Saturday, May 28, 2011

The House Republican Budget: a series of false claims, mistruths and inconsistent statements

As if listening to the House Republicans defend their budget on the House floor wasn't enough, I'm a glutton for punishment and spent some time over the past few days reading and watching their media releases, newspaper interviews and television segments.

I've heard a number of claims and inconsistent statements which bear repeating, primarily to correct the record.

Claim #1, The Republican budget restores education funds slashed by Gov. Corbett.

As a trained architect, I know a thing or 2 about "restoration." And I know if I had only done a demolition of a home and claimed it was a restoration, I'd be in for a lawsuit. So when the governor's budget called for cutting education by $1.6 billion, it was hard for the House GOP not to do better, but to claim they restored the education cuts is bogus.  The Majority Appropriations Chairman and budget's author, backed off such claims at the one meeting the committee held to examine his plan, the GOP doesn't provide a "restoration" at all, the GOP's plan amounts to schools receiving $900 million less than last year.

Of course if I were a member of House GOP's leadership whose school districts got cut to the tune of $39 a student versus, low income districts cut by $2443 a kid, I'd probably be ok with the budget reduction too.

And you know your plan is flawed when the Senate Majority Leader, Republican Dominic Pileggi says he thinks the Senate can do a better job of allocating education funding (he represents both of the above school districts, by the way).

Claim #2, The passage of this budget puts PA on a path to an on time budget.

I've read a couple statements from Republican rank-and-file Norquist-pledging cult member freshmen say that passing this budget is "another step in the process to deliver a budget on time."

If passing a budget on time were just about when the House passes a plan and it moves to the Senate, I guess when the House passed its General Appropriations bill March 24 last year, a full two months before the GOP this year, we were really on the right track. It took an appalling 9 weeks for the House GOP leadership to introduce this failing plan.

What freshmen don't realize is that we in the House have no control over when the Senate acts, and no control over how they'll amend the House Republican's budget.

We've seen already that Senate leader's intentions run counter to what the governor and House GOP back, whether it be a Marcellus Shale fee or use of the $500 million surplus.

It seems the House GOP is more concerned with an on time budget than a quality budget. But if having it enacted by June 30 is their goal, I wouldn't rest so easy just yet.

Claim #3, Is it or isn't it a "surplus"?

Any number of Republicans stood up on the House floor last week and said the Democrats were mistaken, the $500 million extra dollars of tax revenue the Commonwealth has received through April wasn't a surplus; it was simply revenue over projection.

I'm guessing not all the Rs received the same talking points, because in a press release dating May 10 from the GOP Policy chairman it was referred to as a "surplus" and " extremely good news and a great sign..."

It is not every day I agree with my GOP counterpart, but this time he is right.

Claim #4, There are no projects like the Arlen Specter Library in the Republican budget

I still hear some of my colleagues in the GOP leadership sounding off about projects from last year under Gov. Rendell like the Arlen Specter Library (at Philadelphia University) and the John P. Murtha Center for Public Policy (at Pitt's Johnstown campus), which were scheduled to receive a combined $20 million, would have spurred construction and economic growth, would have been at institutions higher learning in the Commonwealth, and were approved by Senate Republican leaders. Important to note, nearly a year later, funding for these projects has still not been awarded, and likely won't be.

What I haven't heard is equal aggravation about Gov. Corbett's $2.1 billion slush fund, the Liberty Loan Fund, a repeated topic of this blog. The Republican Appropriations chairman admitted publicly he knows nothing more than the minority party on this fund, but still included it in his budget plan. And further, other than being a gimmick to give the governor unabated control of economic development monies, read: WAMS, it is partially funded through from Tobacco Settlement monies, which are supposed to go to health related purposes, like adultBasic, which was eliminated in March.

So where is the House GOP's rage on the Liberty Loan Fund?

The House GOP wanted its turn to lead, but leading doesn't include looking in the rearview at the last governor's administration.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

House GOP continues its long tradition of implementing solutions to problems that don't exist

The budget clock is ticking, and after 9 weeks House Republican leadership finally introduced their own version of the governor's failed spending plan: Corbett-lite.

Despite the delay in their budget intro, the House GOP has been aggressive in embracing every opportunity to take on the standard catalog of conservative policies: repealing federal health care, gun legislation, welfare trimming, and abortion; often with limited time or opportunity for public examination or comment. Is this transparency?!?!

Just last week the state House passed an oversimplified solution to a problem that, while gruesome, under current regulation shouldn't have been allowed to occur in the first place. Attach the word abortion to a debate, and watch people fall into place.

2010's Gosnell abortion clinic tragedy was horrific. Innocent women and babies harmed and killed by a rogue and reckless "doctor." It was national news, and no doubt should never have happened. But redefining abortion clinic, widening hallways, and making rooms bigger would not have prevented the tragedy.

The legislation that passed this week will do little more than close women's health facilities, which, yes may perform abortions in addition to pap smears, cancer screening and provide prescriptions, and thereby limit the availability of these services to low income and rural women.

A similar law in Texas passed in 2004 essentially forcing the shutdown of 80% of the state's providers, compelling women to seek care out-of-state or illegally, and often unsafely.

Philadelphia's Grand Jury report, which allegedly sparked this legislation, found that the Gosnell clinic was allowed to continue operating due to the state Department of Health's failure to exercise its already existing oversight over abortion clinics.

If the Department of Health was negligent in its responsibility to enforce regulations to protect the health and safety of patients as the Grand Jury concluded, changing those regulations doesn't prevent a problem.

Even Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams said the Republican-authored legislation went beyond the scope of the Grand Jury report.

The Republican chairman of the Health Committee and his colleagues know "abortion" is a hot button issue, and with the House of Horrors Gosnell platform, overregulation was an easy sell.

The purpose of abortion regulations should be to protect women’s health, not to shut down safe providers and limit legal health care options to women and families across Pennsylvania.

But this week's abortion debate is just another example of the House GOP slamming through its agenda without public discourse, avoiding the real challenges, all at the expense of the Pennsylvania people.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Does Corbett's elimination of HEMAP funding make "cents"?

There is little debate that the foreclosure crisis and the subsequent collapse of the US housing market were among the most devastating negative consequences of the national economic downturn. An article this week on predicted that even with a recovering economy the number of foreclosures will continue to worsen and experts cite it as the second-biggest drag on the economy after fluctuating oil prices.

Pennsylvania has been ahead of the curve in responding to home foreclosures. Since 1984 the PA Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program has helped keep 44,000 families in their homes by providing bridge loans to people who had lost their jobs. As a result Pennsylvania has had a considerably smaller number of foreclosures in comparison to its unemployment rate. For instance, with a record number of applications in fiscal year 2010, PA had the 26th highest unemployment rate but was 37th in foreclosures.

HEMAP has been praised as far more effective and economical than the federal Home Affordable Modification Program. For a hypothetical mortgage of $210,000, HEMAP costs the Commonwealth an estimated $1,620; HAMP comes with a cost of about $13,600 for the feds.

Further evidence of HEMAPs success: 80% of loan recipients have retained ownership of their homes. And HEMAP loans do not accrue interest until the borrower has found employment.

So the question remains why when the housing market is just beginning to recover and the threat of foreclosure still looms, and when Pennsylvania has a successful, affordable and enviable program, would the governor's budget plan eliminate its funding?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Chef Corbett's chopping block -- targeting programs that brew billions of bucks

Tom Corbett's record-setting and reckless cuts to education have received national attention since they were introduced in March. Programs like pre-k and full day kindergarten and staff like librarians are being scrapped across the state as districts struggle to reduce costs.

Beyond education however there are dozens of other proven, revenue-generating programs where funding is being cut or eliminated -- programs where underfunding could have a negative impact on the economic recovery of our Commonwealth.

Is Corbett's half-baked plan to underfund tourism a recipe to spoil a leading PA industry?

It is no surprise that tourism is Pennsylvania's second largest industry: from our celebrated historical heritage to our treasured tradition of hunting; from our spirited urban centers to our restful rural farmsteads.

In fact Pennsylvania welcomes 175 million visitors every year, generating $3.4 billion in travel and tourism-related state and local taxes alone. The industry employees more than 400,000 residents and yields a total economic impact $33 billion.

The question is if the tourism industry can produce these economic benefits after suffering a 70% cut. While Corbett goes out of his way to cook up a gourmet business climate for the out- of-state natural gas drillers, who by the way contributed a paltry $218 million last year according to the governor's own specially commissioned Dept of Revenue study, he leaves the homegrown Pennsylvania tourism industry with table scraps.

Poorly-funded tourism leaves Pennsylvania less competitive with other states like Virginia and Michigan which are boosting their investment to spur more visitors. It seems the governor is only interested in attracting transients from Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas to exploit our natural gas, pay taxes elsewhere and depart when their job is done.

Here is the first in a series of posts exposing the pennywise pound foolish cuts being embraced by PA's GOP leaders.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gimmicks and WAMs: the Top 5 problems with Governor Corporate's $1.9 billion fund for friends

5.      $220 million would be transferred from the state Tobacco Settlement monies in order to fund a portion of the Liberty Loan Fund. Up until March 1st adultBasic was partially funded by the Tobacco Settlement Fund, which under law is earmarked to go to health-related programs. AdultBasic could have been extended until July for $56 million.

4.      During his budget testimony, campaign contributor and PA polluter-turned DCED Secretary C. Alan Walker and his staff hinted as to an additional $110 million to be transferred from the Tobacco Settlement Fund which the governor failed to mention in his budget address. This brings the total to $330 million in health-related dollars being diverted.

3.      The governor wields the majority of control in appointing members under the initial plans for the Liberty Loan Fund board, which could limit bipartisan representation on the current Commonwealth Financing Authority.

2.      The terms of each loan may be done through the regulatory process and not the legislative process, thereby eluding legislative oversight.

1.      The Liberty Loan Fund amounts to a budgetary gimmick to create a WAM account for the governor to use to dole out money to his big business friends.