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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Lowman S. Henry: Gov. Tom Wolf's latest tax grab

By Lowman S. Henry
Guest Columnist

Pennsylvania motorists already pay one of the highest state gasoline taxes in the nation thanks to what was effectively a 30-cent per gallon tax hike during the Tom Corbett Administration. Now, a new multi-state compact advocated by radical environment interests threatens to add to that tax burden.
As with most policies pushed by the Left this one has a lofty sounding name, it is called the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Its goal is to ratchet up the war on carbon-based fuels by setting new goals for the reduction of their use. And, of course there is the usual tug at the heart strings rhetoric as the "initiative" seeks to "maximize environmental, economic, social, and public health benefits."
If you cut through the spin what it actually is being proposed is a tax grab to fund dubious "low carbon technologies" which cannot compete in the marketplace because they are ineffective, overly expensive or both; and — surprise — re-direct more money to urban mass transit systems. As Inconvenient Facts author Greg Wrightstone puts it: "They want to take money from Perry County (rural Pennsylvania) and give it to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh."
As Wrightstone explained the compact on a recent edition of Lincoln Radio Journal the Wolf Administration has entered into an agreement with nine other mostly northeastern states to cap each of the states' carbon emissions from transportation (your car). The states have one year to come up with a plan. Such plans will most certainly include additional taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. Then, Wrightstone concluded, the money will be "redistributed" to "low carbon transportation systems" — in other words urban mass transit.
Those urban transportation systems, specifically the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in the Philadelphia region and Port Authority Transit (PAT) in the Pittsburgh area have an insatiable appetite for public dollars and annually develop new schemes to fleece taxpayers from other regions to subsidize the many and well documented inefficiencies and outright corruption that regularly plaque those agencies.
Thus the lofty sounding Transportation and Climate Initiative allows Governor Wolf to advance two of his top agenda items: establish a new revenue stream to keep urban mass transit afloat, and penalize users of carbon based fuels. Keep in mind those users include you every time you start your car or use a product that was delivered to the store by motor vehicle, which is to say everything.
In addition to the cost to consumers, higher taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel will increase the cost of doing business for companies based in Pennsylvania. This will put them at a competitive disadvantage with states that are not part of this ideologically driven compact. Notably, the state of Ohio declined to participate in the boondoggle, correctly seeing an opportunity to gain a competitive edge over Pennsylvania-based businesses.
All of this raises the issue of how new and or higher taxes will be imposed. Since this is an administrative agreement it is entirely possible, even likely, the Wolf Administration will attempt to bypass the General Assembly and impose the new cost as a regulatory fee.
There are many reasons to believe the governor will try that route. First, with Republicans in control of both houses of the General Assembly the chances of winning legislative approval for a fuel tax increase, especially in the House, are slim to none. Second, the General Assembly has a recent history of allowing its constitutional authority to be usurped by other branches of government without putting up an effective fight.
For example, last year the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in clear violation of the state constitution abrogated the legislature's power to draw congressional district lines and instituted by judicial fiat a new congressional district map gerrymandered to favor Democrats in the 2018 election. Legislative Republicans howled in protest, even appealed to the federal courts. But they failed to take the one action that would have been effective: impeach the offending justices, especially one who in a blatant breech of judicial ethics campaigned on doing exactly what was done.
So Gov. Wolf can be forgiven if he believes he can impose an entire new layer of taxation on We the People of Penn's Woods without the legislature taking any effective action to stop him. But this is an issue where legislative leaders, particularly those in the state Senate, need to stiffen their spines and take a stand.
The policy goals of the Transportation and Climate Initiative are dubious at best, this is a clear tax grab for urban mass transit, and consumers are already over-burdened when it comes to gas and fuel taxes. Even for the legislative faint of heart this is a battle worth fighting.

Lowman S. Henry is chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His email is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

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GUEST COLUMN: Time to eliminate property taxes in Pennsylvania

By Rep. Frank Ryan
Guest columnist


There have been discussions about eliminating property taxes for decades.
In November 2017, a constitutional amendment passed by substantial margin to allow for the elimination of property taxes. With that amendment, it would only be necessary for legislation to be enacted to rid the Commonwealth of this regressive tax.
The question then becomes what is the status of the bill to eliminate property taxes?
In December 2018, I circulated a co-sponsorship memo in the PA House for a bill which will eliminate property taxes 100% for all properties if enacted. The objective of the bill is simple — to eliminate all property taxes. The tricky part is the replacement tax.
That very simple statement will be the subject of eight detailed articles I intend to write explaining the issues in detail to solicit your feedback and to allow the best possible solution to come about as quickly as possible.
The eight articles will include:
1. Critical economic reasons for eliminating property taxes.
2. Problems with the existing property tax system.
3. Unfunded pension liabilities.
4. Funding formulas for school districts under current laws.
5. Property tax elimination and impact on senior citizens.
6. Property tax elimination and impact on working families.
7. Property tax elimination and impact on schools and teachers.
8. Proposed property tax elimination bill.
Eliminating the property tax is critical to the economic survival of the Commonwealth and our citizens!
In my 40+ years as a certified public accountant and expert in helping organizations avoid bankruptcy, I can think of no more complicated problem to the financial survival of the Commonwealth than eliminating property taxes.
The reason this is so complicated is because our current system of taxation and funding schools is so fundamentally flawed that even minor fixes to peripheral elements of the system may have significant unintended consequences.
For example, the funding formulas for the schools result in Palmyra Area School District receiving $1 Million less per year than it would receive under a newly enacted funding formula which will take almost 20 years to fully implement. This means that Palmyra School District must fund that shortfall from the state by either cutting spending and or with property tax increases.
The Independent Fiscal Office five year outlook provides an insight into Pennsylvania’s stagnant growth and substantial budget shortfalls over the next five years. When combined with declining population for citizens under age 60 and significantly increasing population for citizens over 65, the trends continue to be negative for the Commonwealth.
If we take decisive action now to reform our tax policies for working families, seniors, businesses, and school districts with the fundamental shift in the elimination of property taxes we can reverse these negative trends. I am extremely optimistic if we take the problem seriously.
Efforts in the past to eliminate property taxes have not been successful because of a whole bevy of reasons.
The primary reasons for the failure of prior efforts revolve around the following:
A. The proposed replacement taxes involve funds going to the Commonwealth rather than to local control.
B. The impact of property tax elimination on people who rent rather than own their homes.
C. The perceived lack of stability in school funding under the replacement formula.
D. The expansion of the sales tax base was a problematic for some powerful stakeholders.
E. The proposed replacement taxes were directed predominantly at working families.
The system that I am proposing will address these issues and provide for an orderly phase in so that the schools and the community are able to adapt to a new system with no major disruptions to the educational opportunities of our students.
I cannot emphasize enough how severe the problem is with property taxes. The funding formula itself which is a separate issue is equally problematic and leads to the difficulty in solving this problem. It is critical however that everyone understand that if we do not resolve this problem together the probability of surviving the next economic downturn is limited.
Our financial rescue plan that I proposed when I first got elected two years ago discusses all the efforts we need to turn around the finances in Pennsylvania. We are well on the way to enacting these bills and property tax elimination is a major component of it.
I look forward to your input and comments on the particles that we will be submitting and ask you to please get active in this and provide me the guidance that you feel needs to be included in any legislation. We cannot afford to make a mistake.
A copy of our financial rescue plan can be found at my website www.repfrankryan.com.

Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret.) represents the 101st District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel, a CPA and specializes in corporate restructuring. He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at FRYAN1951@aol.com

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Top Fake News Stories of 2018

The Top Fake News Stories of 2018: Dan Bongino - Making the world a better place by debunking one liberal myth at a time. Former Secret Service Agent, Contributing Editor at Conservative Review and Host of The Top Ranked Conservative Podcast: The Dan Bongino Show.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

GUEST COLUMN: America Must be Tough on Crime & Smart on Justice

By Jane Leader Janeczek and Charles Mitchell

Commentators are calling it a “Christmas miracle.” Senate Republicans and Democrats have just cooperated to advance the FIRST STEP Act,America’s most significant federal sentencing and prison reform in three decades.
Thousands of incarcerated Americans are grateful for this bipartisan bill, which outlines fairer sentencing and smarter prison spending. As advocates for Pennsylvania’s landmark criminal justice reform in 2012, we can attest the benefits of humane reforms and commend Congress and the president for balancing public safety, fiscal prudence, and compassion.
FIRST STEP, which overwhelmingly passed the House in May, makes America’s federal laws smarter and our communities safer. The National Fraternal Order of Police, whose priority is crime prevention, endorses the bill for this reason, and for its provision to protect prison guards by allowing them to carry firearms in more circumstances.
Key to the reform are “time credits” non-violent offenders can earn for participation in recidivism reduction programs — trimming pointlessly long, expensive prison sentences. Recent amendments include additional measures to ensure violent criminals won’t qualify.

Smarter Sentences, Lower Costs, Better Results

Research shows a shorter prison stay can lower the recidivism rate of offenders deemed low-risk. Likewise, more prison time means a higher recidivism rate for less serious offenses. Given the prison atmosphere breeds crime and a criminal mentality, American justice too often works against itself by defaulting to long sentences.
That’s why FIRST STEP requires the Bureau of Prisons to transfer certain low-risk, low-need inmates from prison to home confinement. Besides reducing our enormous room, board, health, and guard costs, this reform places small-time offenders in a community setting instead of the crime training facility that federal prison too often becomes.
The fact is, most people who commit crimes will be back on the streets someday. The goal of our criminal justice system should be to reduce the likelihood of a repeat offense. Right now, the system we have makes recidivism more likely. It isn’t just expensive; it’s making us less safe. FIRST STEP takes us the right direction—and it’s about time.
While these reforms alone make serious progress, the bill also includes several proportionate sentencing reforms, such as reducing the three-strike drug penalty from life in prison to 25 years. That’s truer justice: sentences should not stop punishing people who commit crimes, but the punishment must fit the crime.

Pennsylvania Leads the Way

The FIRST STEP Act is an exciting new development for federal prison reform, but Pennsylvania is already a great example of the long-term impact smart reforms can have.
In 2012, we helped lead a bipartisan coalition supporting the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which passed unanimously and was signed by then-Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican. Those reforms have helped reduce Pennsylvania’s prison population for four consecutive years — more than double the cumulative population reductions since 1970—without compromising public safety. And as the number of people incarcerated has declined, so have Pennsylvania’s violent and property crime rates.
Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, praised the 2012 initiative and recently signed additional legislation to help former prisoners find work. As advocates for fairness and opportunity for all Pennsylvanians, we strongly endorsed the “clean slate” bill, which seals some criminal records. A second bill ended driver’s license suspension for non-violent, non-driving offenses.
Cooperation across gubernatorial administrations and in the U.S. Senate — both Sen. Bob Casey (D) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R) voted for FIRST STEP — proves that criminal justice reform can bridge the partisan divide.
We hope lawmakers see the bipartisan momentum behind the FIRST STEP Act as an opportunity to advance additional reforms at the state level where most prisoners reside. In Pennsylvania, the second Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI2), which contains multiple bills that expand parole for non-violent offenders and improve sentencing, is a great place to start. If JRI2 bills pass, the overall restructuring will further reduce our prison population and save approximately $48 million over five years.
Seeing Congress and President Trump work together to enact humane criminal justice reforms, while protecting our neighborhoods, gives us hope. America is long overdue for these commonsense corrections reforms, and Pennsylvania has the chance to do even more to improve the lives of its citizens. Let’s not let the opportunity go to waste.
# # #
Jane Leader Janeczek is a business executive and the daughter of former Pennsylvania Governor George Leader. Charles Mitchell is president and CEO for the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Guest Column: Red Wave

By Lowman S. Henry
 
There was much talk this past year about a "blue wave," but what really occurred was a "red wave."  This "red wave" has little to do with electoral politics, but rather accurately describes both the federal and state budgets which for the current fiscal year are awash in red ink.
 
Within days of the November General Election the Independent Fiscal Office revealed the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania faces at least a $1.7 billion deficit as Governor Tom Wolf and lawmakers get set to begin the 2019-2020 state budget process. 
 
That pales in comparison with the federal government which for the current fiscal year is expected to come perilously close to running a trillion dollar deficit.  That is trillion with a "T" as current estimates forecast a $985 billion deficit which, if history is a guide, will end up being substantially higher. 
 
The fiscal year 2019 federal budget deficit is 18% greater than the deficit rung up in 2018 largely due to a massive omnibus spending bill passed by congress last December that ended spending restraints Republicans put into place during the Obama Administration. That set the stage for a spending binge. 
 
Rather than plunge the nation into a government shut-down President Donald Trump signed that spending bill, but pledged to never do so again. That promise will be tested next week as congress faces a December 7th deadline for passing another continuing resolution to keep the government running.
 
In this midst of this spending orgy some conservative Republicans are offering plans to begin getting the budget under control.  One particularly promising idea has been put forth by Senator Rand Paul and has been aptly titled the "Penny Plan."
 
Realizing that most peoples' eyes glaze over when talking about billions and trillions, Senator Paul has simplified the discussion by proposing that for every on-budget dollar the federal government spent in fiscal year 2018 it spends one penny less for each of the next five years. That one penny per dollar reduction would reduce spending by $13.35 trillion over the next ten years.
 
Keeping in mind that much federal spending is "off budget," that means total spending will still increase by 14.6% during those ten years.  Thus those who howl at the prospect of reducing on-budget spending by one percent per year for five years will still see an overall increase in federal spending.
 
It is important to note the one penny per dollar cut does not apply to Social Security and other safety net programs.  It also makes no specific policy assumptions, allowing congress and the deep state bureaucracy to determine how to achieve one percent annual reductions by increasing efficiency, consolidating services or other means.
 
In introducing the Penny Plan Senator Paul called upon conservatives to "govern like conservatives," something they failed to do during the two years Republicans held complete control of congress.  Paul added it is time to "prove to the American people that it (congress) is serious about getting our fiscal house in order."
 
Meanwhile, back in Penn's Woods, the likelihood of an extend budget battle in 2019 has grown dramatically with the Independent Fiscal Office's report.  Like their colleagues in Washington, D.C., many legislators in Harrisburg have been addicted to higher and higher spending.  They have utilized a series of budget gimmicks and one-time revenue sources in an effort to avoid making hard decisions.
 
Their profligate spending has now caught up with them.  You can bet the mortgage that Governor Tom Wolf will propose even more spending, especially to pour down the public education rat hole.  He will also propose what will likely be a menu of tax hike options with a so-called "severance tax" on natural gas as the main course.
 
Southeastern Pennsylvania RINOs are virtually extinct after this year's elections, so fiscal conservatives will find their voices amplified in the coming legislative session.  The Achilles heel, however, remains weak-kneed Senate Republican "leadership," which tends to cater to spending interests.  As a result, strategies for reducing spending to match projected revenue will be driven by the House of Representatives where leadership is much more taxpayer friendly.
 
With divided government at both the federal and state levels getting spending under control, which is difficult under the best of circumstances, will be even more so this coming year.  Bipartisan unity only seems to exist when both sides are feasting at the taxpayers' table.  It remains to be seen whether the "red wave" begins to subside, or whether it turns into a tidal wave of red ink.
 
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address islhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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Monday, December 17, 2018

That time Tony Phyrillas was mentioned in a book ...

By Tony Phyrillas

Have you ever Googled yourself? Come on, admit it. Who hasn’t? My name pops up in a lot of places on the Internet because I work for a newspaper and have been known to write a story or two. Or 5,000 or 6,000 … but who’s counting? I’ve also posted hundreds of my columns online.

Once in a while my name pops up in the strangest places. Until recently, I had no idea that I was mentioned in a book.

It wasn’t exactly a best seller, but there I am on page 456 of  “Actors of the Spaghetti Westerns” by James Prickette. I gotta hand it to Mr. Prickette for doing his research on the actors who appeared in these classic 1960s movies directed by the legendary Sergio Leone.

So how do I fit in with Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Sergio Leone? This is where I applaud Mr. Prickette for doing his research.

I wrote an article in 1989 about actor Lee Van Cleef, who died of a heart attack that December at age 64. While his name may not have been a household word, everyone who’s ever watched Westerns will instantly recognize Van Cleef. It’s a face you don’t soon forget.

He’s best known for the “Spaghetti Westerns” that were all the rage in the mid-1960s and made a superstar out of a little-known TV actor named Clint Eastwood. Van Cleef played Eastwood’s arch-rival in two of the films, “For A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

In the latter film, Van Cleef played “the Bad” of the title trio, with Eastwood and Eli Wallach handling the other two leads.

I wasn’t working for The Hollywood Reporter at the time of Van Cleef’s death. Turns out the actor was a native of Somerville, N.J., and I was an editor at the Somerset Messenger Gazette, a weekly community newspaper in Somerville.

I was also the biggest Clint Eastwood fan around and everyone at the newspaper knew it. So while I normally assigned stories to reporters, I decided to write about Van Cleef myself. It was the first – and so far only opportunity – to mention my favorite actor – Clint Eastwood – in a news story.

The article I wrote was titled, “Somerville remembers the good side of a ‘bad guy’” and I was able to find a few local residents who grew up with Van Cleef and remembered him before he went off to Hollywood to make a name for himself in the movies.

Back to James Prickette and his book. The author billed the book as “A unique reference book, jammed full of informational tidbits about some of our favorite actors of the genre…”

And he certainly did his homework, referencing the article I wrote in which I recounted that a young Van Cleef wrote a column for The Messenger Gazette about his experiences in Hollywood. The newspaper featured many articles about Van Cleef as his career blossomed.

Not every small town can boast a well-known actor. Van Cleef would often write letters of thanks to The Gazette, expressing his gratitude for the publicity about his acting career.

Prickette used that anecdote and a few others from my article in his book.

So there you have it. A nearly 30-year-old article about Lee Van Cleef found its way into a book and immortality … as long as Google is around.



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Friday, December 14, 2018

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Saturday, December 08, 2018

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