Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rendell puts one over on senior citizens

The press release put out by Gov. Ed Rendell's office Tuesday began with a screaming headline: "Rendell Signs Bill to Deliver Largest Property Tax Cut in Pennsylvania History." That sure sounds like big news. Too bad it's not true. None of it.

Rendell posed in front of the cameras inside the Nanticoke home of senior citizen Nellie Hughes and put on a performance worthy of an Oscar.

"Today is a great day for Pennsylvania homeowners, especially seniors who have been driven from their homes as they attempt to escape the burden of skyrocketing property taxes for far too long," Rendell said. "After 30 years of debate and failed plans, Pennsylvanians like Nellie Hughes will finally get the tax relief they deserve."

Rendell is a smooth-talking politician who never lets the truth get in the way of self-serving adulation. The governor nearly dislocated his shoulder trying to pat himself on the back.

The $1 billion tax cut that Rendell took credit for Tuesday is not a tax cut after all. It's not even $1 billion. It's a rebate plan for a small group of senior citizens (600,000) who will have to hold on at least four more years to see any money. In other words, Nellie Hughes, who is 88, and the other seniors that Rendell is trying to snow may not live long enough to see their $200 rebate, which won't come until the 2009-10 school year at the earliest.

The rest of the state's 12 million residents get nothing under Rendell's "property tax cut."

And the entire plan is predicated on the need for gamblers, many of whom are senior citizens, to lose $1 billion when the state’s slot parlors finally open in 2009 or 2010. In the meantime, Rendell will borrow $400 million from the state lottery to fund the rebate scheme and pay it back from those future gambling revenues. This is what Rendell calls tax relief?

In the meantime, the school district Nellie Hughes lives in will raise property taxes in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 — guaranteed. If she's still alive, Nellie Hughes will most likely be paying more in taxes in 2010 than she is today. That’s what Ed Rendell considers a property tax.

This is where the Kool Aid drinkers from the left chime in about how the tax rebate plan was passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate. That is correct. The measure passed the Senate and House by wide margins.

But it did not become law until Gov. Rendell went to Nellie Hughes' home and signed the bill. The buck stops with Ed Rendell.

The Lynn Swann campaign also put out a press release Tuesday about Rendell's "Band-Aid property tax bill" that is a lot closer to the truth than anything Rendell's propaganda machine spit out. Swann's press release has the more accurate headline on it: "Legislation Leaves 80 percent of Pennsylvania's Homeowners Without Any Relief."

"With the signing of this legislation, Ed Rendell has made it official — he has broken his election year promise to 'drop property taxes for every Pennsylvanian by 30 percent,'" Swann said.

Swann couldn't help but take a jab at Rendell’s use of the term "historic" to describe the tax rebate ploy.

"The last time Ed Rendell signed property tax legislation that he deemed 'historic,' it was called Act 72, and it was rejected by 80 percent of Pennsylvania’s school districts," Swann said. "Since then, property taxes have skyrocketed nearly $2 billion under this administration, and Pennsylvania’s homeowners have been left in the cold."

Hoping to finally kick-start his sluggish campaign to unseat Rendell, Republican Swann went on the offensive: "As the Governor declares 'We did it!' and signs this Band-Aid legislation, the majority of Pennsylvanians are looking at their rising property tax bills and wondering 'You did what!?'"

Swann recently introduced a plan that will provide every property owner in Pennsylvania with tax relief during Swann's first year in office. The full plan can be viewed at

Rendell's "plan" is an afterthought that comes four months before the election. It took Rendell 3½ years to finally address property taxes, but leaving 80 percent of homeowners without relief is not exactly a plan.

Voters will have a clear choice this November when they elect a new governor. More of Rendell's broken promises and parlor tricks or Swann's promise to deal with property taxes in his first year in office.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Voters aren't buying what Rendell, Perzel are selling

One of the most popular features that runs in our newspaper, The Mercury, is called Sound Off. It's a way for readers to provide instant feedback on news articles they read in the paper. Readers call a dedicated phone number and can leave a 30-second voice mail about an issue that's in the news. We publish the comments verbatim in the next day's edition (unless they're libelous or in poor taste).

Since we began the feature earlier this year, it's been one of the most read pages in the newspaper. Some people like the phone line because it provides anonymity while others would rather call because they have trouble putting their thoughts down on paper for a letter to the editor.

Below is a sampling of calls to the Sound Off line over several days after two interesting stories broke in Harrisburg. The first was House Bill 39 (which Gov. Rendell signed into law Tuesday) and the second bit of news was John Perzel's ludicrous remarks about state legislators with a base salary of $72,000 per year not being able to qualify for a credit card.

Readers were also appalled by a letter sent to The Mercury by Rep. Dennis Leh's wife, essentially telling voters they made a terrible mistake in not re-electing her husband to another term in the state House in the May 16 primary.

The comments below mirror those of readers who have written letters to the editors and personal e-mails I've received from readers in the past week. The bottom line is that nobody is fooled by the tax rebate scheme or Perzel's insipid remarks.

Here's what our readers (and people who I guarantee will be voters in November) are saying about Rendell and Perzel (and Leh):

I am totally disgusted to read about how 30 or so lawmakers are having terrible financial problems and they can't even get a credit card when they make about $72,000 a year. Why don't they try living on an average working man's salary which is tens of thousands of dollars less a year with all the continuously rising gas prices? Maybe they should come down to earth and live among us so-called little people and stop complaining and do what they are suppose to do and what is best for us. For the people and by the people — what a crock.


This is in regards to speaker John Perzel's comments about the 30 lawmakers who are having serious financial problems. This is just one more reason why we should vote these incumbents out of office. If they can't take care of their own personal affairs, why would we want them taking care of our finances and affairs?

Regarding the tax bill that was just passed, does anyone even know someone who the tax bill would help? I know it doesn't even come close to helping my 79-year-old mother who pays $6,000 plus a year in taxes. She doesn't qualify for the $650 but even if she did, that would be a slap in the face. This is crazy.

Voters, don't be fooled by this pitiful property tax bill our worthless legislature is passing. This won't amount to a hill of beans for those who really need relief. It's a meager effort to appease the large sector of senior voters in our state. If they were really concerned about helping the needy, they would eliminate school tax for poor, disabled people too. This bill does not do that. We need to clean house in the next election.

Sounds like state Rep. Sam Rohrer is the only one in Harrisburg who understands what the taxpayers want and need to alleviate property taxes. If only the rest of those thieves would wake up and smell the roses.

Would someone please start a pity party for House Speaker Perzel and all his cohorts in Harrisburg. If things are so bad for them financially, why did they run for the position? $70,000 a year and all the perks they get, maybe they have to tighten their boot straps like the rest of us have to do. Quit your whining and do the job you were elected to. And what's with hiring lawyers at $625 an hour at our expense? There is just no end to their greed. I pray in November you will all get to live in the real world. Wait, that's right, you will leave office and still live high on the hog thanks to the taxpayers.

I'd like to thank Fast Eddie Rendell and all the legislators for our great so-called tax cut that we got. People should remember these legislators and our governor in November and vote them out of office.


This is reference to the article that the state House sends Rendell bill to reduce property taxes. I think that is the most absurd thing which possibly could happen. If he wants re-election, I think the only thing that would save his butt is the commonwealth caucus. I'm paying $3,666 which is a drop in the ocean and that is ridiculous.

I think our representatives thought that we wanted comic relief instead of tax relief. This is what most of us probably expected though.

This new property tax reform bill that is going before the governor is not what we should be getting. There are more citizens in this state than just the senior citizens. What about the middle class homeowner who needs more help?

I believe that the state House and Senate have failed us as well as the governor. He is just trying to look like he has fulfilled a campaign promise when he's really done nothing at all. This is just a mere Band-Aid for something that is so broken, they are afraid to fix it. They weren't afraid to fix their salaries but they're really afraid to fix property tax. What they need to do is eliminate them but no one has enough courage in our state anymore to do what's right. I think we should vote all of them out, Republican or Democrat. I think the next governor should be Lynn Swann because all Rendell's interested in is sports.

The new reduced property tax is just pie in the sky. They are projected; there is no such thing as a gambling revenue yet. I think we senior citizens were taken for a ride and there will have to be more changes in Harrisburg this fall.

The school tax relief package is a joke. A state income tax is the only fair way to fund schools but it must be coupled with realistic spending caps for school districts and elimination of school bureaucracy, runaway salaries and real school discipline of students. You'll never see it with the current crowd.

I'm calling in regards to Dennis Leh's wife, Columbia. It took the taxpayers 18 years to figure out that your husband was robbing us and it only took one day to tear down your husband's 18 year career. I love democracy — such a beautiful thing.

The property tax relief program is a joke. Two hundred dollars is not going to go very far. They should have done the sales tax. This plan was just done to justify having gambling in Pennsylvania. The sales tax plan is the way to go. It would give senior citizens better relief because they do not consume as much as the younger generation.

I'm calling about the Rendell bill to reduce property taxes. I feel the property taxes should be eliminated and since Rendell hasn't done anything in his term as governor significantly except on the SportsNet program to talk about sports, he's going to be voted out of office. These taxes need to be eliminated permanently, not reduced by one billion every year. So, Rendell, you're gone in 2006 and say hello to new governor, Lynn Swann.

What part of 5 percent flat tax do the state legislators not understand? That is the fair way to tax everybody. That's why there's going to be a clean sweep this year and hopefully every year until we finally get some politicians in office, statewide, township wide and federal wide who know what the people want and not what they want.

I read the article about Dennis Leh and the hard work he has done. I don't want to hear it. The whole stonewalling crowd in Washington and Harrisburg aren't doing the people's will for the people. They do the will for the special interest and hand us a piece of trash like House Bill 39.


Disgruntled Democrat had better wake up. Rendell hasn't done anything to help the taxpayers except raise taxes. He controls Perzel, a Republican, who controls the other Republicans to vote their way or go to the bottom of the ladder. The Democratic party has now become the tax and spend party. They are only concerned for themselves and try to fool the voters and it seems like you're one of them.

The Pottsgrove taxpayers are now being asked to assume another $164 a year in property taxes. Commonwealth Caucus Plan was the only plan that would have worked for real tax relief in the state of Pennsylvania. Please everyone, come November, it's time to vote out Ed Rendell and all his buddies who voted for this ridiculous gambling tax revenue bill and vote for the people who are into the Commonwealth Caucus Plan.

Poor Dennis Leh. Maybe he can get one of those family supporting union jobs that he worked so hard to destroy.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Friday, June 23, 2006

Tax rebate ploy isn't fooling anyone

The verdict is in.

Even before Gov. Ed Rendell has had a chance to sign the compromise Senate-House tax rebate bill into law and stand before the TV cameras to pretend he's delivered on his promise to cut property taxes, just about everybody agrees the bill stinks to high hell.

Forget any political mileage Rendell and the legislators who voted for it anticipated to get. I've yet to come across a single person dumb enough to believe that House Bill 39 is anything more than a feeble attempt by career politicians to fool voters. Rendell and the Harrisburg bunch aren't fooling anyone but themselves.

The scheme has been panned by the Pennsylvania Taxpayer Alliance, an umbrella organization that represents a dozen grassroots citizen groups across the state.

Lynn Swann, the Republican candidate for governor, and Russ Diamond, the founder of PaCleanSweep and an independent candidate for governor, has also blasted the rebate plan. "Call this bill 'relief' or 'reform' is a joke," Diamond said.

Even members of the legislature have been uncharacteristically frank in their assessment of the compromise plan.

"The people of Pennsylvania deserve more than a legislature that takes the course of least resistance just so something can be passed. This is nothing more than political appeasement, and we are going to be right back where we started in only a year or two as property taxes continue to rise," stated Rep. Curt Schroder, a Republican from Chester County. "This plan simply just does not go far enough to help the hard working families of Pennsylvania."

Under the plan approved by the House, seniors with an annual income under $15,000 will get a few hundred dollars back in 2009 or 2010 — if state revenues from casinos reaches $1 billion. Seniors still have to pay property taxes.

Schroder pointed out that relatively few seniors in his district will be eligible for the tax rebates because of the low income threshold. He also cautioned that the rebates could quickly be eaten up in future years as school districts again increase property taxes. In other words, don't spend that $200 right away because you may end paying $600 more to support your local school district.

Schroder was one of 61 House members, mostly Republicans, who voted against the tax rebate plan previously approved by the state Senate and championed by Rendell.

Many of the 61 conservatives in the House supported an amendment that would have increased the sales tax by 1 percent and eliminated property taxes.

"We had an opportunity to provide the citizens of this Commonwealth with significant relief, but we settled for a plan being pushed by the governor and the Senate," said Schroder, pointing fingers at the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled Senate.

Another Republican who took his frustration out at his fellow House members was Rep. Sam Rohrer, chairman of the Commonwealth Caucus, a group of legislators who've been pushing for the elimination of property taxes by expanding and increasing the state sales tax.

The House has taken three votes on the Commonwealth Caucus in the past year, but too many Republicans joined Democrats to defeat the measure.

"The reality that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives cannot agree to eliminate 100 percent of school property taxes when the opportunity was handed to them for a third time on a silver platter is impossible to accept for Pennsylvania property owners who have been promised this economic relief for more than three decades," Rohrer said. "They are tired of being insecure in their properties that they have toiled, saved and raised their families in for years. They are tired of living under the very realistic fear of losing their homes, farms or businesses due to property tax bills they can no longer afford to pay. They are tired of political pandering. But most of all, they are tired of being ignored by their elected officials at all levels of state government from the General Assembly to the governor’s office who talk about taking revolutionary action and ultimately choose to decide against the crystal clear will of the people."

Wow! When was the last time a politician was so candid?

Although the theme of the past year has been a clean sweep of Harrisburg politicians, there are decent legislators who are looking out for the people of Pennsylvania, including Schroder and Rohrer. Other Pottstown-area representatives who voted against the rebate scheme include Raymond Bunt, Jackie Crahalla, Tim Hennessey and Tom Quigley.

The problem is there aren't enough of them to move the roadblocks put up by self-serving Philadelphia politicians like Ed Rendell and Republican House Speaker John Perzel.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

We're all paying for Rendell's poor judgment

Gov. Ed Rendell has signed a lot of bad legislation during his first four years in Harrisburg.

In 2003, Rendell put his signature on a $1 billion increase in the state income tax that put the breaks on economic growth in Pennsylvania while much of the rest of the nation has experienced a booming economy.

In 2004, Rendell signed a bill that ushered in the era of casino gambling to the Keystone State, but the bill was so poorly drafted that we still don't have tangible signs of gaming today other than the bureaucracy Rendell set up to administer gambling. But the Gaming Board is so inept that it's unlikely the state will see any revenues until 2009 or 2010 at the earliest.

The companion legislation to gambling was Act 72, Rendell's hair-brained scheme to fund public education using those pie-in-the-sky gambling revenues. The law was so full of ambiguity and loopholes that it was rejected by 80 percent of the state's school boards.

In July 2005, Rendell signed the infamous pay raise bill into law, giving himself, judges and the bloated state legislature raises of 16 percent to 54 percent. We know how well that turned out.

Pennsylvania residents were so outraged by the middle-of-the-night pay grab that they tossed out a state Supreme Court justice seeking retention vote in November 2005. Voter anger continued through the May primary when voters threw out 17 incumbent legislators, including the two most powerful men in the state Senate.

There's plenty of other ways Rendell has hit working Pennsylvanians where it hurts — in the wallet.

Under Rendell, the state gasoline tax has risen to 32 cents per gallon, the second highest in the nation. Fees to inspect your car or to go hunting and fishing or just to have a piece of paper notarized have jumped to record highs under Rendell, a classic tax-and-spend liberal who believes government should take more of your money and spend it any way it wants.

And don't get me started on the state liquor store system that Rendell loves so much. Pennsylvanians who want to enjoy a bottle of wine or other spirits have to buy from a state-run monopoly that rivals the Soviet Union for mismanagement and price gouging.

Rendell apologists are quick to point out that all bills came out of the Republican-controlled legislature. True, but none of the bills mentioned could become law until Rendell signs them. The governor can veto any legislation that isn't in the best interest of Pennsylvania residents, a priority that generally finishes a distant second behind Rendell's personal political interests.

Republicans don't have enough of a majority in either chamber of the state legislature to override any of Rendell's veto because the lockstep Democrats always back Rendell, so the buck stops with the governor.

Sadly, Rendell's biggest allies in the legislature appear to be Republicans, who share equal responsibility for the sad state of Pennsylvania affairs.

Without the help of Senate Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, Senate Majority Leader Chip Brightbill and House Speaker John Perzel — the top three Republicans in the legislature — Rendell would never have been able to get his liberal agenda through the General Assembly.

Take note that Jubelirer and Brightbill were voted out of office May 16 by Republican primary voters in their respective home districts and Perzel (rhymes with Rendell) has to get through the November election unscathed to continue assisting his good pal and fellow Philadelphian, Ed Rendell.

Another bad piece of legislation Rendell signed into law was almost forgotten until a recent traffic accident involving the star quarterback of Pennsylvania's best football team. (Hint: It wasn't Donovan McNabb).

Rendell signed a bill in 2003 that repealed a 35-year-old law that required Pennsylvania motorcyclists to wear helmets. The helmet law repeal made absolutely no sense, but Rendell couldn't pass up an opportunity to kiss up to a few thrill-seekers who don't want to wear helmets while hurtling through the state's highways at 80 mph with only their skulls to protect their brains from macadam.

Rendell's repeal of the helmet law has resulted in hundreds of serious crashes involving motorcycle riders who died or suffered serious injuries.

The most publicized crash was June 12 when Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was struck by a car while riding his motorcycle sans helmet.

State law requires that motorists wear seatbelts or face fines if they're pulled over for other infractions. There are laws protecting infants and children riding in cars. Kids riding bicycles must wear helmets. Why would you allow a motorcyclist to ride without a helmet?

Just like the people who choose to ride without helmets, you have to wonder about Rendell's impaired judgment when it comes to signing bills into law. Rendell's record of failure speaks for itself. Pennsylvania can't afford four more years of Ed Rendell.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

Monday, June 19, 2006

Congress gives itself a sneaky pay raise

The national debt is more than $8.3 trillion and rising. Let me write out the entire number so you can get a sense of how money that is. Currently, the U.S. debt is estimated at $8,382,069,710,723. If you divide the debt among every man, woman and child living in the United States, it means each of us owes $28,035.

The national debt is just one of many problems plaguing this country.

More than 45 million Americans don't have health insurance.

Millions of Americans live below the poverty level. The national minimum wage is $5.15 and Congress has repeatedly rejected calls to raise it for an estimated 7.3 million Americans.

More than 12 million illegal aliens are living among us, with thousands more streaming across our border every day.

The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is more than three years old and has drained $400 billion from our treasury, with no end in sight for either conflict.

Gas prices have eaten away at the incomes of most working Americans and Congress hasn't lifted a finger to curtail the runaway profits of multinational oil companies.

Cable companies have increased their rates more than 50 percent higher than the rate of inflation in the past decade.

Our infrastructure (roads, bridges, highways, sewer plants) is crumbling around us.

So what has Congress been doing to fix all these problems? Not much.

Your congressman has been busy collecting lots of money from lobbyists and corporate interests so he or she can return to Washington, D.C., for another two years (or six years in the case of the U.S. Senate).

But Congress did find time from its busy schedule to give itself a pay raise.

Despite record low approval ratings (which are much deserved), lawmakers accepted a $3,300 pay raise on June 13 that will increase their annual salaries to $168,500.

The 2 percent cost-of-living (COLA) raise was the seventh straight pay raise for members of the House and the Senate.

There was a time when lawmakers routinely turned down the annual COLA, but the Republicans who have controlled Congress for the past decade decided they wouldn’t mind more money in their pockets.

Since 1989, Congress voted to make annual cost-of-living pay increases automatic unless the lawmakers voted otherwise. And guess what? They've forgotten to turn down the money ever since.

The pay raise didn't get much coverage in the media. I don't recall a press release from my congressman saying what a wonderful job he’s doing and how he deserves more money.

The pay raise was hidden inside the annual Transportation and Treasury Department spending bill. Members of Congress may be greedy, but they're not stupid. They'll take your money, but they won't be up front about it.

The bill gave government civil servants get raises of 2.7 percent, the same as military personnel will receive, according to the Associated Press. Under a complicated formula, the increase translates to 2 percent for members of Congress, the AP reported.

Who's going to notice a measly $3,300 more for members of Congress when these public servants have run up an $8.3 trillion debt?

It's not just the House that gave itself a sneaky pay raise. Last year, the Senate voted 92-6 to deny the raise, but those sneaky senators quietly backed away from the raise issue in House-Senate talks. In other words, if the House members vote to give themselves a raise, who are we to stand in the way?

Two-thirds of the members of the Senate are millionaires, so another $3,300 is pocket change for them. But wouldn't $3,300 go a long way to helping you and I pay for gas to get to work so we can pay taxes to keep these congressmen living in the lap of luxury? I know I could use another $3,300 to pay my electric and food bills this summer. I'm still paying off my heating bills from last winter.

I might even use the money to take my kids to the shore for a couple of days. We haven't take a vacation in six years. By the way, Congress will take its annual two-month summer vacation soon. That's not to be confused with the spring vacation congressmen recently took or the one they'll take right before the November election.

I applaud Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat from Utah, for attempting to get a direct vote to block the pay raise, which is automatically awarded unless lawmakers vote not to accept it. His efforts went nowhere. Matheson was the only member to speak on the topic, according to the Associated Press.

"I do not think that it is appropriate to let this bill go through without an up or down vote on whether or not Congress should have an increase in its own pay," Matheson said. But by a 249-167 vote, the House rejected Matheson's procedural attempt to get a direct vote on the pay raise, the Associated Press reported.

Matheson said he will once again be donating his annual pay raise to local Utah charities.

Maybe you should ask your representative or senator why he or she took the pay raise when they come around this fall asking for your vote.

Let's not forget that public pressure forced the Pennsylvania Legislature to give back its ill-gotten pay raise of July 2005. Americans everywhere should demand that Congress give back the money — and start earning its pay for a change.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Perzel may take GOP down with him

When the only major conservative newspaper in Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the most liberal newspaper in the state, the Philadelphia Inquirer, run editorials the same day agreeing on something, it’s worth taking a closer look.

Both newspapers focused their attention on the scandalous waste of taxpayer money by Philadelphia Republican John Perzel, the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Perzel, a modern-day version of Gen. George Custer, led a bunch of fellow Republicans into the Little Big Horn last July 7 by ordering them to vote for the infamous pay raise. Perzel told the lemmings (aka Republicans) that the Indians (aka the voters) were friendly.

Perzel's miscalculation has led to the ouster of a Supreme Court justice and the defeat of at least 11 House Republicans in the May 16 primary. The two most powerful members of the state Senate, Republicans Robert Jubilirer and Chip Brightbill, also lost, but their ouster has as much to do with their own arrogance and incompetence as Perzel’s antics.

Perzel's continuing hubris and unwillingness to permit any meaningful reforms in the worst state legislature in the country could lead to disastrous results for Republicans in November.

Perzel is the Tom Delay of Pennsylvania politics. He has become a lightning rod for critics of the way state government operates.

Perzel's top political ally in Harrisburg is none other than Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, a fellow Philadelphian. Perzel, as well as Brightbill and Jubilirer, have worked closely with Rendell to push through massive tax hikes and huge spending increases in Harrisburg. Perzel and Rendell are birds of a feather who care more about Philadelphia patronage than doing anything good for Pennsylvania.

Here's part of what the Tribune-Review had to say about Perzel in a recent editorial:

"Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel — whose amoral justification rationalizing the scandalous misuse of his campaign contributions was offered with stupefying indifference — is a prohibitively costly civics lesson about state government.

The Trib discovered Mr. Perzel spent $9,000 in campaign dollars for trips to Super Bowls, $34,000 for trips to Las Vegas, almost $1,350 on liquor for a state Supreme Court committee meeting, $1,800 for staying at an Atlantic City luxury hotel casino, $41,109 for food in Philadelphia even though Perzel and staff members live there, including $1,900 in home deliveries for Chinese food and pizza on 52 occasions and on and on and on.

And $700,000 in reimbursements to legislative staffers — including $56,000 in salary in 2005 and $264,000 in reimbursements in two years for Perzel's chief of staff, who also is paid $160,000 by taxpayers."

Here's part of what the Inquirer said about Perzel in its editorial:

"John Perzel had a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease. So he took an expensive cure. On the taxpayer’s dime. Well, a lot more than a dime.

Last year, the speaker of the Pennsylvania House started paying a Harrisburg-area firm $5,000 a month — in taxpayer money — to advise him on public relations.

The advice boiled down to: Stop talking so much … The $60,000-a-year PR contract with Hershey-Philbin Associates came on top of another $60,000 the GOP caucus pays to a Philly-based consultant to handle local media relations for Perzel and two other lawmakers."

The two editorials were published the same week Perzel trumpeted his long-delayed lobbyist reform package. Pennsylvania is the only state in the United States where lobbyists don't have to say how much money they spend to influence politicians or which politicians get the lion's share of the money to vote a certain way. That's the way Perzel likes it.

If his fellow Republican House members don't rise up and take Perzel out before the November election, be prepared to see the Pennsylvania House fall into Democratic control for the first time in a decade.

At least Tom Delay had the decency to resign from Congress rather than cause further damage to the Republican Party. Perzel, the personification of conceit, doesn't care about the party.

He cares only about John Perzel. He is willing to sacrifice as many GOP legislators as necessary in his vain attempt to hold on to power.

If more Republicans lose in November, they don't have to look further than the rudderless leadership of John Perzel.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The decline of political parties

I've been trying to think of a movie that best describes what happened in last month's Pennsylvania primary, where 17 incumbents, mostly Republicans, were ousted by voters.

The film that sums up the present state of party politics is "Titanic."

The Titanic struck the iceberg on May 16. The ship is going down. The party leaders, especially on the Republican side, are busy re-arranging the deck chairs when they should be manning the lifeboats.

Party bosses, from Capt. John Perzel -- skipper of the Titanic -- on down, have been trying to calm the panicky crew members (the legislators) but the water is chest-high and rising. It's every man for himself. The voters have shown that blind obedience to one party or to party leadership is a thing of the past.

As we get closer to the November election and the rank-and-file Republican legislators figure out that they will soon be swimming with the fishes, you'll see a fight for the few remaining lifeboats the likes of which has never been seen before.

It's painfully clear that House Speaker John Perzel is the Tom Delay of Pennsylvania politics. He is the poster child for everything that is wrong with the ship of state. The sooner the rank-and-file legislators dump Perzel, the sooner they can fight for the remaining lifeboats. Otherwise, the GOP casualty list will be extensive after the Nov. 7 election.

The party bosses, insulated by legions of sycophants, are usually the last to deal with reality. This explains why the Republicans picked an insurance salesman from Cambria County to lead the party after the hapless Eileen Melvin fell on her sword following May 16's disastrous showing by Republican incumbents.

The election of status-quo candidate Robert Gleason shows how out-of-touch the party leadership is with the voters. The people who went to the polls on May 16 -- the serious voters every party depends on -- spoke loud and clear: They want change. They want results. The political establishment responded by blaming the media, the weather and high gas prices for their losses.

I want to share a couple of examples from southeastern Pennsylvania that prove my point that party loyalty is a thing of the past.

In a stunning upset, Democrat Andrew Dinniman defeated Republican Carol Aichele for Pennsylvania's 19th Senatorial District seat on May 16. How historic was Dinniman's victory? Dinniman is the first Democrat to win a state Senate seat from Chester County in 115 years. He took 21,478 votes to Aichele’s 16,733.

Dinniman, who earned more than 55 percent of the vote on May 16, told the West Chester Daily Local news that he knows he could not have won without the support of 35 to 40 percent of the Republicans who came out to vote. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the 19th District by 83,632 to 48,787.

In neighboring Montgomery County, another GOP stronghold, Ken Davis was re-elected county chairman by a 37-vote margin over reformer Robert J. Kerns. The 400-363 vote by Republican committee members shows the divide between the status quo and reform factions in the GOP. In other words, half the foot soldiers who are crucial to getting out the vote in November may not be so enthusiastic about the job ahead with Davis leading the troops. This is happening all over the state.

Another interesting development in Montgomery County that does not bode well for the GOP was recently detailed by columnist Margaret Gibbons in the Norristown Times Herald.

Gibbons studied voter registration numbers and found that 2,272 Montgomery County voters switched their registration from a political party to independent (non-partisan) in the months leading up to the primary. Gibbons’ take on those switches is that both Democratic and Republican voters were fed up with politics as usual and their switch to non-partisan status was their own private protest.

"After all, these folks could simply have remained on the rolls as Democratic or Republican but they made the effort to switch," Gibbons writes.

While there's no way to figure out how many Republicans dropped out of the party to register as independents, the fact that Montgomery County still has a huge GOP advantage in voter registration leads one to conclude that it’s mostly disenchanted Republicans who left the party.

Republicans control both houses of the state legislature, hold both of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seats and there are more Republican Congressmen from Pennsylvania than their Democratic counterparts. The only Democrats in power are Gov. Ed Rendell and Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., who wants to be a U.S. Senator.

If Pennsylvania Republicans lose control of the state House, if they are unable to oust a failed governor like Rendell or if they contribute to the loss of the either house in Congress by allowing Democrats to defeat GOP incumbents, look no further than the status quo leadership of the Republican Party for the blame.

Monday, June 05, 2006

When GOP insiders attack

I had no idea I had such power over voters until I received an e-mail last week from a Republican insider who single-handedly blames me for the Pennsylvania GOP's primary election massacre.

My Republican friend has showered me with praise for years as I skewered Democrats in this very same space. But the defeat of so many longtime Republican legislators on May 16 was too much for this rabid Republican to bear. He had to lash out at someone.

Plenty of old-school Republicans can't come to grips with the reality that when your party controls both houses of the state legislature and the legislature does nothing but rubber-stamp tax hikes and massive spending increases proposed by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, the Republicans bear as much of the responsibility for the troubled state of our state government.

I'm no fan of Rendell (see my previous column titled "The Worst Governor in the United States") but he signed $1.5 billion in tax hikes after the Republican-controlled House and Senate approved them. Rendell signed the notorious pay raise for himself, the legislature and state judges after it was passed by a bipartisan vote by Republicans and Democrats at 2 a.m. on July 7, 2005.

And when Republican voters went to the polls on May 16 to oust 14 Republican legislators, including the two most powerful GOP leaders in the state Senate (Chip Brightbill and Robert Jubelirer), they were sending a clear message to the good-old-boy Republican network that voters are tired of business as usual in Harrisburg.

That message apparently has not sunk in to political insiders, including the one who sent me the following note:

"I know where you stand vis-a-vis Republican incumbents, etc. My only comment: Be careful what you wish for. You might get it. Mike Folmer isn't qualified to carry Chip Brightbill's briefcase, and how much do you know about Dennis Leh's opponent? You can pile it on about the property tax and pay raise issues, but this blind-sidedness has cost the party and will make it significantly less difficult for Democrat candidates to take those seats. In my opinion, your efforts would have been more fruitful if directed at defeating Democratic incumbents — who also are up to their ears in property tax and pay raise actions. Grassroot efforts are admirable, but sometimes people put too much fertilizer on the grass and it burns off!

Let's try to walk a mile in this diehard Republican's shoes. Brightbill and Jubelirer have served in the state Senate for a combined 54 years. They've failed to produce meaningful tax relief. They've failed to contain runaway state spending. They've failed to curb Rendell's liberal agenda even though Senate Republicans enjoyed a 30-20 majority in the Senate before the primary. And Senate Republicans joined with Rendell to push through the July 2005 pay raise for themselves. So my GOP friend wants to send Brightbill and Jubelirer back to Harrisburg for four more years so they can fail some more?

What exactly scares GOP insiders about Mike Folmer (who defeated Brightbill by 7,600 votes) or John Eichelberger (who easily beat Jubelirer despite a three-way race), or Bill Reed who defeated 20-year incumbent Rep. Dennis Leh in Berks County?

Is it that these three individuals are not controlled by lobbyists? Is it because they want to reform Harrisburg? Is it that this new breed of Republican won't dance when GOP puppetmasters pull the strings? Is it because these conservative candidates answer to the people and not the party bosses?

The defeat of Jubelirer, Brightbill and Leh is good for the Republican Party and for Pennsylvania.

Jubelirer was sent into retirement by 22,335 Republican voters in his home district who no longer wanted him as their state senator. Brightbill was fired by 18,291 voters in Berks and Lebanon counties because he was too chummy with Rendell and too fond of the perks that elevated so many "public servants" into the rarefied air of the rich and famous.

Leh, who announced his retirement earlier this year but was talked into running for another term by party bosses, was given a permanent retirement by 1,675 voters who supported Reed, an unknown who financed his campaign by himself.

Change scares too many political insiders, but change is often necessary. Republicans can still salvage 2006 by embracing the reform candidates and tossing more political dead weight (are you listening John Perzel?) overboard.

Thanks to redistricting by the Republican-controlled state legislature, most districts are safe from Democratic incursions. But that's only if the party bosses put their egos aside and stop fighting the growing conservative tidal wave that swept so many new GOP candidates into the political spotlight on May 16.

If they play their cards right, Republicans can even take back traditionally Democratic districts. For example, three Republican candidates garnered a total of 2,429 votes in the 126th House District in Berks County, compared to 2,113 votes for 13-year incumbent Rep. Dante Santoni Jr., who is ripe for the picking.

Santoni and other vulnerable Democrats can be knocked off if GOP leaders stop acting like their whiny counterparts on the left, forget about helping Rendell and start listening to their conservative Republican base.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Senate immigration bill betrays the U.S.

What do Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, John Kerry, Harry Reid, Russ Feingold, Joe Biden, Dick Durbin, Pat Leahy, Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein have in common?

They are among the most liberal members in the U.S. Senate. They're all Democrats. Some of them plan to run for president in 2008. And every one of them voted in favor of the sweeping "immigration reform" bill passed in the Senate last week.

Without having to read a word of the 614-page bill, ask yourself one question. Can anything supported by Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry be good for the United States? The fact that so many politicians on the far left support this bill is reason enough to sound the alarm.

It gets worse. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 62 to 36, with two senators missing the vote. It passed with the support of 23 Republican senators, a motley crew that includes Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Bill Frist of Tennessee and John McCain of Arizona.

Frist and McCain essentially forfeited any chance of winning the Republican nomination for president in 2008 by turning their backs on the wishes of the majority of Americans. This bill is possibly the worst idea to come out of Washington, D.C., since Prohibition.

Frist and McCain sold out their country for political expediency. Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the electorate. They want to attract Latino voters at the expense of the rest of the country, including millions of immigrants who came here legally and followed the rules to become naturalized U.S. citizens. There cannot be any special treatment for illegal aliens. The fact that you broke into somebody's house does not entitle you to walk away with his belongings even after the police arrive.

The primary goal of the Senate bill is to provide amnesty to the millions of illegal aliens already living in the United States. It would make it easier for illegals to obtain citizenship and even gives them retroactive credit toward Social Security. In other words, it's not only OK with the majority of U.S. Senators that people break our laws, but we should make it easier for them to have a comfortable retirement.

The basic argument that senators are making is that there are too many illegal aliens already in the U.S. to consider sending them back home. It's the same as saying that there are too many criminals running around, so we'll tell the police to forget arresting any of them. Lawlessness has its rewards when it comes to the Senate bill.

The Senate bill was immediately hailed by Mexican President Vicente Fox, another reason this bill cannot possibly be good for the United States. If you were Fox, president of one of the most corrupt nations in the world, and had the opportunity to send millions of your poorest citizens into a neighboring country so they can make money, get free medical care and other benefits at the expense of the other nation’s taxpayers, of course you’d support it.

Mexico is not a good neighbor. The relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is a simple one. You get up in the morning, go next door to your neighbor's house, raid his refrigerator, put on his clothes, grab the keys to his car and help yourself to some spending money from his wallet on the way out.

The Senate's betrayal of America is nothing short of treason. Every senator who voted for the bill must be held accountable. (All but four Democrats in the Senate approved the bill). One-third of the Senate is up for re-election this year. Find out how your senator voted and fire him or her on Nov. 7.

In Pennsylvania, Specter doesn't have to face the voters until 2010, when he will probably retire. The state's other GOP senator, Rick Santorum, facing a tough re-election fight against the son of former Gov. Bob Casey, voted against the Senate bill even though Santorum is running behind the polls and is the No. 1 target of the far left during this election cycle. Santorum's courageous vote to oppose the amnesty bill is reason enough to re-elect him.

The fight is now in the House, where a House-Senate Conference Committee will attempt to "reconcile" the Senate amnesty bill. Let's make this real clear. There is nothing to reconcile. There is no compromise. The only hope the United States has to protect its borders from invasion and to save its sovereignty is for the House to reject the Senate bill outright.

All 435 members of the House face re-election in 2006. While most Democrats will follow the party line and support amnesty, some moderate Democrats may be persuaded to put down the Kool-Aid mixed by Howard Dean and do what's best for their country. Every Republican in the House must be told that their re-election depends on rejecting the amnesty bill.

Immigration reform is a complex issue, but the solution begins with the basic premise that the U.S. must secure its borders and stop illegal immigration. Amnesty is wrong. We must repair the holes in the dam before we worry about cleaning up the flood damage below.