Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A light bulb went on, but did he actually see the light?

"It's not fair right now, OK? So we need to address that."

- Gov. Tom Corbett, on education funding, Jan. 22, 2014

There’s been a breakthrough: after 1100 days in office, following dozens of protests across the state, and poll numbers that make the Titanic look recoverable -- in the dark abyss that is Gov. Corbett’s education policy, a small light went on. I’d say it was a 15 watt refrigerator bulb in the cold recesses of a beer refrigerator in the garage, but I digress.

Recently, the governor had sprinted from a Philadelphia public school he was scheduled to visit (the first visit to a public school in the state’s largest district, and one whose chronic underfunding repeatedly makes the national news), because he was notified of scheduled protests inside and out of the school.

See it’s only ok for the governor to use the school as the backdrop for his message and to try to save (or create) a legacy, but when teachers, parents and students want to convey a message at the school they work at day-in and day-out, well then it becomes, in the governor’s words, “theatrics that have been designed by adults.”

A few days later during a non-education related press conference, the governor seemed aware of and even expressed interest in a GOP proposal approved in the House that would set up a commission to develop a formula to distribute money for K-12 education.

And you know how the governor feels about commissions: creating them is his favorite hobby, but taking their recommendations is optional.

The larger irony in this: Pennsylvania had an education funding formula, established in 2008 after an extensive study was completed. However, the state abandoned it, before it was even fully implemented. Care to guess when and by whom?

If you said “2011 when Governor Corbett took office and cut a billion bucks from public schools”-- well you’d be right.

So this notion that Governor Corbett supports a formula just may be because it is politically expedient since his cuts to education are a key campaign issue.

Truth is the governor could invest more money in education today – literally today. Its budget day and the governor could choose to appropriate more state funds for education than pre-stimulus, because despite his claims and excuses Corbett’s number is still below that mark.

So while a light bulb has flickered on, I have little hope he’ll actually step into the light. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Genuine Outrage II

With the Corbett Administration’s typical impeccable timing – the day following my blog post last week questioning where Sen. Toomey’s new found outrage regarding Pennsylvanians’ health insurance was when the governor was kicking 41,000 working adults off adultBasic; removing 88,000 kids from Medical Assistance; or his denying 500,000+ residents health care at all; not to be outdone—Gov. Corbett’s Insurance Commissioner, Michael Consedine issued a letter, saying both he and the governor “…are deeply troubled by the flawed launch of the federally-facilitated marketplace…”
 
Consedine goes on to say his department has received over 100 complaints from residents.

Well, we already know that the Corbett administration doesn’t have much concern for the impact its policies have had on the health care of over 600,000 (and that’s a conservative estimate) Pennsylvanians.

But Consedine’s letter reminded me of another letter I received last month (Oct. 29) from Labor and Industry’s deputy secretary for compensation and insurance regarding the efforts L&I was making to correct its own flawed launch, and that they are working “diligently to resolved system defects, clean up inconsistent data, and implement improvements.”

So it turns out the rocky launch of health care exchange under Obamacare, which Pennsylvania like dozens of other states, opted to let the federal government operate is not unlike what Pennsylvania’s own Workers' Compensation Program's website  encountered in addition to problems it's phone line had last year.

The difference is scale.

While healthcare.gov is tasked with shepherding millions of Americans through the process of purchasing health care, Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Comp system deals with a fraction of that.

So before Gov. Corbett and his minions cast stones at a program aimed at fundamentally improving the health of our nation, perhaps they should consider Corbett’s own imperfections.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Genuine outrage?

Last week while federal HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, underwent another round of mainly disingenuous moral outrage from congressmen and women criticizing the implementation of a plan they been opposing the implementation of for three years, our state’s junior senator, Pat Toomey offered the evidence he’s been hearing from some Pennsylvanians.

No doubt the stories Toomey cited are real; one woman he spoke of is even from Lancaster County. But I find Sen. Toomey’s outrage misplaced and poorly-timed.

See, I didn’t hear a peep from the newly-elected senator in 2011 when Gov. Corbett decided his first action as governor should be the elimination adultBasic -- which if you remember was the low cost health care plan, covering for over 40,000 working Pennsylvanians.  Or a year later when the Insurance Department reported that 40% of those kicked off adultBasic and forced to sign up for new coverage that cost them more; or when 88,000 kids were kicked off Medical Assistance.

Nor have I heard him call on the governor to expand Medicaid, which would be a way to cover over a half million Pennsylvania residents and the easiest way to shrink the list of uninsured Pennsylvania’s by over 50%.

If Pat Toomey (and others) were actually for covering more Pennsylvanians and stimulating job growth in the Commonwealth he’d join with the rest of us calling on Gov. Corbett to expand Medicaid.

While Sen. Toomey was admonishing Sebelius on Capitol Hill, PA’s other Senator Bob Casey was calling on Gov. Corbett to accept Medicaid Expansion, like the governors of Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan and Arizona (see where I’m going here) have.

Sadly, Casey’s request will likely fall on deaf ears, as Gov. Corbett is busy on a 10 day tour of Pennsylvania in an attempt to rewrite his abysmal record of governing over the past 3 years.

Friday, September 13, 2013

It seems like it’s time for another optimistic (albeit inaccurate) email from the governor

Something along the lines of …

With Labor Day behind us, we can etch another relaxing summer free of controversy in our memories and gear up for a productive autumn legislative session with most of Pennsylvania's most pressing issues already resolved through the deft leadership of the Corbett administration in its first 33 months. All we need to do now is fine tune the machine of prosperity. (The drop from 7th in job creation to 49th was part of the plan to make our eventual emergence as #1 even more impressive. Although it may occur long after he’s been booted from office, he will lay claim to the accomplishment now).

Look- there is more state money being spent on education than ever before, and the state has made sure that local districts have held the line on taxes while securing smaller class sizes, higher test scores, and expanding curriculum offerings. More and more kids are performing better at cyber charter schools and its saving taxpayers millions because the tuition is free.

Pennsylvanians are going to work in record numbers, and not just at the minimum wage jobs they found when their unemployment was cut -- these are family sustaining jobs with healthcare benefits, a defined pension and generous vacation time. Things are so good, that workers are complaining that the prevailing wage should be scrapped in favor of higher wages being offered in the open market.

The Commonwealth’s few remaining working poor (so few that it’s difficult to find them these days) have access to affordable healthcare without resorting to Medicaid expansion, and polls show that an overwhelming majority of the residents are happy to send their federal tax dollars to expand Medicaid in other states where they aren't fortunate enough to have a governor with the sense to hesitate on Obamacare.

The extensions for the potential sale of the lottery have also worked like a charm. The extra time has allowed 3 new bidders to enter the fray and the free market has produced a new bid that is more than double the original offer.

The impending passage of liquor privatization is a mere formality now that the details of the new plan that will make alcohol available everywhere in the state, including vending machines on college campuses! Through a deal brokered by the governor himself (another notch in his legendary prowess as a dealmaker), distilleries have agreed to sell liquor to mom and pop operations at the same price the state used to get. In exchange, mom and pop operations have agreed to sell liquor at cost, and since there is already a surplus in education funding, the state has agreed to cut liquor taxes by 50%, meaning the consumer can now buy liquor for about the same price as their favorite mixers.

In a quirky twist of fate, even though manmade climate change doesn’t exist, the prediction of unseasonably warm winters in the future has resulted in a reevaluation of Pennsylvania's roads and bridges and found that since there is no expected “freeze-thaw” cycle for the foreseeable future, the roads and bridges are good to go for at least another 5 years -- maybe even 10 -- if the GOP-controlled House and Senate can push through legislation banning people from voting while allowing a governor to serve 3 terms.

In fact things are going so swimmingly that Grover Norquist has finally conceded that the Marcellus Shale fee is so paltry it should no longer be considered a tax.

And lastly, a new report by the Dept. of Revenue states that 70% of "C" corps paying $0 is just not acceptable - thus effective immediately the Sec. of Revenue will use the power he’s been granted to waive all taxes on the remaining 30% of multi-national corps that pay anything at all!

Well, a man can dream …

Friday, August 30, 2013

Corbett’s fuzzy math

People give Gov. Corbett a hard time for a lot of (well-deserved) reasons.  Sure, there’s the clockwork regularity of putting his foot in his mouth (Latinos, women can close their eyes during ultrasounds, now gay Pennsylvanians have been comparedto children); the rapid turnover of Cabinet Secretaries (these people are even leaving before being confirmed!); yeah he didn’t get any of his self-proclaimed priorities done by his self-proclaimed deadline (transportation, liquor privatization, pensions); and wow, those poll numbers --  so low they could double and 1/2 of Pennsylvanians still wouldn’t think he should be reelected.

But I’ll hand it to the Gov. Corbett, he sends out optimistic emails when most people would be depressed (I guess a South Carolina beach house helps!).

Wednesday (surely, while working from his oceanfront patio refreshed by a gentle sea breeze and a peach wine cooler [likely bought at Charleston’s Total Wines]) Gov. Corbett sent out an email proclaiming how impressive his role has been in Pennsylvania’s recovery.

The email said:

The commonwealth has added back more than 70% of the jobs lost during the recession, with the majority of that gain occurring during the Corbett administration.

But his claims and explanations aren’t quite accurate (although to be fair, I hear most of his fact-checkers are busy vetting new administration officials).  Corbett also said that “Since January 2011, Pennsylvania has created more than 130,000 private sector jobs, our unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since the recession, and the number of people working, at just over 6 million, is at its highest since April 2008.”

For some perspective, over 87,000 jobs were created in the final 12 months of the Rendell administration; and according to the Keystone Research Center’s analysis, only 86,600 jobs were created in the first 30 months of the Corbett administration.  

Put another way, the state recorded as many jobs in the first full year after the recession as it has in the subsequent two and a half years.  Check my math, but it seems like Corbett can only take credit for 48% of jobs created – which is not a majority.

Gov. Corbett was criticized last month for using some less-than-accurate jobs numbers, and since that criticism he’s only inflated them further.  Not to mention his claims are disingenuous, in that he doesn’t mention the 45,000 family-sustaining, public sector jobs lost during his tenure.

Maybe the governor is including the 40,000 transportation jobs that would have been created if the GOP had passed a transportation bill; or the tens of thousands of jobs that would be created if PA expanded Medicaid; or by reinstating the 20,000 education jobs lost due to his budget cuts; or the jobs saved by filling the posts of disgruntled employees’ in the administration; or hiring a single Latino. At this point I’m sure the governor is focused on only one job – his.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

GOP policies described by Republicans as “historic,” “commonsense,” “responsible;” but by Dems and ultimately the courts as “unconstitutional”

It’s been a week of historic court decisions – and not just in Washington. Earlier this week, yet another of the Corbett/Turzai–led cabal’s milestone policies was determined by Commonwealth Court to violate the state Constitution. This time it was the Human Services Block Grant program.

Last year’s pilot program, described by GOP leaders as giving counties “flexibility” to spend human services money where they believe it is most needed (with the added bonus of having their budgets slashed 10 percent), evidently was so flexible in its interpretation of state law that it went outside the bounds of the constitution.

It’s easy to lose track of which GOP policies are under court review at any given time since so many laws signed by Gov. Tom Corbett (ehem, former Attorney General –so I must  know the law) end up there.

Among other PA GOP’s classics under scrutiny are 2012’s “Voter ID which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania” law and Act 13, which stripped municipalities of the ability to approve their own zoning regulations.

And let’s not forget the ongoing hot potato plan to hand over control of our billion dollars in revenue-generating state Lottery to a foreign country which would be permitted to change the gaming environment in the Commonwealth with no oversight or run it into the ground and give it back to us (at a price) with no repercussions, which was rejected by current PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Perhaps if the GOP would just take a second to listen to Democrats upon occasion they could prevent future carpal tunnel syndrome in the governor’s bill- signing hand, because during floor debate for both Act 13 and Voter ID, we questioned the constitutionality. I hate to say “we told you so,” but “we told you so.”

I do have to hand it to the GOP, because they seem to have a laser beam focus on spurring job growth in the legal sector.  

Corbett’s office alone is spending unspecified millions of dollars on outside law firms (from Baltimore and New York) to handle these issues – at a time when the governor has been crying wolf about sorting out “must haves from nice to haves.”

However court scrutiny is nothing new to Gov. Corbett because remember as Grand Poobah Attorney General a whistleblower case was brought against him in federal court alleging he terminated two employees for having the audacity to call for an independent investigation into some AG office operations. The court dismissed one count of the suit, but before closing the case said two counts are viable in the appropriate state court.

…there was also the time he joined 12 other attorneys general on a lawsuit regarding Obamacare, the same Obamacare that was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 2012.

But we know health care has never been Corbett’s forte because his first action as governor was to dismantle adultBasic, the health care program serving 40,000 working Pennsylvanians, paid for partially using funds from PA’s share of the federal Tobacco Settlement and by program enrollees. Corbett then used the tobacco funds for other non-health related issues and that was found to be unconstitutional by a Commonwealth Court judge just a few months ago. 

Of course the GOP’s geography aptitude may be called into question too, as their first attempt at redistricting maps made history by being the first to be rejected as unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 50 years!

And just this month, Gov. Corbett’s flipflop on the Jerry Sandusky-induced NCAA sanctions demonstrates his misunderstanding of the law. After originally accepting the “serious penalties” as part of the “corrective process…,” he reversed his stance and opted to sue the NCAA.  That lawsuit has been dismissed by a federal judge, calling it a “fairly easy decision to dismiss.”

Just so I can say “I told you so” – my guess that if the Corbett/Turzai cabal is able to convince enough lawmakers to go along with their liquor privatization and pension schemes to get them to the governor’s desk, they’ll end up in the courts as well with similar consequences.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The truth behind Gov. Corbett and GOP claims about state education funding.

When the GOP claims to have put more state funds into education than ever before, check out the red line on the chart above. The GOP has put marginal funds into ONE education budget line item, while ELIMINATING others.