, Senator Mike's visage somehow finds its way therein.
Perhaps our normally garrulous lawmakers are being replaced by distorted duplicates from the Bizarro world out of the Superman comics, where they can legislate for the wacky, cockeyed county of Skreb. Or maybe there's something that's just too shameful to talk about anymore.
What about the rest of you? Are you willing to give up your overpaid, underworked lawmaker in the interest of saving some of our money?
Friday, March 09, 2007
You can call the station at 610-326-4000 with comments or questions during the live broadcast.
You can also listen to the show on your computer at www.1370wpaz.com by clicking on the "live audio" button at the top of the station's home page.
And circle Thursday, March 29, 2007, on your calendar. That's when Tony Phyrillas returns to the "Journalists Roundtable" program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Consult your local cable guide for the channel.
The popular public affairs show will be broadcast at 8 that evening and will be shown again on Sunday, April 1, at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. So, there's no excuse for missing it.
After decades of failure on the part of the United States, the United Nations and the European Community to broker a solution, it appears the Cypriots themselves are taking the lead.
The Greek Cypriot government (the legitimate government on the occupied island) has ordered the removal of part of the so-called "Green Line" that has separated Greek Cypriots from the occupying Turkish army in the north.
The only just solution for the reunification of Cyprus is the immediate removal of 35,000 occupation troops from Turkey.
Keep in mind that Turkey is the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid, but has violated U.S. law by using its military to occupy a neighboring country. There can be no peaceful resolution in Cyprus until the aggressor nation of Turkey removes its troops from the island.
Here's an article from http://www.financialmirror.com/
Cyprus starts demolition of dividing wall
The Greek Cypriot government started to demolish a wall within the old part of the capital Nicosia that separates it from the Turkish side just before midnight on Thursday, with the work expected to be concluded before dawn on Friday.
But government officials said that the crossing of people to the occupied northern part of the town would not begin until the Turkish armed forces withdrew from the area in accordance with United Nations efforts to resolve the island’s 33-year division.
Five other check points have opened since April 2003 allowing Greek and Turkish Cypriots to visit the other side for the first time in three decades since the Turkish invasion.
"Our main concern is security in the area and we are hopeful that the other side will come to negotiations on the issue," government spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis was quoted by Cyprus state television CyBC as saying.
The wall at the bottom of the commercial Ledra Street, that housed a National Guard post and a sign declaring this was "the last divided capital of Europe," should have been demolished 15 months ago when the Turkish Cypriots also started work on their side.
The Turkish Army, that maintains a 35,000-strong garrison in the north, wanted to maintain its control over the "Green Line" that runs through the medieaval Venetian town and built a pedestrian bridge on its side of Ledra Street in order to allow its military patrols to pass under it.
Construction of the controversial bridge forced all work on the Greek Cypriot side to be halted including the clearing of the 50 metres of no-man's-land dividing the two sides and patrolled by the U.N.
"We are showing good will as we have often been accused of not bringing our part of the wall down," added Pashiardis.
The work is part of fresh efforts to start trade between the two sides within Germany's EU presidency initiative and coincides with president Tassos Papadopoulos' visit to Brussels for the EU summit.
Papadopoulos said in statements upon arrival in Brussels that "we had planned this for a few days and decided to go ahead unilaterally, despite the Turkish armed forces refusing to cooperate."
"The issue is not bringing down a wall in 24 hours. It is security and the withdrawal of the occupation troops."
Thursday, March 08, 2007
The six districts are Conrad Weiser (Berks), Pennsbury (Bucks), Governor Mifflin (Berks), Coatesville (Chester), Bristol Township (Bucks), and Centennial (Bucks).
What's wrong with the rest of the state's school district's?
Pennsylvania has 501 school districts and all 501 should demand that Gov. Rendell and the state Legislature come up with a serious plan to fund education without killing taxpayers.
Several newspapers have organized a letter-writing campaign to repeal Act. 1.
Here's some background about the failures of Act 1 from a recent editorial in The Mercury:
"The legislature has in its power many ways to limit school spending or to help districts control spending through prevailing wage exemptions and consolidated purchasing power. But a school district exploding with growth cannot stop building schools or paying for additional teachers.
Giving voters a false sense of control of spending is irresponsible legislation.
The distribution of money from slots is a promise yet to be realized. And it also depends on people losing money in order for a tax break.
The tax-shifting referendum is the biggest scam of all.
Districts are able to word their own ballot question, basing it on whether they want to propose an increase in personal income tax or earned income tax. They must also determine the amount of the increase, ranging from .5 percent to 2.5 percent, for the ballot question.
Citizen tax study commissions — also a requirement of Act 1 — have been making recommendations to all school boards in recent weeks and their reports reveal the problems with the law.
The majority of renters and working class families will end up paying more in taxes under Act 1.
If that's not a scam, we don’t know what it is.
As with the pay-raise debacle in 2005, newspapers are taking the public's frustration with Act 1 to Harrisburg with a demand that legislators get back to work on a true solution to the problem of relying on local property taxes to fund public schools.
We ask you to join us in asking Gov. Ed Rendell and our state legislators to take a hard look at school funding and craft a plan that truly reforms the system of taxation and takes the burden off local school districts and the working-class homeowner.
They tried last year with a months-long special session on tax reform, and the result was Act 1. Clearly, the effort failed, and lawmakers need to try again.
If you're opposed to Act 1, please write to: Operation Tax Scam, The Mercury, 24 N. Hanover St., Pottstown, PA 19464. You can also e-mail your letter to email@example.com
The newspaper will forward all letters to state lawmakers."
It's your money. Fight for the right to keep some of it.
You can learn more about the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition at http://www.ptcc.us/
The controversy was resurrected this week when it was revealed that the U.S. Mint released 50,000 of the new $1 coins without the national motto placed on the coins, as required by law.
You can debate the establishment clause of the First Amendment all you want, but there's no dispute that "In God We Trust" was designated the official motto of the U.S. in 1956 by an act of Congress.
President Bush issued a proclamation last year marking the 50th anniversary of the adoption of "In God We Trust" as our national motto.
(And interestingly enough, the words "In God We Trust" first appeared on U.S. currency as early as 1864.)
For those liberals who like to run to activist judges to circumvent the will of the majority, "In God We Trust" has been challenged by three lawsuits and has been found to be constitutional, according to a history of the national motto posted at www.religioustolerance.org.
Here are the relevant cases, according to the Web site, where courts ruled that the motto does not endorse religion:
- "Aronow v. United States," 432 F.2d 242 (1970) in the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit The court ruled that:
"It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise."
- "Madalyn Murray O'Hair, et al. v. W. Michael Blumenthal, Secretary of Treasury, et al." 588 F.2d 1144 (1979) in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Ms. O'Hair is (in)famous for successfully challenging compulsory prayer in U.S. public schools. The United States District Court, Western District of Texas, referring to the wording of the Ninth Circuit above, ruled that:
"From this it is easy to deduce that the Court concluded that the primary purpose of the slogan was secular; it served as secular ceremonial purpose in the obviously secular function of providing a medium of exchange. As such it is equally clear that the use of the motto on the currency or otherwise does not have a primary effect of advancing religion."
This ruling was sustained by the Fifth Circuit court. 1
- The Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. conducted a national survey that showed that "In God We Trust" was regarded as religious by an overwhelming percentage of U.S. citizens. They initiated a lawsuit on 1994-JUN-8 in Denver CO to have it removed from U.S. paper currency and coins. They also wanted it to be discontinued as the national motto. Their lawsuit was dismissed by the district Court without trial, on the grounds that "In God We Trust" is not a religious phrase! The Tenth-Circuit federal judge confirmed the dismissal, stating in part:
"...we find that a reasonable observer, aware of the purpose, context, and history of the phrase 'In God we trust,' would not consider its use or its reproduction on U.S. currency to be an endorsement of religion." 5
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review all of these rulings. It might be embarrassing to them, because the motto also hangs on the wall at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has commented in passing on the motto saying that:
"[o]ur previous opinions have considered in dicta the motto and the pledge [of allegiance], characterizing them as consistent with the proposition that government may not communicate an endorsement of religious belief." Allegheny, 492 U.S.
Here is the text of the president's proclamation:
50th Anniversary of Our National Motto, "In God We Trust," 2006
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America
On the 50th anniversary of our national motto, "In God We Trust," we reflect on these words that guide millions of Americans, recognize the blessings of the Creator, and offer our thanks for His great gift of liberty.
From its earliest days, the United States has been a Nation of faith. During the War of 1812, as the morning light revealed that the battle torn American flag still flew above Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key penned, "And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust!'" His poem became our National Anthem, reminding generations of Americans to "Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation." On July 30, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the law officially establishing "In God We Trust" as our national motto.
Today, our country stands strong as a beacon of religious freedom. Our citizens, whatever their faith or background, worship freely and millions answer the universal call to love their neighbor and serve a cause greater than self.
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of our national motto and remember with thanksgiving God's mercies throughout our history, we recognize a divine plan that stands above all human plans and continue to seek His will.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim July 30, 2006, as the 50th Anniversary of our National Motto, "In God We Trust." I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-seventh day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.
GEORGE W. BUSH
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
I raised the question of whether the ACLU was behind the design of the new coin. (The American Civil Liberties Union and militant atheists have been trying for years to remove all references to God on U.S. currency and public buildings.)
Predictably, the Kool Aid drinkers on the far left started making light of the controversy right away and denied there was a conspiracy to remove the words "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency. That's typical of what the hysterical left does when anyone disagrees.
It now appears there's more to this "Godless dollar" controversy than we imagined.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that "an unknown number" of new George Washington dollar coins were mistakenly struck without their edge inscriptions, including "In God We Trust."
The coins made it past U.S. Mint inspectors and into circulation. Hmmm. Wonder how that could happen? It's going to get a lot harder for the far left to explain how "In God We Trust" was left off so many of the new $1 coins.
The new coin has a likeness of George Washington on the front and the Statue of Liberty on the back. But unlike all U.S. coins minted in the past 50 years (including the tiny dime), the Mint couldn't find room to put "In God We Trust" on either side of the $1 coin.
Instead, the national motto is inscribed on the edge of the new coins along with "E Pluribus Unum" and the year and mint mark. The mint struck 300 million of the coins and released them into circulation on Feb. 15.
According to the AP, about half of the coins were minted in Philadelphia and the other half in Denver. So far, the Mint has only received reports of error coins coming from the Philadelphia facility, U.S. Mint spokeswoman Becky Bailey told the Associated Press.
Bailey told the AP she didn't know how many "Godless coins" were released to the public.
Ron Guth, president of Professional Coin Grading Service, one of the world's largest coin authentication companies, told the AP he believes that at least 50,000 error coins were put in circulation.
The folks at the U.S. Mint, already dealing with the growing public backlash about the "Godless dollar" now find themselves trying to explain how 50,000 coins got past their elaborate inspection system. We're not talking about a few coins, but up to 50,000!!! Again, was the ACLU put in charge of the inspection process?
Production of the presidential dollar entails a "new, complex, high-volume manufacturing system" that the mint will adjust to eliminate any future defects, the mint said in a statement released Wednesday. "We take this matter seriously. We also consider quality control a high priority. The agency is looking into the matter to determine a possible cause in the manufacturing process."
The Associated Press article by Joann Loviglio also mentions the growing embarrassment at the U.S. Mint over the $1 coins, but she labels public concerns about the hard-to-find "In God We Trust" inscription as "e-mail conspiracy theories claiming that the religious motto was purposely omitted from the Washington dollars."
Americans everywhere have expressed overwhelming resentment about the Mint's decision to minimize the national motto and the liberal-dominated media paints it as "conspiracy theories."
Who made the decision to hide "In God We Trust" on the edge of the new coins? How long will it take for the words to rub off the coins from handling? And how did 50,000 coins without the words "In God We Trust" on them make it past inspectors?
The U.S. Mint has 40 more opportunities to get it right. The Washington dollars are the first in a series that will feature every U.S. president in order that they served. The series will run until 2016.
As of today, there are no plans by the mint to put "In God We Trust" on the front of future dollar coins. Bailey told the AP that the striking of the Adams coin, expected to roll out in mid-May, "will proceed as planned."
It's time for the silent majority in this country to speak up. If you want "In God We Trust" to be featured prominently on U.S. currency, contact the U.S. Mint at http://www.usmint.gov
Write to the president, your Congressman and Senator and tell them to put pressure on the Mint to do the right thing and restore our national motto to our currency.
My husband is a liar and a cheat. He has cheated on me from the beginning and, when I confront him, he denies it. Everyone knows he cheats on me. It is so frustrating!
Five years ago he lost his job and hasn't worked since. All he does is smoke cigars, cruises around and bullshits with his cronies. I have to work to pay the bills.
Since our daughter left for college, he doesn't even pretend to like me.
What should I do?
Clueless in Chappaqua, N.Y.
Grow up and dump him! For crying out loud you don't need him anymore. You're a U.S. senator from the state of New York. Act like one!
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
I just found out I was named one of the 10 leading Greek-American bloggers by a magazine with international readership.
"Odyssey: The World of Greece" is a bimonthly magazine based in Washington, D.C., with offices in Greece. The glossy magazine highlights the achievements of Greeks and Greek-Americans in the areas of the arts, entertainment, politics and the media.
In the newest issue of the 98-page magazine, "Odyssey" media writer Lydia Maniatis places the spotlight on the growing influence of Internet bloggers in a story titled, "I blog, therefore, I am."
Only two political sites were mentioned in the magazines' Top 10 list.
Maniatis says Phyrillas "gives us his muscular spin on the politics of his home state and the country at large" at his conservative blog, http://tonyphyrillas.blogspot.com
Muscular spin? I like it. I might start using that as my calling card.
The other politcal blogger mentioned in the article is Arianna Huffington, who oversees the ultra-liberal site, www.huffingtonpost.com
(Huffington is her married name. Arianna's maiden name is Stassinopoulos. And you thought Phyrillas was hard to pronounce.)
Odyssey magazine has 80,000 readers in 25 countries on six continents.
Thanks to everyone at Odyssey magazine for the recognition and the kind words. Maybe I can scrape together the $48 to subscribe.
In the meantime, you can enjoy my "muscular" ramblings for free. I'm averaging 3,000 visitors a month at this site, http://tonyphyrillas.blogspot.com
Monday, March 05, 2007
A 10-cent spike in gas in about three hours? Tell me that's not price gouging.
Did we start bombing Iran today?
What exactly occurred in the world between 9 a.m. and noon to cause such a sharp rise in the price of gas?
I went to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Web site to see if there was any information about price gouging. The last news item I could find on the site was posted in September 2005, right after the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
I'm not sure who's updating Attorney General Tom Corbett's Web site these days, but they might want to put some fresh information on the site about gas price gouging.
There was a press release on the site about a bill passed last year by the state Legislature to prevent price gouging when a state of emergency is declared in Pennsylvania. But it does not appear that everyday price gouging is a priority.
I know it's hard to prove gouging at the pump. And it's the fault of the local service station or convenience store owner. They charge what their supplier charges them. But prices don't rise this much this quickly in any other sector of the economy.
And what about price fixing? Isn't that against the law? How is it that every gas station you drive by has the exact same price and raises its price by the same exact amount as soon as the next station adjusts its prices? That is collusion. That is against the law.
When will law enforcement actually enforce laws when it comes to gas prices?
(It doesn't help that Pennsylvania's gasoline tax stands at 32.3 cents per gallon, second highest in the nation. Gov. Ed Rendell has also proposed raising the state gas tax by 12.5 cents a gallon to fund mass transit and repair roads and bridges.)
If you suspect gouging at the pump in Pennsylvania, you are asked to fill out a form and the Attorney General will investigate.
You can download a complaint form or fill one out online. You can also call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555 to report possible price gouging.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Web site is http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/
Start sending in those complain forms. Gas prices probably went up in the time you took to read this.