Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Russ Diamond: Will the House Follow the Senate's Lead?

[Re-posted from the Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog]

On Tuesday, May 8, the Senate State Government Committee met to vote on several reform bills which were very important bellwethers for reform in Harrisburg. PACleanSweep was proud to have signed on to a letter from a broad-based coalition of reform minded organizations to the Committee urging them to send these bills to the Senate floor.

Now that the Senate has taken its first step toward actual reform, we need to turn our attention to the House of Representatives. PACleanSweep has joined our coalition friends in signing a letter to House State Government Committee chair Babette Josephs urging movement on reform issues under her guidance.

You can read the coalition's letter to Ms. Josephs at: http://www.pacleansweep.com/hsgc052507.pdf. The Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view the letter.

It has been nearly two years since the infamous midnight pay raise. Since that time, only ONE piece of reform legislation has actually been passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor.

The will of the people of Pennsylvania to reform state government has been clear since July of 2005. It will be interesting to see if that sentiment has trickled up to the members of the House State Government Committee yet. While the will of the people is strong, we believe their patience regarding continued inaction is beginning to wear thin.

Other members of the House State Government Committee are:

Blackwell, Thomas W., Vice Chairman; Gibbons, Jaret, Secretary; Baker, Matthew E., Minority Chairman; Carroll, Mike; Cohen, Mark B.; Curry, Lawrence H.; Fabrizio, Florindo J.; Freeman, Robert; Kortz, William C; Kula, Deberah; O'Brien, Michael H.; Oliver, Frank Louis; Parker, Cherelle L.; Ramaley, Sean M.; Vitali, Greg; Youngblood, Rosita C.; Benninghoff, Kerry A.; Clymer, Paul I.; Creighton, Tom C.; Gingrich, Mauree; Grell, Glen R.; Mantz, Carl W.; Marshall, Jim; McIlhattan, Fred; Quigley, Thomas J.; Rapp, Kathy L.; Vereb, Mike; Watson, Katharine M.

Russ Diamond
For More Information:

Russ Diamond
PACleanSweep Chair

PACleanSweep is a non-partisan effort dedicated to reforming state government in Pennsylvania. For more information, please visit www.PACleanSweep.com.

Copyright © 2007, Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Honor the Fallen Every Day

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania - 1863
After the guns became silent, the cleanup began. It started with the wounded -- thousands of wounded. Those not already in hospitals in the many barns nearby, and not already on their way back to Virginia as Lee pulled his men back from the costly repulse at Gettysburg, those that still lay on the blood soaked fields, and among the trees and rocks of this ground were gathered up and swiftly borne away to fill the hospitals again.

First the living, and then the dead. The somber task of burying the Union dead began before the battle was done, and continued for well over a day. In most cases, they were buried where they fell.

The grave diggers were often criticized for their levity while going about their grim work, but in reality, it was simply a mechanism to deal with the horrors of so many mangled bodies…and if the sight of that didn’t reach you, the smell surely would. And so they would make small jokes about how this one smelled, or what he looked like he did back home: farmer, merchant, teacher, schoolboy…

After the Union dead were interred, it would take two more days to bury the Confederate dead. Meanwhile, there were tens of thousands of horses, mules and livestock that were rotting on the battlefield. They, too, had to be disposed of. There were a large number of dead horses in the small garden of the Widow Leister farm, where Major General Meade made his headquarters. Slaughtered by Confederate artillery that overshot its intended mark on Cemetery Ridge, the horses died by the dozen on the reverse slope. Later, Lydia Leister would burn their bones, and sell the ash/bone mix as fertilizer. She made about $30.

Local attorney David Wills realized almost immediately not just the importance of the battle, but the importance of the battlefield. He began to buy up portions of it for a memorial association he founded. By mid-summer, he had contacted Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin, and obtained approval to go ahead and construct a “National Soldiers and Sailor’s Cemetery” at Gettysburg. A location on the west slope of Cemetery Hill, adjacent to the old Evergreen Cemetery was obtained, and a design was approved. A group of local African-Americans won the contract to disinter the Union dead from their makeshift graves on the battlefield and after identification of the remains at least as to the state for which the soldier had fought, reinter them in the new cemetery.

When that task was finally completed in the 1880s, there were 3,577 men from fourteen northern states buried in that graveyard. Since then, veterans and fallen from all of America’s wars have added more than 3,000 interments to that number.

For all of that, only one person has truly caught the essence of the events here, and the cost, and what the men bought with their blood. And on a cool November afternoon in 1863, he put the matter quite clearly:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we may take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

He put no hate in his speech, nor disrespect of the enemy. He placed the enormous toll of the battle into the perspective of the new United States that would emerge from the war – a new nation that was no longer divided by the issue of slavery, a nation united.

In Europe at the time, the nationalism movement had been underway for a half-century or more, and resulted in wars between nations. In America, our Civil War defined how we, the United States of America, would be viewed by those outside our nation, and how we would perceive ourselves. It gave us an identity that all Americans could claim, a single spirit, a national unity.

In all of America’s other major wars combined (The Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War, Spanish American War, WW I, WW II, Korea, Viet Nam, Gulf War I), the total killed is approximately 590,360.

In the Civil War, approximately 617,000 Americans fell in combat, or from accident or disease while serving. Almost a million more were wounded. Countless more were starved in Prisoner of War Camps.

There must be something about this “experiment in Liberty” that we call a nation that drives men and women to sacrifice themselves in such numbers for it.

Do not wait for Memorial Day, but practice regularly your sincere honoring of our Fallen Warriors. Visit a National Cemetery, a Veteran's Hospital or an observance of Memorial Day. Whatever you do, do something to honor those who gave their lives in the service of this nation, so “…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


Copyright © 2007: THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tim Potts: It's Audit Time & More

[Re-posted from the Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog]

In this edition of Democracy Rising News:

  • Tick, Tick, Tick
  • Pay and Pay and Pay
  • It's Audit Time
  • Our Open Supreme Court

Tick, Tick, Tick

  • 682 - Days since the Pay Raise of 2005. See the ticker on our home page.
  • 1 - Law enacted to improve government
  • 0 - "Best-in-America" laws enacted

Pay and Pay and Pay

How many times and how much money should citizens pay to get public officials to work with each other? That's the bottom-line question about recent reports of tax dollars being used to hire lobbyists so that some public officials can gain access to other public officials.

Strangely, it has become common for local governments to hire lobbyists to talk with the state and federal governments. State agencies also hire lobbyists to talk with other state agencies. And substantial sums are spent on having conversations in places that are "conducive to doing business."

For example, WGAL-TV's Ben Simmoneau reported earlier this month on two such deals in "Money Merry-Go-Round:"

  • The PA Turnpike Commission pays Bravo Group more than $26,000 per month to lobby the legislature and governor not to privatize the Turnpike.
  • The PA Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) pays more than $1 million a year to eight lobbying firms, including $235,000 to a single lobbyist ($70,000 more than the governor's salary). By law, PHEAA has 16 lawmakers serving on its board of directors.

Among the expenses Simmoneau discovered are $600 for two nights at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, FL, and a $92 bar tab for one event.


  • Don't we already pay public officials to talk with each other? Isn't that their job?
  • Why should we have to pay lobbyists to get public officials to do what we're already paying them to do?
  • Wouldn't it be a lot cheaper for agency staff to lobby other public officials if the head of the agency can't do it?
  • Do legislative leaders pay lobbyists to lobby other members of the legislature? To do campaign! research that would be illegal if done directly with taxpayer dollars?

Isn't It Time for A Real Audit?

Perhaps this is one reason why legislative leaders have resisted for so long any meaningful audit of their use of our money. There are annual audits, but they employ the lowest standards of the auditing profession.

Yesterday, Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, III, R-Jefferson, was the featured speaker at the Pennsylvania Press Club. Responding to a question about whether he would support high-quality audits of leadership accounts for the past two years, Scarnati said he would support only a one-year audit, which would include only the last six months of the previous leadership of the Senate and the first six months of the current leadership. He did not say whether he would support an audit using the highest standards of the profession or continue the practice of audits us! ing the lowest standards.

The capitol is full of speculation that a thorough audit will disclose relationships and uses of taxpayer money to benefit campaign contributors or favored lobbyists or some other indiscretion such as using tax dollars to conduct campaign-related polling for incumbents.

Citizens ought to know for sure whether such fears are unfounded or are part of the culture that begs for reform. The only way to know that is with a state-of-the-art audit that goes back for a period of years.


  • Should the "Scarnati Standard" be the standard for other audits? The Auditor General routinely audits more than one year in the past when auditing school districts and executive agencies. Should that stop in favor of just the most recent year?
  • Or should the more rigorous standard of accountability imposed on other government agencies finally apply to the legislature as well?

Our Open Supreme Court

Last week, on the eve of Election Day, the state Supreme Court issued a news release saying a new procedure takes effect on July 1 for "providing open, public access to its financial and related administrative records."

The news prompted DR to ask to be added to the distribution list for future news releases. But in the spirit of "providing open, public access," here's the response we got from the Court: "We are unable to accommodate individual requests for distribution of news releases. But you can find all AOPC news releases dating back to 1993 posted on our Web site." That's here .


  • Is that what they tell reporters from news agencies other than DR?
  • How hard is it really for the Supreme Court to add names and addresses to its email lists?
  • How often should citizens have to check the Court's web site to find out whether there's any news? Daily? Hourly?
  • How often will the Court check with citizens to learn their attitudes about stealth legislation like the pay raise?

Tim Potts, Co-Founder

Democracy Rising PA

©Democracy Rising Pennsylvania 2001-2007. All Rights Reserved.


Copyright © 2007, Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tim Potts: Reform Dominates Another Election

[Re-posted from the Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog]

In this edition of Democracy Rising News:

Tick, Tick, Tick
Reformer Michael Nutter Wins in Philly
Act 1 Crashes and Burns
Court Ruling Adds Spice to Fall Judicial Elections

Tick, Tick, Tick
677 Days since the pay raise of 2005
1 Law enacted to improve government integrity
0 "Best-in-America" laws enacted

DR now has a counter on our web site providing instant updates on how long it's been since the pay raise and what our public officials have done to improve government integrity. See it on our home page .

Reformer Michael Nutter Wins in Philly. Philadelphia? A hotbed of reform?
Since 2005, pundits have correctly observed that reform was slow coming to Philadelphia, where the pay raise barely raised an eyebrow. That changed yesterday when Michael Nutter won the Democratic primary convincingly in a field of five candidates. A former city councilman with a track record of reform on such issues as limiting the size of campaign contributions, Nutter campaigned on ethics, tax cuts and public safety.

"We have to lower the crime rate and make this city safe," Nutter said in an Inquirer article today. "This is our time, and this is our place. We can do better as a city, we will do better as a city."

Finishing in second place was businessman Tom Knox, who spent $10 million of his own money on the race. Along with Nutter, the two campaigned against corruption in the current administration.

"The fact that the two top finishers in the race were both reform candidates is a testament to the people of Philadelphia and the fact that they want real and meaningful change," Knox told the Inquirer.

Before the election, polls showed a sizeable majority of Philadelphians believing that their city was on the wrong track.

Act 1 Crashes and Burns
Early returns show that voters in 498 school districts overwhelmingly rejected the state's proposal to increase local income taxes in order to fund cuts in local property taxes. As of this morning, the state Bureau of Elections showed voters defeating the Act 1 proposal 190-3 in school districts where all voting precincts had reported. The remaining districts were incomplete as of this writing. Check for local results and updates at the link.

While some, including Gov. Ed Rendell's spokesman, contend that the proposal lost because it was confusing, others argue it lost because voters saw it as a phony reform. Independent education analysts rank PA as having among the worst school funding systems in the nation because of its over-reliance on local property taxes and extremely low level of state support.

By simply shifting taxes at the local level, Act 1 failed to address the fundamental problem, critics contend. Many voters, according to interviews at the polls published in many of the state's newspapers, also resented the proposal for pitting one group of taxpayers (renters) against another group of taxpayers (low-income homeowners). In most school districts, rent! ers would have seen their income taxes increase by 50% to 100% in order to provide relatively small property tax cuts for the homeowners, a shift that even some of those who voted for Act 1 considered to be unfair to renters.

Court Ruling Could Add Spice to Fall Judicial Election
On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania temporarily prohibited the PA Judicial Conduct Board from enforcing certain parts of Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Ethics. Although issued as the result of another lawsuit, the ruling decides for now the lawsuit Democracy Rising PA filed last week making a similar request of the Middle District court. Click here for that edition of DR News.

The ruling allows candidates for judge to answer questions about legal issues without fear of being penalized by the Judicial Conduct Board. Both DR and the plaintiff in the Eastern District (the Pennsylvania Family Institute) now must prepare for a court hearing on a permanent injunction against Canon 7. Such a hearing could occur within the next few weeks. We'll keep you posted.

This year DR and eight other organizations sponsored a questionnaire based on a reform platform created by Prof. Bruce Ledewitz at Duquesne University Law School. In their responses, four state-level candidates and two candidates for local judgeships claimed that Canon 7 prevented them from answering questions about such issues as the Supreme Court's role and ruling in the pay raise; private meetings between judges, lawmakers and the governor; nepotism; and issuing orders without opinions stating the court's authority and reasoning.

DR will continue to push for answers to these and many other questions affecting the quality of our court system. Click here to see the candidates responses so far.

Democracy Rising PA is a non-partisan, non-profit advocate for improving state government.

Note: Candidate responses are available in
directories at the Democracy Rising PA web site.

Tim Potts, Co-Founder

©Democracy Rising Pennsylvania 2001-2007. All Rights Reserved.


Copyright © 2007, Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Memorial Day

Have a good Memorial Day weekend

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Time for Montco GOP chairman to step down

If you need further evidence that Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Ken Davis is out in left-field, consider that the man Chairman Davis fought so hard to keep off the primary ballot, current county District Attorney Bruce L. Castor, out-polled all candidates for Montgomery County commissioner in the May 15 primary election.

Castor received 45,460 votes — or nearly 15,000 more than the top Democratic vote-getter in the commissioners' race.

Chairman Davis wanted incumbent GOP commissioners Tom Ellis and Jim Matthews to head the ticket, but Castor managed to knock Ellis off the ballot by appealing directly to Republican Committee members in Montgomery County.

It's hard to argue with results. Castor is the best known and most respected political figure in Montgomery County.

Here’s how the vote totals went on May 15: Castor — 45,460; Matthews — 40,074; Democrat Joe Hoeffel — 30,631; Democrat Ruth Damsker: 25,514. Expect the same order in the fall election.

Chairman Davis has allowed his ego and his need for control to cloud his judgment about fielding the best slate of candidates. Winning elections is what running a political party is all about.

The only chance Republicans have of keeping control of Montgomery County government is with Bruce Castor leading the ticket. If Ken Davis can't face reality, he needs to step down as party chairman.

Castor is taking over as the de-facto leader of the the Republican Party in Montgomery County. It's about time. The party has been on a death march under Davis.

Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Hold lawmakers accountable for Act 1 fiasco

Now that Act 1 has been flushed down the drain by Pennsylvania voters, it's time to hold the politicians behind the tax chicanery accountable.

It's too late to do anything about Gov. Ed Rendell, the driving force behind the Act 1 sham. He's safely re-elected to a new four-year term. The best voters can do is demand that their legislators oppose Rendell's tax-and-spend agenda.

But there are more than 175 incumbent legislators who voted for Act 1 last year. Many of these career politicians were re-elected in 2006. Voters shouldn't make the same mistake again when these legislators face re-election in 2008

Just like the July 2005 legislative pay raise, voters should hold lawmakers accountable for their vote on Act 1, another betrayal of the public trust.

The state House passed legislation that led to Act 1 by a 137 to 61 margin. Most of the 'No' votes were by Republican lawmakers. The state Senate approved the measure by a 40 to 9 margin. House members have to run for re-election every two years. Senate members run every four years, but only half the Senate will face the voters in 2008.

In Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties, the following state representatives voted in favor of Act 1: David G. Argall (R-124); Tom Caltagirone (D-127); Kate Harper (R-61); Art Hershey (R-13); Daylin Leach (R-149); Doug Reichley (R-134); Carole Rubley (R-157); Dante Santoni (D-126); and Josh Shapiro (D-153).

Until we see genuine property tax relief, think twice about re-electing these people in 2008.

In the Senate, the following members who represent parts of Berks, Chester and Montgomery (and voted in favor of Act 1) will face the voters in 2008: Michael A. O’Pake (D-11); Dominic Pileggi (R-9); James J. Rhoades (R-29) and Connie Williams (D-17).

If you want to know how your state representative or senator voted on Act 1, send me an e-mail and I'll get the information for you.

Meanwhile, back at the governor's mansion, Ed Rendell woke up with a hangover on Wednesday. Tuesday’s Primary Election did not go well for Rendell, who many regard as political genius.

Not only did Act 1 go down in flames, but all the candidates Rendell endorsed in the May 15 primary, lost their respective races.

Rendell backed C. Darnell Jones for a Democratic nomination to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Jones came in a distant third with just 18 percent of the vote.

Rendell also backed state Rep. Dwight Evans for mayor of Philadelphia. Evans came in a distant fifth with just 8 percent of the vote.

Just more chinks in the armor of the once invincible governor. Good thing the Pennsylvania Constitution doesn't permit recall elections.

After he took some Alka-Seltzer, Rendell, through his spokesman, hinted that voters were too stupid to understand that voting to raise their taxes was a good thing.

"The governor believes that voters ought to have local control over the mix of taxes that support their schools," Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said. "The dollar-for-dollar exchange (under the tax shifts) was straightforward. Unfortunately, the interpretation, by the time it got to the voters, seemed to be much more complicated."

Rendell also attempted to blame Republican leaders in the Legislature for forcing him to sign Act 1 into law.

Excuse me?

Here's what Rendell said on June 27, 2006, when he went to an old lady's house to sign Act 1:

"This day is a major victory for Pennsylvanians who have fought for decades to have their property taxes cut. Every homeowner in Pennsylvania will not only get significant reduction, but they will finally get a say in future tax increases. This bill represents a victory of the possible over politics-as-usual."

That doesn't sound like anybody was twisting Rendell's arm to get him to sign Act 1, which he proclaimed as a historic tax cut for all Pennsylvanians.

Here's why Act 1 sank faster than the Titanic. Voters are not as stupid as Rendell thinks they are.

Pennsylvania residents want the elimination of all property taxes used to fund public education. The only solution that makes sense is the Commonwealth Caucus Plan, also known as the Plan for Pennsylvania's Future. Rendell and the Democratic majority in the House oppose the plan because it would restrict the government’s ability to take away your home if you don’t pay property taxes. It would also force school boards to live within their means.

Rendell's Act 1 shell game would have increased taxes for two-thirds of Pennsylvania residents in return for a promise of a few hundred dollars down the road. Rendell has made too many promises already that he hasn't kept.

Voters have finally figured out Rendell and his empty promises. Unfortunately, that moment of realization came six months after Rendell was re-elected to another four years as governor.

Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tim Potts: Democracy Rising PA Files Federal Lawsuit Against Judicial Canon

[Reprinted with permission from the Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog.]

HARRISBURG (May 9) - Democracy Rising PA today asked the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg to declare part of the state's canons of judicial ethics unconstitutional because they violate the right of Democracy Rising PA and other organizations to educate voters about issues facing the courts.

If granted, the request would allow candidates for judge this year to answer questions about judicial reform proposals without fear of being penalized by the state's Judicial Conduct Board. The questions are included in a
questionnaire sponsored by Democracy Rising PA and eight other organizations.

"These organizations are doing our best to educate citizens before this year's elections about legitimate issues affecting citizen confidence in our court system," said DRPA Co-founder Tim Potts.

"We have been frustrated in this work by candidates who claim the state's canons of judicial ethics prohibit them from answering some questions. Under recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, that is simply false, and we're asking the federal court to say so."

At issue is a provision in
Canon 7 that prohibits judicial candidates from "mak[ing] statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court...."

DR argues that the phrase "appear to commit" is so vague that it violates a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 US 765, and other cases. Together, the cases both allow judicial candidates to answer questions and give organizations that educate voters a right to obtain and publicize answers without the threat of punishment being imposed on the candidates.

Under White, candidates are only prohibited from promising or predicting how they would rule on particular cases or kinds of cases. For example, it would be misconduct for a candidate to promise that he or she would rule a particular way on cases affecting publicly financed health care for poor children.

Among the issues the questionnaire addresses are:

  • Hiring friends and relatives for important positions in the court system.
  • Courts issuing orders without opinions that explain their legal authority and reasoning.
  • Concealing administrative documents that govern expenditures by individual judges.
  • Having secret conversations between judges, lawmakers and the governor.
  • Whether the courts are misinterpreting the Constitution and thereby failing to protect citizens from abuses by the legislature and governor.

The complaint cites six candidates who, in responding to the questionnaire, explicitly cite Canon 7 as prohibiting them from answering questions. They are:

  • Debra Todd, an Allegheny County candidate for PA Supreme Court
  • Jackie Shogan, an Allegheny County candidate for PA Superior Court
  • Chuck Pascal, a candidate for Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas
  • Gary Gilman, a candidate for Bucks County Court of Common Pleas
  • Cindy Dunlap Hinkle, a candidate for Butler County Court of Common Pleas
  • Lucy Longo, a candidate for Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas

"Some argue whether we should elect our judges, but the fact is that we are electing our judges this year and will continue to elect our judges until at least 2011," Potts said.

"As long as we elect judges, citizens need to know where the candidates stand. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court should encourage, not i! mpede, educating voters. It is foolish to prohibit those who know the most about the court system from discussing how to improve it," he added.

Democracy Rising PA is a non-partisan, non-profit advocate for improving state government.

Note: Candidate responses are available in
directories at the Democracy Rising PA web site.

Tim Potts, Co-Founder

©Democracy Rising Pennsylvania 2001-2007. All Rights Reserved.


Copyright © 2007, Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Tim Potts: "Defining Votes" on May 8

[Reprinted with permission from the Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog.]
Tick, Tick, Tick
662 - Days since the
pay raise of 2005
1 - Law enacted to improve government integrity
0 - "Best-in-America" laws enacted

"Defining Votes" on May 8
"Defining votes." That's what lawmakers call votes that "define" a lawmaker's true commitment to a position or an issue.

One week from today, the
Senate State Government Committee will hold five defining votes when it takes up proposals for:

These are not only defining votes on each of the reforms but defining votes on whether the Senate is willing to take up structural improvements to state government. Failure in committee will be further evidence of the need for a citizen-driven constitutional convention to debate and decide these and dozens of other issues.

Each of the proposals is subject to amendment both in committee on May 8 and on the floor of the Senate if they pass in committee. To date, no one has made claims that any of the proposals would meet or exceed a "best-in-America" standard, but both the committee vote and the amendment process offer hope.

"While every Senator may not agree with every bill and amendments may be offered to hone an acceptable resolution, the public floor debate needs to happen and it needs to happen right now. The Senate needs to tell Pennsylvania how serious it is about Constitutional reform and help frame the debate concerning a Constitutional Convention," Eichelberger said when announcing his bill.

Meanwhile, the
House State Government Committee is missing in action. Similar reform bills are pending there, but the committee has not scheduled a vote on any of them. One such bill is House Bill 721 by Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, R-Lebanon, which would prohibit lame-duck session.

While the
Speaker's Reform Commission is considering many proposals, others such as Swanger's are not on the commission's list and could get prompt action by the House State Government Committee. As the second anniversary of the pay raise approaches, the House committee's failure to act is bound to fuel citizen skepticism about whether their Representatives are serious about raising standards of public integrity in state government.


  • How will members of the Senate State Government Committee vote on these proposals?
  • Are other Senators urging committee members to send the bills to the floor or to kill them in committee?
  • Will failure in committee strengthen the movement for our first constitutional convention in 40 years?
  • How much longer will it take for the House to get serious about reforms beyond those that are being considered by the Speaker's Reform Commission?
  • What does the lack of House committee action say about the leadership in the House?
Forgiveness v. Permission
Some have suggested that the attitude, "It's better to ask for forgiveness than permission," is at the heart of what's wrong with state government. Stealth legislation is based on that premise, and it worked until the pay raise. But public officials now must think twice about that approach.

Perhaps that's at the heart of the controversy surrounding Secretary of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty and Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources Michael DiBerardinis. Shortly before Senate was scheduled to vote on their confirmation for a second term in office, the Philadelphia Daily News broke the story by John Baer that companies employing the spouses of both cabinet officers received contracts totaling $4.4 million from the agencies.

Some have defended the job performance of McGinty and DiBerardinis as leaders of their agencies. Others have said they are the victims of a partisan and ideological smear campaign that was timed to do maximum damage.

All that may be true, but it is beside the point. The point is that citizens expect and deserve better. If cabinet officers know that the companies where their spouses work are going to bid on contracts, they should make every effort to disclose that fact before contracts are bid and awarded so that citizens can have confidence in the contracting decision.

The State Ethics Commission yesterday said the two cabinet officers should not be involved in future contracting decisions. It would not say whether an investigation into past contract awards is underway. Presumably an investigation would tell citizens whether the contracts were competitively bid, whether the bidding process was normal and whether the contracts were awarded on the basis of cost or on some other basis.

Transparency before the fact would avoid all of this. So will the Commission's recommendation that someone outside the agencies award contracts involving a cabinet officer's spouse.

Tim Potts, Co-Founder
Democracy Rising PA

Democracy Rising Pennsylvania 2001-2007. All Rights Reserved.


Copyright © 2007, Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Russ Diamond: Vote NO on Act 1

[Reprinted with permission from the Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog.]

At the primary election on May 15, Pennsylvania voters will be given the opportunity to voice their opinion of the results of the legislature's Special Session on property taxes held in 2006. PACleanSweep is recommending a resounding "no" vote and defeat of this referendum across the Commonwealth.

The exact wording of the referendum will vary from school district to school district, but the general theme will be to ask if taxpayers would like to exchange an increase in income tax for a reduction in property tax.

If the Act 1 referendum is approved, some taxpayers will win and some taxpayers will lose, but the majority of losers would be working families, renters and small businesses. Property taxes would not be reduced on rental or business properties and any tax rebates for other properties would not be keyed to property or assessment value. On average, a two-income home owning household in Pennsylvania would experience an overall tax increase.

Pitting taxpayer against taxpayer by asking them to figure out the complicated formulae hidden behind this referendum and having them vote to increase their neighbors' taxes appears to be a determined effort by General Assembly to pass the buck on school property taxes once again while claiming to have "done something about it" during a volatile post-pay raise election year.

Article III, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states: "The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth."

"The Act 1 referenda are the latest result of the legislature playing Pontius Pilate on property taxes for nearly forty years," said Russ Diamond, PACleanSweep chair. "Despite a clear Constitutional responsibility for maintaining and supporting the public education system, lawmakers continue to wash their hands of the issue by passing the tough decisions to others. Defeating Act 1 in every school district in the Commonwealth will put that responsibility squarely back where it belongs."

Placing such referenda on odd-year primary ballots is a tried and true method of winnowing down voter participation to only those likely to show up at such elections - mostly older Pennsylvanians and political insiders - who just happen to be the most likely to gain if these referenda are approved. This lends even more credence to the theory that the General Assembly is attempting to shirk its responsibilities.

"I believe that strategy might backfire this time," added Diamond. "I've heard from many older Pennsylvanians who - since the pay raise - are no longer willing to accept legislative tip-toeing around this issue. Despite the possibility that they might gain a few dollars overall, they'll be voting no on this referendum in an attempt to force the legislature to actually solve the property tax problem once and for all. What Pennsylvanians demand and deserve is tax relief, not a tax shell game and the neighbor versus neighbor feuds that go along with it."

Pennsylvanians are reminded that all voters - not just Republicans and Democrats - are eligible to vote on these referenda in school districts where they appear on the primary election ballot. Alerting neighbors, coworkers, family and friends about the referendum issue is the best way to pressure the legislature to live up to its Constitutional duty.

Citizen Action Item:
PACleanSweep has developed a downloadable PDF handout advocating a 'no' vote for citizens to print at home and distribute at their local polling places. It can be downloaded at http://www.pacleansweep.com/act1.pdf and the Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view and print the file.

Download the Handout for Distribution at the Polls

Russ Diamond
PACleanSweep Chair
PACleanSweep is a non-partisan effort dedicated to reforming state government in Pennsylvania. For more information, please visit

Russ Diamond

Copyright © 2007, Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: 27 school districts oppose Act 1

With a week to go until the May 15 primary election, 27 Pennsylvania school districts have officially called for the repeal of Act 1. Other school boards are considering taking similar action, but probably won't vote on the Act 1 repeal resolution until after May 15.

Berks County is leading the way, with 10 of the county's 18 school districts passing a resolution asking the Pennsylvania Legislature to abandon the tax shift scheme.

Many lawmakers who voted against Act 1 last June are telling consituents and taxpayer groups that defeat of the tax shift referendum by voters is a crucial step to get the Legislature to get back to work on passing genuine property tax relief.

The lawmakers believe Gov. Ed Rendell, the driving force behind Act 1, will brag that Pennsylvanians prefer property taxes and Act 1's "relief" and nothing more will be done if the referendum passes in too many districts, according to Anthony Pomponio, president of the Daniel Boone Taxpayers Association in Berks County. "Therefore it is important to vote against the referendum as it appears on the ballot!"

For a copy of the anti-Act 1 resolution or more information, go to the Web site of the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition at http://www.ptcc.us/.

Here's the complete list of the 27 school districts that have called for the repeal of Act 1 so far:

1) Antietam (Berks)
2) Armstrong (Armstrong)
3) Athens (Bradford)
4) Boyertown (Berks/Montgomery)
5) Brandywine Heights (Berks)
6) Bristol Township (Bucks)
7) Canton (Bradford/Lycoming/Tioga)
8) Catasauqua (Lehigh/Northampton)
9) Centennial (Bucks)
10) Central Bucks (Bucks)
11) Coatesville (Chester)
12) Conrad Weiser (Berks)
13) Daniel Boone (Berks)
14) Exeter (Berks)
15) Governor Mifflin (Berks)
16) Marion Center (Indiana)
17) Muhlenberg (Berks)
18) Old Forge (Lackawanna)
19) Palmyra (Lebanon)
20) Pennsbury (Bucks)
21) South Williamsport (Lycoming)
22) Tunkhannock (Wyoming)
23) West Branch (Clearfield)
24) William Penn (Delaware)
25) Wilson (Berks)
26) Wyalusing Area (Bradford)
27) Wyomissing (Berks)
Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 04, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Dante Santoni soaks up tax dollars

A Berks County blogger now refers to him as "Ace Ventura" because of his peculiar hairstyle, but I have a new nickname for state Rep. Dante Santoni, D-126th District.

The sponge.

Santoni, a poster child for everything wrong with the way Harrisburg operates, has mastered the art of soaking up our tax dollars.

Santoni's dismal record of accomplishment in Harrisburg has been well documented by me in the past. See "What Have You Done For Me Lately, Dante?" or "Scraping The Bottom Of The Legislative Barrel" or "My Secret Life As A Democrat" or "Still Undecided About Your State Legislator?" or "Dante Santoni Is A Phony" or "Take My Legislators, Please" on why Santoni is a total bust as a state representative.

What bothers me about Santoni these days is the apparent disdain for his constituents.

According to an investigation by WGAL Channel 8 in Lancaster, Santoni spent nearly $106,000 in taxpayer dollars on "public service announcements" in 2006 to help get himself re-elected. (To recap, Santoni couldn't even manage a majority of the Democratic votes in the May 2006 Primary Election, but because his two opponents split the vote, Santoni was re-nominated and easily won re-election in the predominantly Democratic 126th District around Reading.)

In announcing his bid for a new term last February at Antietam Middle-Senior High School, the best Santoni could do for an accomplishment during his 14 years in Harrisburg was securing a $5,000 grant to buy musical instruments for the school.

Santoni gets paid $72,000 a year in salary. When you factor in all the other perks of a Pennsylvania legislator, he draws about $150,000 a year in taxpayer dollars. On top of that, he sticks the taxpayers with another bill for $106,000 for TV ads and all this guy can bring back to his district is $5,000 for band instruments?

Quick, somebody do the math. Are the residents of the 126th District getting their money's worth in Santoni?

Those "public service announcements" that aired in the months before the November 2006 election featured Santoni touting all sorts of state programs that he had nothing to do with, but it got his face and name in front of the voters for free.

Santoni spent tens of thousands more on political ads, promoting himself as a "reformer." Santoni couldn’t spell R-E-F-O-R-M if you spotted him five of the six letters.

In calling for change in the way Harrisburg does business, Santoni had this to say in his TV spots: "This commercial is an opportunity for me to speak to voters directly about reforming Harrisburg and the critical issues I've stood up for. We need real reform in Harrisburg and need to send people to the state legislature we can trust to get the job done."

The Santoni Spin continued: "Harrisburg is broke and we need to fix it. I'm Dante Santoni. I'm working to change the way Harrisburg does business with real campaign finance and lobbyist reform. We need government to work for us ... I'll keep fighting and I won’t let you down."

But when it came time to vote on reform measures in the House earlier this year, Santoni voted NO to a proposal to abolish "public service announcements" during an election year. So much for not letting us down. So much for changing the way Harrisburg does business. So much for fighting for us.

Dante Santoni is in politics to enrich himself. Nobody else matters, certainly not the people of the 126th District. He's voted for countless tax increases. He's voted himself pay raises. He voted for a 50 percent increase in his taxpayer-funded pension. He's taken every perk available to politicians in the Pennsylvania House of Lords.

Reformer? Not a chance. Public Servant? No way. Self-serving career politician? You bet.

Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Lawmakers who fleece the taxpayer

I've frequently criticized television news for ignoring important statewide issues. The 2005 Legislative pay raise hardly got a mention on TV newscasts, which are filled with car crashes, stories about the weather and assorted fluff pieces.

The exception is WGAL Channel 8 in Lancaster, which has done some outstanding reporting on all the corruption, waste and mismanegment in Harrisburg.

The TV station has done it again with a terrific report on lawmakers who spent the most taxpayer money on "Public Service Announcements," which are nothing more than glorified commercials on their behalf. The bad part of the PSA spending is that you and I foot the bill.

More than $6 million in tax dollars was spent by incumbent lawmakers to promote themselves before the November 2006 election. Almost all of them won re-election against underfunded opponents.

Here's the link to the series on the WGAL Web site:

Check out the full report at

You'll see some familiar names if you're from Southeastern Pennsylvania. I also couldn't help but notice that my state legislator, Rep. Dante Santoni Jr., was one of the biggest spenders of taxpayer money to publicize himself before the 2006 election.

Here's the top abusers (the ones who spent more than $100,000 each on taxpayer-funded publicity for their re-election), according to WGAL.com

Top spender overall: Rep. Doug Reichley (R): $216,380

Top 5 Republicans (below Reichley):

* Rep. Julie Harhart: $190,805
* Rep. Eugene McGill: $182,688
* Rep. John Payne: $141,130.60
* Rep. Curt Sonney: $161,372
* Rep. Matthew Wright: $141,372.80

Top 4 Democrats:

* Rep. John Siptroth: $190,000
* Rep. Michael Gerber: $180,729
* Rep. Michael McGeehan: $111,520
* Rep. Dante Santoni: $105,840

It's also noteworthy that the House voted down a recommendation from its reform commission to ban Public Service Announcements. I'd like to know which of the "TV stars" on the above list voted down this reform.

All 203 members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives will seek re-election in 2008. You have another opportunity to send a message to these career politicians that you're tired of being ripped off. Vote them all out.
Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved