State Budget Still Incomplete

The people of Pennsylvania just think the state budget was resolved after 101 contentious days.  It wasn’t.  Because the Pennsylvania constitution requires a balanced budget we don’t actually have a budget.  We have a proposed budget.  So far revenues are coming in significantly below projections (surprise, surprise!) and the gambling income is nowhere to be seen.

The Governor’s plan to expand gambling to table games and provide $160 million in budget balancing revenue got stalled last evening.  The House remained in session until 11 PM, when the new rules require it adjourn.  Republicans proposed amendment after amendment to delay a vote until the witching hour came and went.  Votes on funding for the four state related universities is held up until the revenues are provided and the table games are supposed to provide that revenue.  Dems held up the approval of those funds until the table games are passed.

This would all be quite comical if the issues weren’t so important.  Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln need these funds and Ed Rendell and Democrats see expanded gambling as the solution.  Understanding how high risk gamblers Pennsylvanians are why not?  I watch our fellow citizens gamble their lives every day when they drive, trading a few saved seconds against killing themselves or others.  Whether running stop signs, red lights or passing in no passing zones, these high stakes risks are nothing compared with sitting at a blackjack table.  I see the market for these games as unlimited due to the high number of idiots we have.  Let’s roll the dice and let them take their gambling skills to our new casinos.  It sure beats raising taxes.  Maybe, just maybe, then we can afford enough police to make our roads safer.  Personally I’d rather keep these gamblers in the casinos and off the roads.

Update:  I almost forgot something important.  The White House yesterday announced about $600 million in stimulus funding for community health centers.  $28.6 million of that is coming to Pennsylvania.  Vice President Biden’s Chief Economic Adviser Jared Bernstein was on the conference call about the announcement and I asked him whether they’d considered expanding the state fiscal assistance next year.  The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) provided a considerable amount of stimulus money to states this year to help balance budgets and avert layoffs.  With revenues already below projections and the terrible time we had getting a budget this year I was wondering if more funds might be available next year.  Dr. Christine Romer already said on a separate conference call Tuesday the White House is considering extending the state fiscal money after next year.

Bernstein said “I won’t get ahead of policies under discussion.”  I take that to mean this is something being considered and they aren’t yet in a position to announce the policy.  He said they understand the problem and “solutions are under discussion.”

Custer Challenges Harper

Frank Custer has challenged Rep. Harper on her record of missing votes in Harrisburg and quadruple dipping at taxpayer expense:

CUSTER CALLS FOR HARPER TO PLEDGE

TO SERVE FULL TERM, IF ELECTED

Upper Gwynedd, PA (October 9, 2008) – Frank X. Custer, the Democratic candidate for the 61st state legislative district seat, today called on his opponent, State Rep. Kate Harper (R-61), to pledge to voters of the 61st Legislative District that she will serve a full two-year term if she is elected in November.

      “I pledge to be a fulltime legislator and to serve a full term if I am elected, and given Rep. Harper’s record I think the voters deserve the same pledge from her.”

      In his comments, Custer was referring to Harper’s abortive run for county commissioner in 2006; the fact that she has skipped scores of votes in Harrisburg to tend to taxpayer-funded legal work at home; and, her stated desire to be a Montgomery County judge.

      “Clearly, Rep. Harper does not want to be in Harrisburg,” Custer said.  “It appears that her heart and her wallet want to be back home.”

      Just a couple of weeks after being re-elected to her current term, and before even being sworn-in, Harper announced in December, 2006 that she was running for Montgomery County Commissioner in 2007 election.  Ultimately, the Republican Party rejected her candidacy and gave the GOP nominations to Bruce Castor and James Matthews.

      Forced to return to Harrisburg after failing to gain the endorsement, Harper has skipped votes whenever there was a conflict between her legislative position and her three publicly-funded municipal law gigs in Montgomery and Bucks Counties.

Harper recently admitted in a newspaper interview that she would like a seat on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, although she claimed that was not in her immediate future.  What is in the immediate future, however, are seven openings on the county bench.  Retirements and legislatively-approved judgeships have combined to provide those openings for the county next year.  There is no guarantee when there would be additional openings on the county bench after next year.

       “Ms. Harper would be misleading the voters of the 61st district for the second consecutive election, if she opted to seek one of the judicial openings next year,” Custer said.  “I can understand why, after eight years of commuting to Harrisburg, she might want to give it up, but at least be honest with the voters.  I think it was very duplicitous in 2006 to spend months asking the voters to give her their support, and then turn around and run for county commissioner before the voting machines got back to the warehouse.”

       Custer opined that Harper may be counting on a perfect financial scenario that would allow her to fill a judicial opening sometime in 2011, because if she serves one more full term in the legislature she qualifies for lifetime health insurance.

Kate Harper: “Stop Picking On Me!”

State Rep. Kate Harper is upset that bloggers like me are picking on her for quadruple dipping at taxpayer expense and missing important votes.  Harper would rather lap at the trough of lucrative attorney fees for local municipalities than represent her constituents and she’s mad that we’ve exposed her greed.

Here’s what she said on her blog in a local paper:

Well, I guess it’s that time again. At all levels, the negative ads, negative commercials, negative press releases are the tactic in vogue.

If I could have it my way, I would simply stress my own accomplishments and value to the District, but politics is a contact sport, some would say a “blood sport,” and it sure isn’t Burger King.

The photos of me on the other side’s mailers are ugly but they don’t draw blood. And I know from experience that later people will say, “Have you lost weight? You look so much better in person.”

Her opponent Frank Custer, a man dedicated to cleaning up the mess in Harrisburg said this:

But, the truth hurts and here it is:

Kate Harper has four taxpayer-funded sources of income. That’s right, four! And it is causing her problems. On several occasions this year she has skipped out of Harrisburg early to tend to her municipal law practice. Each time there was a conflict between voting on the floor of the House of Representatives and skipping out to one of her three other taxpayer-funded jobs, she picked the lucrative attorney’s fees. Why not, she still gets her state paycheck and per diem that way. Forty-eight missed votes in all, and many of them were on critical issues.

Harper tried to explain her missed votes by claiming she needed to in order to stand up to Custer’s leadership.  Hmmm, that tells me who to vote for.

Kate Harper doesn’t believe Harrisburg needs reform.  She infamously insulted reformers by claiming that if they put roadkill on the Capitol cafeteria menu and called it “reform du jour” they’d all eat it.

What we need do is put Kate Harper on the list of political roadkill this year and elect Custer.  The people in Montgomery County deserve a Representative who works for them in only ONE job and has no conflicts of interest.  Frank Custer is a man of integrity and who will go to Harrisburg and vote against re-electing Bill DeWeese as Speaker or Majority Leader.  He is one of few with the courage to say this publicly.  This tells us a lot about Frank Custer and Kate Harper’s ridiculing of reform tells us much about her character.

I know Frank Custer and have immense respect for the man.  He is unafraid to stand up for his principles and he thinks double dipping at the public trough is wrong.  Quadruple dipping is something he finds outrageous.  Elect someone who will work for you full time this year:  Frank X. Custer.

Sam Rohrer “The Crazy Fundie”

Last month I posted some videos of the disturbing views of State Rep. Sam Rohrer.  These were Sam at his Sunday best, preaching to his choir of true believers…plus me and one other guy.  Sam reiterated some strange beliefs, such as the fact man didn’t invent government or democracy.  No, it didn’t come from the pens of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison but, literally, from the hand of god.

He preached his philosophy of government which holds that it exists only to protect private property and defend its citizens from attack.  Nothing else.  No food inspections, no medical research, no roads and bridges, no schools, no nothing.

It is a very extreme philosophy.  Unfortunately Sam’s actions in Harrisburg don’t well reflect these beliefs.  When it comes to his fundamentalist religious beliefs he does act:  for school vouchers for instance.  Sam doesn’t believe in public schools and has spent the past five years trying to ram his Commonwealth Caucus proposal down throats in Harrisburg.

The original CC plan would have completely defunded public schools.  Completely.  It eliminated the property taxes and the sales tax and replaced both with a new sales tax on most every good AND service you bought.  The resulting revenue, conveniently, would have only replaced the $5 billion in general revenues with $5.5 billion leaving schools $4.5 billion short.

It was a backdoor way of defunding public schools.

Of course Sam doesn’t think government should be in the education business:  educate yourself.  He and his wife home school their brood so they believe you can too.  Please don’t allow your job to get in the way.

On the other hand Sam Rohrer thinks it’s OK for teachers to manhandle your children.  He says strangers should be able to spank your kids:

“To remove it from the tool kits of our educators is to leave teachers in the classroom and school districts very much with one arm behind their back,” Rep. Samuel Rohrer, a Berks County Republican, said at a House Education Committee hearing.

Sam has some interesting ideas on schools.  While railing against the REAL ID Act (the only thing upon which we agree) and the creation of massive government and private databases on all of us, he actually proposed one for education.  This was included in Rohrer’s Commonwealth Caucus Plan in 2004.

In this scheme private companies such as TetraData Inc. would be hired (at a cost of $5/student) to create a massive database of our kids school performance.  TetraData is an interesting choice for Rohrer, a graduate of Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC.  Coincidentally that is also where Tetradata is located.   How did Rohrer come upon a small company (50 employees) in South Carolina for his proposal?

TetraData, coincidentally, has ties to BJU.  Jonathon Krueger, a data services engineer at TetraData is also the webmaster for SacredAudio.com at Bob Jones University an dis a graduate.  Developer Graham Collins graduated from BJU.

TetraData sponsored contest prizes for a programming competition at Bob Jones University.

Martin Brutosky, President of TetraData contributed campaign funds to Bob Jones III.

There are obvious ties through BJU between Rohrer and TetraData.  It appears Rohrer’s inclusion of this database requirement was an attempt to enrich his fundie friends and, of course, enable them to channel some of the money to Bob Jones University.

Do you really want religious zealots like those who graduated from Bob Jones University to have access to everything your school knows about your children?  This is what Sam Rohrer wants.  It seems like Sam’s attitudes about limited government and no government intrusion stops at the doors of BJU.

Read more about Sam Rohrer at The Real Sam Rohrer.

Harrisburg Guts Smoking Ban

Lawmakers in Harrisburg are set to pass a gutted, compromised anti-smoking ban which exempts scores of public places, especially slots casinos which suddenly seem to be running Pennsylvania.  Municipalities which already have bans in place (only Philadelphia) will have theirs grandfathered.

I was speaking with someone recently who is a smoker and ardent opponent of such legislation.  For the smokers out there I have this argument:  you say I don’t have the right to tell you where you can and cannot smoke.  I say you don’t have the right to give me cancer.  My right trumps yours.  Go ahead and give yourself lung cancer and die an agonizing death but do not impose that on me unwillingly.

Smokers are also some of the filthiest people I know.  They discard their trash, packs and butts, everywhere with no regard for anyone else.  Most of the trash littering our highways and byways is from smokers.  All of us routinely watch smokers flip their butts out car windows.  This is littering and, I believe, subject to a $100 fine.  A call to 1-888-Litterbug with their license number will elicit a fine.

I’m fed up coming home and having my clothing wreak of cigarette smoke.  I’ve ceased patronizing businesses which allow smoking and endanger my health and that of their employees and customers.  I’m fed up with the empty cigarette packs littering our yard along the roadway.  Allow us to breathe freely.

Anti-Gerrymandering Bill In Danger

A bill in the state House to reform the drawing of state House and Senate (it doesn’t affect Congress) districts is dying due to the inability of a bureaucrat to do his job.  In a column in today’s Inquirer Chris Satullo outlines the bill and it’s potential.

Steve Samuelson introduced HB 2420 and it was assigned to the State Government Committee.  Babette Josephs (Committee Chair) then asked the Legislative Reference Bureau for comment and they refused.  After some discussion over the meaning of the term “community of interest” the bill is being redrafted.

Now, admittedly, that term is vague and could be defined any way a nefarious person may want but this is a critically important bill which must be passed.

Read more…

Of course getting any bill through the constitutional process in Pennsylvania is difficult and convincing legislators to jeopardize their safely drawn districts is nigh on impossible.  Recognizing this Satullo is urging citizens to contact their lawmakers and apply pressure for passage of the bill.

Legislators in Harrisburg only react to several stimuli:  lobbyists with money and/or influence, the orders from their Party Majority Leaders who fund their offices and staffs, strong challengers for their seats, and the threat from voters back home to kick them out of office.  These are in their order of importance.

A concerted effort of citizen lobbying is something they pay attention to where they know their voters are upset or concerned in large numbers.  Contacting your Representative and Senator on these bills is important.  Please do so.