Monday, March 31, 2008

10,000 visitors to THE CENTRIST

A milestone of sorts today. This blog has recorded its 10,000th visitor since it was launched in 2005. Thanks to everyone for spending time here and a special thanks to all the reformers who have contributed articles over the past three years in the continuing struggle to improve Pennsylvania's government.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reform candidates for Pennsylvania Legislature

There are links at the TONY PHYRILLAS blog to Web sites for reform candidates running for the Pennsylvania Legislature in 2008.

Some are running in the April 22 primary, others will be on the ballot in Novemeber, challenging incumbents.

If you live in any of the legislative districts below, do yourself a favor and learn more about these candidates.


Aaron Durso for 130th House District
Anne Dicker for 1st Senate District
Chris Voccio for 72nd House District
Doyle Heffley for 122nd House District
Doug McLinko for 23rd Senate District
Gary Hornberger for 125th House District
Greg Hopkins for 50th House District
James E. May for 117th House District
Jason Owen for 3rd House District
Jim Christiana for 15th House District
John Schickram for 124th House District
Lance Rogers for 17th Senate District
Lowell Gates for 88th House District
Richard A. Stine for 187th House District
Richard Gokey for 130th House District
Ron Shegda for 136th House District
Russ Diamond for 101st House District
Shannon Royer for 156th House District
Steve Kantrowitz for 19th Senate District
Steve McDonald for 13th Senate District
Wally Zimolong for 182nd House District

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pennsylvania teacher salaries online

Let the sunshine in.

We found out a few months ago how much Joe Paterno makes ($500,000) and now it's easy to see how much teachers and administrators in all of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts are paid.

The information, which has been difficult to come by for years thanks to the state's antiquated open records law, has been gathered online.

Check out the TONY PHYRILLAS blog for a link to an online database that contains salary information for 120,000 Pennsylvania teachers and 31,000 school administrators.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rendell's 'borrow, tax and spend' mantra

POLICY BLOG has a nice roundup of links to articles about Gov. Rendell asking the Legislature to borrow, tax, and spend more.

It's wearing thing, governor, especially as the state's economy turns sour after five years of mismanagent by the Rendell administration.

The article also mentions Tax Freedom Day in Pennsylvania, which is the day you have to work until to pay the government. Hint: You're still working for the government.

POLICY BLOG notes that taxes in Pennsylvania "already consume more household income than housing or health care."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Real Faces of School Property Taxes

I recently came across a quote from former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner that truly describes the political situation in Harrisburg: "Politics is the only business where doing nothing other than making the other guy look bad is an acceptable outcome."

Gov. Warner's statement accurately describes the reason why the school property tax elimination issue continues in limbo in Harrisburg: self-serving political gamesmanship that ignores the needs of the people in favor of political gain. But if you're willing to participate, today's Action Item can be a great help in moving the property tax issue past the games and into the forefront of the Harrisburg agenda.

There have been recent announcements from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives where lawmakers tout their agenda for healthcare reform, energy reform, and leasing the Turnpike — all designed to grab headlines before the elections. But NOTHING is being said about property tax reform because NOTHING is being done about what is probably the most urgent issue facing Pennsylvanians today.

It's my opinion that many lawmakers tend to view these issues in the abstract, seeing them simply as pawns to be played on the chessboard of Harrisburg election year politics rather than considering how these problems affect the lives of the people that they supposedly represent.

It's time to show the lawmakers the REAL faces of the property tax issue to let them know how their political games affect the lives of REAL people!

The Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition and Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations are collecting real-life stories of folks who are in distress from relentlessly increasing school property taxes. These stories will be compiled into one document to be presented to legislative leaders and the governor as examples of how their procrastination on this issue is destroying the lives of Pennsylvania homeowners – both working families and retirees.

During the next few days PLEASE send a paragraph or two to the PTCC that tells how out-of-control school property taxes are affecting your and your family's quality of life. You may sign the letter if you choose or submit it anonymously, but please at least indicate your county of residence. If you have neighbors or friends who are experiencing financial difficulties because of the property tax problem, please have them send their stories as well.

Send your letters to; the compilation as submitted to the lawmakers will be posted on the PTCC Web site when it's completed.

David Baldinger
PTCC Administrator

Still time to register for PA Leadership Conference

There's still time to register for the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, the largest gathering of conservatives in Pennsylvania.

The two-day event will take place April 25-26 in Harrisburg. Among the big-name speakers slated for the conference are Michelle Malkin, Pat Toomey, Dr. Paul Kengor, Michael Steele, Mayor Lou Barletta and Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett.

For a full list of speakers and events, check out the PA Leadership Conference Web site.

The site also offers details on how you can attend the conference.

One of the panel discussions at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference will feature none other than Tony Phyrillas, who will be part of a panel headlined "Pundits, Pollsters & Policy" to be moderated by Lowman Henry of the Lincoln Institute.

The event is scheduled for Friday, April 25, at 2 p.m.

In addition to Tony Phyrillas, award-winning political columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, the panel features Amanda Carpenter of; Ryan Shafik of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research; and Sue Henry of WILK radio in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton/Hazleton area.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Rendell ignores state's crumbling roads and bridges

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a lengthy story over the weekend about Pennsylvania's crumbling roads and bridges. There's nothing new about the problem. The hook that makes it timely is the recent closing of Interstate 95, one of the most heavily-traveled roads in the country, because part of a bridge support was about to fall down.

The question I have is why hasn't Gov. Ed Rendell made a priority of fixing the state's crumbling infrastructure? He's been in office for five years and has yet to find a way to repair the state's roads and bridges. Rendell has increased state spending by $7 billion but hardly any of that money is going for bridge and road repairs.

He's come up with the Interstate 80 toll plan and is looking at leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private firm, but neither plan is going to fix decaying roads and bridges today.

Where are Rendell's priorities? Casinos? No-bid contracts for political pals? Taxpayer-funded soccer stadiums? Helping Hillary Clinton get elected president?

The bottom line is that Rendell has failed to address one of the most pressing needs in the state over the past five years. And why hasn't the Legislature been on top of this?

Read the full story, "The extreme cost of fixing bridges and highways" in The Inquirer's online edition.

Check out one of the fastest growing blogs

If you enjoy the occasional columns posted at this site by Tony Phyrillas, you should visit his blog, TONY PHYRILLAS, which has more than 300 posts so far this year.

TONY PHYRILLAS is the No. 1 ranked blog on the "Most Influential Political Blogs in Pennsylvania" listing for the second week in a row.
TONY PHYRILLAS has reached the No. 1 spot in the rankings four of the past five weeks.

For the full list, go to

Here's this week's TOP 10:

Pennsylvania's Most Influential Political blogs
Rank Blog Prev

2 6
3 The Carbolic Smoke Ball 7
4 Suburban Guerrilla 4
6 Pennsyltucky Politics 15
7 The Pennsylvania Progressive 3
8 Pennsylvania Ave. 11
9 Comments From Left Field 9
10 Attytood 5

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hey Harrisburg, we want our money back

The Pennsylvania Legislature made a big deal this week about the news that the cost of operating the most expensive state legislature in the country dropped by $1 million.

The annual cost of running the 253-member Legislature came to $308 million last year, or $1.2 million per lawmaker.

The Legislature also revealed that the "surplus" lawmakers skim from annual state budgets has reached $241.5 million as of June 2007, an increase of $25 million from the previous year, according the Legislative Audit Advisory Commission.

Legislative leaders say they need to keep their private slush fund in case the mean governor cuts their annual budget allocation. Seriously, when was the last time Ed Rendell proposed spending less for anything?

A tiny little problem with this logic. It's our money!!! Either spend it on worthwhile projects or give it back to the taxpayers.

There's no such thing as a government surplus. When government ends up with more money that it spends, it means taxes are too high.

Government is not in the business of making a profit or stashing money away for a rainy day. It's pouring on the people of Pennsylvania, who can't afford buy food for their families or put gas in their car to get to work.

After the state pays its bills, the money should return to its rightful owners - the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review agrees. In an editorial, the newspapers demands that lawmakers return the money.
"Principled representatives should not legitimize the slush fund by debating how some of the money could be used for subsidizing high property taxes and other sops for put-upon Pennsylvanians," the newspaper says. "Give the money back to taxpayers. Right now."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Tony Phyrillas: How much work do lawmakers do?

Pennsylvania's per-capita personal income is $34,937. The starting salary of a Pennsylvania legislator is $76,163, which means that lawmakers get paid twice as much as the typical Pennsylvania resident.

According to DemocracyRisingPA, a government watchdog group based in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania House was in session for a total of 90 days over the past 14 months. The Senate put in 105 voting days over the same 14 months.

That's an average of 98 session days over 14 months when the Legislature could have been in session for a total of 280 days. (Most Pennsylvania workers put in at least five days a week at work, so I multiplied 20 work days in a month times 14 months. You should know that the Legislature rarely works more than four consecutive days in a week and a three-day week in Harrisburg is typical.)

Lawmakers will argue they work full-time, even when the Legislature is not in session, but how hard do they really work? Is attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the mall really work? How about hosting a breakfast meeting for constituents on a Saturday morning? Sure it's time lawmakers give up from their personal life, but it's not exactly heavy lifting. And if Pennsylvania lawmakers work so hard, why do they need 3,000 full-time staffers when they say they do so much work themselves?

The cost of running the Pennsylvania Legislature is $334 million a year.

The point I'm trying to make is that Pennsylvania lawmakers are paid a base salary of $76,163 for what most people would consider a part-time job. When you factor in all the other perks and benefits of the job, it costs taxpayers about $150,000 a year to support each of the 253 members of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

I'm not the only one who sees it that way.

DemocracyRisingPA founder Tim Potts recently put together an analysis of the time lawmakers spend on the job. He called his piece, "Full-Time Cost, Part-Time Work."

"As a few lawmakers know, Pennsylvania's legislature has the most expensive payroll and consumes the largest percentage of the state budget of any legislature in America," Potts writes. "We also have the largest full-time staff except for New York, and our cost-per-citizen is twice the cost of New York and nearly three times the cost of California."

Potts is not your typical citizen watchdog who observes the Legislature from the sidelines. Potts has been described as the "ultimate Harrisburg insider" by The Tribune-Review in Pittsburgh, which profiled Potts after he emerged as one of the leaders of the reform movement.

Potts was a confidential adviser to 12 state Cabinet secretaries in the departments of public welfare, commerce and education before he went to work for the Legislature, where he was communications director for House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, for eight years, according to the newspaper. DeWeese has been the House majority leader since January 2007.

These are the figures Potts came up with after a 14-month analysis of the Pennsylvania Legislature to see "what we’re getting for our money."

Bills introduced: 3,552

Laws enacted: 118 (including 39 budget bills)

Voting Days of Session House 90; Senate 105

Much of the work of lawmakers takes place in committees, so Potts took a look at the 48 standing committees (26 in the House, 22 in the Senate):

More than half of the committees in each chamber have reported out 2 or fewer bills per month in the past 14 months.

Most committees have reported out fewer than one-fourth of the bills they received.

But here's the best part, Potts says. Two committees have received no bills and held no hearings in the past 14 months.

Which ones? The House Ethics Committee and the Senate Ethics Committee, Potts says.

You should also know that committee chairpersons are paid more each year, even if their committees never meet.

Working hard or hardly working?

Pennsylvania voters can have their say on incumbents state lawmakers on April 22 and Nov. 4. All 203 House seats and half of the 50 Senate seats are on the ballot this year. Most incumbents are seeking reelection to their part-time jobs. You can decide if they need to find real work by voting out the political class.

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, March 10, 2008

Tony Phyrillas: GOP chairman was Democrats' best friend

Embattled Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Ken Davis made it official.

In a letter to county GOP leaders dated March 7, 2008, Davis said he will not seek a third term. You can exhale now.

Not since Lyndon Johnson announced in 1968 that he will not seek or accept his party's nomination for a second term as president has such a clueless political figure admitted what everyone around him already knows. His future in politics is over.

If Davis had run for another term, he would have ended up with 3 votes. His own, Turncoat Jim Matthews and their puppet master, National GOP Committeeman Bob Asher.

In his letter, Davis says he has decided to "leave the arena." It's more like being thrown out the door by an angry mob that has watched the steady decline of GOP fortunes under Davis.

As I mentioned in an earlier post,
"Death March Continues for Montco GOP," the Democrats have made enormous gains in voter registration in the past four years.

And as I mentioned in another post,
"Bob Kerns Backed by Montco Republican Row Officers," under Davis' leadership, the Republican Party lost five county row office elections in November 2007.

The Montco GOP also failed to provide support for Congressional, gubernatorial and presidential candidates under Davis.

Davis and Asher are also among the few Republicans who have stood by Jim Matthews as he snubbed 85,000 voters and installed Democrat Joe Hoeffel as vice chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

Davis' tenure as party chairman has been marked by dissension from Day 1 despite his promise to help unify the party. He never lifted a finger to bring factions together. Instead, Davis fractured the party even further to the point where unity is nearly impossible as long as Davis-Asher-Matthews supporters have any say in party matters.

"We simply cannot understand how the once-proud and stoic Grand Old Party in one of the most affluent counties in the state has deteriorated to this point," The Times-Herald in Norristown wrote in a recent editorial. See another blog post,
"Newspaper: Montco GOP its own worst enemy."

Instead, Davis blames his downfall on bloggers, calling them "self-important know-nothings." If you want to see what the problem is with the Montco GOP, take a look in the mirror, Ken.

Toward the end of the 2-page, self-serving letter, Davis admits "stumbles and errors" were made over the past four years. That is the understatement of the century.

Stumbles and errors? Davis destroyed one of the most dominant political organizations in the country. The Montgomery County Republican Committee will never be the same after the damage Davis has done.

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, March 03, 2008

Tony Phyrillas: SE PA Lawmakers Flunk Liberty Index

The Pennsylvania General Assembly ranks near the top when it comes to the number of members (253), the number of paid staffers (3,000) and the cost of operating ($333 million a year.)

Government watchdog groups routinely rank the Pennsylvania Legislature as one of the least productive, most secretive and least accountable in the nation. It didn't become like that overnight, but for all the talk of reform in the past couple of years, has anything really changed in Harrisburg?

There's some new faces, but most of the leadership remains the same. And despite the ouster of 55 lawmakers in 2006, incumbents routinely win reelection and end up serving for decades.

Are taxpayers getting their money's worth? Are lawmakers earning their pay? If the earth should open up and swallow the state capitol, would anyone miss their state legislator?

Grading the members of the General Assembly is a subjective exercise, but somebody's gotta do it. If you read those glossy newsletters lawmakers mail your house several times a year (at taxpayers' expense), you’d think Pennsylvania had the cream of the crop when it comes to legislators.

But take a look at an outside evaluation of lawmakers, such as the Liberty Index, and most lawmakers should be sent to the back of the class.

The Conservative Reform PAC recently released updated ratings of Pennsylvania lawmakers based on their commitment to free-market economics. The group's Web site boasts it is "looking out for the forgotten taxpayer." It defines economic freedom as "the ability and freedom to spend your own money in the manner you think best for you, your family and your community."
The Liberty Index offers a grade of A through F based on how lawmakers voted on all legislation that came before the General Assembly in 2007.

A review of the Liberty Index, posted online at, offers a snapshot at how 254 elected officials (the 253 state legislators and Gov. Ed Rendell) spent your hard-earned tax dollars last year.

There's no surprise that Rendell earned a grade of F on the Liberty Index. He's been given an F or an F- every year the Index has been released.

Since taking office, Rendell has increased state spending by $7 billion, pushed through several tax increases, raised fees for most state services and increased state debt.

What may surprise voters is how poorly many lawmakers scored on the Liberty Index. Rendell didn't tax, spend and borrow on his own. He had help from a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate, both Democrats and Republicans.

"There's not a clear difference between Republicans and Democrats at the state level," says Bob Guzzardi, president of the Conservative Reform Network and the Conservative Reform PAC.

Only a handful of of lawmakers from Berks, Chester or Montgomery counties earned top grades from the Liberty Index — Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-128, Rep. Carl Mantz, R-187, and Rep. Jim Cox, R129, received A grades while Rep. Curt Schroder, R-155, Rep. Tim Hennessey, R-26, Rep. Doug Reichley R-134, received A- grades.

Here's how area lawmakers did on their Liberty Index report cards.

Berks County:

Sen. Mike Folmer (R-48): B+
Sen. Michael A. O'Pake (D-11): D-
Sen. James Rhoades (R-29): D-
Rep. David Argall (R-124): D+
Rep. Tom Caltagirone (D-127): F-
Rep. Jim Cox (R-129): A
Rep. David R. Kessler (D-130): F-
Rep. Carl Mantz (R-187): A
Rep. Doug Reichley (R-134): A-
Rep. Sam Rohrer (R-128): A
Rep. Dante Santoni Jr. (D-126): F-
Rep. Tim Seip (D-125) D-

Chester County:

Sen. Michael Brubaker (R-36): D+
Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19): F-
Sen. Edwin Erickson (R-26): F-
Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-9) F-
Rep. Stephen Barrar (R-160): C-
Rep. Tim Hennessey (R-26): A
Rep. Art Hershey (R-13): C-
Rep. Thomas Killion (R-168): F-
Rep. Barbara McIlvane Smith (D-156): F-
Rep. Duane Milne (R-167): D-
Rep. Chris Ross (R-158): B-
Rep. Carole Rubley (R-157): C-
Rep. Curt Schroder (R-155): A

Montgomery County:

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-12): F-
Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-7): F-
Sen. Charles T. McIlhinney Jr. (R-10): F-
Sen. John Rafferty (R-44): F-
Sen. Connie Williams (D-17): F-
Sen. Rob Wonderling (R-24): D+
Sen. Leanna Washington (D-4): F-
Rep. Lawrence Curry (D-154): F-
Rep. Mike Gerber (D-148): F-
Rep. Robert Godshall (R-53): D-
Rep. Kate Harper (R-61): D
Rep. George T. Kenney Jr. (R-170): D-
Rep. Daylin Leach (D-149): F-
Rep. Bob Mensch (R-147): C-
Rep. Jay Moyer (R-70): F-
Rep. Tom Murt (R-152): C-
Rep. Tom Quigley (R-146) A-
Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-153): F-
Rep. Rick Taylor (D-151): F-
Rep. Mike Vereb (R-150): D-

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.