Friday, December 30, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
There's an old expression that goes something like this: "You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family." You can also decide to build a dream house, but you can't pick who your neighbors are going to be. In other words, just when you've settled on where you want to live, Jed Clampett and the Beverly Hillbillies could move in next door and there goes the neighborhood.
Gov. Tom Corbett left something under the tree of many Pennsylvania residents a few days before Christmas — something that many were not expecting or really needed.
In signing Senate Bill 1249 into law on Dec. 22, Corbett helped redraw Congressional boundaries for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania residents.
For the past 10 years, my congressman has been Republican Jim Gerlach, who has represented Pennsylvania's 6th District since it was created in 2000.
I've been happy with Gerlach and wasn't expecting to find myself in a new Congressional district, but you never know who's going to move in next door.
I've interviewed Gerlach several times over the past 10 years and he comes across as a very knowledgable and practical person. He is considered a moderate in Congressional circles, someone who doesn't always toe the party line. Gerlach has also built a reputation as a very responsive member of Congress who spends a lot of time in his home district. Whether it was a Veteran's Day parade or the dedication of a new bridge, Gerlach was there.
Perhaps it is his relative youth — 56 — or the fact that he would rather spend time with the people of Southeastern Pennsylvania instead of the political elites in Washington, D.C., but Gerlach has done a nice job of representing his constituents over the past decade, something even his political foes grudgingly admit.
I haven't paid too much attention to the redistricting process mandated by the Constitution every 10 years following the release of new Census figures because I wasn't expecting to lose Gerlach as my congressman.
I knew there would be some tinkering with his district because Republicans control both chambers in the state Legislature and they would work to make districts held by incumbent Republicans safer for their fellow GOP members. Because Pennsylvania's population growth is stagnant, the state was forced to drop one seat in the House, down from the 19 seats it held over the past decade. Politicians of both parties generally take care of themselves. They look for the easiest way to meet the requirements for cutting a seat. The best thing that could happen is for an incumbent to retire. That way, his or her district could be carved up among neighboring districts. Since that wasn't happening this year, the next target was the member of Congress with the least seniority. That meant Rep. Mark Critz had a big bull's-eye target on his back. Critz won a special election in 2010 to represent Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District after longtime Congressman John Murtha died in office earlier that year.
Critz will now have to run against another incumbent Democratic Congressman to keep his job.
You can complain all you want about the process of redistricting, but both parties play the same game. If Democrats controlled the state Legislature this year, you can bet they would combine two districts held by Republicans and force incumbents to run against each other.
I would prefer to keep Gerlach as my representative in Congress, but it wasn't my decision to part ways. I fell on the wrong side of the new political boundary of the 6th District. Overnight, I moved into a new Congressional district and didn't even get a chance to pack. It's not the first time it's happened. Before Gerlach, my congressman was Democrat Tim Holden and before that, it was Democrat Gus Yatron.
On Dec. 21, I lived in the 6th District. On Dec. 22, with Corbett's signature, I was moved into the 16th District, which brings me to Congressman Joe Pitts.
Pitts is 72 and has been in Congress since January 1997. He is considered one of the most conservative members in the House and has been recognized by conservative groups as one of the most reliable votes in Congress on fiscal and social issues. The Republican has earned 100% ratings from the American Conservative Union, the Christian Coalition and various taxpayer groups.
Pitts is also one of the few members of Congress who refuses to seek pork barrel funding for projects in his home district.
I've never met Pitts and he doesn't have Gerlach's track record of pressing the flesh in his home district, but his voting record in Congress is impressive. It's like a new neighbor moving in next door. It appears Pitts will be my Congressman until he retires from Congress, so I better get used to my new neighbor.
Tony Phyrillas is the city editor of The Mercury and writes about politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas. You can also read his blog Talking Politics at www.pottsmerc.com/blogs
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Newt Gingrich on the Obama Regime: "The most radical administration in American history."
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
So long Jim Gerlach, hello Joe Pitts - pottsmerc.com
Monday, December 26, 2011
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Operation Holiday delivers to 237 families (video) - pottsmerc.com
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Friday, December 23, 2011
Voters are leaving main parties in droves – USATODAY.com
Thursday, December 22, 2011
For Christmas this year, Gov. Tom Corbett hoped the legislature would gift wrap three things he could tie a bow on: An education reform package that included school vouchers, state liquor store privatization and legislation addressing gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
Unfortunately, the legislature played more Grinch than giver and the consequences of failure to act remain clear. Inaction on school choice traps students in violent and failing schools, where they see a violent act every 17 minutes. Pennsylvania loses jobs and tax revenue because residents spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying liquor in other states. And more jobs lie in the balance as natural gas companies are hedging their bets for future investment given the uncertainty of Pennsylvania's regulation and tax schemes.
Willing to pass the buck to Santa Claus, the General Assembly heads for home for the holiday break having delivered no gifts on any of these issues.
Both the Senate and House passed measures regulating gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. But the House version involves an optional local fee, with funds limited to, for the most part, uncompensated impacts of drilling. The Senate passed a statewide tax they euphemistically call a fee that would fund a variety of programs unrelated to the impact of the natural gas extraction process. The final bill can be only one of these things. Likewise, the Senate passed a school voucher bill the governor supports, but it isn't yet clear if the House will rescue poor kids in violent, failing schools.
Meanwhile, bills addressing the fiscal crisis in the city of Harrisburg, flood damage across the state, and tightening child predator laws following the Penn State scandal all reached the Governor's desk. These unexpected priorities, brought about by crises and national media attention, took time away from other agenda items.
With the Census results in, lawmakers had to redraw both Congressional and state legislative districts this year, or early January at the latest. Both the redistricting commission and the legislative process for Congressional mapmaking are inherently political, and every lawmaker seeking reelection (or higher office) has something at stake. The political reality of the redistricting process ended up consuming all the oxygen in Harrisburg this fall and left other good policy opportunities gasping for air.
While 2011 has been declared the "Year of School Choice" with 18 states creating or expanding school choice programs, Pennsylvania lawmakers punted to next year. In the middle of the year, lawmakers claimed they had no time to pass school choice legislation with budget concerns, but would take it up in the fall. When nothing happened in the fall, it has become "wait until next year."
In contrast, most of the victories in other states occurred early in 2011. Why? Most states have limited legislative sessions, with deadlines for accomplishments. Pennsylvania's full-time legislature and unlimited sessions tend to lead to severe cases of procrastination.
Encouraging the lack of action on issues such as school choice is the political reality that Pennsylvania's two party debate is not between Democrats and Republicans. It is actually between the Union Party and the Taxpayer Party. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the Union Party enjoys a majority in both the House and Senate on key issues where union financial and political power is threatened.
If you want to know why school choice or other union-related bills have stalled, or why politicians in both parties are demanding new and higher taxes, look no farther than lobbying by union bosses. During the last election cycle, the political action committees of the main government and private sector labor unions gave over $23 million to both Democrats and Republicans.
These heavy hitters include the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Service Employees International Union, and the American Federation of State, Council and Municipal Employees, which account for nearly 260,000 union members in the commonwealth. The PSEA alone—after raising mandatory dues on teachers and school employees by 11 percent in early 2011—spent $4.2 million lobbying over the past year.
The lesson is this: With the labor unions working as the taxpayers' Grinch, the legislature will fail to deliver not only this Christmas, but for many to come. If Gov. Corbett really wants to put taxpayers, students and workers first, he must use his bully pulpit to overcome a legislature that is reluctant to oppose the Union Party. Only then will his priorities become more than just a wish list.
Nathan A. Benefield is Director of Policy Analysis with the Commonwealth Foundation (www.CommonwealthFoundation.org), Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.
Guess which party is pocketing most of Wall Street's money? - pottsmerc.com
Comeback America Poll: Most Americans Have a Low Fiscal IQ
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Déjà vu All Over Again: Mid-year Cuts and a Budget Shortfall on Tap for 2012
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Politifact Lie of the Year: The Democrat MediScare Campaign - HUMAN EVENTS
Monday, December 19, 2011
Obama Letter to Wealthy Friends | RNC: Republican National Committee | GOP
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Pennsylvania's Employment Situation for November 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
"Is our climate changing? Are we to blame? It's changing because it always has changed and should be changing," Legates said.
Tea Party group discusses climate change - dailylocal.com
Since there are no administrative costs, every penny donated to this charity goes to help the needy.
Operation Holiday needs donations to help 601 children - pottsmerc.com
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Administration Gets it Wrong on Presidential Dollar Coin Program
DNC Chair Denies Unemployment Has Gone Up Under Obama
Monday, December 12, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Operation Holiday: Mother treasures every moment with her terminally ill son - pottsmerc.com
Friday, December 09, 2011
The technical reason the number of unemployed declined is that more than 350,000 people stopped looking for work last week and are no longer being carried on the books. In fact, if the total number of people who have stopped looking for work over the past few years were being counted (either because they are being sustained by endless unemployment insurance benefits or are simply discouraged because the economy IS moribund), the more accurate unemployment figure is closer to 17 percent ... (Table U-6 — Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, from Bureau of Labor Statistics).Don't be fooled by the latest numbers - dailylocal.com
The jobless rate has now remained above 8 percent since February 2009, the longest stretch since monthly records began in 1948. Additionally, there are still 5.7 million long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks and over), which represents 43 percent of the total unemployed and the average duration of unemployment rose to 40.9 weeks, the highest on record.
Thursday, December 08, 2011
Editorial: Matthews' arrest shows shame of past four years - pottsmerc.com
Give the First Amendment – and the nation – a unique gift this holiday season: On Dec. 15, "tweet" your support for this 220-year old guarantor of our basic freedoms.Gene Policinski is senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, 1207 18th Ave. S., Nashville, Tenn., 37212. Web: www.firstamendmentcenter.org. E-mail: email@example.com
And don't stop there … round out the holidays by making that 140-character pledge the first step in a New Year's commitment to better understand and defend year-round those precious 45 words that define our core freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.
What's the reason to make the First Amendment part of the season?
For one thing, Dec. 15 is the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, beginning with the First Amendment's protection of freedom of expression and freedom of religion. That's an event deserving in its own right of glitter and tinsel.
More urgently, it's a chance to challenge and maybe change a sad result of national surveys the First Amendment Center has conducted since 1997. In all that time, never more than six percent in any year could name all five freedoms unaided.
We live in times in which the First Amendment never has been more on display – or more contested.
There are the yearly Yule concerns over religious-themed songs and carols at public school holiday pageants, but also the miraculous example to the world of multiple faiths in one nation peaceably observing holy days and holidays alongside one another.
There are Occupy Wall Street demonstrators exercising their rights to speak freely, to assemble and to petition the government for change – in the manner of generations of Americans who have taken to the streets to make their voices heard.
The U.S. Supreme Court soon will decide a dispute over what we can see and hear on broadcast TV. Meanwhile, we’re all "a-Twitter" over how private are our personal facts and messages. And the fight goes on over how public are our public records.
The Internet, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter have brought new concerns about smut, identity theft and hate speech, all while also giving us an unparalleled opportunity to talk with our fellow citizens – provided that government does not get in the way.
Has there ever been a time when all five of our First Amendment freedoms were more in play?
The "Free to Tweet" initiative is an unprecedented, day-long online call to the American public to stand up on Dec. 15 for these fundamental freedoms. High school and college students nationwide, ages 14 to 22, get a bonus for participating: Expressing themselves freely with the hash tag #freetotweet on Twitter will mean an opportunity to win one of 22 scholarships each worth $5,000. (Find more details on the initiative and the competition at www.freetotweet.org).
For more than two centuries, the First Amendment has been protecting our right to speak out. Let's do just that on Dec. 15!
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
President Obama Challenged to a Televised Debate by Desert Storm Veteran in Confrontational Full Page Washington Times Ad...to Stop Obamacare
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Castor was the top vote-getter in the 2007 election and was expecting to play a major role in leading Montgomery County government. Instead, Matthews stabbed Castor (and county taxpayers) in the back by entering into a back-room, power-sharing deal with liberal Democrat Joe Hoeffel.
The Matthews-Hoeffel regime has nearly bankrupted what was once one of the most fiscally-sound counties in Pennsylvania.
The Montgomery County Republican Committee censured Matthews for his betrayal and told him not to bother running for another term because the party would not support him. The Democratic Party also had enough of Hoeffel and told the career politician he would not be endorsed for re-election in 2011.
On Tuesday came the bombshell news that Matthews is facing criminal charges for a variety of alleged improprieties during his tenure as a county commissioner.
From a story by reporter Jenny DeHuff of the Norristown Times Herald
Alleging that Matthews repeatedly lied to jurors "with impunity," District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman unsealed a 69-page grand jury report detailing charges of perjury and giving false statements during a press conference Tuesday morning.So what does Bruce Castor, a former two-term county district attorney, think of all this?
The presentment was the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the inner workings of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. The allegations are extensive, from no-bid contracts with a Matthews-affiliated title insurance company to allegations surrounding his violations of the state's open meetings laws during repeated breakfast meetings at an East Norriton diner.
Ferman identified five areas outlined in the grand jury report, including the alleged use of campaign funds for personal expenses, the county's competitive (or non-competitive) bidding process, allegations of Sunshine Law violations by two of the county commissioners, matters of expenditures through the county's open space program, and a potential conflict of interest involving Matthews and a company called Certified Abstract, which had been given the county’s contract for title insurance.
DeHuff contacted the only commissioner who will be returning in January and this is what Castor had to say about Matthews, whom he described as a "very arrogant man" -
"Jim Matthews lied to the voters, to his supporters, to his contributors, to the party – those things don't surprise me, but when he lies to a grand jury, that is a crime. My experience is that perjury cases before a grand jury are almost always successful for prosecutors. I cannot recall a perjury charge in any court that I've ever worked in or around that did not result in a guilty verdict, because it's such a rarely used charge. A prosecutor only uses it when they're sure they're going to win."It appears Bruce Castor will get the last laugh.
Matthews' back-room deal led to deficit spending at the hands of Hoeffel, censure for Matthews from the county Republican Committee, which eventually forced Matthews from the GOP ticket.
The Matthews-Hoeffel deal also caused the defeat of the Republican majority on the commissioners' board for the first time in 140 years.
Now Matthews is facing criminal charges.
When you make a deal with the devil ...
Grand Jury: Montco commissioner lied while giving testimony - pottsmerc.com
"JAMZ' Christmas Carol" is a modern-day retelling of the Charles Dickens' classic that follows a pompous rapper down his path of redemption.
Both performances begin at 7 p.m. in the Mount Penn Primary Center Auditorium, North 25th Street, Mount Penn.
Tickets are just $5 per person and will be available at the door.
Gather the whole family for a fun-filled holiday musical.
Monday, December 05, 2011
Herman Cain's withdrawal concludes a media hit job that sends out two chilling warnings. To conservative businessmen: Don't dare run for high office. To black candidates: Don't stray off the liberal plantation.Press Destruction Of Cain Tells Conservative Blacks: Don't Run Or Else - Investors.com
Since 2000, public schools added 35,821 additional staff while enrollment dropped by 35,510, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Read more at The Commonwealth Foundation's Policy Blog.
Labor costs are 80 percent of the USPS' costs (53 percent of UPS', 32 percent of FedEx's), in part because it has negotiated very friendly union contracts. The postal service did that because it is free from the tiresome need to make a profit and its competition is limited by law, which forbids anyone else to deliver a letter that is not "urgent."Read the full column at the link below:
Mail volume has declined 20 percent in five years and the decline probably will accelerate, in spite of the odd USPS ads seeking customers by saying letters "don't get lost in thin air," and "a refrigerator has never been hacked. An online virus has never attacked a corkboard." Surely privatization beats depending on the USPS for delivering the intellectual light that irradiates the republic.
Privatize the postal service - pottsmerc.com
The Scranton School Board recently replaced a politically-connected lawyer who served as the district solicitor for the past 17. But the former solicitor is guaranteed a $25,000-a-year, lifetime pension by the board.
From the Times-Tribune:
Mr. McGrath, Lackawanna County Democratic chairman, worked for 17 years with no contract and at the will of the board. He most recently received almost $60,000 a year in salary, plus $85 an hour for some legal work. He also has a private law practice - McGrath Law Offices in Scranton.Scranton School District solicitor could collect $25,000 yearly pension - The Times-Tribune
Sunday, December 04, 2011
Six weeks ago, Obama visited Pittsburgh. The union crowd was thin. Enthusiasm was nonexistent; so were local elected Democrats, who opted to shake his hand at the airport rather than stand on stage with him while he talked about jobs. Last week he went to Scranton, home to Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey. A no-show in Pittsburgh, Casey again declined to appear with the president.Bitter Residue Remains in Pennsylvania
"On closer inspection, the decline is highly questionable — and doesn't warrant a surge in optimism," the newspaper says.
Drop In Unemployment To 8.6% In November Is Good, But Not As Good As It Looks - Investors.com
Saturday, December 03, 2011
"It's a shared sacrifice and we (legislators) have to do our share, and that includes returning the cost of living raise. If every lawmaker in the state gave the raise back, we would save a half-million dollars. And that's not chump change."Some lawmakers giving back their pay raises to Pa. - dailylocal.com
Friday, December 02, 2011
From the West Chester Daily Local News:
"In these tough economic times, it is crucial that every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely. I will bring the same commonsense, fiscally conservative reforms I have implemented in the Chester County Treasurer's office to the office of auditor general. We need a principled conservative reformer in the auditor general's office, and that is why I am running."Read the full story at the link below:
County treasurer talks about her run for state auditor - dailylocal.com
For more information about Duke's campaign, visit her website, http://anndukeforag.com/
How's that for hope and change?
Stimulus was a failure by the numbers - Lebanon Daily News
From an editorial in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on the latest pay raise for members of the Pennsylvania Legislature:
The arrival of yet another automatic cost-of-living pay raise is proof positive of state lawmakers' craven disregard for both taxpayers and economic reality.Read the full editorial - The legislative COLA: Slap! - at the newspaper's website.
An automatic pay increase lawmakers voted themselves kicked in Dec. 1, boosting their salaries by 3 percent, from $79,613 to $82,026 per year.
That's just for the rank-and-file members. Legislative leaders will see their salaries jump from $115,364 to $118,845 per year.
Public service pays — at least in Pennsylvania.
State lawmakers were already the second highest paid in the nation and the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) cements that standing. Act 51, the 1995 law that grants the automatic pay raises, was set up to keep legislative salaries in line with the consumer price index of the Philadelphia area, which is the highest in the state.
Because Pennsylvania has the largest full-time state legislatures in the country, taxpayers are on the hook for $300 million every year to support the legislators and the 3,000 staffers who support them.
Why nobody from the Occupy Wall Street movement hasn't set up an Occupy Harrisburg encampment yet is beyond me. The gap between the political aristocracy and working class Pennsylvanians has never been wider.
The average annual salary for Pennsylvania workers is $43,050, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. State lawmakers will make more than twice what their constituents get paid.
Legislative salaries in Pennsylvania are also out of line with the pay elected officials receive in other states. The average salary for a state legislator in the United States is $34,000.
And it's not just the legislative branch that makes out like bandits in Harrisburg. The same law that gives lawmakers automatic pay raises also covers the judicial and executive branches.
Raises for top executive branch and judicial positions take effect Jan. 1. Gov. Tom Corbett's annual salary will rise to $183,250, from $177,888.
And salaries are just the tip of the iceberg. State legislators enjoy top-of-the-line health benefits paid mostly by taxpayers and lifetime pensions.
Legislators also receive "per diem" expenses that allow them to collect $163 for every day they show up while the General Assembly is in session. That would be like your boss giving you an extra $163 every day you show up for work on top of your salary.
Only a handful of lawmakers defend the pay raises, saying they deserve the money. Most will sheepishly tell you they are forced to take the higher pay by law, but will donate the money to charity or return it to the state treasury. The two state lawmakers who represent Pottstown — state Sen. John Rafferty and state Rep. Tom Quigley — both told me recently they plan to return their pay raises to the state.
Many others will donate the money to a charity of their choice. The problem I have with this maneuver is that why should they get to choose the charity since it's our dollars they're giving away and the lawmakers still qualify for higher pensions because their base salary will now be $82,000 a year.
There was a half-hearted effort made earlier this fall to stop the COLA travesty but a bill introduced by Rep. Brad Roae died in committee. The legislative leadership just couldn't find the time to take a vote to turn down the pay raises.
Eric Epstein, co-founder of Rock the Capital, a citizen watchdog group that advocates good government practices, has been a lone voice crying in the wilderness when it comes to scaling back legislative perks.
"It's time to kill the COLA," Epstein wrote in a recent op-ed. "Act 51 needs to be abolished — or at a minimum — COLAs should be announced one week prior to the general election, so voters can decide if a pay raise is warranted."
Epstein recommends the creation of a Citizens Compensation Commission similar to one in California. It sets compensation rates for state officials and when the fiscal condition of state government requires it, the commission can reduce the salary of government officials.
That's the kind of shared sacrifice the permanent political class in Harrisburg refuses to abide be.
Pennsylvania taxpayers are struggling. Elected officials are thumbing their nose at constituents as they had to the bank to cash their big fat checks.
The only recourse voters have is to vote out incumbents in 2012 when all 203 members of the House and half of the 50-member Senate is up for re-election.