Monday, December 31, 2007

Russ Diamond: Why the "Year of Reform" Wasn't

Last year at this time, Pennsylvanians were filled with hope for big changes in state government coming to pass in 2007. Who could blame them? After replacing an astonishing 55 legislators, all signs pointed to movement in the direction of reform. But the great "Year of Reform" turned out to be mostly a bust.

Admittedly, there was some progress. Internal rules changes were made in both chambers of the General Assembly. The Senate performed the task rather effortlessly while the House took a few months of deliberation. Those rules can be suspended, however, and as soon as it's expedient for members to do so, they will be suspended.

An effort was made to craft a new open records law, a process that is not yet complete. The House and Senate versions differ, which means that those differences must be hammered out, likely in a conference committee. Pennsylvanians should play very close attention, as a conference committee is where good bills can be transformed into bad bills (think: pay raise). Even without any shenanigans, the proposed legislation is barely better than what we had before in some areas and falls short of giving us the most transparent government in the nation.

Nothing else has been accomplished on the reform front, though. Newspaper editors, pundits, journalists and citizens are asking: Why? The answer is quite simple: There has been no movement on serious structural reforms in Harrisburg because elected folks don't want serious structural reforms. They like things just the way they are.

We can't blame the freshman class entirely. Although some of them appear to have been sucked into the Incumbent Protection Plan and business-as-usual, most of them are still wet behind the ears and frustrated. And let's not forget that there are only 55 of them, hardly a majority among 253 members.

We can't entirely blame leadership, either. Their job is to do what the rest of the membership wants them to do. If they don't follow the will of the membership, they won't be in leadership for very long. If a majority of members were actually pushing for reform, leadership would certainly be obliging them.

In the legislature, most of the blame lies at the feet of those who have been there for a few terms but are not yet in positions of leadership. If they really wanted reform, we'd have it already. They could have bridged the gap between freshmen and the leadership to point Pennsylvania in the right direction. But they haven't.

The Governor dropped the ball as well. Although at one time he touted a reform agenda, he's been silent on the issue ever since. One would think that a governor in his second term would understand that creating a better system of government is a positive legacy that could last for decades to come.

Some have claimed that 2008 will be a better year for reform. Considering it's an election year for over 90 percent of the General Assembly, however, it's hard to believe that systemic reform will be at the top of anyone's agenda. Let's face it: For many legislators, this is the best job they've ever had and they will focus most of their energy on keeping it.

Perhaps, though, that is the key to obtaining actual reform. If legislators consider getting re-elected their primary objective, then the people of Pennsylvania should make structural reform an election issue. Whether our favorite reform is term limits, the size of the legislature, part-time status for members, redistricting or the holy grail of structural reform - a constitutional convention - Pennsylvanians should begin extracting promises now from candidates seeking elective seats in 2008.

Additionally, those legislators who promised reform as part of their electoral bid in 2006 should be asked what they have done to make it happen. How many reform bills did they introduce or co-sponsor? How many meetings did they have with colleagues on reform issues? How many phone calls did they make on behalf of reform? What will they do for reform if re-elected? Exactly which particular reforms do they support?

It truly is a simple equation: When the people clamor for reform via phone calls, letters, visits to their legislators and electoral pressure, candidates who wish to get elected will also support reform. Once elected, continued pressure will make it happen.

Pennsylvania will only get structural reform when Pennsylvanians demand it. It didn't happen in 2007 because the people didn't focus on specific changes during the 2006 election cycle. Demanding specific reforms in 2008 is the only way to move us closer to actually getting those reforms.

Permission is hereby granted to reproduce text from this article with attribution to PACleanSweep.

Constitutional Footnote #1
Article II Section 4 of the Pennsylvania Constitution mandates that the General Assembly "shall meet at twelve o'clock noon on the first Tuesday of January each year." In 2008, the first Tuesday falls on January 1st. How many legislators do you suppose will show up? That may be our first indicator of which legislators care about constitutional rule and systemic reform.

Constitutional Footnote #2
Two and one-half years after the pay raise, many legislators are still collecting per diems just for showing up for work, receiving extra pay for service on committee, benefiting from lavish health care plans, driving taxpayer-funded cars and building comfortable pensions, despite Article II Section 8's specific language allowing only "salary and mileage for regular and special sessions as shall be fixed by law, and no other compensation whatever, whether for service upon committee or otherwise."

In addition, quite a few never returned the money received through "unvouchered expenses," despite the Supreme Court's finding of the practice as unconstitutional. Go figure.

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

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Russ Diamond

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.

Copyright © 2008, Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog; All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2005-2008, THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tim Potts: Help us Ring in the New Year with Good Government

Dear Friends of Democracy Rising,

We've made some New Year's Resolutions for Pennsylvania state government.
  1. Enact the best open records law in America.
  2. Best lobbying control law in America.
  3. Best campaign finance law in America.
  4. Best election laws in America.
Democracy Rising PA is resolved to make Pennsylvania the best of all fifty states in every category of good government. This isn't wishful thinking on our part. We've already nailed legislators on their secret salary hikes. We've called them on the millions of tax-payer dollars they've spent on partisan polling, and the appalling lack of "openness" in their proposed open records legislation. We've exposed lots of other infractions, too, all fueled by the fact that our government currently has the worst quality laws on matters of public integrity than any other state in America.

Now is the ideal time to make the most of this momentum for change. You've seen our emails about our year-end fund-raising campaign. Since starting our campaign, we have raised close to $30,000. If we raise $100,000 by December 31, we'll get matching funds, ponied up by donors across the political spectrum. That's serious money that can have a serious impact on our ability to make 2008 the year of integrity, value, transparency, and citizen confidence in government.

With just 4 days left to meet this $100,000 challenge, every contribution counts. If you haven't already donated, we urge you to do so now. Click donate to double the impact of your donation.

Working together, we can ring out the rampant corruption and waste in our current legislature, and ring in the New Year with the promise of good government.

Thank you for your support!

- Tim Potts

P.S. At the risk of overstating what we've already overstated - time is running out fast on our year-end $100,000 challenge. Click
donate before December 31, and double the impact of your donation!

P.P.S. Democracy Rising PA is a 501© (3) organization, so your contributions are tax-deductible.

Tim Potts
Co-Founder & Chair
Democracy Rising Pennsylvania

© Democracy Rising Pennsylvania 2001-2008. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2005-2008, Pennsylvania Order of Liberty Blog; All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2005-2008, THE CENTRIST; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Can the Montgomery County Republican Party be saved from itself?

Over the next two weeks, we'll find out the answer to an important question. Is the Republican Party in Montgomery County bigger than three men? Who is in charge of the party? The voters, the elected committee members, the financial contributors? Or is the party owned by three men who have their own agenda?

This message is for Republicans, specifically those living in Montgomery County. Will you allow the party to be hijacked by three men?

I see the actions of Jim Matthews, Ken Davis and Bob Asher as no different from those of playground bullies. They want their way. They're willing to step on anyone to get what they want. They think nothing of mortally wounding the Republican Party that gave these men their power in the first place. They’ve spit on the Republican Party Committee members who helped Matthews get elected as a county commissioner, helped Davis win two terms as the county party chairman and helped Asher, a convicted felon, get elected as a national committeeman.

It's time for the GOP faithful —- all 247,000 — to put this trio in its place.

The revolt from the rank-and-file is already brewing.

Here's what a Montgomery County Republican Party committeeman said in an e-mail: "Matthews' enmity for Bruce must be stronger than his desire to succeed, and he's thrown away all his work over the last several years, and will never be elected to any office again. But more than that, if we think about the future dynamics for the next four years, what Republican will listen to him, or respect him as a leader? And what Democrat will care about an ineffective turncoat Republican. In effect, Matthews will doom himself to a position with no power — indeed the emperor will have no clothes."

Here's what one Republican Party committeewoman said in an e-mail: "There has and will always be some power struggles within the party. But, in the past these issues were settled by the county chairman and never in public. That is where the problem starts and ends. Mr. Davis, in my opinion, as chairman has never demonstrated any leadership and has only won re-election by appointing new committee people at the 11th hour. This is despite his repeated promises to change the by-laws. He is and will always be a puppet for Mr. Asher, who by the way has lost all is sound political wisdom. Mr. Davis has led the Republican Party down the tube and now with his blessing Mr. Matthews will do the same to county government. The Matthews/Hoeffel team was not chosen to lead our county, but I agree Mr. Matthews must never have passed Politics 101. Mr. Asher, at one time, was a sound thinking politician who served well as county chairman. It is a known fact he does not like Bruce Castor for whatever reason. And, the look on his face when Bruce won the endorsement said it all. However, Mr. Asher has always found a way to get even and the Matthews/Hoeffel team is it. Thank goodness for the wisdom of the Montgomery County voters when they elected Bruce Castor. At least there will be one sound thinking voice on the board."

Can the Montgomery County Republican Party be saved?

It can if Republican voters by the thousands tell Matthews, Davis and Asher that the party is bigger than the egos of three men. If Matthews, Davis and Asher aren’t willing to do what the voters decided Nov. 6 — entrust Montgomery County government to a Republican majority headed by Bruce Castor — then the trio has to step aside.

If that doesn't happen between now and Jan. 7, when the Montgomery County Commissioners hold their reorganization meeting and select a chairman and vice chairman, then the Republican Party must sever all ties with Matthews, Davis and Asher. They've left the party by their renegade actions. It’s time for 247,000 registered Republicans to walk away from them.

Without your votes, your willingness to volunteer for the party's candidates and your financial generosity, there is no Montgomery County Republican Party. Matthews, Davis and Asher are nothing without you.

If you want to send them a message, here's how to contact Matthews, Davis and Asher. (And you might want Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason to know that Montgomery County will not be part of a Republican Party that has been hijacked by three megalomaniacs.)

Contact Jim Matthews at or call the commissioners’ office at 610-278-3020

Contact Ken Davis at or

Contact Bob Asher at

Contact Robert A. Gleason, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, at the party’s Web site, or call 717-234-4901 ext. 126

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 © 2005-2008, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: GOP backstabbers: Matthews, Davis, Asher

"A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murder is less to fear."
— Marcus Tullius Cicero,Roman orator, statesman 42 BC

George Washington had his Benedict Arnold. Julius Caesar had his Brutus. Bruce Castor has his Jim Matthews.

Matthews, a Montgomery County commissioner in suburban Philadelphia who ran as a Republican in November, stunned political observers by announcing a pact with Democrat Joe Hoeffel to form a voting majority on the three-member Board of Commissioners.

The odd man out of the equation is Castor, the top vote-getter in the Nov. 6 election. More than 85,000 voters supported Castor and his efforts to keep Republican control of the board.

Matthews slapped every one of the 85,000 voters in the face Tuesday when he outlined his deal with the devil.

Matthews is the brother of Chris Matthews of MSNBC's "Hardball" program and was the unsuccessful candidate for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor with Lynn Swann in 2006.

When the new commissioners' board takes office in January, Matthews will serve as chairman and Hoeffel, a bust as county commissioner in the early 1990s, will serve as vice chairman. Tradition and the spoils of politics dictate that the majority party holds chairman and vice chairman titles.

Matthews decided his own lust for power supersedes the wishes of the voters.

How is Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Ken Davis going to explain this one? Your party wins control of the commissioners' board and you now hand power to the minority party? There is no place for Matthews, Davis (and their puppet-master, GOP financier Bob Asher) to hide. Asher is also a national Republican committeeman, which might help explain why the GOP is in such trouble.

Montgomery County voters made it very clear last month they want the Republican Party to continue running the county, as it has for the past 138 years. Matthews' decision to elevate Hoeffel to vice chairman negates the results of the election. It countermands the will of the people.

This is bigger than Matthews, whose legacy is now one of a political traitor. The county, state and national Republican Party have to intervene because this is an assault on the political process.

Voters need to have some sense that the people they elect will attempt to stand behind their promises. When you vote Republican, you want Republicans to hold power, not hand it to the election losers on a silver platter.

Matthews may think he’s won something by giving Hoeffel a say in county government, but Matthews has lost what little credibility he had with voters. He has also set in motion the Democratic takeover of county government in four years. Matthews will never win another election — in Montgomery County or anywhere else. Voters simply can't trust this guy.

You don't make a deal with Democrats when your party wins majority control. This is Politics 101 and Matthews has flunked. We’re dealing with liberal Joe Hoeffel, Ed Rendell's pal. Hoeffel ran on a platform of big government and higher taxes.

During the campaign, Matthews accused Hoeffel of "picking your pockets with higher taxes." In one campaign ad, Matthews said "Hoeffel is proud he raised our taxes." What's going to happen when Hoeffel wants to raise taxes? Will Matthews provide the second vote?

And didn't Joe Hoeffel accuse Matthews of influence-peddling and corruption? What does that say about Hoeffel's character if he’s now willing to work with Matthews?

It appears Matthews and Hoeffel were made for each other. Career politicians without a shred of integrity between them.

The only person dealing with a full deck in this latest Matthews-Davis-Asher debacle is Castor.

"The consequences to the (Republican) Party would just be devastating," said Castor, noting that residents had placed control of county government in Republican hands with their votes, not a Republican and a Democrat. "It would just be insanity."

It's time for rank-and-file GOP to step in and save the Republican Party from the enemy within.

Matthews, Davis and Asher should be drummed out of the Republican Party. They want to get into bed with a liberal Democrat? Fine. Let them change their party registration. Don't pretend you're Republicans. The trio has already insulted 85,000 Republican voters by making the deal with Hoeffel.

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 © 2005-2008, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: More promises of tax relief by Rendell

Excuse me if I don't jump up and down at the news that Gov. Ed Rendell's budget secretary says there is enough revenue coming in from casinos to begin offering property tax cuts in 2008 or 2009.

We've heard these promises before.

In 2002, Rendell, candidate for governor, promised to cut everyone's property taxes by 30 percent standing on his head.

In his first year in office, Rendell developed amnesia about property taxes. Instead, he increased the state income tax by 10 percent.

In 2004, Rendell promised property tax relief when he signed Act 72 into law. It didn't happen.

In 2005, Rendell developed amnesia again, but he did impose the $52-a-year payroll tax on just about every worker in the state.

In 2006, Rendell promised property tax relief when he signed Act 1 into law. Act 1 would have raised the income tax in return for lowering property taxes. Voters didn't buy into the tax-shift scheme. Another failed attempt at tax relief.

Here we are at the end of 2007 — five years into Rendell's term — and not one penny from gambling has been returned to Pennsylvania residents as property tax cuts.

The Legislature, which has House Bill 1275 (the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007) before it, failed to act on it before adjourning for its 32-day Christmas vacation.

Now we have a prediction from Rendell's budget chief that some homeowners will see property tax cuts at the end of 2008 or sometime in 2009 because gambling revenues have reached the minimum level to trigger tax cuts.

The operative word here is minimal. The state's six operating slot parlors have kicked in $506 million so far into a fund set up for property tax relief. The fund needs to reach $570 million by April in order for the state to begin distributing money to homeowners.

But Rendell promised $1 billion in tax relief when he signed the bill bringing casino gambling to Pennsylvania.

It will take several more years to reach that level. And we're talking about a few hundred dollars in tax reduction. So if you pay $3,000 in property taxes each year, you might get back $300. In the meantime, there's nothing to prevent your local school district from raising property taxes by hundreds of dollars ... year after year.

So pardon me if I don't do a jig. The promise of property tax cuts through gambling revenues is a mirage.

The only way to reform Pennsylvania's antiquated property tax system for funding public education is total elimination, which is what House Bill 1275 proposes.

Only 44 legislators (mostly Republicans) in the 203-member House of Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of HB 1275 so far.

If you live in any of the following Southeastern Pennsylvania counties, you might want to ask these legislators why they won't support the elimination of property taxes. None of the following are listed as co-sponsors of House Bill 1275:

BERKS COUNTY — David Kessler (D-130); Doug Reichley (R-134); Tim Seip (D-125)

BUCKS COUNTY — Paul I. Clymer (R-145); Gene DiGirolamo (R-18); John T. Galloway (D-140); Chris King (D-142); Anthony J. Melio (D-141); Bernie O’Neill (R-29); Scott A. Petri (R-178); Marguerite Quinn (R-143); Katharine M. Watson (R-144)

CHESTER COUNTY — Thomas Killion (R-168); Duane Milne (R-167); Chris Ross (R-158); Carole Rubley (R-157

DELAWARE COUNTY — William F. Adolph Jr. (R-165); Mario J. Civera Jr. (R-26); Robert C. Donatucci (D-185); Thomas H. Killion (R-168); Thaddeus Kirkland (D-9); Bryan R. Lentz (D-161); Nicholas A. Micozzie (R-163); Ron Raymond (R-162); Greg Vitali (D-166); Ronald G. Waters (D-191)

MONTGOMERY COUNTY — Lawrence Curry (D-154); Michael Gerber (D-148); Robert Godshall (R-53); Kate Harper (R-61); George Kenney Jr. (R-170); Daylin Leach (D-149); Kathy Manderino (D-194); Jay Moyer (R-70); Thomas Murt (R-152); Josh Shapiro (D-153); Rick Taylor (D-151); Mike Vereb (R-150)

For more information about HB 1275, visit the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition Web site at

If you want to see genuine property tax relief in Pennsylvania, you have to pressure your state legislators (especially the Democrats) to support House Bill 1275.

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 © 2005-2008, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Matthews caves in

Somebody must have knocked some sense into Jim Matthews.

Less than 24 hours after a prominent Montgomery County attorney and longtime Republican Party activist switched his voter registration from Republican to Democrat to protest what he called vindictive behavior on the part of the Montgomery County commissioner, Jim Matthews caved.

The dispute centers on a planned transfer of Marcy Toepel, Montgomery County Clerk of Courts first deputy, to a new post in the county Recorder of Deeds office.

Toepel lost the race for Clerk of Courts in November and was going to be out of a job once Ann Thornburg Weiss, the incoming Democrat who won the election, is sworn in.

Toepel was hoping to move into a new job in the Recorder of Deeds office, which is still controlled by Republicans.

But Matthews removed Toepel's name from a list of approved job transfers under review by the county salary board, which includes the three county commissioners.

Insiders said Matthews was pissed at Toepel because she would not support his bid for reelection to the Board of Commissioners.

That prompted Norristown lawyer John I. McMahon Jr., who is the solicitor for the Clerk of Courts office, to send a letter to Matthews calling his tactics "vindictive" and "ruthless."

It didn't hurt that the letter found its way into the hands of veteran Norristown courthouse reporter Margaret Gibbons, who wrote a story about the infighting within Montgomery County Republican circles.

Matthews and McMahon sat down Tuesday for a meeting and apparently resolved their differences. Matthews will not object to Toepel's transfer when the commissioners meet next week, according to Gibbons.

After talking with Matthews on Tuesday, McMahon said all is forgiven.

"He (Matthews) has indicated to me that Ms. Toepel's removal from the salary board list was an 'inadvertent mistake' on his part," McMahon said in a letter he sent to Gibbons. "Accordingly, to the extent that this statement is true, I believe my strong words directed to Commissioner Matthews may have been overly harsh."

Spoken like a true lawyer.

Although they've kissed and made up, McMahon said his decision to switch his party registration to Democrat will not change. Hmmm.

That does not bode well for Matthews or his handlers, Montgomery County Republican Chairman Ken Davis and moneyman Bob Asher, the de-facto party boss.

Davis and Asher have worked hard over the past four years to divide the Republican Party. As a result of their political bungling, five Democrats were elected to Montgomery County row offices on Nov. 6.

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 © 2005-2008, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Jim Matthews plays hardball with GOP

For a man who barely won re-election last month, Montgomery County Commissioner Jim Matthews is turning into Hugo Chavez.

Matthews came in third place for three open seats on the Montgomery County commissioners' board, but he's acting like a dictator in the final days of 2007.

He's playing political hardball within his own party. Somebody should remind Jim Matthews he's not his brother, Chris Matthews, the loudmouth MSNBC TV host.

Jim Matthews has been accused of going after a longtime county worker who did not support his re-election effort. Matthews, as a member of the county salary board, does have a say in who gets hired or transferred within county government.

GOP foot soldier Marcy Toepel, a Republican who lost the race for county Clerk of Courts last month, is trying to hold on to a county job by seeking a transfer to the Recorder of Deeds office, which is still controlled by Republicans.

Under the leadership of Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Ken Davis and his benefactor, Bob Asher, the GOP lost five county row offices in the Nov. 6 election, which has left many Republicans scrambling to find new jobs. Row offices are used by both sides to reward party faithful.

Matthews decided to get Toepel back by taking her name off the transfer list at a recent salary board meeting. (Courthouse insiders say that Toepel is a hard worker and would bring a wealth of experience to the recorder of deeds office, so there's no question that she is qualified to do the work.)

Matthews' action has angered many Republicans. One prominent GOP attorney, John I. McMahon Jr., who has worked for the party and raised thousands of dollars on behalf of GOP candidates in past 30 years, was so incensed by Matthews' vindictiveness that he switched his party registration to Democrat on Monday.

"Your own vindictive and ruthless actions in removing her name from the salary board, thereby blocking her from maintaining employment in the courthouse after her recent election upset in the clerk of courts' race, speaks volumes about your leadership," McMahon said in a letter fired off to Matthews.

"Your actions clearly highlight yet another example of the sickening political infighting and personal agendas which has characterized the leadership of the Montgomery County Republican Party in recent years," McMahon said in the letter. "It only gets worse!"

Matthews, who is controlled by Ken Davis and Bob Asher, has already alienated half the Republican Party members in Montgomery County. He's not exactly bosom buddies with the other GOP Commissioner-elect, Bruce Castor, who is a longtime critic of Davis and Asher.

Let's not forget that Matthews failed to deliver Montgomery County for the GOP when he ran as lieutenant governor on the Lynn Swann ticket in 2006. Matthews has aspirations for statewide office, but that's not going to happen when he's becoming a political pariah in his home county.

What will Matthews do in January when the new commissioners' board is sworn in? Will he make a deal with Democrat Joe Hoeffel?

If Matthews continues to burn bridges within his own party, how can Castor support Matthews for the influential post as commissioners' chairman? Will Matthews work out a secret power-sharing deal with Hoeffel, the liberal Democrat who finished second in the voting behind Castor?

Is that why Montgomery County voters kept Republicans in control of county government for another four years? To give Joe Hoeffel more a role? Would voters support Matthews had they know he'd settle old scores against his own party and possibly give Hoeffel a bigger role in county government?

When will Montgomery County Republicans realize that the Matthews-Davis-Asher wing of the party is leading the GOP over a cliff?

Read the full story on the growing GOP rift in today's edition of The Mercury at

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 © 2005-2008, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Rendell threatens to hold doctors hostage

Somebody should put a call into SWAT. Gov. Ed Rendell is planning to take hostages again.

Rendell is threatening to withhold state aid to help doctors pay for malpractice insurance unless the Legislature approves the governor's plan to offer government-subsidized health insurance for the state's 800,000 uninsured residents.

Rendell's "Cover All Pennsylvanians" proposal has been languishing in the Legislature since the governor first floated the idea in February. Lawmakers refuse to consider Rendell's 3-percent payroll tax on employers who do not provide health insurance to fund health coverage for the uninsured.

Rendell always has something up his sleeve. When the Legislature balked at leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private company to help raise money to bail out mass transit, Rendell went to Plan B: Making Interstate 80 a toll road.

The governor now wants the Legislature to use part of the projected $500 million surplus in the state's medical malpractice fund (known as MCare) to pay for the uninsured. That won't cover all the costs of providing health coverage to 800,000 people. The rest of the money would come from an additional 10-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes and taxing cigars and smokeless tobacco.

This is not the first time Rendell has threatened to hold hostages to get his way. He did it earlier this year when he threatened state workers. And we all know how well that worked out.

It just five months ago when Rendell and the Legislature could not agree on a $27 billion General Fund budget for the 2007-08 fiscal year, which began July 1.

Rendell's bargaining chip was 24,000 "non-essential" state workers. Rendell went ahead with the furlough, but when the Legislature wouldn't budge and public sentiment turned against Rendell, he brought the workers back the next day (and ended up paying them for the extra vacation day). That little stunt cost Pennsylvania taxpayers about $3 million.

As I said back in July when I wrote about Rendell's bully tactics, when you take hostages, you have to be prepared to follow through with the threat to harm them. Rendell blinked on the furlough of state workers and lost the fight over the budget. He didn't get his health insurance plan or any of the $2.5 billion in new or expanded taxes Rendell wanted to include in the 2007-08 budget.

Taking the state's doctors hostage is an even dumber move on the governor's part. Unlike state workers, doctors have more resources at their disposal. They are a powerful lobbying group that can do a lot of harm to politicians. Doctors like having the state pick up part of their malpractice payments and are not going to give it up without a fight.

Rendell and the lockstep Democrats in the House have overreached several times in 2007. Pennsylvania residents want lower taxes, not more taxes and expanded government control of health care, transportation and energy.

In a story published by the Allentown Morning-Call, state Rep. Mike Sturla, a Democrat from Lancaster County, was quoted as saying he is willing to shake down Pennsylvania taxpayers even more to get the governor’s initiatives passed.

"I don't care if we stand people on their heads and shake pennies from their pockets," Sturla said. "All I want to do is make sure Pennsylvanians have access to health care in a reasonable, rational manner."

What a pleasant site. Rendell and Sturla holding an elderly Pennsylvania taxpayer upside down and shaking him until every penny falls out of his pocket.

Ask Sturla's constituents in Lancaster County if they'd like to pay more in taxes to people in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh can get health insurance. I think not.

Sturla may have talked his way out of a job when he faces re-election next year.
Let's say Rendell gets enough votes in the Legislature to raid the MCare fund.

Rendell is notorious for spending every dime that comes his way. What happens when the MCare fund is drained down to zero?

Where will Rendell get the money to replenish the MCare fund? The basic economic concept that Rendell has operated under is "Robbing Peter to Pay Paul."

Peter is tired of giving and Paul is in no mood to give anything back.

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 © 2005-2008, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Pa. economy in the dumps

I've learned not to trust any economic news released by Gov. Ed Rendell since he is notorious for twisting and turning numbers into something unrecognizable.

I consider information from third parties more credible, especially when the source is a group like the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association, which has a vested interest in the condition of the state's economy. The group's motto: "Business in Pennsylvania Is Our Business."

The latest edition of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association Bulletin, available online this week, offers a sobering look at how sluggish the state's economy is under Gov. Rendell. Pennsylvania ranks 44 out of 50 states in economic growth.

I guess it's safe to conclude that higher taxes and corporate welfare is not the way to go to stimulate the state's economy. But that's been Rendell's strategy since taking office in 2003.

You can't blame the state's sad-sack economy entirely on Rendell. The Pennsylvania Legislature has turned into a doormat when it comes to economic stimulus.

House Democrats are kept on a short leash by Rendell and Republicans (especially in the Senate) have a short attention span. They can't concentrate long enough to make a convincing case that the state is headed in the wrong direction.

The four-page PMA Bulletin features these headlines:


Ranked 44th in Gross Domestic Product growth; Pennsylvania loses out on $7.25 billion

"This is price all Pennsylvanians are continuing to pay for Harrisburg’s misplaced priorities," says David N. Taylor, executive director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association. "All of the state government policies that make Pennsylvania less business-friendly than our competitor states – whether it's chronic overspending, high business taxes, rampant lawsuit abuse, or regulatory overkill – are robbing our citizens and undermining our quality of life."

To read the Bulletin online, visit

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 © 2005-2008, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Paterno salary defines open-records debate

The world now knows how much Joe Paterno makes as head football coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

My life hasn't changed since I found out that Paterno earns $512,664 a year. I graduated from Penn State but I wasn't the least bit curious how much Paterno made when I attended school in State College or in the years since I left Happy Valley.

Paterno's salary was one of the best-kept secrets in Pennsylvania, a state where keeping the public in the dark is one of the primary missions of government. Pennsylvania ranks 49 out of 50 states for having the worst open-records law in the country.

The State Employees' Retirement System released Paterno's salary a week after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that his salary and those of other top Penn State officials are public information.

How much the 80-year-old coach makes isn't as important as the fact that so many government and university officials worked so hard for so long to keep the information out of public sight.

The revelation that Paterno makes $512,000 was almost anti-climatic. Most people were under the impression that Paterno was making more than $1 million a year based on his longevity at Penn State and the success he has brought to the school’s football program.

"I'm paid well. I'm not overpaid," Paterno told reporters. "I got all the money I need."

What a refreshing statement from a public figure in a state where greed has become the norm. Pennsylvania legislators, already among the highest paid in the country, voted themselves pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent during a middle-of-the-night session on July 7, 2005. Gov. Ed Rendell signed the pay grab into law. It took a backlash from Pennsylvania residents to get the Legislature to rescind the pay raise.

And let's not compare Paterno's salary to that of some other coaches who run big-time football programs. Alabama's Nick Saban is the highest paid coach at $4 million a year. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops makes $3 million. Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Florida's Urban Meyer and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier each make $2 million annually.

Paterno, the second winningest college football coach ever, is "underpaid" compared to other coaches. Paterno is Penn State. His value to the school cannot be measured in dollars and cents. And it's common knowledge that Paterno and his wife have donated $4 million to Penn State over the years.

It's hard to argue that Paterno isn't worth every dollar Penn State pays him. The salary revelation should put renewed focus on the current debate in the Pennsylvania Legislature over open records.

The reason the Harrisburg Patriot-News had to fight so hard in the courts to get the salary information is because Pennsylvania law presumes that all government and quasi-government agencies are entitled to keep secrets.

The public, through newspapers and other media outlets, have to persuade courts that the information should be public. This presumption is backwards. The burden should be on the government to show why information associated with how it spends the public's money or conducts the public's business should be kept from the public.

Political commentator Lowman Henry has an interesting take on the Paterno salary disclosure:

"Why then would Penn State's power brokers fight so hard to keep such information confidential? In a word: arrogance. It has become apparent they simply believe, despite the fact PSU receives hundreds of millions of tax dollars each year, We The People have no right to know what they are doing with our money. Clearly the Paterno salary is not untoward, and the university is generally perceived as one of the finest in the nation. Why then the secrecy?"

The Paterno salary story, which made the front page of every newspaper in the state, should be a wake-up call to Pennsylvania residents. They need to be engaged in the current debate about revising the state's open-records laws. This is not about giving newspapers special access. This is about giving the people of Pennsylvania the right to know how their elected officials are conducting the people's business.

A vote on revisions to the open-records law could come any day now. Make sure your elected representatives know you’re paying attention and will not tolerate any more secrecy.

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 © 2005-2008, THE CENTRIST Blog; All Rights Reserved.