News & Notes November 29, 2010

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, did some shopping and enjoyed the variety of good football over four days.  Well, except for Eagles fans and us Nittany Lion alumni.  

My high school class met Saturday evening for our 40th reunion.  I was on the committee planning the event (which is why I was really busy the past few weeks) and reconnecting with old friends and having a wonderful time in the process all year was enormously satisfying.  I hadn’t been to a reunion in thirty years due to my medical issues so this was extra special.  Thanks to everyone who attended, especially those who traveled distances.  

Wednesday the President’s Deficit Commission releases its final report if they can come to a super consensus.  That isn’t likely.  These are, for the most part, draconian solutions.  I’ll have more on this over the course of the week.

I must mention how confident I am that the FBI is able to thwart terror attacks of their own making.  How impressive!

Today launches Pennsylvania’s deer hunting season so be aware of frantic does jumping out of the woods if you live in a rural area as I do.  The number of hunters is declining rapidly and soon schools may have to rethink closing the Monday after Thanksgiving.

I began seeing TV commercials from some of the TBTF (too big to fail) banks taking credit for working with homeowners.  What a joke, these institutions aren’t doing much at all.  Millions of homeowners have complained that these leeches won’t work with them all the while they’re creating and submitting fraudulent court documents to evict millions.  Why brag about saving 200,000 when you’ve thrown millions out of their homes?  Meanwhile now these huge financial institutions are attempting to collect on the $200 million they pumped into the year’s elections.  Lobbyists in Washington are working to convince Congress to legalize the MERS system which defrauded homeowners, investors and taxpayers.  I asked Congressman Paul Kanjorski about this at an event shortly before election day:

I got an iPhone a few weeks ago, what are some cool and useful apps?

Gov. Rendell vetoed the radical “castle doctrine” bill over the weekend.  I’m not sure how effective this action will be with Republicans taking over complete control of state government in January but, at least, the legalization of murder will be delayed somewhat.  Under the proposed law a person could shoot anyone they felt threatened by if they were on their property.  Under historic law you could not shoot to kill unless there were no other options available, no means of escape.  This castle doctrine is simply an extension of our national policy of “shoot first, ask questions later” which has made America a rogue nation.  So much for a “civilized” society.  Thank you Governor.

Two months after lightning hit the house and fried my desktop computer we still await settlement of the claim from Erie Insurance.  For some reason they keep delaying paying this claim.  We’re certainly fortunate the house didn’t burn down because its getting awfully cold outside.  Rethink your coverage if you’re with Erie.

News & Notes September 9, 2010

President Obama is coming to Philadelphia October 10th for a rally as part of a four state campaign swing before the election.  

Gov. Rendell is calling for a 5% severance tax on Marcellus Shale drilling but the GOP Senate only wants 1.5%.  The Republicans want to sell out our natural gas resources for nothing while allowing energy companies to poison our aquifers, streams and rivers.  No drilling should be allowed until DEP funding is appropriately restored to allow for vigorous regulation and inspection of these sites.  The EPA must also have a hand in regulation if DEP funding is not restored.

Meanwhile the Governor says there will be no drilling moratorium.  He says he doesn’t support one such as New York has imposed and claims the legislature will never vote to protect private property rights in Pennsylvania from rapacious energy companies.  I’m afraid that doesn’t say much for our legislators.  We’ll be examining all campaign finance reports this fall for energy driller’s contributions.  You’ll know before the November election who has sold out.  Remember Dimock:  those homes and properties are now worthless and the people are trapped where now they have no potable water.

Hazleton’s anti-immigration ordinance was struck down as unconstitutional by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  This is a direct repudiation of Lou Barletta’s campaign of fear and hatred which he has used to drive his city into further ruin and fuel his Congressional campaign.  

President Obama will award a posthumous Medal of Honor to a Pennsylvania man for service in Afghanistan on January 25, 2008.  Robert J. Miller was from Harrisburg.  According tot he White House “He displayed immeasurable courage and uncommon valor – eventually sacrificing his own life to save the lives of his teammates and 15 Afghanistan National Army soldiers.  Staff Sergeant Miller’s parents, Phil and Maureen Miller will join the President at the White House to commemorate their son’s selfless service and sacrifice.”

Patrick Murphy and Mike Fitzpatrick held their first Congressional debate for the 8th District and the Republican proceeded to blame the consequences of his votes while in Congress on Mr. Murphy.  Fitzpatrick actually had the unmitigated gall to blame Congressman Murphy for job losses, deficits, and financial meltdowns for which he voted and which caused the problems in the 8th CD and across the country.  For example he voted for CAFTA under orders from Dick Cheney after telling constituents he would be against the job loss measure.  Now he’s blaming Patrick Murphy for those job losses.  Whatever happened to the Republican concept of personal responsibility Mr. Fitzpatrick?

I’ll be in Shanksville Saturday as First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush commemorate 9/11.  

Updates:  Some important developments this evening…

The Koran burning is off but probably not in time to prevent bloodshed.  Violence had already erupted all across the globe in reaction to this act of hatred and bigotry.  Isn’t it time we separate church and hate?

A federal judge has ruled Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as unconstitutional.  This is major.

In PA-11 Paul Kanjorski is challenging Lou Barletta to disavow ads being run by a Social Security privatization group.  Since Barletta claims he doesn’t support dismantling the pension program for seniors, disabled persons and orphans he should condemn the ads.  If not he is lying to voters about his position.  Why would a group like the “60 Plus Association” run ads aiding Barletta if he doesn’t support their agenda?  Come clean Lou.

Republicans Holding Services Hostage to Budget Cuts

Republicans in Harrisburg continue holding state services hostage to their drastic budget cuts.  We are now seven weeks into the fiscal year with no authorization for general spending.  As more and more Pennsylvanians need critical services they are in imminent danger of closing.  Counties provide many essential services like families and youth and aging (elderly) through the state.  With no reimbursements forthcoming they are faced with cutting these severely.  Domestic violence, rape counseling, abuse of children and the elderly all face the axe because Republicans are insisting on draconian measures to balance the state budget.

The GOP must accept that some temporary revenue increases are essential because the services are essential.  The economic meltdown was the direct result of failed GOP economic ideology and they must accept personal responsibility for their failures.  This means having to vote for increased taxes.  It is interesting how the conservative calls for personal responsibility always end at their own doors.

Gov. Rendell signed a bridge budget but vetoes all non essential spending in lieu of a real budget.  While the GOP proposes a budget which would provide an additional $100 million in corporate tax breaks they also refuse to close loopholes which allow corporations to avoid their fair share of taxes.

Such loopholes allow national companies to erect tax havens in states such as Delaware to cheat Pennsylvania taxpayers.  For example Toys R Us has a separate corporate entity which owns its signs and trademark mascots.  Every store in Pennsylvania pays for their use to this out of state entity which means those revenues escape taxation here.  Almost every huge corporation uses their shelters to avoid paying the state 9.9% tax.  As a result the real tax rate is considerably lower.  Closing these loopholes can level the playing field for small companies unable to take advantage of these havens and help close the budget deficit.

The single sales factor scheme is another $100 million break for large corporations.  It would benefit companies like Hershey Foods which is closing local plants and taking Pennsylvania jobs to Mexico while not benefiting the multitude of smaller businesses.  Why Republicans would propose a $100 million cut in revenues in the midst of a funding crisis is unimaginable.  Of course they see every economic crisis as an opportunity to cut taxes, the ideology which created this financial meltdown.  The fact these schemes seldom work as advertised is a reason to defeat the proposal.  The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has a good expose of the scheme here with links to important studies and documents.  They also have a list of events this week highlighting the effect of cutbacks on critical human services across the Commonwealth.

It is time to pass a real budget and stop playing games with people’s lives.  The GOP budget would hurt many people all because they refuse to accept responsibility for their failed policies.  Pennsylvanians deserve better.

State Budget Overview

Keystone Research Center and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center hosted a conference on the state budget yesterday.  Eighty people attended at the Harrisburg Hilton for a good overview of Gov. Rendell’s budget proposal.  The state budget normally goes through various hearings all spring then in June comes crunch time.  Lately the final passage comes down to the last hours and minutes.  Here’s an overview.

This year’s budget totals $26.6 billion down from $28 billion last year.  The economic crisis is hurting state revenues badly and 101 programs have been eliminated and another 346 cut.  Higher education is down 5.4%, libraries are cut another 2.3%, and “other” is down 11%.  K-12 education is increased along with corrections and welfare.  One million additional Pennsylvanians are expected to apply for various welfare programs so, as is usual during bad economic times, those demands on the state are increasing.

Currently we have 434,000 Pennsylvanians unemployed, 2 million are on medical assistance (and 183,000 waiting for Adult Basic), and 1.27 million collecting food stamps.  In order to balance the budget $266 million is being used from prior year funds,$557 million in cuts, $174 million in revenue will be raised from oil and gas lease funds, $250 from the Rainy Day Fund, and $1.083 billion from the federal stimulus package.

Without the recently passed economic stimulus package Pennsylvania would be facing another one billion dollars in budget cuts.  These funds primarily go to Medicaid funding, schools and PennDOT.  This money is funding projects rather than programs since it is assured for only two years.

It’s a tough budget for tough times.  Hard decisions seem to have been made eliminating or cutting non essential spending.  The Governor continues his dedication to funding education on the K-12 level.  State funding for Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln continues decades long patterns of cuts.  Hopefully improvement in the federal Pell grant program will assist.  Meanwhile all four state related universities also get the short end of the budget stick in regard to gambling revenue.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has the budget and analysis documents available on their website.