Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Presidential candidates support switch to 'Fair Tax'

It's easy to dismiss campaign promises, especially this early, but at least six candidates running for president say they support the "FairTax" initiative, a plan to replace the federal income tax system with a progressive national sales tax.

Five of eight GOP candidates and one Democratic candidate have promised to "sign it into law" if passed by Congress, according to FairTax spokesman Ken Hoagland.

John McCain, Tom Tancredo, Tommy Thompson, Mike Huckabee and Duncan Hunter are backing the Fair Tax Plan on the GOP side. Fred Thompson is also on board.

The top Democratic candidates, who like taxes and plan to raise taxes even more if elected, are slow to jump on the Fair Tax bandwagon. So far, only Mike Gravel supports it. Yeah, I know. You're wondering who Mike Gravel is. He's a former U.S. senator from Alaska.

Getting past Congress is another big "if" in the debate. With so many special interest groups using the current tax system to their benefit, it's unlikely lobbyists will give up their tax breaks so easily. It also involves repeal of the 16th Amendment and you know how hard it is to get rid of those amendments once they make it into the Constitution.

But supporters are optimistic.

"At campaign stops in the early primary states of South Carolina, Iowa, and Florida as well as elsewhere in the nation, FairTax supporters are visible, vocal, and insistent," Hoagland said in a statement released Tuesday. is a growing national grassroots campaign with legislation by Rep. John Linder of Georgia now pending in Congress as H.R. 25. You can read more about the movement at

The FairTax Plan is simple: Replace the federal income tax system with a progressive national retail sales tax. And before you IRS lovers harp in about sales taxes hurting the poor, the Fair Tax Plan includes a "prebate" provision to ensure no American pays federal taxes on spending up to the poverty level.

"While some in Washington are determined to protect the current system because of power and profit motives, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and a lot of Americans who have given up on any political party have flocked to our cause in recent months," Hoagland said. "It is the only tax proposal that does not pit income groups or political beliefs against each other, no matter how hard some in Washington try to confuse the issue."

Former Sen. Fred Thompson, who has yet to formally join the race for the White House, told a group of FairTax supporters last week in Houston that if he were president he would sign the FairTax into law, according to Hoagland.

"The question is not whether to continue or amend past tax breaks or whether to raise or cut income taxes but whether the income tax system itself is damaging the national economy and bedeviling every taxpayer," Hoagland said. "We believe that past attempts prove the federal tax system cannot be fixed piecemeal. Scores of economists have predicted that the FairTax is the very best tax reform for our economy and our national interests, and we are promoting the issue and the legislation in every way we can."

It's your money

From today's edition of The Mercury, a good editorial on how Gov. Rendell and legislative leaders are holding $360 million of your tax dollars hostage:

Pennsylvania Legislature holds on to luxury of walking around money

With pollution cleanup left unfunded in Pennsylvania, legislators have some explaining to do about the destination of some $360 million in discretionary funds.

But they're not talking.

The Associated Press reported Sunday that the amount legislators set aside in the recently approved budget for programs of their choosing is "said to be $360 million," but the programs and amounts are not being made public.

Despite the much-publicized reforms allegedly taking shape in Harrisburg, the Legislature remains exempt from Pennsylvania's open-records law.

The exemption could disappear if pending proposals to expand the law to include the Legislature are approved. But even if that happens, lawmakers' spending choices can be shielded by another existing exemption for notes and other unofficial documents that lead up to a decision.

Some of the money, if not all of it, goes into grant programs that are known informally as "walking around money" — a nickname that is a throwback to the days when legislators exclusively controlled the money. The WAMs subsidize a wide range of community services and projects, from St. Patrick's Day parades to sewer pipelines — money for which a legislator can claim credit.

The money is also hidden in the budget with generic names for grants like "community revitalization and assistance" and "urban development."

The specifics of the grants are not made clear, and critics say legislative leaders and executive branch officials use them to help re-election chances of legislators by writing checks for popular causes just before Election Day.

Rendell administration officials and legislators insist that the grants are not traded for votes, and approval is based on the merits of a project.

But the number of times that such projects get money in the last days of October and early November beg otherwise.

Not only is the lack of information about WAMs troublesome, but the fact that such a large chunk is protected even when other important programs are going unfunded is even more disturbing.

In response to numerous requests by The Associated Press, legislators and legislative staff members have offered various explanations for not revealing the programs the Legislature funded, WAMs or otherwise. Others would not discuss the matter at all, and still others did not return telephone calls, according to the AP account.

Perhaps citizens would agree that the projects funded by WAMS represent money well spent. But, without knowing where it goes, no one can tell.

Pennsylvania is not in such a sound fiscal state that $360 million doesn‘t matter.

Copyright 2007, The Mercury

Monday, July 30, 2007

Does this fall under constituent services?

The Pennsylvania Legislature is on its summer break until Sept. 17, but lawmakers are staying busy in their home districts.

Here, state Rep. Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist., gets up close and personal with supermodel Carol Alt during a recent visit by Alt to Royersford, which is in Quigley's district.

Alt is on a publicity tour for her new book, "The Raw 50," which promotes something called the "raw food movement."

Alt, who turns 47 in December, made a stop at Victory Park in Royersford on Saturday and bumped into Quigley, who spent three hours in hot, humid conditions greeting voters and talking about healthy lifestyles.

"Promotion of healthy food and eating is one Carol's passion," according to Alt's Web site. The former model parlayed her success on the runway into a career as an actress, author and entrepreneur.

There were reports that U.S. Congressman Jim Gerlach, R-6th Dist., was at the event, but I haven't been able to get my hands on a photo of Gerlach with Ms. Alt. Stay tuned.

Presidential Prognostications

On August 1, I'm going to post how the 2008 presidential race will play out. I did the same thing in 2004 and was right on the money.

Before I tell you who I think the nominees will be, I'm curious to see how readers see things shaping up. There's no point in doing a Democratic Party poll.

Hillary Clinton will be the nominee and Barack Obama will be her running-mate.

But the GOP race is still up in the air. Vote on who you think will be the party's nominee for president.

And you're only allowed one vote, so make it a good one.

Check back Wednesday for the poll results and my prognostications.

Phyrillas climbs to No. 3 in 'Influence' ranking

The slow but steady climb to No. 1 continues.

The new Top 20 list of "Pennsylvania's Most Influential Political blogs" is out and Tony Phyrillas has reached No. 3 on the list (No 1 if you count just conservative blogs). There was a lot of movement on this week's list, including a couple of new entries into the Top 20.

Only two conservative bloggers (GrassrootsPA and yours truly) are represented in the Top 10 again this week.

And I know I've arrived because one of those left-wing attack blogs has decided to target me today. (Could the fact that this very same blogger dropped from No. 8 to No. 12 on this week's list have anything to do with it? ) Thanks for the plug anyway. I consider any attack from the far left as a badge of honor.

Here's this week's list from

Pennsylvania's Most Influential Political blogs

1 Suburban Guerrilla
2 Pennsyltucky Politics
4 GrassrootsPA
5 Phillybits
6 Brendan Calling
8, culture, music and more:::
9 The Pennsylvania Progressive
10 PSoTD
11 The Carbolic Smoke Ball
12 Lehigh Valley Ramblings
14 Capitol Ideas
15 Pennsylvania Ave.
16 Attytood
17 Pamela Varkony
19 Mark Rauterkus & Running Mates ponder current events
20 Comments From Left Field

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sell Philadelphia

There's been a lot of talk lately by Gov. Ed Rendell about selling or leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Several state Senators have suggested selling the state liquor store monopoly. There's even been talk of turning the lottery over to private interests, which has happened in other states.

The goal behind all these proposals is to find a fast infusion of cash to feed the ravenous spending habits of Pennsylvania politicians without resorting to the old standby of tax increases.

But we may have overlooked the obvious. There's a sure-fire way to get rid of most of the state's problems in one quick move.

Sell Philadelphia.

The entire city. Just get rid of it. Put it on e-Bay. Put up some billboards. Whatever it takes. Sell it to the highest bidder.

Maybe New Jersey or Delaware need to grow a little. Or maybe Donald Trump wants his own city. Trumpadlephia anyone?

The purchase price isn't important. No reasonable offer will be refused. It's the added benefits of getting rid of the state's biggest basket case that makes this a good deal.

Wwe eliminate the need to pour billions of dollars into the city's failing school system.

We can stop pouring billions into SEPTA, the city's mismanaged and inefficient transit system.

We don't have to build any more stadiums for millionaire owners of the Phillies, Eagles, Sixers or Flyers. All the teams stink, anyway.

Selling Philadelphia makes Pennsylvania a safer place. We no longer have to live with the stigma of having the most dangerous city in America as part of the Keystone State. We don't have to worry about hiring 10,000 more cops or imposing gun control on the rest of the state because guns are so easy to come by in Philadelphia.

Selling Philadelphia also allows us to cut loose about two dozen members of the Pennsylvania Legislature, thus cutting the size of the Legislature overnight.

This would save tens of millions of dollars and we'd be rid of people like John Perzel, Vince Fumo, Dwight Evans and Dennis O'Brien. Believe me, the state would be better off without these Philadelphia politicians.

And best of all, Pennsylvania would never have the likes of Ed Rendell as governor again.

Rendell wouldn't have to pretend he cares about anything outside the Philadelphia city limits anymore. We already know he's "governor of Philadelphia." That's who elected him. We could end the charade and he could concentrate on his beloved city and leave the rest of us alone.

I don't see a downside to selling Philadelphia. Let the bidding begin.

26,000 visitors to Tony Phyrillas

I've been busy the past few days, so busy I failed to notice that my site counter has reached another milestone. I've received 26,000 unique visitors to Tony Phyrllas since the start of the year.

I'm a little surprised at the volume because summer is usually a slow period, especially in politics.

The Pennsylvania Legislature is on vacation until Sept. 17 and the only thing Gov. Rendell appears interested in these days is the start of the Eagles training camp.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who has visited and come back again.

P.S. -- I'm in the process of placing all the Links from this site into categories to make it easier for readers. I've been adding Links to interesting sites so quickly, the list has gotten out of hand. So far, I've separated links to favorite blogs and to blogs about Cyprus. I'll continue to come up with more categories over the next few days.

Know your state motto

This is one of those lists that gets passed around via e-mail. Not sure where it got started, but it's very funny. Enjoy.

Alabama: Hell Yes, We Have Electricity!

Alaska: 11,623 Eskimos Can't Be Wrong!

Arizona: But It's A Dry Heat ...

Arkansas: Literacy Ain't Everything

California: Our Women Have More Plastic Than Your Honda

Colorado: If You Don't Ski, Don't Bother

Connecticut: Like Massachusetts, Only The Kennedy's Don't Own It - Yet

Delaware: We Really Do Like The Chemicals In Our Water

Florida: Ask Us About Our Grandkids

Georgia: We Put The "Fun" In Fundamentalist Extremism

Hawaii: Haka Tiki Mou Sha'ami Leeki Toru (Death To Mainland Scum, But Leave Your Money)

Idaho: More Than Just Potatoes ...Well OK, We're Not, But The Potatoes Sure Are Real Good

Illinois: Please Don't Pronounce the "S"

Indiana: 2 Billion Years Tidal Wave Free

Iowa: We Do "Amazing Things" With Corn!

Kansas: First Of The Rectangle States

Kentucky: Five Million People; Fifteen Last Names

Louisiana: We're Not ALL Drunk Cajun Wackos, But That's Our Tourism Campaign!

Maine: We're Really Cold, But We Have Cheap Lobster

Maryland: If You Can Dream It, We Can Tax It

Massachusetts: Our Taxes Are Lower Than Sweden's (For Most Tax Brackets)

Michigan: First Line Of Defense From The Canadians!

Minnesota: 10,000 Lakes ... And 10,000,000,000,000 Mosquitoes

Mississippi: Come Here And Then You'll Feel Better About Your Own State

Missouri: (Pronounced Missery for a reason!) Your Federal Flood Relief Tax Dollars At Work

Montana: Land Of The Big Sky, The Unabomber, Right-Wing Crazies, And Very Little Else

Nebraska: Ask About Our State Motto Contest

Nevada: Hookers and Poker!

New Hampshire: Go Away And Leave Us Alone

New Jersey: You Want A ##$%##! Motto? I Got Yer ##$%##! Motto Right Here!

New Mexico: Lizards Make Excellent Pets

New York: You Have The Right To Remain Silent, You Have The Right To An Attorney...

North Carolina: Tobacco Is A Vegetable

North Dakota: We Really Are One Of The 50 States!

Ohio: We hate everybody, but especiallly our selves

Oklahoma: Like The Play, Only No Singing

Oregon: Spotted Owl ... It's What's For Dinner

Pennsylvania: No Stopping or Standing on Our Highways ... or (Cook With Coal)

Rhode Island: We're Not REALLY an Island

South Carolina: Remember The Civil War? We Didn't Actually Surrender

South Dakota: Closer Than North Dakota

Tennessee: The Educashun State

Texas: Si' Hablo Ing'les

Utah: Our Jesus Is Better Than Your Jesus

Vermont: Yep

Virginia: Who Says Government Stiffs And Slackjaw Yokels Don't Mix?

Washington: Help! We're Overrun By Nerds And Slackers!

West Virginia: One Big Happy Family... Really!

Wisconsin: Come Cut The Cheese

Wyoming: Where Men Are Men ... And The Sheep Are Scared

Friday, July 27, 2007

Abolish property taxes in Pennsylvania

A guest column I wholeheartedly agree with. The funny thing is that the op-ed piece below was e-mailed to me by people from each end of the state who are pushing different ways to eliminate property taxes. Both the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition, which supports the Commonwealth Plan to abolish school property taxes, and STOP (Stop Taxing Our Properties), which wants all property taxes abolished, are using this article to bolster their cases. Are the members of the Pennsylvania Legislature, which is on vacation until Sept. 17, listening? The No. 1 issue in Pennsylvania is property taxes.

Time to abolish antiquated property tax


Property taxes in Pennsylvania appear locked into a long-term uptrend. In recent years, there have been huge increases in the portion of the property tax that finances county government. County officials have levied these increases to pay for the unfunded mandates imposed by the state government in Harrisburg . The largest share of the property tax funds the public school districts, and virtually nobody foresees a time when the expenditures of those districts will stop rising. These ongoing pressures for additional tax revenues raise the question: Is it politically and economically feasible to continue raising property taxes in the coming years?

Some might look at the results of a recent ballot proposal in Lawrence County and conclude that Pennsylvanians prefer a property tax over other types of taxes, but this conclusion is unwarranted. When offered the opportunity to receive a modest reduction in the public-school portion of their property tax in exchange for a 1 percent increase in their earned income tax, voters in every school district in the county overwhelmingly voted against it. The context here is crucial. Voters were not opposed to property tax relief, but to a package deal that represented an overall tax increase.

We have a political stalemate in Pennsylvania, because Harrisburg has mandated that the only permissible reform to public-school funding must be structured like the Lawrence County proposals. The psychology is all wrong. It's hard for voters to get excited about a proposal that makes an obnoxious, already-high tax just a little less high (i.e., the property tax) at the price of ratcheting up another obnoxious tax -- the income tax -- when the federal/state/local taking of income is already at an uncomfortable level.

If Harrisburg really wants reform, it needs to emulate the boldness of the Michigan government in the 1990s, when it totally scrapped the property tax for school funding, and replaced it with a 2 percent hike in the state sales tax. I suspect that Pennsylvania voters would be far more comfortable with an increase in one type of taxation if it were offset by the complete removal of another type of taxation. If you give Pennsylvania voters the chance to eliminate one part of their tax bill completely, then tax reform has a fighting chance for approval.

The larger, more fundamental problem here is the property tax itself. This form of taxation is totally antiquated, appropriate in America's 19th-century agrarian society, but out of place today.

In the 1800s, when there was no income tax and it was considered none of the government's business how much money anybody made, the property tax served as a proxy for one's income. This made a lot of sense then, because it was logical to assume that the citizen farming 80 acres had a higher income than one farming only 40 acres. Today, though, the homesteads of most Americans are not their source of income, but merely where they live. Why, then, take more money from a citizen with a house of 1,500 square feet than one with 900? One of the elementary principles of prudent taxation is that, in order to avoid harming citizens, taxes should take into consideration the individual's ability to pay. Today, one's ability to pay depends far more on one's income than on the size of one's house. To continue taxing people as if their house were generating their income is absurd.

An additional fault of the property tax is that it can jeopardize home ownership. On the surface, it appears that once a person has paid off the mortgage on his house, then he owns it free and clear, but this is not so. If the homeowner falls on hard times and can't pay his property taxes, the sheriff comes and confiscates the house.

Under the present system, a person doesn't really "own" his home completely, but in effect rents it from the local government which permits him to keep it only so long as the "owner" continues to pay taxes on it. We have heard of senior citizens -- wonderful, law-abiding citizens who worked hard for decades to buy their own home -- having to sell their home because they couldn't afford the taxes. This is abominable. And how many of America's homeless persons became so because they fell on hard times and were evicted from their homes because they couldn't pay their property tax?

In an era when it has been the federal government's policy to facilitate home ownership as a central feature of "the American dream," it is anomalous for local governments to make it difficult for some citizens to keep their homes. The property tax is outmoded, unfair, irrational and destructive. It's time to abolish it.

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, a private liberal arts college in Grove City, Pa.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Two-story Pennsylvania Outhouse

I get a lot of feedback from readers, but this is a first.

A gentleman by the name of Al Kutz, a custom builder of homes in the Pottstown area, recently stopped by The Mercury to say how much he enjoyed reading my columns in the paper, especially the ones about the sad state of affairs of our state government.

Mr. Kutz also brought several gifts he hand-crafted himself from wood. The one that stood out was a 2-foot replica of the "Two-Story Outhouse" pictured here.

It wasn't just a three-dimensional reproduction of the "Two-Story Outhouse" that sums up what politicians do to taxpayers, especially in Pennsylvania, home of late-night pay raises, perks and lifetime pensions.

Mr. Kutz's handiwork is actually a working birdhouse he fashioned from wood. Mr. Kutz also labeled the two floors so we know exactly where politicians relieve themselves and what awaits Pennsylvania's beleaguered taxpayers.

The Outhouse/Birdhouse was the talk of the newsroom for days.

Many thanks to Al Kutz for using his talents to express a political view shared by so many Pennsylvania residents. Just remember folks. There's 12 million of us and only a few hundred of them. We can win this thing. We can take back our state government from the political aristocracy.

Welcome to a fellow conservative blogger

I'd like to welcome a new member to the blogosphere. And he happens to be a fellow conservative from Berks County.

John Fielding, a Mount Penn attorney and school board member, has launched a new blog called Berks Conservative at

Fielding will use the site to offer "Musings from the conservative side of Berks County politics."

Fielding is well known in Republican circles in Berks County, having run previously for county office. He is currently a candidate for Berks County Recorder of Deeds. Fielding has set up a separate site to chronicle his campaign for Recorder of Deeds. You can find John Fielding for Recorder of Deeds at

This guy just won't stop. Fielding has also launched the Parents And Taxpayers United blog "dedicated to electing taxpayer-friendly candidates in Antietam School District" at

Fielding is a longtime proponent of property tax reform and has repeatedly voted against property tax hikes and unreasonable spending while serving on the Antietam School Board.

Finally, Fielding has launched a blog called Antietam Tax Watch at The site is dedicated to "Fighting for the Taxpayers of Antietam"

Welcome John to the wonderful world of blogging, and thank you for linking to my site from your new Berks Conservative blog.

How Democrats Fight A War

Top Pennsylvania think tank upgrades Web site

Ed Rendell may think it's run by a bunch of imbeciles, but I say The Commonwealth Foundation is the leading public policy think tank in Pennsylvania.

The independent, non-profit research and educational institute has been providing useful information for years. It's one of the few places you can find well-researched, thought-provoking analysis to counter the political spin that comes out of Harrisburg,

I was pleased to learn today that The Commonwealth Foundation has upgraded its Web site.

I've been visiting the site several times a week and it was a bit stodgy. Now, it's one of the coolest Web sites around.

Here's the press release sent out today by the Commonwealth Foundation.

Pennsylvania's free-market think tank re-launches Web site and blog

HARRISBURG, PA — Today, the Commonwealth Foundation unveiled its re-designed Web site and blog at

Visitors will now be able to subscribe to an RSS feed in order to immediately receive the latest updates from the Commonwealth Foundation. In addition, the Foundation's PolicyBlog is now featured on the home page.

The new Web site will provide access to more video presentations to allow citizens to "attend" Foundation events via the Internet. The new "CF-TV on YouTube" will provide visitors with the opportunity to view such upcoming forums as the "Milton Friedman Legacy Luncheon and Roundtable" on Tuesday, July 31.

"Our new Web site is more user friendly and searchable for the media, policymakers, and our members who are seeking the information they need on important economic policy issues facing our Commonwealth," said Matthew J. Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation. "Now, with our video presentations we can bring state government to every citizen's computer screen across our Commonwealth with the click of a mouse."

As in any Web site re-design and transition, the Commonwealth Foundation is asking visitors to help identify any glitches that need attention.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Two Pennsylvanias

I don't know about John Edward's "two Americas" scenario, but I do believe that there are "two Pennsylvanias."

One is for Ed Rendell's country club set, the well-heeled political aristocracy and corporate types who bankroll them. Then there's the rest of us. The ones struggling to pay the bills so Ed Rendell and his cronies can live the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Why is everything so expensive in Pennsylvania?

I just got my school property tax bill. My taxes are going up 5.5 percent this year. They've gone up at least 5 percent every year Ed Rendell has been in office. I can't afford to pay my taxes any more. Where is the property tax relief Rendell promised?

Democrats took control of the county commissioners' board in Berks County and raised property taxes by 34 percent.

Now I have to pay more in tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike so Ed Rendell's rich suburban friends can commute to their well-paying jobs in Philly at a subsidized rate. Where is my subsidy, governor? When do I get a break?

Why has everything gotten so expensive since Rendell took office? I can't afford to live in Ed Rendell's Pennsylvania anymore. Here's another example from today's headlines about how expensive it is to live in Pennsylvania: Pa. ranks 5th in highest tuition for public colleges

There's also an interesting story at about the "brain drain" many states, including Pennsylvania, are experiencing. If a student is able to finance his or her education in Pennsylvania, that graduate will most likely leave the state for better opportunities elsewhere. That leaves less educated, less skilled and older people behind. Those are the ones who get stuck paying all the taxes that Ed Rendell and his Democratic Party doormats in the Legislature keep passing on to the rest of us.

States work to plug 'brain drain'
By Pauline Vu, Staff Writer
States struggling to stop “brain drain,” the flight of young, educated people from their workforce, aren’t sure yet whether the solution is to offer financial incentives so bright students will stay or create jobs so they will come. Read More

And if you really want to get mad at how indifferent Rendell and Pennsylvania lawmakers are toward the working stiffs in this state, check out, which offers the following analysis of budget shenanigans. Here's the highligts from a DemocracyRisingPA press release:

Budget Outrages & Opportunities
Outrages. 1. Our lawmakers and governor created a new health insurance program for retired senior judges. These are judges who are over the mandatory retirement age (70) and who get appointed to hear certain cases. To receive this benefit they must work 75 days a year.

Why are citizens who work full-time jobs and often don't have health insurance for themselves and their families buying health insurance for retired judges who work as little as 75 days a year? Why was there no public discussion of this? Whom is this intended to benefit? At what cost?

2. When lawmakers and the governor enacted the Gambling Fund Capital Budget, they didn't bother to put the total cost in the law. Go to House Bill 1631, Printer's Number 2345 . On page 38, line 15 there's a blank where the total amount should be. They literally enacted a blank check for withdrawals from the fund. Did your lawmakers know that?

The vote in the House was 102-100. If only one yes vote had been a "no" vote, it would not have passed. How did your Representative vote?

The vote in the Senate was 31-17. How did your Senator vote?

$360 million in Pork
Marc Levy of Associated Press's Harrisburg Bureau has encountered a stone wall from all four caucuses of the legislature. He's asking a simple question: What are you going to do with the money?

The money is $360 million earmarked for lawmakers to pass out to pet projects in their districts. Officially, the money is for "community revitalization." Popularly, the money is called WAMs, an acronym for "walking around money."

Last year, an election year, it was $500 million. Next year, who knows? But with that kind of taxpayer money being spent, it seems reasonable to ask what projects are being funded at a cost of $360 million. Surely there's a list of projects s omewhere that add up to $360 million.

Here's what our legislative leadership told Levy:

  • "There's no list." Tom Andrews, spokesman for House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene.
  • "There isn't a specific list." Steve Miskin, spokesman for Minority Leader Sam Smith, R-Jefferson.
  • "There's a lot of give and take, a lot of addition and subtraction in the budget. The line items are there for everyone to see and those reflect the group determination onwhat the priorities are." David Atkinson, spokesman for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Gibson Armstrong, R-Lancaster.
  • Sen. Gerald LaValle, D-Beaver, would not return Levy's calls. He is the Democrat chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lindsay Lohan: 'I Know Who Killed My Career'

I find it amusing that Lindsay Lohan's new film, and possibly her last film, is titled, "I Know Who Killed Me"

The producers may want to quickly change the title to "The Lindsay Lohan Story: I Know Who Killed My Career" before its release July 27.

As we saw with the public backlash in the Paris Hilton episode, people have had it with stupid rich girls who thumb their nose at the law. Lohan was waiting a court date on a previous DUI arrest and was wearing a monitor to prevent her from drinking when she was stopped for DUI.

What happened to the little girl we fell in love with in Disney's "The Parent Trap"? That's 21-year-old Lindsay Lohan on the right in a booking mug shot released by the Santa Monica Police Department.

In case you haven't heard, Lindsay Lohan, fresh out of rehab and still facing a DUI charge, was arrested again early Tuesday on suspicion of drunken driving and cocaine possession.

I guess she didn't learn a thing from Paris Hilton's recent trouble with the law and her brief stay behind bars.

Maybe Lohan confused her real life with her latest movie role. She just wrapped up filming the psychological thriller, "I Know Who Killed Me," about a high school student, Aubrey Fleming, who disappears one night and is found two weeks later unconscious in the middle of the woods. Was she abducted and tortured by a sadistic serial killer? The traumatized girl insists that she is not who they think she is and that the real Aubrey Fleming is still in mortal danger.

Who was the crazed woman in the SUV? Was it Lohan's evil twin?

Maybe it wasn't special effects in "The Parent Trap" that allowed Lohan to play two roles. Maybe there are two Lindsay Lohans.

Police in Santa Monica, Calif., arrested Lohan after receiving a 911 call from a woman who claimed Lohan's SUV was chasing her. The caller turned out to be the mother of Lohan's assistant, who had just quit working for Ms. Lohan. Maybe Lindsay just wanted Mom to talk her daughter into going back to work for Lindsay. Or maybe Lindsay wanted revenge against the family? Who knows?

Less than two weeks out of rehab, with another drunken-driving case pending, Lohan had a blood-alcohol level of between 0.12 and 0.13 percent when police found her about 1:30 a.m., Sgt. Shane Talbot told The Associated Press. (California's legal limit for DUI is 0.08 percent).

Lohan attorney Blair Berk said her client had relapsed and was again receiving medical care.

"Addiction is a terrible and vicious disease," Berk said in a statement Tuesday.

Stupidity is an even worse condition.

I don't know about you but I'm sick of celebrity rehab stories. If these people want help, they can get the best treatment available. Unfortunately, we live in a society that rewards bad behavior. How can Linsday get her name back in the news, especially when her sisters in sluttiness, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, are getting all the coverage? Get drunk and chase somebody in an SUV.

Here's more info from The Associated Press:

After a sobriety test, the 21-year-old movie star was booked on suspicion of two misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence and driving on a suspended license and two felony charges of possession of cocaine and transport of a narcotic, authorities said.

During a pre-booking search, police found cocaine in one of Lohan's pants pockets, Talbot said.
Several hours later, Lohan was released on $25,000 bail.

Last week, Lohan turned herself in to Beverly Hills police to face charges of driving under the influence in connection with a Memorial Day weekend hit-and-run crash.

Lohan lost control of her 2005 Mercedes SL-65 convertible and crashed into a curb and shrubs on Sunset Boulevard, police said. Lohan's blood-alcohol level at the time of that crash was above the legal limit, authorities said, but they wouldn't disclose how high it was. She also faces a misdemeanor charge of hit and run in that case.

A court date was scheduled in that case for Aug. 24.

Lohan left Promises Malibu Alcohol and Drug Rehab Treatment Facility on July 13, after a stay of more than six weeks.

When she left, publicist Leslie Sloan Zelnik said Lohan would voluntarily wear an alcohol-monitoring bracelet.

"In part she is wearing the bracelet so there are no questions about her sobriety if she chooses to go dancing or dining in a place where alcohol is served," Zelnik said in a statement at the time.

Padilla said he wasn't sure if Lohan — who had also checked into rehab for substance abuse treatment in January — was wearing it when she was stopped early Tuesday.

Since her release, Berk said, Lohan had been tested daily in order to support her sobriety.

"Throughout this period, I have received timely and accurate reports from the testing companies," Berk said. "Unfortunately, late yesterday I was informed that Lindsay had relapsed. The bracelet has now been removed. She is safe, out of custody and presently receiving medical care."

Monday, July 23, 2007

The worst legislators in Pennsylvania

Southeastern Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of being home to many of the worst legislators in the state.

Don't just take my word for it. Two nonpartisan government watchdog groups released reports ranking all 253 members of the Pennsylvania Legislature on a variety of issues. The PACleanSweep study reviewed voting records to determine which legislators served their constituents well or hurt their citizens by raising taxes or approving salary increases and other perks for themselves.

A study by DemocracyRisingPA evaluated how often legislators voted with party leaders, showing a lack of independence and the willingness to be influenced by career politicians once they get to Harrisburg.

The worst lawmakers in the state represent parts of Philadelphia, according to PACleanSweep. The bottom of the barrel is Democrat is Rep. Mark Cohen. The worst Republican is Rep. John Perzel. Fourteen other Philadelphia lawmakers finished in the bottom 20.

Several lawmakers from Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties fared poorly in both rankings. State Sen. Michael A. O'Pake and state Reps. David Argall, Tom Caltagirone and Dante Santoni Jr. Republican Argall and Caltagirone and Santoni, both Democrats, were among the 20 lowest-ranked legislators on the GrassrootsPA survey of all 203 House members.

O'Pake, a Democrat, was among the 10 lowest-ranked senators in the 50-member Senate. Sen. James Rhoades, a Republican whose district comes partly into Berks, also ranked low.

Two other Berks Republicans, Reps. Sam Rohrer and Douglas Reichley, scored well in the evaluation. The rest of the Berks County delegation was too new to qualify for the rankings.

The assessment reaches back to cover major policy initiatives enacted by the state since 1998, including stadium funding and legislative pension increase bills under the Ridge administration, according to PACleanSweep.

Also receiving attention are major initiatives advanced on Ed Rendell's watch including a 10 percent increase in the state’s personal income tax rate in 2003, the slots bill and the infamous pay raise with its accompanying unvouchered expenses provisions, the organization says.

PaCleanSweep also looked at how lawmakers voted on property tax relief issues: Lawmakers' positions on three failed attempts to partially solve the continuing property tax problem over the past 10 years are taken into account, as is length of service beyond 10 years, to reflect the preference by 75 percent of Pennsylvanians for legislative term limits, according to the rankings.

In Chester County, state Rep. Art Hershey earned a low score, while Reps. Curt Schroder, Carole Rubley, Chris Ross and Tim Hennessey, scored well.

In Montgomery County, state Reps. Robert Godshall, Daylin Leach and Lawrence Curry scored low while Reps. Tom Quigley, Kate Harper, Mike Gerber and Josh Shapiro scored high.

State Sen. John Rafferty, whose district stretches across Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties, scored high. State Sen. Rob Wonderling also did well in the rankings.

The full report card can be viewed at the PaCleanSweep Web site,

Freshman lawmakers have had only six months in office, but a pattern has emerged involving several of the so-called reformers from southeastern Pennsylvania.

The DemocracyRisingPA analysis of voting records during the first six months of 2007 showed Rep. David Kessler of Berks County voted 96 percent of the time with party leaders. Rep. Tim Seip, whose district comes into Berks, and Rep. Rick Taylor of Montgomery County voted 94 percent of the time with party leaders. Rep. Barbara McIlvaine Smith of Chester County voted 93 percent of the time with party bosses. Rep. Jay Moyer of Montgomery County voted 86 percent of the time with party bosses. Rep. Duane Milne of Chester County and Rep. Mike Vereb of Montgomery County voted 81 percent of the time with party leaders.

The full list of how closely lawmakers vote with party leadership is available at

Each of the freshman lawmakers mentioned above also voted to pass the massive $27.5 billion budget proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell. The $1.2 billion increase in state spending is a far cry from the fiscal restraint the freshman lawmakers promised when they ran in 2006.

Voters began the process of cleaning up the mess in Harrisburg last year when one in five legislators were forced into retirement or voted out of office. The work isn’t finished. More self-serving politicians must be swept from office in 2008.

Legislature leaves work undone

Gov. Ed Rendell and members of the Pennsylvania Legislature pulled a few muscles patting themselves on the back after the recent budget agreement was reached. The Legislature is now on its traditional 10-week summer vacation, but Pennsylvania lawmakers left plenty of important work undone. At the top of the list is property tax relief, a promise legislators have failed to keep for 30 years (not to mention the five years of empty rhetoric by Rendell.) If you don't read The Mercury, you missed a terrific editorial on another disappointing session by the most expensive legislature in the United States. Here's today's editorial in its entirety. — Tony

Legislature leaves for summer with work half finished

Anyone sighing with relief as Pennsylvania legislators last week approved a budget —16 days late — should catch their breath.

The final budget left a lot to be desired.

First and of course most important to residents of this area, the folks in Harrisburg left for the summer without addressing the critical need for property tax reform.

Not that we expected anything, but the failure again this year to deal with the most pressing issue facing Pennsylvanians cannot go by unnoticed.

This year was the year of reform, legislators like to remind constituents, but what does it matter if the business being conducted more openly still fails to include the tough job, like reforming the system of funding public schools?

Besides a promise from state Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-128th, to introduce a new version of the Commonwealth Caucus plan, there wasn’t even a mention of property tax reform in the final weeks of the session.

The budget that was adopted also fails to include money for hazardous sites cleanup, an issue that will have a detrimental impact on just about every town or township in this once-industrial region.

Thanks to a tough bipartisan stand by area representatives, the Senate attempt to raid parks and libraries grants failed. But when the House saved one part of the flawed plan, it fell short on the other part.

State Rep. Kate Harper, R-61st Dist., said the coalition succeeded in stopping the raid on Keystone grants. But, she added, "the bad news is there is no money in the general fund for HSCA, even though we have $225 million in an unappropriated surplus and $80 million in tax credits for filmmaking in Pennsylvania."

HSCA is the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act which the Senate had proposed to fund by shifting money from the Keystone grants program.

"We can subsidize filmmakers, but we can’t find the money to clean up pollution in our own back yards," Harper said.

In addition to the $75 million Film Tax Credit lawmakers inserted into the budget at the request of Gov. Ed Rendell, the 2007-08 budget contains hundreds of millions of dollars in pork spending disguised as "Walking Around Money" or WAMs, which the governor and legislative leaders can spend as they wish.

The WAM funds are hidden under budget items such as "opportunity grant program," "customized job training," "community conservation and employment" and "community action team."

The total for all WAMs is more than $250 million.

Other questionable spending, outlined in H.B. 1631, includes $1.5 billion in economic development funds to build a new hockey arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins and expand the Philadelphia Convention Center.

Meanwhile, this is a budget without a penny set aside to deal with TCE contamination in more than 100 wells in Upper Pottsgrove or to clean up air or groundwater pollution in Bally, Douglassville, or Lower Providence.

Are making movies and building convention centers the most pressing needs in the state right now?

Ask Pennsylvania taxpayers if they'd like to have the $1.5 billion back as tax cuts or if they want it spent to subsidize corporate projects.

Ask voters if they want to applaud the Legislature for a job that only got half the work done.

Like 2006 and 2005, summer comes and goes with the same refrain: Better luck next year.

Copyright 2007, The Mercury

Is this any way to pass a state budget?

Common Cause/Pennsylvania issued the following press release today urging lawmakers to clean up the process of passing a state budget. Except for Gov. Ed Rendell and the doormat Democrats in the state Legislature, nobody is happy with how Pennsylvania decides how to spend $60 billion each year. Read on:

HARRISBURG - Government reform groups representing the entire political spectrum converged at the state capitol Monday insisting that state officials improve the process for developing and passing the annual state budget. Noting that timely passage of the state budget has become a rare occurrence, Common Cause/PA Vice Chair for Issues, Sandra Christianson, called the current budget process "a sheer disaster" and carries the potential to unnecessarily inflict havoc throughout the state.

The organization reissued its proposal to require a disciplined methodical system for creating, reviewing, modifying and voting on the annual general appropriations bill. The citizens' lobby proposal calls for enacting a statute that would establish :

  • a systemic process for creating and passing the annual state budget;
  • a mandatory timetable for essential budgeting activities;
  • penalties for failing to meet required essential deadlines;
  • automatic continuation of the prior year’s budget if the June 3oth enactment deadline is missed; coupled with salary forfeiture for the Governor, cabinet secretaries and all legislators until a new budget is enacted; and
  • requirements that budget deliberations be subject to the Sunshine law.

Christianson stated that this proposal, which the organization originally presented in 1991, places the burdens and penalties for failure to achieve timely enactment of the state budget on the shoulders of the responsible elected officials instead of on innocent taxpayers, state workers and citizens. She also noted that had the Common Cause proposed system been in place this year, there would have been no furloughs of state workers, parks and museums would have remained open, road maintenance work would have continued uninterrupted, and other vital services such as those that elderly and disabled people depend on would not have been threatened.

"The time for excuses and finger-pointing is over. The time for fixing the budget process is long-overdue. It is time to stop holding the people of Pennsylvania hostage over political gain and gamesmanship. It is time to impose discipline on the budget process, and to penalize the officials who ignore the law and their responsibilities instead of the law-abiding taxpayers and citizens of this Commonwealth," Christianson said.

The reform group plans to deliver copies of the reformed budget process to legislative leaders today. Common Cause/PA officials indicated they believe the environment may now be right for the legislature to tackle this problem which annually afflicts Pennsylvania.

Murder doesn't take a vacation

There were six more murders in Philadelphia over the weekend. Murder is so routine that the city's biggest newspaper doesn't even bother to write about many of the killings.

The Philadelphia murder rate now stands at 233 deaths on the 204th day of 2007.

Thirty-seven people were shot in Philadelphia from Friday through Sunday. Why is Gov. Rendell more concerned about subsidizing train rides for rich suburbanites than he is with the carnage in Philadelpia?

Three people were gunned down in a crowded bar. Nobody saw a thing. Police are helpless to stop the violence. Nobody feels safe in Philadelphia.

More than 2,000 people have been shot in Philadelphia this year. Keep that number in mind the next time your favorite liberal newspapers runs the death toll from Iraq.

That's more than one murder a day for the City of Brotherly Love, which is now ranked as the most dangerous big city in the United States. The city's murder rate is running far ahead of last year, when 406 people were murdered.

Philadelphia didn't become the murder capital of the U.S. overnight. But the murder rate has been rising for years. Politicians, from the incompetent mayor of Philadelphia, John F. Street, to the indifferent governor of Pennsylvania, have been unable or unwilling to address the murders in the past five years.

Gov. Edward G. Rendell, former two-term mayor of Philadelphia, doesn't appear to be too concerned with the death toll in Philadelphia. His only answer to the problem is to back a gun control measure that would restrict gun sales in the city to one per month.

Here's a news flash for the governor. The guns being used to kill so many Philadelphia residents are not being purchased from gun stores. The Legislature tabled the proposed bill and also failed to take action on another measure to hired 10,000 new police officers in Pennsylvania, many of whom would be assigned to Philadelphia. The Legislature is now on a 10-week summer vacation.

The governor has found money to subsidize inefficient mass transit systems, money to build a hockey rink for the Pittsburgh Penguins and money to expand the convention center in Philadelphia, but has done nothing in five years to stem the violence in Philadelphia.

There are 161 days left in the year. Do the math. At the very least, 161 more people will die a violent death in Philadelphia before the end of the year.

Phyrillas jumps to No. 5 on influence rankings

If it's Monday, the new rankings from Blog Net News are in.

Tony Phyrillas has jumped five spots to No. 5 on this week's list of Most Influential Political Blogs in Pennsylvania.

This blog has been in the Top 20 each week since the rankings began five weeks ago.

No. 5 is the highest position for Tony Phyrillas and it's the third week this blog has been in the Top 10.

And I continue to have the highest ranked blog among the readers of

As usual, the left dominates the Top 20 rankings, which makes you wonder why liberals are pushing so hard for the return of the "fairness doctrine." Why can't they just compete in the marketplace of ideas without trying to re-write the rules to gain the upper hand?

Tony Phyrillas is one of only two conservative blogs in the Top 10. GrassrootsPA continued to lead the pack at No. 3. (And watch out for Policy Blog from the Commonwealth Foundation. It's moving up fast.)

Here's this week's Top 20 Pennsylvania's Most Influential Political blogs

1 Phillybits
2 Brendan Calling
3 GrassrootsPA
4 Suburban Guerrilla
6 The Carbolic Smoke Ball
7 The Pennsylvania Progressive
8 Lehigh Valley Ramblings
9, culture, music and more:::
10 PSoTD
12 Pittsburgh Hoagie: All meat no filler
13 Pennsyltucky Politics
14 Mark Rauterkus & Running Mates ponder current events
15 Pennsylvania Ave.
16 Capitol Ideas
17 Save The GOP
19 Attytood
20 2 Political Junkies

Friday, July 20, 2007

U.S. taxpayers fund occupation of Cyprus

"We are all prisoners of knowledge. To know how Cyprus was betrayed, and to have studied the record of that betrayal, is to make oneself unhappy and to spoil, perhaps for ever, one's pleasure for visiting one of the world's most enchanting islands. Nothing will ever restore the looted treasures, the bereaved families, the plundered villages and the groves and hillsides scalded with napalm. Nor will anything mitigate the record of the callous and crude politicians who regarded Cyprus as something on which to scribble their inane and conceited designs. But fatalism would be the worst betrayal of all. The acceptance, the legitimization of what was done — those things must be repudiated. Such a refusal has a value beyond Cyprus in showing that acquiescence in injustice is not 'realism.' Once the injustice has been set down and described, and called by its right name, acquiescence in it becomes impossible. That is why one writes about Cyprus in sorrow but more — much more — in anger."

— Christopher Hitchens,
author of "Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger"

I disagree often with British-born journalist Christopher Hitchens, who leans to the left, but have to admire a man who keeps the Cyprus issue in the forefront. Hitchens has written extensively about the 1974 invasion of Cyprus by Turkey and the refusal of Turkey to remove its troops from the island despite condemnation from every world organization, including the United Nations.

In a powerful essay titled, "Talking Turkey: An ally we're better off without," Hitchens states: "If any regime in the world has collected a bigger sheaf of resolutions condemning its international behavior than the Iraqi one, it must be the Turks (followed perhaps by the Israelis)."

He continues: "Since 1974, Turkey has patrolled a line of forcible partition drawn by its own troops — the first occupation of the territory of another European state since 1945. It has expelled almost one-third of the original Greek inhabitants and further violated international law by importing settlers and colonists from the Anatolian mainland. It has been condemned for murder, rape, and theft by innumerable European court rulings. So abysmal are conditions in its sweatshop colony in northern Cyprus, policed by the notorious thug and proxy Rauf Denktash, that the majority of Turkish Cypriots have recently joined vast demonstrations calling for an end to his rule and a federal brotherhood with their Greek co-citizens. Turkey could not hang on to Cyprus for a day without vast tranches of American military aid that shield it from the real cost of the annexation. This aid should be cut off without any further shameful delay: It makes the United States an accomplice in a gross violation of international law and human rights."

Hitchens, who writes for Vanity Fair magazine and has published several best-selling books, continues to demand justice for Cyprus. Everyone who believes in the rule of law should join in the effort to force Turkey to leave Cyprus.

This month marks the 33rd anniversary of the brutal Turkish invasion of Cyprus, a tiny island-nation (about the size of the state of Connecticut) in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The invasion followed an abortive coup against the president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, by the military junta that controlled Greece at the time. Turkey launched its invasion of Cyprus "to restore constitutional order."

Thirty-three years later, nearly 40 percent of the island remains under Turkish occupation.

The United Nations has passed more than 60 resolutions demanding an end to the Turkish occupation of Cyprus, but the Turks have ignored all of them.

Every American administration since 1974 has looked the other way as Turkey thumbs its nose at the U.S. and the U.N. Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars pour into Turkey every year as the powerful Turkish lobby continues to cajole Congress into writing a blank check for the rogue Muslim nation.

According to Hitchens, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger played a key role in the invasion of Cyprus to keep Turkey happy during the Cold War, when the U.S. viewed Turkey as an important listening post because of Turkey's strategic location near the Soviet Union.

Turkey is no friend of the United States. The reason so many Americans have died in Iraq is because Turkey refused to allow the U.S. to fly over its air space to invade Iraq from the north in 2003, as U.S. military planners requested. Despite George W. Bush's efforts to bribe Turkey into allowing U.S. forces to invade from the north, Turkey refused to cooperate.

This allowed tens of thousands of Saddam loyalists to flee north and hide until the initial invasion was complete. These very same militants are now waging a guerrilla war against the U.S. For that we have Turkey to thank.

For a more detailed look at the Turkish invasion and human rights violations under the occupation, I recommend visiting a number of informative Web sites:: or or

I also urge you to contact your Congressman and demand an end to all U.S. aid to Turkey until it removes its 40,000 occupation troops from Cyprus. After all, it's your tax dollars funding the illegal occupation.

Kudos to Mike Folmer, John Eichelberger

Kudos to state Sens. Mike Folmer and John Eichelberger for having the courage to vote against Ed Rendell's bloated 2007-08 budget. Folmer and Eichelberger were the only members of the Senate to cast "No" votes on the $27.5 billion spending plan.

Despite all the talk by Senate Republicans, who contol the chamber by a solid 29-21 margin, of standing up to Rendell and his "Spend it like there's no tomorrow" attitude, only Folmer and Eichelberger stood up when it counted.

Folmer and Eichelberger ran on a reform platform in 2006 and promised to hold the line on taxes and spending. (Folmer and Eichelberger also have the distinction of knocking off Senate giants David "Chip" Brightbill and Bob Jubelirer, phony Republicans who helped usher in the massive tax-and-spend Rendell era from 2003-2006.)

Folmer and Eichelberger stuck to their guns while the rest of the GOP Caucus waived the white flag of surrender under pressure by Gen. Ed Spendell.

You have to wonder what sort of backroom deals were made by Rendell to get 27 Repulicans to vote for his outrageous budget.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Dimitri Vasilleros has a terrific column today on Folmer and Eichelberger.

You can read it at:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

John Edward's Magical Poverty Tour

What a perfect way to end the Magical Poverty Tour.

John Edwards, multimillionaire trial lawyer, just finished his eight-state excursion to find poor people and all he got for his troubles is a tongue-lashing from Barack Obama, who claims he's the real candidate of the poor.

This is almost as good as the Cindy Sheehan-Nancy Pelosi cat fight brewing in California.

Aren't there enough poor people to go around for the Democrats?

Edwards, a true man of the people (if you're Donald Trump or Paris Hilton), got down and dirty this past week. He spent a lot of time with people he normally wouldn't give the time of day to. Hey, staging photo opportunities with poor people is hard work.

His motivation? To remind us that there are poor people living in these United States, Edwards says.

His real motivation? To jump-start his sagging presidential hopes.

The only time Edwards gets any attention is when he's getting a $400 haircut or his wife is griping about Ann Coulter. Otherwise, Edwards is closer to the bottom feeder candidates (Dennis Kucinich, Joseph Biden, Christopher Dodd, Bill Richardson) than he is to front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

So what better way to get some publicity than to launch the Magical Poverty Tour? Roll up ... for the Magical Poverty Tour ...

The rich are different than you and me. No matter how much they pretend to sympathize with working Americans, in the end, they get back into their in their limousines and drive back to their mansions.

John Edwards is a very rich man. He lives in a big house. Let me rephrase that. He lives in a garish 28,000-square-foot mansion in North Carolina. That's bigger than many shopping centers. The home or mansion or compound, whatever you want to call it, is reportedly worth $6 million.

Chris Taylor, regional press secretary for the Republican National Committee, said the poverty tour highlights Edwards' hypocrisy.

"It's difficult to relate to the homeless when you reside in a 28,000-square-foot mansion," Taylor said. "This is a guy who has taken fees for speaking about the poor in the past."

Even people with humble beginnings, like Edwards and Obama, appear to have lost touch with the everyday lives of Americans once they've struck it rich.

Does anybody this side of Bill Gates need to live in a 28,000-square-foot house? That's 27,000 more square feet of living space than the homes of most Americans.

Edwards is the epitome of liberal hypocrisy. He pretends to care about poor people, but lives in opulence. This is the scam Democrats have been running since Lyndon Johnson unveiled his "Great Society" and declared war on poverty. Democrats care about the poor every four years when they need votes, then they forget about them.

One of Edwards's neighbors in Chapel Hill, N.C., told a newspaper that Edwards has never bothered to say "hello" to the locals while his limo makes its way up the long driveway of his 102-acre estate, which includes a private gym, pool, a basketball court and racquetball court.

Edwards, who is worth $70 million, is correct in saying there are "two Americas." He's living in one and the rest of us are living in the other.

(Cartoon above by Michael Ramirez)

Another failing grade for Pennsylvania

A week doesn't go by when Pennsylvania doesn't receive failing marks from government watchdog organizations.

The latest black mark on Ed Rendell's report card is a big red "F" grade from The Center for Public Integrity on Pennsylvania's financial disclosure laws.

How much do we know about Gov. Rendell's financial holdings? Not enough, according to to The Center for Public Integrity.

And the Rendell administration is not exactly the poster child for ethical conduct. (His insurance commissioner just took a job with the insurance industry; his DEP secretary provides millions in grants to a company where her husband works; and we know about Rendell's moonlighting as a football commentator for Comcast, which has received millions in taxpayer dollars).

Pennsylvania is not alone in keeping financial information from the public. The Keystone State was one of 21 states that received failing grades for making information about their governors' private financial interests available to the public.

For all the talk of reforming state government, only 1 new law promoting more open government has been enacted by the state Legislature since the July 2005 pay raise.

Elected officials in Pennsylvania are required to submit a one-page summary of their financial interests. That's it. A one-page summary. By comparison, some states require politicians to fill out 20 pages about their financial ties.

Pennsylvania residents need to know more about where politicians get their money and what they own. Taxpayers also need to know about potential conflicts involving the spouses of elected officials.

The full report by the Center for Public Integrity report can be found online at

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Schwank exit a blow for Berks Democrats

Judy Schwank is arguably the most popular political figure in Berks County. She's won election twice to the Berks County Board of Commissioners with increasing margins and looked like a shoo-in to win a third term this November.

The current chairwoman of the commissioners' board, Schwank shocked the Berks County political community Wednesday by announcing she is dropping out of the race to take a job as president and CEO of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, a liberal advocacy group in Philadelphia.

Schwank's departure is a death blow to the Berks County Democratic Party.

Not only do they lose their top vote-getter, one who attracted support from both Democrats and Republicans, but without Schwank on the November ballot, expect the Democrats to lose majority control of the commissioners' board.

It was already going to be tough for Democrats to keep control of the three-member board. Schwank and fellow Democratic Commissioner Tom Gajewski pushed through an unpopular 34-percent property tax increase a couple of years ago and this would have been their turn to face angry Berks County voters. County spending has grown tremendously under Democratic control of the commissioners' board.

I suspect the prospect of losing majority control of the board weighed heavily in Schwank's decision to drop out. Money might also have been a consideration. Although the Berks County commissioners are the highest paid in Pennsylvania, I'm sure Schwank will be upgrading her pay scale as president and CEO of 10,000 Friends, which has an annual budget of $2 million.

Republicans Mark Scott and Christian Leinbach are popping the champagne corks on opposite sides of Berks County today. Scott and Leinbach were expected to finish right behind Schwank in the November election, giving Republicans control of the commissioners' board.

With Schwank out of the picture, Scott and Leinbach are favorites to bring GOP control back to the board. Even sad-sack Democratic Commissioner Tom Gajewski is happy because he figured to be the odd-man out in the four-way race for three open seats.

Schwank's departure opens the door for Gajewski, who is disliked by pretty much everyone involved with Berks County government. Gajewski still has the advantage of incumbency and name recognition, but without Schwank's coattails, Gajewski will struggle to win the third seat on the board in November.

Many Democrats were ready to jump ship and support Leinbach just to get rid of Gajewski. Democrats now have the unpleasant task of having Gajewski lead their ticket in November.

And who will most likely be appointed to take Schwank's spot on the ballott? Look for one of the candidates who fell short in the primary. Kevin S. Barnhardt finished third in the May Democratic primary (behind Schwank and Gajewski) with 8,214 votes. David J. Batdorf collected 6,904 votes. That's way behind the 14,608 votes Schwank received in the primary.

Schwank didn't plan to run as a team with Gajewski and I doubt either Barnhardt or Batdorf will want to be closely associated with Gajewski, who has burned too many bridges over the past four years.

Schwank was elected to the Berks County Board of Commissioners in 1999 and re-elected in 2003. Prior to that, she served more than 18 years with the Penn State Cooperative Extension service, where she made a lot of friends in the Berks County agricultural community.

25,000 Tony Phyrillas fans can't be wrong

Two big milestones in Southeastern Pennsylvania this week.

The Philadelphia Phillies lost their 10,000th game in franchise history ...

And Tony Phyrillas (the blog) recorded 25,000 unique visitors in the past eight months.

Total page views have exceeded 30,000 since I started keeping track on Dec. 1, 2006.

So thanks to everyone for making this site a stop in your daily trek through the blogosphere.

And by the way, I've been a die-hard Phillies fan since 1972 so I've seen more than my share of those loses. But I'm still rooting for the Fightin' Phils to catch the Mets this year.

Pennsylvania needs more legislators like Mike Turzai

I watched the debate over the 2007-08 state budget Monday night on the Pennsylvania Cable Network. The best comments of the evening were made by Rep. Mike Turzai, a Republican from western Pennsylvania.

Turzai spoke for the majority of Pennsylvania residents who can no longer afford to pay for their massive state government ($7 billion in new spending under Gov. Ed Rendell.)

Unfortunately, only about 60 members of the House (all but one of them Republicans) had the courage to vote against the bloated Rendell budget, which will bring General Fund spending to a record $27.5 billion.

Rep. Mike Turzai delivered the following remarks on the budget on July 16, 2007, on the floor of the House of Representatives:

"Some of you may be surprised to know that my Dad was a life-long Democrat. Now as an aside, my Mom was a life-long Republican. They used to joke how they cancelled out each other's votes. He was a Democrat until the day that he passed away. My Dad was actually one of the 'real Reagan Democrats' though. But he liked the idea of less government that President Reagan talked about.

I remember when President Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill were engaged in their budget battles. One day my Dad and I were driving and O'Neill came on the radio. My Dad said 'You know, I don't like that guy.' And I said 'Dad, you're a Democrat; I would have thought you liked him.' My Dad's response was 'No way. He's just a typical politician that wants to be a big shot using other people’s money.'

What I learned about my Dad is that he wasn't Democrat or Republican, he was just a hardworking guy, a gym-teacher, trying to raise three kids as best he could with my Mom. He expected to pay his fair share of taxes, but he certainly didn't want to be paying taxes so that some guy could run around with six or seven-figure checks to get himself re-elected. And he certainly didn't want to pay taxes just to keep people in a cycle of dependency on government. I was so proud of our Caucus when we unanimously voted in favor of the Civera budget amendment. I applaud again the hard work of Republican Appropriations Chairman Civera for his hard work on that amendment. I applaud everyone in our Caucus for unanimously supporting that amendment.

For me it wasn't just show. We really were the only Caucus in the General Assembly that actually tried to proactively bring spending under control and to stop further borrowing. Under the Civera amendment, we balanced meeting the needs of Pennsylvania’s citizens on the one hand with maintaining fiscal responsibility on the other. We didn't cut programs but we didn’t create new ones or add bloated amounts to the old ones.

We didn't need to - because the Governor has increased spending by close to 30% over the past four years already. What programs needed more money? In fact, under the Civera amendment we actually restored a few programs that the governor cut, like New Choices New Options, which helps women enter into the workforce. Furthermore, under the Civera amendment, we made sure there were increases for education.

However, under the Civera amendment, we also controlled spending at about 2.7% over last year's base budget, which was pretty close to the rate of inflation. It was a budget that protected the wallets of middle-class taxpayers who have to foot-the-bill for all of this government spending.

The proposed budget is about missed opportunities. There was a surplus of $700 million going into this year’s 2007-2008 budget. Unfortunately, given this budget, we're going to spend every last cent of it. In fact, hard spending will increase by $1.4 billion – yes that’s 1.4 billion dollars.

If we would have enacted the Civera amendment, we could have actually returned dollars to hardworking taxpayers. Keep in mind that Governor Rendell increased the personal income tax on the backs of middle class families from 2.8% to 3.07%. That's a tax that takes almost a billion dollars from Pennsylvania citizens today. We could have rolled back that tax to 2.99% and returned almost $300 million to Pennsylvania taxpayers. And we could have eliminated job-crushing business taxes, taxes that have allowed us to lose 2000 manufacturing jobs per month under this administration.

Instead, what we have before us is another Rendell budget that far exceeds the rate of inflation. We have to go back to the Shapp administration in the 70s to meet a legacy like the one this administration is creating. At the end of the Shapp administration, manufacturing was on a downturn, state debt was piling higher, there was an insatiable appetite for spending, the personal income tax was first levied and government suffered from years of mismanagement – look at the fraud issues in the Department of Welfare by way of example.

I have voted against all but one of Rendell's budgets. And I'm going to vote against this one too. I also voted against the Governor's Personal Income Tax increase. I guess I'm batting five for six.

You know, my Dad passed away almost five years ago now. Dad, I want you to know that I haven't forgotten about hard-working guys like you who foot the bill for all of the spending up here. I'll be voting no."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Phony reformers embrace bloated Rendell budget

I've had my eye on several members of the freshman legislative class of 2006 since they were sworn into office in January. These people were swept into office as part of the pay raise backlash, in which 1 in 5 members of the state legislature were replaced.

Voters appear to have been fooled by smooth-talking candidates who made promises about cutting taxes, limiting state spending and supporting reform measures. They talked the talk, but when it came time to walk the walk, they fell flat on their faces.

With the final vote late Monday on the 2007-08 budget, it's no longer possible for these phony reformers to hide.

I'm referring primarily to Rep. David Kessler, D-130th Dist. in Berks County, Rep. Barbara McIlvaine Smith, D-156th Dist. in Chester County and Rep. Rick Taylor, D-151st Dist. in Montgomery County.

Other freshman lawmakers who turned their back on taxpayers include Rep. Duane Milne, R-167th Dist. in Chester County, Rep. Tim Seip, D-125th Dist. in Berks/Schuylkill counties and Rep. Mike Vereb, R-150th Dist., and Rep. Jay Moyer, R-70th Dist., both in Montgomery County.

All the freshman lawmakers listed above voted Monday night to increase state spending by a whopping $1.2 billion dollars.

"During Gov. Rendell’s first four years in office, the General Fund budget increased, on average, by nearly 6.4 percent annually," said Matthew J. Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation. "So the 5.2 percent increase in this year's spending is relatively better than years past. However, this budget falls far short of putting Pennsylvania back on the road to fiscal health and economic prosperity."

Kessler, McIlvaine Smith and Taylor have also failed to deliver on promises to work toward reforming Harrisburg.

A recent analysis by DemocracyRisingPA of voting records during the first six months of 2007 showed a lot of first-term legislators voted with the status quo party bosses most of the time. Voters want reformers, not puppets who dance to the party leaders' tune.

David Kessler voted 96 percent of the time with party bosses. Tim Seip and Rick Taylor voted 94 percent of the time with party bosses. Barbara McIlvaine Smith voted 93 percent of the time with party bosses. Jay Moyer voted 86 percent of the time with party bosses. Duane Milne and Mike Vereb voted 81 percent of the time with party bosses.

Click here for an Excel spreadsheet with data for each first-term lawmaker, and here for an Excel spreadsheet with data for each veteran lawmaker.

Kessler, McIlvaine Smith, Milne, Moyer, Seip, Taylor and Vereb will face voters again in 2008 when the entire House of Representatives stands for re-election.

Voters should correct their mistake and vote out these phonies.

Demand justice for Cyprus

Since 1974 when Turkey invaded the island-nation of Cyprus, Turkey has kept 35,000-45,000 occupation troops on Cyprus, preventing 200,000 Greek-Cypriots from returning to their homes. The island has been divided between Turkish and Greek sectors for the past 33 years. Turkey has ignored more than 60 United Nations resolutions demanding the withdrawal of occupation forces from Cyprus.

The real tragedy of the invasion and occupation of Cyprus is the U.S. role in the event. Turkey is the recipient of billions of dollars of U.S. economic and military aid.

It's time for Congress to cut off all U.S. funds to Turkey until it complies with international law and leaves Cyprus.

The Hellenic Caucus co-chairs, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), have asked their colleagues in the House to give "five" minute speeches during this week (July 17-19) to "…remember the 33rd Anniversary of Turkey's illegal invasion and occupation of Cyprus…"

The American Hellenic Institute urges everyone to contact your Congressman to have him/her reserve time for a five minute speech this week. The illegal Turkish invasion took place on July 20, 1974, and the continuing 43,000 illegal Turkish occupation has now reached 33 years!

To reserve time, the Representative must contact either the Democratic or Republican cloakroom.

The Representative may speak for five minutes on the floor or submit his comments for the record.

Please ask the Representatives offices to, contact Jennifer Keaton with Representative Maloney at 202-225-7944 or Elizabeth Hittos with Representative Bilirakis at 202-225-5755 for any questions that your Representative may have.


      1. To either give or submit a five minute speech on the occasion of the 33rd anniversary of the illegal Turkish invasion of Cyprus that happened on July 20, 1974.

How to Contact Your Representative:

To Contact your U.S. Representative by mail:

U.S. House of Representatives:

1. Write to:

The Honorable____________

U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, D.C. 20515

To Contact your U.S. Representative by phone:

1. Dial 202-224-3121 (general number) and ask the operator to connect to your

Congressman’s office.

To Contact your U.S. Representative by fax:

1. Visit

2. Enter your zip code

3. Click on the link to your representative’s web site

4. Locate the "Contact" or "Constituent Services" button on your representative's Web site to find the fax number for your representative’s office.

To Contact your U.S. Representative Via E-mail:

1. Visit

2. Enter your state and zip code

3. Fill out the electronic form of your name and address

4. Write and submit your message

To learn more about the illegal occupation of Cyprus, go to