Posts Tagged Harrisburg

Crunch Time


It is crunch time in Harrisburg.

The next 60 days will likely be the most productive – or unproductive – period of legislating under the capitol dome this year.  From budgets and taxes to liquor privatization and pensions, a wide range of controversial and difficult issues vie for legislative attention.

Most importantly, the state constitution requires a budget be adopted by the close of business on June 30th.  Lawmakers don’t always fulfill their constitutional obligation.  Under former Governor Ed Rendell the commonwealth went eight straight years without passing a budget on time. It has been a source of pride for Governor Tom Corbett that his three budgets were done by the deadline, but revenue shortfalls and election year politics threaten that streak.

But this year, budget aside, June 30th looms as a very important date.  That is because the General Assembly traditionally adjourns immediately after passing the budget for a two and a half month summer vacation.  Last year, even with the governor’s top three legislative agenda items unresolved, the legislature left town.  When lawmakers return in mid-September the General Election will be just six weeks away.  With every member of the state House and half of the state Senate up for election, you can bet the mortgage nothing controversial will get done during the Fall session.

For decades the legislature would return to session for two weeks after the General Elections in a so-called “sine die” session to complete business.  However, such sessions have fallen into disrepute because they were often used so members who lost or were retiring could cast politically difficult votes knowing they would never again face the electorate.  As part of the meager reforms that took place during the backlash over the infamous middle-of-the-night pay raise vote, sine die sessions have either not been held or limited to routine administrative business.

Depending on the outcome of the gubernatorial election, this year could test the resolve of leaders to not call a sine die session.  Despite its control of both chambers the GOP has not been able to agree on key issues.  Should the Democratic nominee win the governor’s race, then the last chance to forge an agreement on such issues and get them signed into law will come in November.  After that, Republican dominance would end.  If, however, Governor Corbett is re-elected, sine die becomes irrelevant and legislative battles will wait until the new session convenes in January.

Adding to the drama is that each major issue is complicated by associated issues.  The budget, for example, also depends on the outcome of a Democratic push to enact a severance tax on Marcellus Shale drillers and lavish election-year spending on education.  Under the House-passed bill privatization of the state’s liquor stores would inject much needed cash into the system, but the Senate has yet to come up with the votes to pass that legislation.

Meanwhile other big issues are at play.  After decades of talk and debate there actually are two property tax reform bills gaining traction.  The problem is the bills take significantly different approaches to shifting property taxes to other forms of taxation triggering an internal battle over how to proceed.

And then there are key labor power issues.  Most notably there is a push for Paycheck Protection, or outlawing the automatic deduction of labor union dues from government workers’ paychecks.  That bill appears to have enough votes for House passage. But, organized labor has a stronger foothold in the Senate GOP caucus, so the fate of the bill is up in the air.  Governor Corbett has pledged to sign the legislation.

Illustrating how difficult it is to get anything accomplished in the current legislative and political climate is that a bill which would eliminate loopholes in state law that actually allow stalking, harassment and the making of threats to use a weapon of mass destruction during a labor dispute remains unresolved.  Polls show nearly 90% of voters want to make such actions illegal.  Both the House and the Senate have passed a bill to do so – but the Senate added some language that the House has yet to agree upon.

The failure to pass a law with such widespread support calls into question the ability of the legislature to deal with more complicated issues like pension reform.  The sad fact is it will take an enormous effort by the governor and legislative leaders to accomplish anything of substance given the political climate in which they are currently operating.

(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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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Challenges for State Government


Radio Program Schedule for the week of January 5, 2013 – January 11, 2013

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks about poverty in America with Rachel Sheffield from the Devos Center for Religion & Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story behind the fiscal cliff deal
  • Adam Tragone of Human Events previews the 2014 U.S. Senate races
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA has an American Radio Journal commentary on why resolution of the fiscal cliff dilemma was a deal rather than a solution

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Kevin Shivers from the PA Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business hosts a Capitol Watch look at the major issues confronting state government in 2013 with Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation and Eric Boehm from www.paindependent.com
  • Lowman Henry has a Town Hall Commentary on the media double standard in coverage of the two political parties

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

http://www.lincolnradiojournal.com

http://www.americanradiojournal.com

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Casino Competition: Frank Gamrat on Lincoln Radio Journal


Radio Program Schedule for the week of September 22-28, 2012

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Maseh Zarif of the American Enterprise Institute about unrest in the Mid-East
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on why congress punted on the budget and the Farm Bill
  • Adam Tragone of Human Events has an Off the Cuff talk with Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller about the impact of the Mitt Romney “47%” video
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA has an American Radio Journal commentary on protecting our constitutional right to intellectual property

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from paindependent.com
  • Lowman Henry begins a series of On the Campaign Trail interviews with candidates for statewide office by talking with Diana Irey Vaughan, GOP nominee for State Treasurer
  • Frank Gamrat of the Allegheny Institute discusses the impact on Pennsylvania casinos of new slots venues opening in Ohio
  • Col. Frank Ryan, USMC (Ret.) has a Common Sense Chronicles Commentary on the NCAA sanctions against Penn State University

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

http://www.lincolnradiojournal.com

http://www.americanradiojournal.com

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Cesspool of Corruption


These are days of shame in Pennsylvania.

In just the past couple of weeks a sitting state Supreme Court Justice has been indicted, a state Senator has resigned in the wake of her conviction on corruption charges, a former Senate President Pro Tempore has struck a plea deal, and a former Speaker of the House has entered and been released from prison.

Penn’s Woods is in the throes of the worst outbreak of corruption since Milton Shapp occupied the Governor’s office. Former high ranking officials of both political parties, as well as sitting elected officials in both houses of the legislature and the state’s highest court have brought shame upon themselves and upon the government they were entrusted to serve.

The case of former House Speaker William DeWeese is particularly egregious. Convicted and sentenced he reported to the Dauphin County Prison outside of Harrisburg on a Monday, but was released just days later pending appeal. As DeWeese walked out of the prison gates and later feasted at one of Harrisburg’s finest restaurants, those of less lofty status were left to languish in the prison while awaiting trial. Even in disgrace rank apparently still has its privileges. Making matters worse, DeWeese – currently resigned from the House – was nominated for a new term by voters in his Greene/Fayette County district in April’s primary.

Those charged and convicted (so far only one defendant has been found not guilty) have attempted to divert attention from their misdeeds by claiming the prosecution is politically motivated. This tactic spans the partisan divide. Former Attorney General, now Governor Tom Corbett was accused throughout the Bonusgate and Capitol Corruption investigations of prosecuting for political gain. In Allegheny County, District Attorney Stephen Zappala, a Democrat, is accused by the Republican Orie sisters of similarly pursuing a political agenda. But in both cases indictments were issued by sitting grand juries, and convictions came from a jury of their peers. Neither Corbett nor Zappala controlled those bodies, and none of the multiple juries involved were of political construct.

Adding further to the cesspool of corruption that has engulfed state government is the fact those charged and convicted were not low level staffers or even back benchers in their respective chambers. They were leaders: a Supreme Court Justice, a former Senate President Pro Tempore, two former Speakers of the House, and those who held other leadership positions. This again proves the old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Yet, despite the fact our prisons are filling up with former elected officials, and dozens of legislators have been tossed from office by voters, precious little reform has been enacted by those who remain. There have been a few changes; such as ending voting in the middle of the night, and not passing legislation in lame duck sessions.

But the reforms passed to date have been neither significant nor structural. The fact is the culture of corruption that pervades state government stems from the fact the General Assembly has become for all too many a career rather than public service. Once elected, all too many legislators place a higher premium on getting re-elected than in addressing the many significant needs of the commonwealth. That is why the state and school districts across Pennsylvania are standing on the beach ready to be swamped by a tsunami of pension costs, our roads and bridges are crumbling, and our public education system is in disarray.

There has been window dressing. A proposal to reduce the size of the General Assembly is nothing more than a ploy to concentrate more power in the hands of the few. Real reform, such as constitutional term limits, restricting session days to just three months per year, and limiting compensation to that proscribed by the state Constitution is nowhere on the radar screen. Even ministerial reforms, such as doing away with unvouchered per diems and requiring receipts for expense reimbursement, have not seen the light of day.

We are often told by those remaining in office that the few bad apples are not spoiling the whole barrel and that there are good and honest people serving in state government. This is certainly true. But, apparently there are not enough good and honest people – or at least not enough of them are willing to step forward – to make the changes necessary to put an end to the commonwealth’s culture of corruption.

The philosopher Edmund Burke once said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” So true, and by standing by and doing nothing the rest of the legislature adds to the shame that today shrouds Penn’s Woods like a summer fog.

  (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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Reason for Pessimism


Conventional wisdom over the past few months has it the economy is finally beginning to emerge from the recession that began back in 2008. So it was a bit surprising that the Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey of major employers found chief executive officers around the commonwealth were more pessimistic about the direction of the state’s economy than they were a year ago.

In fact, by almost a two-to-one margin, the CEOs said Pennsylvania’s economy had gotten worse over the previous six months rather than better. A majority – 51% – said the state’s economy had remained about the same. That, however, is faint praise in that recent surveys have placed economic confidence levels at their lowest point in the 17-year history of the poll.

This raises the question: Is the economy really improving, or has the mainstream media bought into Obama Administration election year spin?

The answer is probably a bit of both. After four down years the dynamic nature of the American economy is such that some improvement – as reflected in the rising equity markets – is real and likely sustainable. However, government created uncertainty has fostered a climate in which many businesses are still not ready to risk significant amounts of capital on expansion.

At the national level the chief culprit is the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. Businesses have not been able to digest the highly complicated legislation, let alone begin to project how regulators might interpret the law. Adding to the chaos are constitutional questions, which will be answered in a few weeks when the Supreme Court of the United States issues its ruling.

But here in Penn’s Woods the business climate is also suffering from growing disappointment with state government. There was actually a slight uptick in business optimism last Fall as business leaders looked to a new Republican governor and historic Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly and anticipated the passage of business friendly legislation.

To be sure some progress has been made, but the pace of reform has been disappointing, so much so that as the legislature lumbers into the last six months of its session the lack of progress has become downright disheartening.

This disappointment is reflected in the job performance rating of the General Assembly. Fifty-six percent of the CEOs surveyed have a negative opinion of the job being done by the state Senate, 22% view the upper chamber positively. The House fares marginally better: 53% have a negative opinion of the job being done by the House, 26% offer a positive view.

While generally applauding the fact Governor Corbett and the legislature held the line on both taxes and spending last year – and appear likely to do the same in the budget currently under consideration – business leaders say the cuts do not go far enough. Fifty-nine percent want state spending cut further. And there are no sacred cows. Seventy percent say they want cuts in public welfare; 42% would cut human services; and 38% want further cuts in higher education spending.

In short, the business community wants state government to do what it has done: cut costs and live within its means. Many businesses have trimmed their workforce, cut hours, reduced product lines, and taken other unpleasant steps in order to remain viable in the down economy. They look at government and want it to do the same.

And so, as major issues such as privatization of the state’s liquor stores, school choice, dealing with the looming state and school district pension crisis, and union power issues remain unresolved the hopes for a major change raised by the onset of Republican dominance in Harrisburg are giving way to disillusionment and becoming manifest in a growing pessimism over the direction of the state’s economy.

Making matters worse, everyone knows that when the legislature adjourns in early July for its two month summer vacation there is no chance of any proposal even remotely controversial being brought up in September or October as the General Election season will be in high gear.

So, little has been accomplished and the window of opportunity is closing. Therein lays the explanation as to why the brief burst of optimism that developed last year has reverted back to recession era pessimism.

(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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Recovery? PA Employers Say PA Economy Remains Sluggish


(Harrisburg, PA)  Despite the conventional wisdom that the nation is emerging from a four-year economic downturn, results of the Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey find employers in the commonwealth less optimistic than they were one year ago – and fewer expect the business climate to improve in the coming months.  The survey also found a majority favor further cuts in state spending, particularly on public welfare.  There is also broad-based support for placing strict limits on the rate at which state spending can increase in the future.

When asked if business conditions in Pennsylvania are better, the same, or worse than they were six months ago, 17% reported improved conditions while 30% said business conditions had gotten worse.  A majority, 51%, said business conditions had remained about the same.  A year ago the survey found 25% saw business conditions improving, with 28% saying they had gotten worse.  There was a slight uptick in the November survey, but the numbers slipped backwards again in the current poll.

Looking ahead six months, 16% of the business owners and chief executive officers participating in the poll said they expect Pennsylvania’s business climate to improve, while 26% expect a further deterioration in the economy. Response to that question was considerably more pessimistic than a year ago when 38% forecast improving business conditions, and six months ago when 22% felt conditions would improve.

The number of companies operating with fewer employees again outpaced those that had added jobs over the past six months.  Twenty percent said employment levels at their business are lower than they were six months ago while 13% reported employing more people.  Sixty-six percent said the number of employees at their place of business remained about the same over the past six months.  A year ago, the Keystone Business Climate Survey found employment up at 22% of the companies and down at 22%.  The November survey found a return to negative territory and that trend continued in this spring’s survey. Going forward there is a bit of optimism: 16% expect to add employees over the coming six months while 13% say they will employ fewer workers.  But again, those numbers are down from a year ago when 29% forecast growing their workforce and 17% predicted job cuts.

Another area of concern for employers is sales.  Thirty-five percent said sales at their company have decreased over the past six months while 28% reported increased sales.  Thirty-seven percent said sales were static.  A year ago, the numbers were more positive with 30% having reported sales increases and 29% decreasing sales.  Looking ahead six months, 32% remain optimistic that sales will increase, while 20% say sales will decline.

Despite the generally poor business conditions in Pennsylvania relatively few companies have moved from the commonwealth.  Less than one percent said they have moved some of their operations out of the state.  But, not one single company surveyed reported having moved any operations into Pennsylvania from another state. Five percent said they are considering moving some operations from Penn’s Woods, while another 4% are considering moving all their operations elsewhere.

Job Approval Ratings

 

President Barack Obama has never received good job performance ratings in the Keystone Business Climate Survey. But, the bottom fell out in the current poll.  Eighty-nine percent of those polled have a negative view of the President’s job performance while just nine percent gave him a favorable review.  A year ago, 27% had a favorable opinion of the President’s job performance while 68% expressed negative views.  Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke fared only slightly better in the current poll with 59% disapproving of his job handling the nation’s economy while 19% approved. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner earned a 7% job approval rating with 68% disapproving of the job he is doing.

Conversely, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey saw a significant increase in his job approval rating.  Forty-seven percent said the state’s junior senator is doing a good job, while 23% expressed a negative view.  Six months ago Toomey was upside down in his rating with 38% expressing disapproval and 28% approving.  Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.’s numbers are headed in the opposite direction.  Eleven percent of the employers surveyed approve of the job he is doing in the U.S. Senate, 62% disapprove. That is a drop from six months ago when 17% approved and 54% disapproved of how he is handling his job.

At the state level, Governor Tom Corbett’s approval numbers have remained relatively stable over the past year.  The Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey found 48% approve of the job the governor is doing, with 32% registering their disapproval.  A year ago, 44% gave the governor positive marks while 30% disapproved of how he was handling his job.   A large majority of respondent offered no opinion on the job performance of Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rob McCord and Auditor General Jack Wagner.  Of those who did, 19% gave Wagner a positive review with 15% negative.  Fourteen percent hold the job being done by Treasurer McCord in a positive light, and 16% expressed disapprove of his job performance.

Employers participating in the survey continue to hold strongly negative views of the job performance of the legislative branches of the federal and state governments.  Congress is held in especially low esteem.  Only 5% credit the U.S. Senate with doing a good job, 92% view the Senate negatively.  Twenty-four percent approve of the job being done by the U.S. House of Representatives, 71% disagree.  At the state level, 22% give positive marks to the senate, with 56% disapproving.  The Pennsylvania House earned the best rating among the legislative chambers, although that is faint praise with 26% approving and 53% disapproving of the job being done by our state representatives.

State Budget

Last year Governor Tom Corbett and the General Assembly passed a state budget that held the line on both spending and taxes.  Respondents to the Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey say they didn’t go far enough. Fifty-nine percent said when the new state budget is enacted this June spending should be cut further.  Thirty-six percent said the current rate of spending is about right, while just 3% felt state government should increase taxes and spending.

Among the areas of proposed budget cuts is spending in the Department of Public Welfare.  This department includes programs such as Children and Youth Services, cash assistance such as food stamps and medical benefits to low income recipients and funding to nursing homes.  Spending in this area has increased over 50% in the last nine years.  Ninety-two percent said they support cutting the Department of Public Welfare budget – 65% strongly supporting such cuts.  Eight percent disagreed.

In terms of which categories employers would like to see state budget cuts, public welfare was at the top of the list at 69% followed by human services (42%), prisons & corrections (41%), higher education (38%), health care (32%), economic development (24%), K-12 education (16%), and highways/transportation 8%.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a law that would limit increases in government spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth.  For example, if we had three percent inflation and one percent population growth government spending could increase no more than four percent that year.  The limit could only be exceeded by a majority of voters in a referendum at election time or by vote of two-thirds of lawmakers in a declared emergency.  Generally speaking, 77% of the employers participating in the poll said they support such a law – 38% are strongly in favor.  Nineteen percent oppose such a law.

As for the new law permitting counties to levy taxes/fees on companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale region, 31% said the new tax is about right, 24% said the tax is not high enough, and 22% said no additional tax should have been levied on drillers.

Union Power Issues

The 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey found strong support among employers for enactment of a Right to Work law, whereby a worker cannot be compelled to join or pay fees to a labor union as a condition of employment.  Ninety-two percent support enactment of a Right to Work law – 85% strongly supporting such legislation.  Seven percent were in opposition.

Currently, many school districts in Pennsylvania collect union dues via payroll deduction from the paychecks of teachers and other school district employees.  Those dues are then transferred to union bank accounts.  State legislators are considering a law that would require unions to collect these membership dues directly instead of relying on school districts and other governmental units to do so.  Eighty-five percent of those polled support such a change in the law, with 73% strongly in favor.  Seven percent disagreed.

Construction projects funded by tax dollars in Pennsylvania are subject to the Prevailing Wage law, which essentially requires union level wages to be paid on all such projects.  When asked whether the current system of Prevailing Wage should be kept, or whether market conditions should be allowed to set labor rates, 91% voiced support for a switch to market rates, while 8% supported keeping the current system.

Reform

With a parade of former high ranking legislative leaders headed off to prison, a number of proposals have been suggested to reform the General Assembly.  When asked which reforms they would support 63% said there should be a requirement for legislators to provide receipts when being reimbursed for expenses; 54% favor reducing the size of the General Assembly; 51% think legislative pensions should be eliminated; 39% would make the legislature part-time while 27% would limit sessions to 90 days each year.  Another 45% voiced support for all of the proposals.

The General Assembly is considering a plan to end the state’s liquor store monopoly and place distribution and retail sales of wine and spirits in private hands.  Eighty-four percent of the business chieftains agree with that idea, 61% strongly so.  Twelve percent disagreed.

Methodology

The Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey was conducted electronically from April 20th through April 24th.  A total of 324 business owners, CEOs, CFOs, state and/or local managers participated in the survey.  Complete numeric results can be obtained at www.lincolninstitute.org.

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Eric Montarti Talks About Harrisburg Takeover


Radio Program Schedule for November 19, 2011 – November 25, 2011

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Tim Goeglein author of The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era
  • Adam Tragone of Human Events has an Off the Cuff talk with former Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Sam Rohrer about congressional redistricting
  • Dr. Paul Kengor from the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College has an American Radio Journal commentary on the need to record the stories of our vanishing war veterans

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Eric Montarti, Senior Policy Analyst at the Allegheny Institute about City of Harrisburg being taken over by the commonwealth
  • Joe Geiger from the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations has David Thompson from the National Council of Nonprofits in the Nonprofit Spotlight
  • Col. Frank Ryan, USMC (Retired) sits in for Scott Paterno with a commentary on why being pro-union is not the same as being pro-worker.

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

http://www.lincolnradiojournal.com

http://www.americanradiojournal.com

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