Friday, June 29, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: The disconnect between politicians and the people

Has there ever been a bigger disconnect between the people and their elected officials?

Whether it's Harrisburg or Washington, D.C., the gap between what the people want and what their elected representatives are doing is a mile wide.

The majority of Americans want the U.S. out of Iraq. President Bush isn't listening, continuing with a failed strategy into its fifth year of the war.

Congress, controlled by the Democrats largely on their promise to end the Iraq War, doesn't have the backbone to pull U.S. troops out of harm's way. The Democrats who won last November on the promise to bring the troops home immediately have turned into doormats. Keep that in mind when they seek re-election in 2008.

The vast majority of Americans oppose amnesty for the 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S., but Bush and Congress are stumbling over each other to see how quickly they can offer amnesty and a fast track to U.S. citizenship for 12 million lawbreakers.

Americans want government to live within its means. Congress continues to spend billions on pet projects and pork. Nothing has changed since Nancy Pelosi took control except that Democrats instead of Republicans are now wasting our tax dollars.

Closer to home, in Pennsylvania, the state Legislature is days away from approving a $27 billion budget despite calls from citizens to control state spending and eliminate property taxes.

From 1990 to 2006, Pennsylvania's General Fund Budget increased from $12.4 billion to $26.1 billion -- an increase of 40 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Commonwealth Foundation, an independent, nonprofit public policy research instituted in Harrisburg.

Over the same period, personal income increased by only 25 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Foundation.And that's just the General Fund Budget. Overall state spending has reached $60 billion a year.

How can Pennsylvania's aging population afford to pay for government spending that has mushroomed to $60 billion a year? Many are selling their homes and moving out of state. Others who can't leave are choosing between food and heat. Young people, facing the prospect of high taxes and lack of good-paying jobs, are fleeing the state.

Gov. Ed Rendell has promised to reduce property taxes in each of his five years in office, but has yet to deliver $1.00 in tax relief to any of the state's residents.

One of the broken promises, the approval of 61,000 slot machines to eventually provide property tax relief, has taken an interesting twist. Rendell now wants the Legislature to divert part of the casino revenues to fund a $300 million arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins and expand the Philadelphia Convention Center.

Ask a retired couple barely meeting expenses if they want the casino revenue they were promised for tax relief to go to themselves and their families or to help corporate fat cats build sports arenas.

Fifty-five members of the Pennsylvania Legislature were tossed out of office or forced into retirement in 2006, largly as punishment for the July 2005 raid on the state treasury when the Legislature and governor gave themselves pay raises of up 54 percent. That wasn't enough to get their attention.

Too many greedy career politicians, including Rendell, were returned to office. More than 100 Legislators need to be voted out in 2008 to send a message to Harrisburg that the will of the people can no longer be ignored.

And all those phony reformers in the Democratic Party who won Congressional seats in 2006? They need to be booted out in 2008.

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, June 25, 2007

Russ Diamond: Who's Really in Charge?

[Reprinted from the Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog].

When most Pennsylvanians think of government, a certain image comes to mind. They imagine policemen protecting us from violent criminals, clerks diligently processing paperwork to administer justice in the courthouse or green-vested highway workers heading out to fill potholes in the spring.

Others think of the continuous struggle of ideologies under the dome in Harrisburg. They imagine their conservative or liberal heroes going into battle on the floor of the House and Senate to win the privilege of steering the Commonwealth on new paths of righteousness.

While these elements of government in action do exist, a closer examination reveals that government is actually an industry, providing profit and investment opportunities to anyone willing to adopt the proper business model. The payoff can be massive. After all, what better way to guarantee a return on investment than by putting the force of law on your side?

There are plenty of experts to help you on your way to success by stepping on the backs of average taxpayers and short-circuiting the lawmaking process. For a price, of course. Two stunning examples of such modern-day privateers have come to light in the past week.

You may remember one Michael S. Long. The former chief of staff to Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer and brother-in-law of former Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill wrapped up his career on the inside by pocketing $41,000 in taxpayer-funded bonuses in his last two years and collecting a $95,000 severance package on his way out the door.

While Jubelirer and Brightbill were ultimately tossed from office for their big spending ways, Long was a master engineer behind the scenes crafting their "conservative Republican" game plan. Also a prominent member of the Lebanon County Republican Committee, Long was perfectly situated to take on the "liberal Democrats" at every turn.

And you may also recall one Ray Zaborney. As 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann's campaign manager, Zaborney was eager to bash Ed Rendell on any issue whenever a microphone or camera was nearby. In his effort to get a Republican in the governor's office, Zaborney even contacted this writer in an attempt to lend anti-pay raise and reform credence to Swann's campaign after an independent gubernatorial bid was sideswiped by Pennsylvania's ridiculous petitioning requirements.

But the "conservative Republican" ideologies of Long and Zaborney seem to have taken a back seat to personal profit of late.

Long is now lobbying Harrisburg for the environmental and renewable energy causes, working under the guise of a lobbyist for PennFuture, an organization closely tied to Rendell's vision for greening up Pennsylvania. This plan could arguably give Rendell front-runner status for the position of US Department of Energy Secretary in a future Democratic administration in Washington.

Zaborney, who has long been politically linked to Long but is not listed on the state's lobbyist disclosure website, was witnessed this week arriving at a Senator's office in the Capitol "to advocate for a sensible environmental plan for the Commonwealth." When asked to clarify exactly what he was pushing, Zaborney replied, "the Governor's plan."

Widely reported in headlines recently was PennFuture's CEO John Hanger touting a poll claiming that Pennsylvanians support renewable energy. (The same poll likely would have revealed they also support puppies, Mom and apple pie.) A bit less reported was Hanger's odd tirade earlier in the year defending Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Michael DiBerardinis - both Rendell appointees - on the issue of ethics questions surrounding public dollars and their spouses.

The government business model is pretty straightforward. Place your investment dollars into campaign contributions and/or lobbying fees, make a few public statements revealing whose team you're really on, and soon enough you too can enjoy the profits of social policy backed by the force of law.

Such programs are not only lucrative for recipients of the resultant taxpayer funded state grants, but also for the lawyers who deal with bond issues, the lobbyists who help push them through and of course, supportive incumbent legislators who may receive special consideration from program backers during the next election cycle.

The ability of citizens to influence their government is a good thing. The notions of protecting the environment and making Pennsylvania energy independent are good ideas that markets just might support someday. But if these issues truly warrant the power of governmental force, wouldn't they already be at the top of every legislator's priority list rather than needing a constant barrage of monetary influence to get there?

Rendell, in a recent bizarre twist on morality, claimed that Jesus himself would support some of his bold initiatives that use force to generate the resources required to fund them. One could more easily imagine Jesus, upon glimpsing the pillage and plunder of the common man by the speculators and lobbyists controlling Harrisburg, angrily tossing these moneychangers from our temple.

What Long and Zaborney are doing is not illegal. In fact, it's sanitized by laws currently in place. But let's not be confused about their ideologies. Their former cover under the umbrella of "conservative Republicanism" appears only to be due to its ability to put money in their own pockets.

This is the ideology of self interest, not public interest. For true believers in the causes of conservatism, liberalism, republicanism, democracy and even environmentalism, Long and Zaborney serve as sad case studies in gaming the machinations of government for personal benefit. How many other proponents of the ideology of self interest are currently lurking about in Harrisburg, eager to prey on the common taxpayer in search of personal treasure?

Pennsylvanians would do well to think about this government-as-industry model the next time they find themselves waiting for a crime to be solved, a legal case to be heard or a pothole to be filled.

Russ Diamond

Russ Diamond is the founder of PACleanSweep and an avid believer that government should do what's best for all citizens, not just the privileged few.

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

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

Copyright © 2007, THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Ed Rendell's last stand

Did you catch Gov. Ed Rendell on the Pennsylvania Cable Network the other night?

If you missed the scintillating hour of television on a PCN call-in show, here's the abridged version of Rendell’s rambling remarks.

The highlight of the evening for me (the part where I nearly fell out of my chair) is when Gov. Rendell claimed he has run a tight fiscal ship of state. Did Rendell captain the Titanic in a previous life?

Yes, you heard it right, folks. Rendell had the nerve to claim that he has been fiscally responsible with your hard-earned tax dollars.

"Since I’ve been governor, I've tried to run a pay-as-you-go government," Rendell said as his nose grew about a foot. Pay-as-you-go? Are you kidding me?

This is the governor who signed into law the second biggest tax increase in Pennsylvania history in his first year in office. The governor who increased state spending by $6 billion over the past four years. The very same governor who has borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars to fund his agenda, essentially mortgaging Pennsylvania's future. This is the same governor who plays a shell game with state funds so you never really know how much the state is taking in or spending. This is the governor who has proposed $2 billion in new or expanded taxes to balance his bloated $27.3 billion for the coming fiscal year. This is a governor who never me a tax hike he didn't like.

What else did we learn as Rendell held court? He likes to use euphemisms for tax hikes like "revenue enhancement" and "utility assessment fee," which is a new tax on electricity he wants to impose on Pennsylvania homeowners.

Rendell is still pushing his hair-brained scheme to tax big oil although he couldn't exactly explain how he would prevent the oil companies from passing the tax on to consumers in the form of higher gas prices. At one point, Rendell slipped and told the television audience that Exxon has already notified its service station owners that it would pull out of Pennsylvania if Rendell went ahead with his new oil profits tax. What would fewer gas stations do to gas prices?

Rendell also changed his tune when he had a chance to tout his "historic property tax relief for all Pennsylvanians" line from the 2006 election campaign. He told one caller that "hundreds of thousands" of senior citizens would soon get "rebate checks" of $300 to $400 in the mail. Rebate checks? That's doesn’t sound like property tax reform to me. And what happened to property tax relief for all? Last time I checked, there were 12 million people in this state. Rendell also failed to mention that the "rebate checks" come from money borrowed from the Lottery Fund and will have to be repaid once his casino windfall comes in sometime in late 2008.

A few other highlights: Rendell pretty much guaranteed that Interstate 80 will become a toll road regardless of what happens to his efforts to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike. But even if the Legislature approved the I-80 toll plan this year, it would not happen until 2009 at the earliest.

Rendell also threw down the gauntlet to the state Legislature, saying he's prepared to stay in Harrisburg the entire summer if that's what it takes to get his $2 billion in tax hikes. The Legislature typically adjourns for a 2½-month vacation on June 30 (but that's assuming it has an approved budget in the governor's hands).

Don't bet the house on the Republicans in the Legislature falling for Rendell's tricks this year.

Rendell also took some shots at the Legislature calling it "the greatest do-nothing Legislature in history." Ouch. There's going to be some hurt feelings over that remark.

And the governor canceled a planned vacation to Africa (where I'm guessing planned to meet up with Angelina Jolie and Bono for a safari).

"I'm going nowhere," Rendell said. "We might be here all summer. They (the Legislature) better be prepared to spend a lot of time here (in Harrisburg) in July and August."

Rendell also hinted he's planning to hold his breath until the Legislature approves his $2 billion in tax hikes. (OK, I made that part up, although he did say he'd veto a budget that didn't include everything he wanted.)

"As long as we have the money," Rendell said he expects the Legislature to fund all his initiatives.

"If I'm not going to succeed, I'm going to die trying," Rendell said.

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, June 15, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Foxes guarding Harrisburg chicken coop

The rubber hit the road this week on Pennsylvania's tentative path to reforming state government. It now appears the reform wagon has spun out of control, crashed through the guardrail and landed in a ditch, where it exploded in flames.

As many activists and columnists had feared (and predicted), Harrisburg lawmakers are not willing to make substantial changes in the way they conduct the public's business.

When the foxes guard the chicken coop, you can count on chicken for dinner. Pass the drumstick, please.

After spending months on trivial rules changes, the Speaker's Legislative Reform Commission is finally addressing the fundamental reforms needed to return Pennsylvania's wayward government back to the people.

Important reforms such as reducing the size of the legislature, term limits, campaign finance reform and open records are finally on the table. The bad news is that lawmakers like the status quo. They've worked hard to enrich themselves and exclude the public from their deliberations. Why change now?

So what if 55 of their colleagues were forced out of office by voters in 2006 as payback for the July 2005 payjacking? Two-hundred incumbents survived the purge. There's safety in numbers. Honor among thieves.

What did the Speaker's Legislative Reform Commission come up with so far?

On Monday, the commission voted down a proposal to cut the size of the Legislature. All 253 members of the Legislature are needed, the commission argues. And so what if it costs Pennsylvania taxpayers $316 million a year to support this bloated bureaucracy?

Instead of reducing the size of the legislature, the commission came up with a plan to cut the cost of operating the Legislature by 10 percent, or about $32 million a year. More table scraps for the state's beleaguered taxpayers.

All nine Democrats and five of the Republicans on the 18-member panel killed the recommendation to reduce the Legislature's size, reports the Associated Press. Commission rules required at least nine "yes" votes from each party for a reform recommendation to move to the full House for a vote.

On Tuesday, the commission voted down a plan to impose term limits on the professional politicians in Harrisburg. Although 75 percent of Pennsylvania residents favor term limits, according to a recent poll, the lawmakers argue that it's not a good idea to restrict how long they can spend feeding at the public trough in Harrisburg.

The reform panel rejected both eight-year and 12-year term limits for lawmakers and voted against six-year terms for committee chairmen, the AP reports.

The chairmanship limits were unanimously supported by the commission's 12 Republican House members, but only five of the 12 Democrats voted for it, according to the Associated Press. That's probably because Democrats finally took control of House committees after 12 years of being the minority party. Why give up a good thing now?

The recommendation to impose term limits for legislators never stood a chance. See "Fox guarding chicken coop" reference above. But the limits on committee chairmen was seen as a major reform to end the tyrannical reign of committee chairmen, who often bottle up important bills at the behest of lobbyists.

Also on Monday, the commissioner recommended limits on statewide campaign contributions, but couldn't agree on what those limits should be. According to, a subscription-based news service that covers state government, nine Republicans and 12 Democrats voted for the campaign finance measure, which has no teeth unless specific monetary numbers are added by the full House.

Five Republicans on the commission voted down a campaign reform proposal that called for an individual contribution limit of $2,300-per-election, according to Capitolwire. Four Republicans blocked another proposal to place $5,000-per-election limits on donations made by political action committees, Capitolwire reported.

A proposal offered by Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, to limit House race contributions to $500 per election cycle, state Senate races to $1,000 and statewide campaigns to $10,000 was also rejected by the reform panel, according to Capitolwire.

Money drives all politics in Pennsylvania. Incumbents like the current system, which encourages lobbyists and special interest groups to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of incumbents in return for favorable votes.

Genuine reform in Pennsylvania can come from only two sources: a Constitutional convention by the people to place restrictions on the political class and at the ballot box in 2008, where voters can impose their own term limits on the professional politicians.

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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: The good, the bad and the ugly: Pennsylvania's looming budget battle

I was watching one of my favorite movies the other night. It's one of those Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns from the 1960s directed by Sergio Leone.

Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef play unsavory characters seeking buried treasure during the Civil War. Throughout the movie, they form various alliances or double-cross each other in pursuit of the gold. Near the end of the film, the gunslingers face each other in a climactic three-way gunfight at a cemetery. Each character starts firing at the other. You don't know who's left standing until the smoke clears.

As I was watching the movie, I began thinking about the upcoming battle over the Pennsylvania budget. I'll let you decide who fits the good, the bad and the ugly description among Gov. Ed Rendell and the Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature.

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires an approved budget no later than June 30 each year, but since Gov. Rendell took office in 2003, the state hasn't passed a budget on time.

Rendell and the Legislature are on a collision course over state spending and it could get nasty. The governor and lawmakers have their own priorities and have shown little willingness so far in compromise.

Rendell wants to spend $27.3 billion for the fiscal year starting July 1. Since taking office, Rendell has increased state spending by $6 billion. He's raised the state income tax and borrowed money to support his spending habit. To balance his proposed $27.3 billion general fund budget, Rendell wants Pennsylvania residents to cough up $2 billion in new or additional taxes.

Therein lies the rub. House Democrats are willing to spend the $27 billion, but don't think they need to hike taxes.

Where would the additional money come from? First, there is a $500 million budget surplus anticipated for the current fiscal year. It appears Pennsylvania collected a half-billion dollars more in taxes than revenue officials predicted. Harrisburg politicians don't want to give that money back to taxpayers. House Democrats want the surplus to go toward the $27.3 billion budget. There's also a $500 million "rainy day fund" that lawmakers control. House Democrats would like to tap into that surplus as well.

Republicans are saying the state should spend the same as it did this year, about $26 billion, with a 2 percent adjustment for inflation. Senate Republican leaders are saying they will never approve a tax hike and they have the votes to frustrate Rendell's spending orgy. The GOP enjoys a 29-21 majority in the Senate.

The House is a different story. Democrats hold a slim 1-vote majority and generally rubber-stamp everything Rendell wants. But party leaders could have a revolt on their hands if they force freshmen Democrats to vote for a tax hike as their first major vote in the Legislature.

How would you like to be a first-term representative facing voters in 2008 after raising taxes, especially when the majority of your constituents keep telling you that eliminating property taxes is their No. 1 priority. The surest way for Democrats to lose the House next year is to back Rendell's tax increases.

Rendell appears to have the weakest hand in the upcoming budget battle. But the governor knows how to play hardball. He can rely on unionized state workers (and mass transit workers) to put pressure on the Legislature). He can also veto any budget that comes from the Legislature. If Rendell vetoes a budget that doesn't include all of his spending priorities (and tax increases), will House Democrats have the guts to override the governor's veto?

Rendell contributed tens of thousands of dollars to help get House Democrats elected in 2006 and he personally campaigned for many legislators. They owe him big time. On the other hand, a vote to increase taxes is tantamount to political suicide. How many Democratic legislators are willing to risk the wrath of angry voters in 2008 to please the governor?

Republicans are unlikely to back down from their "no new taxes" stand, either. The reason Republicans lost control of the House after 12 years was the perception that they were too willing to back Rendell's agenda.

The top two Republican leaders in the Senate were kicked out of office and Speaker of the House John Perzel was ousted from within his own party primarily for their willingness to move Rendell's tax increase, slot parlors and tax-shifting schemes through the Legislature.

Voters sent a clear message to GOP lawmakers last year: You will be punished for collaborating with the enemy. That message will carry into the 2008 elections.

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, June 11, 2007

Casey Roncaglione: New Taxpayer Revolt - PAY IT BACK

A new taxpayer group, PAY IT BACK, is calling on all legislators who spent tax payer money to air Public Service Announcements to repay the treasury out of their own campaign funds.

The wasteful spending on Public Service announcements is more of the same for our Legislature, talking publicly about restraining taxes while spending millions for their own personal use while keeping the public in the dark.

Our organization is spearheading the drive and it has all the earmarks of the 2005 late night pay raise. As Representative Greg Vitali said, "Public service announcements are primarily a device for legislators to promote their own name recognition. You see them being used primarily by legislators in contested seats."

Contact your legislator and let them know how you feel. You can join our group be e-mailing me at and I'll keep you informed of our progress. Check out the Pay It Back site, it's just the start.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Russ Diamond: Open Letter to Dwight Evans & the 23 Co-Sponsors of HB1179

Open Letter to Dwight Evans & the 23 Co-Sponsors of HB1179

Hon. Dwight Evans
512 Main Capitol Building
PO Box 202203
Harrisburg, PA 17120-2203
June 7, 2007

Dear Rep. Evans:
I am writing to commend you on your acknowledgement of the need to study our state Constitution with an eye on "contemporary conditions and the anticipated problems and needs of the people of this Commonwealth." I am also writing to commend the wisdom of removing the provisions of Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution from such a process.

However, I take great exception to the method of study of our most fundamental law suggested within HB1179, which authorizes a 15-member Commission on Constitutional Revision appointed by the Governor and members of the General Assembly. Appointing such a Commission to launch constitutional change short-circuits the true path of sovereign power in our Commonwealth and our nation.

Constitutions are not written as two-party contracts between the governed and their governments. Rather, they are one-party documents in which citizens agree on how they will govern themselves and on what rules they wish to impose on those elected to public office. As a result, the Pennsylvania Constitution - in Article I, Section 2 - properly delineates the flow of sovereign power: from the Creator to individual citizens, and only upon their consent to elected officials.

Over the past two years, Pennsylvanians have become acutely aware of the reluctance of elected officials in all three branches of state government to adhere to the ultimate consent of the citizens - our Constitution as plainly written. As the rightful and sole owners of the document, citizens must be allowed to study and propose revisions on their own, free from any influence of those elected officials.

Surely, a Commission appointment by those same elected officials cannot be construed as anything other than overwhelming influence. Further, submitting a final report on such a Commission's findings to the General Assembly and the Governor for filtering adds even more undue influence to the process.

It is proper for elected officials to undertake internal operational rule changes. It is also proper for elected officials to task themselves with making statutory changes aimed at improving the Commonwealth. It is even proper for elected officials to suggest singular changes to our Constitution through the amendment process.

It is wholly improper, however, for elected officials to attempt to oversee a holistic review of our most fundamental law. To do so would only extend a wrong committed over 200 years ago, when the General Assembly called a convention, served as its delegates and adopted a new Constitution - all without the consent of the people or any legal authority to do so.

It is imperative at this time to attempt to lift the cloud of popular derision currently hovering over our state Capitol so elected officials can move forward with the business of governing the Commonwealth. HB1179 correctly hints at some of the underlying causalities, but implements a plan that would only make this cloud thicker and extend it further into the future.

A more proper and effective approach would be to craft and authorize an enabling act for a limited constitutional convention, submit it to the voters of the Commonwealth and allow the people to decide whether they wish to embark on a journey toward fundamental change. It is their document, after all.

I invite you to read the suggested language for just such an enabling act - the "Citizens' Constitutional Convention Act of 2007" - which I have included for your review. This language and other articles regarding the history of constitutional change in Pennsylvania are also available at our website,

Russ Diamond, Chair

CC: Reps. Blackwell, Cappelli, Costa, Daley, DePasquale, Freeman, Galloway, Grucela, Hanna, Kenney, King, Kirkland, Lentz, Levdansky, Mahoney, Preston, Ramaley, Raymond, Tangretti, Walko, Wojnoroski, Kortz and Hornaman.

View the Text of HB1179 (PDF)
Download the Adobe Acrobat Reader (free!)
Contitutional Convention Q & A
Citizen's Constitutional Convention Act of 2007

Russ Diamond

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

For More Information
Russ Diamond, Chair

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

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: The people who brought you Act 1

The people of Pennsylvania sent a strong message to Harrisburg last month when voters in 490 of 498 school districts rejected the Act 1 tax-shift scheme proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell and the majority of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Until Act 1 is repealed and the Legislature passes genuine property tax relief, voters must hold their elected representatives accountable.

You can start with the lawmakers who supported Act 1. The Pennsylvania House passed legislation that led to Act 1 by a 137 to 61 margin. The state Senate approved the measure by a 40 to 9 margin.

House members have to run for re-election every two years, so they face the voters again in 208. Senate members run every four years, but only half the Senate will be on the ballot next year.

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)
Josh Shapiro (D-153).

Until these legislators put their own selfish interests aside and start representing the will of constituents, think twice about re-electing them in 2008.

In the Senate, the following members who represent parts of Berks, Chester and Montgomery (and voted in favor of Act 1) face the voters in 2008:

Michael A. O’Pake (D-11)
Dominic Pileggi (R-9)
James J. Rhoades (R-29)
Connie Williams (D-17).

If you don't see your local legislator on the lists above and want to know how he or she voted on Act 1, drop me an an e-mail at and I'll get the information for you.

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.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Pennsylvania needs a fiscal diet

The Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania's leading economic and public policy think tank, has come up with a common-sense approach to deal with the state's fiscal woes. Stop spending!! Especially money you don't have. And stop taking so much money away from hard-working Pennsylvanians.

The Foundation has unveiled "A Diet Plan for an Obese State Government" as part of campaign to educate Pennsylvanians about the state's fiscal and economic health.

The campaign features an informative and easy-to-navigate Web site,, radio commercials and a series of billboards along the Pennsylvania Turnpike and around the state Capitol.

The good doctors at the Commonwealth Foundation have a simple cure for what ails this state: Pennsylvania needs to go on a spending diet.

"For decades, jumbo-sized, pork-laden state budgets have made Pennsylvania state government overweight," according to a press release issued by the Foundation. "By choosing to grow government spending at a faster rate than taxpayers can afford, elected officials in Harrisburg have stunted our state's economic growth and competitiveness."

The Commonwealth Foundation says that between 1970 and 2006 -- when state spending increased 160% in inflation-adjusted dollars -- Pennsylvania ranked:

  • 49th in job growth,
  • 45th in personal income growth, and
  • 48th in population growth among the states.
So what's Gov. Ed Rendell's prescription to pull Pennsylvania out of this economic doldrums? Rendell wants Pennsylvania taxpayers to fork over $2 billion in new or expanded taxes to help balance his bloated $27.3 billion general fund budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Rendell may be tone deaf to the will of the people, but Pennsylvania voters sent a loud message to Harrisburg on May 15 when they overwhelmingly rejected Rendell's Act 1 tax-shift scheme.

Read my lips: No new taxes. No tax shifts. No more smoke-and-mirrors.

That message is going to continue ringing in Legislators' ears as they begin review of Rendell's budget this month. Will lawmakers have the courage to stand up to Rendell and start looking out for the best interests of their constituents?

The Commonwealth Foundation is offering an alternative to Rendell's tax, spend and borrow strategy to send Pennsylvania even lower in economic rankings.

"The Pennsylvania Diet Plan: Three Steps to Fiscal and Economic Health" can be reviewed in its entirety at, but it comes down to these sound principles: STEP 1: Limit the Annual Growth in State Government Spending; STEP 2: Empower Voters with the Right to Accept or Reject ANY and ALL Tax Increases; and STEP 3: Reduce Pennsylvania's Tax Burden on Job Creators & Families.

Do yourself and your family a favor and spend time on this Web site gathering information. Then take that information to your state representative and state senator and see where they stand on the issue of taxes and fiscal sanity in this state.

Remind them that you'll be deciding their future in 2008 when all 203 House members and 25 of the 50 Senate members seek re-election.

"Pennsylvania's fiscal and economic health is harmed by overspending in Harrisburg," said Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation. "The spending growth in Pennsylvania state government over the years has affirmed the truism that we can grow the government or we can grow our economy, but we can't grow both. Our lack of healthy job, income, and population growth is attributable to poor policy choices in Harrisburg. For the fiscal and economic health of our citizens and our state, it is time we put Pennsylvania on a spending diet."

Finally, somebody gets it.

Bookmark on your computer and help spread the word about this informative Web site. And start lobbying your legislators on taxes and the state budget, which has grown by $6 billion since Ed Rendell became governor. How can anyone justify that kind of spending in a state whose population is not growing (except in age, as more and more retirees are forced to turn over more of their fixed income to the Harrisburg Hogs.)

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.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Giles Hickory: Wretched Excess

[Reposted from The Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog.]

One of the major reform issues that did not make the final cut in the current reform package in Harrisburg is the problem of our General Assemblymen issuing Public Service Announcements [PSAs] at election time. This amounts to free targeted political advertising because it presents your local assemblyman in a very positive light and is paid for not with campaign money, but with tax dollars.

A recent example of this “wretched excess” is Mario Civera of Delaware County. This career politician reportedly spent nearly $115,000 of your tax money on PSAs during the general election campaign last year. In spite of it, and Civera's entrenched political organization that often broke the law by stealing his opponents’ campaign signs, Casey Roncaglione, the fine Democratic candidate, showed very strong against Civera. Casey, however, did not have access to tax money for PSAs, and because PSAs are considered non-political, Roncaglione could not ask for equal time from the broadcasters. In addition to this issue, the broadcast and print media outlets print put these PSAs out free.

But the Reform Committee working in the Pennsylvania General Assembly failed to back any sort of reform on this issue, leaving the PSAs in place. This is a scary issue to leave in place. Obviously, the General Assembly is still stinging from the extreme rebuke it received over its actions from July of 2004 through July of 2005 and later, when stealth legislation was passed. Indeed, the gambling bill which gave us our casinos was passed in the wee hours of an early July morning in 2004 while budget negotiations were going on between the House and the Senate. A repeat in 2005 gave us the infamous Midnight Pay Raise which so outraged the voters that more than 50 incumbents either chose not to run for re-election, or were dumped by their constituency in the 2006 Primary and the 2006 General Election.

When the new General Assembly took over in January of this year, reform was at the top of the list. But ‘politics as usual’ seems to be gathering steam as one reform measure after another is beaten back.

The issue of PSAs during campaigns is easily tackled. Simply make it illegal for any elected official to authorize any PSAs, whether paid for by tax payers or not, three months before any Primary Election, or Special Election, and never between a Primary and a General Election.

Such PSAs protect incumbents when shown during campaigns. They are tantamount to free advertising for the incumbents and represent advertising that is unavailable to their opponents. And it is career politicians like Civera who benefit from the PSAs, and therefore seek to protect them from the Reform Committee. So, one can readily see why this was removed from the reform package.

Perhaps it is time draw the Reform Committee’s attention back to this issue so that we voters stand a greater chance of seeing fewer career politicians who practice “politics as usual”, and more fresh faces in the General Assembly. No one should be a career politician. Politics is a civic duty like military service, and one which should not usually generate a career in a single body like Civera’s 30 years in the Pennsylvania House!

Giles Hickory

“America must be as independent in literature as she is in politics, as famous for arts as for arms.” – Giles Hickory

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

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

Friday, June 01, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Rendell's empty promises

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

I'm thinking of the photo from the 2006 campaign of Gov. Ed Rendell standing in front of a sign that says, "We deliver on our promises."

In the best Bill Clinton tradition, I guess it depends on what "deliver" means.

Rendell promised to deliver property tax cuts for all Pennsylvania homeowners standing on his head. That was in 2003. The blood must be rushing to Rendell's head by now because he has failed to deliver on that promise.

Rendell promised to cut property taxes if the Legislature approved 61,000 slot machines for Pennsylvania. That was in July 2004. Two-and-a-half years later, not one dime in tax relief has trickled down to Pennsylvania taxpayers from Rendell's casinos. The most optimistic projection for tax relief from gambling revenues is now late 2008 or early 2009.

Another promise Rendell failed to deliver. In 2005, Rendell promised to deliver tax relief if school boards approved Act 72, the governor's first attempt at a tax shift scheme. More than 80 percent of the school boards rejected Act 72. Another broken promise by Rendell.

In 2006, Rendell promised "property tax relief for all Pennsylvanians" under Act 1, which forced voters to raise their taxes with the promise of a future tax reduction. On May 15, 2007, voters in 490 of 498 school districts rejected tax-shift schemes under Act 1. Another broken promise by Rendell.

Now Rendell wants to raise the state sales tax and use a small portion of the new revenue to lower property taxes. Another promise.

Rendell has failed to deliver on his promises in five consecutive years. How many more times are you willing to be lied to?

Pennsylvania residents are slowly figuring out that Rendell has duped them on the tax issue. A new Quinnipiac Poll out Wednesday shows that 51 percent of residents disapprove of Rendell's handling of taxes.

Republican appear to have come to their senses about Rendell much sooner than Democrats. The poll shows that 66 percent of registered Republican disapprove of Rendell's handling of taxes. Only 39 percent of the Democrats polled disapprove of Rendell's handling of the property tax issue.

Rendell's disapproval numbers on taxes have risen in four consecutive polls conducted by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute going back to June 2006.

You remember last June, don't you? That's when Ed Rendell put out a press release announcing "Property Tax Relief is Here for All Pennsylvanians." I don't know about you, but I'm still waiting for mine.

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.