Monday, June 27, 2011

Prioritizing Promises

Some things happen so consistently you can set the clock by them: the sun rises in the east every morning, there are fireworks on the 4th of July, and during the last week of June the Capitol is filled with lobbyists, lawmakers and camera crews.

This June 30 the average Pennsylvanian will be forced to determine how to come up with more tuition money, how to care for grandma now that her services in the nursing home have been cut, and how to afford their increased property tax bill.

I've heard a lot of Republican promises from the governor and his band of loyal legislators in the first 6 months of this legislative session, and for many no promise was more prominent than an the budget process would run like the trains in Mussolini's empire.

With overwhelming majorities in both chambers and a budget surplus that exceeds anyone's wildest expectations or hopes. What's the hold up?

The GOP's far right contingent found time to advance its conservative agenda: limiting abortion, strengthening firearms laws and limiting victims' rights. The House GOP even found time to approve a voter suppression bill.

But how do GOP leaders determine which promises to keep and which can be brushed aside?

The governor made plenty of high-profile promises beginning on the campaign trail.

On Day 1, we anticipated the governor's reform package ...because that when Gov. Corbett promised that he'd deliver it. We got a press release a week later saying he supported some things that others already planned to do.

Gov. Corbett also promised to shrink the number state fleet vehicles. Keep in mind, as Attorney General the number of state cars in his department actually grew by 12% from 445 to 499, while declining for other row offices.

One of his first and few press conferences involved auctioning off  Commonwealth One  (3/30/11 press release), and a commissioning a statewide review of the state’s vehicle fleet in an effort to reduce the cost of government. That's also about the time that 4 SUVs, totaling $186,000 that the governor had ordered, were delivered to Corbett, his top lieutenant and their wives.

Perhaps the most well known of the governor's promises was made last fall and has been repeated at pretty much every public event the governor has graced with his presence – No new or increased taxes. He and 34 state lawmakers took the Norquist Pledge. At a debate last October, Corbett made it more than clear that in addition to taxes he would "... not increase any fees. Not now. Not ever."

Last week Corbett drew Grover's admonishment over a plan to increase hospital assessment fees; but Norquist reneged and said as long as you lightened the load on someone else, the fee could be hiked for why doesn't that apply to a Marcellus Shale tax that would be used to lessen the burden on Pennsylvania taxpayers.

So what's a guv to do?

Supposedly the 26% of Pennsylvanians who voted for Corbett did so because of his NO tax stance (not his slash-and-burn education strategy, his collapsing of budget line items at tactic to hide where money is going, or the creation of his personal WAM account, the Liberty Loan Fund).

But now 70% of Pennsylvanians support requiring the out-of-state natural gas drillers to pay their share. So do you upset your base or 70% of Pennsylvanians?

Only time will tell, but one thing is clear (even to a guy who's been kept in the dark) even if a budget does pass on time and promises are kept, by and large the promises fail a majority of Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is this the voter fraud the House GOP had in mind?

Voter fraud in Indiana

Just as Gov. Corbett had a yearning to be like Texas…at least  until he learned that they have a gas drillers tax…and a mineral resources property tax…and a recently enacted fracking fluid identification law, it is clear, after three days of debate on the ill-conceived voter ID legislation, that House Republicans are Indiana wannabes. At least that was the case yesterday…

Timing is everything -- in addition to the endless issues House Democrats illuminated on the House Floor this week, it seems like voter fraud is a thorn in the side of even Indiana's top election official, Republican Secretary of State Charlie White. 

While PA GOP members fight to enact a law to combat a nonexistent problem with voter fraud here at home, Mr. White is defending himself against allegations of voter fraud in Indiana. Whoops. It may be too late for the House Republicans to pull a Rosanne Rosannadanna-esque “never mind,” but they should give it a try.

Mr. White used an address on a voter registration form for the May 2010 primary that didn't belong to him. The address belonged to his ex-wife, and was NOT in the same district as the new condo he owns with his fiancée. In his defense of using the old address for political reasons, Mr. White's attorney admits White used his ex-wife's address as his mailing address, but his new condo as his physical address. Mr. White is defending himself in front of a state panel this week, and faces an August trial on criminal voter fraud and perjury charges.

Here’s the sad part. The $10m taxpayer funded voter ID bill that House Republicans in Pennsylvania are embracing doesn’t address this type of fraud. The bill they are pushing would require guys like Indiana Republican Secretary of State Charlie White to produce a photo ID to vote…which he did… The problem was not that he was who he said he was when he voted…the problem was that he was casting votes for people in a town where he wasn’t a resident. 

The $10 million photo ID requirements in the Pennsylvania bill geared more toward voter suppression than the impersonation voter fraud that Republicans hypothesize, would do nothing to remedy this very real kind of voter fraud.

House GOP leaders delayed this bill as long as they could, but, needing budget votes from the Paranoid Delusional faction within the Republican Caucus, we now find ourselves devoting hours to debating a voter suppression bill, rather than, you know, discussing a state budget.

But you can take solace in knowing this week Pennsylvania GOP leaders are making it more difficult to vote, but easier to shoot someone.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hypoco-lypse Now

We're for it... we're just against paying for it
With contributions from Rep. Steve Samuelson

I've waxed philosophical many times in this blog about the PA GOP's hypocritical policies and actions. For example, when my GOP Policy counterpart said our "surplus is extremely good news and a great sign," only to have other House GOP leaders claim a few weeks later that there is no surplus.

It turns out these bouts of hypocrisy aren't apparent just to readers of this blog, but to others! My colleague Steve Samuelson provides me regularly with examples of when GOP rhetoric just doesn't correlate with their actions. Below are a few of the most atrocious we've encountered.

Providing for Providers

On May 24, the Pennsylvania Community Providers Association (which represents 225 community-based organizations providing or supporting mental health, intellectual disability, substance abuse, children’s, and other human services) held a press conference in the Capitol calling for the full funding for community-based human services in this year's budget. Several House Democrats stopped by and spoke in favor of the funding restoration.

We were joined by a lone House Republican from Montgomery County, who spoke eloquently in favor of funding these valuable community-based services, and who a few hours later voted for a budget that cut these services.

Bowling for Food banks

On June 6 the Bowling Proprietors Association of PA teamed up with the state's food banks to "strike out hunger," drawing awareness and donations. A lane was set up in the Capitol's EW allowing 80+ legislators to bowl. Democrats and Republicans, senators and representatives all participated in the fun.  The BPA's donation of $25K will be especially useful as more and more Pennsylvanians are visiting food banks and because just two weeks prior to the event, the House GOP voted to cut the State Food Purchase Program by $339,000, likely hurting the 805,000 households who used the program in 2009.

Swing for hypocrisy

Pennsylvania has poor marks as far as cancer screening and deaths. To make matters worse the House GOP budget cuts Cancer Screening Services by 14.9%. Despite the cuts, 57 House Republicans found it in their heart to co-sponsor a resolution (prime sponsored by a Lycoming GOP lawmaker) supporting "Take A Swing Against Breast Cancer Month." They're likely depending on the annual fundraiser to make up for their own 15% cut.

There is great speculation that next week is "it" week...budget week. Signing the state budget next week fulfills the Gov. Corbett and Majority Leader Turzai's pledge to have an "on-time budget" no matter how many Pennsylvanians it hurts.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A lesson in ignoring Grover Norquist, courtesy of the Lone Star State

As we know progress in Pennsylvania on the GOP agenda has been a little slow. No one anticipated that the 3 arms of GOP leadership in Pennsylvania could bluster so much prior to the election about how they would do things differently if elected, and do so little about it after they were elected.

Some of that inactivity may have more to do with pledges that Gov. Corbett, GOP members in the House, and to a lesser extent, members of the Republican Senate took to constrain their own flexibility by limiting their own tax policy to an Amish-like mentality that freezes taxes in time, never to be changed...unless downward...not even allowing the substitution of a new rational tax for an old irrational one.

But even in Texas (Gov. Corbett's favorite state south of the Mason Dixon, and maybe anywhere) Gov. Rick Perry has encountered an obstacle keeping his Republican majorities in line with the Luddites.

Last week the Texas House defied the governor's veto of a measure to expand the sales tax to a number of Internet retailers who heretofore didn't collect sales tax. This by the way sounds like a pretty good idea especially to the Main Street retailers who feel the pinch of "no tax" competitors.

Maybe it's just that GOP chief executives aren't used to being responsive, or maybe because they're only held accountable to voters every 4 years. But one thing is for sure, Gov. Corbett can expect more of these GOP-clashes in his own state if he continues to value his pledge to Grover Norquist more than he values the opinions of Pennsylvanians.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lights, camera, action – it's show time GOP

I'll be honest, I didn't vote for any Republicans in last year's general election, but if I had I'd be mighty disappointed, just like everyone who didn't vote for the Republicans or just stayed home. PA Republicans, like many of their comrades across the country, claimed that the voters had spoken and they had a mandate to govern. Well we're 6 months in so far, and their successes have been minimal, if not nonexistent.

With control of both chambers of the General Assembly and the Governor's Mansion, the PA GOP said they were ready to lead and could finally achieve all of their conservative priorities like:

·       Balancing a budget by simply cutting waste, fraud and abuse
·       Implementing a school voucher plan
·       Privatizing the state's liquor industry
·       Tort reform
·       Blaming poor and working Pennsylvanians for all that is wrong in the world, and
·       Handing out more corporate welfare

All, with the underlying Norquist-pledge of no new or increased taxes.

But from the House side of the Capitol, instead of making headway on these issues, we're hearing more progress on initiatives like Voter ID, abortion clinics and the Castle Doctrine.

Even the governor told WHYY during an hour long interview, he's a little bummed out the first bill he signed was repealing the Sprinkler Law.

Don't get me wrong, these are all perennial conservative favorites too, but they're just not the "two jobs and a voucher" in the pocket of every Pennsylvanian that the Republicans had promised.

So what is the hold-up?

Believe me I know what the House GOP is dealing with -- working with the Senate Republicans is no walk in the park, after all their caucus consists of some independent thinkers and responsive legislators, who by House and Gubernatorial standards seem like reasonable people who actually understand the concept of governing.

And Gov. Corbett certainly hasn't done any of them any favors either, from his proposed increase to welfare spending and ridiculous cuts to education, to creating a new commissions to study the topic du jour, in addition to selecting campaign contributors and staff family members for high level appointments, and his refusal to even consider Marcellus Shale impact fee or tax. He definitely was a distraction from the Republican talking points.

Recently, House Republicans have boasted the supposed "early passage" of their draconian budget plan, which was been panned by Senate leaders since before it was even approved.

So while some of the GOP big ticket items are in a holding pattern for now, my guess is the Republicans will manage to pass a budget on times as predicted...albeit one that makes little or no sense for Pennsylvania families.