Gasbag Signs Smoke and Mirrors Budget

Gov. Corbett finally singed the budget pushed through by Republican majorities in the House and Senate though he showed his innate ability to tick off his own Party members by using his line item veto generously.  Gov. Gasbag cut funding for the legislature as a message that he wasn’t happy they hadn’t gutted state worker and teacher pensions.

When conservatives use the word “reform” they actually mean “eliminate.”  That’s what pension reform does and the Guv’s plan actually would have cost taxpayers more in the long run while gutting the retirements of thousands of Pennsylvanians.  These pensions were negotiated in good faith by unions in lieu of higher wages.  The Commonwealth refused to adequately fund them (as required by law) until it has become a crisis situation.  Corbett’s solution was to simply screw these workers.  A new 401(K) system would just result in higher salaries and other benefits for school districts as teachers sought to recoup these lost wages.  Meanwhile the current system would still have to be funded, somehow, along with the new one.  That would wind up costing more than if we simply funded the current pensions as required by the contracts to which we agreed.

The Governor gave the finger (literally and proverbially) to the State House and Senate by cutting its budget significantly.  No need to worry though since they’re sitting on over $150 million in unused prior appropriations.  Heaven help the House and Senate have to do what every other state agency has had to since 2008:  do more with less.

Other items cut in the line item veto gut funding for state parks, medical assistance, lobbying disclosure, gun checks and other important functions of state government.

This is already a smoke and mirrors budget because it depends on one time sources of income which won’t exist.  The Pennsylvania constitution requires a balanced budget but we didn’t have one this year.  Because of Corbett’s vast mismanagement of the state economy, at a time when the national economy is doing well, has resulted in significantly decreased revenues.  He cut corporate taxes and refused to close loopholes.  Jobs aren’t being created and we’re losing hundreds of millions in potential tax revenues of natural gas extraction.  We still don’t tax smokeless tobacco for instance.

This is not a balanced budget because the state liquor store system is not going to be privatized. Corbett didn’t have the votes for that in this session or last and he certainly won’t get any cooperation from the House and Senate after cutting their own budgets.  This clueless blonde has never learned from his mistakes and refuses to develop any relations with the state legislature even though it is controlled by his own Party.  In a way we’re fortunate he’s so incompetent because a lot of potential damage to the citizenry was avoided due to his incompetence.

Education Advocates Continue Capitol Sit In

Public schools in Pennsylvania have lost over $2.5 billion in revenues since Tom Corbett became Governor.  A billion of this was due to his budget cuts and another $1.5 billion has been lost to charter schools.  Charter schools do not have any oversight, regulation or state controls.  Several charter school owners are under investigation or indictment for fraud and embezzelment and charter school students do not have to take PSSA tests.  Teachers don’t have to be certified and cyber charter schools which have drastically lower costs get the same amount of funding per student as brick and mortar public schools are suffocating our public education system.

Education advocates are fed up and have been conducting a sit-in at the Capitol since last week.  Over the weekend they were on the steps out front while the building was closed.  House Republicans have passed a smoke and mirrors budget which isn’t balanced because it relies on revenues which won’t exist.  The Governor is holding public school students and teachers hostage to his demands that the budget gut teacher pensions.

Pensions have been a negotiated part of teacher compensation plans and school districts have contracted to pay these in lieu of higher wages.  Remember that teachers are substantially underpaid for college graduates (and many have advanced degrees).  These fixed rate pensions have offset some of that wage gap.  The state has neglected to fund these pensions for years and now that the piper is come calling the Governor’s solution is to cheat these public service sector workers.  Worse, his solution will only cause higher pension costs down the road. To fund two separate pension systems at once and having to eventually pay vast amounts to the old system as new teachers stop paying into it will be disastrous for future budgets.

The same for Corbett’s demand to privatize the state store system.. In return for a one time infusion of cash (which would be far lower than he projects) the state will then lose half a billion dollars every year thereafter.  That is the profit these stores earn for us annually and which goes straight into the general fund.  That lost half billion will only make future budgets harder to balance and force tax increases.  This is especially tough for those of us who don’t drink.  Why should I pay higher taxes rather than have those who do drink contribute profits voluntarily?

Neither idea has the votes to pass the legislature so the Governor is trying to force them through.  His bad economic management has resulted in sharply reduced tax revenues already, for cing this $1.5 billion hole in this year’s budget.  Interestingly that corresponds directly tot he $1.5 billion in corporate tax cuts he gave out supposedly to create jobs.  This Republican myth that tax cuts create jobs is outright stupid.  All date shows the opposite.  In Corbett’s case his tax cuts for business have resulted in Pennsylvania sinking to 49th in the nation in job creation since he took office.

Let’s balance the budget the easy way:  repeal those tax cuts, add an extraction tax on natural gas to fund education and let’s restore services for the disabled by taxing smokeless tobacco and e cigarettes and ending the 1% of sales tax business get to keep.  In this day of electronic bookkeeping and electronic funds transfers businesses don’t have expenses related to remitting sales taxes.  Closing the Delaware Loophole too would make the state flush.

These education advocates sitting in are getting attention but can they stop this ridiculous budget from going through?  We’ll see but meanwhile think seriously about whom you’ll vote for this November.  Governor Wolf also needs a good legislature with which to work for the next four years so we can right this ship before it sinks.  

News & Notes June 25, 2014

Pennsylvania isn’t doing our part in preserving the Chesapeake Bay.  This vast estuary is a favorite for many in south central PA.  So much so the locals in northern Maryland refer to them as the “Pennsylvania Navy” coming down every weekend.  Now Sen. Toomey along with four Members of the PA Congressional delegation (including Rep. Scott Perry from the south central region) have signed on to a protest of new restrictions on pollution.  How shameful.

Tom Corbett is so disliked he can’t even congratulate Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins without getting booed.

In the “not exactly a news flash” segment natural gas money is pouring into Gov. Gasbag’s re-election campaign.  Of course that’s why I nicknamed him that four years ago.

Fortunately there is one man willing to balance those scales a bit.

In other fracking news retired state Health Department workers claim the Corbett Administration silenced them about the health dangers of fracking.

“There was a list of buzzwords we had gotten,” Stuck said. “There were some obvious ones like fracking, gas, soil contamination. There were probably 15 to 20 words and short phrases that were on this list. If anybody from the public called in and that was part of the conversation, we were not allowed to talk to them.”

In yet more bad news for Corbett the Kane investigation into his management (as AG) of the Sandusky investigation revealed total incompetence.  Because the Attorney General’s office essentially sat on the investigation for a couple of years more boys were molested.  A search warrant after the first complaint was filed and police began investigating the former coach would have revealed the extent of his behavior.  Though it was concluded that no evidence of political calculations were involved in the delays it was political because the delays were caused by his overtly political prosecutions of BonusGate.

I’m not saying those who used state resources for political efforts shouldn’t have been prosecuted, they should have, but the manner in which Tom Corbett did it was very political.

President Obama finally took steps against Uganda for human rights violations against LGBT persons.  Certain Ugandan leaders are now barred from entering the U.S. and:

The Obama administration will also discontinue or redirect funds for programs with the Ugandan Police Force, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and National Public Health Institute. The White House also cancelled an American-sponsored “aviation exercise” in the East African country. –  

Sen. Toomey was also targeted by members of Keystone Progress recently:

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran beat his Tea Party challenger in a run off election yesterday.

The United Methodist Church reinstated the credentials of Pastor Frank Schaeffer of Lebanon.  The Appeals Court over ruled the trial outcome following Schaeffer’s officiating at his son’t gay marriage ceremony.

In other gay news Allegheny County has adjusted its benefits policy to cover same sex partners and spouses.

Isn’t it interesting that almost all actual voter fraud is perpetrated by Republicans?  22 states have now restricted voting rights, mostly for Democratic voters, based on claims of widespread voter fraud.  Perhaps Wisconsin Gov. Scott walker should explain how his supporters cheated in his recall election.

Mid Year Budget Projection Bad News

The state issued its mid year budget projections todayand it had bad news.  Tax receipts are off and the budget cuts adopted by Republicans have contributed to a deep slackening in the state economy.  Pennsylvania was running a surplus when Tom Corbett took over as Governor and he has turned it into a deficit.  In addition to throwing almost 200,000 off their medical care his austerity budget is creating real austerity across the Commonwealth.  The massive loss of jobs from his budget is now resulting in a sharp cut in revenues.  That’s logical since the ripple effect of those public salaries, teachers, support personnel, college staffs, state employees and cops creates economic activity throughout the economy.  No salaries means no spending, no demand for consumer goods and no shopping.  That hurts all the other sectors and now Corbett is reaping the crop from his bad seeds.

State Legislature Approves Austerity Budget

The State House approved the budget for the fiscal year beginning tomorrow following Senate passage earlier this week.  Gov. Corbett imposed a strict ceiling of $27.3 billion and refused to budge one penny.  This is in spite of increasing revenues.  Pennsylvania is currently sitting on a surplus of $700 million and another billion dollars would be available by the end of the fiscal year in July 2012.  Those funds would completely restore K12 and higher education funding slashed in austerity moves.

Remember the austerity measures are the result of decreased revenues caused by the spectacular failure of Republican economic policies and deregulation of the financial sector.  This budget is completely their responsibility.  Major cutbacks to poor people, disabled persons and other areas constitute a wholesale neglect of vital services which needy people, young people and the elderly depend.

The refusal to restore huge cuts as it became obvious revenues were improving proves this isn’t about money.  The funds are available.  This is about ideology, about slashing critical funding for programs critical to Pennsylvania’s future.  It is about taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves, of providing a safety net for the poor, a future for our children.  It is about educating a workforce so the Commonwealth can attract good jobs in the future.

Mostly this about human decency.  A budget is a Governor’s moral statement, it tells us what he deems important.  Gov. Corbett is all about prisons.

Rally Day In Harrisburg

It was a long day, up and out by 7:30 to get to Harrisburg for two rallies.  Both were directed at Gov. Corbett’s budget cuts.  The first at 10 AM was about $40 million cut for disability services.  The Rotunda steps were filled with people with intellectual disabilities and their care givers.  I’ll have the videos up tomorrow but meanwhile here are the pictures.  

Since the infamous Capitol Cafe is now closed (Aramark chose not to renew following the mouse infestations last year) I walked over to a local pub to grab some lunch and dump the video into my laptop.  That cleared the memory for the 1 PM CLEAR Rally sponsored by the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.  Fortunately I received a press release yesterday otherwise I wouldn’t have known about this second event.  Seventy buses transported 5,000 union members to the steps of the Capitol.  Ironically a “school choice” rally (people who can choose to be ignorant) was going on simultaneously on the east side of the building.

I ran into former State Representative Rick Taylor at lunch and we had a nice chat during lunch.  Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley stopped by to say hello to Rick but rudely ignored me.  I also met a small group of teachers from Interboro School District while waiting for McGrath’s to open.  The five women and a handsome young guy were going to the CLEAR Rally.

The afternoon was a perfect spring day for a bug rally and the sun shone brightly as I came up State Street after dumping my laptop in the car.  The front of the building was nearly full and the various unions and locals were wearing their colors.  I made my way up to the press area in front of the podium and stood next to Mike Morrill of Keystone Progress as a laborite sang “We Are One” to warm up the crowd.  Various State Reps and Senators joined the event as it went on depending on their schedules.  Quite a few of them were in attendance, no Republicans however.  Not one GOP legislator came out to support the people today.

Steelworkers had erected a huge 250 pound banner atop a building directly across the street which said “Proud to be Union.”  I Tweeted all during the event and you can find them at my Twitter account:  JohnPMorgan.  Again, it will take until tomorrow to upload all the video from both events.  

The rest of the pictures from the labor rally are below the fold.

Corbett’s Funding Solution For Colleges: Frack U

Gov. Corbett said that colleges and universities should consider gas drilling on campuses to solve their funding issues.  He really, actually did this.  I suppose we can begin replacing Old Mains with well rigs?  How about if we change the name of Penn State to Frack U?  Better yet how about if we sell the Governor’s Mansion to Range Resources?  They already own the Governor so perhaps simply giving them the Mansion is appropriate.

Maybe we can tear down the Capitol building and drill for gas in the spot.  It might be a better use of the hot air in Harrisburg.

KU: Tom Corbett is the Enemy

Students, faculty and organized labor met this morning on the Kutztown University campus to rally against Tom Corbett’s budget cuts.  Unfortunately it appears Republicans in Harrisburg are determined to ram this budget through in record time.   Hearings have been underway for a couple weeks and are set to wrap up in early April.  The House and Senate are looking to pass it by Memorial Day.

Cuts to higher education amount to 50%.  Schools like KU look to lose $24 million.  PSHE (Pennsylvania System of Higher Education) is seeing fewer cuts than the four state related universities (Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln) but these young people are looking at 33% tuition hikes, programs cut and faculty and staff losses.  

I wondered how many of the students there today failed to vote last fall.  The campus is just ten minutes away so I visit that polling place every election day to gauge how many students are voting.  Last fall (and in 2009) there were very few compared with 2008.  Unfortunately elections have consequences and failing to vote means seeing your dreams disappear.  Not voting means silencing your voice when it matters most.  Speaking out now is fine but speaking up every November is far more important.  

More pictures and video of today’s rally are below the fold…

Dr. Michael Gambone: