Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Every vote does count

Who says your vote doesn't count?

In a stunning reversal of fortunes, Shannon Royer, the Republican candidate for Chester County's 156th House seat, lost the 19-vote lead he's been clinging to since Election Day.

Chester County officials today declared Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith the winner by 23 votes. Those 23 voters will have a dramatic impact on Pennsylvania's future.

Not only is Shannon Royer not going to Harrisburg as a state representative, but his loss caused a seismic political shift felt across Pennsylvania.

For the first time in 12 years, Democrats take control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by a 102-101 margin. Before the voters went to the polls on Nov. 7, Republicans enjoyed a comfortable 109-seat majority in the 203-member House, but the GOP lost eight seats.

The most devastating loss was in the 156th District, a seat held by Republican Elinor Z. Taylor for the past 30 years. Royer was hand-picked by the Republican bigwigs in Harrisburg to hold the seat for the GOP. Not only did he fail, but he cost his boss, John Perzel, another two year-term as Speaker of the House.

Prince John Perzel was nowhere to be found Tuesday as other politicians (mostly of the Democratic persuasion) were popping champagne corks. What's that Shakespeare said about Prince John? Something along the lines of "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."

Perzel will be lucky to keep his head when the new Legislature convenes in January. Since the July 2005 pay raise fiasco, Perzel has led the Republican Caucus from one minefield into another. Prince John Perzel and his sidekick, Sam Smith, are responsible for the GOP debacle throughout the 2006 election cycle. Dozens of Republican legislators were led over a cliff by Perzel and Smith.

As much as I don't mind seeing Perzel and Smith lose leadership of the House, I can't help but think that a Democratic speaker, Bill DeWeese, will be just as bad for Pennsylvania. (And let's not forget that DeWeese was one of the architects of the July 2005 pay raise).

At least we won't have to put up with the charade of Republicans helping to push through Rendell's agenda anymore. Rendell got his wish, a Democratic House, and he'll get all the lemmings in the Democratic Caucus to back his proposals for higher taxes, expanded gambling and more corporate welfare.

The only hope for Pennsylvania residents is the state Senate, where Republicans hold a 29-21 majority. It's the last line of defense against Rendell's tax-and-spend brand of liberalism that will lead Pennsylvania to financial ruin.

This is a perfect time for the Republican Party to purge people like Perzel and Smith and begin the rebuilding process with an eye toward 2008.

(In the second close Chester County race, Republican Duane Milne beat Democrat Anne Crowley by 144 votes to win the 167th District seat, according to Tuesday's count. Milne had been ahead since Election Day, but this was another Republican district that should never have been this close. The final numbers show Milne with 13,556 votes and Crowley with 13,412 votes.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hanging chads over Chester County

It's déjà vu all over again.

Shades of Florida in 2000 when the fate of the presidency hung on paper ballots with hanging chads. Fast-forward to Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 2006, and we apparently still don't know how to conduct an election.

Three weeks after voters had their say, Chester County elections' officials still haven't finished counting the ballots in two crucial legislative races.

County officials gathered again Monday for more counting, but still have not declared a winner in two tight legislative races. The Republican candidates are ahead in both races, but those are unofficial numbers. Also on Monday, lawyers for the Democratic candidates filed the necessary paperwork contesting the election -- just in case their clients finish second in the final tally.

The results are not only of interest to the four candidates on the ballot, but will determine which party controls the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. There are 203 state representatives and Republicans lost most, if not all, of the majority they held before Nov. 7. The party breakdown as of today is 101 Democrats and 100 Republicans, with the two Chester County races still to be determined.

In the 156th District, Republican Shannon E. Royer finished ahead of Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith by a scant 19 votes in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Elinor Z. Taylor, according to the vote total released Nov. 7.

In the 167th district, Republican Duane Milne held a preliminary lead of 136 votes over Democrat Anne R. Crowley, according to the unofficial vote total.

Those numbers could be reversed by uncounted absentee and provisional ballots. Why the counting of those ballots hasn’t been completed in the past three weeks is one of those great mysteries in life.

Republicans went into the Nov. 7 election with a safe majority of 109 House seats. Under the leadership of House Speaker John "Custer" Perzel and Majority Leader Sam "Waterloo" Smith, the GOP lost at least seven seats and Republicans are still holding their breath over the two races in Chester County.

Both seats were held by longtime Republicans and should have been won by Republicans, who enjoy a large voter registration advantage in each district. But with Perzel and Smith running the party, the 2006 election was more like the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

So what is going on in Chester County? On Monday, elections' officials concluded an unofficial review of some ballots cast by military and overseas voters, but were not expected to begin sifting through about 600 uncounted absentee ballots until today at the earliest, according to The Associated Press.

The best-case scenario for Republicans is to hold the leads in both Chester County contests and return to Harrisburg in January with a 102-101 majority. If the Republicans lose one of the disputed seats, say goodbye to 12 years of Republican control of the state legislature.

Regardless of the outcome, can any rational person explain why the Republican Caucus re-elected Perzel and Smith to leadership posts for the next two years after what these two buffoons did the party over the last two years?

Perzel and Smith rounded up enough Republican votes to pass Gov. Ed Rendell's massive income tax hike in 2003, the casino gambling bill in 2004 and the pay raise in 2005. With RINOs (Republican In Name Only) like Perzel and Smith, who needs Democrats in Harrisburg?

Perzel and Smith should have been run out of the state Capitol on a rail by their fellow Republicans instead of being rewarded again to leadership posts.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Don't let the door hit you on the way out

Sore losers? Sour grapes? Ingrates? You better believe it.

Some of Pennsylvania's imperial lawmakers who were tossed out of office by voters this year took a few parting shots at constituents and the news media as they cleaned out their desks and prepared to leave the royal surroundings of the state Capitol.

This is what happens when a class of political elite is allowed to propagate unchecked in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. These career politicians expect to stay in office for decades, and the longer they hold on to the trappings of power, the less interested they become in representing the folks back home.

Regardless of your party affiliation, one of the bright spots of 2006 was the fact that dozens of career politicians at the state and national level were fired by the voters of Pennsylvania.

The sour grapes began shortly after the May 2006 primary elections, when 17 incumbent Pennsylvania legislators were booted from office. Another 31 chose to "retire" rather than face the voters.

Dennis Leh, a 20-year veteran of the Harrisburg scene, had this to say when he lost to a no-name opponent who spent about $1,200 of his own money for signs and a few newspaper ads but did little else in the way of campaigning:

Challenger Billy Reed didn't beat me, Leh said. "The papers did. We deserved some of it, but the papers just crucified us." That remark was followed by a letter to the editor by Leh's wife questioning the intellect of the voters who ousted her hubby.

The Harrisburg housecleaning continued in November when several more entrenched career politicians, most notably Mike Veon (the No. 2 Democrat in the state House) were fired.

As the Legislature ended its session this week, some of the bums who were kicked out of office had a few choice words for the people they were elected to serve and for the reporters who cover Harrisburg.

According to veteran statehouse reporter Alison Hawkes, Chester County Republican Rep. Robert J. Flick lashed out at the media for intense coverage of the pay raise and at voters for taking the bait.

To the news media who "suckle at the bosom of disgruntled lawmakers — get a life, get a real job," Flick said last week, according to the Hawkes' article, "Lawmakers bitter over defeat."

Flick's comment was met with some applause on the House, Hawkes reported.

Rep. Roy Baldwin, a Lancaster County Republican who lost in the primary, said the pay raise "taught me how the media can take control of an issue and blow it out of proportion" to sell more newspapers. "In my opinion, the media is influencing the direction of this House much more than it should."

Again applause, according to Hawkes.

Yeah, Roy, I can see how that media can blow a 54-percent pay raise approved at 2 a.m. out of proportion.

The comments were unusual in that farewell speeches are normally used to praise fellow members and staff, speak of accomplishments, tell inside jokes and offer departing wisdom, Hawkes wrote.

Hawkes also spoke to Tim Potts, coordinator for Democracy Rising PA, who said the angry comments, particularly against the media, show lawmakers are unable to recognize that their wounds are self-inflicted.

"The media can't report on the pay raise if they didn't do the pay raise. The media can't report on secrecy if they are not secretive," Potts said. "The only thing delusional about what's in the media is the attitude of the members themselves."

Another veteran Harrisburg observer, Michael Race, also wrote about the departing legislators in an article headlined, "Political sour grapes," for the Times-Shamrock Newspapers.

While most have been reflective, a few have opted to toss bombs on their way out the door, Race reported.

Rep. Stephen Maitland, R-Adams, whose constituents ousted him in the May primary, unleashed a bitter rant last week, essentially telling the voters of his district they were closed-minded fools for ending his political career.

"I don’t regret my pay-raise vote one bit," Maitland said. "I just wish the voters had listened with open minds about it. In a very short period of time, I’ll be making two to three times what a state representative makes," Maitland added, a reference to his budding career as a lawyer. "You passed up a bargain."

Race also highlighted Rep. Robert Flick's bizarre comments about the media who "suckle at the breast of disgruntled lawmakers."

"Get a life," Flick told members of the journalism community. "Get a real job. You couldn’t accomplish half of what the good men and women in this chamber do for the public and for the commonwealth."

It's hard to feel sorry for any of the legislators who were tossed out on their keisters by the voters. They're set for life. They've made tons of money by feeding from the public trough for decades. They took a lot more in cash and gifts from lobbyists that we'll never know about. They will get taxpayer-paid pensions (many in the $50,000 to $100,000 a year range) and free medical care for themselves and their families for the rest of their lives.

Good riddance.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Act 1, an exercise in futility

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king who offended the gods. As punishment, he was forced to roll a giant boulder up a hill but before he reached the top, the rock would roll back down. Sisyphus would have to repeat his task for eternity.

The legend of Sisyphus speaks about the futility and hopelessness of some tasks.

If Sisyphus lived in modern-day Pennsylvania, he probably would have been appointed to a tax study commission by his local school board.

All across Pennsylvania, hundreds of volunteers have been meeting to make recommendations to their respective school boards on the best way to levy taxes to fund school budgets.

The tax commissions are a requirement of Act 1, the so-called property tax relief bill the state Legislature came up with after an eight-month special session. Act 1 was promptly signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell, who went on to proclaim he delivered on his promise to cut property taxes, although his plan delivers rebates to 20 percent of Pennsylvania residents.

As the tax commissions make recommendations to school boards over the next few weeks, it will become apparent to all Pennsylvania taxpayers that Act 1 is one of the biggest scams ever perpetuated on an unsuspecting public by politicians.

Most Pennsylvania residents will end up paying more in taxes under Act 1. One area school district calculated that 73 percent of its homeowners will pay more in taxes under this "property tax relief" plan.

Frequently heard comments about Act 1 at tax commission meetings include: "an exercise in futility," "a sick joke," "a no-win situation," "a dead end" and "two steps up, three steps back."

One area tax study commission reviewed a dozen scenarios for tinkering with the school district's tax rate and concluded that the majority of its taxpayers would be worse off under all 12 scenarios.

Some say Act 1 was a deliberate slap in the face to school districts by Gov. Rendell and the Legislature because more than 80 percent of the state's 501 school districts rejected an earlier "tax relief" plan known as Act 72. Remember last year when Rendell questioned the intelligence of school board members who voted against Act 72?

Could Act 1 be payback by Rendell and the Legislature because Pennsylvania's political aristocracy was forced to confront the property tax issue for most of its last session?

Many school districts are holding out hope that the Legislature will come to its senses and repeal Act 1 once 55 new legislators are sworn into office in January. But the recent election of the same party leaders who pushed through the pay raise of 2005 and Act 72 and Act 1 makes you wonder if anyone in Harrisburg has any clue at all.

If Act 1 is not repealed, taxpayers will have to learn phrases like "back-end referendum" and "front-end referendum." Act 1 will pit elderly homeowners against younger wage earners to see who pays more in school taxes. Act 1 gives voters a chance to say "yes" or "no" to a tax shift from property taxes to an earned-income tax (EIT) or a personal-income tax (PIT). Who is going to vote "yes" to raising their own taxes?

Back to Sisyphus. If voters turn down a recommendation to switch to an EIT or PIT when they go to the polls in May 2007, school districts fall back on the property tax. And even if an EIT or PIT is approved, school districts can still raise property taxes each year. Also keep in mind that renters will never receive a tax break under Act 1. Any reduction in the property tax goes only to low-income homeowners who file the necessary paperwork.

Why are Rendell and the Legislature making property owners jump through rings of fire to get a few hundred dollars in property tax relief? That's a question voters should have asked themselves before re-electing Rendell and so many incumbents to the Legislature.

The only viable answer to the property tax quandary is the total elimination of property taxes under the Plan for Pennsylvania's Future, commonly known as the Commonwealth Caucus Plan. But Rendell and every single Democrat in the state Legislature oppose the plan. The most votes the Caucus Plan received in the last session was 74, all Republicans. A majority of 102 is needed to pass the House.

Gov. Rendell and the Legislature shirked their responsibility by punting the property tax question back to voters. We elect these people to represent us and we reward them handsomely to make decisions. Rendell and the Legislature should not have forced residents to pick their poison with Act 1.

Contact your legislator today and demand they repeal Act 1 and support the Commonwealth Caucus Plan to eliminate property taxes. No more excuses. If your legislator wants to keep his or her job, they have to start doing their job.

Remind them that 2008 will be here in no time and you have a long memory. The job of cleaning up Harrisburg has just begun.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Legislators off to a bad start

Pennsylvania politicians delivered a one-two punch to the gut of their contituents this week.

The first body blow came when Democrats and Republicans in the state House each re-elected the same leadership team that orchestrated the July 2005 legislative pay raise.

Despite all the talk of reform and promises by incumbents to mend their evil ways, little has changed in Harrisburg. One in five legislators were forced into retirement or voted out in the May primary and November general election, but the remaining members of Pennsylvania's political aristocracy decided to maintain the status quo.

Another blow to taxpayers came Friday when officials announced that the Legislature, the governor and most other statewide officials would get an automatic 2 percent pay raise. The legislators will see more money in their paychecks starting Dec. 1. The governor, his cabinet and state judges will get theirs come Jan. 1.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy, one of the architects of the July 2005 pay raise, will be the highest paid elected officials in Pennsylvania in 2007 with an annual salary of $180,336. The other six members of the state Supreme Court will earn $175,236 a year.

Gov. Ed Rendell, another prime mover behind the pay raise, will be paid $164,396. (This would be the very same Ed Rendell who vetoed a bill to allow communities to spread out collection of the $52 local services tax. Workers will see the entire amount removed from their first paycheck of 2007. When you’re making $164,000 a year, $52 means nothing, but when you work for a living, a $52 hit in your paycheck is significant.

House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, another originator of the July 2005 pay raise, will pocket $114,916 a year.

The Senate president pro tempore will also get $114,916, but we won't find out who that is until next week when the Senate picks its leadership slate. The last pro tempore, Robert Jubelirer, was voted out of office in the May 2006 primary.

The starting salary for a Pennsylvania legislator will rise to $73,614 on Dec. 1, keeping the Pennsylvania's House of Lords among the highest paid lawmakers in the country, behind only California, Michigan and New York. Because Pennsylvania has the largest full-time Legislature in the country, it keeps its ranking as the most expensive in the land.

Pennsylvania politicians get an automatic pay raise every year unless they vote to turn it down. That hasn’t happened in the past 10 years. This year’s 2 percent increase is the lowest cost-of-living adjustment for state officials since 2002. In other years, the pay increase has exceeded 5 percent.

Although the base salary for legislators is $73,614, many of the 253 legislators will make much more because they hold various caucus leadership positions or serve as committee chairmen.

Salaries for 28 elected caucus leaders will range from $106,657 for majority and minority leaders, to $83,940 for caucus secretaries, administrators and policy committee chairs, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

And the salary is just the beginning.

Lawmakers receive a lifetime pension (an average of $50,000 a year), full medical, dental and vision plans for themselves and family members, taxpayer-funded life insurance, long-term care insurance, free use of a state car or $650 a month to lease a car of their choice, gasoline reimbursement and $141 per diem for showing up for work in Harrisburg.

The per diem system is ripe with abuse. One legislator who lost re-election this year was known to drive to Harrisburg daily, sign in to collect his $141 per diem and then take the rest of the day off to play golf. Legislators can collect tens of thousands of dollars each year in per diems on top of their salary.

Taxpayers end up paying about $2.7 million a year in per diem reimbursements to legislators. The average legislator who was eligible claimed about $24,000 in per diems last year, according to The Associated Press. And some did a lot better. Rep. Gaynor Cawley, D-Scranton, collected a total of $39,998 in per diems from Jan. 1, 2005, through June 30, 2006, according to The Citizens Voice newspaper in Wilkes-Barre.

And this is just the perks taxpayers pay for.

Legislators also receive free meals, free trips, free lodging, free tickets to sporting events and concerts and all sorts of other gifts from lobbyists trying to influence legislation.

Pennsylvania voters sent a message in 2006. They want reform. Instead, the legislators who went back to Harrisburg this week betrayed the voters and returned the same self-serving leaders who gave us the July 2005 pay raise and repeatedly blocked efforts to eliminate property taxes. Putting Republicans John Perzel and Sam Smith and Democrat Bill DeWeese back into power is a travesty.

The ouster of 55 legislators was a start, but it's painfully obvious that hundreds more, both Democrats and Republicans, must be removed from office.

Who will control the Pennsylvania House?

Control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives could be determined Tuesday.

As of Friday, Republicans and Democrats each hold 101 seats in the 203 House. Republicans claim they won the final contest, the race for Chester County’s 156th Dist., but the counting continues. Another close race, in Chester County's 167th Dist., is also being reviewed by elections officials.

Republican Shannon Royer apparently won the 157th seat on Election Day by 19 votes over Democrat McIlvaine Smith. Unofficial results have Royer with 11,500 to McIlvaine Smith’s 11, 481 votes.

But the results are not yet officials, leaving some doubt over which party will control the state House in 2007 and who gets to be Speaker of the House.

Chester County officials issued the following statement Friday afternoon:

"The Provisional Board has finished reviewing all voters’ registration issues for the 156th District. The determination is that, of the 38 provisional ballots cast on Election Day, only 20 were validated for inclusion in the final vote count. The Provisional Board validation process began today for the 167th, in which 64 provisional voters will be reviewed. The Board of Elections will meet Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006, at 10:30 am to hear challenges concerning the provisional and absentee ballots cast in the 156th and 167th Legislative Districts. The meeting will be held in room 171 of the Government Services Center, located at 601 Westtown Road in West Chester, PA.The Computation Board has completed the process for all precincts in Chester County, except for those precincts within the 156th and 167th districts. Until all challenges have been heard and decided upon, the districts cannot be certified."

In the 167th Dist., unofficial results show Republican Duane Milne received 13,309 votes, and Democrat Anne R. Crowley had 13,173 votes. Democrats have challenged the results.

Before the Nov. 7 election, Republicans held 109 seats in the House. The GOP's best-case scenario is a loss of 7 seats. And this is why the Republican caucus re-elected John Perzel as speaker and Sam Smith as majority leader? These two men presided over the loss of those 7 seats.

Perzel and Smith were also behind the July 20005 pay raise fiasco that started the whole anti-incumbent movement. Perzel and Smith also blocked all reforms and oppose efforts to eliminate property taxes.

If Republicans are wondering why they're no longer in control in Pennsylvania, look no further than Perzel and Smith (and the dimwitted Republicans who re-elected them as their caucus leaders).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Final thoughts on the 2006 election

I've waited an entire week to comment on the results of the Nov. 7 election. Now that the dust has settled, here are some random thoughts.

While I was disappointed that Ed Rendell and his young ward, Bobby Casey Jr., won their respective races — both are bad for Pennsylvania — I can't say that I was surprised Republicans lost control of Congress.

The GOP majority over the past few years has betrayed the Republican cause and acted just like Democrats. They got lazy and greedy — just like Democrats. And there's no arguing that the Bush administration has botched the Iraq War. Republicans deserved what they got.

Having said that, my biggest worry over the next two years is that President Bush won't be able to appoint a solid conservative to the Supreme Court should one of the aging liberals on the court kick the bucket. Instead of a John Roberts or a Samuel Alito, we'll probably end up with another Anthony Kennedy or David Souter. That's the biggest downside to a Democratic majority in the Senate.

Otherwise, I had a pretty good Election Day.

My favorite candidate, Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-6th Dist.), won his race against the heavily favored Lois Murphy. It was a close contest, decided by just 3,000 votes. Gerlach beat the Democratic wave that sank so many other incumbent Republicans because of two reasons. First, he's a good Congressman who has done a good job representing his district. Second, Gerlach's campaign used excerpts from my columns in their newspaper and television advertising and also in direct mailings. I can't tell you how many Democrats, Libertarians and independents approached me to say they saw the commercials and had second thoughts about Gerlach's far left opponent. I'm convinced my endorsement put Gerlach over the top.

One of my favorite political sites,, compiled a list of the Best and Worst Political Campaigns of 2006. At the top of the list is Jim Gerlach for Congress.

Here's what the folks at had to say: "Let's be honest ... Congressman Jim Gerlach ran abysmal campaigns in the last two cycles. This time, Gerlach imported Mark Campbell. Campbell ran an aggressive, mean campaign — the only kind of campaign that might have given Gerlach a shot to avoid the strong Democratic tide this year. He is responsible for driving up opponent Lois Murphy's negatives to the point where some in the press even believed she was a lobbyist and plagiarizer. Campbell is the kind of guy you want running your race when everyone thinks you are going to lose. A week before the election, Chuck Todd (National Journal's Hotline editor) said of PA-6, "I'm picking Gerlach. He's run the best race of the cycle."

In some other races, 7 of the 10 legislators I endorsed in Berks County won their races. That's a pretty good batting average. Also, 11 of the 14 legislators running in Chester and Montgomery counties who I supported won their races.

This was a difficult year to be a Republican, but 2008 is right around the corner. George W. Bush will be leaving office and the Democrats won't be able to run against an incumbent president in 2008.

Democrats will also have two years of Congressional votes to defend. I can see the campaign ads already: "Democrat John Doe voted to give himself a pay raise in the past two years. Congresswoman Jane Doe voted with Nancy Pelosi 98 percent of the time."

What goes around comes around in politics and the Democrats will be on the defensive in 2008. They have to defend the most seats. The Democrats sat on their hands over the past two years and offered no solutions to any of the country's problems. Now that they're in the majority, they have to lead.

The GOP will make a strong comeback in 2008, winning back both house of Congress by large majorities and keeping the White House in Republican hands. It doesn't matter who the Republican presidential candidate is. Anybody running against Hillary Clinton will win.

Monday, November 13, 2006

One crisis after another

Get used to seeing the word "crisis" frequently during the next four years of an Ed Rendell administration.

Rendell's Ministry of Propaganda and his allies in the news media worked hard in the months leading up to the Nov. 7 election to persuade millions of Pennsylvania voters that things couldn't be any better in Pennsylvania. Now that the election is over, and Rendell gets another four years in the governor’s mansion, it's time for the truth to come out about the sorry state of the Commonwealth.

You didn't really believe those Rendell campaign commercials did you?

The first crisis that Pennsylvania has to deal with involves transportation. It will be followed by many more. Look for the pension crisis, the school funding crisis, the budget crisis, the healthcare crisis, etc.

Every one of those neglected areas will need billions of dollars to fix. And guess who will be paying the bill?

The chickens are coming home to roost for Rendell's first four years of runaway spending and irresponsible borrowing, corporate welfare and the diversion of funds to prop up poorly managed mass transit systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

One week after the election, the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission, appointed by Rendell to study the state’s transportation infrastructure, has come back with some bad news.

In a 150-page report, the commission says Pennsylvania needs $1.7 billion to fix the state's highways and bridges and bankroll the perpetually failing SEPTA system. And where will this money come from? The commission would like Pennsylvania residents to cough up more to obtain a driver's license, register their vehicles and fill up a tank of gas.

The specifics will have to be ironed out by Rendell and the state Legislature, but the commission wants to see the 19-cents-per-gallon oil franchise tax raised by 11.5 cents per gallon. The higher gas tax, coupled with increased motor vehicle registration and license fees, would generate about $900 million for highway and bridge projects, the commission says.

The tax hikes won't stop there. The report also calls for raising $65 million for bridges and highways owned by counties and municipalities through an additional 1-cent increase in the oil franchise tax. The commission is also recommending a combination of state and local taxes to raise another $760 million for mass transit. The Rendell administration would raise its $576 million share by raising the 1 percent realty transfer tax by less than one percentage point; counties and municipalities would raise their shares by imposing local sales, earned-income, or realty-transfer taxes.

(Keep in mind that this new round of tax hikes is separate from the tax increases being considered by your local school board under Act 1, which Rendell signed into law earlier this year. Many school districts will be imposing earned-income tax hikes or increases in the personal income tax in a hair-brained scheme to lower property taxes. But in some school districts, up to 70 percent of taxpayers will end up paying more in taxes under Act 1. That's what Rendell and the state Legislature came up with as "tax relief" after months of negotiations. Also, Act 1 does not prevent school districts from raising property taxes every year.)

Rendell formed the transportation commission in early 2005 when the Republican-controlled Legislature refused to bail out the state's mismanaged transit agencies. Rendell siphoned more than $400 million in federal highway funds to keep SEPTA afloat until 2007. Guess what? SEPTA is running out of money again. SEPTA and the Port Authority of Allegheny County expect to run up an $80 million deficit in the first six months of 2007.

Don't you feel like a jerk right about now for re-electing Rendell? This is the thanks you get? He is going to raise the gas tax and make you pay a higher mortgage. The Associated Press calculates the typical driver will pay $84 more a year to cover the higher gas tax and fee increases. The proposed realty transfer tax increase would add about $60 a year to a 30-year, $150,000 mortgage for homeowners, according to The Associated Press.

And this is just the beginning. By re-electing Rendell, Pennsylvania voters guaranteed four more years of higher taxes to pay for the massive expansion of state spending — $6 billion so far — under Rendell. And don't forget about that $4 billion in borrowing during Rendell’s first four years in office. You and your children and your grandchildren will be paying off those loans long after Ed Rendell has moved on to bigger and better things.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Rendell develops amnesia on property taxes

I warned you about Ed Rendell. In fact, I gave you 33 reasons why he did not deserve re-election. But did you listen? Nooooo! More than 2.4 million of you decided it was a good idea to give Rendell another four years to tax and spend Pennsylvania into the poor house.

Are you having second thoughts yet? If not, consider this.

The day after the Rendell landslide, the governor held a press conference to discuss his second-term agenda. What hot issues will Rendell tackle in 2007? He mentioned education, economic development, mass transit funding, the environment, health coverage, term limits for the state Legislature and campaign finance reform.

Conspicuously absent from the governor's list of priorities was property tax relief.

That's right. The No. 1 issue that voters want addressed escaped the governor's mind.

This is the very same governor who promised four years ago to cut everyone's property tax bill by 30 percent while standing on his head. The very same governor who called for a special session of the Legislature last September to deal with property tax relief.

The very same governor who has tried all kinds of parlor tricks (Act 72, Act 1, Slot Machines) to distract Pennsylvania taxpayers from the fact that he has failed to deal with property taxes.

Now that he's been re-elected, Rendell doesn't even want to discuss property taxes. Feeling duped?

Get ready for four more years of tax hikes. Rendell will push for an increase in the sales tax, the income tax and the gas tax in 2007. Get set for more spending. And brace yourself for more borrowing.

Right before the election, a report came out that Pennsylvania's debt has risen to $10 BILLION. It went up by $4 BILLION under Gov. Rendell. This is on top of record spending by Rendell, which has brought the state budget to $26.1 BILLION.

Pennsylvania is spending a twice the rate of inflation. And we're deeper in debt. That is Rendell’s legacy. We are going to be paying for Rendell's spending for generations to come.

And this Monday, the long-awaited report on the state of Pennsylvania's transportation infrastructure comes out. Interesting how the report is being released a week after the election.

The report will say that Pennsylvania needs to find billions more each year to fix its roads and bridges. And if you've been listening closely to Rendell, the state needs to find a "dedicated source of revenue" to subsidize mass transit in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Translation: Get ready to pay more at the pump. Pennsylvania's gas tax will be going up!!!

Don't say I didn't warn you.

In the meantime, get in touch with Rendell and remind him that he still works for you. Here's where to call or write: Gov. Edward G. Rendell's Office, 225 Main Capitol Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120. Call 717-787-2500. E-mail at this Web site:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A few bright spots for Republicans

George W. Bush lost his first national election Tuesday.

The president wasn't on the ballot anywhere in the United States, but clearly Tuesday's vote was a repudiation of Bush's handling of the Iraq War.

Bush still has two years left in the White House, but voters punished the Republican Party for the Bush administration's failures in Iraq by turning control of the House of Representatives over to the Democrats for the first time in 12 years. The Senate could end up tied 50-50 or in Democratic hands depending on the outcome of one race that is still too close to call.

The resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Wednesday was another casualty of Tuesday's vote. What if Rumsfeld had quit a week ago? Would the Republicans have held onto Congress?

While Nancy Pelosi is busy picking out curtains for her new office as Speaker of the House, was this really a mandate for the Democrats? Eighteen of the House seats that went to the Democrats Tuesday were won by 5,000 or fewer votes. They could easily swing back to the Republicans in 2008. And many of the Democrats who won Tuesday are moderates or conservative. How far are they willing to follow Pelosi, a San Francisco liberal?

Now that Democrats are in the majority, they no longer can sit on the sidelines and just complain. They actually have to get off their duffs and do their jobs, something they haven't done since 2004. Saying "no" to every initiative offered by President Bush offers won't cut it anymore. Democrats will actually have to lead, something they're not very good at doing.

My prediction is that Pelosi and her liberals will fall flat on their faces over the next two years, clearing the way for an even bigger GOP majority in 2008. Remember that Bush won't be a factor in 2008. When your entire strategy is to run against the president and he's done with his term, you have no strategy at all.

For Pennsylvania Republicans looking for a glimmer of hope following Tuesday's Election Day drubbing, here's a few points to consider:

* Incumbent Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach won re-election against heavily favored Lois Murphy. Gerlach was the No. 1 target of Democrats in this year's House races. Despite millions of dollars poured into the Murphy campaign and visits from Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, Lois Murphy was rejected by voters in the 6th Congressional District. This is a race Democrats wanted to win badly, but they blew it.

* Seven other incumbent Republican congressmen from Pennsylvania won re-election Tuesday: Charlie Dent, Joe Pitts, Phil English, John Peterson, Bill Shuster, Tim Murphy and Todd Platts.

* U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick finally conceded the 8th District seat Wednesday afternoon to his Democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy, who isn't old enough to shave. I predict Murphy will serve one term. Republicans will get the seat back in 2008. When the dust settled, Pennsylvania's 19-member Congressional delegation ended up with 11 Democrats and 8 Republicans. Not exactly a Democratic wave.

More bright spots for the Republicans:

* Mike Veon, the No. 2 Democrat in the state House and one of the architects of the July 2005 legislative payjacking, lost to a GOP reformer in western Pennsylvania. Veon was the only legislator voting against the pay raise repeal in November 2005.

* Seven of the 10 Republicans running for state Legislative seats in my neck of the woods, Berks County, won their races. The group of 10 ran as a reform coalition and promises to stir things up in Harrisburg.

* It doesn't appear Democrats will win control of the state House despite Gov. Ed Rendell's coattails and the $3 million Rendell tossed into Legislative races to help get a Democratic majority.

* Republicans hold a solid majority in the state Senate and with Rendell cronies Bob Jubilirer and Chip Brightbill gone, don't expect cooperation from the Senate leadership when it comes to pushing Rendell's tax-and-spend agenda.

* Three candidates endorsed by the Pennsylvania Club for Growth PAC, Mike Folmer (48th Senate District), Jim Cox (128th House District) and Todd Rock (90th House District) won their respective races Tuesday, showing the growing influence of GOP conservatives in Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

GOP signs vandalized

Campaign signs for three Republican candidates were vandalized overnight in Berks County.

Someone spray-painted over the names of U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach and state Rep. Sam Rohrer -- all Republicans -- on campaign signs along a two-mile stretch of Route 422 in Exeter.

Interestingly, campaign signs for Democratic candidates Bob Casey Jr., Lois Murphy and Russ Hummel -- placed right next to the vandalized GOP signs -- were not touched.

Gerlach was the victim of two other sign-related attacks in recent days. An elderly man ripped down dozens of Gerlach signs along Route 100 in Chester County. (The man is facing charges after a passing motorist called police).

Gerlach signs were also removed from a grassy area by the entrance to the Route 422 bypass in Douglassville. (Give the Gerlach camp credit. New Gerlach signs were back on Election Day in this area).

In Delaware County, someone painted a negative comment about U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon on the side of an overpass at a busy highway.

Are Democrats so desperate that they have to resort to vandalism because they're not getting out the vote they expected? Stay tuned.

Lois Murphy in my neighborhood?

Democrat Lois Murphy, challenging incumbent Jim Gerlach in the 6th Congressional District, stopped by the polling site in my hometown today. I can't figure out how she found the place since it's a long way from her swanky Main Line neighborhood that I wrote about in a column called "Lois Murphy is not my neighbor."

I heard that Mrs. Murphy was not too happy with the column or the Gerlach campaign's use of quotes from the column in campaign literature and television commercials attacking Murphy and her liberal supporters. For the record, I have no dealings with the Gerlach campaign.

A colleague at The Mercury was watching TV today and heard a promo from the anchorman about an "altercation" involving Murphy at a polling site. He naturally assumed it was me, but I was nowhere near the polling site when Mrs. Murphy pulled into town.

The incident happened in Murphy's real neighborhood, where an elderly Jim Gerlach supporter stood outside the poll with a campaign sign. The TV cameras showed Murphy's husband pushing the Gerlach supporter aside.

What's with all this aggression on the part of liberals these days?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Hidden voices must be heard

More than 165,000 Pennsylvania residents signed nominating petitions this year to place third-party and independent candidates on the Nov. 7 ballot. But you won't find most of those candidates on the ballot.

This is Pennsylvania, where Democrats and Republicans don't want voters to have a choice other than one of their hand-picked candidates.

Russ Diamond, the founder of PaCleanSweep, is one of the names you won't find on the ballot Tuesday. Diamond gathered 38,000 signatures to run as an independent for governor. That's 20 times more signatures than those required by Ed Rendell or Lynn Swann. But Diamond failed to make the ballot because he could not meet the 67,000-signature requirement set by an archaic formula in the state constitution.

Even when a third-party candidate gathers enough signatures, Democrat and Republican party bosses have ways to knock them off the ballot. A perfect example of this is Carl Romanelli, the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania. Romanelli collected 99,802 nominating signatures to have his name put on the ballot next to Sen. Rick Santorum and Bob Casey Jr., but the Casey campaign and the Democratic Party took Romanelli to court.

A state judge ruled that Romanelli did not have enough valid signatures on his petitions so he kicked Romanelli off the ballot. Our Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves. This is what passes for Democracy in modern-day Pennsylvania. Two political parties control elections and can disenfranchise thousands of their fellow citizens, with the blessing of the courts.

The state Constitution guarantees that "Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage."

Where is that Constitutional protection for Russ Diamond, Carl Romanelli and hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters who don't want to register as Republican or Democrat?

The Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg last week to bring attention to the denial of constitutional rights to so many Pennsylvanians.

Each of the speakers was introduced as a "hidden voice" by Ken Krawchuk, a perennial Libertarian Party candidate and an officer in the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition.

Because of restrictive ballot access laws, Pennsylvania is one of only four states where third-party candidates will not be allowed to run for statewide office this year.

In addition to Diamond and Romanelli, several other candidates denied access to the 2006 ballot attended the press conference: Ronald W. Satz, Libertarian Party candidate for governor; Hagan Smith, Constitution Party candidate for governor; Tom Martin, Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. Senate) and Carl C. Edwards, Constitution Party candidate for U.S. Senate.

While some third-party candidates will be on the ballot for state legislative races, including Libertarian James Babb in Montgomery County's 157th state House District and Jeff Brindle, Socialist Party candidate for Chester County's 26th state House District, there are no candidates for governor, lieutenant governor or U.S. senator on Tuesday’s ballot.

While the Democratic Party and Bob Casey are to blame for keeping Romanelli off the ballot, the Republican Party also wants to restrict ballot access. The only reason the two dominant parties have offered to deny third-party candidates access to elections is something they're calling "ballot clutter."

In other words, Republicans and Democrats think Pennsylvania voters are too dumb to choose a governor or a senator from a list of five candidates. They can only handle two: Rendell or Swann.

Never mind that in 2002, Democratic primary voters picked from nine candidates for lieutenant governor or in 2004, Democratic Party voters had 11 presidential candidates on the primary ballot. And in some legislative races this May, up to five Democrats or Republicans were on the ballot.

Pennsylvania's two-party monopoly (or should that be duopoly?) is a disgrace. The two major political parties and the courts have schemed for too long to deny Pennsylvania voters their most basic of rights.

If you are a member of the Libertarian Party, Green Party, Constitution Party, America First Party, Reform Party, Prohibition Party, Socialist Party or Unified Independent Party, you are a second class citizen.

If you're looking for another reason to vote out incumbents on Tuesday, keep in mind that most of the Democrats and Republicans on the ballot don't want you to have a choice.

The only recourse is to elect new candidates to the state Legislature and make sure they support the Voters' Choice Act. So far, only a handful of incumbent legislators have shown the courage to publicly support the bill. That list, along with more background about free and equal elections, is posted on the coalition's Web site,

In the meantime, there is something you can do Tuesday if you don't want to give Gov. Ed Rendell four more years as governor but you can't bring yourself to elect Lynn Swann. Same goes for the Santorum-Casey race. As a protest to the limits the major parties place on your right to choose, you can write in the names of third-party candidates.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

'Better than nothing'

I have a suggestion for a new state motto for Pennsylvania: "Better than nothing."

A coalition of reform groups gathered on the steps of the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg Tuesday to announce its report card for the governor and Legislature on a variety of reform issues.

Here's how it went: On election reform — F. On lame duck sessions — F. On redistricting — F. On legislative voting records — F. On campaign financing — F. On ballot access — F. You get the picture.

Gov. Ed Rendell and most of the incumbents in Harrisburg still don't get it. Everyone is calling themselves “reformers” these days, but talk is cheap. The incumbent politicians are telling voters what they want to hear to fool them into re-electing the usual suspects on Nov. 7. Then, it's back to business as usual.

The only way things will change in Harrisburg is for Rendell and most of the incumbent legislators on the ballot to lose. There are no Republicans or Democrats on the ballot this year. It's the status quo party versus citizen soldiers who want to change the system. It's a battle between the political aristocracy and the people.

So far this year, 31 incumbents have decided to retire rather than face the voters. Another 17 legislators, including the top two Republican leaders in the state Senate, were defeated in the May primary. That means up to 48 reformers will be going to Harrisburg next year. That may not be enough. They need reinforcements. More incumbents have to pay the price on Election Day for the pay raise vote and their overall lack of accomplishment in Harrisburg.

Back to the reform coalition for a minute. The group gave the governor and Legislature failing grades in every reform category except one, the recently enacted lobbyist disclosure bill that awaits Gov. Ed Rendell's signature. Until the bill is signed, Pennsylvania has the distinction of being the only state in the nation without rules to regulate lobbyists, who spend tens of millions of dollars every year to influence politicians and the laws they pass.

Barry Kauffman of Common Cause/PA gave the Legislature a “B minus” for the bill, but when pressed by reporters to justify such a high grade for what is widely seen as weak legislation, Kauffman said it was “better than nothing.”

Better than nothing. Where have we heard these words before?

In televised debates with Republican challenger Lynn Swann, Rendell said his attempt at tax reform (the rebates for low-income seniors) was “better than nothing.”

That seems to be the favorite phrase of incumbent politicians as we head to Nov. 7. It may not be property tax reform, but it's better than nothing. It may not really curb abuses by lobbyists and greedy politicians, but it's better than nothing.

Why should Pennsylvania always have to settle for less? Why can't we have real reform? Why do we have to tolerate so much mediocrity in our politicians?

It's not that we don't pay them well. Even after the July 2005 pay raise was repealed, Pennsylvania legislators are still the second highest paid in the nation. (And on Dec. 1, they will get a cost-of-living increase of at least 3.5 percent, raising the starting salary for a Pennsylvania legislator to around $74,000 a year. The pay raise is automatic unless the legislators vote not to accept it. Don’t hold your breath.)

The “better than nothing” attitude has also engulfed the race for governor and Pennsylvania senator. The state's liberal newspapers are falling all over themselves to endorse Democrats Ed Rendell and Bob Casey, but none of them have made a convincing case that either man is actually a good candidate for the office they're seeking. Rendell is “better than nothing” as governor. Casey is “better than nothing” as senator.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, one of the state's largest newspapers and one of the few conservative voices in Pennsylvania, may have gotten it right. In an endorsement editorial published Sunday, the newspaper said it cannot endorse either Rendell or Swann for governor. Neither man is up to the job, according to the newspaper.

Rendell has failed on numerous fronts during his first four years and doesn't deserve another term, the newspaper argues. Swann is faulted because too many of his campaign officials were also involved with the architects of the July 2005 pay raise, the newspaper contends.

On a lighter note, the state reform coalition couldn't resist using the occasion of Halloween to announce its list of Top 10 Reform Tricks or Treats. OK, it was all tricks. Ten politicians were singled out for various shenanigans in 2006.

At the top of the list is none other than Gov. Rendell, who was awarded the title of “Biggest Phony Reformer.” Rendell was also described by the reform group as a “political acrobat” and an expert at “political juggling.” Way to go, Ed.

Catch me on the radio

I will be a guest on the Lowman Henry Show this Saturday to discuss the upcoming election. The program is broadcast live from 8 to 10 a.m. on WHYL-AM 960 Carlisle and WCDL-AM 1440 Scranton. You can also listen to live streaming audio of the Lowman Henry Show at And you can download a recording of the broadcast to your computer from The Lincoln Institute’s Web site at

I'll be analyzing the results of the election on the Nick Lawrence Show on WPAZ 1370 AM Pottstown on Thursday, Nov. 9, at 4 p.m. You can also listen to live streaming audio of the Nick Lawrence Show at