Attorney General Without Law License

By Leo Knepper Attorney General Without Law License

Pennsylvania finds itself in the unenviable position of having an Attorney General, who is not only under indictment but whose law license is going to be suspended in thirty days. The Supreme Court unanimously decided to suspend Kathleen Kane’s license as the result of the ongoing criminal case against her. Although she can appeal the Court’ decision, her attorneys have not indicated whether or not they are going to take that path. Without a law license, Kane will be unable to carry out basic tasks like signing legal documents. However, Kane is (still) not resigning as Attorney General.

It is not clear exactly how Kane will function as Attorney General without a law license, it is clear that she is going to release “thousands” of pornographic emails. The emails were sent by “government officials, including law enforcement officials and judges” according to the Attorney General’s office. Where the issue of releasing emails becomes a little murky is Kane’s arguments only a couple of days ago that she was not going to release the emails…and that is after calling for the emails to be released a couple weeks ago. Confused? You are not alone. The Philadelphia Inquirer characterized her position as “elusive”.

That same article noted that Kane had so far only highlighted emails sent by a “group of political foes and state officials with ties to them.” The disconnect between how Kane treats friends versus her foes is highlighted by her Chief of Staff, Jonathan Duecker. Prior to being promoted, the Attorney General’s personnel office recommended firing Duecker over sexual harassment claims.

There will certainly be more news coming out of the Attorney General’s office. However based on Kane’s disparate treatment of staff and schizophrenic attitude toward emails, it is questionable how much of the activity will be related to the administration of justice. Will Kane make all of the inappropriate emails public? Or, will she be selective and use them to fulfill a vendetta? It would be in the public’s best interest for all materials to be released, but the public’s best interest does not appear to be one of Kane’s top priorities.

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

Attorney General Without Law License

 

Unions Spending Big On Pa Supreme Court

By Leo Knepper Unions Spending Big On Pa Supreme Court

Leading up to the May primaries we noted that organized labor had made significant contributions to the campaign of Judge Kevin Dougherty. (Note: Dougherty’s brother was just made the head of the Philadelphia Building Trades Council.) The spending did not stop after the primaries ended; it expanded. According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article, organized labor has now made over $1.3 million in direct contributions to candidates for the Supreme Court.

Unions see the composition of the Supreme Court as being of critical importance in the near future:

“‘For us right now, the Supreme Court is ground zero,’ said Joe Battaglia, treasurer of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, representing about 3,000 workers in Southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.”

The article outlines how unions see the Supreme Court as a bull work against any legislation that affects whether or not the government will act as a union collection agent for dues and political contributions. Supreme Court elections are generally sleepy affairs. However, this year’s elections will impact what ability the Legislature has to address issues like liquor store privatization and pension reform for decades.

If the Supreme Court races have flown under your radar up until now, you had better start paying attention. Otherwise, Pennsylvania may find itself with a court more interested in affecting policy than being interested in what the laws and state constitution actually say.

Mr. Knepper is with Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, anon-profit organization founded to raise the standard of living of all Pennsylvanians.

Unions Spending Big On Pa Supreme Court

Failing Schools Enabled By Gov. Wolf

By Leo Knepper Failing Schools Enabled By Gov. Wolf

“…I’m in this spot where I have to call the school that failed my kids and re-enroll them…I’m heartbroken over this.”

That quote comes from Amy Millar via a Philadelphia Inquirer story on the State Education Department’s recent action to “clarify” what services cyber-charter schools can offer. According to the article, two of Ms. Millar’s children have special education needs. However, her children have flourished at the Education Plus Academy Cyber Charter School (Ed Plus).

What did Ed Plus do to bring the wrath of the state education bureaucracy down on their heads? They offered their students services like art, gym, and “face-to-face” learning opportunities at their learning centers. In other words, they looked at the needs of their students and provided for them. The State Department of Education evidently frowns on the hybrid model used by Ed Plus. As a result parents like Ms. Millard will be forced to send their children back to schools that were failing to meet their needs in the first place.

Although the Governor purports to want “quality” education for all. His administration’s actions in this and other cases clearly illustrate that is not entirely accurate. The Governor’s interest is in making sure that his patrons at the teachers’ union are happy and that there is as little competition as possible in the public education sphere.

If the Wolf administration was interested in ensuring every child received a quality education, they would be applauding Ed Plus. Furthermore, they would be examining what that school is doing differently and seeing how it might be replicated in other schools. The Department of Education should be looking at how they could make it easier for others schools to provide the same education experience. Instead, they seem more interested in erecting barriers to a quality education.

Mr. Knepper is with Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania

Failing Schools Enabled By Gov. Wolf

State Redevelopment Projects Exposed

By Leo Knepper State Redevelopment Projects Exposed

We have long been critical of “economic development projects”. Many times, the projects amount to little more than corporate welfare. Project backers frequently over promise, and under deliver in terms of jobs and an impact on the local economy. Using state funds to benefit private interests is a breeding ground ripe for crony capitalism and corruption. A project in Montgomery County provides an example of another problem, the bait-and-switch.

In 2008, the General Assembly and Governor Rendell authorized an expenditure of $15 million for the “[a]cquisition, infrastructure, rehabilitation, construction and other costs related to the redevelopment of the Ardmore Train Station, including the abatement of hazardous materials.” Seven years later the project has yet to break ground. Making matters even worse, the redevelopment of the Ardmore Train Station no longer includes redeveloping the actual train station.

While in the planning stages, Lower Merion Township drastically expanded the scope of the project to include the creation of “mixed use” property and a parking garage adjacent to the train station. Because of funding issues the train station project and mixed-use project were separated. As time went on less emphasis was placed on rehabilitating the train station, and more attention went into the private development. However, the state funding source never changed.

Although the funds were earmarked for redeveloping the train station, the township ultimately approved using the funds for a parking garage. In December of 2013, Governor Corbett’s Office of the Budget rescinded $12 million in funding. As noted by an extensive article from the Main Line Times, the Office of the Budget correctly recognized that the scope of the project had shifted markedly and, as a result, the funding would be reduced and made for the train station only.

The Office of the Budget was correct in its decision. Although the rehabilitation of the train station would have had a minimal impact on the economy of the area, it was at least a project for the “public good”. In contrast, the bulk of the benefit from the multi-use and parking portion of the project would have been to the bottom line of the property developer: Dranoff Properties. The decision to rescind the money did not stand long. After lobbying from Dranoff, the project had $10.5 million in funding reinstated by the Office of the Budget.  As an interesting coincidence, Carl Dranoff made $10,000 in campaign contributions to Governor Corbett’s re-election campaign over the course of 2014.

The legislative language explicitly tied the original funding to the rehabilitation of a train station. However, the project has shifted focus entirely to a private development, and that is a wholly inappropriate use of public funds. A local organization, the Save Ardmore Coalition, has filed a lawsuit against the township and Governor Wolf regarding this matter. They were also kind enough to bring this issue to our attention. We will monitor the lawsuit as it progresses, and we would also encourage members of the General Assembly to revisit the appropriateness of the project given the explicit authorization language.

State Redevelopment Projects Exposed

Bad Pension Legislation Lives

By Leo KnepperBad Pension Legislation Lives

Bad legislation never dies in Harrisburg, and it doesn’t even slowly fade away.

So the Tobash plan for changing the design of pensions for certain classes of new employees is getting another push. The Tobash plan, HB 1499, is sponsored by Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill), but it was originally the idea of folks at the Public Employees Retirement Commission (PERC). It is their duty with respect to the state pensions systems “to assure their actuarial viability through a review of any proposed legislative changes in those plans.”

When reviewing HB 900 this past June, which really does “stop the bleeding” and would eliminate the unfunded liabilities of SERS and PSERS over 20 years, PERC decided that it was more important for legislators to consider other budget priorities. In other words, the institution, whose sole purpose is to assure the soundness of public employee pensions, instructed legislators in PERC’s review of HB 900 to continue their dreadful and harmful 12 year policy of diverting funds from pensions to other purposes.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that four of the nine members of PERC’s board are legislators, and one of them is Rep. Tobash. The other five members are gubernatorial appointees. What incentive do they have to assure that pensions will be adequately funded when the last three governors, including the current one, wanted no such thing?

The Tobash plan was introduced last year as an amendment to HB 1353. At that time, it set up a “stacked” retirement benefit system. The first $50,000 in state employee pay is eligible for a traditional pension; beyond that there is a 401(k) style plan. It is worth noting that the average state employee salary was $52,655 for 2014. In other words, the Tobash plan as introduced last year would have had impacted very few future employees. According to actuarial analysis done last year, 98.8% of the “savings” projected under the Tobash plan is 15 years or farther into the future, which is a pretty big problem since SERS and PSERS are on course to be bankrupt in 15 years.

While some of these same criticisms certainly apply to SB1, the Senate’s pension reform plan, Tobash’s plan goes completely in the wrong direction. Rather than addressing the unfunded liabilities and pension costs of current employees, the Tobash plan would merely provide lawmakers the ability to say they passed pension reform without actually addressing anything.

Politicians are very sensitive to current and near-term costs because the next election is less than 2 to 4 years away. But the massive harm heading toward the commonwealth in less than a generation-well, that’s someone else’s problem apparently.

And so, another Rube Goldberg device will be trotted out, debated, lobbied, perhaps even voted on (and if passed, vetoed) and all the while the unfunded liability which impends doom for the future of the commonwealth remains unaddressed. It’s simply the politicians’ usual play: bait and switch-promise changes later and call that savings. Then use the phony savings to justify continuing to underfund the pensions and divert monies to other places in the budget.

The priority is always less pension funding today, and when tomorrow comes, the priority will be less funding then too. It might get politicians re-elected, but it’s not exactly anyone’s definition of statesmanship.

Mr. Knepper is with Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Bad Pension Legislation Lives