Posts Tagged Harrisburg

Governor Wolf PERCs Up


After just one year in office it is clear Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is the most spendthrift governor in the nation.  After all, his proposed and still unresolved 2015-16 state budget called for a tax hike greater than that of all other 49 states combined.  It was a bit startling to see this ultra-big government advocate actually announce he was going to shutter a state agency.

You might think fiscal conservatives would applaud his move to close the Public Employees Retirement Commission (PERC) an obscure state agency that most Pennsylvanians don’t know even exists.  But, any time a politician acts out of character it is a good idea to dig deeper into his or her motives.  Such is the case with Governor Wolf’s proposed elimination of PERC.

According to its website, the Public Employees Retirement Commission is responsible for “monitoring public retirement plans in Pennsylvania, studying the retirement needs of public employees … develop objectives and recommend legislation to the Pennsylvania legislature.”  PERC further administers various mandated reporting on the health of public employee pensions and funnels state funding to municipal pension systems throughout the state.

This trip takes us through the tall weeds of Pennsylvania’s arcane and convoluted public employee pension system, but the bottom line is PERC is responsible for monitoring the health of municipal pension systems and in the process of performing that duty raises a red flag when such plans are headed into financial trouble.  As such it performs an important watchdog function especially at a time when a significant number of municipal pension systems, especially in cities, are under fiscal stress.

In addition to providing independent oversight of municipal pension systems, PERC is required to administer the process of distributing some $250 million annually to municipalities.  According to a news release from State Representatives Stephen Bloom, Seth Grove and Keith Greiner, that amounts to 20% of the contributions that are made annually to municipal pension funds.  The representatives, Republicans all, voiced concern that without those funds many municipalities would be forced to raise property taxes.

Concern over the potential demise of PERC has produced something rare in Harrisburg, bi-partisan agreement.  State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, said: “If people think there’s a (municipal) pension problem now, wait until municipalities don’t get their (Act 205) payments.”   That DePasquale, who has been one of the more rational voices on fiscal matters would sound such a warning speaks to the seriousness of the issue.

To complicate matters further Governor Wolf plans to shut down PERC without seeking legislative approval.  Using the “pen and phone” approach popularized by President Obama, the governor says the agency is simply going to cease to exist.  Republican lawmakers are crying foul pointing out the governor has no authority to close an agency authorized by an act of the General Assembly.  So not only does Governor Wolf’s plan to sunset PERC put public pension plans at risk and likely trigger municipal tax increases, but it creates a constitutional crisis as well.

Pension reform has been a major component of the ongoing budget battle between Governor Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature.  Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, among others, has vowed not to consider any of the governor’s proposed broad-based tax hikes until the state’s pension crisis is resolved.  Why then would Wolf want to complicate matters by tossing PERC under the bus?

Perhaps because Governor Wolf simply refuses to admit there actually is a pension crisis. In his view, pension systems across Penn’s Woods are just fine – all they need is more money.  As a captive of big labor the governor is committed to blocking any and all attempts at pension reform instead favoring throwing billions more in taxpayer dollars into systems at all levels that are simply no longer viable.

While many municipal pension funds, especially those administered by townships, are financially secure, state employee funds and those in larger cities must either be reformed or taxpayers will see historic tax increases.  That Governor Wolf would open a new front in the pension battle by moving to shutter PERC shows not only is he not serious about pension reform, but he will do everything in his power to prevent it from happening.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address islhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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Harrisburg, We Have a Spending Problem


Pennsylvania state government has a structural budget deficit of $1.2 billion dollars.  This somewhat mystical figure is agreed upon by just about everyone.  Given this rare point of agreement, why then is the ongoing budget impasse focused on spending increases rather than spending cuts?

When the working families of Penn’s Woods sit down to pay their monthly bills and income is less than expenses then the family cuts back on spending.  That is because ordinary people can’t just walk into the boss’s office and say “I don’t have enough money to pay my bills so you will pay me more next month.”  And certainly, faced with a deficit, working families – and even most businesses – don’t go out and spend more.

But, that is exactly what Governor Wolf is proposing.  He wants a $4.7 billion increase in state taxes.  If you accept that there is a $1.2 billion structural deficit, then he also wants to increase spending by $3.5 billion.  It is an unrealistic proposal and the reason why the state budget impasse has dragged on for five months.

The governor, however, has won on this front: Republican counter-proposals have focused not on spending cuts, but on increasing spending by less.  Given everyone has bought into the structural deficit number the goal should be to reduce spending to bring actual income and expenditures into balance.  That is what happens in the real world.

Government, however, does not live in the real world.  At no point has a budget been put forward that would even slow the growth of state government let alone cut spending.  The battle has been all about how much bigger state government will become, not about living within our means.

Driving this irrational approach to budgeting is spending on K-12 public education.  The biggest lie since “if you like your health insurance you can keep your health insurance” is that Governor Tom Corbett took a meat axe to education spending.  A cabal of Democratic politicians, labor unions and their media apologists perpetrated that lie during last year’s gubernatorial campaign even though actual spend numbers prove state tax dollars spent on public education increased to record levels under the former governor.

Governor Wolf has never shifted out of campaign mode, and in an effort to repay the unions who financially backed his campaign has made historic increases in education spending a key demand.  Education is a motherhood and apple pie issue.  After all, who doesn’t want our children to have the best education possible?  We all do.  The rub is little of the increases in spending actually benefit children, going instead to pay for bloated administrative bureaucracies and skyrocketing pension expenses.

To their credit, legislative Republicans are insisting on structural reforms to the state’s pension system before agreeing to any spending increase.  But, they have accepted without as much as a whimper the governor’s premise that spending must go up.  Wolf is already crowing that he has gotten Republicans to agree to a “historic” (meaning massively large) increase in state spending on education.

Yet even today, as the budget that should have been done before Independence Day fireworks remains unresolved as we shop for Thanksgiving dinner, not one single party to the budget debate has put on the table any serious menu of potential spending cuts.  Even the GOP’s on-time, no tax hike budget which the governor vetoed included significant spending hikes.  No effort was made to cut spending to match projected income.

There is an old saying in sports that you can’t win by simply playing defense.  That is what has happened as the budget game goes into triple overtime.  At no point has there been an offense designed to cut spending, just defense over spending increases.  So the taxpayers of Pennsylvania have already lost the game, the only hope now is that the final score is not too lopsided.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

 

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Thomas J. Smith: An American Life


From the minutemen of the American Revolution to the settlers of the old West to the housewives who poured into the factories during World War II to the Tea party movement of recent years our nation began and thrives when ordinary Americans step up and do extraordinary things.

Since the beginning of our Republic the concept of a “citizen legislator” has been the ideal.  Our founding fathers realized that professional politicians are more concerned about their careers than “we the people” posed a threat to our liberty.  Four score and seven years later, President Abraham Lincoln eloquently called it a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Now special interests and professional politicians dominate both Washington, D.C. and Harrisburg while the interests of working families, small businesses and senior citizens take a back seat.  But there are those who are willing to leave the comfort of their private lives and fight to preserve, protect and defend the God-given rights upon which our nation was established.

Thomas J. Smith was one who has answered his nation’s call.

Tom Smith, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 67, was an American success story.  At the age of nineteen, when his father became ill, Tom decided to postpone college and run the family’s Armstrong County farm.  He mortgaged his existing property to purchase a coal mine and – by risking capital and his financial security – successfully expanded his business operations over a 20 year period eventually mining more than a million tons of coal per year and employing over 100 people.

Along the way, Tom and his wife Saundra had three biological children. Then, the Smith’s adopted a family of four children from Texas allowing the siblings to be raised together.

After selling his mining interests in 2010 and becoming alarmed over rapidly expanding federal intrusion into our lives, Tom was in the vanguard of the Tea party movement and helped to found the Indiana/Armstrong County Patriots.

But that level of activism was not enough for Tom Smith.  In 2012 he decided to run for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania.  The sitting governor and state GOP endorsed another candidate, but Tom persevered dealing the party a rare defeat and besting five other candidates to win the nomination.  Despite his best efforts, the headwinds against the GOP in Pennsylvania that November resulted in the re-election of the incumbent.

This is the point where most people give up.  But not Tom Smith.  He was only getting started.  Tom became involved in a wide range of state and national policy battles serving on the boards and financially contributing to a wide range of organizations fighting for individual liberty and personal freedom.

In the summer of 2015 Tom was again planning to enter the political fray as a candidate for congress when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.  That cut short his political career, but Tom remained involved fighting for the issues about which he cared deeply until his final days.

Ronald Reagan once said that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Thomas J. Smith did his part to ensure that freedom endures for the next generation.  His life and career will continue to serve as both an example of what citizen activism should be and as an inspiration to the rest of us to step up and continue the cause which he has “thusfar so nobly advanced.”

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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Governor Wolf, You’re No Barack Obama


Imitation, the saying goes, is the most sincere form of flattery.  So either Governor Tom Wolf is in the running for president of the Barack Obama fan club, or the Wolf Administration lacks the capacity for original thought.   In ways big and small Tom Wolf has copied the Obama governing strategy.  The problem for the governor is that the Obama approach relies heavily on levers of power available to the president, but not to governors.

President Obama and Governor Wolf each ascended to the chief executive’s office with skimpy political resumes.  Obama had been a U.S. Senator for only two years when he ran for president. Wolf’s only public service was as secretary of revenue in the Rendell Administration.  Both interpreted their elections as mandates that simply didn’t exist.  Obama’s election resulted from voter backlash over George W. Bush’s unpopular wars.  Wolf won simply because he wasn’t Tom Corbett.

Their campaign organizations were similar.  Barack Obama bested Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in 2008.  Clinton loyalists populated the Democratic National Committee and were salted throughout the party structure.  Obama built his own campaign apparatus, Obama for America, which allowed him to essentially bypass the official party.  When Jim Burn refused to step down as state Democratic Party chairman, candidate Tom Wolf formed Fresh Start PA, again running his campaign outside of the formal party machinery.

Seeking to build upon their phantom mandates, both Obama and Wolf took office espousing grand ideas.  Having tacked hard to the Left to win a competitive primary, Wolf named two erstwhile opponents, Katie McGinty and John Hanger as chief of staff and policy director.  McGinty and Hanger are two of the most left-wing policy wonks in the state and immediately proposed a massive expansion of spending, along with a complex reworking of the state’s tax structure that – if enacted – would result in the largest tax hike in state history.  The scope of the proposed tax increase is so large it alone is bigger than the tax hikes proposed by governors of the other 49 states combined.

President Obama also came into office with big ideas.  Most of those grand schemes failed, with the notable exception of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which became law but triggered massive Democratic congressional defeats the following year.  In fact, Obama lost so many legislative battles he settled on a new strategy – bypassing congress and governing by executive order.

Governor Wolf’s copying of the Obama playbook fails to take into account that Democrats controlled both houses of congress during his first year in office.  Wolf has no such luxury.  In fact, he began his term with Republicans solidly in control of the state senate and holding a historically high number of seats in the house.  In another major departure from the Washington model, the GOP majorities in Harrisburg are cohesive with effective leadership, unlike the hapless Republicans in congress.

Like Obama, Tom Wolf has opted to run a perpetual campaign rather than trying to govern.  Obama for America became Organizing for America as the president attempted to politically bludgeon Republicans into bending to his will.  Likewise Governor Wolf has set up his own PAC and called in help from the Democratic Governors Association attacking Republicans for blocking his tax and spend agenda.

The problem with this strategy is it leads to gridlock.  Washington has been beset by a series of high profile budget battles. Wolf vetoed the GOP-passed state budget and talks are at a stalemate.  Worse for Wolf, the president’s ace in the hole is his bully pulpit.  Obama can count on a compliant national news media to beat the drums against Republicans.  At the state level few media organizations have reporters at the capitol and state issues gain little public attention.  That makes it considerably more difficult for Wolf to put voter pressure on a legislature that simply won’t give in to his demands for more spending and higher taxes.

Finally, President Obama has consistently out-messaged national Republicans framing issues to his advantage. Tom Wolf has failed to do so.  More spending and higher taxes play well in the Philadelphia region, but nowhere else.  It is a message that quite simply won’t sell statewide.

By not grasping the structural differences between the Obama approach and governing Penn’s Woods Tom Wolf has wed a policy agenda that cannot be achieved.  Thus the budget stand-off in Harrisburg will continue until the governor realizes he is no Barack Obama and accepts the reality that Harrisburg is a very different place than Washington, D.C.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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From Perception to Reality


There is an old saying in political circles that “perception is reality.”  Like many old saws there is a lot of truth behind that saying.  Perception is driven by messaging.  It is not necessarily the best policy that prevails, but the policy that benefits from the most effective messaging.  And effective messaging depends on sound arguments, superior strategy and a capable messenger.

Democrats and the GOP have arrived at a split decision when it comes to effective messaging in political campaigns.  Republicans have decimated Democrats at the legislative level.  In congress the GOP holds solid majorities in both chambers.  In the state legislature Republican majorities are at or near historic levels.  The executive branch is a different story. President Obama’s oratorical skills have laid waste to hapless GOP nominees.  Former Governor Tom Corbett was never able to effectively explain his policies to voters, paving the way for a Democratic victory.

Elections behind us, the task now turns to governing.  This is where the outcome of the messaging battle becomes more one-sided.  Congressional Republican leaders have been totally ineffective.  They have squandered their numeric majority by being strategically out-maneuvered, and are losing the perception war.

Despite the fact President Obama’s executive orders relative to illegal immigrants were ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, and polls showing public opposition to his actions, the Republican congressional majority was unsuccessful in defunding the agencies tasked with implementing that policy.  Why?  They allowed Democrats to spin the defunding as a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.  In fact only a couple of small agencies within the DHS would have been affected.  Thus the debate changed from illegal immigration to national security. Congressional Republicans were backed into a corner, caved in, and gave the President a victory.

Now unfolding is a fight over the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as U.S. Attorney General.  Republicans have legitimate concerns relative to her interpretation of the constitution.  But, they have allowed Democrats to portray their opposition as sexist, or racist by opposing the confirmation of an African-American woman.  It was entirely predictable Democrats would play the race and “war on women” cards, but the GOP was unprepared to counter that message.  In the end, a woman who believes the President can effectively re-write the U.S. Constitution will likely be confirmed as Attorney General.

Here in Penn’s Woods the GOP has historically been equally inept at countering executive messaging.  Former Governor Ed Rendell was a master at backing legislative Republicans into a corner, picking off a couple of stragglers at the back of the herd, and winning enough votes for his budgets and policies.

Now, however, there is a new cast of characters in Harrisburg.  Governor Tom Wolf has opted to follow the Obama model and tack far to the Left in his first budget proposal.  New leadership is at the helm of both the House and Senate GOP and they represent caucuses far more conservative than those in office during the Rendell years.

Democrats have already begun spinning their message.  Rick Bloomingdale, president of the state AFL-CIO penned an op-ed calling Governor Wolf’s new budget progressive, conjuring up images of John Fitzgerald Kennedy daring us to be great.  This despite the fact working families will pay significantly higher taxes under Wolf’s budget proposals which amount to nothing either new or progressive, but are little more than a continuation of Rendell-era tax and spend policies.

The ball is now in the GOP’s court.  Republican legislative leaders must shed the yoke of the Corbett Administration’s failure to communicate and become effective advocates for a more responsible approach to governing.  Republicans have proposals that are time-tested, proven governing policies.  The challenge now is to effectively communicate that message and to stand strong against a governor – and mainstream news media – determined to spin false perception into reality.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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PA Business Climate Improving…But Obamacare a drag on employment, pay


For the first time in a decade, by a narrow margin, more Pennsylvania employers say business conditions in the commonwealth are improving than say the state’s economy is getting worse.  But, that optimism is tempered by a lack of job creation and lower wage hikes due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

George W. Bush was president and on the verge of re-election in 2004, the last time respondents to the Lincoln Institute’s Keystone Business Climate Survey thought the business climate was getting better rather than worse.  Since then the nation has experienced the Great Recession and subsequent slow recovery.

But, the current survey finds 20% of the business owners and CEOs responding say over the past six months business conditions in Pennsylvania have gotten better, while 19% say the state’s economy has gotten worse.  By comparison, one year ago 31% felt business conditions had gotten worse and just 14% saw an improvement.

There is not, however, optimism for the immediate future.  Looking ahead six months, 27% expect business conditions in Pennsylvania to get worse, while 16% expect conditions to get better.

Driving the current burst of optimism are increasing sales.  Thirty-six percent of the companies said sales have increased over the past six months as 24% reported decreased sales.  Looking ahead, 32% project sales will increase, 13% expect sales to drop.

Employment levels dropped over the past six months, with 20% reporting higher employment and 24% saying employment at their business has decreased.  Looking ahead six months, 21% project adding employees, while 9% plan to employ fewer workers.

Impact of the Affordable Care Act

It is clear the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, is having a negative impact on both the number of jobs that are being created, and on wages and pay hikes. Twenty-five percent of the business leaders participating in the survey said they have decided not to hire additional employees due to the requirements of Obamacare.  Ten percent said they have actually reduced the number of employees because of ACA; while another 3% said they hired, but did so later than they had planned.  Less than 1% said they hired sooner than planned because of Obamacare. Fifty-eight percent said ACA has had no impact on their hiring plans.

In terms of wages/salaries, 33% said they have delayed giving pay raises due to the costs of Obamacare.  Twenty-eight percent indicated they reduced the amounts of pay raises, while 26% said they paid new hires less to compensate for the costs associated with compliance of the Affordable Care Act.  Five percent reduced the pay of current employees, while 2% said they increased employee pay in response to ACA requirements.  A total of 42% said Obamacare has no impact on their wages/salaries.

State Issues

Education spending has been a major issue in the gubernatorial campaign. But, unlike the electorate at-large, business owners and CEOs participating in the Fall 2014 Keystone Business Climate Surveysay the state spends too much money on public education.  Forty percent think state government spend too much on public education, 29% say the state spends too little, while 27% say state spending on public education is about the right amount.

By a large margin, 78% to 19%, the employers say they are not willing to pay higher taxes to provide additional funding to public education.  There is, however, strong support for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) which businesses can claim for donating money to K-12 educational institutions.  Forty-seven percent think the General Assembly should allocate more month to the tax credit fund so more businesses can participate; 36% say the fund should be kept at current levels.

Taxes have also been a major campaign issue in 2014.  When asked whether Pennsylvania should retain the current “flat” income tax or move to a “graduated” income tax where low income earners are exempt and higher income earners pay a higher rate 84% said they support the current “flat” income tax, 14% would like to see a “graduated” rate.

A proposal to exempt the first $30,000 from state income taxes and raise the rate for money earned above that level from 3.07% to 5% drew strong opposition from the business leaders.  Seventy-three percent oppose such a system with 60% saying they are strongly opposed.    Twenty-three percent said they would support such a change.

Mandating paid sick leave for employees was opposed by three-quarters of the business owners and CEOs who participated in the Lincoln Institute survey.  Seventeen percent said they would support mandating paid sick leave for businesses with over 50 employees. Another 6% support mandating paid sick leave for all businesses regardless of size.

Job Approval Ratings

Mirroring the national trend, President Obama received a highly negative job approval rating from the business owners and CEOs.  Eighty-five percent voiced a negative view of the president, while 13% offered a positive assessment.

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey is viewed favorably by 51% of the survey participants while 24% have a negative view.  The numbers reverse for U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. as 60% offered a negative view of his job performance against a 21% positive rating.   Fed Chairman Janet Yellen received a 38% negative / 28% positive rating; and, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew scored a 42% negative / 8% positive.

At the state level Governor Tom Corbett sports a 52% positive rating while 35% disapprove of the job being done by the Republican governor.  The CEOs and business owners turned thumbs down on Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who received a 49% negative rating against just 16% positive.  Most offered no opinion on the job performance of Auditor General Eugene Depasquale and State Treasurer Rob McCord.  Of those who did, Depasquale had a 20% negative / 11% positive rating and McCord scored 21% negative / 17% positive.

Participants in the Fall 2014 Keystone Business Climate Survey took a dim view of the job being done by both Congress and by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  Eighty-nine percent offered a negative assessment of the U.S. Senate, with 7% having a positive view.  The U.S. House of Representatives fared slightly better scoring a 72% negative / 22% positive rating.  Sixty-three percent have a negative view of the job being done by the Pennsylvania Senate, 19% approve.  The Pennsylvania House of Representatives turned in a marginally higher score, with a 62% negative / 23% positive rating.

And, Governor Tom Corbett finally came out ahead in one poll.  Sixty-five percent of the business owners and CEOs said they plan to vote for the incumbent governor in the November 4th General Election, 20% say they will cast their ballot for Democratic challenger Tom Wolf.  However, 53% expect Wolf to win the election, while 29% predict a Corbett victory.

Methodology

The Lincoln Institute’s 2014 Keystone Business Climate Survey was conducted electronically from September 26, 2014 through October 17, 2014.  A total of 316 responses were received.  Of those, 69% are the owner of their business, 24% are the CEO/COO or CFO, another 4% are a state or local manager. Twenty-seven percent of the respondents are located in southeastern Pennsylvania, 18% in southwestern Pennsylvania, 14% in the northwest section of the state, 17% in south-central Pennsylvania, 11% in northeastern Pennsylvania, 6% in the Lehigh Valley, six percent in north-central Pennsylvania and 1% in the Altoona/Johnstown area. Complete numeric results are available at www.lincolninstitute.org.

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A Ruined Black Tie Affair


My favorite Garth Brooks song, about having friends in low places, has a great lyric where he sings “I showed up in boots and ruined your black tie affair.”  That refrain could be sung by Pennsylvania’s newest state senator, Scott Wagner, who just months into his term, has called for the ouster of the reigning Senate Republican leader.

There is no doubt that Senate Majority Leader Domenic Pileggi is out of step with both his caucus and with his party.  The most frequently asked question I get is: Why have Republicans – with control of the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature – failed to enact reforms near and dear to the heart of the party’s grassroots?  The blame in large measure rests squarely on the shoulders of Pileggi and a handful of other southeastern Republican senators whose loyalty lies not with their party or voters, but rather with the labor unions who financially support their campaigns.

Senator Wagner had the temerity to challenge Pileggi directly on this issue.  In a strongly worded letter saying he supports a change in leadership Wagner told Pileggi: “I suspect many of your actions can be explained by the company you keep . . . It has become crystal clear to me that you will not allow any piece of legislation onto the floor for a vote that would in any way be opposed by the public or private sector unions.”

Reaction from the Senate leadership team tellingly focused on concerns that: “Public disagreements within our caucus are not the norm; we always hope such differences can be resolved in a collegial manner.”

I guess he ruined their black tie affair.

Interestingly, among the “accomplishments” of Senator Pileggi cited by his fellow leaders was passage of the Transportation Infrastructure Plan, essentially a massive gas tax hike that is enormously unpopular among fiscal conservatives.  No mention, of course, was made of pension reform or liquor privatization – key legislative goals of Governor Tom Corbett and of House Republicans respectively.

Conservatives know that resolving matters in a “collegial manner” only means the clubby status quo of the Senate remains intact.  The past four years have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that such business as usual cannot and will not yield reform.  The same situation existed across the capitol rotunda in the state House during the speakership of John Perzel, who – before being sent off to prison – ran that chamber in a manner contrary to both the principles of his party and the will of most members of his own caucus.

History is now repeating itself.  Electoral trends across the state have resulted in Republican representation in both the Senate and in the House shift from the formerly Republican southeastern Philadelphia suburbs to central and especially western Pennsylvania where voters have elected more Republicans and more conservative Republicans.  Pileggi, of Delaware County, is on the wrong side of the trend line.

The question now becomes when will enough Republican senators realize that they are enabling the labor union agenda by allowing Senator Pileggi to remain as Majority Leader?  It is not enough, back in their districts, to use the excuse that leadership won’t bring issues to a vote.  Every senator has the power to shed the black tie, put on their boots and change leadership so it more accurately reflects the principles of the Republican Party’s grassroots.
Wagner, meanwhile, has nothing to lose.  Pileggi & company pulled every trick in the book to prevent him from being elected to the Senate in the first place.  In an embarrassing defeat for Pileggi, Wagner beat the leader’s hand-picked candidate in a special election by waging a write-in campaign – the first write-in victory for a state Senate candidate in the history of the commonwealth.

Putting a cherry on top of the sundae, Wagner recently gave the Senate Republican report at the Fall meeting of the Republican State Committee.  Such reports typically lull members to sleep, but Wagner animated the crowd with a fiery speech denouncing labor unions and those who have blocked the GOP’s reform agenda – specifically pinning the blame on southeastern senators.

He received numerous and thunderous ovations.

Wagner is not speaking for just the conservative wing of the party, he is speaking for all Republicans who are angry that they have worked for decades to gain control in Harrisburg, and have seen critical reforms derailed by elected officials of their own party.  And those reforms have not failed because of the governor or the state House, but because of the Senate.  Senator Wagner has correctly identified the “number one obstacle.”

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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