Saturday, May 28, 2005

Tax relief scheme blows up in Rendell's face

Tick … tick … tick … tick … tick

Time is running out for Pennsylvania’s 501 school districts to opt into Act 72 — the shabby excuse for tax relief that Gov. Ed Rendell and the highest-paid state legislature in the country palmed off on the residents of Pennsylvania.

Monday is the deadline to opt in to the program. So far, an overwhelming majority of school districts have opted out of Act 72, a bold move considering the biggest complaint most residents have is about high property taxes.

As of Friday afternoon, 318 districts opted out of Act 72, while just 96 opted in. That’s a better than 3-1 margin against Act 72.

And what does our fearless governor have to say about the snub of his tax-relief plan by such a large number of school board members, many of whom are Democrats?

Rendell says it was a mistake to give school boards a choice in the matter. If he had to do it over again, he would drag the rebellious school board members kicking and screaming into Act 72.

"It's enormously frustrating to me that the school boards haven't seen or recognized what we've tried to do here," Rendell told The Associated Press last week.

But school boards have seen all too well and understand exactly what Act 72 means for their districts: a slim chance at token tax relief years from now if gambling revenues reach a certain dollar amount, while handcuffing elected representatives with back-end referendums that forces them to go to voters every time they need to hire teachers, expand buildings or add programs.

Not withstanding the flaws of Act 72, many school boards have a basic moral problem with funding public education through gambling revenues.

"To prey on the weak and elderly to raise funds that may be returned to them at a later date seems fundamentally and morally wrong, Owen J. Roberts School Board President Barbara L. McMeekin told The Mercury. "In order to receive a few hundred dollars in tax relief per household, each person must lose over $900. People who try to pull off that kind of scam in day-to-day living are known as con artists."

"This is a sham to promote gambling. And that’s it plain and simple," Paul Farmer, a school board member in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, told The (Delaware County) Daily Times.

It’s not just gambling that upsets school officials. It’s the smorgasbord of deficiencies in the law. Politicians threw everything but the kitchen sink into Act 72.

Wallingford-Swarthmore School District board member Jon Auritt likened Act 72 to a "Frankenstein" monster.

"What (Act 72) turned out to be was a concoction of gobbledygook in need of an extreme makeover," Auritt was quoted as saying in The Daily Times.

Rendell can hold his breath until he’s blue in the face, but he will never persuade local school officials that Act 72 is anything more than political trickery.

"As far as the hollow tax relief promised by opting into Act 72, most of OJR's residents will pay more in taxes, not less, because they will lose in income tax increases what is gained in property tax reductions," Karen L. Zelley, vice president of the Owen J. Roberts School Board, told The Mercury.

It appears school board members have done their homework on Act 72 and the more they know about it, the less there is to like.

Weatherly Area School Board member Gary J. Makuch told The Morning Call in Allentown that he attended four meetings on the 108-page law and spent about 100 hours analyzing it, but still found it confusing.

"Act 72 is the worst piece of legislation I have seen," Makuch was quoted as saying in The Morning Call.

Rendell has spent much political capital pushing this sorry piece of legislation. He’s lost a lot of support from the traditional Democratic base in the education community. Rendell’s potential GOP opponents in 2006 will certainly exploit the governor’s blind obedience to such a bankrupt scheme.

And here’s something Rendell and his cronies in Harrisburg don’t want you to know: Experts say there about 9 million Pennsylvania residents eligible to gamble, and to reach the $1 billion mark in revenue that Rendell says will result in tax relief for school districts, some $3 billion must be lost at the slots, averaging more than $300 per gambler. But less than 10 percent of those eligible gamble on a regular basis. That means each gambler must lose an average of $3,120 at the slots every year to fully fund the property-relief plan. And the payout? Around $250 to $300 per household. Talk about a sucker’s bet.

Perhaps, it’s a pigheaded governor who hasn’t "seen or recognized" the flaws of Act 72. It might take a wake-up call in 2006 — when Rendell is tossed from office by voters — for the message to finally sink in.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Pushed to the brink, the Democrats blink

As the parade of U.S. senators dubbed “The Gang of 14” stood at the podium late Monday night to announce the great compromise on the filibuster debate, the first thing that came to my mind was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s remarks as he got off a plane in September 1938 waiving a piece of paper signed by Adolf Hitler.

In what became known as the Munich Agreement, Hitler promised not to invade any more countries in Europe to avoid war with England. Chamberlain, who would become synonymous with the failed policy of appeasement, told the British public: “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time... Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.” A little thing called World War II got in the way of Chamberlain’s promise.

The Democrats played a game of chicken with Republicans over the filibuster, the favorite delaying tactic of America’s permanent minority party. On the eve of a vote to deny the minority the right to refuse to allow President Bush’s judicial nominees to be approved by the full Senate, the Democrats waived the white flag and agreed to vote on three key nominees right away.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, blocked by the Democrats for four years, was approved by the Senate Wednesday for a federal appeals court in a party-line vote. Approval of two other nominations held up by the Democrats for two years — William H. Pryor Jr. for the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Janice Rogers Brown for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — are expected to follow shortly.

The rest of the president’s judicial nominees would not be filibustered unless Democrats believe the judges are out of the mainstream. That’s an odd thing to leave to a party that’s been out of the mainstream in five of the last seven presidential elections.

The so-called compromise worked out in the 11th hour by a group of Senate moderates simply postpones the inevitable showdown over the filibuster.

When President Bush nominates a replacement this summer for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Democrats (and their left-wing sugar daddies) will be back on the filibuster watch.

Howard Dean, who self-destructed again over the weekend in an appearance on “Meet the Press,” has been saying that the surrender by Democrats is a victory for his party. I guess that makes sense if you cling to the fact that John Kerry finished second in the presidential election last year. What Dean doesn’t realize is that the 41 votes the Democrats need to filibuster judicial nominees in the Senate are unattainable now that seven Democrats signed a pledge that they would resort to the filibuster only under “extreme circumstances.”

What happens if President Bush nominates Owen to the Supreme Court? If the majority of the Senate approved them for federal judgeships, how can the seven Democrats vote against them without breaking their compromise? If they do, Republicans simply go ahead with their vote to eliminate the filibuster entirely. It’s a lose-lose proposition for the Democrats.

More Americans are beginning to realize what’s at stake if the minority party circumvents the Constitution and the will of the majority of voters by stacking the courts with activist judges. Democrats can’t win the White House and can’t win Congress so they are focusing their attention on federal judges, who increasingly usurp the role of elected legislators.

Important issues such as abortion, the death penalty, government benefits for same-sex couples and right-to-die are being decided by unelected judges instead of legislators. All it takes for left-wing radicals to get their way on issues as parental consent for abortion is to find five liberal judges, and laws drafted by the representatives of the people are ignored.

Liberals are quick to cite Thomas Jefferson when it comes to constitutional issues, but it was Jefferson who warned that the Constitution in the hands of activist judges “is a mere thing of wax … which they may twist and shape into any form they please.” That is what’s happening in the United States today.

A handful of judges — appointed for life — are reshaping American society. That’s why the stakes are so high in the Senate. Stay tuned. This was just a skirmish. The real battle is ahead. And the Senate will never have "peace" until Democrats are put in their place.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Monday, May 16, 2005

Fast Eddie makes a final stand on Act 72

I’m not sure if Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell should be compared to Gen. George Armstrong Custer at the Little Big Horn or Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo. Either, way, Fast Eddie is making a final stand on his much-maligned Act 72 "property tax relief" measure.

With about two weeks to go until the May 30 deadline for school districts to opt in or out of Act 72, fewer than 50 of the state’s 501 school districts have signed up for the plan. This despite a non-stop propaganda campaign by Rendell and his cronies to persuade school boards that Act 72 is the greatest thing since the Eagles drafted Donovan McNabb.

Not long ago, Rendell used the word "nuts" to describe school board members who didn’t support Act 72. The fact that his own education secretary won’t come within 10 feet of Act 72 hasn’t deterred Rendell as he tries to pull another fast one on Pennsylvania taxpayers.

A couple of weeks ago, Rendell forced school board members to sit through a two-hour teleconference where he and his cronies tried to twist some more arms. That didn’t work, either. Last week, the governor hit the road with a handful of superintendents and other school administrators in a last-ditch effort to drum up support for Act 72.

As of last week, only 48 of the state’s 501 school districts are on board with Act 72. A dozen have already voted to opt out. Most of the rest of the districts have held public hearings to lukewarm response and will formally vote their districts out of Act 72 by May 30. It’s not looking good for Rendell. In fact, some Rendell lackeys in the state Legislature have floated the idea of making Act 72 mandatory. There’s Democracy at work for you. If school boards and the residents they represent are too stupid to see it our way, we’ll force them to join the plan!

The bottom line is this: Act 72, or the Homeowner Tax Relief Act, is a sham. It forces school districts to bet their fiscal future on unknown revenues from the 14 slots parlors planned across the state. Those revenues won’t start trickling in until 2007 at the earliest, but most likely not until 2009 or 2010. Talk about a gamble. If revenues from the slot machines don’t meet projections, school districts will be in danger of financial collapse, unable to raise taxes to pay their bills.

Act 72 is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever enacted. It’s a dead horse that Rendell keeps beating. It’s not getting up.

School officials don’t like Act 72 because it forces them to immediately raise the earned income tax in their district — raising taxes is something Rendell knows about — but it ties school districts’ ability to raise taxes in the future. If a district wants to exceed spending beyond the rate of inflation, it must ask voters for permission to raise taxes. How likely are you to vote "yes" on a tax increase? Especially if you’re a senior citizen whose kids are no longer in school.

Here’s another fundamental problem I have with Rendell’s "gambling-for-property-tax-relief" premise. Seniors on fixed income are hurt the most by property taxes. In order for seniors to see a reduction in taxes, they must spend more of their income at Rendell’s slot parlors. Let’s face facts. Who rides most of the buses to Atlantic City? Seniors. So in order to get back $250 to $300 in 2007, seniors will have to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars into slot machines each year to fund Rendell’s scheme. It’s a sucker’s bet.

That’s why seniors, who attend a lot of school board meetings and tend to vote consistently in elections, have been reluctant to embrace Act 72. School board members have been seeing those seniors in the audience and they don’t want to risk their futures on a governor who may not make it past a first term.

Rendell was sent to Harrisburg with a clear mandate: Reduce property taxes. He hasn’t done it. Rendell thinks he’s going to waltz back for a second term in 2006. But Pennsylvanians won’t forget that Rendell raised the state income tax by $1 billion during his first term, sucking more of the life out of the state’s basket-case economy.

Whether Rendell’s Republican opponent is former Lt. Gov. William Scranton III or state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola or former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann, Rendell shouldn’t make plans to stay in Harrisburg beyond 2006.

If the majority of the state’s school districts opt out of Act 72 — and it sure looks like they will — Rendell’s entire gambling initiative will be exposed for what it is — an opportunity for fat cats to get richer on the backs of seniors and working stiffs who don’t see any prospect out of their economic condition other than to feed the one-armed bandit in a slot parlor coming soon near you. That’s a sorry legacy for Rendell.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Health insurance crisis is getting harder to ignore

On the same day a study was released showing that 900,000 Pennsylvania residents lacked any kind of health insurance coverage, two area legislators held a press conference in Harrisburg to gather support for legislation that would help working Pennsylvanians hold on to their health insurance.

Sen. Rob Wonderling, R-24th Dist., and Rep. Curt Schroder, R-155th Dist., were joined Monday by a coalition of small businesses from across the state to promote legislation aimed at reducing the cost of health care coverage for the workers at small companies, where the bulk of Pennsylvanians work.

One of the business owners in attendance was Ron Black of the Ron Black Insurance Agency in Royersford. Black, who has been working in the insurance industry for more than 45 years, has been one of the staunchest supporters for reforming Pennsylvania’s health insurance regulations.

The release of a 61-page health insurance survey on the same day makes the bills that Wonderling and Schroder have introduced even more imperative.

According to an Associated Press analysis of the report, of Pennsylvania's 900,000 uninsured:
*19 percent (171,000) are black, or 14 percent of all blacks in the state.
* 4 percent (35,000) are Hispanic, or 9 percent of all Hispanics.
* 81 percent (734,000) are white, or 7 percent of all whites.
* 49 percent (450,000) are between the ages of 18 and 34.
* 49 percent (450,000) live in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or surrounding counties.
* 60 percent (543,000) are employed; 62 percent of the employed uninsured (337,000) work in the service sector.

In other words, this is a problem that cuts across all racial and socio-economic lines. This is a crisis that has been ignored far too long by our state legislators.
Wonderling and Schroder were joined in the Capitol by fellow legislators who support passage of Senate Bill 671 and House Bill 1240, small business owners who have formed a group called Pennsylvanians for Small Group Health Insurance Reform.

Pennsylvania is one of only two states that does not regulate for-profit insurance companies. That means these companies can discriminate on the basis of age, gender and health history. The only opposition to the reform bills has come from the insurance lobby, which says that more regulation would decrease competition.

Here’s a simple question for the lobbyists. If 48 other states regulate for-profit insurance carriers, where exactly are they going to go if Pennsylvania adopts the same rules? So much for the competition argument.

The legislation proposed by Wonderling and Schroder would simply level the playing field for all insurance carriers in Pennsylvania so they can’t "cherry-pick" which companies they want to serve. If you’re an insurance company doing business in Pennsylvania right now, you can choose not to provide affordable health plans for companies because they have too many women or too many employees over 40 or have had sick workers in the past. That’s not right.

Nobody is trying to drive insurance carriers out of Pennsylvania, but the reality is that Pennsylvania has one of the oldest populations in the country. If you want to do business here, you’re going to have to provide affordable insurance rates for companies that employ experienced workers.

Wonderling explained that Senate Bill 671 would ban the practice of medical underwriting for small groups in order to stabilize health insurance rates. The bill would require insurers to spread the cost of health care over a larger population so smaller companies are better able to offer coverage for their employees. Additionally, the legislation will expand benefit options, ensuring that all Pennsylvania small businesses will have insurers competing for their business.

"Our legislation is crucial to make health care coverage more affordable for working people and their families so they can have access to preventive care and medical treatment when they need it," Wonderling said.

Schroder said his bill proposes a uniform modified demographic rating format that would be used by all health insurers writing health insurance for small business employers in the state having between two and 50 employees.

"In serving as a member of the House Insurance Committee, I have heard many small-business owners ask for a change in insurance ratings so they can afford to provide health benefits," Schroder said. "Small-business owners want to be able to offer health insurance for their employees, but the cost has been prohibitive for them."

Pricing policies based upon the health history of each small business has driven the cost of health insurance out of reach for many Pennsylvanians employed by small businesses, Schroder said. All it takes is one sick employee for rates to double or triple, he added.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Monday, May 09, 2005

David Horowitz is living proof liberals can be rehabilitated

"I make no apologies for my present position. My values have not changed, but my sense of what supports them and makes them possible has. It was what I thought was the humanity of the Marxist idea that made me what I was; it is the inhumanity of what I have seen to be the Marxist reality that has made me what I am."

-- David Horowitz, a former left-wing radical who came to his senses

Not since Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus in 35 A.D. has anyone experienced such a profound transformation as David Horowitz. For those who haven't picked up the Bible lately, Saul of Tarsus was a Jewish official who persecuted Christians until he saw the light … literally … and heard the voice of God. He converted to Christianity, becoming the Apostle Paul. He spent the rest of his life traveling throughout the Roman world, planting the seeds of Christianity in thousands of hearts.

David Horowitz never stood a chance. He was born into a Communist family living in the United States. His parents, Phil and Blanche Horowitz, joined the Communist Party in the 1930s. Their goal was to overthrow the existing Democratic government in the United States in favor of a Marxist state. Both were schoolteachers in the New York area, where they found refuge in a growing Communist enclave.

David Horowitz recounts his days as a Communist in his autobiography, "Radical Son." He became a leading radical intellectual of the 1960s, bent on spreading Marxist doctrine throughout American society. But Horowitz came to his senses when leftist radicals murdered his close friend. It took a shocking act of violence by the people he thought shared his views to get Horowitz to realize he had been living a lie. He recognized how bankrupt the radical left movement was when an innocent person was killed by people who would sacrifice anyone to promote their political movement.

Horowitz dedicated the next 30 years of his life to exposing the radical left. Today, he is considered a leading conservative intellectual. "Radical Son" is a distant memory, actually more of a bad dream. His most recent best seller is "Left Illusions." That title best describes the worldview of liberals who dominate the news media, the courts, academia and the entertainment industry. The only way the left can live with itself is to establish a world of delusion. A permanent state (Massachusetts?) where reality doesn't encroach. How else can you explain a Ted Kennedy, a Barbara Boxer, a Michael Moore or a John Kerry?

Scorned by the very liberals who once sang his praises, Horowitz decided he could no longer live the lie. In a 1979 article in the Nation magazine titled "A Radical's Disenchantment," Horowitz writes: "Can the left take a really hard look at itself — the consequences of its failures, the credibility of its critiques, the viability of its goals? Can it begin to shed the arrogant cloak of self-righteousness that elevates it above its own history and makes it impervious to the lessons of experience?"

Twenty-five years later, the answer to Horowitz's question is still a resounding "no." As Mona Charen points out in her book, "Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (And The Rest of Us)," look at the mess the left has made of education, race relations, crime, welfare, homelessness and just about every domestic issue over the past four decades.

Despite failed economic, social and foreign policies, the left still operates with impunity. The left has hijacked the once-dominant political party in the U.S. — the Democratic Party. How else can you explain a steady diet of far-left candidates such as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry as the Democrats' presidential nominees? All are classic liberals — arrogant, insolent, and out-of-touch with mainstream American values. Despite losing five of the last seven presidential elections, despite losing the House and the Senate, Democrats turn to Howard Dean to lead their party and have anointed Hillary Clinton as their 2008 sacrificial lamb.

Today, David Horowitz is on a one-man crusade to expose the radical left's attempts to undermine freedom and Democracy in the United States. Horowitz founded the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, which is dedicated to "defending the cultural foundations of a free society." The center's online journal, is visited 1.7 million times a month. He also established the Individual Rights Foundation, the legal arm of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.

The foundation confronts the radical American Civil Liberties Union as it undermines American society by attacking churches and synagogues, the Boy Scouts, school districts and municipal and county governments. The ACLU clearly wants to establish a secular Soviet Union-style government in the U.S. with ACLU board members sitting as the ruling politburo.

Horowitz continues to write provocative books. "The Politics of Bad Faith" explores the radical left's assault on America's political system. Horowitz's latest book, "Unholy Alliance," examines the link between radical Islam and the American left.

Another recent venture is a Web site called, a guide to the radical left. It's an offshoot of Horowitz's work with the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Like wanted posters, the Web site gives you a guide to the radical left and the threat its members pose in American society.

Horowitz also tours the country speaking on college campuses, which is enemy territory for Republicans, conservatives, Christians and Jews. Where else but on a college campus can a fraud like Ward Churchill collect a paycheck from taxpayers to teach while spending all his waking hours advocating the overthrow of the government?

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

45 million Americans and counting

A hospital in my neck of the woods is observing "Cover the Uninsured Week." It’s not exactly a reason to celebrate, but it is important to bring attention to the plight of millions of Americans who do not have health insurance.

"Cover the Uninsured Week" is supposed to be part of a national campaign by hospitals and an organization known as Families USA to put a face on the tens of millions of Americans who do not have basic health coverage.

More than 45 million Americans — equal to the combined population of 24 states — do not have health care coverage, and 8 million are children, according Families USA, which bills itself as "the voice for health care consumers." Eight of 10 of the uninsured are in working families, who either do not make enough money to afford insurance or whose company does not provide it.

"While offering the best medical care in the world, the U.S. healthcare system, specifically the payment system, is broken," said John R. Morahan, president and chief executive officer of St. Joseph Medical Center in Reading, Pa. "Until we as a society and until the state and federal legislative bodies call for and act on change in this system, the crisis in healthcare will continue."

And speaking of ways to fix the health care crisis in Pennsylvania, bills were recently introduced in the state Legislature to help small businesses struggling with the high cost of providing health insurance coverage for their workers.

Senate Bill 671, introduced by state Sen. Rob Wonderling, and House Bill 1240, introduced by state Rep. Curt Schroder, would go a long way to helping some of the more than 375,000 working Pennsylvanians who do not have health insurance.

The bills are before the respective insurance committees in each chamber and have received bipartisan support by many senators and representatives. But similar bills languished in committee during the 2003-04 legislative session and were never released for a vote.

The only opposition to the bills is coming from the insurance lobby, which is looking at its bottom line. The question now is will our elected representatives help hard-working Pennsylvanians obtain health coverage or will they bow to the pressures of the insurance lobby?

These two bills need to be brought out of committee for a vote in each chamber and signed by the governor. Pennsylvania is one of only two states (Hawaii is the other) that do not regulate "for-profit" insurance companies.

The bills would bring "for-profit" insurance companies under the same regulations as "non-profit" agencies such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield and HMOs. It would level the playing field and provide access to health insurance for thousands. Right now, "for-profit" insurance companies and pick and choose which workers to cover. They can deny coverage to workers with pre-existing conditions or drop them for no reason. They can also charge whatever they want for premiums and raise those premiums 10 or 20 times the rate of inflation if they so choose.

That has forced small employers — the backbone of Pennsylvania’s economy — to pass on costs to their workers and their families or drop health coverage entirely for employees.

The health crisis in this country is enormous. It's easy to throw your hands up and give up because it's such a hurdle to climb. Congress has done that repeatedly.

But when there's an opportunity to help people, even a little bit, we have to take it. That's why the Pennsylvania bills need to be approved during the current session. We're talking about commonsense solutions to at least one part of the overall health crisis.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at