Tuesday, January 30, 2007

THE CENTRIST: The Great Sin of the American Government

President Abraham Lincoln, at the end of his Second Inaugural Address, eloquently declared,

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
This epitomizes the promise of the American people, through their government, to provide adequate care for those who serve the nation in its military, in peace and especially in war.

The record has not been a good one. Returning veterans of the Great War were promised a “bonus” benefit that would be paid to them in 1945. When the hard times of the Great Depression hit, they began pressing for an immediate payout. The government was slow to act. Eventually they formed what was called the Bonus Army, and marched on Washington. They camped on the Mall, creating a large tent city there. They were peaceful. A bill was introduced in the House to pay the “bonus” immediately. It died in the Senate. The Bonus Army began agitating more loudly, and after several incidents President Hoover ordered Army Commander General Douglas MacArthur to clear the camps. He, in turn ordered General George Patton to use the 12th US Infantry and the 3rd US Cavalry regiments to clear Washington DC of the “Bonus Army”. The troops moved on the camps, with fixed bayonets, and tear gas, and several of the veterans were killed, as were some children, victims of the tear gas. One veteran lost an ear to a cavalry saber.

The men went home without their money. They eventually got it in 1936, but that is a story for another day.

But imagine it – US Army troops assaulting a large body of veterans and their families in a camp on the Mall in Washington, DC – within sight of the United States Capitol. A shameful event in our history.

So, with the exception of the post-WW II and post Korean War eras, when millions of returning vets got educational and housing benefits, as well as medical care for service connected disabilities, the record is more than dismal, it is downright shameful.

And here is the Great Sin of the American Government. The VA has been arbitrarily denying benefits to naval veterans of Vietnam [a class of veterans called Blue Water Sailors], claiming that unless you set foot on the ground in Vietnam, you did not fall under the legislation’s umbrella for presumptive eligibility for service connected disability under the Agent Orange legislation. Nowhere in the legislation is there any reference to a requirement for setting foot on the ground. The legislation states that service in Vietnam is to include service in offshore waters. Period. There is nothing in the legislation that alters that statement in any way. The requirement that Blue Water Sailors had to have set foot on the ground inside the Republic of Vietnam is an invention of the VA’s General Counsel about ten years ago. This requirement is, essentially, what the Haas v. Nicholson ruling overturned back last summer.

Now the VA is fighting that decision. The Secretary ordered all Blue Water Navy claims sidetracked and placed on hold while they appeal. In another court decision

The VA, by this most ignominious policy, has denied benefits to an entire class of veterans, numbering perhaps in the tens of thousands, perhaps more. In so doing, they have denied those veterans and their caregivers, and loved ones, the care, comfort and security due to them. In so doing they have denied the relief of suffering that such benefits would bring, and precipitated the early demise of thousands of Blue Water Sailors who died from the Agent Orange diseases, hastened because of a lack of care that was unaffordable without the disability benefits they should have received. And now their widows and survivors are left to fight for what should have been theirs by right.

And the reason for it? Money. The Secretaries of the Department of Veterans Affairs have decided that to pay the claims to the Blue Water Vietnam Veterans would bust their budget, and their staff. Instead of asking for the money in their annual budget requests, they spend money fighting the court cases, tying up the resources of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and allowing good men and women to die horrible deaths uncared for, and uncomforted by the benefits Congress wanted to give them. This discrimination began under President Clinton, and has been continued during the entire Bush administration.

This hideous and reprehensible policy is nothing short of malicious negligence, malfeasance, and discrimination. It is, in short a heinous crime against an entire class of veterans. It is the Great Sin of the American Government.


We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Kick the hubris out of Harrisburg!” -- THE CENTRIST

"It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs." -- Albert Einstein

Remember in November! Before you vote,

Copyright © 2007: “
THE CENTRIST”. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


What in the world are these cowardly fools thinking?!?!?

Did they learn nothing in the study of events at the end of the Vietnam War?

We never lost that war, we gave it away. We were never defeated on the battlefield, we were defeated at the diplomatic table.

When Henry Kissinger signed the peace agreement in Paris in 1973, the North Vietnamese were literally hours away from giving in to the demands that they withdraw all influence in South Vietnam, allowing that nation to survive.


But a vocal minority at home had pressured the Nixon administration, [just as it had hounded Lyndon Johnson from the White House] to bring the war to a conclusion.

Now, we are reasonably close to a solution in Iraq, and the liberals in this country have generated a movement [one that was always present, but had been idling in the background] to show the world our National will had evaporated, along with our National honor, and we should leave Iraq to the Iraqis. We should cut and run.

In the process, this very vocal, and illogical movement by the left, particularly the national Democratic leadership, publicly attempting to railroad the President of the United States into a policy decision they have no right to make, is costing the lives of US military personnel and Iraqis.

Yes, Nancy Pelosi, Jack Murtha, Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, and John Kerry, along with some very stupid Republican renegades, are killing US Armed Forces personnel, and those of our allies, and innocent Iraqis by the score! They think their election results last November gives them a mandate to dictate National policy to the President of the United States. Allow me to remind them of the separation of powers as structured by the United States Constitution. Congress does not make policy.

Their treacherous, treasonous, traitorous, and unconstitutional actions simply encourage the insurgents in Iraq, leading to renewed and prolonged violence, costing far more lives than the successful prosecution of the effort in Iraq would have cost without this “public support for the insurgency in Iraq by the liberals of this country”.

In 2001, President Bush, speaking before Congress and the world shortly after the September 11 attack, said

Now, this war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.

Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV and covert operations secret even in success.

We are currently fighting terror organizations in Iraq. Al Qaeda, and whatever Iran and Syria can push into the mix.

The liberals just don’t get it. We are not fighting the Iraqis. That war ended in 2003. We are fighting terrorists. And we are fighting them there because they chose to fight there. We are fighting them there so we will not have to fight them here, on our own soil.

Why have the Iraqis failed to exert more control over their own people, allowing sectarian violence to enter the mix? Because the terrorist strike at the lines of men waiting to join the police or the Iraqi military, detonating bombs that kill recruits by the scores. It takes time to train a military, and it take time to train a police force. Thousands of recruits have died, and thousands more have been severely wounded, simply because they were standing in line to join the Iraqi Police. Still more were butchered in their police stations after being trained, or kidnapped to be tortured and executed elsewhere.

Al Qaeda does not want Iraq to succeed. So they strike at the three most dangerous threats to their plans, the Allied Forces, the Iraqi military, and the Iraqi police. Al Qaeda found another aid to their cause when they pushed enough buttons, alternately bombing, or mass-executing Sunnis and Shiites. They started the sectarian violence.

And American Democrats encourage these monsters by showing a face to the world that America has had enough in Iraq. Cut and run!

The warning:
Run now and the Iraqi people pay a terrible price immediately. The price of oil will skyrocket, and blood will flow freely in the streets of Iraq as full scale civil war erupts.

Run now and we will be targeted for large scale terrorist attacks in our homeland within 18 months.

Run now, and our word will never be worth a thin dime internationally, or at home.

Run now and you render meaningless the hundreds of allied dead in Iraq.

Run now and you create another generation of “Vietnam Veterans”, stealing from the Iraq War veterans their honor and their lives.

Run now, and it will be to your eternal shame. There is no hiding who is behind this movement.

What cowards!


We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Kick the hubris out of Harrisburg!” -- THE CENTRIST

"It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs." -- Albert Einstein

Remember in November! Before you vote,

Copyright © 2007:
THE CENTRIST”. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Citizen activist continues the fight

Say what you will about Gene Stilp, the publicity-seeking, Harrisburg-area gadfly and occasional political candidate who has traveled the state with a giant inflatable pink pig. The man is persistent.

I'm sure a lot of politicians were hoping they'd seen the last of Stilp after his campaign for lieutenant governor went nowhere last year.

But Stilp won't go away. He continues to tilt at the windmills of privilege and perks in Harrisburg. And Pennsylvania is better for it.

Stilp, associated with a group called Taxpayers and Ratepayers United, has been busy these days writing letters to the members of the Pennsylvania House of Lords, otherwise known as the state Legislature.

There's no proof that anyone is paying attention, but give Stilp a pat on the back for continuing the good fight.

Some of Stilp's latest targets include the $5.1 million that Prince John Perzel, Speaker Emeritus, managed to remove from the Speaker's stash when it was becoming clear late last year that Prince John would be sent into exile.

"Unfortunately, even after the mistake of the pay raise, actions occur which are not normal in the view of the average citizen." Stilp writes. "It is amazing to the average citizen that a member of the legislature can move $5.1 million dollars from one account to another at his own volition."

Stilp wants each of the 203 members of the House to explain to their constituents how one individual (Prince John Perzel) can have sole control of $5.1 million in taxpayer funds.

Stilp has a lot of questions for lawmakers:

The account was said to be a "surplus" account that had been built up over the years. Why wasn't that taxpayer money returned to the taxpayers?

How do you clearly explain to the taxpayers back home the methodology that allows this to accumulation to happen?

How can you make sure these actions do not reoccur?

Can you give a clear history of the workings of the financing of the Speaker's office for the past decades that shows how these actions are taken?

Who else is involved?

Will you start the investigation of the $5.1 million surplus?

Can you prepare a resolution to accomplish this? Will you subpoena the former Speaker, now Speaker Emeritus?

Do you approve or disapprove of the actions that have occurred?

Does the former Speaker currently have access to the funds that he personally transferred?

What are the transferred funds currently being used for? Who now controls these funds if it is not the former Speaker?

What are you going to do to return the $5.1 million to the taxpayers and not to any House account?

Stilp isn't waiting by his mailbox for a reply from the Harrisburg crowd. What he is hoping will happen is for individual newspapers, radio and television stations across Pennsylvania to start asking some of those questions to legislators in their coverage area.

If this truly is a new era of reform in Harrisburg, we cannot tolerate the back-room dealing of people like Prince John Perzel or anyone else who treats the state treasury as their private ATM machine.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. Tony recently was awarded First Prize in Opinion Columns from the 2,000 member national trade organization Suburban Newspapers of America. The Mercury won seven awards, more than any other newspaper in the Pennsylvania. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Ed Rendell's Fuzzy Economics

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell should send a thank-you card to President George W. Bush. Maybe some flowers or candy.

Thanks to the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, which have put more money into the hands of middle class Americans and small business owners, Pennsylvania's economy has added 162,000 jobs since January 2003. (That also happens to be when Rendell took office as governor, which is the only thing that counts in Rendell's book.)

Rendell, of course, didn't mention President Bush in his latest "pat-myself-on-the-back" announcement about job growth. As usual, Rendell took all the credit. Reality and Rendell are very far apart these days.

You don't create jobs by raising taxes. You don't create jobs by increasing government regulations or presiding over the largest increase in government spending in Pennsylvania history.

When it comes to economics, Rendell should be made to repeat his first term. (This is the same governor who was given an F for his economic achievements by both the Commonwealth Foundation and the Cato Institute. Independent rankings of business climate by state consistently have Pennsylvania in the bottom rung.

Rendell said Pennsylvania added 10,300 jobs in December, the largest one-month job gain in 2006 and the third straight year the state has added 50,000 or more jobs. (I'm also wondering how many of those new jobs were handed out to Rendell political cronies?)

"To sustain job growth, we must continue the strategic investments we have made in the past four years," Rendell said. "And, we must continue to look for new and innovative ways to bring more businesses and jobs to the state."

Which brings us to Rendell’s latest scheme — universal health care for uninsured Pennsylvanians.

Rendell wants to force state employers to provide health care for workers or pay a tax to the state so the government can subside health coverage for private sector employees.

The government can "help employers help their employees be more productive by giving them the peace-of-mind they need when it comes to paying for visits to the doctor," Rendell said, trying to drum up support for his "Prescription for Pennsylvania."

"When we make quality health care coverage affordable, and accessible to everyone, we will make Pennsylvania the most attractive place to locate and expand a business and create jobs for our hard-working citizens," Rendell said.

Reducing the Pennsylvania's net corporate income tax rate (highest in the country) would help entice new businesses and job to Pennsylvania, but Rendell doesn't know how to cut taxes. He only knows how to raise taxes.

Regulating "for-profit" insurance companies would go a long way to reducing insurance costs for all Pennsylvanians, but the insurance lobbyists don't like that idea and have opposed bills introduced in both the House and Senate to level the playing field in Pennsylvania, which is one of only two states that do not regulate "for-profit" insurance companies.

That means some of the state's biggest insurance companies can raise their rates 35 percent a year.

Rendell's "Prescription for Pennsylvania" is the latest bitter pill Rendell is trying to force down the throats or the state's beleaguered business community.

Matthew Brouilette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, got it right in his assessment of Rendell's health insurance scheme: "This is why the governor's 'Prescription for Pennsylvania' will fail: He is prescribing treatment for the symptom rather than the cause. Expanding insurance coverage at taxpayers' expense without first addressing the factors that are driving up healthcare costs will only exacerbate our healthcare problems. Under the governor's scheme, neither the cost of healthcare nor the cost of insurance will ever become reasonably priced for the average Pennsylvanian."

Cutting taxes and slowing runaway spending in Harrisburg is the best way to keep the state's economy healthy.

Rendell's limited playbook of raising taxes, increasing spending and borrowing enormous amounts of money is a recipe for disaster.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. Tony recently was awarded First Prize in Opinion Columns from the 2,000 member national trade organization Suburban Newspapers of America. The Mercury won seven awards, more than any other newspaper in the Pennsylvania. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Russ Diamond: CENSORED!!!

At any given time, a good and virtuous system of government cannot be created by those who occupy elected offices at that particular moment…

by Russ Diamond

On May 15, 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution directing each of the thirteen colonies to develop a constitution in order to plan for self-governance in anticipation of breaking ties with England. On July 16, less than two weeks after the official Declaration of Independence from the king, Pennsylvania’s first constitutional convention opened with the unanimous election of Benjamin Franklin as its president.

On September 28, the convention unanimously approved the new Pennsylvania Constitution. The document was a two-chapter affair, including a Declaration of Rights and a Frame of Government. The plan for governing the Commonwealth included provisions establishing a legislative branch consisting of elected representatives in a single chamber, an executive branch embodied in a President and a twelve-member Council, and a judicial branch overseen by a Supreme Court.

Well aware of the temptations for the abuse of power, and themselves victims of abuse under the king’s rule, the framers included an important provision within the Constitution to keep ultimate control of government in the hands of the people. Chapter II, Section 47 provided for a Council of Censors to be elected from the citizenry every seven years to review the actions of those who govern.

The Council would be charged with determining if the Constitution had indeed been followed over the previous seven years, if those who governed had abused their power and if any taxes levied had been fair. Finally, the Council was authorized to determine if the Constitution, or any part of it, was so unworkable that it required a rewrite under the guise of another convention.

Throughout the American Revolution, Pennsylvanians lived and governed themselves under the Constitution, but there were some elected officials who clearly had desires to alter the established plan for government. In 1777 and again in 1778, the General Assembly passed resolutions calling for another constitutional convention.

The motives of those who wanted a new convention were apparently: dividing the General Assembly into two chambers, further empowering the executive branch, and curiously, abolishing the Council of Censors years before it was scheduled to meet. The citizenry, realizing that the power to call a convention belonged exclusively to the Council of Censors, overwhelmingly rejected the notion and the Assembly rescinded its resolutions in 1779.

In November, 1783 the duly elected Council of Censors met for the first time to carry out its duties, but it was obvious that the primary intent of some members was to follow the earlier whims of the General Assembly. The divided Council ignored or delayed most of its duties, focusing instead on altering the Constitution. In late January, 1784 the Council produced its preferred constitutional changes and recessed until June. A dissenting opinion was issued by the minority, objecting to the call for a convention, primarily on the grounds that two-thirds of the Council had not approved it, as required by the Constitution.

By June, it was clear the inhabitants of Pennsylvania overwhelmingly sided with the dissenters. Nearly 18,000 citizens signed remonstrances against a convention while less than 300 petitioned the Council in favor. Additionally, two members of the Council were replaced during the recess and another pair who did not attend the first session were in attendance at the second, allowing a new majority to steer the Council on its proper mission of judging the constitutionality of government action during the previous seven years.

The Council’s findings were scathing. It found many instances of the General Assembly and the Executive Council overstepping their bounds. By far, the biggest fault it found with the legislative branch was the hasty passage of legislation. Chapter II, Section 15 of the Constitution mandated that all legislation produced in any given session first be published, with voting delayed until the next session “except on occasions of sudden necessity,” ensuring that all acts “may be more maturely considered.”

Modern government observers would find many familiar themes among the body of legislation passed in violation of Section 15, including massive pay raises for elected officials, authorization of per-diem payments, increases in ferry fees, government giveaways to widows, children and the poor, appropriations for questionable public projects, dubious uses of private property (including one estate appropriated as a stable - including free oats and hay - for the horses of Representatives and another as a residence for the Chief Justice), and other acts passed to favor the friends of officials.

The Council cited a “striking example of the mischiefs” in a bill which consisted of a mere 26 lines of text during its first two readings, but upon third reading was found to have been altered to include “sundry new paragraphs” establishing the collectorship of the port of Philadelphia. The bill was approved by the General Assembly within two days, yet another violation of Section 15.

The Council concluded its proceedings in late September and authorized a written address to the citizens of the Commonwealth summarizing their findings, including their reasoning for not calling another constitutional convention. They noted that those among the minority who did support a convention did so for reasons which were “highly pernicious, and utterly inconsistent with liberty.”

Under the Constitution, the next Council of Censors was due to convene and sit in judgment of government after the general election of 1790. The General Assembly, perhaps in anticipation of another negative report, short-circuited the process by again calling for a constitutional convention in 1789 by a 41-17 vote in March and a 39-17 vote in September.

The dissenting opinion on the first vote noted that such power was not invested in the legislature, but instead belonged solely to the Council of Censors, and warned that “if we begin to tear up foundations, we are persuaded a much more dangerous system will be established in its stead.” The second vote’s dissentient declared that “this house is not competent to the subject” of calling a convention and that “this measure at once infringes the solemn compact entered into by the people of this state with each other.”

Despite those warnings, the General Assembly’s convention was hastily convened in November of the same year, eventually producing the Constitution of 1790, which divided the legislature into two separate chambers, established the office of Governor, and - conveniently - abolished the Council of Censors.

In form, the convention turned the Constitution on its head. While the Declaration of Rights existed as Chapter I in 1776, the plan for government took up the first eight Articles of the 1790 version, relegating the rights of the people to Article IX. This was eventually corrected in 1874, but remains as haunting evidence of the true motives of those who occupied the seats of power at the time.

In 1789, the General Assembly usurped the power of the people - via the Council of Censors - to define the structure of government. Today, elected officials continue to mistakenly insist that they and their bi-partisan committees are the best arbiters of how government should be constructed.

At any given time, a good and virtuous system of government cannot be created by those who occupy elected offices at that particular moment. Rather, those officials should prostrate themselves before the citizenry and allow for objective and independent judgment of any prospective form of self-governance.

Russ Diamond

[Russ Diamond is a Lebanon area businessman, political commentator, and former candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania. Mr. Diamond is the founder of PA Clean Sweep.org.]

Permission is hereby granted to reproduce, publish and/or distribute this article in its entirety. To read more about self-governance in Pennsylvania, visit: http://www.paconstitution.duq.edu/

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: State workers have a friend in Pennsylvania

On the eve of his inauguration to a second term, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell figured out a way to spend a couple billion of our tax dollars. What's another $2.1 billion among friends?

I'm still not sure how to greet the news that 45,000 state workers will get pay increases averaging 22.4 percent over the next four years, including a cash bonus of $1,250 for agreeing to take those hefty raises.

It's very generous of Gov. Rendell to share the wealth. For the past two years, we've only been hearing of state politicians and judges getting big fat paychecks from the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. (I hate to keep rubbing it in, but that $1,250 cash bonus is $1,250 more than I got back from the tax cut Ed Rendell promised me when he first ran for governor in 2002).

At least the deal with Council 13 of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, means that working people will also see a boost in their take-home pay.

Under the agreement, which would take effect July 1, state workers will receive a bonus of $1,250 in the first year, followed by pay increases of 3 percent, 3 percent and 4 percent in the second through fourth years, according to the Associated Press.

The tentative agreement, given overwhelming support from the union's Policy Committee on Jan. 13, provides for bonuses and wage increases of 22.4 percent for the average state employee over the life of the four-year agreement, according to union officials.

The total cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers is $2.1 billion. And this deal covers only 45,000 of the state's 80,000 workers. The pay raises are higher than the rate of inflation and much higher than the typical 1.5 percent or 2 percent many private sector workers are seeing in their paychecks for 2007.

And let's not forget that Pennsylvania workers also enjoy one of the best benefits packages in the country and one of the highest pensions when they retire.

This is why Pennsylvania is facing a massive pension crisis over the next five years when the pension fund for state workers, retired teachers and politicians is expected to experience a shortfall of several billion dollars. (Unlike most states, Pennsylvania provides lifetime pensions for elected state politicians and judges who serve a minimum of 10 years in office).

The state's looming pension crisis was recently documented by The Associated Press in a five-part series of articles. The taxpayers' share of the state's two large public-sector pension plans is expected to reach $3 billion a year by 2012. That's five short years from now.

The only good news for Pennsylvania taxpayers in Monday's contract announcement is the fact that state workers will be asked to contribute more toward their healthcare costs. Employees would increase contributions toward their health coverage from 1 percent to 3 percent of their pay, according to officials.

State workers are still coming out ahead. Private sector employees often pay 10 percent or more of their pay to cover healthcare costs. And more than 1 million working Pennsylvanians have no health insurance coverage at all, something Rendell has failed to address in the past four years.

As Gov. Rendell takes the oath of office on Tuesday, let's remember that he got most of his support — votes and campaign contributions — from unionized workers, so it should come as no surprise that the governor is paying back his political supporters. (Council 13 of AFSCME reportedly kicked in $50,000 toward the cost of Rendell's inauguration festivities.)

Just keep your checkbook handy, folks. We'll be paying for Rendell's spending orgies for decades to come. And when you're writing that check out to pay your taxes later this year, be sure to thank everyone you know who voted for Ed Rendell.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: The Rendell legacy in 4 words

I scrutinized the 1,400-word speech Gov. Ed Rendell gave Tuesday at his inauguration and found only two passing references to "property tax relief."

What do Pennsylvania residents want most? Property tax relief.

When do they want it? Now.

How much of a cut in property taxes has Rendell delivered in his first four years in office? Zero.

What can we expect from Rendell over the next four years? See above.

The first mention of property tax relief came early in the speech when Rendell spoke of a "Commonwealth in crisis" before he took the reins as governor. Rendell said he inherited a Pennsylvania that had "a property tax system that threatened the ability of working citizens and especially the elderly to keep their homes."

Rendell claimed in the speech that he "enacted the most far-reaching property tax reduction in the state's history."

Did anyone see Rendell's nose start to grow as he uttered those words? Is this guy living in the same state as the rest of us? How many Pennsylvania residents have lost their homes in the past four years when property taxes rose by $2 billion under Rendell’s watch?

The only thing Rendell has done over the past four years is come up with various schemes to shift the tax burden. It's a classic shell game. We went from Act 72 to Act 1 and borrowed money from the state lottery fund in between to give rebates to a few senior citizens.

That's what Rendell is calling "the most far-reaching property tax reduction in the state's history?"

Somebody should have given Rendell a Golden Globe award for his impersonation of a governor. Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat" was more convincing in his role as a Kazakh journalist than Rendell has been in pretending to have accomplished something during his first term in the Governor's Mansion.

The speech got worse. At one point, Rendell actually said: "Fellow citizens, Pennsylvania is poised for greatness."

This is a state that is about to go belly up because of (pick one) a $3 billion shortfall in pension obligations; a $1.7 billion toll in needed transportation upgrades; billions in welfare spending; a $2.1 billion blank check to unionized state workers; a Legislature that has rubber-stamped massive new spending under Rendell.

And what is Rendell planning for his second term? More government spending programs. (And although he didn't say this during the speech, higher taxes to pay for his spending).

"To accomplish this vision, in the next 30 days, I will set forth an Agenda for Pennsylvania Progress that calls for major new strategic investments in education, in alternative energy development, in transportation and in growing our economy," Rendell proclaimed.

Rendell will begin the state's death march toward insolvency on Wednesday by announcing a massive new government-sponsored health care plan. Can you say, Hillarycare?

Dr. Rendell will unveil his "Prescription for Pennsylvania," whereby he will magically offer health insurance to 1 million Pennsylvania residents and "eliminate billions in wasted health care dollars." Afterwards, Dr. Rendell will offer his cure for the common cold.

If you think Rendell is going to solve the state's health care crisis, you must be the same person checking your mailbox every day waiting for that property tax rebate Rendell promised.

The rest of the speech was about everyone's favorite new buzzword, "reform." Never mind that Rendell has been one of the biggest obstacles to good government over the past four years, making back-room deals with Legislators on both sides of the political aisle and appointing political cronies to various state offices. It's hard to feel safe when the fox is promising to guard the chicken coop.

When a man who amassed $32 million in campaign contributions last year from lobbyists, lawyers and big business tells you, "We need controls on campaign contributions to level the playing field," grab your wallet and run away as fast as you can.

When the man who helped orchestrate the July 2005 payjacking tells you, "We need laws and rules that guarantee that all bills or amendments are carefully considered by those who cast the votes and by citizens who have the right to express their opinion before legislative action is taken," lock the door and pull down the shades. Whatever he’s selling, you don't need.

Rendell also suggested, "We should amend the constitution to take politics out of the defining of legislative districts and leave it solely in the hands of the citizens. We should establish a bipartisan commission to study and recommend the appropriate size for a smaller legislature. And finally, I believe we should amend our constitution to establish term limits for every state office."

All this talk of cleaning up the way the people's business is conducted in Harrisburg from the man who cooked up the plan to install a Philadelphia Republican the new Speaker of the House so Rendell could control the flow of legislation in the House.

Rendell could have kept his speech much shorter Tuesday. Instead of 1,400 words, he only need four to sum up his tenure as governor: Empty promises. Hollow words.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com

Monday, January 15, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: The other half of the school tax problem

Ask the average Pennsylvania resident what they consider to be the most important issue facing the state and nearly all will tell you it's high property taxes.

Most blame the Legislature and Gov. Ed Rendell for failing to provide meaningful tax relief despite years of promises. You remember Rendell's famous tap dance during last year's debate with GOP challenger Lynn Swann: "Let's begin with the proposition that no governor over the past 50 years who promised tax relief" kept his word. I guess that lets Rendell off the hook when he promised to cut property taxes by 30 percent for every Pennsylvania homeowner.

Not a single Pennsylvania resident saw property tax relief during Rendell's first four years in office. And don't hold your breath Rendell will push for tax relief over the next four years. It's not on his radar screen. He'll be busy raising the sales tax or the gas tax or selling off the Pennsylvania Turnpike to fund his voracious spending appetite.

Same goes for the Legislature. Now that House members are safely back in office until 2008 and half the Senate has been returned to office for another four years, the urgency to do something about property taxes is gone.

Blame yourself for re-electing so many incumbents, especially Democrats, who have only given lip service to property tax reform. (Only 10 of 94 House Democrats supported the Commonwealth Caucus plan to eliminate property taxes by raising the sales tax when it last came up for a vote on June 13, 2006.)

The only recourse for voters in 2007 is to go after the other half of the problem. While state politicians have failed miserably to deal with property taxes, the people most directly responsible for burdensome taxes are the men and women who serve on your local school board.

Some 2,000 school board seats will be up for grabs across Pennsylvania in 2007. Here's your chance to make the incumbents who have voted repeatedly for double-digit property tax increases accountable for their actions.

And thanks to Act 1, also known as the "Rendell-Perzel Property Tax Shift of 2006," your local school board will soon be deciding which tax hike referendum it will put on the ballot for the May primary. Will you choose to pay more in earned income tax or personal income tax so a few senior citizens may see a few hundred dollars in savings on their tax bill?

That's essentially what Act 1 is: A plan to raise taxes on working Pennsylvanians so a few retirees can save on taxes. That's the best Rendell & Co. came up with in that "special legislative session on property tax relief" in 2006.

You can gripe all you want about high property taxes, but unless you're willing to run for your local school board with other like-minded residents who’ve had enough with runaway school spending, then don't complain.

Does Pennsylvania need 501 school districts, each employing a superintendent who makes $114,000 a year? That's just the average. Some superintendents are pushing the $200,000 mark. The highest paid superintendent in Pennsylvania earns $242,000 a year.

And every school district has a bunch of assistant superintendents who earn much more than the average worker in that district. Each district has a business manager and a transportation director and somebody in charge of the cafeteria, etc. Every one of those administrators enjoys high pay and great benefits, including pensions not available in the private sector.

Here's a few more interesting statistics about administrative costs from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association:

· Nearly three-fourths of school management positions earn in excess of $74,000 annually.
· The highest management salary reported was $243,360 for district superintendent.
· 74 percent of the 142,890 bargaining unit positions (primarily teachers) reported annual salaries of $42,000 or higher.

The nine members of your local school board are also the people who approve those multi-million-dollar "Taj Mahals" that pass for school buildings these days. And let's not forget the athletic facilities that could qualify to host the Olympic Games.

How much of your tax dollar goes to fund education (teachers, books, supplies) and how much goes to pay the salaries of administrators or covers the upkeep of grand palaces that school districts construct?

While I have the utmost respect for the job most teachers do, I still can't figure out why Pennsylvania leads the nation in teacher strikes when Pennsylvania teachers are among the highest paid in the country. The average teacher in Pennsylvania is paid $54,000 a year. Those numbers are from the 2005-06 school year, the most recent figures available. And while most teachers give 100 percent, few jobs allow you to take off three months in the summer. (The only other one I can think of is Pennsylvania legislator).

Not to get sidetracked, but for more information about why Pennsylvania usually leads the country in teacher strikes, check out this interesting Web site: http://www.stopteacherstrikes.org

The politicians in Harrisburg are safe for now, but it’s time to send a message to the school board members that "Enough is enough!"

Tuesday, Feb. 13, is the first day to circulate nominating petitions for school board elections in 500 of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts (Philadelphia has an appointed board).

More than 2,000 school board positions across the Commonwealth will be on the May 15 Primary Election ballot, according to the Education Policy and Leadership Center.

Candidates can cross-file as both Democrats and Republicans, so these four-year terms on school boards are often won in the primary. There's no pay involved in serving on a school board, but somebody has to be the first line of defense in Pennsylvania's losing struggle with burdensome property taxes.

The battle is often won or lost at school board meetings.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com

Returning to radio Jan. 19

I'll be the guest on the Nick Lawrence Show on WPAZ AM 1370 on Friday, Jan. 19, from 4 to 5 p.m. You can call in to the live broadcast with questions or comments at 610-326-4000. You can also listen to the show live on your computer by logging on to www.1370wpaz.com and clicking on the "live audio" button at the top of the main page.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Perzel is a plague on Pennsylvania

Are members of the Pennsylvania Legislature subject to random drug testing? Is there some sort of mental health screening available in the General Assembly?

How else can you explain the absurdity of bestowing the title of "Speaker Emeritus" on ousted Speaker John M. Perzel, who lost his post Jan. 2 when 99 Democrats and 6 Republicans voted for Dennis M. O'Brien as the Speaker for the next two years.

The repudiation of Perzel sent the Philadelphia Republican on a week-long downward spiral from the most powerful leadership post in the House to rank-and-file member, one of 203 representatives in the most bloated, under-worked and overpaid legislature in the United States.

One week after Perzel's demotion, the Republican Caucus, which is now in the minority in the House thanks largely to Perzel, voted to make Perzel the "Speaker Emeritus" of the House. Or at least half the House. There's no indication that the 102 Democrats in the House -- or Speaker O'Brien -- recognize Perzel's honorary title.

Let's review what John Perzel has done in the past four years as Speaker of the House.

* Perzel pushed through the massive increase in the state income tax proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2003 through the House.

* Perzel ushered in the flawed casino slots bill proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell in July 2004.

* Perzel orchestrated the July 2005 pay raise along with Gov. Rendell and Ralph Cappy, chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

* Perzel helped Gov. Rendell increase state spending by billions of dollars over the past four years, setting the state up for financial disaster.

* Because of Perzel's miscalculation of the public backlash to the pay raise and his steadfast refusal to consider repealing the payjacking, 50 House members were voted out of office or forced to retire in 2006.

So what do the remaining Republicans do? They reward Perzel for his ignorance and arrogance. They refused to dump Perzel despite losing their 13-seat majority in the House. Republicans could have pushed Perzel overboard after the primary election or after the general election or at any point up to the Jan. 2 Speaker vote.

It finally took 99 Democrats to toss Perzel out of office on Jan. 2 when they found a moderate Republican they can live with in Dennis O'Brien. But how do you explain the fact that 94 Republicans voted to put Perzel back in the Speaker's office after all the damage he has done to the party and the House?

I'm beginning to question the mental stability of the 101 members of the Republican Caucus in the House of Representatives.

Pollster and political analyst Lowman Henry, writing today in his Lincoln Blog, gets it: "The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting you have one. Some members of the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus are urgently in need of a 12-step program, with step one being how to deal with denial. While the position will carry with it no increase in pay, and only a few additional staff members, the very creation of it signals the continued unwillingness of certain House Republicans to face up to the fact that John Perzel has been an unmitigated disaster for their diminished caucus and for the Republican Party as a whole."

John Perzel is the reason the Republican Party lost the majority in the House. Perzel is the reason 55 lawmakers, mostly Republicans, are no longer serving in Harrisburg. Perzel is a walking, talking disaster area.

Perzel is a malignancy on the Pennsylvania Legislature. He will continue to infect lawmakers as long as they keep him in power. And the people of Pennsylvania are the losers. Again.

By creating the post of "Speaker Emeritus" and allowing Perzel to influence the business of the House, by turning their backs on reform and allowing lobbyists to continue running state government, Republicans guaranteed they will remain the minority party in the House in 2008 and beyond.

That's why the 101 House Republicans need to have their heads examined.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com

Friday, January 05, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: All I know about Dennis O'Brien

Here's everything I know about Dennis M. O'Brien, the newly-elected Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

O'Brien supported the July 2005 legislative payjacking. Strike 1.

O'Brien is from Philadelphia. Strike 2. (Philadelphia politicians care only about Philadelphia. Their only goal is to bring more of our tax dollars back to Philadelphia, where the money will be squandered by other corrupt or incompetent politicians. See Ed Rendell for numerous examples of this).

O'Brien says he has "chemistry" with Gov. Ed Rendell. Strike 3. (Anybody eager to work with Ed ‘Tax Hike’ Rendell scares me.)

O'Brien was nominated by Democratic Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, one of the architects of the payjacking and a man who has opposed Legislative reform for 30 years. Strike 4.

O'Brien, a Republican, was voted into office by 99 House Democrats. Strike 5. (Something doesn't smell right when Democrats want a Republican to lead the House.)

While nobody is happier than I am to see Republican John Perzel finally ousted as Speaker, his replacement has a long way to go to win the public's trust and restore some sense of integrity to the Legislature.

I'm not convinced the members of the Pennsylvania Legislature who gave us the July 2005 payjacking and have resisted reforms for decades woke up on Jan. 2 and finally "got it" after paying lip service to constituents for the past 18 months.

I tend to side with this assessment from the editorial pages of The (Delaware County) Daily Times about the sudden burst of bipartisanship in the House and promises of reform: "Only a 'cockeyed optimist' would believe that was what happened in the state House. What happened in Harrisburg was Pennsylvania politics as usual. One back-room deal after another, reminiscent of the closed-door meetings that lead to the middle-of-the-night pay raise that so angered the electorate."

Let's wait until the smoke clears before we decide if the Legislature got the message or we have to continue to sweep out career politicians.

Let's see some results before we decide of Dennis O'Brien is a true reformer or just Perzel-light. Is he the man who can usher in a new era of good government or is he a puppet of status quo politicians like Ed Rendell and Bill DeWeese?

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: A fresh start for Pennsylvania

"Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"
— William Shakespeare
(Henry IV, Part II)

The reign of John M. Perzel ended Tuesday when the Pennsylvania House of Representatives elected Philadelphia Republican Dennis M. O'Brien as Speaker of the House, the post Perzel has held since April 2003.

The vote to give O'Brien the powerful job of Speaker was 105-97, ending a week of political intrigue that included a veteran Democratic legislator publicly announcing he would vote for Perzel, effectively denying the Speaker post to Democratic House Leader Bill DeWeese.

Six Republicans broke ranks with their leadership, breaking Perzel's iron grip on power. They are Reps. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Center), Jim Cox (R-Berks), Brad Roae (R-Crawford), Sam Rohrer (R-Berks), Curt Schroder (R-Chester) and David Steil (R-Bucks).

They outnumbered the three Democrats -- Reps. Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks), Angel Cruz (D-Phila.) and Rosita Youngblood (D-Phila.) -- who voted for Perzel.

The fallout from Tuesday's explosive leadership vote will take days to settle. It could signal a fresh start for the beleaguered Legislature, which has been under siege since July 7, 2005, when lawmakers voted themselves pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent in a middle-of-the-night vote that led to a political backlash that cost 55 legislators and a Supreme Court justice their jobs.

Perzel was blamed for orchestrating the pay raise and losing Republican control of the House. Before the Nov. 7 election, the GOP enjoyed a 109-seat majority in the chamber. Democrats now control the House by a 102-101 margin, but DeWeese was unable to hold the Democratic caucus together.

The House welcomed 50 new legislators Tuesday and many of them ran on a platform to clean up Harrisburg. The rejection of Perzel and DeWeese could signal the end of the "business-as-usual" mentality promoted by these career politicians.

Perzel and DeWeese brought baggage to the leadership vote. Perzel's arrogance and habit of saying stupid things cost him support in his own party. DeWeese demoted 15 Democratic committee chairmen in 2005 after they refused to back the pay raise.

O'Brien, who has served in Harrisburg for 30 years, has kept a low profile and apparently was a compromise candidate both parties could support. After realizing he did not have the votes to win the Speaker post, DeWeese himself nominated O'Brien for Speaker. DeWeese hailed O'Brien as "a fine-hearted idealistic Republican" who is well-suited to lead "a clean slate" in House leadership, which Republicans have controlled for 12 years, according to The Associated Press.

Unlike Perzel and DeWeese, who have blocked reform for much of the past decade, O'Brien immediately promised to preside over a more open House.

"You have my pledge. I will move reform issues forward and I will try to be as fair as I possibly can," O'Brien was quoted by The Associated Press.

What a difference a year makes. The smackdown of Perzel and DeWeese follows on the heels of last year's ouster by the voters of the Senate's top two GOP leaders. The only politician who helped orchestrate the payjacking who survived the voters' wrath was Gov. Ed 'Teflon' Rendell, who will be sworn in to a second term on Jan. 16.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com