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 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.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What is he smoking?

Gov. Corbett has once again demonstrated his complete lack of understanding and disrespect for Pennsylvanians. Rather than admit that policies like cutting school funding, limiting access to health care and failing to invest in transportation infrastructure have failed to energize hiring in our Commonwealth, he'll lay the blame with people who receive busy signals when they call to apply for unemployment compensation, have had to reapply for Medicaid coverage for their children after they were erroneously eliminated, or waiting in line for hours trying to get a photo ID that the GOP told them they'd need in order to vote.

Gov. Corbett's job numbers speak for themselves. Before Gov. Corbett took office Pennsylvania repeatedly had an unemployment rate below the national average, and was an admirable 7th in job growth -- now we're 49th. His administration boasted that Pennsylvania has recovered 50 percent of pre-recession jobs lost -- meanwhile Maryland has recovered 97 percent of theirs.

The governor has repeatedly championed tax cuts to campaign contributors, while publicly blaming Pennsylvanians for his failed policies. When will he learn that businesses don’t hire people because their tax rate dropped -- they hire people because there is a demand for their goods and services?
Blaming unemployed Pennsylvanians is not the answer

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

House Bill 790's (liquor privatization) public hearing

Here are some photos from an HDPC public hearing on House Bill 790 on March 27 just days after the bill was introduced and rushed through the House. There is one of a standing room only crowd, clearly people are interested in this issue. Thanks to Abington's Big Top Beverage and Rep. Madeleine Dean for hosting us.

I encourage people to ask the House Republicans for pictures from their public hearing and see what they come up with.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Consumer Confusion

(and thats just the beer distributors)

Consumer Confusion
Days after a marathon debate on liquor privatization 2.0, the Philadelphia Inquirer included an editorial quoting some of my floor remarks, while I am flattered they were paying such close attention, I’m concerned about the “facts” they used to reach their conclusions, after all I’m sure the paper has nothing to gain from private liquor sales (clearing my throat) so why would they ignore history or mislead their readers?

While I wait for them to print my response countering their claims, here are some details of the plan that passed in the state House based off my floor comments and focused on the claims of improved consumer convenience.

The GOP claims liquor privatization is all about consumer convenience, but based on my calculations there are at least 20 different configurations of licenses possible under their plan. Depending on what you want and when determines where you should go…  How does this make things less confusing for consumers?

1.      Beer Distributor (D) – sells cases of beer

2.      Beer Distributor (D) – sells cases of beer and unlimited wine

3.      Beer Distributor (D)  - sells cases of beer and unlimited wine and unlimited spirits

4.      Beer Distributor (D)  - sells cases of beer  and unlimited  spirits

5.      Beer Distributor (D)  - sells down to a six pack of beer

6.      Beer Distributor (D)  - sells down to a six pack of beer, and unlimited wine

7.      Beer Distributor (D)  - sells down to a six pack of beer, unlimited wine and  unlimited spirits

8.      Beer Distributor (D)  - sells down to a six pack of beer,  unlimited spirits

9.      Restaurants/Hotel (R ) – sell 2 six packs of beer to go  and opened bottle of spirits and open bottles of wine

10.  Restaurants/Hotel (R ) – sell 2 six packs of beer to go and 4 bottles of sealed wine and open bottles of spirits

11.  Restaurant/Hotel (R)  - sell up to 4 six packs of beer and open bottle of  spirits and open bottles of wine

12.  Restaurant/Hotel (R)  - sell up to 4 six packs of beer and 4 bottles of sealed wine and open bottles of  spirits to go

13.  Grocery Store – 12 bottles of wine

14.  Grocery Store with a café  (R ) – 2 six packs of beer, unsealed/open wine and unsealed/ open bottles of spirits

15.  Grocery Store with a café (R ) – 4 six packs of beer, and unsealed/open wine and spirits

16.  Grocery Store with an R license and a Grocery Store license -  2 six packs of beer, unsealed/open wine and spirits to go and 12 bottles wine

17.  Grocery store with an R license and a Grocery Store license – 4 six packs of beer and 12 bottles wine, open wine and spirits to go

18.  Wine and Spirit Retailers – unlimited Wine only

19.  Wine and Spirit Retailers – unlimited Wine and unlimited  Spirits

20.  Wine and Spirit Retailers  - unlimited Spirits only

In other words under the plan there would be:
Ø  8 possible license configurations for beer distributors

Ø  4 possible license configurations for restaurants and hotels

Ø  5 possible license configurations for grocery stores

Ø  3 possible license configurations for wine and spirits retailers.

WAIT there’s MOre:

Since this plan is intended to make things less complicated for consumer…
Q. What are the hours of operations for a wine and spirit store Monday through Saturday?  How about on Sunday?

Answer. 9 a.m. -11 p.m. Monday - Saturday
                    9 a.m. – 9 p.m. if have Sunday permit
                    No Sunday permit 11 a.m. -9 p.m.

 Q. What about a beer distributor

Answer. 24 hours, Monday through Saturday
                     Sunday without permit 9 a.m.  - 9 p.m.

 Q. What about a beer distributor that sells wine and spirits?

Answer: 9 a.m. – 11 p.m. Monday - Saturday
                     Sunday no permit 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
                    Sunday with permit 9 a.m. -11 p.m. but can’t be 24 hours

 Q. What about a grocery store?

      Answer. 7 a.m. -11 p.m. Monday through Saturday
                     Sunday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. with permit

 Q. What if I go into a Grocery store that has an R license and I want to buy a bottle of wine?

Answer: 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday
                      Sunday without permit 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.
                      Sunday with permit 9 a.m. – 2 a.m.

What is the age of employment for the various licenses?

  • Wine and Spirit Retail Establishment -21 years old
  • Grocery Store with Unlimited Wine – 18 years old
  • Restaurant or Bar -18 years old
  • Beer Distributor- 18 years old
  • Beer Distributor that sells unlimited wine - 21 years old (*note difference with grocery store*)
  • Beer Distributor that sells wine and spirits - 21years old

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Budgeting like a family?

Three weeks of budget hearings finished up last week -- an annual ritual where state agency chiefs, among others, testify before the legislature’s Appropriations committees saying yea or nay to the governor’s spending priorities.

It got kind of heated for a few testifiers this year.


A week after Attorney General Kathleen Kane rejected the Corbett administration’s rapid, secretive and unconstitutional plan to turn over the state’s thriving Lottery to British firm, Camelot LLC, Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser made his appearance before the House panel. He found himself battered with questions about the lottery plan. Namely, how much the high price consultants the Administration hired need to be paid.

See, even while the Corbett administration decides its next step (and the clock is quickly ticking toward the March 16 deadline), and even if the plan goes up in smoke, Corbett’s handpicked high price consultants still need to be paid -- like MILLIONS and MILLIONS of (taxpayer) dollars.

And before you say, well, come on, how much are we talking? Isn’t “millions and millions” kind of broad? Well that’s all the Administration has been able to report to Pennsylvanians.

When Meuser headed to a Senate hearing a week later – he still didn’t know how much cash we’re talking.  He knew it would be “substantial,” but less than $30 million. See where my broad generalization of MILLIONS and MILLIONs comes from?

In my opinion, and probably in a lot of people’s opinions, these multimillion dollar payments to Chicago’s Greenhill & Co. and Baltimore’s Piper LLP are a big deal, and the Administration should dedicate the necessary time to calculating them.

What I find so ironic about the Corbett administration’s inability to figure all of this out, is that on many occasions Gov. Corbett has compared Pennsylvania to the average family (albeit one that will cut to the bone and refuse to consider Jr. picking up a part time job after school) evoking images of a family around the dinner table looking at their finances.

But what family purchases a good or service without knowing the price? Is this the way Pennsylvania families budget? Hire a firm hundreds of miles away and worry about paying the bill later.

Please, if Gov. Corbett is going insist on using his tired analogy comparing Pennsylvania to the typical American family, he ought to at least provide his revenue chief with a calculator.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Corbett’s Lottery plan looks worse and worse (even after his self-aggrandizing blast email)

Here is the text of an email Corbett sent out in response to groundswell of opposition to his plan to privatize the state Lottery. It was distributed on Jan. 19, just days after House Democrats held a Capitol news conference contesting the plan.

This email was meant to convince (aka deceive) seniors into thinking funding for the programs which benefit them would actually gain from giving our state Lottery to a foreign company. This only proves that Gov. Corbett underestimates the intelligence of Pennsylvania seniors. Once they see the facts, I’m guessing they’ll support this about as much as they supported Rick Santorum’s plan to hand their Social Security savings to Bernie Madoff.

Read my comments below for a more accurate explanation of his propaganda point by point.

1.  Corbett claims there will be at least $3 billion in new revenue generated for seniors just by handing over the Lottery.

Not so fast. Even if you buy his numbers, any additional revenue generated would come from expanding the Lottery to include Keno and video poker. Heck, PA could meet or exceed those projections if we expanded under our current system, owned and operated by PENNSYLVANIANS.  That would make additional dollars under the Corbett giveaway, ZERO.

2.   Wow, $50 million set aside in this year’s budget. That one time infusion of cash will definitely make up for the property tax hikes or the millions cut in last year’s budget on programs to keep seniors in their homes. This year’s $50 million won’t help much in future years when Camelot fails to meet projections – for heaven sake it will barely cover the bonuses it’s handing out to its top executives this year!
3.  This is fantastic news…but the current Lottery already has its offices in Pennsylvanian, so this isn’t really a gain. And Camelot had already lost a little credibility when it set up shop in neighboring Delaware …home of the infamous tax evasion haven – Delaware Loophole.

4.  Camelot has already pledged to hire some employees back, which pretty much proves they’ll be making layoffs. Sure those workers could apply for unemployment compensation, if only the phone lines at Labor and Industry weren’t always busy. 

Having the phones lines tied up, is the Corbett’s strongest strategy for keeping Pennsylvania’s unemployment numbers down, and he’s still failing!
5.  First, it’s just kind of hard not to laugh when this governor talks transparency.  How many of these phone conversations were with voicemail? or how many staff members from the same office sat in on a meeting? Plus the testimony at public hearings came after Corbett’s announcement to award the contract. Although I’m hopeful an intrepid reporter will request the list of the 100 legislators Corbett spoke with, but that’d probably result in another lawsuit against a member of the press – so much for transparency.