Fatties Must Bear Cost For Health Care Reform

Fatties Must Bear Cost For Health Care Reform

By Chris Freind Fatties Must Bear Cost

Three things about health care are universally true:

• It ranks near the top of “important” issues.

• It’s really expensive.

• Damn near no one understands it.

The combination of ignorance and health care’s ever-expanding complexities has resulted in a history of bad policy, where premiums have skyrocketed and coverage has declined. Obamacare, passed in 2009 and upheld by the Supreme Court, was supposed to change that by providing affordable care to every American.

It didn’t.

Despite promises to the contrary, many were unable to retain their preferred physician, experienced unacceptable wait times, and often did not receive the medical care to which they had been accustomed. And instead of physicians primarily focusing on patients – the very reason they chose the medical profession – too many were forced to deal with mountains of bureaucratic paperwork, decimating the personal doctor-patient relationship. Salt in the wound was watching premiums and deductibles continue to climb while health care became ever more labyrinthine.

Despite the broken system, Obamacare ruled the day and reform wasn’t an option. But all that changed with Donald Trump’s surprise victory. Now, repealing Obamacare is legitimately on the table. Or is it?

So as to not put this column’s readers to sleep more than normal, we won’t delve into the technical minutiae of health-care legislation, but instead look at the major areas where reform can, and must, be achieved.

But first, let’s address the white elephant that no one else is: There is no true solution to reforming health care so that it’s affordable for all Americans. None. There are many reasons for this, from our entitlement mentality to costs that simply cannot be controlled. But like our nation’s $20 trillion debt, it is a house of cards that will eventually implode. The best we can hope to achieve is slowing the inevitable and preparing a better system for when the current one collapses.

Two plus two always equals four – whether people choose to believe it. And the hard truth is that America simply cannot afford its astronomical health care costs. Most tragic is that, while everyone talks a great game about “protecting future generations,” so few walk the walk, preferring to “get theirs” as much as possible, to the detriment of our children and grandchildren.

For the last seven years, Republican leaders vowed, above all, to “repeal and replace Obamacare.” When the opportunity finally presented itself, the GOP found itself in complete disarray, with nothing to show but contentiousness within its ranks. Leaders somehow caught off-guard were forced to cobble together legislation that has unflatteringly been labeled “Obamacare-lite,” and which the Congressional Budget Office stated will cost significantly more than Obamacare.

One would have thought that, with so much time, the Republican Party’s best and brightest would have already crafted a bill of common-sense reforms that the whole caucus supported. But they didn’t, and, frankly, still don’t, as the current bill faces stiff opposition on several fronts. And it doesn’t help that President Trump is saddled with an approval rating of just 37 percent – a situation entirely of his own making. Squandering so much political capital in the first 60 days is not a recipe for success.

That said, here are several reforms that would inject market forces into the system to improve care and slow the meteoric rise in costs.

By far, the number one issue that must be on the table is addressing the obesity epidemic. And “epidemic” is exactly what it is, as 36 percent of Americans are obese, and an additional 34 percent are categorized as overweight. It is the largest factor in the spiraling costs that continue to devour ever larger slices of the health care pie. To get our arms around this, consider that more than $200 billion per year – yes, staggeringly, that’s per year – is spent on obesity-related, preventable chronic diseases. In other words, by the next presidential election, we will have spent a trillion dollars just on obesity costs alone. Chew the fat on that, because not even America’s economy can absorb such a monstrosity. And it will get considerably worse as more Baby Boomers – the most overweight generation on record – enters the period where health issues are most prevalent.

Obesity has already caused a massive upswing in cancers, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, bone issues and arthritis, just to name a few. Vaccines are not as effective in the obese, which compounds health care costs and increases risk to the general population. And obesity results in not just high rates of job absenteeism, but “presenteeism” – lower work productivity when employees do show up. In just a decade, the cost for this decreased and lost productivity is estimated to be upwards of $500 billion annually.

There are a host of other negative effects costing billions more – wider seats and doors in stadiums, amusement parks, and public transportation; larger and stronger toilets in hospitals and buildings; airline lawsuits and countersuits over whether the obese should be required to purchase two seats; and yes, even costs associated with building larger coffins. Perhaps most startling, a study found that one billion gallons of fuel are wasted every year (1 percent of the nation’s total) just to haul Americans’ extra pounds. Given that the average American weighs 24 more pounds than in 1960, airlines are using roughly 175 million more gallons of jet fuel per year just to accommodate our mass. From creating more carbon emissions, which in turn causes more health problems, to increasing business costs, the price of obesity is simply unacceptable.

Taxing foods and sugary drinks is not the answer, as that hurts manufacturers, businesses and employees, while penalizing healthy consumers.

So how do we cut the fat from these massive obesity outlays? For starters, since obese individuals incur 42 percent more health care costs than healthier people, they should bear the bulk of those costs.

This author does not typically favor government mandates, since they often lead to a “government-knows-best” nanny state.

However, a mandate that insurers must screen every individual, every year, to gain health assessments and establish baselines, makes sense. With that information, premiums can be adjusted so that those with self-induced obesity conditions pay more. And that is only fair, since healthier Americans are now mandated to subsidize the unhealthy behavior of the obese. Without incentives to become healthier, the problem will continue to expand faster than America’s waistline.

Some will call this a bigoted “fat tax,” while accusing this author of fat shaming. Wrong.

The obese can have their cake and eat it, too. They’d just pay more to do so. In reality, this wouldn’t be a tax at all, but a reduction in the taxpayer subsidy that they currently receive. How is that any different from life insurers making smokers pay more? Or auto insurers charging young drivers higher rates? Higher risk behavior begets higher premiums.

Those who become healthier by hitting reasonable benchmarks would earn a premium decrease, while those who choose to continue an obese lifestyle would be forced to put more skin in the game. No one is mandating what they can and can’t do, but no longer would their lifestyle choices – notwithstanding the “99 percent” who claim it’s a “thyroid problem” – be swallowed by taxpayers hungry for health care premium relief.

Take a bite out of the trillion-dollar obesity epidemic, and the rest is gravy.

Fatties Must Bear Cost For Health Care Reform

Minimum Wage Hike Hurts Poor

Minimum Wage Hike Hurts Poor

By Leo Knepper

Increasing the minimum wage will hurt the people who can least afford it.

To solve the budget deficit, Governor Wolf’s mathematically magical budget also includes an increase in the minimum wage. He is advocating an increase from $7.25 to $12 per hour. The Governor claims that raising the minimum wage to $12 would generate $95 million in additional tax revenue. There are numerous reasons to be skeptical of this claim and a positive impact of the minimum wage in general.

Advocating for a higher minimum wage plays well with the public as a whole, but it ignores the reality that the real minimum wage is $0.

As the minimum wage increases, automation becomes more cost effective in a larger number of settings. In response to $15 per hour minimum wages in several cities, McDonald’s and Wendy’s have rolled out self-serve kiosks to replace the workers who were taking orders. The government bodies who thought they would reap the rewards of higher wages to tax now tax nothing. Furthermore, there is now a cost to taxpayers for government benefits for the newly unemployed.

While the trend toward automation for low-skill positions is relatively new in fast food, the impact of higher minimum wages on the lowest skilled workers has been the subject of years of research. In reviewing the data, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that “the overall body of recent evidence suggests that the most credible conclusion is a higher minimum wage results in some job loss for the least-skilled workers-with possibly larger adverse effects than earlier research suggested.”

A multitude of unintended consequences come from a government mandated versus market-based wage. After a ballot measure increasing the minimum wage passed in Washington state child care costs skyrocketed. Another concern is that the minimum wage will have a disproportionately larger adverse effect on smaller business than larger ones. Who would have an easier time paying for higher labor costs, Walmart or your local hardware store?

No one wants their neighbor to live in poverty. However, the minimum wage and increases in it are not the way to address the problems of poverty or increasing tax revenues. An increase in the minimum wage would cost some people their jobs, shutter small businesses, and drive up consumer costs in Pennsylvania. And, none of those things are good for the Commonwealth.

PS: Have you contacted the General Assembly and Governor about the budget yet?

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

Minimum Wage Hike Hurts Poor

Minimum Wage Hike Hurts Poor

Unity Good, Division Bad

Unity Good, Division Bad

By Chris Freind Unity Good, Division Bad

“Oh, that’s madness. The pusillanimity and vindictiveness know no limits. Shouldn’t bygones be bygones? Surely the sophistication of a society can be measured by its tolerance and ability to forgive.”

– Former King of England Edward VIII in “The Crown,” after being informed that, despite abdicating 17 years prior, his wife still would not be invited to Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, purely out of spite.

Have we learned nothing over the years? Where are we, as a people, going? And not just any people, mind you, but Americans – the most benevolent and progressive (small “p”) people the world has ever known.

Yet we must ask if those accolades still apply. It seems inarguable that we deviated from our path of righteousness some time ago, willfully allowing that which sets us apart – civility and respect for the rule of law – to disappear from the American landscape. If we are to ever excise the cancerous cynicism now so pervasive, we must honestly ask ourselves, “Who are we?”

This author implores readers to avoid knee-jerk partisan responses that have become an ingrained part of our fabric, and instead pause to think. If we are sincere about self-reflection, we must seek answers in the one place that never lies: The mirror. Only then can we begin to figure out what we have become.

Lamentably, many Americans have become tolerant in name only, projecting an attitude of “sure, I’ll respect your opinion – so long as it’s mine.” Gone are the days when we would disagree civilly, and use that dissent not as a venue for antagonism, but as the building block to solutions.

And quite frankly, it’s never been this bad.

We arrived at our current state in many ways: Looking at the past through rose-colored glasses; playing the blame game; fearing a future where the gulf between haves and have-nots continues to grow; being afraid of change; and harboring an entitled attitude of “let me get mine.” Combine those proclivities with full-blown social media whipping the masses into a fury, where outright falsehoods are routinely claimed as irrefutable fact, and you have a powder keg ready to blow. Not since the Civil War has America seen citizen poised so stridently against fellow citizen.

The road to unity – not the trite sound bite so many mindlessly invoke, but true unity as one America – can only start when people step back and take stock of why we are so “valiantly” demonizing each other.

And yes, while that begins with the president, it certainly does not end with him, for we’ve been on this path long before Donald Trump came onto the scene. Failure to see that we are all at fault will only accelerate our decline as the world’s beacon of light. Consider:

• Longtime friendships have completely dissolved over the election, replaced by total silence or acrimonious battling. That’s insane. And we’re not just talking about amorphous Facebook friends, but people with whom we grew up — colleagues, neighbors, family members. What political disagreement can possibly be worth that price?

• Constructive dialogue has been replaced with nonstop protests, bans and boycotts. But to what end? Sure, those things are our right to do. But that doesn’t make them the “right” thing to do.

So Nordstrom dropped Ivanka Trump’s fashion line. Maybe they did it because sales were declining. Or because its leaders don’t like Donald Trump. So what? If you like Ivanka’s brand, buy it somewhere else. If you want to “punish” Nordstrom, don’t shop there. But why the furious push to boycott? Don’t we have bigger problems to solve than worrying about a billionaire’s daughter? Has it become standard practice to protest and boycott everyone with whom we disagree? Why can’t we just move on with our lives to make America even greater?

Nope. Instead, many Trump supporters are calling for more boycotts, including Coca-Cola and Budweiser because of “diversity” content in their Super Bowl ads. Time to get a life.

And then we have Under Armour models and spokesmen who took issue with the CEO’s statement that President Trump was a “real asset” for American business, leading to the CNN headline: “Under Armour tries to recover from Trump compliment.” Have we stooped so low that companies now have to “recover” from an innocuous comment? Since when do employees call the shots about what their boss can and cannot say?

Not to be outdone, anti-Trumpers felt compelled to burn their New Balance sneakers in a display of solidarity after an executive made a positive statement about the president. Let’s get this straight: Millions around the world have no shoes, but these protesters think it’s morally acceptable to burn shoes costing more than many families make in a year?

• Hillary Clinton called upon all Americans to respect the election results. Yet millions still refuse, setting the horrendous example to our children that we should only respect rules so long as they’re favorable to us.

No one is obligated to support the president, but as Americans, we should respect him and the office he holds – not shout obscenities and give him the middle finger. That is unacceptable. As is the action of the New England Patriots’ players refusing to attend the White House ceremony honoring the Super Bowl champs – because they don’t like Mr. Trump. Get over yourselves. He’s the president. Boycotting such an amazing opportunity shows their total lack of class.

• There is a movement to boycott and even cancel the annual White House Correspondents Dinner – a lighthearted affair dating back to 1921. To have such disregard for tradition, and to create animosity where there needn’t be, sets a horrible tone. How will children learn to interact together at school, play, work and on the ballfield when adults act so childishly? And that admonishment also applies to President Trump. He absolutely should attend.

• Our behavior has not been lost on our youth. They’ve become more emboldened to talk back to their elders and disrespect authority.

• And we are hearing talk about impeaching President Trump. So now, when we don’t like a president, we should call for impeachment, despite zero justification? Where did our common sense go, and why are we so hellbent on destroying ourselves and our children like this?

Our culture of disrespect is dividing us like never before. If our children are ever to have a peaceful and prosperous life, we must demand that civility and tolerance once again become the cornerstones of our society.

And that’s worth tweeting.

Unity Good, Division Bad

Pension Crisis Can Be Solved

Pension Crisis Can Be Solved

By Leo Knepper

Most people have heard the term Ponzi scheme and have a vague sense that the victim of the scheme is getting ripped off. In an actual Ponzi scheme, early investors see a substantial return on their investment. What they don’t realize is that the money they are getting is money being put into the investment by new investors. The system continues working as long as enough new investors come in to pay the people who were there before them. The architect of the scheme, never admits that this is what is happening and eventually the system collapses.

As noted by Chris Comisac at Capitol Wire (paywall), the description of a Ponzi scheme and a description of the state pension system by House Minority Leader, Rep. Joe Markosek are remarkably similar. In a recent email Rep. Markosek said:

“If Pennsylvania decided that 18 blue moons from now it would no longer offer retirement benefits for teachers and state employees … And the commonwealth’s debt was still $65 billion … Taxpayers would still be ‘on the hook’ to pay that $65 billion. BUT … Teachers and state employees would no longer be contributing their share (something they’ve always done while policy officials haven’t, until this fiscal year) and it would take taxpayers even longer to pay down that bad pension puppy.”

In other words, money coming in now is paying the unfunded liability; without that new money, we wouldn’t be able to pay people who are about to retire. When Comisac followed up with Rep. Markosek’s staff, they were quick clarify the statement and make sure that everyone knew that the Representative didn’t mean it was a legalized Ponzi scheme.

It is worth looking at a longer excerpt from Comisac’s analysis to drive home exactly what is going on; the emphasis is CAP’s:

“However, the claim that closing the current defined benefit plan, either to completely eliminate the DB plan for new employees or replace it for new employees with something like a 401(k)…would bring about the collapse of the closed DB [defined benefit] plan is simply ridiculous.

“First, the systems are currently in a state of negative cash flow, meaning, just like Fox wrote, “the systems must liquidate assets to pay bills,” and that’s with no closing of the plans or changes by SERS and PSERS to their pension assumptions – just the bad funding policies the systems currently employ.

“Second, closing the system doesn’t limit cash flow into the system any more than it’s currently being limited by not closing the system.

“If the DB plans were closed, the people in that plan at the time of closure would continue to contribute to their plan (as well as their employer on their behalf), with no additional funding needed from any of the people to be hired in the future who would be in a different retirement plan.

“Of course if that closed plan employs unsustainable assumptions upon which all the contribution rates for employees and employers are based, well then there could be a big problem – but that has nothing to do with the plan being closed and everything to do with how the plan was designed.”

That last part is why CAP has been adamantly opposed to a “hybrid” pension plan that combines defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC) elements. Some politicians and government union officials bring up the specter of “transition costs” as a reason to avoid switching to a pure 401k style DC plan. They’ve never once given an example of a private sector employer citing transition costs as a reason to keep offering pensions. A DC plan is the best way to protect beneficiaries and taxpayers.

As long as there is a DB plan, politicians will control what constitutes fully funding and what assumptions are made to determine liability. There is nothing to stop the General Assembly from making politically-driven assumptions about return on investment, life expectancy, and other factors that impact the liability. The further politicians deviate from reality in an attempt to enrich themselves and other government employees, the more likely it is that the money won’t be there to pay for their promises. Promising a lavish retirement is much more likely to get you votes than paying for it will. And, that bill is coming due.

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

Pension Crisis Can Be Solved

Pension Crisis Can Be Solved

Magic Wolf Claims Spending Cut With Higher Budget

Magic Wolf Claims Spending Cut With Higher Budget

By Leo Knepper

Magic Wolf Claims Spending Cut With Higher Budget By Leo Knepper
Magic man says he’s cutting while adding.

On Feb. 7, Gov. Wolf gave his latest budget address. Since he has his eye on re-election, this was the Governor’s most realistic budget to date. There are still a lot of problems with what he’s asking for, but it’s much less terrible that what he has wanted in the past.

 

For starters, Wolf acknowledges that there is room to cut spending and this is a step in the right direction. The problem arises when we look “under the hood, ” and then the cuts disappear. The state budget is made up of several different parts: the general fund, special funds, federal funds, and other funds. These various parts all add up to give us the total operating budget. The current year’s total operating budget is $80.1 billion. In his budget address, Gov. Wolf notes that there will be a $3 billion deficit next year. He purportedly solves the problem with $2 billion in spending cuts and “savings initiatives” and increases taxes by $1 billion to make up the difference.

Let’s direct our attention to Gov. Wolf’s spending “cuts.” If the current budget is $80.1 billion and the Governor’s proposed budget cuts $2 billion in spending, the proposed budget should be $78.1 billion. Here is where the magical math comes into play. Instead of being $78.1 billion, the Governor’s proposed budget is $81 billion, an increase in spending of nearly $900 million. How does a $2 billion cut turn into a $900 million spending increase?

The purported spending cuts turn into a spending increase due to “baseline budgeting.” In baseline budgeting, the previous year’s budget is the starting point and the next budget increases from that point by a certain percentage. In other words, politicians like Gov. Wolf can claim they are cutting spending, but in reality, they are only increasing it by a smaller percentage than they wanted. It’s the equivalent of Orwellian newspeak. Gov. Wolf and others rely on the ignorance of taxpayers to get away with it.

If the Commonwealth spent $2 billion less next year than they are this year, then there wouldn’t be any need to discuss tax increases. Please, contact Gov. Wolf and the General Assembly immediately. Tell them that cutting spending means cutting spending and not making it grow more slowly.

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

Magic Wolf Claims Spending Cut With Higher Budget

Wolf Prison Closing Political Move

Wolf Prison Closing Political Move

By Leo Knepper

As surely as night turns to day, politicians make decisions to improve their chances of re-election. For Governor Wolf, that means a proposal to close two state prisons. Just like his move to close Unemployment Compensation call centers was politically charged, Wolf’s decision to close prisons is also politically motivated, and it isn’t just Republicans who are making that complaint:

Wolf Prison Closing Political Move
Can this man do anything right?

“On Monday, another budget fight took shape during a Senate hearing in which Democratic and Republican lawmakers accused Wolf of playing politics with the safety and economic security of their communities…

“‘Why does this decision have to be made so fast?'” asked Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, whose district includes a prison in Pittsburgh.

“The facilities have to be empty by July 1 to to [sic] meet the full budget savings in the 2017-18 fiscal year, [Corrections Secretary] Wetzel replied.

“‘That’s the political reason,’ retorted Fontana, who said he did not believe the savings estimates if the prison employees are offered jobs elsewhere.”

Governor Wolf is trying to erase from voter’s minds his last two years of tax and spend budgets by proposing modest spending cuts. His targets thus far have been smart from a political perspective: two prisons, two mental hospitals, and reduced spending on economic development are targets that were sure to garner objections from Republican lawmakers. With a $2 billion deficit, Wolf is proposing small cuts that his opponents will object to; giving him the opportunity later to say “I tried to make spending cuts, but the General Assembly wouldn’t let me. I guess we’ll have to raise taxes.”

If we ignore the Governor’s political motivation in closing the prisons specifically, does it make sense from a policy perspective?

Although the union representing Corrections Officers would disagree, closing the prisons is the right choice from a fiscal standpoint. According to the Commonwealth Foundation, the Pennsylvania state prison system will be 92 percent full if two prisons are closed; that allows enough room for an uptick in the inmate population.

Now that the floodgates are opening for cost cutting, we hope that the next item on the chopping block is the $250 million from the “Race Horse Development Fund.”

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

Wolf Prison Closing Political Move

Trump Makes Missteps

Trump Makes Missteps

By Chris Freind Trump Makes Missteps

The heavy favorite sauntered in with a swagger that only comes from being on top. They had won the ultimate prize before, but this would be even better, as winning would shatter records and set new precedents. With the caliber of team the leader had assembled, victory seemed inevitable.

But a funny thing happened.

In a shock to the nation, the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide – national champions riding a whopping 26-game winning streak – fell to underdog Clemson at the very end, a stinging loss that no one saw coming. Sound familiar?

Sure, there were some questionable calls that hurt the favorite in the razor-thin contest. But that’s part of the game, so no excuses. Bottom line: On the only day that mattered, the Clemson Tigers were better.

Many disappointed Tide fans are still scratching their heads, wondering how their destiny was ripped away. But none is crying foul, nor are any protesting the outcome, since Clemson won fair and square. Doing so would be the sour grapes behavior of spoiled brats.

So how is it then, that if we can accept the results of a sporting event, we still have people rejecting the legitimacy of President Trump? And why all the protest marches now? The time to protest Donald Trump was Nov. 8, so it remains unclear what these people are protesting.

Since it’s been an unusually eventful inaugural week, here are some of the more interesting developments:

1. We’ll start with the administration. Self-inflicted errors, exacerbated by ego and inexperience, got the Trump team off on the wrong foot. The administration, already at war with the media, began by admonishing the press for its “incorrect” reporting of the inauguration crowd size – despite tweeting a photo that just happened to be from President Obama’s 2009 inauguration. How that mistake was made, if it was a mistake at all, is incomprehensible.

The president’s spokesman berated the press for not reporting that the inauguration was the most attended in history. Despite facts showing it was not (comparative photos, ridership on the Metro, etc.), the administration doubled down, and looked more foolish by the minute. The icing on the cake was when another spokesman stated that their position was based on “alternative facts.”

Too bad they haven’t yet realized that living in an alternative universe isn’t the best way to get a new administration rolling.

Most important, who cares how many people attended the inauguration? It is absolutely meaningless. OK, so fewer people attended this one than the last. Does that somehow make President Trump less of a president? Does that delegitimize his win, or at least knock it down a few pegs?

Maybe some didn’t attend because of weather, or watched on their smartphones, or just didn’t feel like going. Who cares?

Those making it an issue are grasping at straws, attempting to undermine the president’s credibility. Newsflash: It won’t work. People are concerned about their health care, Social Security and jobs – not crowd size.

That said, when will the president learn? Mr. Trump will never be the most popular figure, nor the world’s richest man. But he needs to understand that what he does have – and indeed, who he now is – trumps everything else. Donald Trump, as president of the United States, is the most powerful man on earth. Given the Republican Congress, he is poised to effect more change than perhaps any leader in American history. It is time, once and for all, for him to rise above the pettiness by not acknowledging irrelevant issues that can derail him.

For President Trump to be successful, he must start acting, well … presidential. Instead of worrying about crowd sizes or “Saturday Night Live” or any other extraneous topics, the president should heed the words of Martin Sheen’s character in “The American President:” “You fight the fights that need fighting.”

2. Since when did President Obama become the yardstick for everything? From the number of votes to inauguration crowd sizes to the pace of cabinet confirmations, the media seems obsessed with comparing the two men. Why? They, and the political environment in which they governed, are apples and oranges. No offense to President Obama, but it’s time to look ahead, not back.

3. Speaking of not looking back, it is astounding how many Republicans continue to blame President Obama and Hillary Clinton for so many things. Three points: A) President Obama accomplished virtually nothing over the last six years because the Republicans dominated Congress; therefore, much of that GOP blame is misallocated; 2. Republicans justifiably criticized President Obama for his near-constant blaming of George W. Bush; it is hypocritical for them to now do the same; and 3. the past is just that: The past. It is time to forge ahead with bold new ideas to jumpstart America. Those mired in the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes.

And, while admittedly a generalization, the only people who seem angrier than the Clinton losers are the Trump winners. As victims of discriminatory, double-standard policies, many have justifiable reasons to feel that way. However, they must understand that arguing with logic and compassion will always trump anger and vindictiveness. If the country is to ever unify, all sides need to grasp that lesson.

4. The fact that 66 congressmen boycotted the inauguration, social media backlash caused entertainer Jennifer Holliday to withdraw from festivities, and vile comments were directed toward a 16-year-old girl over her decision to sing the National Anthem at the inauguration, illustrates why our society is so divisive. Shame on them and their horrendous message that boycotts, threats and insults, even toward the young and innocent, are acceptable when things don’t go your way.

5. And then we have the protests. To quote former Eagles running back Ricky Watters: “For who? For what?”

From the anti-capitalists who smashed their way into a Starbucks (no doubt to grab a smoked butterscotch latte to fuel their violence), to the Women’s March organizers, none has yet provided clarity on what they were protesting. And when liberal feminist commentator Cokie Roberts agrees with that point, you know it’s bad.

Was it to protest the election result? Sorry, but that ship sailed, especially since many more of them could have voted, but didn’t. Was it rebelling against the electoral college and Hillary winning the popular vote? Ditto. How about Donald Trump’s sexist and insulting comments? Yeah, that was hashed out over the last 18 months in that thing called a presidential campaign. So, what then? Was it to send Mr. Trump a message that woman cannot be ignored? Try again, since many women were unwelcome on the march because they were pro-life. Inclusive, the march was not. Or was it the stagnant economy? Gee, that’s great. Blame the guy who’s been on the job for one day.

The real reason for the protests is what this column has frequently discussed: Protesting has become America’s new pastime. The “coddled generation,” which has been raised to believe it’s entitled to everything, sprang into action because it felt “offended” that Trump won, facts be damned.

Bingo.

Sure, protesting is the people’s right. So is stupidity. When the two go hand in hand, the result isn’t pretty.

If America is to move forward, it’s time for the grown-ups – on both sides, starting with the president himself – to take charge. Because as Michael Douglas’ presidential character says, also in “The American President:” “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.”

Time to get cracking. Together.

Trump Makes Missteps

Wayne Langerholc Temptation Test

Wayne Langerholc Temptation Test

By Lowman S. Henry

As the saying goes you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  That is very bad news for freshman State Senator Wayne Langerholc who arguably has made the worst first impression of any legislator in the history of Penn’s Woods.  

Wayne Langerholc Temptation TestLangerholc is one of three Republican senators who captured seats in last November’s election formerly held by Democrats.  Their election has given the GOP a veto proof majority in the state senate helping to further tilt the scales in Harrisburg against the big spending policies of Governor Tom Wolf.

But the champagne corks were put back into the bottles when Langerholc decided to renege on a key campaign pledge even before being sworn into office.  The result has been an uproar not seen since the rebellion over the middle-of-the-night pay raise a decade ago.

First some background:  Langerholc began 2016 as a challenger to long time State Senator John Wozniak in a district sandwiched between Johnstown and Altoona.  The district had been trending Republican giving rise to GOP hopes of a pick-up. Wozniak himself realized the hopelessness of his situation and bailed out of the race long before Election Day.

Early on Langerholc made a pledge to the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania (CAP), a Harrisburg-based pro-growth PAC that he would not accept a pension if elected.  CAP generally requires such a pension declination of its candidates because it supports pension reform that would move away from the current defined benefits to a defined contribution (401k) style system.  (By way of full disclosure I serve on the board of CAP PAC’s affiliated nonprofit.)

Having declined the pension and otherwise fitting the profile of a CAP candidate the PAC invested over $15,000 in Langerholc’s general election campaign including sending a glossy mailer to voters in his district highlighting his pledge not to take the state pension.

But then he did.

Langerholc’s reason for breaking his pledge to the taxpayers of his district is clear as mud.  As the uproar over his apostasy went viral he offered various explanations.  The wayward senator claimed he still supports pension reform and told a Harrisburg television station that he wants all legislators and newly hired state employees in a 401k-style retirement system.

So why not lead by example?  Langerholc then offered up another statement employing pretzel logic that resembled John Kerry’s infamous “I voted for the bill before I voted against it” comment by claiming he had to sign up for the pension in order to eventually join a 401k-style system.  To justify that position he cited provisions in proposed legislation.

But the bottom line is whatever the requirements will be for those currently in the state employees retirement system to move into a 401k-style plan the law will be written by the legislature which, for the moment at least, includes Senator Langerholc.  He has quickly learned an old Harrisburg trick: claim to be captive of the very laws you write.

The initial ABC27 report on Langerholc’s pension pledge violation quickly spread with the senator’s subsequent interviews on the subject becoming more and more convoluted.  His response included everything except an admission that he lapped up a perk which many consider to be unconstitutional in the first place.  The result was not only a media firestorm, but a viral reaction on Facebook with the senator being called many names not suitable for recounting here.

This dust-up brings into focus the larger issue of candidates for legislative seats signing pledges or responding to candidate questionnaires.  The vast majority of organizations from local TEA parties to those who employ professional lobbyists will ask candidates to take a position on issues of importance to them.

The political consulting class and many party leaders are more and more advising if not requiring their candidates to not sign pledges or to fill out questionnaires.  They don’t want their clients taking stands on tough issues and likely will use the Langerholc kerfuffle as a prime example of what happens when you do.

But when it comes to pledges and questionnaires the solution is not for candidates to refuse to answer.  The solution is actually very simple: tell us where you stand, tell us what you will do, and then keep your word.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Wayne Langerholc Temptation Test

Burying Bill Adolph, Not Praising Him

Burying Bill Adolph, Not Praising Him

By Rocco Polidoro
The political career of retiring State Representative William F. Adolph,165th District is a clear case of why Pennsylvania needs a State Constitutional amendment to install term limits and to lower the number of legislators.

Burying Bill Adolph, Not Praising Him
Rep. Bill Adolph

The 165th state house district covers parts of Morton, Springfield, Marple and Radnor. I hear Bill Adolph is a good guy in Delaware County but many people don’t know about the Bill Adolph in Harrisburg.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has 203 members and the PA Senate has 50 members. Government watchdog groups have labeled PA as the fifth most corrupt state in the Country.

House members start off making $85,339 a year with excellent benefits. When Adolph started in 1989, he was earning about $35,000. Employee benefit specialists estimate that a great benefit package, like what state legislators make, is equal to about an extra 35 percent of their salary. Bill Adolph ended his 28 years with a salary of $120,000.

Employee benefit specialist would also say that the schedule of a state legislator is considered part time. The average full time worker works about 250 days a year whereas state lawmakers work about 125 days a year. In addition many lawmakers have other jobs or businesses which confirms the fact that their state jobs are part time. Plus they get over $600 a month car allowance, $159 a day for expenses and a full medical package which includes Nursing Home protection. So when one adds up Bill Adolph’s salary, his benefits, car allowance, per diem expenses, office rent, staff salaries and their benefits, the State of Pennsylvania has spent over $4 million in the last 28 years.

And there is no way to add up all of the gifts, conference trips and sporting events that had come his way in those 28 years.

Now that Adolph retires in January, he will earn about $120,000 a year in a pension with full medical insurance. The complete retirement package alone can total another $3 million over the next 20 years. So the grand total for Bill Adolph could top around $7 million.

Why do we tax-payers allow all this for career politicians ? There wouldn’t be any pensions with full medical benefits if there were term limits in place. Wouldn’t a 10-year limit be enough?

Our Founding Fathers never planned for us to have public servants spend a life time as a legislator and pay them a pension and medical care for life.To make matters worse, there are 252 other state law-makers that have the potential to draw millions. Now what did we get for the $7 million that we will eventually spend for Bill Adolph?

If you were waiting for property tax relief, Adolph never brought that to PA. If you support public education, Adolph voted many times to cut funding to our public schools but did vote to give millions to Charter Schools. If you supported cutting waste in government, Adolph was a major distributor of WAM (Walking Around Money) money for years. WAM money was unappropriated and unaccounted state money for special projects in the districts of the powerful lawmakers.

Adolph has had a history of not being a good steward of our tax money. While he was on the Board of Directors and then the chairman of PHEAA, the State Auditor General did a report in 2007 which showed that PHEAA wasted $25 million over a 5 year period. PHEAA is the state agency that awards college grants and school loans to college students.

Another example of Adolph’s poor stewardship of our taxes was when he voted in 2001 to increase the pension formula of state lawmakers, judges and teachers by 50 percent. As a result the 501 school districts in PA owe over a billion dollars to the state pension system. And because of this pension-funding crisis, many school districts will be forced to eventually raise property taxes even more.

In 2005, Adolph voted to raise his salary by 34 percent on July 7th at 2 a.m. with no input from the press or the public. Adolph took the first month increase but when the word got out and the pressure mounted on all of the Legislators, Adolph returned the increase in the second month. To prevent another fiasco like the 2 a.m. vote, Adolph and the rest of his friends, voted to permanently build in a cost of living increase so their salaries can go up a little every year. This way most of the public won’t know of their annual increases.

Adolph’s salary has gone up from $35,000 to $120,000. Can you vote yourself a 350-percent increase in your pay over a 28 year period ? You see my friends, we don’t need to be spending hundreds of millions on these politicians. And that is why we need to get behind groups that want to create term limits and lower the number of law makers. I

n PA there are 50 state senate districts. We are paying salaries and benefits for those 50 senators and their staff. Then within each of those 50 senate districts, there are four state house members like Bill Adolph. Why do we need four State House members in an area where we already have a state senator? It’s excessive representation and we over-pay dearly for it. If you think Adolph’s $7 million package is mind-blowing, try to calculate what we are spending through out the State for the hundreds of retired and active law-makers and their staff.

We have to impose term limits and decrease the number of law makers. It’s no wonder our state is now $1.7 Billion in the red. If we don’t change the State Constitution, you won’t be able to afford living in PA. Bill Adolph may be a nice guy but no politician is worth $7 Million.The hard working people of Pennsylvania need to wake up.

Mr. Polidoro is an outspoken Democrat from Springfield and has been long represented by Rep. Adolph.

 

Burying Bill Adolph, Not Praising Him

Altoona Call Center Was Most Efficient And Is Now Closed

Altoona Call Center Was Most Efficient And Is Now Closed

By Leo Knepper

In November, the Wolf administration announced that they would be laying off 600 employees from unemployment call centers across the state. The official line is that the layoffs were due to the Senate’s failure to pass legislation funding the call centers. On the surface that explanation makes sense. However, it becomes less likely when you consider that the Governor had redirected billions of dollars in state funding during the extended budget process in 2015. It is also an odd “coincidence” that four of the seven call centers selected for closure were in Republican Senatorial Districts.

Altoona Call Center Was Most Efficient And Is Now Closed
He closed unemployment call center rated most efficient.

When that coincidence was pointed out to the Department of Labor and Industry, their spokeswoman flatly denied that politics played any role in the selection process. According to the Patriot-News, Governor Wolf stated that the closure decisions were “”based on a series of variables, including performance, capacity, efficiency, and ability of the centers to handle increased call volume.” Now information has come out refuting those claims as well.

Last Friday, Senator John Eichelberger and Senator Scott Wagner visited the Altoona Call Center. He had some interesting thoughts on the visit:

The Altoona Center is rated as the most efficient center with the lowest cost per call, they are the only office trained to handle a federal displaced workers program, and their building is one of two owned by the Commonwealth; the remainder of the Call Center buildings are leased. Most businesses would not close their most productive office, nor would they shut down an operation in a building they’re stuck with instead of closing one where they can get out of a lease.  Some of the employees feel that after the layoff, claim filing will become severely backed up and take out their anger on state legislators.  The real question is whether or not that is the strategy of the Wolf administration.  If their plan is to inflict enough pain on people who just lost their jobs simply to leverage the House and Senate, that smacks of the “Bridgegate” charges in New Jersey.” (Emphasis added)

The New Jersey Bridgegate scandal involved Governor Christie’s staff closing lanes of a local bridge to punish his political opponents. Considering how much heartburn some Republicans in the General Assembly are causing Governor Wolf, there are certainly some interesting parallels to the closure of the call centers and the Bridgegate Scandal in New Jersey. Senator Wagner and the Senate have submitted right-to-know requests for communications related to the closures and we’ll be curious to see what they find.

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

Altoona Call Center Was Most Efficient And Is Now Closed