Education Access Now Piggy Bank

Education Access Now Piggy Bank

By Leo Knepper

The Education Access Program (EAP) budget item has increased by nearly 600 percent since the 2014-2015 budget cycle. Initially, the EAP had a $3.95 million budget. It grew to over $23 million last year. If you dig into it a little, you’ll find that the funds from the Program have been requested and spent on projects mainly to benefit Senate Democrats. In some cases, the funds go to school districts directly, but the majority of the funds have gone to support organizations like: The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, The Bryn Mawr Film Institute, and The Pittsburgh Opera.

Private individuals making donations to charitable organizations is a vital part of civil society. When government forces taxpayers to support particular organizations, that is another matter entirely. Lawmakers’ ability to present giant cardboard checks to local charities is a pernicious part of the “incumbent protection” program designed to make it harder to dislodge elected officials once they are elected to office. Furthermore, over the course of recent history, we have seen members of the General Assembly direct tax-dollars to “charities” that directly benefited them financially, or organizations that were run by their campaign contributors.

Beyond the problems associated with doling out tax dollars to favored charities for good public relations, sending funds to school districts via the EAP is never a one-time deal. One of the quirks in how Pennsylvania funds school districts is a “hold harmless” provision. Essentially, the amount of money sent to a school district from state taxpayers cannot be decreased. In other words, the payments from the EAP to school districts will always be included in the “Basic Education Funding” the school receives from the Commonwealth. A $10,000 grant automatically turns into an additional $10,000 included in the next year’s (and the next, etc.) baseline funding.

Despite an insistence almost every year that the state budget is “cut to the bone,” questionable spending through the EAP and other programs illustrates that that is not the case. Too many members of the General Assembly confuse wants and needs when it comes to spending tax dollars. As we move through the budget process, our elected officials would be wise to take a closer look at where our money is actually going.

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

Education Access Now Piggy Bank  By Leo Knepper  The Education Access Program (EAP) budget item has increased by nearly

Pennsylvania Spends More, Gets Less

Pennsylvania Spends More, Gets Less

By Leo Knepper

Every June an unholy alliance of Big Government special interests and politicians gathers in Harrisburg to decide how to spend your money. Governor Wolf provided an outline of what he wanted to see back in February. His focus was on more education spending, more taxes on natural gas, and a higher minimum wage. As we noted at the time:

Pennsylvania currently spends more on education than forty-one other states. More money is not going to help students in failing schools…The worst performing school district [in Pennsylvania], Wilkinsburg Borough, spends over $30,000 per pupil. However, only fifteen percent of their students are proficient in math, and twenty-six percent are proficient in reading. On top of poor performance in math and reading, less than half of Wilkinsburg’s students graduate. More money is not the solution for our education system’s failings…

“In his budget address, Wolf repeated the lie that natural gas companies aren’t paying their ‘fair share’ and he advocated for raising their taxes. He stated that Pennsylvania was the only state not collecting an extraction tax, but the Governor failed to mention that we are the only state to levy an impact fee. In 2017, the natural gas companies paid over $200 million into Pennsylvania’s coffers due to our impact fee. Natural gas companies are also subject to the Commonwealth’s corporate net income tax, which happens to be the second highest in the country. On top of that, the Treasury gets a cut of any royalties paid to individuals by the gas companies. At what point will Governor Wolf be satisfied that natural gas companies are paying their fair share?

“The final item trotted out by the Governor was an increase in the minimum wage. If Governor Wolf wants to make it harder for lower-skilled workers to find employment, setting an artificially high wage floor will undoubtedly make that happen. Minimum wage increases enacted by other states and localities have resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and Pennsylvania would not be exempt from that trend.”

As far as we can tell, none of the Governor’s proposals are entirely off the table. In fact, Senate Republican leaders and Democrats included another shale gas tax in their fiscal code last year, along with several other tax increases. The House nixed the worst of the fiscal code, including the shale tax increase. So far this year, we haven’t heard anything from Senate Republican leaders shutting the door on targeted tax increases.

We have yet to see a budget proposal from the Pennsylvania House or Senate. The General Assembly doesn’t provide a budget framework until closer to the June 30th deadline, making it harder for taxpayers to weigh in on how their money will be spent over the next year. We will be sure to update you as soon as there is anything to report.

Pennsylvania Spends More, Gets Less

Pennsylvania Spends More, Gets Less

SB 251 Lets Towns Fund Budgets With Speed Traps

SB 251 Lets Towns Fund Budgets With Speed Traps

By Christopher Fromme

Imagine driving down the PA Turnpike when suddenly, … a State Trooper pulls you over and issues you a ticket  The speeding ticket, even though it’s only a little bit over the limit, is hundreds of dollars… your day is absolutely ruined!

Now, imagine if this scenario played itself out every day, on every street in the Commonwealth, with the same efficiency as the highway patrol.  Instead, a local Law Enforcement Officer has pulled you over, not because you posed a threat to public safety, but to meet a quota, for the purpose of balancing the local municipal budget.

The General Assembly in Harrisburg is trying to make this nightmare a reality. Senate Bill 251 has already passed  in the Senate and just passed 22-2 in the House Transportation Committee.  If this bill passes, it would grant new powers to local police, so that every local police department would be able to use RADAR guns to determine vehicle speed. With SB251 Harrisburg is authorizing a 20% across-the-board municipal regressive tax increase, one that disproportionately affects those least able to afford it poor and middle class families with little disposable income.

This is not the way we should be funding our local communities, and we still have time to stop this.  We need to contact every State Representative to demand they withdraw their support of this bill, and vote NO on SB251.  Stopping this bill is vital to protecting families from a new and dangerous form of taxation on PA citizens.  This is worse than GAS TAX vote which helped defeat Senator Randy Vulakovich in the May primary

Further, SB 251 gives municipalities a big incentive to support this new taxation tool, because it allows for up to 20% of their budget to come from RADAR and LIDAR tickets.  To be clear, Harrisburg is authorizing a 20% across-the-board municipal tax increase!  They know that local leaders are being confronted with rising municipal costs, and are being forced to either raise property taxes or make due with less.  They want to pass this bill to give those leaders a new way to raise money, without the stigma of raising their existing property or income taxes. Unfortunately, the tax they are attempting to create with SB 251 is a regressive tax, one that disproportionately affects those least able to afford it: poor and middle class families with little disposable income.

SB 251 will force our LEOs to serve as tax collectors; establishing and meeting budget quotas,putting themselves in harm’s way to execute needless traffic stops, and collecting taxes at the point of a gun. Anger and violence will inevitably be directed at individual officers due to this practice, but the reality is that they have little to no accountability directly to citizens, as local police work for the municipalities in PA, and are not elected like our County Sheriffs.

This is not the way we should be funding our local communities, and luckily, we still have time to stop this.  We need to contact our State Representatives  to demand they withdraw their support of this bill, and vote NO on SB 251.  Stopping this bill is vital to protecting families, individual citizens and LEOs, and stopping a new and dangerous form of taxation on PA citizens.

For those living in Pennsylvania’s 38th Senate District  make sure to vote  for Jeremy Shaffer on Nov. 6. No negative ads just positive solutions.   www.jeremyshaffer.com

SB 251 Paves Way For Speed Traps

SB 251 Lets Towns Fund Budgets With Speed Traps

CAP Happy With Election Results

CAP Happy With Election Results

By Leo Knepper

(May 15) was a fantastic night for CAP (Citizens Alliance for Pennsylvania), and CAP PAC supported candidates. Scott Wagner, the CAP PAC endorsed candidate for Governor, won by a comfortable margin. We look forward to an exciting gubernatorial race in the fall. Pennsylvanians will be able to draw clear distinctions between the candidates. One option will be Gov. Tom Wolf, who has never met a tax increase he didn’t like. The other option will be Scott Wagner, a man who understands that every dollar that government spends is coming out of someone’s pocket.

Both of the candidates CAP PAC supported for the Senate won commanding victories. Kristin Phillips-Hill (York County) and Jeremy Shaffer (Allegheny County) both ran fantastic campaigns. Shaffer’s campaign is especially noteworthy. Jeremy defeated an incumbent Senator, Randy Vulakovich, by over 15 points! Senate Republican leadership pulled out all the stops to defend Vulakovich, including filing a baseless complaint against CAP. Senate Republican leadership is trying to weaponize the Pennsylvania Department of State. Their goal is to violate the privacy of the donors to our 501c4, despite the protections granted to donors by federal law and precedent. (We will keep you posted on this issue.)

We would also like to congratulate Representatives Dawn Keefer (York County) and Justin Simmons (Lehigh County) for their victories. The final triumph we’d like to report is Mike Jones (York County). Mike won nearly 85 percent of the primary vote. He had by far the most significant margin of victory for any of the CAP or CAP PAC supported candidates.

We are looking forward to an exciting November.

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

CAP Happy With Election Results

CAP Happy With Election Results

Pa Judges Corrupt As Legislature, Governor

Pa Judges Corrupt As Legislature

By Lowman S. Henry

The myth has been exposed.

The judicial branch of state government is no different than the legislative and executive branches. Too much power corrupts, and actions are motivated more by political interests than by the public interest.

That partisan politics pervades Pennsylvania’s statewide judiciary was laid bare by the recent re-gerrymandering of the commonwealth’s congressional districts. In what amounted to a flagrant violation of both the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions, a redistricting plan was forced upon voters by judicial fiat.

Under the guise of claims they were correcting an excessive gerrymander, the justices played their role in an elaborate nationwide scheme to force the redraw of district maps in key states. The collusion began at the national level, was put into place when massive labor union campaign donations financed a Democratic takeover of the high court in the 2015 elections, Left-leaning interest groups filed suit, and the justices then issued an unprecedented series of rulings culminating in the institution of a nicer looking, but more highly gerrymandered map favorable to Democrats.

Did the justices right a wrong, or did they overstep their authority? The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. conducts a semi-annual Keystone Business Climate Survey of business owners and chief executive officers. In the Spring 2018 survey conducted during the month of March a total of 61% said the court overstepped its authority, 22% think it righted a wrong.

Speaking of wrong, three seats on the state Supreme Court were open in 2015 because of mis-deeds that forced the resignation of three justices. One was convicted of using taxpayer-paid staff to campaign, one was accused of attempting to blackmail a fellow justice, and another viewed material on his office computer that was, shall we say, not suitable for work.

The judiciary’s carefully cultivated aura of superiority now lies in tatters on the courtroom floor. Using that aura, judges and justices have been given certain perks not afforded the other two branches of state government. They get ten year terms, making them unaccountable to voters. They run for retention rather than for re-election, a process that but once has resulted in jurists being retained.

Should judges and justices serve ten year terms, or should the length of those terms be reduced? Twenty-five percent of respondents to the Spring 2018 Keystone Business Climate Survey said they should continue to serve ten year terms. However, 67 percent think shorter terms are in order. Thirty-six percent supports giving judges and justices six year terms, 31 percent  think they should serve four year terms.

A similar margin supports doing away with retention elections. Seventy-two percent think judges and justices should stand for re-election, 21 percent say the current retention system should itself be retained.

Pennsylvania has three appellate courts the Supreme Court, the Commonwealth Court and the Superior Court. Judges and justices on these courts are currently elected by voters statewide. These elections are low profile with voters often going into the polls having little or no knowledge of the candidates or their qualifications.

Two potential reforms have been proposed. One is a so called “merit selection” process in which voters would have no say in the selection of judges and justices who would then be picked by power brokers in the other two branches of government. The other would be to elect appellate court jurists by region or by district such as we do with members of congress and the state legislature.

Merit selection received little support from the business owners and CEOs with only 12 percent favoring such a process. Twenty-three percent said we should continue to elect judges and justices in a statewide election. A solid majority, 58 percent  said they favor electing jurists by district.

The general trend of the Keystone Business Climate Survey results relative to the court was to support giving voters more say in holding appellate court judges and justices accountable. Those Supreme Court justices who staged the re-districting coup won’t stand for retention for eight years. The only accountability mechanism currently available is impeachment by a 46 percent to 32 percent margin survey respondents said the legislature should impeach the offending justices.

Although some members of the General Assembly have proposed doing just that it won’t happen. Why? Because such a move requires political courage; and political courage in Pennsylvania is about as rare as unicorns and purple squirrels.

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

Pa Judges Corrupt As Legislature, Governor

Medical Assistance Work Requirement Before Senate

Medical Assistance Work Requirement Before Senate

By Leo Knepper

On Tuesday (April 17) the Pennsylvania House passed HB 2138 with bipartisan support. This legislation would make important changes to Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance (MA) program. Welfare programs too often measure their success by the number of people enrolled; not how many people achieve independence. HB 2138 reforms the MA program by adding work requirements for able-bodied adults. Work requirements should be a cornerstone of any welfare reform proposal. According to the sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Matt Dowling, 51 percent of able-bodied MA recipients do not work.

At one-time MA was truly limited to the neediest, but that changed with Obamacare. Now nearly 20 percent of the US population are enrolled in MA plans. By adding work, job search, and training requirements, Rep. Dowling is ensuring that people who can work are encouraged to attain independence. It is worth noting that HB 2138 exempts several groups of people from the work search requirements. The exemptions include some of the most vulnerable members of society like pregnant women, people who are in a mental institution, children and senior citizens.

Adding work requirements does increase administrative costs for the state. However, those costs will be more than offset by the savings generated by people who are able to move off of MA. There are thousands of empty skilled labor and manufacturing jobs across the state, helping people prepare for that work and off of public assistance is a win for everyone.

HB 2138 now moves to the Senate.

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

Pennsylvania Shadow Budgets Are Font Of Corruption

Pennsylvania Shadow Budgets Are Font Of Corruption

By Leo Knepper

Pennsylvania Shadow Budgets Are Font Of Corruption  By Leo Knepper  One of the only good things to come out of last year’s budget was a transfer of $300 million from Pennsylvania’s shadow budget to the General Fund to cover the overspending. The shadow budget is comprised of Special Funds
Shadowy Spender

One of the only good things to come out of last year’s budget was a transfer of $300 million from Pennsylvania’s shadow budget to the General Fund to cover the overspending. The shadow budget is comprised of Special Funds that exist outside of the normal budgeting process. Several lawmakers found over $1 billion in excess money in these accounts last year. After a great deal of public pressure, the General Assembly agreed to transfer $300 million from the shadow accounts to the general fund. The $300 million was money already collected by the state and collecting interest in a savings account. To borrow from our favorite clickbait headlines, “You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!”

Rather than taking funds from the extra $1 billion that lawmakers identified, Governor Wolf created a new special fund. For this new special fund, Wolf borrowed $200 million against the State Farm Show Complex through a “leaseback” agreement. The arrangement is basically a loan that will cost taxpayers $191 million in interest over the next twenty-nine years. But wait, there’s more.

According to reporting on the deal:

“The winner was Blackford Ventures, a Lancaster County development company that provides government entities and private businesses with cash. After Blackford won the bid, the company created a separate firm, Municipal Real Estate Funding, in December to handle the Farm Show transaction. Both Blackford and Municipal Real Estate are listed on the contract.

“The company is owned by Richard Welkowitz, a one-time Teamster laborer turned entrepreneur. Blackford’s chief executive officer is Mike Brubaker, a former Republican state senator.” (Emphasis added)

Several members of the Pennsylvania House are exploring legal options to halt the lease. True to form, the Wolf administration may have overstepped its legal authority in entering the agreement. Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, only the General Assembly must approve the issuance of new debt with very limited exceptions. The issue revolves around whether the deal is a lease or a loan. There is also the matter of Governor Wolf creating a Special Fund out of whole cloth in order to subvert the intent of the General Assembly. Given the PA Supreme Court’s recent willingness create new powers for itself, we are skeptical that they would be willing to intervene on behalf of taxpayers in this instance.

Lawmakers are exploring the option of requiring the Wolf administration to make the lease payments from the Executive Branch’s budget. We will let you know if they take that route.

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

Pennsylvania Shadow Budgets Are Font Of Corruption

 

 

Black Robed Bandits By Lowman Henry

Black Robed Bandits 

By Lowman S. Henry

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has triggered a constitutional crisis with the growing possibility that one or more of the justices may stand before the state senate in an impeachment trial.  The specter is unparalleled in the recent history of the commonwealth and reflects the recent politicization of the high court.

At immediate issue is the court’s utter disregard for the Constitution of the United States, the Pennsylvania state constitution, willingness to interfere in the legislative process, and abandonment of centuries of precedent.

Aside from intervention by the Supreme Court of the United States, this crisis can have only one of two outcomes: removal of the offending justices from the bench, or evisceration of the power of the General Assembly and the institution of defacto government by judicial fiat in Pennsylvania.

National Democrats triggered this crisis by targeting Pennsylvania’s congressional district map for judicial challenge.  The state’s Supreme Court, bolstered in 2015 by the election of three labor union-backed, highly partisan justices, offered fertile ground for just such a challenge.

The justices deserve an Oscar as they played their role to perfection first striking down a district map which had previously passed scrutiny by the state Supreme Court. It then ordered the legislature to violate not only its own rules of procedure, but also constitutional provisions to produce a new map without any public input or even a vote by its members.  It then, with no constitutional authority, hired an activist college professor from California to draw a new map which it arbitrarily ordered adopted.

This unprecedented series of events occurred because national Democrats, who remain apoplectic over the election of President Donald Trump, concluded they could not win control of the U.S. House of Representatives under the current set of district maps in place in the various states.  They then set about challenging maps targeting Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and several other states.

The maps under which Pennsylvanians elected our congressional delegation have been in place since 2011.  The maps were drawn according to all existing constitutional, judicial and legislative guidelines and rules of procedure.  That regular order of business resulted in districts that elected a solidly Republican congressional delegation.

But the purpose of redistricting is not to guarantee outcomes.  It is to provide for districts that are virtually equal in population.  The 2011 map did just that, but then the current Supreme Court bench made up new standards – found nowhere in any constitution – to strike down that map.

Every congressional district map is gerrymandered to some degree based on the partisan leanings of the person or group of people drawing the lines. Certainly the 2011 map was gerrymandered.  But an analysis of the map instituted by the Supreme Court finds it is even more highly gerrymandered than the map the court declared to be unconstitutional.

What we have learned is that Democrats are better than Republicans at putting lipstick on a pig.  The new map looks more compact – but compactness does not mean the map wasn’t drawn for partisan advantage.  In that regard the court’s map is more highly gerrymandered than the one they struck down.

The court’s overt partisan acts have set up a constitutional showdown with the legislature.  This is actually the second time (the first involved environmental rights) the Supreme Court has trampled the state constitution and appropriated unto itself legislative powers.  If the justices get away with this, then they will have effectively rendered the legislature powerless.

Voters, unfortunately, will have little say in the matter.  State Supreme Court Justices are elected for ten year terms, and then stand for retention rather than re-election.  The offending justices in this case are just two years into their terms.  Likely eight years from now the current kerfuffle will be totally forgotten by the electorate.

So, unless the General Assembly wishes to turn themselves into governmental eunuchs they have no choice but to impeach the offending justices.  State Representative Chris Dush has introduced an impeachment resolution which is getting serious consideration by legislative leadership. U.S. Senator Pat Toomey offered his blessing saying impeachment is a conversation that must be held.

We now stand at a fork in Penn’s Woods.  Will we be governed by a constitution and three branches of government that respect and abide by the separation of powers it establishes, or will the black robed bandits of the state Supreme Court steal the power of the legislature – and ultimately the power of We the People – in a brazen plot to change the nation’s congressional majority?

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

Black Robed Bandits By Lowman Henry

Pennsylvania Energy Keeps America From Dependency

Pennsylvania Energy Keeps America From Dependency

By Don Schreiber

Our Commonwealth produces our own energy, helping to free the United States from the bonds of overseas oil.

We are producing more natural gas then we ever had before and that is great news for Pennsylvania and its residents.  Jobs are being created, industries are growing and revenue is increasing because of the natural gas industry.  Even all our counties receive money directly from an industry severance tax for environmental use to create park space and other quality of life activities that makes us proud to live in our communities.

And, natural gas even helps reduce pollution. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “Natural gas has been a game-changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions that have been very hard to get our arms around for decades.”
So, let us let this industry grow and continue to lower energy consumers costs and not be used as a PA budget solution – something our current Governor is attempting – creating a new energy tax, on top of an already existing severance tax. While this tax will be paid for by the producers of natural gas, the Commonwealth’s Independent Fiscal Office found that a severance tax will ultimately be paid by royalty owners and consumers of natural gas.
For the sake of Pennsylvania’s ratepayers and taxpayers, encourage your State legislators to refuse Governor Wolf’s calls for new energy taxes.
Mr. Schreiber is a resident of Coatesville.
Pennsylvania Energy Keeps America From Dependency

 

Pennsylvania Energy Keeps America From Dependency

Court Created Congressional Mess

Court Created Congressional Mess

By Leo Knepper

Court Created Congressional MessThe Pennsylvania Supreme Court released its version  (see image) of the congressional districts map on Monday.  As we noted previously, the Court lacks authority under the Pennsylvania Constitution to draw districts. It is likely that Republicans will file suit in federal court to stop the Court-created Congressional districts from being used in the 2018 elections. One avenue for seeking a federal injunction is summarized by Justice Max Baer, the lone Democrat to dissent from the final opinion:

“While I have expressed my misgivings with allowing an election to proceed based upon a constitutionally-flawed map, I continue to conclude that the compressed schedule failed to provide a reasonable opportunity for the General Assembly to legislate a new map in compliance with the federal Constitution’s delegation of redistricting authority to state legislatures.[US Constitution, Article 1, Section 4]

“My skepticism regarding the time allotted the Legislature has been borne out. Democracy generally, and legislation specifically, entails elaborate and time-consuming processes. Here, regardless of culpability, the Legislature has been unable to pass a remedial map to place on the Governor’s desk for signature or veto. Under these circumstances, Pennsylvania and federal law permit the use of the existing, albeit unconstitutional, map for one final election.” [Emphasis added]

A second issue is the Court’s districts do not minimize the number of splits to local governments (i.e., townships, municipalities, counties, etc.). An analysis by Amanda Holt found that the districts adopted by the Court resulted in more splits (79) than the district maps submitted by Republicans (61) and a separate plan offered by the Senate Democrats (60). You may not recognize her name, but Ms. Holt’s research in 2011 was the primary evidence used to throw out the state House and Senate districts for constitutional reasons. Her current finding is significant because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated in their original decision that local governments could only be split to ensure equal population. Furthermore, as she notes on her blog, the fact that the Court’s districts are drawn with more splits could demonstrate to a federal judge a lack of “good faith effort.”

The high likelihood of another lawsuit being brought by Republicans to the federal court regarding the Congressional districts means the issue is still up in the air. We will keep you posted as the story continues to develop.

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

Court Created Congressional Mess