Joe American, Thanksgiving And God

Joe American, Thanksgiving And God

My father-in-law passed away peacefully in his sleep last week.  He was 92 and the original American piece of work.  He had children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  He never wanted much, just his own way.

Joseph, was a product of the end of the first world war.  He was second generation Italian on one side, and on another had an ancestor that fought in the Civil War.  Being a history and genealogy junkie, I liked to feed him tidbits of research on his background.  Tidbits that helped strengthened his belief in his family’s foundation and confident in its  accomplishments.   He thought that it was so great that there existed an historical map of his lifetime through these tidbits, a picture of the ship from the 1800s where parts of his family had come back and forth from Italy,  the census from 1910, and his Navy discharge papers that were long lost  after his service in the South Pacific in WWII.

He was a small handsome Italian guy, blonde with blue eyes; just a regular Joe.

His history was very important to him.  It helped him know that he didn’t arrive on this earth alone.  He talked always of his city of Philadelphia, where he was born and raised and where he raised his own.  He talked of how such and such a thing ended up where, who built it and who tore it down.

He was brought to this place by the grace of God through his ancestors from places which were not nearly as prosperous as the one they were headed for.  America.  Relatives worked all means of dirty, skilled and semi-skilled jobs.    He was so proud of them.

In recent years we have been reprimanded,  warned not to be haughty over the success of the American dream and the infrastructure built by average Americans that built the strongest economy in the world.  We were told, “No, you didn’t build that”.

The American dream has almost NOTHING to do with money or entitlement.   It is uniquely American in that any average Joe, who keeps his shoulder to the wheel, and has the drive, can provide a nice living for his family and extended family.  A family history did NOTHING to hold him back.  Because his grandfather was a shoemaker, it didn’t mean he couldn’t be an electrician or a plumber or a doctor or whatever it took to thrive given his determination and abilities.   Class has nothing to do with anything in America.  Only those who wish to hold on to power or wealth and try to keep you poor and dependent will tell you that it does.

Petty Officer Joe American was buried with full ceremony and honors for his rank, with taps and a shot gun salute and the entire nine yards of military tribute.  His rank  not given due to his lineage or royalty as would have been true in Europe.  It was earned.  He was an American, a classic product of the blessed and noble American experiment wrought from the European Enlightenment.

On this Thanksgiving Day, thank God first of course, but then also thank Joe and all of his fellow veterans and family who gave us what we have and shame on those who seek to diminish it.

Joe American, Thanksgiving And God

 

Joe American, Thanksgiving And God

Pennsylvania Tax Collections And Its Economy

Pennsylvania Tax Collections And Its Economy

By Colin McNickle

While there are signs that Pennsylvania’s overall economy might be improving, the critical question is whether it’s growing fast enough to cover some less-than-optimum actions by state government employed to close a series of budget shortfalls, say researchers at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

“If the economy and jobs continue to improve, tax collections almost certainly will pick up as well,” say Frank Gamrat, a senior research associate, and Jake Haulk, president of the Pittsburgh think tank.

But the commonwealth must overcome numerous hurdles of its own making.

“(T)he state continues to face the seemingly intractable problems of corralling spending growth and balancing the budget without relying on gimmicks and the poor practice of borrowing to fund current spending,” the institute scholars say (in Policy Brief Vol. 17, No. 45).

On paper at least, budget gaps for fiscal years 2016-17 and 2017-18 have been closed. That, through a combination of expanded gambling options and substantial borrowing against future tobacco settlement receipts.

“Obviously, these borrowed funds will have to be repaid out of future tax revenues that will need to rise even further to cover those payments as well as to meet the likely shortfall in the next budget unless spending is curbed significantly,” Gamrat and Haulk note.

That budget, by the way, is due in a short three months. And it remains to be seen if gaming revenue projections will be met, considering that last year’s gambling income fell short.

There has been some upturn in the pace of tax revenue flowing to the state. But, again, will the gains be sustained? That is the question.

There are reasons to be optimistic. Job and income numbers as well as consumer confidence levels are moving higher.

After a slow start, corporate net income tax collections were quite strong from May through September, and stood 10.9 percent above the first quarter of fiscal 2016-17.

Through the first nine months of 2017, personal income tax collections have risen by 3 percent over the same 2016 period and are up a healthy 3.8 percent over year-ago results in the first fiscal quarter. Sales and use taxes also have experienced gains in the respective nine-month and first-quarter periods, by 3.6 and 3.9 percent.

That said, none of those three metrics is an indicator of future performance. But, “Given the enormous gains in (stock) share prices this year and the strengthening of home prices, consumer confidence has climbed … nationally and almost certainly in Pennsylvania as well,” Gamrat and Haulk say.

But Pennsylvania government could continue to be its own worst enemy.

“Given the missteps of the past two years, it will be absolutely necessary to hold spending in check until revenues can cover future spending and pay off the debt incurred to cover this year’s shortfall,” the think tank researchers stress.

“At some point, the commonwealth must shed its image as having a poor business climate if it wants to match national economic growth and have the wherewithal to deal with the legacy costs it faces.”

Mr. McNickle is Senior Fellow and Media Specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org

Pennsylvania Tax Collections And Its Economy

Opioid War Won’t Stop Epidemic

Opioid War Won't Stop EpidemicOpioid War Won’t Stop Epidemic

By Dale Kerns

President Trump, a few weeks ago, you addressed the opioid epidemic, which has gripped the country in recent years. In officially declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, you took the important first step toward fixing this problem.

However, even more important is how we move forward in operating in the midst of this emergency. We have already tried treating the issue as a criminal one. Over the last 40 years, our nation has spent well over $1 trillion in taxpayer dollars on the War on Drugs as our federal prison population has increased by nearly 800 percent.

If one wishes to know the effectiveness of these policies, they need only learn that in spite of these strong steps, the United States remains the number 1 country in the world in illegal drug use.

With this “tough on crime” approach clearly failing, an alternative has emerged treat drug users not as criminals, but rather as human beings. In Portugal they decided to take this path less traveled in 2001. Once ravaged by chaos and disarray due to the drug trade, the country’s incidences of use and addiction has plummeted. Overdose deaths of adults are now the second lowest in the entire European Union, with 3 annually for every 1 million citizens.

Switzerland has embraced medical treatment for heroin addicts. The Swiss have experienced incredible results with their heroin-assisted treatment program, which began in 1994. The Swiss treat roughly 1,300 addicts with maintenance doses of heroin via more than 20 clinics. Perhaps the most incredible statistic, since the program’s inception there has not been a single occurrence of overdose in any of the clinics.

My own family has had a brush with the real-world ramifications of the failures of the current War on Drugs. Two years ago, we lost my cousin Dan. He had been a drug user, and when he needed help the most, the government ex- tended not a helping hand, but an iron fist. Thrown in jail, he never got the necessary treatment to help him kick his addiction.

Addiction is not a crime, and it shouldn’t be treated like one. If my family had been given the opportunity to help Dan, things could have turned out differently. It may be too late for him, but it is not too late to help the millions like him who suffer every day from the current Drug War.

In 1990, one leading business voice eloquently explained a path to winning the War on Drugs. He asserted, “You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.” That same business leader stated that by taking the drug trade out of the shadows, profits could then be used to educate the public about the “dangers of drugs,” rather than wasting that money on incarceration.

Mr. President, do you remember speaking these words? Your words could not have been more right then, and now you have the opportunity to prove yourself correct and enact this policy 27 years later. By taking the steps I’ve outlined in my “Addiction is Not a Crime” bill, I’m confident that we can work together to bring an end to the scourges that are drug addiction and the War on Drugs.

Dale Kerns is the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. 

Opioid War Won’t Stop Epidemic

Wolf Vetoes Work Requirement For Adults On Welfare

Wolf Vetoes Work Requirement For Adults On Welfare

By Leo Knepper

Back in July the House passed legislation that would have added work requirements to the welfare code. As we noted then:

“In our research, we found that nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvania families who were required to engage in job search activities or training for the federal “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families”(TANF) program participated in ZERO hours of qualified activities (see page 17). Although the qualifications for TANF are different than for medical assistance, the similarities of the populations made it a reasonable comparison. If a greater percentage of medical assistance recipients specifically, and welfare recipients in general, were required to engage in work search activities it could have a remarkable effect reducing the number of families needing assistance and a positive impact on Pennsylvania’s finances in the medium to long term.

“In 2014, Maine required “able-bodied childless adults” (ABCAs) to work, train, or volunteer on a part-time basis to continue to qualify for food stamps. In two years the number of ABCAs receiving food stamps dropped by 90 percent. First, imagine the saving that taxpayers in Pennsylvania would reap if we instituted the same requirements. Second, imagine how that would benefit the states revenue collection. If all of those people who were currently receiving assistance that could work but weren’t, returned to the workforce it would be a long-term boon for Pennsylvania.”

Similar language to the House bill made it into the final welfare code. Although it was narrower in scope than the House legislation, Governor Wolf vetoed the changes. Medical assistance payments account for nearly 30 percent of the Pennsylvania budget. Based on what happened in other states, adding work requirements for able bodied adults is a commonsense way to lower costs and encourage beneficiaries to reenter the workforce. Unfortunately, Governor Wolf is not interested in lowering the bill for taxpayers. He only seems interested in raising taxes on hardworking Pennsylvanians.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

 

Wolf Vetoes Work Requirement For Adults On Welfare

Wolf Vetoes Work Requirement For Adults On Welfare

Protests Bringing NFL To Its Knees

Protests Bringing NFL To Its Knees

By Chris Freind Protests Bringing NFL To Its Knees

To kneel, or not to kneel. That is the question.

It’s an issue that has become the biggest political football in NFL history, with implications so far-reaching that the league could find itself sacked for a huge loss if it doesn’t call the right play.

Kneeling during the national anthem, originally an act to protest alleged racism within the ranks of America’s police, has been met with counter-protests, from Vice President Mike Pence walking out when players knelt, to fan boycotts of games, merchandise and league sponsors.

That’s a lot of protests protesting other protests.

With both sides digging in deeper, and President Trump showing no signs of backing down from his position that protesting players should be suspended or fired, this issue will be in prime time for quite a while.

Here are some aspects being drowned out by the white noise:

1. Leave it to the Trump Administration to fumble a winning issue when it should have scored easily. Virtually every poll, official and anecdotal alike, shows a majority of Americans disapprove of NFL players kneeling during, or not appearing for, the national anthem. So what did the White House do to capitalize on that sentiment? It had the Veep very publicly storm out of a game when players took a knee. Had Mr. Pence’s action been impromptu, it would have generated significant support. But because he told the press that he would return to his motorcade shortly after entering the game – thereby demonstrating that his plan was nothing more than a calculated gimmick – his decision was roundly ridiculed. It was par for the course for an administration that can’t get out of its own way, even on issues supported by most Americans.

Political stunts don’t win hearts and minds. Genuine leadership does – a winning formula for which the White House still needs significantly better coaching.

2. Despite addressing the First Amendment/anthem issue several weeks ago, some readers continue to misinterpret a key point about freedom of expression. So to reiterate: Unequivocally, NFL players operating during work hours do not have a “right” to protest, regardless of how important they believe an issue to be. People must understand that a player’s fame and very public platform, while powerful, does not put him above the law. In other words, he must follow workplace rules in exactly the same way that employees in every other profession do. Those who disagree simply do not understand employment law.

From uniform regulations to punctuality to conduct, teams set rules. Fail to comply, and there are consequences.

Bottom line: if the NFL or individual teams allow players to protest the anthem, so be it. That is their decision, and they, as private entities, and only they, have the right to make that call. Likewise, if they choose to mandate participation, the players would have a contractual obligation to comply. Therefore, protesting the anthem (or the protest du jour) is a workplace privilege afforded to players by the team owner. But it is not a “right.”

The term “my right” has been bandied around so often – most of the time incorrectly – that it has served only to embolden an already-entitled generation to think they can do and say whatever they please while “on the clock,” with no repercussions. They can’t.

3. Former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who initiated the anthem protest last year, filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging that owners are colluding to keep him unemployed. It is a case Kaepernick has virtually no chance of winning, because he doesn’t understand that the NFL cares about only two things: winning games and making money. Sure, Commissioner Roger Goodell likes to dabble in politically correct, social engineering issues (such as transgender bathrooms), but his primary focus is making the league and its owners as much money as possible.

Translation: Owners don’t want to pay millions to a political crusader like Kaepernick, not just because his cause is extremely divisive to fans and spills into the locker room, but more important, it doesn’t win football games. That doesn’t mean Kaepernick won’t be signed (though let’s not forget that it was he who walked away from his contract). If he is, it’ll be because a team thinks it needs his abilities, diminished as they are. But Kaepernick’s banishment to the sidelines isn’t collusion. It’s common sense by owners, and a situation entirely of his own making.

4. It’s not without irony that the Confederate flag, which has been under withering attack lately, was defeated by forces representing the Stars and Stripes. Yet now, players whose freedom and wealth directly result from Old Glory, see fit to turn their backs on it. Protesting racism in all its forms is laudable, but they are picking the worst way to do so.

5. Commissioner Goodell and some owners, just weeks after basking in attention when so many teams took a knee, have abruptly reversed course. Now, they are contemplating a rule mandating anthem participation. If they follow through, it will be the right thing for the wrong reason, since their motivation is primarily about the almighty dollar. And for good reason: ratings and attendance have been plummeting, even before the anthem controversy.

Why? Mostly because the NFL has become an inferior product. Fans are sick of “all-about-me” players dueling to perform the most insulting antic after a touchdown (such as pretending to urinate on a fire hydrant), despite their team being down by 30. Add in steroid use, drug arrests, DUIs, assaults, domestic violence, and even murders, combined with fewer children playing, and you have the recipe for a dying game.

The league has done some incredibly stupid things, but the commissioner and owners are smart enough to know that, if they don’t handle the anthem issue correctly, it could become the sack from which they can’t recover.

6. Many protesters have been using the rallying cry: “If you’re not protesting, you’re not paying attention.”

Fair enough.

So let’s talk about realities. Is there racism within some police forces? Absolutely. Is it endemic? Absolutely not, and nowhere near the levels of decades ago. But we must be honest that racism comes in all colors: white cops not liking blacks, black cops resenting whites, Hispanic cops not approving of some other ethnicities, etc. All racism should be purged, but it is critical to remember that the percentage of police officers falling into that category is extremely small, probably lower than in most other jobs.

Many protesters fail to see that their lack of credibility is tied to a narrative that changes oh-so-conveniently. If a white cop shoots a black man, he’s labeled “racist.” But if a black officer shoots a black man, he’s either a “sellout to his people” or, by default, the entire force is racist. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways.

When protests erupt after a shooting, two things are almost always true: A) the shooting was justified (and, as in Ferguson, had nothing to do with race), or B) it was questionable but legal, the result of an officer’s less-than-ideal judgment in a difficult situation. On the rare occasions when it is a bad shoot, officers rightfully face the full weight of the law.

Truth is, racism is almost never a factor in shootings because it makes no sense. Who goes on patrol with the intent to target black people, rough them up, and, when they move, blast away? No one. And that’s not just because it’s wrong, but because the price is too high: job loss; unemployability; prison time; wrecked families; and death threats. Again, that doesn’t mean the bad apples shouldn’t be removed. But focusing so much energy on “racist police” is largely a waste, as it deflects attention from more relevant issues.

Pushing for better training and procedures is one thing. But to broadly label as “racist” America’s men and women in blue, and the prosecutors who exonerate them after justified shootings, is inexcusable.

If NFL players took a knee to honor those who catch bullets instead of passes, and tackle criminals instead of millionaire players, it would be the best play call they’d ever make.

 

Protests Bringing NFL To Its Knees

Fear Letting Fear Strip Freedom

Fear Letting Fear Strip Freedom

By Chris Freind Fear Letting Fear Strip Freedom

Protesting everything, from the legitimate to the ridiculous, seems to be America’s newest pastime, replete with vitriol from all sides. Yet in a strange way, the Las Vegas massacre may yet unite us. We need to fight those who commit such atrocities. But how?

One way is by not living in fear. By not letting them win. And by not allowing them to change the very essence of who we are, and how we live our lives.

We need to go to — rather than avoid —Las Vegas. We need to walk The Strip, stay at the Mandalay Bay hotel, attend outdoor concerts, and unabashedly embrace other human beings in large crowds. It doesn’t mean we won’t be on edge, and yes, even afraid, but to run from these things is capitulating to the bad guys and succumbing to victimhood.

That’s not who we are.

Whether it’s the 64-year old whack-job from 80 miles away from Las Vegas whose name will not be dignified here, to lone wolf terrorists, to ISIS regulars, we must not give them what they want — we cannot cower.

We need to protest their evil actions, defiantly and unified, while not ceding civil liberties which would further restrict our freedoms. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have discussions — even very passionate arguments — about everything from gun control to mental health to security checks, because they are necessary.

But in the same way that civilized humanity loses if we stop traveling to London, Paris, and Manchester, we cannot become afraid to walk out our doors right here in America. We must never stop living valiantly, and never cease teaching our children that evil will not overcome — if for no other reason than to honor those who perish so tragically at the hands of madmen.

Sure, writing these things is easier said than done. But if we want to live rather than just exist, what choice do we have?

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, this author took significant flak for taking his young daughter on a transatlantic flight the day the airports reopened. “It’s one thing if you want to kill yourself,” some screamed, “but how can you so callously jeopardize your child’s life by flying now?”

My response was simple: I asked if they could:

  • Guarantee that the plane would not crash because of mechanical failure
  • Assure me with absolute certainty that I would not be in any kind of fatal incident here at home
  • And, tell me precisely when it would be “safe”to fly again with zero possibility of a terrorist attack

Fact was, the months after 9/11 were by far the safest time to fly. That doesn’t mean that I, along with every other passenger, wasn’t white-knuckled. It was a scary time, but the answer was to forge ahead.

In response to the attacks, President George W. Bush made the bold proclamation that we should continue flying, traveling, going to ballgames, and living to the fullest extent, lest al-Qaida win the day. It took time, but Americans rallied instead of retreated. We were unified (at least for a while), and we vowed never to let such evildoers take what they desire most — the American soul.

If we are to be true to ourselves, and our children, the answer lies in the words of the legendary John Wayne, “Courage is being scared to death — but saddling up anyway.”

There are many angles to the Las Vegas attack which must be explored. Here are some aspects to consider:

1. Innocent human life is sacred, so it makes no difference how people are ripped from our arms and murdered. Why then are we not employing the full-court press to stop the staggeringly large number of killings savaging our inner cities? In September of this year  alone, Chicago saw 57 murdered and another 273 shot and wounded (compared to at least 59 dead and 527 injured in Las Vegas). Neither tragedy trumps the other, but the critical difference is that Chicago, and other cities, experience those numbers every month. And despite what some may believe, it’s not just drug dealers and criminals shooting each other but young children, the elderly, and innocent parents often being gunned down.

It’s finally time to shelve partisanship, leave the derisive labels at home, and create a real-world, concrete plan to deal with the genocide occurring every day on America’s streets.

2. Inner cities aside, we must remember that we are living in the safest time in human history. Yes, the magnitude of individual attacks is growing, as is our ability to see developments unfold 24/7. But it is imperative to remember (and obviously this is not to slight the victims and their families) that the odds of experiencing this type of attack are statistically nonexistent.

Over 1 billion people have enjoyed The Strip in Las Vegas without incident. The next billion will undoubtedly do so as well; the odds for another massacre are virtually nil.

We cannot allow ourselves to become paralyzed by isolated incidents because we mistakenly believe they are commonplace. They are not. Vigilance, not paranoia, is the answer.

3. Gun control will be front and center. This time, though, because an automatic weapon was used, we are in new territory. But cooler heads must prevail, because what won’t be helpful is a “tactical” win by gun control advocates (more gun bans) at the expense of a “strategic” victory, such as discovering why these events are occurring.

Should we look at the laws governing the highly-regulated ownership of automatic weapon, and conversion kits (where regular weapons can be transformed into machine guns)? Absolutely. But while some think such measures will be the panacea, the reality is just the opposite.

4. Instead, we should be looking at consequences of when a society overly coddles people, young and old alike, instilling in them a massive sense of entitlement; an environment in which many believe they are owed things that they most certainly are not.

Combine that with the dangerously naive movement to eliminate risk and sanitize all potential adversities, and the result is generations of people unable to function, let alone cope with life when things go awry.

The vast majority of these people (like the Las Vegas shooter) are “merely” dysfunctional. But for some, any type of rejection leads to violence against anyone and anything, snapping when offended or something doesn’t go their way. Someone doesn’t like them, they get fired, a teacher or boss disciplines them, they chronically lose money at casinos — and then they go on a rampage.

Our most important job is to figure out how to reverse the mindset that going out in a blaze of glory, killing as many as possible, as being the best method for dealing with problems.

If we fail, ISIS will be the least of our problems. That’s the scariest thought of all.

Fear Letting Fear Strip Freedom

GOP Leadership Wants Tax Hikes

GOP Leadership Wants Tax Hikes
By Leo Knepper

Not much has changed on the budget since last week. On the plus side, Governor Wolf changed his position on using fund transfers to balance the budget. He went from saying all of the money proposed in the fund transfers (see here) was promised to other projects and there was no way it could be used to balance the budget; his current position is that $500 million is available to use to balance the budget.

On the downside, Republican leadership in both chambers of the General Assembly seem dead-set on making Pennsylvania less competitive by raising taxes on targeted industries. The first target, which now seems to be off the table, was commercial warehousing. According our sources, Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana County) was advocated for making lease payments on warehouse space subject to the sales tax. The fact that this tax would have made Pennsylvania non-competitive and put thousands of people out of work seems to have eliminated this proposal from consideration. The latest proposal would be to nearly double the Commonwealth’s hotel tax rate. Again, one of the chief advocates for the higher tax rate is Rep. Dave Reed.

As we have repeatedly noted, a better long-term solution would be to actually cut spending rather robbing from Peter to pay Paul. We’ll let you know about any changes as they develop.

Politicians have long used Orwellian double-speak to hide their true intentions. The latest iteration of this trend in Pennsylvania is the Governor’s, Senate’s and House Democrat’s insistence on including “recurring revenue” in any budget agreement. Recurring revenue sounds much more pleasant than what they’re really talking about: tax increases.

Roughly three months ago Republican leadership in the Senate, ceded their super-majority when fourteen Republicans voted with twelve Democrats to pass a Fiscal Code that balanced the budget on the backs of taxpayers. The Senate’s plan, supported by Governor Wolf, would raise taxes on heating bills, cell phone bills, and online purchases. As our friends at the Commonwealth Foundation noted in a recent blog post, the General Assembly has raised taxes four times in the last eight years. These previous tax hikes haven’t solved Pennsylvania’s financial problems. Instead, it has been like a death from a thousand cuts for taxpayers.

Departing from the usual routine of raising taxes, House Republicans offered alternatives to the status quo. The first plan we told you about would have reduced overhead expenses and saved tax payers $370 million. A second plan, which ultimately passed the House would have used surplus, off-budget funds to fill the gap. Unfortunately, only seven Senators sided with taxpayers and voted in favor of using funds already in state coffers.

The next step in the budget process is House and Senate leadership will establish a conference committee and try to work out their differences. The deals hashed out by conference committees rarely work out in taxpayer’s favor because it is a closed-door process. The public, and most lawmakers, usually do not have time to review the finished product. Remember the 2005 middle-of-the night pay raise? That legislation came out of a conference committee too.

Please, take a few moments and email the General Assembly. Let them know that you will be watching their actions closely and that they need to cut spending and use money already collected by the Treasury in order to balance the budget.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

 

GOP Leadership Wants Tax Hikes

GOP Leadership Wants Tax Hikes

Teacher Strikes Harm Children, Ban Them

Teacher Strikes Harm Children, Ban Them

By Chris Freind CHRIS FREIND

Like clockwork, several things occur each September in Pennsylvania: Kids have a hard time getting out of bed, compasses required for math class are never used; and, most predictable, teachers will strike.

On that last point, the teachers’ union in Methacton School District in Montgomery County did not disappoint. Just as students and teachers were settling into a rhythm, the union called for a walkout. The result? More than 400 teachers are walking the picket line – potentially for weeks – while 5,000 students sit idle, leaving their parents frantically scrambling.

And it’s not just Methacton, as other strikes are occurring in Pennsylvania, with more surely to come. It’s time to end the recklessness of holding parents and students hostage – especially because there is no downside for teachers, as they will be fully paid for all 180 days of school, regardless of the outcome – and reform our state’s inefficient and expensive educational system.

To modify the legendary quote from Dean Wormer in “Animal House:” Arrogant, greedy and aloof is no way to go through life.

But that’s exactly how the teachers’ unions in Pennsylvania have behaved for decades.

With millions in forced dues – monies automatically deducted from teachers’ paychecks even if they don’t belong – the unions have constructed a statewide political empire, using their muscle to crush any opposition.

To their credit, they have been immensely successful in squeezing every last penny from broke school districts and overtaxed residents. In good economies and bad, they demand and receive large raises and benefits, including, in many cases, free or highly subsidized health care.

So it’s no surprise that Pennsylvania leads the nation in school strikes, with some years seeing more walkouts than all other states combined. As a result, its teachers are near the top in salaries and benefits. Inexcusably, the same cannot be said of student achievement, as SAT scores, literacy, graduation rates and students going on to college are perennially much lower.

And you can’t simply blame city schools for dismal student achievement. A quarter of Methacton’s 11th graders aren’t proficient in math, and almost one of five is deficient in reading. Yet over the last 15 years, the number of students in that district has dropped by 10 percent while spending has more than doubled, to almost $110 million per year. In other words, there’s more money to educate fewer students, but student achievement isn’t where it needs to be, and yet the teachers’ union authorizes a strike because it wants more, more, more. You don’t need an education to know there’s something seriously wrong with that picture.

And that has left many citizens scratching their heads.

Teachers are universally respected for the priceless role they play, but when they strike, it’s seen as a slap in the face – especially as the private sector continues to hemorrhage jobs, with many paying astronomical health-care costs.

Of course, to the unions, more money is the cure-all to improved student performance. Pay the teachers more and give them even better benefits, while increasing funding for public education, and all problems will be solved. But we’ve been doing that for decades, and education achievement hasn’t improved.

The global economy is here to stay, so our dismal academic performance has become dire. Our students are no longer competing solely against those in San Francisco and Seattle, but Stockholm, Singapore and Sydney. Yet compared to our top 30 global counterparts, the U.S. is, at best, in the middle of the pack and more often, much lower.

The solution is to instill accountability and rein in out-of-control unions. Here are two steps to accomplish that:

1) Inject competition by enacting school choice. When parents have a choice in their children’s education, schools that do well will attract more students and succeed, while those that continue with the status quo will lose students and fail. The free market system that has served us so well will have the same effect on our educational product. And for the first time in generations, our students would actually learn the skills necessary to succeed in life.

2) Outlaw school strikes. No public-sector union should have the right to strike, which is why our police and firemen are prohibited from doing so. It is beyond explanation that teachers, in whose hands we place our most valuable asset – our children – are not considered equally essential.

Strikes are disruptive to all parties. Parents endure incredible stress in their frantic search for child care, often risking job security by tending to their children (and blowing hard-earned vacation), and students’ disciplined approach to schoolwork is shattered, with no possibility of a seamless transition after a long strike.

And whom are we kidding? Sure, the law mandates a 180-day school year, but are students really learning anything sitting in a classroom over the Christmas break, or in late June, weeks after exams have been taken? In effect, students are held hostage so that teachers can justify their salaries and school districts don’t jeopardize their state subsidies.

Often overlooked is that teachers are also victimized by strikes. They become pariahs in their communities, and respect for their profession takes a hit. Let’s be crystal clear: Many teachers often don’t agree with union leaders’ decisions. But when that leadership calls for a strike vote – and refuses to use a secret ballot, as is almost always the case – there is virtually no chance of opposition. The risk is simply too high, and mob mentality rules the day.

At the minimum, there should be a law requiring secret ballot votes for school strikes, monitored by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor. That common-sense, practical solution would be overwhelmingly supported by the public – and teachers.

But if you outlaw strikes, basic fairness dictates that there should be a method to resolve an impasse. Perhaps the most viable alternative would be final best offer arbitration, the same system Major League Baseball uses with great success.

In regular arbitration, both sides throw out a number, with the arbiter often adding them together and dividing by two. That’s inefficient, because when one side makes a reasonable offer while the other side comes in with a pie-in-the-sky proposal, the result is lopsided in favor of the greedier party.

But with final best offer arbitration, the arbiter can’t compromise. He must take one of the two proposals in its entirety. That being the case, both sides innately understand the need to be reasonable in their one-and-only proposal, or risk getting blown completely out of the box. Cooler heads would prevail with final best offer arbitration, which is definitely in the taxpayers’ best interest.

Is final best offer arbitration ideal? No, since you are placing an unelected arbiter in a position of power, but in the real world, it’s the best we have to stop unaffordable contracts. It is a classic example of philosophical versus practical, and in this case, the practical side should prevail.

But there’s a huge irony. Because the union leadership has pushed the envelope for so long, the pendulum may be swinging back hard, to the point of potentially being unfair.

Outlawing school strikes (as they are in 37 states) can be enacted like any other law: Passed by the Legislature and affixed with the governor’s signature.

Arbitration, however, requires a constitutional amendment, a difficult process and one that would take at least four years. So the unions are facing the possibility of seeing their right to strike abolished, with no chance of arbitration as recourse. In effect, our teachers would be completely beholden to the school boards, and that is certainly not in anyone’s best interest, most of all our children’s.

But right or wrong, they made their bed, and now they may have to lie in it.

Aware that their backs are to the wall, the unions have spent considerable sums on candidates sympathetic to their “plight.” Unfortunately for them, they’ve suffered huge losses, and the head of the dragon is in danger of being decapitated, as Republicans hold sizable legislative majorities, and the upcoming governor’s race could easily swing to the GOP.

Hopefully, the do-nothing state Legislature will stop sleeping in class and strike while the iron’s hot, outlawing school strikes once and for all.

If our state lawmakers do that, they would deserve an A.

 

Teacher Strikes Harm Children, Ban Them

Lowman Henry Budget Glossary

Lowman Henry Budget Glossary

By Lowman S. Henry

Lawmakers returned to Sept. 11 to finish work on a state budget which was due at the end of June. Late budgets have become a hallmark of the Tom Wolf Administration as the governor habitually proposes spending that vastly exceeds available projected revenue.

The governor and legislators are in somewhat uncharted waters as they approved a spending plan by the budget deadline, but have yet to reach agreement on how to fund that spending. Governor Wolf, of course, is advocating for higher taxes and 14 compliant Republican senators joined with Democrats to grant his wish. However, the Senate plan to place yet another tax on the natural gas industry, raise a wide range of consumer taxes and borrow money from future revenue landed with a thud in the state House.

In the weeks since the Senate vote, conservative Republicans in the state House have been working on an alternative that would fund the budget without raising taxes and borrowing from future revenue sources. They say they have found enough dollars squirreled away in difference agency accounts to accomplish that goal.

The budget will be a top priority when the House returns to session. Since budget terms can be confusing follows is a glossary that will serve as your guide to what various terms tossed around in the budget debate actually mean:

State Constitution – A dusty old document used for decoration on state capitol coffee tables, but which is never actually referred to when making laws.

Budget Deadline – A relic of bygone times when the governor and the legislature actually fulfilled their duties by enacting a balanced state budget by the date specified in the state constitution.

Budget – A document that includes a plan for spending and for the revenue to pay for that spending. This term has been redefined as a spending plan that we’ll somehow figure out how to pay for down the road.

Structural Deficit – This refers to the difference between what the state actually has to spend and what the governor and many lawmakers want to spend. It is viewed as something to be funded with higher taxes, rather than being cut to fit available revenue.

Projected Revenue – The amount of money reasonably expected to be collected from existing taxes and tax rates. This number will fall far short of desired spending and therefore is often adjusted upward to meet that target.

Severance Tax – This is a proposed fourth layer of taxation on gas produced in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale region. Since the impact tax was labeled a fee, some lawmakers perpetrate the myth of an industry getting away tax free.

Tobacco Settlement Fund – An annual revenue source generated by proceeds of a lawsuit against big tobacco companies that now is seen as a way to borrow from the future to plug the current year’s budget deficit.

Borrowing from the State Treasury – A process whereby we borrow our own money and charge ourselves interest in an effort to make it look like the state is facing fiscal Armageddon.

Gambling Expansion – Refers to various plans to allow for on-line gaming, the placement of video gaming terminals in bars and restaurants and other expected new sources of gambling revenue. Projected funds from these non-existent sources are often included in the state budget.

Senate Republican Leadership – Senators who abandon their party’s principles upon acquiring fancy titles.

Veto-Proof Majority – Refers to having two-thirds of the seats in a chamber, of which a substantial number will side with the minority on important issues.

House Republicans – Lawmakers blamed for the budget impasse because they are opposed to raising taxes on working families, senior citizens and small businesses.

Reverse Appropriation – This is a new term referring to efforts to cut the approved spending plan to fit available projected revenue. It is not something ever likely to be used.

Taxpayers – The only group of people in Penn’s Woods who don’t have a high priced lobbyist working on their behalf in Harrisburg. They are also viewed as an endless source of revenue by spending interests.

And so, as you hear the governor and lawmakers debate how to fund the state budget, keep in mind that what terms mean in the public sector are often very different than what they mean to everyone else.

Mr. Henry is chairman and CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.

Lowman Henry Budget Glossary

Lowman Henry Budget Glossary

 

Shadow Budget Can Be Used To Bring Balance In Pa.

Shadow Budget Can Be Used To Bring Balance In Pa.

By Leo Knepper

At the end of June Pennsylvania’s 2017-2018 budget became law. It was unbalanced and there wasn’t a plan in place for how to pay for it. A significant part of the problem was that the Governor and legislature did nothing to reduce spending in 2016-2017 after it became clear that the revenues they expected were not going to materialize. The Governor and the majority of the General Assembly could have reduced spending in the new budget, but they didn’t. Instead Senate Republican leadership and Democrats in that chamber passed a tax increase and want to rely of borrowing to balance the budget.

The Governor, the media, and Senate Republican leaders have been insisting that the House Republicans were being negligent in not passing the tax hike. CAP and other organizations have insisted that there were other ways of balancing the budget. As we’ve noted it is possible to cut earmarks and overhead. We can add another option to that list as well: tapping the “Shadow Budget“.

Our friends at the Commonwealth Foundation have written extensively on this subject. Now, a group of lawmakers have taken the next step and introduced a proposal to tap into reserves from the Shadow Budget to make up for the revenue shortfall. Per the Commonwealth Foundation:

“…Pennsylvania holds nearly $73 billion in surplus fund balances, including $11 billion in the Treasury’s shared pool. This includes funds for many of the state’s shadow budget programs. The funding for these and other programs are deposited into three investment pools.”

The proposal offered by House members would transfer $1.2 billion in excess reserves, from Treasury’s shared pool. This is money that taxpayers, ratepayers, and/or fee payers have already sent to the Treasury Department. Furthermore, this isn’t money that has been allocated to a specific project. Instead, this is money that is being held well in excess of the expected expenses and future revenues. In some cases, these are structural surpluses that have been accumulating for years or decades outside of the General Fund and normal budgeting process.

Taking money from the Shadow Budget’s unexpended funds won’t affect a single state employee or budgeted expenditure. However, it will save taxpayers from yet another tax increase. The question is whether the majority of Republicans in the General Assembly and the Governor will side with taxpayers or tax-and-spend special interests.

 

Shadow Budget Can Be Used To Bring Balance In Pa.

 

Shadow Budget Can Be Used To Bring Balance In Pa.