Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Republicans move on property tax reform

While Democrats continue to play games on property tax reform and offer half-measures and stalling tactics, a group of Pennsylvania House Republicans (with a few Dems in tow) are going on the offense.

Rep. Sam Rohrer (R-Berks) led a bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers Wednesday morning in announcing introduction of legislation to eliminate school property taxes.

"For the past several months, we have been working together with the bipartisan objective of abolishing school property taxes for primary residences while addressing school district financial distress and school funding equity imbalances," Rohrer said in a press release after the pres conference. "The completion of the first stage of this collaborative endeavor leads us to believe now more than ever, that we can put public education on a firm and fair financial footing and deliver genuine school property tax relief in as little as three years time."

The School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 is the only genuine reform of Pennsylvania's antiquated property tax laws currently before the Legislature. All other measures are simply stalling tactics to give House Democrats cover going into next spring's election cycle.

The School Property Tax Elimination Act, formerly known as the Commonwealth Caucus Plan, is supported by more than two dozen grassroots taxpayer organizations across Pennsylvania.

In addition to Rohrer, the bipartisan coalition includes House Republican Whip David Argall, (R-Schuylkill/Berks), Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks), Rep. Gordon Denlinger (R-Lancaster), Rep. Tom Yewcic (D-Cambria/Somerset) and a number of other House Democrats.

"Property taxes are an unfair burden for Pennsylvania homeowners," Argall said. "As we've seen in the past, tweaking the system in one way or another does little to address the problem. The only way to truly solve Pennsylvania's property tax problem is by abolishing this tax altogether. At the same time, we are committed to providing the funding necessary for our public schools to ensure every child has a chance to succeed."

While certain details remain subject to discussion, the agreed to principles for the
School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 include:

* It must eliminate school property and nuisance taxes, though it may take three to four years.

* It must be based on a reliable, consistent and elastic dedicated funding program.

* It must move substantially and quickly toward reasonable and long overdue equity.

* It must be a funding system that fulfils our Constitutional responsibility to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education, while simultaneously abolishing property and nuisance taxes.

* There must be blended revenues that are fair and least burdensome to Pennsylvanians least able to afford any financial burden. This may consist of an expansion of the SUT base or rate, a small component of PIT, and Gaming Revenues.

* A Constitutional Amendment to allow for abolishing school property taxes on all homes and farms while still retaining some property tax for all other properties.

"Today we return to the fight for Pennsylvania's tax-paying citizens by continuing our work for commonsense property tax reform," said Denlinger. "We continue to build and expand on this tremendous level of support because Pennsylvania taxpayers from all walks of life have called their legislators, written letters and sent e-mails to make their voices heard. If you think the time has come to eliminate school property taxes, there is no time like the present to contact your senator, representative and, especially, the governor to support the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007."

"The people of this Commonwealth have repeatedly expressed their desire for the complete elimination of property taxes and a new system of funding our schools," said Quigley. "I believe the plan we are preparing will offer a comprehensive approach to adopting a new taxation system that will more equitably distribute the burden of funding education."

The lawmakers also announced that they plan an aggressive schedule of public hearings in coming weeks to gather public input on the property tax elimination plan with the objective of bringing the initial aspects of the proposal up for a full House vote in the near future.

"I stand with property owners in Pennsylvania in saying that enough is enough," said Cox. "We've wasted countless years throwing unsustainable tax relief plans against the wall to see if one would stick. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania homeowners are left holding the bill, again and again. The School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 brings true relief to these homeowners in the form of completely eliminating school property taxes - NOW!"

For the latest updates or to accurately calculate individual property owner savings under the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 , Pennsylvania taxpayers are encouraged to visit, or

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Boo! Nothing scarier than Hillary Clinton on Halloween

Do you get the feeling that they've taken one too many polls in this endless race for the White House? The Associated Press asked people which of the 2008 presidential candidates would make the scariest Halloween costume.

Was there ever any doubt about the winner?

Hillary Clinton is the scariest thing this Halloween. It wasn't even close.

Thirty-seven percent of those polled found the prospect of Hillary Clinton knocking on their door on Oct. 31 downright frightening.

Rudy Giuliani finished a distant second at 14 percent.

No other candidate exceeded 6 percent, according to the AP/Ipsos poll.

Clinton was the scary choice of four in 10 men and one-third of women. When Republicans were polled, two-thirds of them said they'd run screaming for the hills at the site of Hillary. Surprisingly, 18 percent of Democrats also found Hillary frightening.

About one-third of independents, nearly half of whites and just over half of conservatives and white evangelicals selected her, according to the wire service.

The poll involved telephone interviews with 1,013 adults conducted from Oct. 16-18.

It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Error-smerror. Take a close look at that photo of Hillary and tell me that doesn't scare the hell out of you.

The only thing more frightening than Hillary on Halloween is the prospect of Hillary winning on Election Day 2008.

(P.S - This is an actual photo of Mrs. Clinton taken earlier this month in Iowa by AP photographer Charlie Neibergall.)

Big money flows into Montgomery County race

Money makes the political world go around.

Running for public office these days is not the faint of heart or those light in the wallet.

The latest example of how out-of-control political races have gotten is the contest for Montgomery County Commissioner.

Veteran political reporter Margaret Gibbons reports today that the two major parties have raised more than $1.5 million in the past four months.

The big money so far has been pouring into the coffers of Democrats Joe Hoeffel and Ruth Damsker, who reported raising $867,145 between June and mid-October.

Republicans Bruce Castor and Jim Matthews reported taking in $521,431 in the same time period, but Matthews is also raising money on his own. He took in $237,225.

Counting money raised earlier in the year, the Democrats have collected more than $1 million. That's four times what the Dems raised for the last county commissioners' race four years ago.

At least $30,000 in campaign money for the Hoeffel-Damsker campaign came from Gov. Ed Rendell, who wants to turn at least one Southeastern Pennsylvania county to the Dark Side (I meant to say Democrats) in preparation for next year's presidential elections.

With Berks and Delaware counties looking safe for the GOP, Rendell is targeting Chester, Bucks and Montgomery counties as a base of operation for the Hillary Clinton onslaught to come in 2008.

John Murtha: Pennsylvania Pork King

The Wall Street Journal devotes an enormous amount of space in today's edition to Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who is considered the biggest abuser of earmarks in Congress.

When he's not blaming U.S. troops for problems in Iraq, Murtha, the anti-war House leader, is feeding at the public trough, diverting billions of dollars (yes, billions) in pork barrel projects to his home district near Johnstown, Pa.

"Johnstown's good fortune has come at the expense of taxpayers everywhere else," writes reporter John R. Wilke. "Defense contractors have found that if they open an office here and hire the right lobbyist, they can get lucrative, no-bid contracts."

To read the full story, MURTHA INC. How Lawmaker Rebuilt
Hometown on Earmarks
, click here for the WSJ online edition.

I've said this before. John Murtha is a national embarrassment. Pennsylvania voters must do this nation a favor and end this man's Congressional career in 2008.

For more about Murtha's sordid past, check out the Boot Murtha blog.

40,000 visitors to TONY PHYRILLAS

It's been a good week so far ... and it's only Tuesday.

Not only did I jump 8 places on the "Most Influential Political Blog in Pennsylvania" ranking to reach the coveted No. 1 spot, but my site meter has reached a new milestone.

More than 40,000 unique visitors have found their way to TONY PHYRILLAS so far this year. Thanks for visiting and come back again.

Liberal newspaper backs liberal judges for Pennsylvania's top court

Big shock. The Philadelphia Inquirer, the state's most liberal newspaper, has endorsed two liberal Democrats for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Way to go out on a limb for the Inky's left-wing editorial board.

I don't think The Inquirer has endorsed a Republican since the Civil War. Come to think of it, the Inquirer probably wouldn't endorse Abraham Lincoln if he were running for office in Pennsylvania. "Democrats good, Republicans bad" is the premise this newspaper works with when it considers endorsements. Who can forget its 17-day series of endorsement editorials backing John Kerry in 2004?

If you're interested in the Inky's convoluted justification for backing the two liberal Democrats for the state's highest court, you can read it here.

If memory serves me, the paper picked the one guy, McCaffery, because he's an Eagles fan and the other woman, Todd, because she's from out west.

I haven't given much thought to the four candidates running for two open seats on the state's highest court, but now that I know who the Inquirer is recommending, I'm going to take a closer look at the other candidates: Maureen Lally-Green and Mike Krancer.

Diamond: 'We don't need no stinking reasons' to vote out judges

For the past few weeks, Russ Diamond and PACleanSweep have been giving Pennsylvania voters 10 reasons why they should vote out 66 incumbent state judges.

All 10 reasons are listed on the group's Web site.

I've been waiting for the No. 1 reason and Diamond does not disappoint.

His top reason? "We Don't Need No Stinking Reasons." Read the article below:

From the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

Article I, Section 2

"All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness. For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper." [Emphasis added.]

We are the sovereign People. As sovereigns, we are entitled to vote in any way we choose for any reason we see fit. We do not need the permission of judges. We do not need the approval of legislators. We do not need a note from the Governor.

We especially don't need to read some handbook on "How To Vote" produced by a bunch of lawyers at the Pennsylvania Bar Association who have a vested interest in maintaining business-as-usual. And we don't need them to infer that a retention vote is somehow too complicated for us to understand.

We do not live under Lords. We do not follow the mantra of some High Priest. Judges are not better than us. They are our servants, and we can choose to fire them at will. They are not automatically entitled to another term.

Year after year, the Republican Party infers that we'd be much better off if all elections were won by Republicans. The Democratic Party fights to elect all Democrats to office. Rational Pennsylvanians know that neither of these arguments hold water, yet we have an election system that provides a 'party lever' at the polling place to allow people to make such blanket votes.

This year, PACleanSweep is advocating a 'no' vote on most (not all) judges up for retention not to place power in the hands of some political party, but to return power to the People. All three branches of government have failed to defend the plain meaning of the Constitution. When they fail, the people must step up to the plate or risk losing all their rights.

We've heard a lot of reasons to vote a certain way in any given election: Because he's a Democrat. Because she's NOT a Democrat. Because he's rich and famous. Because she has the best hair. Because he's the best looking. Because she cheated on her husband. Because we need to send a message to Harrisburg.

The fact is, all these reasons - regardless of how silly some of them may sound - are perfectly viable reasons to vote for or against any candidate. There is no handbook on the proper way to vote. There is no right or wrong reason. It is up to each individual voter to make up their own mind in their own way. This is why We the People are sovereign - because ultimately, we can make any choice we like.

We don't need no stinking reasons. Really, we don't. Despite not needing any, PACleanSweep has provided a number of rational reasons in our Top Ten Reasons to Vote NO list. The most important of those reasons is to defend our most fundamental law, the Constitution. Government has utterly failed us in this area - despite every single elected official having sworn an oath to the document - so we must act on our own behalf.

It is not just our right; it is our duty and responsibility.

A 'yes' vote on retentions is a vote for continuing the culture of arrogance, greed and corruption in Pennsylvania. A 'no' vote applies the brakes and helps turn the Commonwealth in a new and better direction.

The choice is clear. And that choice is ours to make - in private, without anyone looking over our shoulders.

We don't need no stinking reasons.

Phyrillas keynote speaker at Chamber breakfast

Tony Phyrillas, the award-winning political columnist for The Mercury, will be the keynote speaker at the monthly breakfast meeting of the TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007.

The event runs from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. at The Elks Lodge, 61 High St., Pottstown.

Phyrillas' presentation will be "Pennsylvania By The Numbers: Bigger Spending Doesn't Equal Better Government."

Tickets are still available for the program ($17 per member prepaid/$21 at the door). Non-members can also attend ($24 per non-member).

For more information about the TriCounty Chamber of Commerce, visit or call 610-326-2900.

Monday, October 29, 2007

GOP desperate to save Justice Saylor

First it was Tom Ridge, then Pat Toomey, now it's Bill Scranton's turn to beg Republican voters not to oust Justice Thomas Saylor from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Scranton, the former lieutenant governor and a gubernatorial candidate himself for about two weeks in 2006, is the latest high-profile Republican who has stepped forward to endorse Justice Saylor, facing a "yes" or "no" retention election on Nov. 6.

Saylor is the biggest target of reform groups who are asking Pennsylvania voters to reject 66 incumbent Pennsylvania judges.

Political observers say only a handful of judges might lose their retention vote, but knocking Saylor off the state's highest court would be a huge victory for the citizen activists who want to punish all elected officials for the infamous July 2005 pay raise.

The "Judicial Clean Sweep" campaign, headed by Russ Diamond, has the Republican and Democratic parties sweating as the election draws near.

Republicans have more to lose because any judicial seat left vacant by "No" votes on Nov. 6 would be subject to appointments by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell. I'm sure there's a long list of Philadelphia lawyers who gave money to Rendell who would love to put on the black robes.

Don't believe for a second that judicial elections are not political. Each party is supporting its own slate of candidates.

Pennsylvania Republicans, already reeling from the loss of the state House of Representatives, four Congressional seats and a U.S. Senate seat, can't afford to lose Saylor's spot on the court.

As for Scranton's endorsement, you can read the full text at Saylor's Web site.

I'm not sure how much pull Bill Scranton still has with Pennsylvania voters, but I guess any endorsement at this point couldn't hurt.

The Tom Ridge plea to voters last month may have backfired. The former governor basically scolded Pennsylvania voters interested in reforming state government by telling them to stop living in the past. The Toomey endorsement may be the best one Saylor has received so far. Toomey has a strong following among the GOP's conservative base and he was an early critic of the pay raise.

Phyrillas tops Pennsylvania's Most Influential Political blogs ranking

Gov. Ed Rendell probably chocked on his bagel this morning when the new Influence Rankings were released by, but TONY PHYRILLAS is ranked No. 1 among the more than 50 blogs devoted to Pennsylvania politics.

TONY PHYRILLAS has been ranked in the Top 20 by every week since the firm began compiling its list this spring, and has spent about half that time in the Top 10, but the highest position for TONY PHYRILLAS was No. 3 -- until this week.

Pennsylvania's Most Influential Political blogs

2, culture, music and more:::
3 GrassrootsPA
4 PowerBlog!
5 Suburban Guerrilla
6 Comments From Left Field
7 Attytood
8 The Pennsylvania Progressive
9 Booman Tribune
10 Mark Rauterkus & Running Mates ponder current events
11 Pennsyltucky Politics
16 Pennsylvania Ave.
17 Lincoln Blog
18 Save The GOP
19 2 Political Junkies
20 Lehigh Valley Ramblings

Trying to figure out how BlogNetNews comes up with the "Blogosphere Influence Rating" is a lot like trying to determine the top college football team in the country. You need a degree in statistical analysis.

BlogNetNews says on its Web site it "combines a variety of data sets to determine which blogs are most powerfully influencing the direction of the Pennsylvania political blogosphere. The exact method BNN uses to calculate influence scores must remain proprietary in order to prevent attempts to game the system."

Clear as mud. Who cares? I'm No. 1!!!!

I'd like to thank all the little people (including Gov. Rendell, a source of endless material) who helped me reach the top spot. (Not an easy achievement considering I had to climb over dozens of liberal blogs to reach the pinnacle.)

A special shout out to that left-wing blogger (forgot the name) who called me a "shameless self-promoter" earlier this year. I'm No. 1 and you're not.

P.S. - And speaking of shameless self-promotion, tickets are still available for the Nov. 8 monthly breakfast meeting of the TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce. Tony Phyrillas will be the keynote speaker. For more information, visit the chamber's Web site at

Saturday, October 27, 2007


It's not as catchy as "Remember The Pay Raise" but a simple number followed by a percentage sign could be the key to Republican control of the Berks County Board of Commissioners.

Red and white signs with "34%" started appearing along Berks County roadways a few weeks ago. Nothing on the signs but "34%" ... no other words ... no mention of any candidates ... just "34%" in big, bold numbers.

People started asking what the number meant, which I guess was the point of the campaign. The answer to the mystery of "34%" starting appearing in mailings from the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania.

The current Board of Commissioners, led by Democrats, raised property taxes in Berks County by 34% in 2005. The two commissioners who voted for the massive tax hike were Judith Schwank and Tom Gajewski. The third commissioner, Republican Mark Scott, voted against the tax hike. More on Scott's vote later.

Schwank, who is very popular among Berks County voters and could have survived the backlash over the 34% tax hike, dropped out of the race over the summer to take a job with an advocacy group.

That left Tom Gajewski to defend the tax hike. Gen. George Armstrong Custer had a better chance at the Little Big Horn than Gajewski has as he faces the wrath of voters on Nov. 6.

The Republican Party, especially GOP candidate Christian Leinbach, want voters to remember the 34% tax hike. The recent mailing features an angry senior citizen waving her finger and telling voters that "Tom Gajewski voted to raise county property taxes by 34%"

Gajewski's chances of winning re-election to a second term are slim and none ... and slim just left Berks County.

How bad have things gotten for Gajewski? Not only did Schwank refuse to campaign with Gajewski in the months leading up to the primary, but Schwank endorsed another candidate for Nov. 6. She doesn't want anything to do with Gajewski.

Look for a new Republican majority on the Berks County Commissioners come Nov. 6, with Scott and Leinbach leading the pack. The third spot, which by law must go to the minority party, will probably be picked up by Democrat Kevin Barnhardt, who is the beneficiary of campaign funds and public support from Schwank.

Don't feel sorry for Gajewski. This guy has been feeding at the public trough for more than 30 years as an elected or appointed official. He's got a big state pension line up. If he wants to continue working, I'm sure he'll bounce back as a aide to one of Berks County's veteran Democratic state lawmakers: Sen. Mike O'Pake, Rep. Tom Caltagirone and Rep. Dante Santoni. All three are notorious for handing out patronage jobs.

The interesting revelation during the current campaign about the 34% tax hike was that it wasn't needed in the first place. Commissioner Mark Scott said Berks County is sitting in a $70 million budget surplus, much of it coming from the 34% tax hike.

It appears that Gajewski and Schwank raised taxes in 2005 for the sake of raising taxes. That's what Democrats do.

Berks County is the wrong place to raise taxes. Gajewski will learn that lesson the hard way on Nov. 6.

Rendell's corporate welfare ruse exposed

The Associated Press is about to blow the lid on Gov. Ed Rendell's corporate welfare shell game on Sunday with a major expose titled, "Paying for Jobs."

The wire serve found that promises to bring jobs to Pennsylvania by firms receiving huge taxpayer-supported bribes (did I say that out loud?). I meant to say huge taxpayer incentives. Anyway, the corporate welfare scheme is typical of the house of cards Rendell has built during his five years in office.

The Associated Press found that less than half of the recipients kept their pledge to bring the number of promised jobs to Pennsylvania.

Reporter Marc Levy examined records for 56 businesses that were awarded a total of $44 million in incentives in 2003-04 and that were subjected to state compliance audits. Only 25 — or fewer than half — had hired the number of workers they promised.

Despite this dismal record, Rendell continues to divert hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into corporate coffers.

To date, the Rendell administration has offered $1.7 billion in aid through its one-stop incentives shop, the Governor's Action Team, Levy reports

The story should be available in most Sunday newspapers across the state. It's must reading.

Hey, Pennsylvania: Reform this!!!

This is terrific letter written by Chester County resident Mark Furlong, who does a great job listing all the reform needed to turn Pennsylvania around from being the worst-government state in the union. Read on:

With the 2008 elections a year away, it is time for Pennsylvanians to begin contacting their representatives at all levels of government to find out where they stand on the issues of the day and what they are prepared to introduce legislatively.

At the state and local level, the following reforms should be considered:

Referendum Reform — Pennsylvania is one of the few states that does not provide its voters with the tools to place referenda on a ballot. It is past time that voters were so empowered.

Property Tax Reform — Talk is cheap. Property taxes are not. Voters, and not special interests, should be allowed to decide if the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 is acceptable.

Utility Reform — There are few things more economically abusive than unregulated monopolies. The competition that was to arise out of the deregulation of the power generation industry never materialized. Without competition, utilities must be regulated.

Cable Reform — The cable television market provides an example of a de facto monopoly that has been allowed to abuse a captive customer base. Competition must be fast-tracked by eliminating all barriers to entry.

State Store Reform — The only monopolies more abusive and less efficient than private monopolies are public monopolies. The state has no business operating patronage-plagued state stores and should divest itself from this business.

Casino Reform — Moving forward, all net revenue derived from casinos should be dedicated to the tax relief it was designed and promoted to address. Somewhere along the way, substantial projected casino monies were "embezzled" for pet projects.

Tort Reform - Defendants found innocent in civil suits should by law be made whole by the plaintiffs and attorneys who initiated the suits. Such reform would be a start to a keeping doctors in state, attracting business and reducing the cost of everything from healthcare to roller skates.

Education Reform - No parents should have to tolerate an incompetent instructing their child. As there appears little inclination to cull bad apples from the teaching ranks, it falls to our legislators to take on the task and to create a competitive environment for the education dollar.

Pension Reform - The grossly mismanaged defined benefit (pension) plan for public employees should be transitioned to a well-reasoned defined contribution(401K) plan before it inflicts an unconscionable burden on the taxpayer.

North Coventry

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hillary Clinton turns 60

Hillary Clinton turns 60 today.

In honor of Hillary's special day, I direct your attention to an article in the latest edition of Newsweek magazine, about the future president of these United States.

In "Papers? I Don't See Any Papers," Newsweek political writer Michael Isikoff looks into the massive cover-up by the Clintons to prevent access to Hillary's papers during her White House years.

"More than 21 months after its trove of records became subject to the Freedom of Information Act—barely one half of 1 percent of the 78 million pages of documents and 20 million e-mail messages at the federally funded facility are public, according to the National Archives," Isikoff writes.

What is in those papers the Clintons don't want Americans to see?

Hillary Clinton rivals Richard Nixon as the most flawed individual ever to seek the presidency. And we all know how Nixon's presidency turned out.

Just like the Nixon Tapes, the "Hillary Papers" could shed light into how morally corrupt these woman is. But knowning how powerful the Clintons are and how much control they have over the mainstream media, don't expect to see the Hillary Papers until after Madame Clinton is sworn into the presidency.

The Newsweek article is a revelation and uncharacterstic for a left-leaning publication.

More from Isikoff's article: Documents NEWSWEEK obtained under a FOIA request (made to the Archives in Washington, not the Clinton library) suggest that, while publicly saying he wants to ease restrictions on his records, Clinton has given the Archives private instructions to tightly control the disclosure of chunks of his archive. Among the document categories Clinton asked the Archives to "consider for withholding" in a November 2002 letter: "confidential communications" involving foreign-policy issues, "sensitive policy, personal or political" matters and "legal issues and advice" including all matters involving investigations by Congress, the Justice Department and independent counsels (a category that would cover, among other matters, Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky and the pardons of Marc Rich and others). Another restriction: "communications directly between the President and First Lady, and their families, unless routine in nature."

To keep up with the various criminal aspects of the Hillary Clinton campaign and her sordid record in public office, check out The Hillary Project and Peter Paul, a whistleblower who chronicles Hillary's various missteps.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Democrats spinning their wheels on SCHIP

It's deja vu all over again as Congressional Democrats took another vote Thursday on a bill to expand free health insurance coverage to children in households earning more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $62,000 a year for a family of four.

If this looks and smell like a prelude to HillaryCare, the federal government's takeover of health insurance, that's exactly what it is.

Thursday's vote in the House was 265-142 (only 1 Democrat opposed the measure). The bill moves to the Senate.

The same bill was vetoed by President Bush last week but Pelosi's Democrats couldn't muster the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto.

Democrats want to add 4 million more children to the federal health insurance rolls, bringing SCHIP coverage to a total of 10 million children. These kids will grow up some day and having depended on government handouts all their lives, they probably will register as Democrats.

There is a small matter of paying for the SCHIP expansion, which is expected to cost $35 billion. Democrats say they can cover the costs by raising the federal tax on tobacco by 61 cents a pack.

It seems to me that Democrats would have to encourage a whole new generation of young smokers to pick up the habit if they expect to have enough people paying the new cigarette tax.

The 265 votes cast for SCHIP expansion was 7 shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, according to the Associated Press. In addition, 14 Republicans who voted to sustain Bush's original veto missed Thursday's vote, the wire service reported. So that means Democrats should fall 21 votes shy of overriding another threatened Bush veto.

Which brings us back to the original question: Don't these people have anything better to do?

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, put the Democrats' desperation into perspective and reminded everyone why the job approval rating of Congress since the Democrats took over in January has sunk even lower than George W. Bush's numbers:

"This bill is not going to become law. If you're tired of the political games, if you're tired of Congress' approval rating being at these ridiculous levels, let's all just vote no."

A new conservative voice in Pennsylvania

The former publisher of The Tribune-Democrat newspaper in Johnstown, Pa., recently announced plans to launch a conservative monthly newspaper for Pennsylvania.

News of any newspaper debut in this age of the Internet is welcome news, but a conservative newspaper is icing on the cake.

The mainstream media is dominated by liberals. Pennsylvania is no exception. The only two openly conservative newspapers in Pennsylvania are The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the The Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia.

The rest of the state's newspapers are varying shades of liberalism and support for the Democratic Party. (Somebody should do a study to see how many Democratic Party candidates have been endorsed by the state’s newspapers over the past decade.)

Chris Voccio is calling his new venture The Pennsylvania Republican, but he is taking great pains to make sure people understand that the newspaper is independent of the Republican Party.

"There are so many conservative groups in Pennsylvania, each of them trying to foster a Commonwealth with more economic freedom and sound conservative ideals," Voccio said in announcing his new venture. "The Pennsylvania Republican will be their champion, promoting the ideas of limited government, lower taxes, less government regulation, and the general idea of liberty."

Content will come from various sources, and will include commentary, analysis, and articles of interest to conservatives, Voccio said.

The newspaper expects to publish its first edition in December from offices in Johnstown.

Voccio has already launched a companion Web site, PennRepublican, at

Voccio, who moved to Pennsylvania in 2004 to manage the Johnstown newspaper, says there is a market for such a publication, citing research by political observer Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall showing 32 percent of Pennsylvanian's identify themselves as conservative.

Readership goals are modest. Voccio hopes to attract a minimum of 900 subscribers before launching The Pennsylvania Republican. The newspaper won't "break even" until it has 14,625 readers, according to its Web site.

Subscription and advertising information is available at the Web site. (There's a deep discount if you subscribe by Nov. 15, 2007)

Best wishes to Mr. Voccio and his staff. Pennsylvania needs more conservative voices.

Phyrillas to speak at chamber breakfast

Tony Phyrillas, award-winning political columnist for The Mercury, will be the keynote speaker at the monthly breakfast meeting of the TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007.

The event runs from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. at The Elks Lodge, 61 High St., Pottstown.

Phyrillas' presentation will be "Pennsylvania By The Numbers: Bigger Spending Doesn't Equal Better Government."

Tickets are still available for the program ($17 per member prepaid/$21 at the door). Non-members can also attend ($24 per non-member).

For more information about the TriCounty Chamber of Commerce, visit or call 610-326-2900.

'From bad to worse' could be new Pennsylvania motto

Tim Williams, president of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, offers some insight into how the Pennsylvania Legislature managed to screw up efforts to provide more open openness in "Reform takes state from bad to worse," an op-ed piece published in today's edition of The Mercury.

To keep up with the latest on the legislative efforts to reform one of the worst open government/open records law in the country, go to

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cyprus embassador refutes biased WSJ column

The letter below was written by Andreas S. Kakouris, the ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the United States. It is a response to a ridiculous column published Oct. 9 in the Wall Street Journal by Morton Abramowitz and Henri Barkey in which the authors attempt to blame Cyprus for the 1974 invasion by Turkey.

More than 40,000 Turkish troops continue to occupy nearly 40 percent of Cyprus, preventing 200,000 Greek-Cypriots from returning to their ancestral homeland.

The illegal invasion and occupation has been condemned by the United Nations and many other world bodies. It is one of the main stumbling blocks to Turkey joining the European Union.

As we're finding out once again with the Turkish preparations to attack the Kurds, a U.S. ally in Iraq, Turkey is no friend of the United States.

The Oct. 9 column by Abromowitz and Barkey show how powerful the Turkish lobby is in Washington, D.C., and how successful Turkey is at propaganda. Invade another country, kill its people, occupy its land ... and they blame the invasion on the victims.

Here is Ambassador Kakouris' response from the Oct. 24 edition of The Wall Street Journal:

Turkey's Occupation Is the Cyprus Problem

"Cyprus Sabotage" (Editorials & Opinions, Oct. 9) is loaded with biased selectivity in facts and argumentation. Authors Morton Abramowitz and Henri Barkey fall well wide of the mark both on the reasons for the perpetuation of the Cyprus problem and on future efforts to broker a solution.

The Cyprus problem is an issue of an invasion and continued illegal occupation for over 33 years of 37% of the territory of a sovereign state by 43,000 Turkish troops, resulting in massive violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The innuendo that Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos was able to sway the massive "no" vote against the Annan Plan is insulting to the intelligence of the Greek Cypriots. The reality is that 76% of Greek Cypriots voted against a flawed plan that failed to meet even the most basic concerns and legitimate rights of the Greek Cypriot community. It is also an effort to find a scapegoat for a plan that perpetuated the division of the island. The dogged pursuit of controlling Cyprus through geographic partition into two ethnically distinct parts and securing the "right of intervention" and rights of suzerainty was amply accommodated in the Annan Plan and remains Turkey's policy.

The Annan Plan is in the past. Today's initiative is the July 8, 2006, Agreement and implementation of the process brokered by the United Nations between President Papadopoulos and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. President Papadopoulos is committed to the immediate implementation of this forward-looking process. This agreement is firmly supported by the U.N. Security Council, European capitals and the U.S. administration.

The authors give considerable encouragement to the Turkish insistence of linking her EU obligations concerning Cyprus with her unacceptable demand to end the "economic isolation" of the Turkish occupied area. If there is any isolation, it is solely the consequence of the continued Turkish occupation and nothing more than the attempted political upgrading of the illegal entity in the occupied part of Cyprus. It is a fact that Turkey's difficulties in its relations with the European Union stem from its refusal to meet its obligations, including the restrictions imposed on Cypriot interest vessels and planes. Cyprus's declared support of Turkey's aspirations to join the EU, like others, is conditioned on Turkey's fulfillment of all obligations and commitments to the EU as a whole.

The path to a Cyprus settlement has been laid down in the July 8, 2006, process that will prepare the ground for comprehensive negotiations. It is on this that we should focus our attention and efforts rather than the disingenuous attempt by the authors to link Turkey's political transformation with the fate of elections in Cyprus. Ultimately, the fate of Turkey's political transformation is in its own hands.

Andreas S. Kakouris
Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the United States

Bush, Global Warming blamed for California fires

The Looney Tunes on the far left are at it again.

The far left pundits and their liberal media compatriots are falling over themselves attempting to blame George W. Bush and/or Global Warming for the devastating wildfires in California.

From left-wing nut-job Keith Olbermann on "The Countdown" on MSNBC to CNN and its "Planet in Peril" series to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the global warming hysteria is everywhere.

Bloggers have picked on this latest evidence of left-wing lunacy. Check out PowerBlog! or There's My Two Cents Worth or Betsy's Page or Hugh Hewitt at

My personal favorite is "Global Warming Causes Stupid Politicians" at Blue Crab Boulevard

Marital advice from Hillary Clinton

The story below moved today on The Associated Press wire service.

It's based on an interview Hillary Clinton gave to Essence magazine in which the junior senator from New York and the likely Democratic Party nominee for president gets all warm and gushy about her man.

Try not break out into hysterical laughter as you read it. I laughed so hard I nearly fell off my chair.

Has there ever been a more calculating individual seeking the presidency? There is not a sincere bone in Hillary Clinton's body.

Clinton discusses romance, choices in her marriage to the former president

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton says husband Bill often brings her romantic gifts: a giant wooden giraffe from an African trip, for example, and a Chanel watch that reminded him of teeth.

"Oh he's so romantic," the former first lady said in an interview for the November issue of Essence magazine. "He's always bringing me back things from his trips."

The watch had a bracelet made of white cubes. "I had dental surgery, and he said it reminded him of teeth," she said.

The New York senator, now a presidential candidate, said she is satisfied with the decisions she has made in her marriage.

"Now obviously we've had challenges as everybody in the world knows," she said. "But I never doubted that it was a marriage worth investing in even in the midst of those challenges, and I'm really happy that I made that decision."

In 1998, news unfolded about her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky.

While sticking it out might not be for everyone, Mrs. Clinton said women should support each other in the choices they make in their marriages.

"I think it's so important for women to stand up for the right of women to make a decision that is best for them," she said.

To read more of "The Hillary Clinton Effect" go to

(AP File Photo/Susan Walsh)

Activist urges 'No' vote on state judges

One of my favorite citizen activists is Bill McIntyre of Camp Hill. He doesn't have a Web site, doesn't hold press conferences on the Capitol steps. But he sends out well-written letters to elected officials and the media.

Here's McIntyre's latest missive, in which he urges voters to vote "No" to retain the state's 66 judges up for retention on Nov. 6 to send a signal to all elected Pennsylvania officials that taxpayers are mad as hell and are not going to take it any more."

Dear Friends of Responsible Government,

In two weeks, Tuesday, November 6th is Election Day. Of the 365 days in the year, we have only two of them to change the irresponsible way we’re being governed in Harrisburg. Let's make the most of our 2 days that'll last the remaining 363! As the saying goes – "Vote early and often."

We've a major mess here in Harrisburg. I, among others, have for too long ignored what was happening in our handsome capitol building on a hill overlooking the beautiful Susquehanna River. While many of us were asleep; many others were awake filling their pockets with our hard earned tax dollars that flow to the capitol to be allocated the way government sees fit to do so.

The problem has been the majority in our government put first things first; their personal wellbeing before the wellbeing of those who elected them to serve the public. Public service has become self service to many in Harrisburg. Want examples? Read on. Remember Watergate? We've got one too.

We could well place "gate" after any of the following, in no particular order, areas of concern. How about Bonusgate; or Reformgate? How about Turnpikegate; or PHEAAgate? You get the idea. How about teacher strikes; open records; oversized pension payouts; ethics; nepotism; SEPTA & PAT; property tax; pension funding crisis; health care; indictments; tolling I-80 by the Turnpike Commission;

Act 44 passed last July was the worst piece of legislation since Act 44 of July 2005 granting everyone in the executive, judicial and legislative branches their ill-gotten pay raise. Due to the dubious maneuvering of the Supreme Court; the judicial branch retained their ill-gotten raise. This one Act 44 will cost us untold millions of dollars in interest, if approved by the federal government to lease I-80. What a failure that was. I'm beginning to believe the majority in our present government can’t get anything right.

With all the problems here at home; some of our esteemed leaders were fiddling while Harrisburg burns; in Taiwan. That's about as far away from Harrisburg as one could get, Taiwan. They billed it as a "trade mission." Yet, the most gigantic trade of all happened here when they traded billions in cash that leasing the Turnpike would provide and drawing interest; trading it to pay millions in interest on borrowed money. And they have our best interest at heart? What a joke! Now that's funny!!! Or is it?

What about Election Day, you say. Sometimes we have to sacrifice something good for something much better. It appears the only way we can get the attention of those who govern us is to defeat someone, or something at the polls. The 5% of our judges who are running for retention are probably good judges; but I will be voting NO for retention. Many of our public officials have proven to me they’re not worthy of their office.

It appears the only way we'll ever get change is to make change at the price of many public positions; and keep making changes until we get what's really needed – A Constitutional Convention. We must once again restore honesty and dignity in our government.

A very sincere,
Bill McIntyre
Working the polls November 6th!

CC: Executive, Judicial & Legislative Branches of PA Government

Democrats catching up in Montgomery County

The Times Herald in Norristown is reporting today that Democrats continue to gain in voter registration numbers over their Republican counterparts in what had been one of the most dominant GOP counties in Pennsylvania.

Of the 6,992 newly registered voters since the May primary elections, 3,208 registered as Democrats, while 1,958 registered Republican. That pattern has been repeated in Montgomery County for most of the past decade.

The number of registered Republicans in Montgomery County is 247,766, compared to 217,052 Democrats.

Montgomery County GOP Chairman Ken Davis could offer no explanation for the continuing resurgence of the Democratic Party under his watch other than to blame President Bush.

"We will have to live with this for another year," Davis told The Times Herald.

Davis is in his third year as party chairman. He told the newspaper he needs more time to turn things around. A few more years under Davis' leadership and the Republican Party will be the minority party in the county. There was no mention in The Times Herald article of Bob Asher, who pulls Davis' strings.

Read the full story by reporter Margaret Gibbons at the newspaper's Web site,

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Can Pat Toomey save Justice Saylor's job?

Pat Toomey, the most respected conservative voice in Pennsylvania, is asking voters to retain state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Saylor on Nov. 6. Toomey's appeal may be Saylor's only chance of surviving a "yes" or "no" retention vote.

If he loses on Nov. 6, Saylor would be the fourth member of the seven-member court to be replaced since the Pennsylvania Legislature gave itself, the governor and the state's judges a controversial pay raise in July 2005.

Justice Russel Nigro was voted off the court in November 2005. Justice Sandra Schultz Newman narrowly survived her retention vote, but resigned in 2006. Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy, one of the architects of the pay raise fiasco, announced he would leave the court at the end of this year, two years before his current term expires.

A citizens reform group, PACleanSweep, is urging Pennsylvania voters to oust nearly all of the state's judges when they face retention on Nov. 6. The "Operation Judicial Sweep" campaign has drawn much criticism from the legal community and the state's political establishment.

Another reformer, Gene Stilp, is driving around Pennsylvania today in a pink bus urging "No" votes on the state's judges. (Stilp was the guy who toured the state with a giant inflatable pink pig in 2005 and 2006 to remind the voters about the pay raise the Harrisburg Hogs gave themselves.)

Toomey, president of the Club for Growth and a former Pennsylvania Congressman, carries a lot of weight with Pennsylvania Republicans, especially conservatives.

The state Republican Party tried to rally support for Saylor and other Republican judges by bringing in former Gov. Tom Ridge, but Ridge's condescending remarks about voters living in the past, may have done more harm than good.

Toomey's endorsement reminds voters that Saylor ruled against the 2005 pay raise and upheld the Lobbying Disclosure Act. (Too bad Saylor was in the minority on both issues.)

"By every standard, Tom Saylor has been a great judge," Toomey said. "He is known, not only for intelligent opinions, but for his fair approach and fine temperament in the courtroom. Saylor listens to all sides of a case before making up his mind."

Saylor makes his own case for a "yes" vote on Nov. 6 at his own Web site.

The tax reform treadmill

The House Finance Committee is scheduled to consider several property tax related bills on Wednesday in Harrisburg.

An informed source tells me that the committee, chaired by Rep. David K. Levdansky, a Democrat from Allegheny County, will consider the following bills:

HB 1600. Levdansky took this warmed-over Act 1 bill on the road this summer and had to duck tomatoes from residents in the audience. It's nothing more than a permanent tax increase with a promise of a temporary reduction.

HB 1489. House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese is backing this turkey, which would increase the state sales tax by .5% to raise money for future property tax relief from the tax hike and the casino revenues. Again, another permanent tax increase with a promise of some relief down the road.

HB 125. This is Daryl Metcalfe's bill, which is modeled after the S.T.O.P. Plan to eliminate not only school property taxes, but also county and municipal property taxes. In return, residents will pay higher sales and income taxes. This is such a drastic shift that it has no chance of ever being enacted.

Conspicuously absent is the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007, endorsed by two dozen citizen taxpayer groups in Pennsylvania. This proposal, formerly known as the Commonwealth Caucus Plan, would replace school property taxes with a higher sales tax and/or income tax.

"Remember The Pay Raise" was the rallying cry that helped oust 55 incumbent state lawmakers in 2006. "Remember the Empty Promises" on tax relief could be the rallying cry in 2008 when all 203 House members and 25 Senate members face the voters.

Universal condemnation for Pennsylvania Legislature

Pennsylvania newspapers are condemning the Legislature's efforts to come up with an open records law. Pennsylvania has had the worst open records law in the country for years and the effort to remedy the problem has turned into another monumental screw-up by the most expensive, least effective state legislature in the country.

Regardless of their political leanings, liberal, moderate or conservative, Pennsylvania newspapers have criticized the Legislature on their editorial pages in recent days. Here's a sampling:

The Delaware County Daily Times says, "Pa. needs sunshine, not a smoke screen"

The Mercury in Pottstown says, "Open-records reform on road to becoming latest legislative failure"

The Morning Call
in Allentown says, "House committee does skulduggery in gutting open-records proposal"

The Patriot-News in Harrisburg says, "House draft denies public access permitted under the current law"

The Reading Eagle says, "Open-record revision weakened by rewrite"

The Intelligencer in Doylestown, calls the Legislature's actions "A Step Backward"

To find more information about Pennsylvania's open records laws, go to

Happy Birthday, Dwight Yoakam

Birthday wishes to one of my favorite singers, Dwight Yoakam, who turns 51 today.

Yoakam also has a new CD hitting stores today, "Dwight Sings Buck," a tribute to Buck Owens, another of my favorite singers.

Yoakam does killer versions of "Think Of Me," "Together Again," "Act Naturally," "Cryin' Time," "Under Your Spell Again," "Love's Gonna Live Here" and several other Buck Owens' classics.

I can't wait to listen to the new album.

Monday, October 22, 2007

GOP pulls ahead in Montgomery County

A Newhouse/Public Opinion Strategies poll has the Republican candidates for Montgomery County commissioner rising, while their Democratic challengers are sinking.

The poll shows Republican Bruce L. Castor Jr., the Montgomery County district attorney, leading the pack with 52 percent, followed by Joe Hoeffel, a former Congressman, at 44 percent. The big news is the rise of Jim Matthews, an incumbent Montgomery County commissioner. Matthews, at 43 percent, has pulled to within one percentage point of Hoeffel. Trailing the field is incumbent Ruth Damsker, with 34 percent.

This is a much-watched race that could set the stage for the 2008 presidential race. Whoever wins Southeastern Pennsylvania will win Pennsylvania. And whoever wins Pennsylvania could be the next president of the United States. Having control of county government is essential for political parties.

If the poll numbers carry through Election Day, the commissioners' board will consist of Castor, Matthews and Hoeffel, with the two Republicans holding the majority.

The recent criminal charges filed against the campaign manager for Hoeffel and Damsker may have something to do with the Democrats' falling popularity.

Joanne C. Olszewski, a county party leader and co-chair of the Hoeffel-Damsker campaign, recently resigned as Montgomery County jury commissioner when she was implicated in an illegal video machine gambling probe. Olszewski quit the Hoeffel-Damsker campaign, but she is holding on to her county party post.

An earlier Newhouse poll had Matthews ahead of Damsker by six percentage points. He's now pulled ahead by nine points and could overtake Hoeffel to finish in second place.

That would leave Hoeffel and Damsker to battle it out for the final seat.

In addition to the bad publicity the Hoeffel-Damsker team has received, voters may also be realizing how expensive things will get if the liberal Democrats take control of county government.

According to veteran Montgomery County Courthouse reporter Margaret Gibbons of the Norristown Times-Herald, Hoeffel-Damkser have proposed more than $100 million in new spending during their campaign. Somebody has to pay for all the growth in government. Taxpayers are in no mood to pay more taxes.

Group: Rendell health plan will wreck Pa. economy

Gov. Ed Rendell's grandiose scheme to force Pennsylvania businesses to pay higher taxes to provide health insurance to all uninsured residents would ruin the state's economy, according to an independent assessment by an advocacy group for small business.

Rendell's payroll tax to fund his "Cover All Pennsylvanians" plan would cost the state at least 167,000 jobs over the next five years, according to a study released by the National Federation of Independent Business.

Of those losses, 103,000 jobs could come from small employers (those with fewer than 100 workers). Rendell's tax-and-spend policies over the past five years have severely crippled Pennsylvania's small businesses. The health care tax would put many small firms (the backbone of Pennsylvania's economy) out of business.

"The 3 percent payroll tax on employers who presently cannot afford to provide health insurance to their employees would hit roughly 50 percent of all small employers in Pennsylvania," said Bruce Phillips, a researcher who compiled the report for NFIB. "That tax, along with insurance premiums and accounting costs, will cost small-business owners in Pennsylvania an estimated $1.9 billion annually."

Kevin Shivers, the Pennsylvania state director for the NFIB, said he was not surprised surprised to learn the added costs could cripple many Pennsylvania employers, as many small job providers are already struggling.

"Small-business owners are already struggling with an increasingly competitive global economy and rising energy bills and other costs -- a whopping new payroll tax could put many of them out of business permanently," Shivers said.

Shivers is also concerned the Rendell proposal would do little to address the fundamental problem of affordability, but could exacerbate the problem by expanding the size and scope of state government with a payroll tax on those who can least afford it.

(Rendell has been promising property tax cuts in Pennsylvania for the past five years, but has failed to deliver. Rendell has also vetoed a Republican measure to reduce the state income tax, which is also paid by business owners.)

Rather than focusing on building a larger role for state government in health care, Shivers suggests "legislators focus on measures to expand consumer choices and improve quality of services at a lower cost."

"Providing more options and greater flexibility for employers to provide health care to their employees ought to be our goal -- not creating a vast and costly bureaucracy that in many cases will do more harm than good for struggling small-business owners."

For more on the study, visit

Republican state lawmakers have offered their own plan (The Real Prescription for Pennsylvania) to fix the state's failing health care system. To read more, go to

Conservatives gaining influence in Pennsylvania?

Liberal bloggers outnumber their conservative brethren by 3-1 in Pennsylvania. But a look at this week's Influence Index at may leave you scratching your head about the pull the left has on Pennsylvania politics. Are the liberal bloggers talking mainly to themselves? I counted only four liberal blogs in the Top 10 and just eight in the Top 20.

And for the first time since has been tabulating its "Influence Index" the top three blogs are conservative.

Here's this week's Top 20 list from

Pennsylvania's Most Influential Political blogs

1 PowerBlog!
3 GrassrootsPA
4 Suburban Guerrilla
5 The Pennsylvania Progressive
7, culture, music and more:::
8 Pennsyltucky Politics
11 Booman Tribune
12 Pennsylvania Ave.
13 Comments From Left Field
14 Mark Rauterkus & Running Mates ponder current events
15 The Lehigh Valley Political Blog
16 Save The GOP
19 West Chester Unplugged
20 Is this Life?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dent, Gerlach, English, Murphy, Platts vote with Dems in failed bid to override SCHIP veto

Five Pennsylvania Republicans voted with the Democrats Thursday to override President Bush's veto of the $7 billion expansion of the SCHIP program.

Despite defections from the Pennsylvania Republicans, the House failed to garner the two-thirds majority to override the presidential veto of the massive expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

The vote was 273-156 to override the veto of the bill that would have expanded coverage of government paid health insurance to 4 million more children, including those in families earning three times the national poverty level.

(A family of four with income of $62,000 would have been eligible for coverage under the Democrats' massive expansion of taxpayer-paid health care.)

"That's not low-income. That's a majority of households in America," Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., told The Associated Press.

SCHIP now covers 6 million children at a cost of about $5 billion a year. The vetoed bill would have added 4 million more children to the program at an added cost of $7 billion annually.

To pay for the increase, Democrats wanted to raised the federal tax on cigarettes from 39 cents to $1.00 a pack.

The override vote was 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority required. (Democrats don't have enough votes in the Senate for an override, either).

The Pennsylvania House Republicans were among 44 House Republicans who joined 229 Democrats on the override measure.

Here's a rundown o how the Pennsylvania delegation voted, according to The Associated Press:

Democrats — Altmire, Y; Brady, Y; Carney, Y; Doyle, Y; Fattah, Y; Holden, Y; Kanjorski, Y; Murphy, Patrick, Y; Murtha, Y; Schwartz, Y; Sestak, Y.

Republicans — Dent, Y; English, Y; Gerlach, Y; Murphy, Tim, Y; Peterson, N; Pitts, N; Platts, Y; Shuster, N.

Pennsylvania Republicans lost four Congressional seats in 2006 and the few Republicans who survived are now moving away from President Bush on many issues.

The debate over funding SCHIP also filtered down to the state level, where the Pennsylvania House of Representatives spent more than three hours debating a resolution urging Congress to override the veto. The final vote was 124-71 to approve the resolution. All the House Democrats supported the resolution and found about two dozen Republicans to go along.

Pennsylvania improves from D to C+ on political money disclosure

Pennsylvania has actually improved in national rankings, at least when it comes to informing the public about where politicians are getting campaign contributions.

While Gov. Ed Rendell has spent the summer and fall returning tainted donations from California financier Norman Hsu and answering questions about his relationship with a blonde lobbyist, the state has done a better job overall of keeping the public informed on the sources of political money.

The Campaign Disclosure Project, a collaboration of the UCLA School of Law, the Center for Governmental Studies, and the California Voter Foundation, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, has issued a new survey ranking the states.

Pennsylvania comes in at No. 22. The state's overall grade improved from D to C+ in the survey. (A total of 36 states passed, 14 failed, and 21 earned higher grades, according to the survey.)

Read the assessment of Pennsylvania's disclosure laws here.

Taxpayers keep pressure on House Democrats

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations is putting more pressure on House Democratic leadership to keep its promise to introduce the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007. The bill, which would eliminate school taxes for all Pennsylvania homeowners over the next four years, is in the hands of Democratic Majority Leader Bill DeWeese and Majority Whip Keith McCall. They are the gate-keepers for all legislation in the House. Read the letter below and put pressure on your state lawmakers to get behind the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007.

Here's the letter:

October 18, 2007

Dear Rep. McCall:

The undersigned represent the 25 taxpayer groups that belong to the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations. The purpose of our letter is to encourage you to move forward as quickly as possible with the introduction and passage of the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 (SPTEA).

As you know, for more than 30 years, the General Assembly has failed to deliver on the promise of true property tax reform for all Pennsylvanians. The most obvious symptom of distress is the huge number of citizens for whom property tax is their number one financial concern. These include: seniors living on fixed incomes, working families who haven't seen wage increases above the inflation rate for years, and young families who can’t qualify for mortgages and pay several hundred dollars or more a month in property taxes.

Rather than whittle the field of 8 or 9 competing bills down to a "menu" of 3 to pass on to the Senate, we request that you and your colleagues in the House debate the issue and make a firm recommendation in the form of a single bill. We urge you to look beyond the political rewards of the many narrowly-defined bills and craft legislation that (1) addresses the structural issues that got us where we and (2) enhances Pennsylvania's economic competitiveness throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

If we confine the discussion to school property taxes, it is critical to identify and correct the underlying structural causes of runaway taxes rather than to simply create another tax-shift or tax-squeeze program in the mold of Acts 50, 72, and 1 (all resoundingly rejected by taxpayers).

We also urge you not to concentrate benefits on one segment of the population at the expense of others vis a vis HB1600 which finances a property tax shift by squeezing PIT increases and the remaining property taxes on a smaller number of taxpayers.

How We Got Where We Are

The most significant contributors to Pennsylvania’s school tax crisis are: the outdated funding formula, overdependence on local property tax, residential growth, a shrinking commercial/industrial base, and unrestrained spending by school boards.

The school funding formula has its roots in the 1990-91 school year. Combined with a school code that holds districts "harmless" if they have declining enrollments, situations like the following are virtually unavoidable. In Berwick, there are 900 fewer students today than there were in 1997. However, the number of teachers has increased by 44, the average class size has shrunk to 11, and the cost per student is nearly $13,000 per year.

In York County, because of the distortions in the funding formula, the York Suburban School District, with an annual budget of $13,800 per student, receives approximately $500 per student from the state while the adjacent district (York City) receives in excess of $6,000 per student to cover their $11,000 cost per year.

The overdependence on local property taxes to finance an obligation of the State produces countless districts like those in York County where 15 of the 16 school districts derive 65% or more of their total budgets from local property tax. It also magnifies the impact of a real estate assessment "system" that produces gross inequities throughout the Commonwealth.

There is no better example than the 27-room mansion in Philadelphia owned by Sen. Vincent Fumo, currently on the market for $7,000,000. Based on the City's current real estate tax structure, this home should generate approximately $185,000 in real estate taxes every year. However, its current assessment is $250,000 (which hasn't changed in 5 years despite the run-up in real estate values in the City), which produces approximately $6,600 per year. Interestingly, Sen. Fumo's mansion does not face an assessment increase this year despite the fact that more than 400,000 other Philadelphians will see an increase.

Residential growth (and a shrinking commercial/industrial base) combined with the factors above is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Many "average" districts derive 2/3 of their budgets from school property taxes. Here’s what results from a new development of 300 homes costing $250,000 each. Even if each home generates $4,000 of school tax per year, the expected new student load would be approximately 300, adding at least $3,000,000 to the district's annual budget, of which $2,000,000 has to come from property tax. The homes generate a total of $1,200,000 per year, leaving a deficit of $800,000 that has to be covered by an increase in the tax rates for all property owners in the district.

The Appendix provides some insight into the evolution and severity of the problem for the Coatesville Area School District. You will see that even with school directors who tried diligently to exercise restraint, since the 2000-2001 school year, spending is up almost 70% (more than 3 times the rate of inflation in the same period) even though the student population has decreased. Using conservative projections, by the 2014-2015 school year, the cost per pupil in Coatesville will exceed $25,000.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of school boards simply will not exercise fiscal restraint. How can a school district spend several million dollars on artificial turf or a "natatorium" when only 50% of its 11th graders score "proficient" on their PSSAs? There has to be a line drawn between programs that deserve public support and those that don't. Is it out of the question to ask parents of athletes, in particular, to pay for these programs?

How to Deliver on the Promise

To our knowledge, SPTEA is the only plan designed to attack the school tax problem at its core. Unfortunately, the name hides the real value of this plan, which is to contain and control school budgets, reestablish equity for all of Pennsylvania's public school students, and to eliminate residential property taxes in the process.

It is also the only plan that begins to lift the tax burden from businesses throughout the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania's tax system is ranked 27th among the 50 states in terms of being friendly to business in the Washington-based Tax Foundation annual State Business Tax Climate Index. That was down two spots from a 25th place ranking in the annual survey last year. Rankings are compiled from a composite of several different tax categories. For this year, Pennsylvania is ranked poorly – 47th and 42nd – for its property tax and corporate net income tax, respectively. Its best ranking is 11th for its individual income tax. We simply must do better if we expect to improve the competitive position of Pennsylvania. Reducing the property tax burden by 50% would be one of the most significant signals to corporations everywhere that Pennsylvania has become a Keystone Opportunity Zone for everyone.

SPTEA has been under continuous development for nearly 4 years, the process has been open and transparent, and it has been vetted numerous times by and Fishkind and Associates.

We understand that it might be expedient to propose and pass a half-way measure as a "first step." The problem is that for most Pennsylvanians, a partial solution is not enough. While HB1600 may temporarily provide benefits to owners of homes assessed at or below half of the median in their districts, it does nothing to control the spiraling costs of education, overhaul the funding formula, or fix the inequitable (unconstitutional) assessment system. All of these factors will conspire to put us right back where we are now in a few short years.

Rep. McCall, you and your colleagues have another chance to get it right this time. We sincerely hope you will withdraw your sponsorship of HB1600, openly debate the issue when it comes to the floor later this month, adopt the SPTEA and urge your colleagues in the Senate to do the same thing.


James Broussard, PhD
President Citizens Against Higher Taxes

Joe Gable
Consultant ATM Banking

Joel Sears
President Fleet Technologies, Inc.
President York County Taxpayers Council

Rebecca Heller
Director, Berwick Area School District

Richard Ritter
Executive VP Cumberland Insurance Group
School Director, Coatesville Area School District

David Baldinger
Manager of Corporate Television, Retired
AT&T/Lucent Technologies

CC: William DeWeese

Once around the blogosphere

Some interesting posts today on some of my favorite blogs.

That's Rich takes a close look at Hillary Clinton and doesn't like what he sees.

PowerBlog! and Policy Blog take a look at the SCHIP debate, which may turn into another embarassing defeat for the Democrats.

Pennsylvania Avenue has dug up a potential challenger for U.S. Rep Jim Gerlach. Larry Platt, editor of Philadelphia Magazine, may take on Gerlach in 2008. Another liberal Main Line resident, Lois Murphy, lost to Gerlach in the last two elections. Democrats are trying to find somebody else to unseat the three-term Republican in the 6th District. But another liberal from the Main Line? The party is going to have to do better than that if they want to defeat Gerlach, who has moved far away from George W. Bush in his current term. What else are the Democrats going to say about Gerlach? The entire 2006 campaign was "Gerlach votes with Bush 98% of the time."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Social Security COLA for 2008 amounts to $24 a month

The federal government has announced that the nation's 50 million Social Security recipients will receive a whopping 2.3 percent cost-of-living increase for 2008.

That comes to about $24 more a month for the typical Social Security recipient. This is supposed to cover the cost of living?

What country did the Social Security Administration use as the basis for the COLA figure? Mongolia? Last time I looked, gas prices, food prices and the cost of utilities have gone through the roof in the United States.

And let's not even bring up the cost of medical care. How is anyone supposed to live on $1,079 a month, which is what the typical Social Security recipient will receive in 2008?

The Associated Press reports that the 2.3 percent COLA for 2008 is the smallest since a 2.1 percent boost in 2004 and is a full percentage point lower than the 3.3 percent adjustment for 2007.

The government has figured out another way to screw retirees (beyond the Social Security system itself).

The COLA adjustment is based on the change in consumer prices from this July through September compared with the same three-month period last year.

In the past two years, retirees have benefited from the timeframe the government uses to set the adjustment for the next year, the Associated Press reports. The 2006 increase picked up a jump in energy prices from that occurred in September 2005, reflecting the impact of Hurricane Katrina on production at Gulf Coast refineries, according to the wire service.

This year retirees get screwed because energy costs are spiking in the fall after remaining relatively level over the summer months.

"Retirees are going to feel a disconnect this year between the COLA increase and the reality of the inflation they face," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's, told the AP. "If this calculation were done in another three months, it would be measurably higher."

And even more bad news for senior citizens: Part of the Social Security increase will be eaten up by a rise in the cost of Medicare, the health care program that covers the elderly and disabled, according to the AP.

The government announced earlier this month that Medicare premiums will rise 3.1 percent next year, which comes to $2.50 to $96.40 per month.

President Bush tried to reform Social Security a couple of years ago, but was rebuffed by the Democrats in Congress, who scared the bejesus out of senior citizens (even though Bush's plan would not have touched benefits for anyone currently retired.)

The chickens are coming home to roost. The Social Security system is headed for a monumental crash. We're two years closer to that collapse thanks to the Democrats in Congress.

Congressional Democrats have stuck their heads in the sand on the Social Security mess. And if Democrats win the White House in 2008, they will inherit the problem they largely helped create.

(Cartoon by Robert Arial, The State)

Keeping Democrats honest

Below is a copy of a letter sent to Rep. Keith McCall, the majority whip in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, from David Baldinger of Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition.

Pennsylvania residents looking for tax reform are getting the sneaky suspicion that the Democrats who control the House are playing the same games that the GOP majority played over the past 12 years. Nothing but lip service and delaying tactics.

McCall and Majority Leader Bill DeWeese have been promising something big on tax reform this fall. So far, nothing has materialized. Baldinger and the various citizen taxpayer groups are not going to allow incumbent legislators to get away another sham effort on the tax relief question.

Lawmakers miscalculated the public's anger on the pay raise issue in 2006. That resulted in 55 legislators forced out of office in 2006.

If the Legislature doesn't deliver genuine property tax relief in 2007, look more a lot more incumbents to join the ranks of ex-lawmakers.

Here's Baldinger's letter:

Dear Representative McCall,

The following quote is from an e-mail House Democratic Update that was issued on August 10 (emphasis is mine):

"What can you look forward to? How about a revolutionary new bipartisan plan to eliminate school property taxes for homeowners?"

This quote was in a subsequent update on October 12:

"House Democrats believe we can and should provide substantial property tax relief for all homeowners. We were proud to lead the fight for property tax cuts through slots and will see that all homeowners receive a share. As the new majority, we intend to act soon on a number of proposals that will benefit all homeowners in a meaningful way."

The latter statement seems to be a significant retreat from the one issued in August; I sincerely hope that this is not an indication that the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 is being brushed aside in favor of HB 1600, the Levdansky plan.

I was able to attend two of the recent House Finance Committee hearings on property tax reform (actually thinly-disguised HB 1600 promotions) and saw first-hand how both witnesses and attendees thoroughly condemned HB 1600. Since the purpose of these hearings is to gauge public opinion and the effectiveness of proposed legislation, it would be extremely hypocritical to hold such hearings and then to completely ignore the results in favor of political expediency and pandering to the bill’s author. The results of the hearings are well-known and such a blatant disregard for taxpayers’ wishes that were stated in a public forum will not be forgotten.

Please understand that Pennsylvania homeowners will no longer tolerate useless halfway measures like Act 1 and HB 1600 nor will they accept any two-step plans that serve no purpose but to give false hope and again postpone action through another election. It is a certainty that voters will loudly voice their displeasure if HB 1600 is approved by the House in favor of the SPTEA and true education finance reform is again delayed; we will make every effort to disseminate the facts of this subterfuge as widely as possible.

On behalf of the twenty-three member groups of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations I respectfully request that you and the other leaders of the House Democratic Caucus do whatever is necessary to resolve your differences with the language and philosophy of the SPTEA and have this bill introduced as soon as possible with the full support of the Democratic leadership. We further request that you, like the three co-sponsors who have already withdrawn their names, abandon further support of HB 1600 and any other worthless property tax "relief" measures that do nothing to permanently resolve the education finance crisis.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.

Very truly yours,

David Baldinger
Administrator, Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition
Spokesperson, Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations

Perzel's flawed 'tax relief' plan

Villanova University School of Law Professor James Edward Maule, an expert on tax law, raises some interesting questions about tax relief plan championed by state Rep. John Perzel.

I expressed my concerns about Perzel's plan to eliminate property taxes only for Pennsylvania residents who are 65 or older and earn less than $40,000 a few days ago in a post called Broken Promises On Tax Relief.

Read Maule's take on the Perzel plan at his blog, MauledAgain.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Teachers' union owns your legislator

There's a movement in Pennsylvania to ban teacher strikes.

Pennsylvania leads the nation in teacher walkouts. Pennsylvania has recorded twice as many teacher strikes as any other state since 2000. Three school districts in Pennsylvania are on strike this week.

Thirty-seven states have already outlawed teacher strikes. The rationale is similar to laws preventing police officers and firefighters from walking off the job. These are essential public services. Since the government mandates a minimum number of days for students to attend school, why should teachers be allowed to disrupt the education system?

After years of lobbying lawmakers, a grassroots organization called Stop Teacher Strikes Inc. has persuaded a few courageous lawmakers to introduce a bill to ban teacher strikes in Pennsylvania.

Opposition to the ban is coming from the powerful teachers' union, which contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds to politicians to keep them voting the way the union wants.

We already know where Gov. Ed Rendell stands on the issue. Rendell, who received $500,000 from the Pennsylvania State Education Association's PAC for his re-election bid last year, said through a spokesman that a teacher strike ban is a "radical response." In other words, the governor is owned by the teachers' union.

So far, 25 state lawmakers have added their names to the teacher ban bill introduced by Rep. Todd Rock, a Republican from Franklin County. All 25 co-sponsors are Republicans, which says a lot about how much control unions have over the Democratic Party. That leaves another 228 lawmakers sitting on the fence (many of them counting the money they've received from the teachers' union.)

It's time for Pennsylvania residents to remind their elected lawmakers that they represent the people, not the unions.

Stop Teacher Strikes Inc. has posted the names of all 253 Pennsylvania legislators on its Web site and how much money the lawmakers have received from the state's largest teachers' union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

"What we're trying to do is rally the public," Stop Teacher Strikes Inc. founder Simon Campbell told The Associated Press.

Pennsylvania's 116,000 public school teachers are already among the highest paid in the nation (average salary of $54,027 in the 2005-06 school year, the most recent figure available). Under the current system, they can walk out on their jobs when they don't get their way and get paid for the time they walk the picket line because school districts are forced by the state to keep students in school for 180 days.

Regardless of how long teachers are on strike, the days will be made up. The only people inconvenienced are students and parents, who often have to make costly day care alternatives when their kids are forced to stay home by a teacher strike.

Rep. Rock's bill would force teachers to forfeit two days' pay for each day of a strike, fine individuals $5,000 for inciting a strike, and require nonbinding arbitration to resolve contract disputes within a certain time frame.

In other words, teachers will get hit where it hurts, in the pocketbook.

An actual ban on teacher strikes requires a change to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Constitutional amendments must be approved by lawmakers in two consecutive legislative sessions and by voters in a referendum. That's a long and complicated process, but it's actually a good thing because changing the Constitution does not require the governor's approval.

Clearly Rendell dances to the teachers' union tune and would never side with Pennsylvania taxpayers on banning teacher strikes.

The Associated Press reviewed strike records over the past seven years and found that of the nearly 140 teacher strikes that occurred nationally between 2000 and 2007, 60 percent took place in Pennsylvania.

Much of the research about teacher strikes has been conducted by the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Pittsburgh, which opposes strikes by public-sector unions in "vital sectors" such as mass transit and education, institute president Jake Haulk told the AP.

"The only way you get (support for a ban) is a massive uprising on the part of the taxpayers who say, 'Enough is enough,'" Haulk said. "That hasn't happened yet."

The teachers' union has used the threat of strikes and the willingness to walk off the job as bargaining tools to hold the state's 501 school districts hostage to its demands. School districts don't have much leverage in the bargaining process, which is one reason property taxes are so high. The teachers get pay raises and top-of-the-line benefits, including lifetime pensions, all paid by the Pennsylvania taxpayer.

It's time to level the playing field by taking away the teachers' ability to strike.

Let your state lawmaker know that your vote is what keeps him or her on the job, not the payoff money they get from the teachers' union.

No taxing the Internet ... at least for next 4 years

Big news out of Washington, D.C., today on an issue that has a lot of people worried.

The House of Representatives voted to approve HR 3678, a 4-year extension of moratorium on taxing the Internet.

That should put the issue to bed for now, but the House also had a permanent moratorium on taxing the Internet on the table, but failed to enact it.

That leaves the door open for future meddling by politicians.

The original ban on taxing the Internet passed in 1998 and was extended twice. It was scheduled to expire on Nov. 1, 2007.

The vote to extend the ban for four more years was 405-2. You can't get more bipartisan support for a bill than that.

The Senate must now vote on the extension.

The Internet is the most revolutionary method of communication since the invention of the printing press. It is the great equalizer, offering everyday people a means to share their ideas and information with the rest of mankind.

Taxing the Internet is so un-democratic. I don't have many nice things to say about Congress, but for once, Congress got it right. If the House had moved to tax the Internet (and I'd like to know who the two clowns were who voted against the bill), the next step would have been taxing the air that we breathe.

Rowley collects top endorsements for Berks judge

Two Republicans are battling for an open seat on the Berks County Court of Common Pleas.

The Nov. 6 contest came about as a result of the May primary. Republican attorney Tim Rowley won the Democratic nomination, but narrowly lost the Republican nomination to fellow Republican attorney Ron Stanko, the former chairman of the Berks County Republican Party.

Because judges are permitted by state law to cross-file in both Republican and Democratic primaries, some elections aren't resolved until the November ballots are counted.

Rowley appears to have the edge going into the November election.

He is able to appeal to Democrats more than Stanko. Rowley also appears to be taking the contest more seriously than Stanko. Rowley has a Web site, Stanko does not. Rowley has more signs up around the county. Rowley has also received more endorsements than Stanko.

Rowley has received backing from every Berks County organization that evaluates candidates for judge, including:

Berks County Fraternal Order of Police
Berks County Constables Association
Firearms Owners Against Crime
The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA)
The United Labor Council of Reading and Berks County
Home Builders Association of Berks County and
Recommended by 95% of the Berks County Bar Association