Pa. Senate OKs Searchable Budget Database

The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed a bill creating a searchable internet-accessible database of all state and local government funding and spending, along with that of  independent state-affiliated agencies such as the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the Commonwealth Financing Authority, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System, the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, the State Public School Building Authority, the Pennsylvania Higher Educational Facilities Authority and the State System of Higher Education.

The news was tweeted by Sen Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9) at 4:10 this afternoon, June 28.

The bill, HB 15, returns to the State House for concurrence.

The bill directs the website, to be called PennWATCH, to be available by Dec. 31, 2012.

The site will include:


  • The name and address of the Commonwealth agency or other entity receiving funding and the applicable identifier and classification under the vendor identification system
  • The amount of the funding action or expenditure.
  • The agency initiating the funding action or expenditure.
  •  The applicable appropriation and the appropriation fiscal year from which the funding action or expenditure is made.
  • A counter to show the number of times the website is accessed.
  • The funding source.

The site will also show the total number of individuals employed by each Commonwealth agency as of the 15th day of the previous month, and list by the name, position title and current annual salary for each individual employed by each Commonwealth agency.

Pileggi also tweeted that the Senate passed SB 326, which provides for certification of birth for stillbirths and is now before the Governor for his signature.

Pileggi also tweeted that the Senate unanimously passed SB 995, which provides that all operators of oil and gas wells in the state provide GPS coordinates to the state Department of Environmental Protection and 911 centers.

He noted the Senate is now taking up HB 1485 which is the bill setting the state budget for next year.


Pa. Senate OKs Searchable Budget Database

Big Man Gets $800G And PSU Wants More From Taxpayers

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that the total cost of employment to Penn State University for President Graham  Spanier is $800,592.  The figure comes from adding  salary– which in Spanier’s case is $620,000 — to things like housing, bonuses, deferred compensation, retirement set aside, car allowances, tuition assistance and related spousal pay.

On the basis of salary, Spanier does not rank in the top 10 of public college compensation. When everything is included he jumps to number five.

Number one in both categories is Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee who has a $1.322 million salary and $1.818  million total cost of employment.

Penn State, like Temple, Pitt and Lincoln, is a “state-related” school in that while it gets public money, its governance is independent of the state.

The budget  passed May 24 by the State House would give PSU $252 million in tax dollars this year, which is $81 million less than last year. Spanier is upset about this but he is not as upset about this as he was about Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget which sought to cut $168.76 million in tax funds from the institution.

It should be noted the state contribution has traditionally made up about 10 percent of Penn State’s budget.

There is nothing wrong with someone earning $800 thousand in compensation despite what some, such as Philadelphia Inquirer cartoonist Tony Auth, might think. There is a lot wrong, however, with someone getting that money when some of it is obtained through the threat of force which is how taxes are obviously obtained.

If Spanier wants to be among the filthy rich his school should not get a penny in state subsides.

And yes, that applies to Joe Paterno, about whom you can actually make a case that he objectively earns his paycheck, too.

For the record, the House budget provides subsidizes of

  • $125 million to Pitt, which is a cut of $42 million
  • $129 million to Temple, which is a cut $43 million
  • $10.3 million to Lincoln, which is a cut of $3.4 million.

Hat tip to Tea Party activist Bob Guzzardi.

Adolph Says Vote Likely On Pa. NoBamaCare Bill

The man accused of bottling up a bill that would make much of Obamacare hard to enforce in Pennsylvania told the Delaware County Patriots, Thursday, May 19, that it will likely come up for a vote this year.

State Rep. Bill Adolph (R-165), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee has been accused of sitting on HB 42 by Tea Party activists. The bill has been tied up in Adolph’s committee since Feb. 8.

HB 42, introduced by Matthew Baker (R-68) on Jan. 19, says A law
or rule shall not compel, through penalties and fines, directly or
indirectly, any individual, employer or health care provider to
participate in any health care system.

It also specifically
says that an individual or employer may pay directly for lawful health
care services and shall not be required to pay penalties or fines for
doing so; and specifically allows  health care providers to accept
direct payments without penalties.
It also prohibits state law enforcement and regulatory agencies from
participating “in compliance with any Federal law, regulation or policy”
that would compromise the “freedom of choice in health care” of any
resident of the state.

Adolph told the group, which met at Knights of Columbus hall in Newtown Square, that the biggest budget problem facing the state was the expiration of federal stimulus money. He said  last year’s $28 billion budget contained $3.1 billion of the fed dollars.

The $27.3 billion budget proposed by Gov. Corbett places a heavier burden on the state taxpayers despite it being smaller. House Republicans have tweaked the budget by easing some of the cuts the Governor had made to education while adding cuts to welfare. Adolph said the House budget gives state higher education 75 percent of what it had gotten last year, while Corbett would have cut the outlay in half.

Adolph said that the House budget actually ends up being few hundred thousand dollars less than the Governors.

Concerning the questions fielded by Adolph — and HB 42 was one — he said:

— He supported in principle privatizing the state-owned liquor stores but would not commit to any specific legislation as the “devil was in the details”.

— He supported giving school boards the power to furlough teachers for economic reasons. He, however, ducked the other half regarding his position on ending the requirement that school districts and municipalities pay prevailing wage for renovation and construction projects.

–He is not familiar with the First Suburbs issue which is starting to be discussed in Tea Party groups and appears to be an attempt to use government programs such as Section 8 housing to economically “diversify” Philadelphia’s older suburbs in accordance with the preferences of academics and activists.

–He supported abolishing the inheritance tax.

–He voted for and supports HB 1330, which expands the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit, and that he was only aware of the highlights of SB 1, the school choice bill bottled up in the Senate. He said he supports school choice in principle.

–That teachers should not be allowed to strike.

— He supports voter ID.

— He believes in state sovereignty.

— He supports cutting the size of the state legislature.

The only matter on which he incurred the crowd’s wrath concerned state pensions, and his unwillingness to condemn former State Sen. Bob Mellow’s $300,000 pension in significantly vociferous terms. He said Mellow’s pension plan had been grandfathered from before 1974, and that he should get it. He did not seem to get that it may fairer and more just to change the terms of an old poorly conceived contract rather than make a widow who was not party to it lose her home trying to fulfill it.

The Good, The Bad And The Inconsistent Of The Corbett Budget

This article by Chris Freind is being republished with his permission.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s “day of reckoning” budget, containing substantial cuts and rolling back spending to 2008 levels, may well pass the GOP-dominated legislature without major changes.

But just because the state constitution requires a balanced budget doesn’t mean it always happens that way.

Take the budgets of the last two years, which former Governor Ed Rendell championed and were passed by a Democratic House and Republican Senate.
In 2009, $400 million in revenue was budgeted from the tolling of Interstate 80. Except that the tolling never happened. Put that in the debit column.

And last year, the budget was passed on federal Medicaid dollars that hadn’t yet been appropriated (and ended up being $255 million less than budgeted) and a Rendell-promised Marcellus Shale gas tax that would generate hundreds of millions — but which never materialized.

And the forecast general tax revenue was over a billion dollars short.
But that’s not all. The legislature and Rendell raided MCARE in 2009 — the fund to offset Pennsylvania doctors’ skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance rates — to the tune of $800 million. A Commonwealth Court ordered the money repaid, but the Rendell Administration appealed. Odds are the state Supreme Court will uphold that decision. The hole deepens.

So despite some cuts last fall, we’re still looking at a $3 billion revenue gap which, by the way, is not factored into the acknowledged $4 billion deficit. The fact that no one wants to talk about this is not surprising, since it’s not in the interest of the politicians, and most of the media doesn’t do its homework.

Let’s put this type of maneuvering into perspective. What would happen if a publicly traded pharmaceutical company, in an attempt to placate Wall Street, added billions to its books to reflect a medicine it hadn’t yet produced? People would go to jail.

But in Harrisburg, it’s called Business As Usual. Instead of solving the real problem, the state’s leaders have resorted to what they do best: bury their heads in the sand.

Just because you pretend a problem doesn’t exist, though, doesn’t mean it’s not there. The can is being kicked, yet again, down the road. But the road is quickly coming to an end.

Overall, the budget rates a B-, assuming that you believe the numbers — and that’s a big assumption.
There is nothing particularly special about this budget, since spending cuts were imminent after the federal stimulus money dried up. It gets the job done at a basic level, and Pennsylvania will continue to limp along.

While there were clearly some elements in the Governor’s address that could help Pennsylvania re-invent itself into an economic and industrial powerhouse, the speech lacked the breakout vision that is essential in selling those ideas to the public. No one expects Corbett to have the jazz of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, but Pennsylvanians need to be inspired if their state is to forge ahead.

A prime example would have been explaining why the Marcellus Shale holds such so much promise for Pennsylvania’s future, from the thousands of sustainable jobs it creates (and the accompanying houses bought and income spent in-state), to untold millions in tax revenue, to the manufacturing boom it can foster by providing extremely cheap energy.

Corbett could have showcased manufacturing companies that drill wells on-site and, as a result, now realize incredible cost savings for what is always the largest line item: energy. This directly translates into business expansion, more hiring, and a way to finally compete with China.

Or he could have decreed that from this moment, all future state vehicles will run on natural gas, currently about one-eighth the cost of gasoline, with zero emissions. This would be a win-win by increasing demand for natural gas — and if that doesn’t happen soon, the industry will start packing up by next year — and saving taxpayer money. And what a boom to the entire economy if we had an alternative to $4/gallon gasoline.

But that didn’t happen. So all the public knows is what they see in the headlines: “We’re Getting Drilled,” “How Corbett Fracked Pennsylvania’s Middle Class,” and “Big Budget Cuts? We Smell Gas,” along with editorials about how much the industry contributed to the Governor’s campaign.

Reality is now setting in; what a Republican candidate said on the campaign trail in October 2010 — a landslide election year for the GOP — was easy. Now the rubber meets road.

The question isn’t if Tom Corbett can get this budget passed, but whether can he sell it to the people, and at what cost to his agenda and party, particularly since 2012 will prove a better year for the Democrats. His deliberate strategy to remain silent for four months has resulted in lost opportunities to earn much-needed political capital needed to sell his budget cuts to the public.

To reverse that, he must now barnstorm across the state, a la Christie, attending everything from natural gas forums, explaining why an extraction tax will hurt the state, to school board meetings, where he can push his idea of teacher salary concessions. Time will tell whether he will effectively be that messenger.

There were a number of common sense proposals that, based on the legislature’s make-up, should come to fruition: the reduced spending and no new taxes; legal reform targeting frivolous lawsuits (the Fair Share Act); school choice in which competition and accountability would be injected into the educational system; the phase out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax, the elimination of pork-barrel walking around money (WAMs); and calls for pay freezes and give-backs by public workers.

Likewise, there are a number of problem areas:

-Eliminating 1,500 jobs is a good start, but since reports state that 1,000 of them aren’t filled, the real number is only 500 jobs, which isn’t a huge budgetary factor. So why the gimmick?

-The assumption that revenue will grow by 4.7 percent, while not impossible, is hugely optimistic. Inflated revenue has been a hallmark of past budgets to make the numbers work on paper. In reality, they came up short, adding to rolling deficits. Without substantial growth in Pennsylvania, that rosy figure will prove unattainable.

-Calling for cuts to higher education by 50 percent, while increasing welfare spending substantially, will also be an extremely hard sell, for two reasons. First, many will frame the issue simply as education versus welfare, and which provides the better return on investment. Second, state-related schools, such as Temple, Penn State, Pitt and Lincoln, have immensely powerful lobbying operations, including parents and students, who will deluge their elected officials in opposition. Look for that figure to drop substantially, to be made up somewhere else.

-One item that is noticeably absent from the budget is the privatization of liquor stores, which is curious since it was the one issue on which the majority of Pennsylvanians agree. Instead, a blue-ribbon commission was formed to study privatization. Here’s a newsflash. Voters elect politicians to solve the problems, not authorize more meaningless commissions. A major chip in the fight has been shelved, shifting the momentum to the unions which support the status quo.

-Other areas left out but still mandatory for a healthy business climate were the reduction of the corporate net income tax (second-highest in nation) and the looming pension issues, which may be addressed as public sector union contracts are negotiated this
spring. The Governor has taken the elimination of collective bargaining off the table though, a concession that simply didn’t have to be made this early. They received nothing in return for that move. Another head-scratcher.

-There are also several inconsistencies that the Governor must address. While he advocated salary freezes and reductions, he raised the salaries of all his executive staff, and the budget of the Lieutenant Governor’s office increased 30 percent. And despite de-funding the adultBasic program, which provided healthcare to working poor on the premise that there was no more money, he found a way to bail out the Philadelphia Shipyard to build ships with no buyers.

Saying all the right things about fiscal discipline, free enterprise and removing government from where it doesn’t belong rings a bit hollow in light of some recent Corbett Administration decisions.

* * *

The Governor used the analogy of reviving an apple tree to explain why the cuts are necessary, stating that if the tree isn’t tended, it will grow into a tangle of limbs and bear no fruit. The pruning (hard cutting) was needed so the tree could once again bear fruit.

In keeping with the theme, here’s a piece of advice: if you’re afraid of getting a rotten apple, don’t go to the barrel. Get it off the tree.
The Governor is right: we need to revive the tree. But as of now, too much of this budget is coming from the same old barrel.

Corbett Budget Ignores The Termites In The Wall

Gov. Tom Corbett, March 8, unveiled a $27.3 billion budget that would be $900 million less than what the state spent last year.

Fine and dandy. The budget means no tax hike. Of course it also means 1,500 state workers  would lose their jobs, some of which are probably waste but some of which are not.

The thing that is going to be overlooked as this drama moves to the legislature is that this general fund budget which will be the cause of much screeching is less than half of what the state is actually going to spend next year.

Pennsylvania spent $28.2 billion in general fund money last year; $23 billion in federal money, which doesn’t include the stimulus money; and $14.4 billion in special fund money, which is money is directed from sources specified by law.

The special funds included the $2.58 billion for the State Employees Retirement Fund and $5.36 billion for the School Employees Retirement Fund.

You know, if public pensions were maxed at $45,000 probably just about all those jobs could have been saved. Now, someone is going to say that that money is allocated by law. Well, laws can be changed. And someone will say but the legislators are among those getting those nice pensions. Well, legislators can be changed. And someone will say but the judges — who are also beneficiaries of those fat pensions — will overturn the new laws saying the pensions were a holy bargain that may never be abridged. Well, judges can not only be voted from office but they can be impeached as well.

Finally, someone will say it’s just not moral. Well, if someone thinks it’s OK to fund fat pensions to unproductive people by making a widow living on a $20,000 fixed income pay a few thousand more in property taxes, that person has no grounds to voice the word “moral”.