Wednesday, December 31, 2008

With a grain of salt ...

Resolve to be ready with

MADD reminds America to start 2009 safely

Expert sees flaws in PA open-records law

Not everyone is overjoyed with Pennsylvania's new open-records law, which kicks in Jan. 1, 2009.

While many within the state have praised the new Right-To-Know Law, an expert in open government from a neighboring state isn't ready to pop the champagne.

"I don't think that this is a panacea," Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York Committee on Open Government, told the Elmira Star Gazette. "It may be an improvement, but there are in my opinion lots of areas in which the law could have been drafted more effectively."

Freeman told the newspaper that Pennsylvania's new law leaves too many exceptions.

Freeman compared the Pennsylvania law with an existing one in New York and found several exemptions in the Keystone State law that N.Y. doesn't have:

* Complaints submitted to an agency, work papers underlying an audit, draft minutes and other records. In disclosing complaints, New York agencies can withhold the name.

* Pennsylvania exempts performance evaluations and the employment application of someone not hired by an agency. In New York, some information on a performance evaluation and an employment application can be withheld, Freeman said.

* The Pennsylvania law states that it does not supersede or modify the public or nonpublic nature of a record established in federal or state law, by regulation or judicial order or decree. New York law covers exemptions under statutes but not agency regulations.
Read the full story at the newspaper's Web site.

The newspaper editorialized about the new Pennsylvania law, saying it's a step in the right direction:
But considering that Pennsylvania has had some of the weakest Freedom of Information laws in the land for more than 50 years, this seems like a good start.

It's now up to the public agencies to abide by the new law and the Office of Open Records to truly advocate for the public's right to know.
Read the full editorial at the newspaper's Web site.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Don't Let The Shoes Hit You

Last Chance to Apply for Property Tax or Rent Rebates

Protect Your Right to Secret Ballots

Democrats want to force workers into unions by outlawing the right to a secret ballot. They have the votes to do it in Congress, but states are taking the initiative to protect their citizens.

National Movement to Protect Secret Ballots in State Constitutions: Save Our Secret Ballot Launches in AR, AZ, MO, NV, and UT

Monday, December 29, 2008

Congress Prints More Money

Number of Law Enforcement Officers Killed in the United States Falls Sharply in 2008

While the loss of any law enforcement officer is tragic, new government statistics show a dramatic decline in the number of officers killed in the line of duty. That's always welcome news.

Number of Law Enforcement Officers Killed in the United States Falls Sharply in 2008

'An American Carol' on DVD

"An American Carol," David Zucker's dead-on spoof of Hollywood liberals, led by Michael Moore, makes its DVD debut on Tuesday.

It's a little late for a stocking stuffer, but the film, starring Kevin Farley, Kelsey Grammer and Jon Voight, is worth buying.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Political soap opera

Reporter Keith Phucas recaps the political soap opera otherwise known as the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners in a year-end roundup story published in The Norristown Times-Herald.

The problem began when Republican Commissioner Jim Matthews, reelected with the help of fellow Republican Bruce Castor, stabbed the former district attorney in the back and made a pact with Democratic Commissioner Joe Hoeffel.

Almost every vote taken by the commissioners in 2008 was 2-1 with Matthews/Hoeffel getting the advantage over Castor.

Don't expect things to change in 2009, Phucas says.

From his story:
Based on what has transpired, expect the two Republicans to remain at odds and occasionally butt heads on policy issues going forward.

What political fallout will result long term from the rift is anyone's guess.
Read the full story, "As Montgomery County turns," at the newspaper's Web site.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Loopholes in PA gambling laws

When you're rushing through a middle-of-the-night vote on legislation, it's easy to forget some of the details.

The bill ushering slot parlors in Pennsylvania was another of those after-midnight votes taken in July 2004.

One of the loopholes in the law regulating casinos has to do with vendors with criminal records doing work at casinos.

It's already happened The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, as reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Senate Republicans, led by Senate Majority Whip Jane Orie and Sen. John Rafferty, R-Chester County, are attempting to rectify the flaw.

Read more about their efforts at the Tribune-Review's Web site.

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Christmas at the Obama house

Politico says it will miss Ed Rendell

Politico, the online political magazine, has a fun list of 10 political personalities who made 2008 memorable. Among them is Pennsylvania's very own, Gov. Ed Rendell, responsible for a slew of foot-in-mouth quotes throughout the past year.

Here's why Rendell made Politico's "Top 10 people we'll miss in 2009" list:
Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.): The famously off-message Rendell became a cable news fixture during the 2008 cycle, particularly in the six-week run-up to the Keystone State's Democratic presidential primary.

He's a reporter's dream: a powerful, plugged-in pol who actually speaks his mind. A staunch backer of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rendell famously caused a stir when he told local media that "there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate" in Pennsylvania. Later, at the Democratic National Convention, Rendell soured the kickoff to his party's unity-fest when he complained about what he called the "embarrassing" pro-Obama tilt in the media.

He's the first to admit that his loose-lipped ways make him a liability in national politics.

We'll surely be hearing from Rendell again — he's already drawn post-election fire for saying homeland security appointee Janet Napolitano has "no life" — but he won't be a daily presence in our lives anymore. One more reason to look forward to 2012, or a Cabinet appointment that will catapult him back into the national spotlight.
Read the full list at the Politico Web site.


Notice the difference?

Sarah Palin vs. The Princess

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wasn't "experienced" enough to suit the far left when she was picked as John McCain's VP running mate.

But New York socialite Caroline Kennedy is "experienced" enough to hold a U.S. Senate seat.

Gabriel Garnica examines the latest example of liberal hypocrisy in an excellent post at Family Security Matters Web site.

Garnica writes:
To listen to the likes of New York City's Mayor Bloomberg or School Chancellor Joel Klein, Caroline Kennedy is qualified to be New York Senator because she has raised her kids well, is bright, worked for Obama, cares about issues, is Ted Kennedy's niece, has new ideas and wants to get things done in Washington. I am disappointed that none of Caroline's supporters have mentioned her good dental habits. The bottom line, to no surprise, is that if you are conservative you are either a warmongering lunatic, an arrogant rich person, or a religious fanatic hick whose experience will be questioned at some level and in some way at every turn. If you are a favored liberal, of course, you are a noble saint out to right the wrongs, save the world and free the poor and voiceless from their bondage.

There are those who argue that there is a much lower standard of experience for Congress as compared to the Vice-Presidency and that fact is certainly reasonable. However, when any degree of experience is selectively bashed or praised depending on the candidate's political affiliation, the entire experience argument falls flat on its face and is revealed as simply so much political compost concealing the lowest disgust for the target’s political and social positions.
Read "Liberals, With Your Hypocrisy so Bright, Won’t You Prove My Point Tonight?" at Family Security Matters.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas, Charley Reese-style

Charley Reese, one of my favorite columnists, retired earlier this year because of health issues. One of the best columns Reese wrote was a Christmas message in December 2007. Below is a copy of the column.

When representatives of a minority religious belief show up at a school board and demand equal display of their religious symbols beside those of Christmas, there is only one proper answer: Go home, have babies, and when your religious believers become a majority of the U.S. population, come back and see us. In the meantime, don't screw around with the traditions of the American majority.

The feeble brains and even more feeble backbones of bureaucrats who swallow the bilge that multiculturalism is a good thing deserve to be exiled. Some of those countries where multiculturalism manifests itself in war and political strife would be a good destination.

Don't confuse diversity and multiculturalism. It's fine to have people come to America from different countries in order to become Americans. It's fine for these newcomers to preserve what they love about their native land in their homes and private relations. That includes their language and religion.

What's not fine is when some recent arrival says, "OK, all you Americans now have to pay attention to and adapt to my culture." No, we don't. You came here presumably to assimilate into our culture. It's you who has to adapt to our culture and traditions. If we wished to adapt to your culture, we would have emigrated to your native land.

Imagine what would happen if someone went to Israel and demanded that Christian crosses be displayed on an equal basis with the Star of David. Imagine what would happen if someone went to Saudi Arabia and demanded that the government observe all Christian holidays. Imagine what would happen if Americans went to Mexico and demanded that the Mexican government conduct its business in English. It every case, it would be boot-in-the-fanny time.

Tolerance does not mean surrendering our own values and traditions. Protecting the rights of minorities does not mean surrendering our own values and traditions. No minority has the right to impose its wishes on the majority.

Americans had better wake up to the fact that what makes a country are the people and their culture, not geography. Don't let lame-brained intellectuals tell you that you have to be ashamed of America's history, its culture and its traditions.
If we allow this country to become riddled with pockets of foreign-born people who have no interest in becoming Americans, then we will have serious political and social problems. Eventually there will be bloodshed.

Assimilation has served this country well. It is a natural process, provided it is left alone. Cheap demagogues love division and will encourage it. We should never fail to rain on their parades. That means teaching newcomers English by immersion. It means conducting public business in English. It means teaching American history.
And as for Christmas, there is nothing harmful about it or its symbols. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. That is the religious part of it. The Christmas tree, the Christmas dinner and the exchange of gifts have no religious significance. They are just part of a wonderful, warm tradition that all can participate in if they so wish.

Public schools do not belong to atheists or to religious minorities. As public schools of the United States, they have an obligation to represent the majority of America's traditions and culture. Christmas is part of that tradition and culture.

Finally, we should remind everyone that our open borders work in both directions. Anyone who doesn't desire to assimilate into America can hit the road and live wherever. We will gladly accept new citizens from abroad, but we're not going to change ourselves into some rootless cosmopolitans in the process.

Happy Holidays from 'Talking Politics'

"Talking Politics with Tony Phyrillas & Mike Pincus" is on a two-week hiatus because of the holidays.

Mike and I would like to extend a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all our loyal listeners.

"Talking Politics" is back on the air at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009, on WPAZ 1370 AM. The one-hour program is simulcast at and


President Bush: Remember troops during holidays

President Bush used his final Christmas radio message to ask Americans to thank the men and women serving in the military.

"This year, as you spend time with those you love, I hope you'll also take time to remember the men and women of our armed forces," Bush said. "Every one of them has volunteered to serve our nation. And with their incredible sacrifices, they preserve the peace and freedom that we celebrate during this season."

More from the president's radio address:
Regardless of where they are, our men and women in uniform and the families who support them remind us of a clear lesson: Defending freedom is a full-time job. Our enemies do not take holidays. So the members of our armed forces stand ready to protect our freedom at any hour. For their service, they have the thanks of a grateful Nation -- this Christmas and always.
You can read a full transcript of the speech at the link below:

Radio Address by President Bush to the Nation


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's a bailout, Charlie Brown

The wit and wisdom of Ed Rendell

I missed this post a few days ago, but it's too good to let pass without directing you to it.

Harrisburg watchdog Eric Epstein pokes fun at our favorite governor by recapping 10 of Gov. Rendell's best public comments about a variety of issues and people.

My favorites:
"One of the best 10 people I've met."
Referring to disgraced fundraiser, Rendell contributor and convicted felon Norman Hsu. Whoa! Hope you didn't receive a "Get Out of Jail Free" card from the governor, nominating you for two through zen.

"Sometimes you have to kiss a little butt."
Diplomat Ed on the art of the deal. Yich! Believe me, you don't want the lipstick container the guv uses to sign the pork bills.

He "is about as mentally stable as that guy who ate all those people."The governor commenting on his political role model.
Read Epstein's complete list at his Capitol Domes blog.

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Naughty or nice?

Rewarding failure

When people talk about the "culture of Harrisburg," it's not just corruption on the part of elected officials. It's a world view that it's OK to spend other people's money with impunity.

A perfect example is the recent revelation that the people who manage the state's teacher retirement funds were awarded $854,000 in bonuses even though the retirement fund lost $1.8 billion.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is incredulous at this latest example of greed and stupidity.

From a Tribune-Review editorial:
Giving bonuses of more than $854,000 for the fiscal year to 21 investment staffers of the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System -- a fund that lost $1.8 billion -- defies belief.

The system, which was created in 1917 and now serves more than 600,000 individuals, has approximately $62.7 billion in net assets. The bonuses ranged from $9,720 to $106,223 for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The base salaries of the fund's investment staff are between $63,179 and $251,542.
Read the full editorial at the newspaper's Web site.


A lump of coal

Rep. Schroder leads by example

While dozens of Pennsylvania lawmakers have pledged to return the 2.8% pay hike they received Dec. 1, state Rep. Curt Schroder, R-155th Dist., is going further.

Not only is he returning the money to the state treasury, but Schroder has announced a series of cost-cutting measure of his own.

I'm not sure how much of a dent Schroder's frugality will have on the $316 million annual cost of operating the Legislature (or the $2 billion budget deficit Pennsylvania is facing), but it's a start.

Schroder says in a press release that he has found several ways to save taxpayers' money:

* Returning his COLA to the state treasury.
* Returning nearly $3,000 left in his legislative expense account for 2007-08.
* Returning a new color copier that is being installed in all district offices, noting that the existing black-and-white copier was adequate and working just fine.
* Cutting postage costs by eliminating the mailing of 2009 House calendars (but you can still pick up a copy of the 2009 House calendar by stopping by his office at 315 Gordon Drive in Exton).

Schroder said he will continue to explore other ways to save on postage by using more electronic communications.

To aid in the effort, he encourages all residents of the 155 th District to visit to sign up for e-news updates.

"Pennsylvanians are facing serious challenges, and these challenges demand a serious and meaningful response. It is important that the legislature does its share to reduce costs so as to avoid any tax increase in 2009," Schroder said.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

No. 1 in teacher strikes

Pennsylvania continues to lead the nation in teacher strikes despite having some of the highest paid teachers in the country, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"No less than 42% of all teacher walkouts nationwide occur in the Keystone State, leaving kids sidelined and parents scrambling to juggle work and family, potentially on as little as 48 hours notice required by state law," the newspaper notes in an editorial published today.

A measure to restrict teacher strikes already passed in 37 states has been blocked repeatedly by Gov. Ed Rendell and Democratic state legislators.

The newspaper wonders if the $500,000 in campaign contributions Rendell received from the state's largest teachers' union has something to do with Rendell's reluctance to curb strikes.

From the WSJ editorial:
For too many teachers, the motto seems to be: When in doubt, walk out. The burden of enduring a strike then falls on families in which both parents need to work. The disruption is used as negotiating leverage by the unions, which know that parents will besiege school districts with calls begging them to settle. This amounts to a form of legal extortion. If Pennsylvania's teachers want to educate kids about justice and equity, they can start by ending a strategy that uses students as pawns to extract more taxpayer dollars.
Read the full editorial at the newspaper's Web site.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bush defends auto bailout

President Bush used his weekly radio address to defend his decision to bail out the struggling Big Three U.S. automakers.

"Government has a responsibility to safeguard the broader health and stability of our economy," Bush said. "If we were to allow the free market to take its course now, it would almost certainly lead to disorderly bankruptcy and liquidation for the automakers."

More from Bush:
Under ordinary economic circumstances, I would say this is the price that failed companies must pay -- and I would not favor intervening to prevent automakers from going out of business. But these are not ordinary circumstances. In the midst of a financial crisis and a recession, allowing the U.S. auto industry to collapse is not a responsible course of action.

A more responsible option is to give auto companies an incentive to restructure outside of bankruptcy -- and a brief window in which to do it.
Bottom line is that the collapse of the automakers has been postponed by three months. It now becomes Obama's problem. Merry Christmas, Barack. Your pal, W.

Read the full transcript of Bush's radio address at the link below:

Radio Address By President Bush To The Nation


Friday, December 19, 2008

State Capitol Roundup for December 19

Here's this week's State Capitol Roundup courtesy of state Rep. Bob Mensch, R-147th:

Open Records Law to Take Effect in New Year

Legislation passed earlier this year granting Pennsylvanians unprecedented levels of access to state and local government documents is set to take effect on Jan. 1. Under the new law, most government records are presumed to be open to the public. Additionally, agencies will be required to prove a record they have produced is not public information, effectively reversing the burden of proof that currently rests upon citizens. An Office of Open Records has been created in the Department of Community and Economic Development and will be dedicated to handling all requests not related to the legislative or judicial branches of state government. While the full law takes effect Jan. 1, state contracts and state related records have been available since July 1 of this year.

Lawmakers Monitor Actions Affecting Marcellus Shale Drilling

Recognizing the potential value of natural gas reserves deep within the Marcellus Shale formation, lawmakers are closely monitoring the actions of the administration that affect the affordability and accessibility of harvesting this important natural resource. Just this week, the Environmental Quality Board approved a request from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to substantially increase fees for drilling the deep wells. Permits that used to carry a flat rate of $100 would jump to a base fee of $900 per well, plus another $100 for every 500 feet drilled beyond 1,500 feet. House Republicans are concerned the increased fees could make the difficult-to-recover resource more expensive to harvest, and ultimately less competitive among existing sources of energy. The Marcellus Shale region has been estimated to contain vast amounts of natural gas, as many as 50 trillion cubic feet, according to the United State Geological Survey, which is enough to supply the nation for two years.

Home Heating Assistance Available

Individuals who are struggling to pay home-heating costs this winter can now apply for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP, which is funded by the federal government and run by the state Department of Public Welfare, helps low-income households pay their heating bills and provides assistance to those in danger of losing heat due to emergencies. Eligibility for this year was expanded to 210 percent of the Poverty Income Guideline. As a result, an additional 80,000 are eligible to receive help through the cash grant portion of the LIHEAP program. A family of four with an annual income of up to $44,443 can qualify for LIHEAP. For more information, call LIHEAP toll-free at 866-857-7095 or visit Mensch's Web site at


Group supports worker privacy, secret ballot elections

Anything for a buck

Liberal Media Bias 101

Time magazine ran a 5,000-word story last week about Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but failed to mention anywhere in the story that Blagojevich was a Democrat. Sloppy journalism or liberal bias? Depends on how much Kool-Aid you're drinking, I guess.

Media critic Brent Brozell says there's a definite pattern in the way the mainstream media covers political scandals depending on whether a Democrat or Republican is involved.

Writing at, Brozell offers the standard operating procedure for the media:
First, as with other Democratic scandals (Spitzer, Jefferson, McGreevey, etc.), anchors and editors again purposely dropped the "D" out of the equation, laboring not to tell viewers or readers that the offenders were Democrats. In a Republican scandal, the offending politician is usually described as a Republican in the very first sentence, and deservedly so. In a Democrat scandal, the party identification of the perpetrator can arrive in paragraph eight. Or not at all.

Then, reporters declared that a Blagojevich resignation or impeachment could arrive any day, and suggested the story could soon be finished. (When Republicans are in the crosshairs, reporters announce "this story isn't going away any time soon.") Reporters insisted the Blagojevich story might end soon with the governor's removal, even before Team Obama fully explained its contacts with the governor's office on the Senate-seat matter. They wanted Blagojevich removed from the Democratic elite before he infected the party's anti-corruption claims like an Ebola virus.

Third, they labored mightily to separate Team Obama from the Blagojevich camp. Take CBS, and reporter Chip Reid, who cited local CBS reporter Mike Flannery as an expert, and never mind if local bloggers call him "Chicago's version of Chris Matthews." Flannery insisted one could only call Obama and Blagojevich the "most distant allies," and Reid insisted Flannery told him "Obama has often gone out of his way to avoid any close association with the ethically challenged governor. But that's not stopping the Republican National Committee from trying to tie the two men together." Reid read a line from RNC chairman Mike Duncan, then insisted, "Despite the occasional photo together, though, linking them could be a tough sell."
Read the full column, "What Democrat Scandal?" at


Thursday, December 18, 2008

The case for term limits

I came across an interesting Web site that champions an issue I've been pushing for years -- term limits for elected officials.

U.S. Term Limits was founded in 1992 and has been working to enact term limit legislation at all government levels.

U.S. Term Limits "has seen term limits placed on 17 state legislatures, eight of the 10 largest cities in America adopted term limits for their city councils, and politicians continually failing at extending, or removing, their term limits," according to the Web site.

The group admits it is fighting an uphill battle:
American politicians, special interests and lobbyists continue to combat term limits, as they know term limits force out career politicians who are more concerned with their own gain than the interests of the American people.

USTL stands up against this practice. We are the voice of the American citizen. We want a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, not a tyrannical ruling class who care more about deals to benefit themselves, than their constituents.

Remember, every town councilman wants to be a congressman; every congressman wants to be a senator; and every Senator wants to be president.
To support the effort to enact term limits, visit the group's Web site at

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Never a good sign

Newspaper: Legislative surplus stands out

While nearly every corner of Pennsylvania is hurting during the current economic decline, the pain has not reached the Pennsylvania Legislature, concludes The Mercury in an editorial published in today's edition.

The Legislature not only spent $316 million on itself last year, but it has managed to siphon off more than $200 million in taxpayer dollars in private legislative accounts.

Those numbers are sobering considering that Pennsylvania has spent $658 million more than it took in as of Nov. 30. The projected budget deficit is between $1.6 billion to $2 billion by next spring.

From The Mercury's editorial:
How can state lawmakers possibly justify keeping that much money in the bank when services are being cut across the board, when the city of Philadelphia is closing libraries and swimming pools used by children, and when places like Pottstown are forced to make decisions on cutting economic development and fire protection?

Pennsylvania stands out in its inefficiency and wasteful spending within state government. Nearly all other states return their legislative surpluses to the general fund at year's end. That's in any year.

In a year like this when spending is being slashed in municipal, county, and state-funded services, there is no excuse for the Legislature sitting on a surplus.

No excuse except the one we hear too often — because that's the way things are done here.
Read the full editorial at the newspaper's Web site.

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Obama Economic Policy Snubs Small Business

Feeling sorry for OPEC?

You almost feel sorry for the members of OPEC what with demand for oil sinking faster than the approval ratings for Congress.

The emphasis in on "almost."

I hope OPEC enjoyed its summer run of skyrocketing oil prices. Pretty soon, its members can drink the oil they stockpile while demand continues to drop.

OPEC Attempts Shock Therapy for Declining Demand: Abraham Energy Report

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'Talking Politics' on the radio today

"Talking Politics with Tony Phyrillas & Mike Pincus" returns to WPAZ 1370 AM Thursday from 5-6 p.m.

You can join the conversation by calling the station at 610-326-4000.

If you can't pick up the radio signal, the one-hour program is simulcast at and


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Everybody gets to chair a committee

When you only have 20 members in your caucus and there are 21 standing committees, every Democrat in the Pennsylvania Senate gets to be a committee chairperson.

Democrats will continue to be the minority party in the Pennsylvania Senate for the next two years, but they're trying to make the best of it.

Being named minority chairman of a Senate committee isn't that big a deal, but it does come with some perks (including a higher salary) and some prestige (at least among the 20 members of your caucus.)

State Senate Democratic Leader Robert J. Mellow today announced his picks to serve as Democratic chairs for Senate committees for the 2009-10 legislative session.

Sen. Raphael J. Musto has to double as chairman of two committees and Mellow himself has to take a committee chairmanship just to have enough bodies to fill the chairs. That's what happens when you're the perpetual minority party and you keep losing ground with each election.

Mellow made the following appointments:
Aging & Youth – LeAnna M. Washington (D-Phila./Montgomery)

Agriculture & Rural Affairs – Michael A. O'Pake (D-Berks)

Appropriations – Jay Costa (D-Allegheny)

Banking & Insurance – Michael J. Stack III (D-Phila.)

Communications & Technology – John Wozniak (D-Cambria/Centre/Clearfield/Clinton/Somerset)

Community, Economic and Recreational Development – Wayne D. Fontana (D-Allegheny)

Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure – Lisa M. Boscola (D-Lehigh/Monroe/Northampton)

Education – Andrew E. Dinniman (D-Chester/Montgomery)

Environmental Resources & Energy - Raphael J. Musto (D-Carbon/Luzerne/Monroe)

Finance – Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny/Armstrong/Westmoreland)

Game & Fisheries – Richard A. Kasunic (D-Fayette/Somerset)

Judiciary – Daylin Leach (D-Delaware/ Montgomery)

Labor & Industry – Christine M. Tartaglione (D-Phila.)

Law & Justice – Sean Logan (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland)

Local Government – Raphael J. Musto (D-Carbon/Luzerne/Monroe)

Public Health & Welfare – Vincent J. Hughes (D-Montgomery/Phila.)

Rules & Executive Nominations – Robert J. Mellow (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe)

State Government - Anthony H. Williams (D-Phila./Delaware)

Transportation – J. Barry Stout (D-Allegheny/Beaver/Greene/Washington/Westmoreland)

Urban Affairs & Housing – Shirley M. Kitchen (D-Phila.)

Veterans' Affairs & Emergency Preparedness – Larry Farnese (D-Phila.)

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Columnist: Bail out the newspapers

Gil Spencer, the very entertaining columnist for The Delaware County Daily & Sunday Times in Primos, imagines the kind of treatment newspapers would get if they showed up in Washington, D.C., asking for a government bailout.

Here's a portion of his column, which is a preview of an exchange Spencer imagines having with Sen. Ted Kennedy:
Sen. Kennedy: Of course. Billion! Why should the American people lend your industry $25 billion?

Spencerblog: Because it will be good for the economy?

Sen. Kennedy: We’re asking the questions here.

Spencerblog: Because it will be good for the economy!

Sen. Kennedy: Good answer. And how will it be good for the economy, Mr. Spencerborg?

Spencerblog: It will keep thousands of newspaper men and women employed so they can buy stuff and not have to go on the dole. Also, newspapers help the public know what’s going on.

Sen. Kennedy: Like by bringing up painful things that happened almost 40 years ago?

Spencerblog: I’m sorry? I’m not sure ...

Sen. Kennedy: Let me see if I can refresh your memory ... (reading) “The Kennedy family has a long history, but it mostly involves helping themselves to power, sex, and money and not caring who gets hurt in the bargain as long as it’s not them.” Ring any bells?

Spencerblog: Oh, that. Yes, well. I do recall, I’m not sure I ...

Sen. Kennedy: In what way was this helping the public’s right to know?

Spencerblog: As I recall senator, that was written in response to a comment ... Of course, I’d like to apolo ...

Sen. Kennedy: Yes, it WAS written in response to a comment. This one: “The Kennedy family has a long history of public service and helping the poor, the disenfranchised, the minorities and the advancement of civil rights. These are important American values and Caroline Kennedy would vote for them as a senator.” Something in there you don’t agree with?
Read the full column, "Spencerblog is fighting for newspapers," at the newspaper's Web site.

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So close ... yet so far

Welcome to 'Nepotism Nation'

"Americans always say they don't like royalty and hereditary connections. On the other hand, they really like families like the Kennedys."

That statement by N.Y. state Rep. Peter King, a Republican would is considering a run for one of New York's U.S. Senate seats, sums up the disturbing trend of a handful of families holding political power in the United States.

While we have the Bush family on the Republican side, it's mostly a Democratic trend, with Clintons and Kennedys leading the way.

Politico, the online political Web site, examines what some find as a disturbing trend toward an aristocracy handing political power to offspring and relatives.

Hell, even Jesse Jackson managed to get his son elected to Congress.

From the article by Charles Mahtesian:
All told, it's entirely possible that the Senate will be comprised of nearly a dozen congressional offspring by the end of Obama's first term as president.

"It's a very interesting American phenomenon, even though there is a line in the Constitution that says no title of nobility may be granted by the United States," says Stephen Hess, a senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution and the author of "America's Political Dynasties." "Given where we started, it's interesting that this has developed."

Almost everyone agrees that the high cost of elections is making the world's most exclusive club seem even more exclusive. According to some estimates, the cost of winning Clinton's New York Senate seat in the special election in 2010 and the general election in 2012 will be in the neighborhood of $70 million.

"There are three issues behind this trend," said Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause and a former Pennsylvania congressman. "Money is issue number one, money is issue number two and money is issue number three."

"It's an enormously expensive process to run for the United States Senate," added Edgar, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1986. "And once someone runs for a Senate seat, there is a sense of ownership."
Read "Nepotism Nation: Dems embrace dynasty politics" at the Politico Web site.

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Congress gives itself another pay raise

While 9 out of 10 Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, that won't stop members of Congress from collecting another pay raise starting Jan. 1.

Congress automatically gets a pay raise every year unless its members vote to reject it. That hasn't happened yet.

As of Jan. 1, the starting salary of a member of Congress reaches $174,000, which is higher than 94 percent of American households.

Members of Congress Due to Award Themselves $4,700 Raise in 2009

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Columnist: Legislators should take a pay cut

For the past two Sundays, Eric Heyl, a columnist for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, has been urging readers of the newspaper to clip a coupon at the end of his column and send it off to Harrisburg.

Heyl wants members of the Pennsylvania Legislature, among the highest paid in the nation, to take a 5 percent pay cut in light of the state's massive budget deficit, which is projected at $1.6 billion to $2 billion. (Nearly every member of the Legislature voted in favor of Gov. Ed Rendell's $28.3 billion budget despite warnings that it would bleed red ink before the fiscal year is out.)

While some lawmakers have volunteered to give back the 2.8 percent cost-of-living pay rise that kicked in Dec. 1, Heyl said they need to go further and take a salary cut.

The coupon reads as follows:
YES! I want more than political posturing from my elected state officials.

Quit patting yourselves on the back for not accepting your COLA and show people you're really willing to sacrifice. Take a 5 percent pay cut like your brethren lawmakers in Florida.

Then roll up your sleeves, get to work, and save the people you work for -- that would include me -- some real money.

Do I have your pledge that you will start by cutting some of the $300 million budgeted this year just to operate the state House and Senate?

I expect a response at your earliest convenience.
Heyl got the idea for the pay cut request after a reader informed him that Florida state legislators volunteered to reduce their salaries.

Florida legislators earn about $31,000 annually, Heyl writes. The base salary for Pennsylvania lawmakers is $78,315 if they accept the COLA, $76,313 if they decline it, Heyl says.Read Hey's initial column, "Send this coupon to your legislator," here.

Read Heyl's follow-up column, "Not too late to send this coupon to legislators," here.

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What's so special about the Kennedys?

Do we have a democracy or a monarchy in this country?

What's so special about the Kennedys? Why do they feel entitled to another Senate seat?

Conservative icon Richard Viguerie makes the case against the appointment of Caroline Kennedy to the soon-to-be vacant U.S. Senate seat held by Hillary Clinton.

Despite all the problems facing this country, "the political establishment is putting forth, as a U.S. Senator from New York, a person whose qualification is her last name," Viguerie said.

Viguerie, chairman of, said there are more qualified candidates to pick from.

"How about a successful business person, or someone else who has shown the ability to run a large, complex organization and bring projects in on time and under budget?" Viguerie asks. "How about someone who has challenged the political orthodoxy on important issues, and won? How about someone who has some significant qualifications for the job, other than being born into the right family?"

Read the full comments by Viguerie at the link below:

Richard Viguerie: In Dangerous Times, New York Needs a Real U.S. Senator

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Taking the 'paper' out of 'newspaper'

Not a good sign for the newspaper industry.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors, founded in 1922, wants to change its name by dropping "paper" from "Newspaper."

The group says it's a reflection of the times and would encourage membership from online-only news Web sites.

ASNE Proposes Taking 'Paper' Out of Name, Other Significant Changes to Bylaws

More from the global warming hoax front

The Associated Press is the latest news organization to buy into the global warming propaganda.

From an editorial in Investor's Business Daily that questions why the AP is ignoring the facts to push the Al Gore-inspired hysteria about climate change:
The temperature at Denver International Airport dropped to 18 below zero on Sunday, breaking the previous record of 14 below set in 1901. White Sulphur Springs, Mont., reported 29 below to the National Weather Service, breaking the record of 17 below set in 1922. Meanwhile, ice storms ravage the Northeast and the upper Midwest.

This is not a local phenomenon. Hong Kong had the second-longest cold spell since 1885. Cold in northern Vietnam destroyed 40% of the rice crop and killed 33,000 head of livestock. The British Parliament debated climate change as London experienced the first October snow since 1934.

Presumably this has all been reported by the Associated Press. But according to a weekend AP report, this is all an illusion and "2008 is on a pace to be a slightly cooler year in a steadily rising temperature trend line." Rather than being "evidence of some kind of cooling trend, it actually illustrates how fast the world is warming." Oh.

The report, which includes no comments from any skeptic, says global warming "is a ticking time-bomb that President-elect Obama can't avoid." It warns "warming is accelerating. Time is running out, and Obama knows it." Especially if he relies on AP wire reports.

Problem is, nature didn't get the memo. Geophysicist David Deming found that for the first time since the 18th century, in the days before SUVs, Alaskan glaciers grew this year instead of retreating. Fairbanks had its fourth coldest October in 104 years of records.

U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Bruce Molnia reported: "On the Juneau Icefield, there was still 20 feet of new snow on the surface of the Taku Glacier in late July." It was the worst summer he'd seen in two decades.
Read the full editorial at the newspaper's Web site.

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The Joker Is Wild

National Parent Organization Applauds Selection of Arne Duncan as U.S. Education Secretary

Stay married, attend church for your kids' sake

Abuse Pattern Develops as Planned Parenthood

RNC Chairman Statement on Democrats Blocking Illinois Special Election

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rendell Launches 'Here To Help' Web site

The real election was held today

In case you missed it, Barack Obama won Pennsylvania's 21 electoral delegates.

56th Pennsylvania Electoral College Selects Obama for President

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What's Latin for ripping off taxpayers?

On top of their very generous $76,000-a-year salary and their gold-plated benefits package, members of the Pennsylvania Legislature are entitled to $158 every time they show up for work in Harrisburg.

The $158 per-diem payment is supposed to cover food and other expenses of traveling to their jobs. You know, just like your boss treats you to lunch every day or just pays you a bonus for showing up.

Brad Bumstead examines the per-diem scam as part of the overall Bonusgate corruption investigation in his latest column for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

From his column:
Since I've been covering the Capitol -- starting in 1983 -- lawmakers of both parties have been ripping off taxpayers by claiming the full per diem while also charging the state for pricey dinners. Sometimes, the caucus or chief clerk's office would provide dinner at the Capitol while legislators were in session.

The Maverick Steak House was the favorite watering hole for years until it burned down. Vissagio's, an Italian eatery, was also a regular spot. Tavern on the Hill has been a more recent favorite. There's no doubt whatsoever that many collected per diems while also charging the state for fancy dinners.

It's double-dipping.

Sometimes, leaders would put the arm on a lobbyist and take a half-dozen members along for a free meal, all the while collecting the full per diem.
Read the full column at the newspaper's Web site.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Bill Clinton is ready to help

State Capitol Roundup for December 12

Here's this week's State Capitol Roundup courtesy of Rep. Bob Mensch (R-147):

Mid-Year Budget Briefing Highlights Fiscal Concerns

With state revenues currently $658 million below estimates, the Commonwealth's budget shortfall for the year is now projected to be about $1.6 billion. While the Rendell administration pins its hopes on a $450 million federal bailout, House Republicans are calling for cuts to under-performing programs and a responsible budget for the upcoming year that does not increase state spending. When pressed on the issue by House Republican Leader Sam Smith, even Gov. Ed. Rendell acknowledged that the budget for the next fiscal year must be, at maximum, a zero growth budget. Republican House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Mario J. Civera Jr. (R-Upper Darby) and other House Republicans see the budget crisis as an opportunity to pare down the budget to core funding needs and re-evaluate programs that are not working. The House Republican Caucus has led the charge in this respect, reducing its own appropriation by more than $7 million in each of the last three budgets.

$75 Million Tax Credit to Hollywood Producers Under Fire

Noting the state's dismal fiscal situation and ongoing economic challenges throughout the nation, Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) is calling upon the governor to re-evaluate the Film Tax Credit, which, at $75 million, is the largest tax credit appropriation in the 2007-08 budget. According to a report prepared by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), the state has awarded nearly $75 million in tax credits for the current fiscal year and has only generated $18 million in return. Marsico has introduced bills to repeal the Film Tax Credit in the past, and has promised to re-introduce legislation when the House reconvenes in January.

Deadline for Changes to Medicare Coverage Nears; Counseling Services Available

Medicare beneficiaries are running out of time to make changes to Medicare coverage for 2009 as the Dec. 31 deadline approaches. For individuals who have questions about making changes to their coverage, the APPRISE Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program might be helpful. APPRISE is a free service provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and is designed to provide Medicare beneficiaries with free and impartial information and assistance with Medicare benefits, Medicare Advantage Plans, Medigap policies, Medicare prescription benefits, long-term care insurance and programs that can save individuals money on their health care expenses. APPRISE can also help individuals with various paperwork, such as filing a claim or appealing an existing claim. For more information, individuals can visit or call APPRISE, toll free, at 800-783-7067.


RNC: Many Questions About Blagojevich Scandal Unanswered

Survey: PA among most corrupt states

USA Today reviewed Department of Justice statistics and came up with a ranking of the most corrupt states based on the number of public corruption convictions the federal government has won from 1998 through 2007.

Pennsylvania is among the Top 12 most corrupt states, according to the newspaper.

Check out the story and see a color-coded map of the U.S. based on the number of convicted public officials at the newspaper's Web site.

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More Businesses Can't Afford PA Taxes

The Obama Mad-Lib

Thursday, December 11, 2008

RNC Chairman: Obama 'less than forthcoming' on Blagojevich ties

Top Five Disaster Responses of 2008

Where would we be without the American Red Cross? Just ask the people who lived through these disasters:

1) Hurricane Dolly
2) Hurricane Gustav
3) Hurricane Ike
4) Midwest Flooding
5) Indiana Tornadoes

Red Cross Announces Top Five Disaster Responses of 2008

Libertarian Party marks 37th year

America's third largest political party turns 37 today. I'm proud to say I've met three living-breathing Libertarian Party members (and I share many of the party's views.)

From a press release issued by the Libertarian Party to mark the occasion:
"Since we began in 1971, we've elected hundreds of Libertarians to public office across the country," says Libertarian Party National Chairman William Redpath. "These Libertarians make a significant impact on their community, and serve as a testament to the values of the Libertarian Party. As more and more Americans look for an alternative to Republicans and Democrats, our numbers continue to grow. Until Republicans and Democrats significantly reduce the size and power of government, the Libertarian Party will be there fighting for smaller government, lower taxes and more individual freedom."

The party was founded Dec. 11, 1971 in Colorado Springs, CO as an alternative to Republicans and Democrats. The Libertarian Party seeks to restore the vision of government held by our Founding Fathers, and divest government of the powers not granted to it by the Constitution.

The platform of the Libertarian Party can be found here:

A list of frequently asked questions can be found here:

The Libertarian Party is America's third-largest political party, founded in 1971 as an alternative to the two main political parties. You can find more information on the Libertarian Party by visiting The Libertarian Party proudly stands for smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dear Santa

Citizen activist Bill McIntyre, a Camp Hill, Pa., resident best known for his open letters to Pennsylvania elected officials, has decided to go right to the top this time. He's writing to Santa Claus.
To: Santa Claus
North Pole
Subject: Merry Christmas!

Dear Santa Claus,

Last year I wrote you requesting three items: True government reform in Pennsylvania, an Open Records law and the repeal of Act 44 although there was much more I could have requested. I didn't want to be greedy like some in our state government. You were able to grant one request of an open records law and I want to thank you for it.

Time will tell if it was well constructed or poorly put together. It goes into effect next month. Our governor has been playing with it and I just hope he doesn't break it before we get our chance to use it.

I've watched and listened to the many boys and girls who make up our three branches of government in Pennsylvania. Some, Santa, are still very bad and they will write in an attempt to fool you. They get many gifts from the taxpayers and seldom give a gift in return. They think only of themselves.

We do have many good girls and boys who are trying to change things here in Harrisburg. The problem is they are outnumbered by the bad ones.

We can't place all the blame on the bad ones as they were sent here by the voters. I hope you have a list of the voters who returned them to office for they shouldn't get gifts either, not even coal in their stockings.

As you may be aware, the economy has not performed well this year. As usual, our governor and state legislature overreached when passing the budget in July. They had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. The economy rapidly turned those plums into prunes.

Many good boys and girls have been laid off and are looking for work this Christmas. It is difficult to enjoy and celebrate the season when you’re unemployed. Edward Langley, the artist once said – "What this country (state) needs are more unemployed politicians." Maybe then they would see what it is like out here in the "real world" and be satisfied with what we give to them.

Please visit the good politicians and ignore the bad ones this year. That would help balance your budget in these difficult times. It might even help with our future budgets.

Thank you for considering my request,

Bill McIntyre
Looking forward to your visit
CC: All the good and bad government officials
All the friends of responsible government

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Recycle those old political signs

If you're like me and have a stack of old political lawn signs sitting in a corner of the basement, somebody can take them off your hands and put them to good use.

A group called Walk and Bike Berks County is collecting used lawn signs and plans to recycle them.

From a post at the group's Web site:
Do you have used yard signs and posts sitting in your garage or basement? Are they in fair to good condition? Then we would love to have them.

Donate them to WalkBikeBerks today! Call 610-779-9702 to speak to our President, Michele Barrett.

Rather than filling our landfill with used yard signs, allow us to recycle them.

We need whatever you have -- political campaigns, yard sale, real estate, or advertisements -- no matter the message or design, we can use your yard signs now. We will spray paint the signs and use them to promote our own campaigns* -- BIKE TO WORK (May) and INTERNATIONAL WALK TO SCHOOL DAY (October).

Thank you for your generosity.


No News Is Not Good News

Fascinating forum held at the National Press Club about the possibility of major newspapers going under.

What would your community look like without a newspaper?

Where would you get your information? From television or radio or the Internet?

Would it surprise you to know that those mediums get most of their information from newspapers?

"What would you be willing to do as citizens in order to get information with ink?" asked Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute.

"Would you be able to think of news gathering not as some highly profitable venture, but as a public utility?" Clark continued. "I think that more and more power will go unchecked in communities when the watchdog is euthanized."

Who is going to uncover government corruption? That part-time blogger down the street?

Read more at the link below:

Possibility of Cities Without Newspapers Raises Questions of Where People Will Get News and What They Will Pay For

The line forms here

Obama credibility goes up in smoke

It's not a big thing in the grand scheme of things. I'm sure Barack Obama has told bigger lies, but all these little white lies add up to a serious character flaw.

The latest news about The Chosen One has to do with his smoking habit. Obama promised he would stop smoking. He told people he had stopped smoking.

Turns out it was all lies. He never quit. He continues to smoke. He will continue to smoke in the White House.

Check out what a few fellow bloggers have to say about Obama's latest misadventures with the truth: Obama Smokes - and Lies About It and OBAMA SMOKES! What Will the Children Think!?


Gov. Rod Blagojevich is a DEMOCRAT!

I was flipping through the news channels Tuesday night and today to get a sense of the coverage of the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

I was mildly surprised that all the networks and cable news channels devoted so much coverage of the corruption scandal. But the one thing I noticed is that almost every news outfit failed to mention that Blagojevich is a DEMOCRAT!

If he was a Republican, you better believe that his party affiliation would have been mentioned prominently. That's the way the left-wing media operates. Republicans bad. Democrats good. When Democrats go bad, ignore their political connections.

I was also disappointed (but not surprised) that the mainstream media downplayed Blagojevich's long association with President-elect Barack Obama.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The company Obama keeps

'There's Still Time to Save America From Becoming One Big Chicago'

6 in 10 Pa. high school students fail state science test

So much for bragging about public education.

Almost every press release from Gov. Ed Rendell, regardless of the topic, concludes with the following statement: "The Rendell administration is committed to creating a first-rate public education system, protecting our most vulnerable citizens and continuing economic investment to support our communities and businesses."

The latest news about test scores for Pennsylvania high school doesn't say much about a "first-rate" education system.

Despite billions of dollars poured into public education since Rendell took office, Pennsylvania students continue to score poorly in standardized testing.

And did I mention that Pennsylvania teachers are among the highest paid in the country? And did you know that Pennsylvania leads the nation in teacher strikes?

Six in 10 Pennsylvania High School Students Fail State Science Test

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'Talking Politics' with state Sen. John Rafferty

State Sen. John C. Rafferty Jr., R-44th Dist., will be the guest on “Talking Politics with Tony Phyrillas & Mike Pincus” Thursday at 5 p.m. on WPAZ 1370 AM

Rafferty, who represents portions of Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties, will discuss the state’s fiscal woes, the recent controversy of the Legislative pay raise and his goals for the coming legislative session.

Listeners can call the program at 610-326-4000.

The program is simulcast at and


'The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008'

I like to pride myself on staying well informed about what's going on in the world, but I have to admit, some of the stories profiled in Foreign Policy magazine took me by surprise.

The latest issue features "The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008," including:

1. The Surge in Afghanistan Starts Early

2. Colombian Coca Production Increases

3. The Next Darfur Heats Up

4. The United States Helps India Build a Missile Shield

5. Russia Makes a Play for Africa

Read more at the magazine's Web site.

And somebody should consider sending Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton a gift subscription to Foreign Policy magazine.


Good reasons to eliminate property taxes

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on how high property taxes have turned the Buffalo, N.Y., region into "property-tax hell."

Pennsylvania should learn a lesson from its neighbors to the north.

From the article by Steve H. Hanke and Stephen J.K. Walters:
When every U.S. county is ranked according to its average property-tax bill as a percent of home values, nine of the worst 10 are in upstate New York.

All housing markets are local and local government policies can have an enormous impact on property values. Higher property tax rates, for example, inevitably send home values downward. Why? A $6,000 tax bill adds $500 to a monthly mortgage, and simultaneously reduces the amount a buyer would be willing or able to pay for a home. Cut the tax bill and you help struggling homeowners hold onto their houses. And lower taxes allow would-be buyers to spend more for homes.

High property taxes also discourage investment in new homes. Builders won't build where property taxes drive buyers away.

The problem of heavy property taxes crushing fragile upstate economies has not gone unnoticed, just unsolved. A special Commission on Property Tax Relief, supported by Democrat Gov. David Paterson, recommended in August that local property tax increases be capped at 4% annually or 1.2 times the inflation rate -- whichever is less.

That wouldn't have cut taxes, but it would have moved New York toward a less oppressive tax system. And for a moment, it seemed that the idea might even take off when the state Senate passed a tax-cap bill earlier this year. But the state Assembly voted instead to raise marginal tax rates on incomes above $1 million and use the proceeds to pay for property tax relief for low-income homeowners. That standoff all but killed tax reform.
Read the full article at the newspaper's Web site.

Did you catch the part about how property taxes can add up to $500 on monthly mortgage payments? Looking for a way to stimulate the housing market and rebuild the economy? Eliminate property taxes!!!

To learn more about efforts to eliminate property taxes in Pennsylvania, check out the Web site of the Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition.

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Rendell Predicts $1.6B Budget Deficit

Amazing when Gov. Ed Rendell signed the $28.3 billion General Fund budget back in July he had no inkling that it would sink the state into a huge fiscal hole.

The red ink is flowing to the tune of $658 million so far and is expected to top $1.6 billion by the end of the fiscal year in June 2009.

Governor Rendell Outlines Plan to Close Budget Shortfall

For more on Rendell's budget shenanigans, check out "Rendell's wicked game" by Matthew J. Brouillette posted at the Capital Domes blog on the Central Penn Business Journal Web site.

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Monday, December 8, 2008


What if Big Oil wants a bailout?

Remember a few months ago when gasoline was $4 a gallon and the price of everything else we buy went up because of rising fuel prices?

How come prices haven't come down now that gas is below $2 a gallon?

I'm still paying more for a cup of coffee than I was a few months ago. I remember convenience stores announcing they had to add a surcharge to the price of coffee because of rising gas prices. Why didn't the surcharge come down?

My grocery bill hasn't gone down since the summer when food prices began to skyrocket. What gives?

With some experts forecasting that the price of gas will continue to tumble, will we see Big Oil head to Congress asking for help?

From The Christian Science Monitor:
What the price drop does mean is that some oil-patch wildcatters have packed up their drill bits as the rush for new domestic exploration has cooled since summer.

"Six months ago everything was roses, and nobody in this business had any inkling that oil prices would decline virtually $100 a barrel," says Alex Mills, president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. Now, he says, "some people have already pulled back on their drilling programs."

No doubt, profits for Big Oil will tumble from this year's record highs. And because of the tightening credit market, many producers – majors and independents – will shut down drilling rigs and trim production in the year ahead.
Read "Oil industry adjusts to lower prices" at The Christian Science Monitor Web site.

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Newspaper: Taxpayers = Suckers

Where is the public outcry over the growing pension scandal involving the retirement funds of state workers in Pennsylvania?

That's what the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wants to know.

From an editorial pointing out that taxpayers will end up getting stuck with the bill for reckless investments:
Despite warning flags -- heck, these folks had foghorns blasting in their ears -- the geniuses at the state pension fund six years ago decided to park billions of dollars in a very risky hedge fund. Long story short -- the pension system by next year will be on the hook for $2.5 billion to cover its high-fee bad bets.

How unfortunate for those poor state retirees, right? Nope, not at all. That's because under state law, benefits can't be reduced. Taxpayers, who already fund the pension system, could be tapped for this chapter of multibillion-dollar recklessness.
Read the full editorial at the newspaper's Web site.

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Reformers want Argall to repay taxpayers

State Rep. David Argall was a leader of the House Republican Caucus when then-Speaker John Perzel pushed for the infamous middle-of-the-night pay raise in July 2005. Argall dutifully followed along and voted for the pay raise and also took the money as unvouchered expenses. Thanks mostly to pressure by reform groups, newspaper editorialists and bloggers, the pay raise was repealed. After the repeal vote, many lawmakers paid back the money. But not Argall.

Now Republican Argall wants to move to the state Senate, where the 29th District seat held by the late Jim Rhoades is vacant. Argall is the front-runner in the race, but before Argall moves to the Senate, a group of reformers want him to pay back the pay raise money and "per diem" money that Argall may or may not have been entitled to.

Below is a letter sent by five prominent citizen reformers.
Dear Rep. Argall,

It has been widely reported that you are seeking to the fill the late Sen. Jim Rhoades' vacant seat.

Before pursuing your newest political endeavor, however, we implore you to repay to the taxpayers the tens of thousands of dollars you owe them for: 1) tax-free, supplemental "per diem" money you've collected in excess of your actual expenses for food and lodging; and 2) the money you collected from the repealed pay raise of 2005.

With regard to the per diem money: a thorough review of official records from the House Chief Clerk's office indicates that, from 2005 to 2007 alone, you collected more than $48,000 in per diem money for food and lodging expenses that were incurred on approximately 420 separate business days in Harrisburg. That averages out to a per diem payment to you of $115 per day. This money of course was collected above and beyond your base salary of more than $100,000, and in addition to the money you collected for transportation expenses.

As you know, you and your fellow legislators have made it such that you don't even have to provide receipts for, or documentation of, your actual expenses for food and lodging. Therefore, it is difficult to calculate precisely how much tax-free, supplemental per diem money you collected above and beyond those expenses.

This much we know, however: in 2007, the average resident in Schuylkill County was living on $41.93 per day, and the average resident in Berks County on $49.43 per day – for housing costs, health care, food, transportation, utilities, etc. (United States Census Bureau). On average, you collected $113 a day in tax-free, supplemental income, - just for food and lodging – which is more than double what your constituents had to live on for all the costs of life.

We also know that it is only 78 miles from your Lake Hautto home to the Capitol (a drive of 1 hour and 28 minutes), which means you are often able to drive home from the Capitol after a session day or nonvoting business day, and not need taxpayer-funded lodging.

Further, we know that oftentimes during session days, representatives are usually provided with catered meals out of leadership accounts, or lobbyists simply pick up the tab – further driving down your actual expenses for which you collected per diem money.

Concluding our first item on per diems: given that your average per diem check for food and lodging expenses in 2007 ($113) was more than double what your constituents had to live on for all the expenses of life that year ($45, when averaging between Schuylkill and Berks counties' residents), and multiplying the differential ($68) by the number of days for which you collected a per diem in 2007 (149), we believe you overcharged the taxpayers by $10,000 (rounding down), just for calendar year 2007. We believe this figure to be a conservative estimate given that it does not factor in the abovementioned free meals provided to you from leadership accounts and lobbyists. Furthermore, if we were to multiply your years in the House (24) by the excess per diem money collected for each year, we'd likely compute an amount well over $100,000 in tax-free, supplemental income owed to the taxpayers (after adjusting for inflation). Again, this is a very conservative estimate.

Regarding the second item mentioned above – the 2005 pay raise money: according to news reports in the Morning Call, you collected $7,000 in so-called "unvouchered expense" money from a 2005 pay raise that was not only repealed, but ruled unconstitutional. Many legislators never collected a penny of this illicit raise. Of those that did collect, the overwhelming majority paid the money back, either upon its repeal, or upon its being ruled unconstitutional. Indeed, the man who once walked in the very large shoes you aspire to fill – Sen. James Rhoades – did the honorable thing and paid back every single cent.

You've stubbornly refused paying back the pay raise money, citing the fact that you gave it to charity, which in your belief should excuse you from reimbursing the taxpayers. We would remind you that in American jurisprudence, giving ill-gotten gains to charity is never an acceptable defense. To say it in other words, someone who robs a bank could never tell the judge he gave the money to charity, and expect to get off the hook.

Our first appeal is to your sense of integrity: Giving back the rather large sum of money you owe the taxpayers is simply the right thing to do.

Our second appeal is to your sense for fiscal need: the Commonwealth is presently staring at a budget deficit that experts predict will reach anywhere from $1 billion to $2 billion. We are likely facing a combination of tax increases and painful cuts in vital state services and programs. What a shame it would be, for instance, if we had to cut $100,000 for library services, when you alone owe the taxpayers at least that much in excess per diem money and unconstitutional, unvouchered expenses. Combined with like amounts owed by your colleagues, the figure grows exponentially.

Failing our first two appeals, our final appeal is to the political sense for which you are famous. It would simply be political suicide to seek an open state Senate seat when you owe a very large sum of money to the taxpayers for unvouchered expenses and excess, tax-free per diem money. This is akin to expecting to be granted approval for a mortgage with deficiencies in your credit history, something your constituents are painfully aware of during these rough economic times.

We look forward to receiving word from you in the very near future that you have decided to do right by the taxpayers you seek to represent in Senate by paying back your unvouchered expenses and excess, tax-free per diem money.

Eric Epstein
Rock the Capital
Gene Stilp
Taxpayers & Ratepayers United
Russ Diamond
PA Clean Sweep
Tim Potts
Democracy Rising
Dennis Baylor
PA Accountability Project

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Friday, December 5, 2008

State Capitol Roundup

Here's this week's State Capitol Roundup courtesy of state Rep. Bob Mensch (R-147th):

Continued Tax Revenue Shortfalls Point to Worsening Budget Deficit

For the seventh consecutive month, Pennsylvania's General Fund revenue collections have failed to live up to initial projections. The shortfall for November totaled $93 million, bringing the year-to-date deficit to $657.9 million. House Republicans are pointing to these figures as the latest evidence that state spending has grown to unsustainable levels, while highlighting internal measures undertaken in the last 5 years to trim caucus expenditures. Better use of existing staff, policy and procedural audits as well as the increased use of cutting edge technology have helped to "cut the fat," and resulted in approximately $20 million in savings to taxpayers since 2004. According to the governor, the state's budget deficit could reach at least $2 billion, leading GOP lawmakers to call for cuts to under-performing state programs instead of burdensome and harmful tax increases.

Legislation Aims for Stronger Veteran Presence on Civil Service Commission

House Republican proposals to ensure Pennsylvania veterans receive appropriate consideration for civil service jobs are receiving renewed interest following a recent report by the Auditor General. Reps. Russ Fairchild (R-Snyder/Union) and Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) have both authored legislation to give veterans a louder voice on the State Civil Service Commission. The Fairchild measure would create an Office of Veteran Advocate to represent veterans, while Marsico's proposal would require at least one veteran to serve on the commission. The report highlighted an 18 percent unemployment rate for veterans returning from service and showed that as many as 569 civil service employment positions were filled without considering eligible, qualified veterans. With the legislative session complete, Fairchild and Marsico have pledged to re-introduce their bills in January.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Deadline Draws Closer

The Dec. 31 deadline to file applications for the Department of Revenue's Property Tax/Rent Rebate (PTRR) program is quickly approaching. Officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue have indicated more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians have received rebates this year and expect that an additional 140,000 eligible residents throughout the Commonwealth have yet to apply. PTRR participants can receive a rebate of up to $650 based on their rent or property taxes paid in 2007. The program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians who are 65 years or older, widows and widowers 50 years or older, and those 18 years or older with disabilities. For additional information, visit Mensch's Web site at


Beware of pirates

Rendell has a problem with single women

Gail Collins, writing in The New York Times, says Gov. Ed Rendell's remarks about Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano having "no life" because she is unmarried and has no children, is another example of "singlism," a bias directed mostly toward women.

Condoleezza Rice is another example of a woman who lives for her job, Collins notes. She also mentions Ralph Nader as the token male political figure who does not have family responsibilities.

From her column:
But it's unmarried women at the top who often wind up portrayed as vestal virgins who live only to serve their chief executive. (Condoleezza Rice's public image is so extreme that people must be wondering if she plans to immolate herself on the White House lawn during the inauguration.) Instead of being celebrated for their achievements, they wind up regarded as slightly fanatic.

And single women comprise between 43 percent and 51 percent of the adult women in the country, depending on how you count. They are universally regarded as folks with time on their hands, and thus the most likely recruits for taking care of aged parents, adjusting their schedules to accommodate their married friends and working overtime. "Employers ask you to cover for everyone else," said Bella DePaulo, the author of "Singled Out."
Read the full column at the newspaper's Web site.


Defend your right to celebrate Christmas

The American Center for Law and Justice, the sane alternative to the far-left ACLU, has updated its Christmas Resource Center with the latest legal updates on your rights to celebrate Christmas.

The center was created in response to militant atheists who have attempted in recent years to ban public celebrations or even acknowledgement of Christmas.

The Web site includes sample letters to send to school districts, local and county governments and public venues on the legality of Christmas displays and your rights to express your religious beliefs.


This is not change

The Associated Press is reporting today that Hillary Clinton plans to hire so-called "Clinton loyalists" to run the State Department.

I could swear Barack Obama won the election on a promise of change. So what are we getting? How about more of the same Washington insiders.

Reporter Matthew Lee says Clinton is planning to surround herself with "a cast of die-hard loyalists and veterans of her husband's administration."

From Lee's story:
For her team of foreign policy experts, the nation's third female secretary of state is expected to draw heavily from the staff of the first, Madeleine Albright, who was an early supporter of Clinton's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

And to deal with internal Obama administration affairs, State Department bureaucratic politics and media pressures, the former first lady appears set to tap current Senate aides and former White House "Hillaryland" stalwarts, whose reputation for insularity and staunch protectiveness has already set off anxiety among career foreign service officers.
Lee says among key staff positions, Clinton is considering her 2008 presidential campaign manager Maggie Williams, attorney Cheryl Mills, personal assistant Huma Abedin, current senior adviser and spokesman Philippe Reines and Clinton's chief of staff when she was first lady, Melanne Verveer.

All retreads. Welcome to the third Clinton Administration.

From Lee's story: "All are known to be fiercely loyal. The prospect of their imminent arrival in Foggy Bottom has been a hot topic of nervous corridor conversation among many in the professional diplomatic corps who fear they will be frozen out of positions of influence."

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Thursday, December 4, 2008


Not counting Barack Obama, the most overexposed celebrity of 2008 has to be Tina Fey. The Sarah Palin imitations on "Saturday Night Live" were funny, but a little less Tina Fey in 2009 would be welcome. And put some clothes on, Tina.


Reform group finds $313M to trim from PA spending

Gov. Ed Rendell has spent months going over the state budget and has come up with $439 million in proposed cuts to stem the massive red ink pouring from the 2008-09 General Fund budget.

The current budget deficit has already topped $658 million in just the first five months of the fiscal year. Projections have the deficit reaching $2 billion by the end of the fiscal year in June 2009.

At a recent press conference the governor asked for help in finding more cuts.

Eric Epstein, coordinator of, a Harrisburg-based reform group, has answered the call. Epstein has released a list of $313 million that can be cut in state spending without impacting Pennsylvania residents.

Among the cuts:
Liquidate non-lapsing, leadership accounts $241.5 million

Eliminate Public Service Announcements by lawmakers: $1.35 million in annual savings

Reduce PHEAA funding by the amount spent on "lobbying fees": $1 million
For the full list, click here. Also visit for more on the group's efforts to reform state government.

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