Sunday, December 18, 2011

The 11 biggest disappointments of 2011

(The PA GOP edition)

After claiming their victories in November 2010 would lead to smooth sailing for their agenda and jobs, jobs, jobs, Pennsylvania’s GOP leaders in Harrisburg found little success in implementing their policies and increased unemployment as a result of their agenda.

Mike Turzai said that there would be “…significant cooperation between the House and Senate in resolving a number of issues,” and then threatened any possible cooperation when he questioned top Senate Republican Joe Scarnati’s GOP credentials by telling the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, "He likes to spend money, he likes to borrow money, and he's not afraid to increase taxes."

But with every faction trying to outrun the other to the far right, it’s almost 2012 and very little’s been done. And it turns out voters have some buyer’s remorse.

Here is my year in review to highlight 11 big disappointments of GOP leadership.

Number 11: Health care hypocrisy

Remember when less than a month into Corbett’s tenure, 42,000 working Pennsylvanians received word they would soon be kicked off their affordable adultBasic health care coverage.

Diverting tobacco settlement funds away from their lawful use under 2001’s Tobacco Settlement Act, the Corbett Administration found it is in its heart to allocate funds for big business bonus depreciation and the mysterious Liberty Loan Fund, but not to help subsidize the successful and needed program aimed at keeping Pennsylvanians healthy.

Even more shocking was when Corbett appointee and at-the-time Acting Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine asked the feds to waive some requirements of the Affordable Care Act in order to help Pa’s newly uninsured. The same Affordable Care Act that former Attorney General Corbett joined a lawsuit to repeal and the same federal government that he claims meddles too much in state business.

Number 10: Redundant Redundancy

In a letter dated Dec. 8, 2011, the Governor addressed the issue of the number of boards and commission in PA…I can only assume that someone whispered in his ear that this was the pressing issue facing the state.

The state Senate considered this issue at a hearing last March, looking for ways to streamline government and then they dropped out of the parade. So yes, the governor 9 months later decided to get out in front of the issue.

In his letter Gov. Corbett, who by the way has created several commissions during his brief tenure (which due to his inaction have added little value to residents) introduces his novel idea for weeding out these unnecessary boards and commissions -- create a task force to conduct this important job.

Yes, create a task force to study the excessive number of commissions.

If this task force resembles the governor’s other commissions, it is safe to assume that he will pack its ranks with colleagues and contributors.

Creating commissions is something the governor has truly excelled at. Earlier this fall, the Philadelphia Inquirer asked if perhaps Gov. Corbett is overly dependent on the commissions he creates. Respected experts concluded that commissions are useful only if their advice is heeded.

But Corbett falls short on follow through. He has taken months to review the report, before deciding to not act at all. Perhaps that explains the sunset provision Corbett wants to include for all future boards and commissions, to limit the time he needs to ignore their reports.

…maybe he should create a commission to weed out wasteful task forces.

Number 9: If a commission issues a report and Corbett didn’t write it, does he have to read it?

See number 10.

In April Gov. Corbett’s announced the creation of his Transportation Funding Advisory Council. In August the TFAC issued its report. And finally, two months later, in October Corbett announced he would do nothing.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, despite our state’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure and having convened a committee specifically tasked with developing options for investing in our roads and bridges, Corbett said transportation is not a priority for this year, reversing his position from last April.

For a man so focused on public safety and fiscal responsibility, how did Corbett decide that structurally deficient bridges can wait and that convening a commission only to disregard its recommendations made sense? Maybe it’s because the commission said he should actually do something.

Number 8: Allowing the far right fringe to run your agenda

It is pretty clear Republican Leader Turzai can’t get his number one priority passed (giving away an asset that generates $400 million for the state each year), what better way to distract the public from his failure than to allow the gentleman from Butler to commandeer the headlines.

The GOP State Government chairman has used his new position as a bully pulpit for the far-right issues that won’t contribute to improving our economy, growing jobs or protecting our environment. Issues like passing a marriage protection amendment, making English the official language and passing a Voter ID bill.

The chairman has also repeatedly stolen the show for his famous feuding with the committee’s democratic chairwoman. On one occasion he asked House leaders to censure her for having the audacity to express her differing opinion.

Kudos to Rep. Turzai, if you’ve got nothing good to say, say nothing at all…or better yet let Rep. Metcalfe say it for you.

Number 7: If you can’t win fair and square, change the rules

See number 8 (Voter ID).

With the record turnout for 2008’s election and the voter registration advantage Democrats hold in Pa. if passing a Voter ID requirement doesn’t marginalize the urban and low income voters who tend to lean Democratic, maybe a change to the Electoral College will.

The Senate GOP Leader’s plan to have Pennsylvania change its “winner take all” system and join Nebraska (which by the way wants to return to the winner take all system) as the only state which divides its electoral votes among candidates, is not only bad for Pennsylvania’s clout as a swing state, it is opposed by most Pennsylvanians and by Republicans in the PA congressional delegation.

A proposal like this could help the Commonwealth go Republican in the 2012 presidential race (for the first time since 1988) but it would cost our state millions of dollars in campaign ads and visits, and rank our importance somewhere in the neighborhood of the electoral powerhouse of Wyoming.

Number 6: You can’t hide from YouTube

GOP leaders in Harrisburg have gotten caught up more than once in reversing their previous stances. But in the Internet age, especially with the advent of YouTube, it is all too simple for the public to review that campaign commercial or swearing-in day speech.

Gov. Corbett got hit day 1, literally for his “Day 1” campaign commercial, which proclaimed that as governor Tom Corbett would “hand Harrisburg his reform plan” his first day in office. The small print must have read “plus or minus when I get to it.”

Or Mike Turzai’s poignant remarks delivered on the House floor on swearing day 2011. I encourage you watch the entire 10 minutes, because not only does the Republican leader wax philosophical about decorum on the floor needing to be “respectful, professional, and civil,” but declares the chamber’s focus would be on “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Neither of which describe what actually transpired under Republican domination in the House in 2011.

Number 5: Parliamentary shenanigans

See number 6 (Turzai).

With the words respectful, professional and civil still lingering in the air, Republican leaders in the House shirked their own pledge for fair debate and embarrassed the legislature. By using hostile parliamentary tactics, the GOP has effectively silenced the voices of millions of Pennsylvanians.

Here’s a look at the numbers.

In 2011 alone, House GOP leaders have led the march to stop debate immediately for a vote (moving the previous question) 9 times.

To put this in context, from 1961 to 2010—in 50 years in the House at times controlled by Republicans and at times by Democrats -- this maneuver was only used a total of 30 times.

This is just one example of the strong arm tactics Republicans have employed to keep Democratic ideas from being considered. They’ve systematically shut off the consideration of any idea they’re opposed to by raising the issue of germaness, they’ve repeatedly held meetings in rooms too small to fit legislators, staff and reporters and that are not equipped for broadcast, and even voted to change the number of Democrats assigned to committees.

The House GOP prefers to throw up road blocks rather than legitimately consider a democratic idea.

Number 4: If it looks like a cut and quacks like a cut…it might just be a Republican turkey

Everyone knows the governor’s budget last March slashed education funding by historic and unsustainable proportions. In a move that shocked even Republicans, Corbett unwisely placed both basic and higher education on the chopping block.

According to Corbett, educating our children is a “nice to have” not a “must have.”

But for those same Republicans, who voted to cut basic education by a billion dollars and our State System of Higher Education by 18%, to claim they “restored” funding to education is an attempt to pull the wool over the public’s eyes and rewrite history.

Make no mistake: GOP leadership is no friend to your children being saved by public education.

The GOP further boasted that their June budget was free of tax increases…for an alternate perspective I invite you to talk to one of the thousands of residents who saw local taxes go up as a result of smaller state allocations to counties and municipalities. And now that all the school districts have spent all their reserves and laid off teachers and coaches and janitors, wait until you see what happens to local taxes next year!

The governor made a similar move when he cut homeless assistance by millions of dollars but made time for a photo op to serve Thanksgiving dinner to those spending the holidays in our Commonwealth’s homeless shelters.

Number 3: Cheating our children

Conservative think tanks and Republicans leaders allege to be fighting for the kids in “failing” schools by backing an expensive and unproven voucher proposal, which would actually steal more money from those same schools their feigning to rescue kids from. This is the GOPs second act in attacking the students they claim to be fighting to save.

If their billion dollar cut to basic education wasn’t insulting enough to Pennsylvania residents, the GOP failed to implement the cuts in an equitable way. Low income rural and urban districts saw cuts in the neighborhood of $25K per classroom, while the wealthy districts of GOP leadership sustained classroom cuts of less than $1000 per classroom, widening the disparity and punishing kids for having the audacity to be poor.

It’s disingenuous to cut funding for public schools and later assert that you want to help those students by enrolling them in unaccountable private schools.

The few students who would benefit from vouchers attend school every day in the distressed districts that voucher bill proponents cut funding for in June.

Number 2: Flip-flopping on fees

When the state House approved what the Patriot-News labeled a "pathetic” plan to not regulate and impotently tax the Marcellus Shale industry in November, Americans For Tax Reform pledge-signer Tom Corbett issued his full support, despite Grover Norquist’s staunch objection who issued a letter to lawmakers saying HB 1950does not pass the laugh test when it comes to trying to claim this as a fee.

Almost comically, in front of PA Press Club audience in November, Corbett claimed that he had always been onboard for an assessment on natural gas drillers, even challenging reporters to review his statements on the campaign trail... too bad for the governor, they actually did.

According to Capitol Ideas last month, in March 2010 Corbett said his no tax pledge included a prohibition on fees, but in July 2010 the Associated Press reported that Corbett decided the pledge didn’t include fees.

The one thing Corbett has consistently been clear about is his desire to make Pennsylvania more like Texas … which may make you scratch your head since unlike the Commonwealth, Texas levies a 7.5% severance tax, that is 650% higher than the tax in the governor’s plan; Texas also levies a local property tax on the value of the gas under the ground, which garnered over $2 billion for local governments there last year.
Number 1: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

An epic failure at their self-proclaimed top priority.

For a caucus so focused on getting Pennsylvanians back to work, the House GOP has a poor record in 2011.

By any measure Mike Turzai and his caucus have done more to destroy jobs than their policies have done to create them. The proof is in the numbers.

As a direct result of the GOP-back state budget 14,000 education professionals lost their jobs.

Unemployment in Pennsylvania grew consistently for the quarter following the passage of the GOP-backed state budget in June.

Beyond their pathetic performance at getting the Commonwealth’s 500,000+ unemployed residents back to work, state Republicans are trying to add more Pennsylvanians to the ranks of the unemployed.

This year they’ve attacked workers’ rights, tried undermine unions, aimed at lowering wages, and want to eliminate 5,000 family sustaining jobs.

Maybe GOP legislators are taking their cues from Gov. Corbett and trying make our Commonwealth more like Texas, which had a $25 Billion budget shortfall in 2011, an unemployment rate higher than Pa’s, the lowest wages in the nation and where a quarter of the population is uninsured.

Giddyup – here’s to 2012