Posts Tagged issues

R.I.P. PA Constitution 1968-2016


Governor Tom Wolf has been in office for just over a year, but already we know historians will put the words “budget crisis” in their lead paragraph.  But a far more ominous phrase may get top billing: “constitutional crisis.”

Like his authoritarian counterpart in Washington, D.C., Governor Wolf is willing, in fact may prefer, to shred the constitutional separation of powers and enact by executive fiat that which the legislative branch is unwilling to do.  The commonwealth has entered its ninth month without a completed state budget and that has spawned a growing debate over the limits of gubernatorial power.

Days before Christmas the legislature again passed a state budget.  This time Governor Wolf signed off on most of the spending plan but “blue lined” or line item vetoed about a third of the items thus extending the budget crisis.  Three months later, there is no resolution, but the administration is spending money anyway.  This, many lawmakers argue, is a clear violation of the state constitution.

The Governor, and his appointed State Treasurer Timothy Reese argue there is a competing requirement for the state to keep certain agencies operating – especially those involved with ensuring public safety.  But Treasurer Reese has gone far beyond that even authorizing a “loan” from the state treasury to House Democrats to pay their staff during the ongoing budget crisis.

The public safety argument is nothing more than a distraction from the main issue which is can a governor spend taxpayer dollars without explicit authorization from the General Assembly?   It is a clear violation of the state constitution and one which will explode into a full blown crisis, especially if the governor’s illicit spending extends outside the realm of public safety.

The budget, however, is not the only area in which Governor Wolf is willing to trample on legislative powers.  He is trying to shutter the Public Employees Retirement Commission (PERC), an obscure state agency that earned his ire when it disagreed with his view of the pension crisis.  The agency was created by an act of the General Assembly and signed into law by a previous governor.  Lawmakers have sued in court to block executive dissolution of PERC pointing out it would take legislative action to do so.

This week Governor Wolf again by-passed the General Assembly on the issue of the state’s minimum wage. The governor has called for an increase in the state minimum wage, but the legislature has refused to go along.  So, he signed an executive order unilaterally raising the minimum wage paid to state employees to $10.15 per hour.  The action applies only to state workers, but will be extended to those companies doing business with the state.  The minimum wage hike does not extend to private business.

However, the impact on small businesses will be significant.  Neal Lesher, legislative director for the National Federation of Independent Business-Pennsylvania, points out that the governor’s executive order effectively prevents many small businesses from entering the bidding process for state contracts.  “Some small businesses simply cannot afford to pay inexperienced, entry level workers that much more per hour,” Lesher explained.  “This creates an unfair playing field that favors larger companies.”

Having fully bought into the Obama “pen and phone” style of governing there is no indication Governor Wolf plans to return to a constitutional model any time soon.  His “budget address” to the legislature last month was hostile and confrontational and had the effect of solidifying Republican opposition which at times had shown signs of wavering.

It is clear crisis government is now the new normal in Harrisburg.  With no resolution to the current budget impasse in sight, and the deadline for adopting a budget for the next fiscal year less than four months away, the governor is content to act as if the legislative branch of government does not exist.  But legislators will not sit idly by and be consigned to irrelevance.  If the governor continues on his current course the constitutional crisis will explode into the courts, and possibly even lead to impeachment proceedings.

(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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A New Shade of Blue


Residents of Penn’s Woods are about to experience history in the making: the start of a new state budget year with the previous year’s budget still unresolved.

Governor Tom Wolf guaranteed the anomaly by line item vetoing almost a third of the budget passed by the GOP-controlled legislature just before Christmas.

The official start of the budget process comes in early February when the governor delivers his budget address to a joint session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  For a variety of reasons the remaining unresolved budget issues from the current fiscal year are likely to remain that way well past the governor’s budget speech currently scheduled for February 9th.

Governor Wolf began the current impasse last winter by proposing a massive increase in state spending and demanding a package of tax hikes that exceeded the tax increases proposed by the governors of all 49 other states combined.  The governor asked this of a legislature not only in control of the opposite political party, but one that holds historically high majorities and one which has become significantly more conservative in recent years.

It is a common strategy for both sides to stake out their most extreme position at the beginning of negotiations.  That leaves room for compromise, which is what always happens during budget talks.  Governor Wolf asked for $3.4 billion in new spending, the GOP preferred spending cuts.  Ultimately, Republicans agreed to a $1 billion increase, including significant additional funding for the governor’s top spending priority: public education.  The governor, however, wants everything he asked for and he wants in now.  Thus began the budget impasse which persists to this day.

The governor has made it clear he is not interested in compromise.  After vetoing the on-time, no tax hike, balanced state budget passed by Republicans last June he immediately sanctioned television ads blasting GOP lawmakers.  In another departure from tradition Wolf vetoed the entire budget.  In the past governors have signed the budget then blue lined or line item vetoed the parts with which they disagreed.  Wolf, however, wanted to ratchet up the political pressure on Republicans so he trashed the entire thing.

Since then there have been numerous votes on alternative budgets, proposed tax hikes, and so-called cost drivers including pension reform and a plan to partially privatize state liquor stores.  GOP lawmakers have passed these bills only to have the governor wield his veto pen.

Governor Wolf and his allies in the liberal media have taken to castigating Republicans, especially House Republicans for being “extremists” because they will not support a broad-based tax hike.  Largely unreported by the media is the fact Democrats in the legislature have been equally obstinate in their support of the governor’s tax and spend agenda.  Vote after vote has fallen along party lines with only a handful of defections on either side of the aisle.

This (aside from the governor’s stubborn streak) gets to the core of the impasse: Democrats have been reduced to a largely urban party that allows no deviation from its Left-wing agenda.  Conservatives dominate in the Republican caucus, but there is a group of moderate, mostly southeastern Pennsylvania legislators, who often fracture party unity by siding with Democrats.

And look for Democrats to become more ideologically rigid after this year’s elections.  State Representative Nick Kotik of Allegheny County is one of only a very few so-called blue dog Democrats and he is retiring.  The term blue dog originated because the Left strangles their moderate brethren blue to force compliance.  This canine is about to become extinct in the Pennsylvania legislature.

In its place is another shade of blue: that being the governor’s face.  He is determined to hold his breath until he gets his way.  He has called Republicans stupid, extreme and their most recent budget “garbage.”  By remaining in campaign mode rather than maturing into governing the governor’s strategy ensures not only that the current budget impasse will continue, but that Pennsylvanians are in for three more years of fiscal chaos.

(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: Chris Nicholas Talks Judicial Elections


Radio Program Schedule for the week of October 31, 2015 – November 6, 2015

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from PAIndependent.com
  • Lowman Henry has a Newsmaker interview with Chris Nicholas from the Pennsylvania Business Council on statewide elections for appellate court judges
  • Joe Geiger from the First Nonprofit Foundation has Kori Pennypacker from Bible to School in the Community Benefit Spotlight
  • Beth Anne Mumford has a Lincoln Radio Journal commentary on America’s declining economic freedom

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute about the State of the American Worker 2015 report
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story behind the congressional budget and debt deal
  • Eric Boehm and Darren McKinney of the American Tort Reform Association have a Watchdog Radio Report on state attorneys general who give legal contracts to campaign contributors
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA has an American Radio Journal commentary on the third Republican Presidential debate

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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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Remembering Tom Smith


Radio Program Schedule for the week of October 24, 2015 – October 30, 2015

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from PAIndependent.com
  • David Taylor of the PA Manufacturers Association and Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation pay a Capitol Watch tribute to the late Thomas J. Smith
  • Lowman Henry has a Town Hall Commentary on why congressional Republicans have given rise to “outsiders” leading the GOP presidential race

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Jonathan Williams of the American Legislative Exchange Council about a new report on the impact of state taxes on charitable giving
  • Doug Sachtleben of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on Ben Carson’s positions on pro-growth issues
  • Eric Boehm is joined by Johnny Kampis for a Watchdog Radio Report on those fantasy sports web sites
  • Col. Frank Ryan, USMC (ret.) has an American Radio Journal commentary on why the next Speaker of the House must be a better communicator

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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A New Way Forward


There is an old saying that battle plans are effective until the fighting starts.  That is true in politics. Once the campaign actually begins anything can – and usually does – happen.  This explains why establishment favorite Jeb Bush is being over-run by Donald Trump and a socialist senator from a small state is giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money.

At this stage of the presidential race in 2008 conventional wisdom held that the General Election match-up would be a contest between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Guliani.  Four years ago, Herman Cain held a commanding lead in the polls to take on incumbent Barack Obama.  Clinton, Guliani and Cain all failed to win their party’s nomination.

Trump and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders would appear at first glance to have absolutely nothing in common.  Trump is the embodiment of free enterprise having made billions in real estate and other ventures; Sanders is an avowed socialist. But there is a common thread: each has tapped into the deep tide of discontent with the malaise that has engulfed both our domestic economy and foreign policy.  To be sure Trump and Sanders prescribe diametrically opposite solutions, but the feelings of discontent run strong on both the Left and the Right.

The challenge for Republicans, and especially for conservatives, is to present a path forward that will be both realistic, yet appeal to the nation’s desire – as Trump puts it – to make America great again.  The only certainty is that the old approach has failed.  Milquetoast nominees like Mitt Romney and John McCain spouting establishment rhetoric inspired nobody and resulted in the ideologically driven presidency of Barack Obama.

Conservatives are viewed by many voters as heartless money grubbers willing only to cut spending and kick the “lesser of these” to the streets.  But a new approach is emerging, with a presidential candidate and a think tank president leading the way.  In their own way, they have laid the ideological groundwork for a message that more accurately reflects the conservative heart.

The Conservative Heart is a new book by Arthur C. Brooks who is President of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.  The stated purpose of the book is to challenge “the liberal monopoly on fairness and compassion.”   And Brooks does just that by explaining how free enterprise and conservative solutions have lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system known to man.

Rick Santorum, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 GOP Presidential runner-up is known primarily for his outspoken positions on social issues.  But, it is on economic issues where Santorum actually may have the most impact.  He too has written a book, Blue Collar Conservatives, in which he argues that conservatives must talk about the “blue-jeaned” worker as well as the CEO.  Santorum argues: “Conservatives give the impression they are unconcerned about the millions of hurting and vulnerable Americans” and concludes “Our country needs opportunities for all not just the financiers on the East Coast or the high-tech tycoons on the West.”

All of this, according to Brooks means we must change the focus from the Left on equalizing the “finish line” to placing emphasis on “making the starting line more equal for the vulnerable by improving education, expanding the opportunity to work, and increasing access to entrepreneurship.”  And for him, that includes fighting “cronyism that favors powerful interests and keeps the little guy down.”

Powerful interests, of course, abound in both political parties.  But they are small in number compared to the “blue collar conservatives” to which both Santorum and Brooks argue the GOP must appeal.  It would be a bold new approach and a departure from the past.  But having lost the last two presidential elections, for conservatives and for Republicans a departure from the past would be a good thing.

(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 permitted if author and affiliation are cited.

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Trump Card


It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a summer romance turns into a permanent relationship.  That may be the case with Donald Trump whose summer surge has propelled him to the front of the herd seeking the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.

Conventional wisdom (which is often wrong) for weeks has put Trump in the same category as Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich and others who four years ago took turns rocketing to the top of the polls only to fall and be replaced by the next candidate who caught the voters’ fancy.  But that race also featured the formidable campaign operation of Mitt Romney who played an electoral version of wack-a-mole to pick off anyone who gained traction against him.  This year no one – yet – appears capable of taking down Trump.

At first Donald Trump appeared to be just another passing fad.  He is a commanding presence and used his celebrity to launch his campaign feeding the narrative that this was just another PR ploy.  But there is an old adage among public speakers that to get people to hear your message you must first get their attention.  Nobody is better than Trump at getting attention, and now he is delivering his message.

The Republican Party establishment, mainstream news media and even the conservative punditry all initially wrote Trump off as a side show.  As Trump whipped off a series of decidedly not politically correct broadsides against illegal aliens, John McCain, and Meghan Kelly, the tongues wagged that he had gone too far and was set to implode.

The implosion never happened.  Instead, Trump has risen in the polls the most recent of which show him suddenly competitive in the General Election against the once-invincible candidate who is imploding, Hillary Clinton.  Trump, it seems, can – and does – say whatever he wants and voters flock to him.  He has almost literally pushed the other 16 candidates off the stage.  On a recent night both Trump and Jeb Bush hosted town hall meetings in New Hampshire.  Trump spoke before a raucous crowd of over 2,000; Bush talked with a couple hundred people many of whom appeared to be borderline comatose.

Trump has succeeded in becoming the dominant figure in the 2016 Presidential race because he has refused to play by the rules.  And that is a good thing because the rulebook has been written by the Left and by design puts Republicans in general and conservatives in particular on the defensive.  Trump refuses to be defensive – he is always on the attack.

Accuse Trump of flip-flopping on issues?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  Accuse Trump of insulting women?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  Accuse Trump of insulting illegal aliens?  No problem, the rules don’t apply.  The political class says he is a passing fad? No problem, the rules don’t apply.

It has become crystal clear Americans of all political stripes feel the nation is off track and someone has to, as Trump would put it “make America great again.”  That is the nature of Bernie Sanders’ appeal to the Left, and Trump’s appeal to GOP voters. The difference is Sanders’ policy solutions won’t play with a broader swath of the electorate.  But with Trump voters see an ultra-successful businessman who has gotten things done and they believe he can make good on his promise to lead the nation back to greatness.

So Trump has again succeeded where all others have failed.  He has the attention of the voters, and is putting forth solid – if controversial – policy solutions.  But winning a presidential nomination requires an extensive organization that collects a majority of the delegates who will assemble in Cleveland the summer next.  That is Trump’s challenge: converting popularity into delegates.  He also must overcome the fact that while he leads the race, more voters have a negative opinion of him than those who have a positive one, making it difficult to build upon his base of support.

Trump, of course, is accustomed to building things.  His current project is a mammoth hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. midway between the Capitol and the White House.  If he can capitalize on his current front-runner status, Donald Trump may acquire some additional real estate a few blocks down the street.

(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.)

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

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Senator Jake Corman and Representative Bryan Cutler to headline Quarterly Briefing


pennsylvania leadership conferencePennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and State House Majority Whip Bryan Cutler will headline the June 29th Quarterly Briefing presented by the Pennsylvania Leadership Council from 9 A.M. until 11:00 A.M. at the PMA Building, 225 State Street, Harrisburg, PA.
With the constitutional deadline for adopting the state budget just two days away, the June 29th briefing will afford attendees an inside glimpse at the progress (or lack thereof) of the state budget process by key leaders in the senate and the house.

Both Senator Corman and Representative Cutler have spoken in the past at the annual Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. There are parts of a new team of leaders in the general assembly fighting the massive tax and spending increases proposed by Governor Tom Wolf.

In addition to remarks by Senator Corman and Representative Cutler, the PLC Quarterly Briefing will also include a panel presentation on the state budget and related policy issues.  Moderated by Lowman Henry, Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute, the panel will include presentations by David Taylor, President of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association; Gene Barr, President of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry; Matthew Brouillette, President of the Commonwealth Foundation and Kevin Shivers, Executive State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

A question and answer period will follow the panel presentation.

Attendees are asked to arrive early and be seated by 9 A.M. as Senator Corman will be the first speaker and is on a tight time schedule due to budget negotiations.

There is no charge to attend the PLC Quarterly Briefing, but advance registration is required.

Please REGISTER TODAY at www.paleadershipconference.org.

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