Posts Tagged Reform

This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Jim Broussard Talks Tax Reform


Radio Program Schedule for the week of May 30, 2015 – June 5, 2015

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm has news headlines from PAIndependent.com
  • Lowman Henry talks with Dr. James Broussard of Citizens Against Higher Taxes about the history and prospects for property tax reform
  • Eric Montarti and Frank Gamrat have an Allegheny Institute Report on revised job numbers
  • Beth Anne Mumford of Americans for Prosperity-PA has a Lincoln Radio Journal commentary on the state senate’s positive first step toward pension reform

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with American Sniper author Scott McEwen about the success of the film and about his new book The Sniper and the Wolf
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on the latest maneuvering over Trade Promotion Authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership
  • Eric Boehm talks with Washington State Representative David Taylor for a Watchdog Radio Report on limits to the use of stingray technology
  • Col. Frank Ryan, USMC (Ret.) has an American Radio Journal commentary on negative interest rates in a deflationary economy

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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Official Represson


Richard Nixon was often accused of creating an imperial presidency and of using the levers of power to repress and punish those who disagreed with him.  Nixon’s “enemies list” became a national sensation and official actions against those on the list either directly or indirectly prompted his resignation to avoid certain impeachment. But the disgraced president’s use of repressive tactics pale in comparison to those employed by the current crop of Democratic office holders at both the state and the national levels.

President Obama and his administration have led the way.  His Justice Department has wire tapped the phones of the Associated Press, investigated a Fox News journalist and engaged in systemic harassment of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service.  Unchastened by media and public backlash from these mini-scandals, the administration has ratcheted up the stakes by proposing a wide range of new IRS regulations designed to silence public policy advocacy organizations.

Here in Penn’s Woods two statewide elected officials have taken a page from the Obama playbook.  Unable to defend their positions, they have chosen instead to try and silence the opposition.  Attorney General Kathleen Kane is waging war against a free press, and State Treasurer Rob McCord has taken to suing a private citizen who legally sought information McCord’s office does not wish to disclose.

Attorney General Kane took office barely over a year ago as a media and voter darling. Her star has fallen rapidly.  An investigation into why it took former Attorney General-now-Governor Tom Corbett so long to indict convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky has, well, taken a long time.  It shows no sign of ending soon.  Pandering to her Left-wing base, Kane refused to defend Pennsylvania’s defense of marriage laws, embroiling her in a controversy over whether or not the state’s highest elected law enforcement official could pick and choose which laws she will uphold.

Then the Philadelphia Inquirer dropped a political nuclear bomb revealing the attorney general scuttled an investigation into four Democratic state representatives allegedly caught on tape accepting bribe money from an informant.  Kane claimed the investigation was sloppy and racially motivated; a rationale that sank faster than the Titanic when Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, a highly respected prosecutor who happens to be African-American penned an op-ed that was highly critical of the attorney general.

Shortly after the Inquirer’s expose was published Attorney General Kane sought a meeting with the newspaper only to show up with a prominent libel attorney at her side.  Her action was an unmistakable message to every newsroom in the state: criticize me and you face expensive legal action. It amounted to nothing less than a frontal assault on the media’s first amendment rights.

State Treasurer Rob McCord’s playing of the official repression card has resulted in little media coverage, but similarly sends a chilling message to those who challenge an elected official.  In this case the repression is aimed at an individual activist rather than the news media, although it offers considerable insight as to his view of open records requests.

In January of this year, Pennsylvanians for Union Reform, headed by activist Simon Campbell, filed a public records request invoking a 1929 state law asking the state treasurer for the names, salaries, and other employment related information of all state employees in Pennsylvania. The law cited by Campbell in asking for the information states in part: “The information received by the Auditor General, the State Treasurer and the Secretary of the Budget under this section, shall be public information.”  Not only did Treasurer McCord refuse his request, but he has sued Campbell in court to stop him from even asking for information and in the process is asking the courts to declare all state laws governing public access to documents be declared invalid except the state’s Open Records Law.

While the Open Records Law strengthened the ability of citizens and the news media to gain access to government records, it contains some notable loopholes which the legislature is currently working to close.  By demanding the courts restrict Campbell’s right to even ask for such records, McCord’s actions have a chilling effect on government transparency.

Aside from the core issues involved in each of these cases such acts of official repression should be of great concern to every citizen.  Our representative republic can only function for the benefit of “we the people” when government at all levels is open and transparent, when the freedom of the press is preserved, and the flow of information is easily accessible and readily available.

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The Un-COLA


In politics, as with many aspects of life, timing is everything.  The timing of the awarding of this year’s annual cost-of-living pay increase for state officials could not have been worse.  Announcement of the COLA followed by days of the enactment into law of what will in effect be one of the biggest gas tax hikes in state history.

Taking more from the taxpayers’ pockets and then pocketing more money for yourself is not a prescription for political success.  Few involved in state government today are responsible for the annual raises.  They were instituted back in the mid-1990s as a way for legislators to avoid periodic tough votes over pay hikes.  Ten years later lawmakers got greedy and voted themselves a raise over and above the COLA.  That now infamous middle-of-the-night vote led to a voter backlash that ended the career of numerous legislators and even a couple of state Supreme Court justices.

This year’s COLA is really nothing to write home about: just one quarter of one percent. That translates to $210.00 per year for your average legislator.  Many members, as well as Governor Tom Corbett, Lt. Governor Jim Cawley, cabinet members and the statewide constitutional officers reject the COLAs either turning them back into the state treasury or giving the money to charity.

Even those rejecting the cost-of-living raises benefit to some degree as their pensions are calculated off the higher pay number.  Very few lawmakers have declined to participate in the state pension system, so most benefit.  Many reformers argue both the COLA and pensions for lawmakers are unconstitutional.  The state constitution very clearly authorizes regular pay and travel costs for legislators.  It also prohibits elected officials from getting pay raises during their terms of office – which is exactly what COLAs accomplish.

So why do elected officials put up with the political damage COLAs cause when there is so little benefit?  Likely because repealing the COLA would open the gates to other reforms.  A growing number of lawmakers are pushing for a wider variety of reforms that would make state government more open and accountable.  Those trying to preserve the status quo fear that once the reform ball starts rolling, other perks may bite the dust as well.

And that is as it should be.  First, the law enabling COLAs should be repealed.  State Senator Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin) and State Representative Eli Evankovich (R-Westmoreland) have each introduced legislation in their respective chambers to end COLAs.  This is not to say that lawmakers never deserve a raise. But if raises are to be given they should be awarded in a constitutional manner with a roll call vote in the full light of day.

Giving credence to the status quo crowd’s concern, the legislature should not stop there. With numerous former legislative leaders of both parties sitting in jailhouses around the state, the General Assembly’s job approval rating is in the tank.  The time has come to reform the institution in a manner that will restore the public trust and confidence.

An easy, but significant, step to take would be enactment of a law proposed last week by State Representative Fred Keller (R-Union) that would require the phrase “prepared or compiled using taxpayer resources” on any piece of literature, web site or electronic communication paid for by taxpayer dollars.  This would include constituent newsletters which provide a political benefit to legislators as well as an informational benefit to constituents. It is important for voters to know if they are paying for such publications.

Voters also need to be wary of reform proposals that sound good, but would actually concentrate more power in fewer hands.  An example of this is a bill that would reduce the size of the state legislature.  Fewer lawmakers to support sounds like a good idea, but bigger districts would take power from the hands of grassroots voters and vest it in the special interests that would fund more expensive campaigns in bigger districts.  The problem isn’t the size of the General Assembly, it is the cost.

Another major step toward restoring public confidence in state government would be expansion and toughening of the state’s Open Records law.  Pennsylvania has come a long way in this regard, but implementation of the current law has revealed several significant shortcomings that must be fixed to make it more effective.  State Senator Domenic Pileggi (R-Delaware) has proposed such legislation which would give residents of Penn’s Woods greater access to their commonwealth’s government.

Unfortunately, these reform proposals – both the modest and the ambitious – remain bogged down in the legislative process.  The time has come for the logjam to be broken.

(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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PA Voters Voice Strong Support for Labor Law Reforms


Support Right-to-Work, elimination of Prevailing Wage and Dues Deduction

 (Harrisburg) — A number of union-related issues are currently before the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and a new poll by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc., finds voters across the commonwealth are in the mood for significant reforms.  From elimination of the state’s antiquated Prevailing Wage law, to halting the collection of union dues by governments and school districts, to putting an end to exemptions allowing business and labor unions to stalk, harass or threaten to use a weapon of mass destruction during labor disputes, Keystone State voters say the time for change has arrived.

Pennsylvania law actually has exemptions that would permit either side in a labor dispute – the employer or the union – to engage in tactics that otherwise would be clearly illegal.  Included among the tactics allowed during a labor dispute are stalking, harassment, and the making of threats to use a weapon of mass destruction.  Eighty-four percent of those polled by the Lincoln Institute said they favor making it illegal for either business or labor to engage in such activities during a labor dispute.  Of that number, 69% strongly supported criminalizing such activities.  A total of 16% said they support the current law.

Prevailing Wage reform has become a key bargaining point in ongoing negotiations toward arriving at a new transportation funding bill.  Prevailing Wage applies to all public construction projects such as roads, bridges, and schools costing more than $25,000 funded by tax dollars.  The law basically requires the highest union level wage be paid on all such projects.  Seventy-one percent of the poll respondents said they felt market conditions should be allowed to determine labor rates, 29% favored retaining the current law.

The current push in the state House is to raise the ceiling on projects falling under Prevailing Wage from $25,000 to $100,000.  Seventy-five percent of the Lincoln Institute poll respondents support such an increase while 25% are in opposition.

It is the current practice of state government as well as many county and municipal governments and school districts to collect union dues via payroll deduction for their bargaining units.  Lawmakers are considering a bill that would require unions to collect such dues on their own.  Sixty-two percent of those participating in the poll said they support such a change in the law, 38% felt such dues collection by government should continue.

A number of states, including Michigan and Indiana have recently adopted Right-to-Work laws which have dramatically improved their state’s business climates.  Such a law, which would mean a worker could not be compelled to join or pay fees to a labor union as a condition of employment, is proposed for Pennsylvania.  Voters polled by the Lincoln Institute support enactment of such a law by a three-to-one margin.  Seventy-seven percent support enactment of a Right-to-Work law, with 57% saying they strongly support such legislation.  A total of 23% opposed enactment of a Right-to-Work law.

The Lincoln Institute’s Pulse Poll on union issues was conducted electronically from October 28th through October 31st, 2013.  A total of

404 registered voters residing within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania participated in the poll.

Complete numeric results are available at www.lincolninstitute.org.

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Faux Reform


Reform is one of the most abused words in Pennsylvania’s legislative lexicon.  In the years since the infamous middle-of-the-night pay raise uprising many lawmakers have hopped on the reform bandwagon – including some that created and abused the very procedures they profess to want to reform.  With a seemingly endless parade of state officials populating the prisons, and policy gridlock under the capitol dome, it is clear reforms are needed.

Penn’s Woods lacks citizen ballot initiative rights, so the only way to reform the General Assembly is for it to reform itself.  That, of course, requires a majority of members to admit that there is a problem.  A number of legislators in both chambers have banded together to create a reform caucus.  Serious and necessary reform proposals have emerged from that group. Unfortunately, virtually all lack the widespread support needed to move anything through Pennsylvania’s moribund legislative machinery.

I will digress to credit legislative leaders in both chambers, in particular Senate Majority Leader Domenic Pileggi for their support of open records legislation.  While the open records law does not go far enough, it is the one reform that has resulted in improving government transparency.  Senator Pileggi continues to fight for needed enhancements to the law.

But, the one so-called reform that has drawn the most support from legislative leadership is reducing the size of the General Assembly.  Currently, Pennsylvanians elect 203 representatives in the state house and 50 state senators.  It is one of the largest state legislative bodies in the nation.  The tiny state of New Hampshire has the most house members – 424.  But, and this is an important distinction, they are paid only $100.00 per year serving without the perks of Pennsylvania’s full-time General Assembly.

On its face reducing the size of the Pennsylvania General Assembly would appear to be serious reform.  It is not.  Size is not the problem with Pennsylvania’s legislature, it is cost.  When you consider the entire 424-member New Hampshire state legislature is collectively paid less per year than even one Pennsylvania state representative, the problem becomes clear.  Size reduction will do nothing to address the cost drivers of maintaining the state legislature while concentrating power in the hands of fewer lawmakers.

And therein can be found the ulterior motive. Fewer members will require districts that will be larger both in terms of population and geography.  This will increase the cost of campaigns, minimizing grassroots activity and enhancing the importance of money.  Lobbyists and special interest groups – who already play an outsized role in policy debates – will become even more powerful as candidates will need more of their dollars to fund campaigns.  Larger districts also make lawmakers less accessible to the average voter.  Think about how much easier it is to personally talk to your state representative than it is to gain an audience with your congressman.

If members serve larger districts they will require additional staff.  Thus, any payroll costs cut by having fewer lawmakers will be erased by higher staff costs.  In the end look for the number of new staff hired to eclipse the number of legislators cut.  It is possible – in fact likely – that costs will go up, not down, if legislative seats are eliminated.

There is also the issue of concentrating more power in the hands of fewer officials.  Size reduction is drawing support from leadership in both chambers. This is because it is much easier to influence or control fewer members.  Ditto the lobbyists and special interests that will be able to focus their efforts on corralling fewer votes.  Pennsylvania’s legislature is already a leadership-driven institution.  Cutting the number of members would only make it more so.

Rather than dangling the shiny trinket of size reduction before the eyes of taxpayers hungry for real reform efforts should focus on the real cost drivers of the General Assembly.  For example: why does the institution meet year round? Currently the legislature is in the midst of a two and a half month recess.  Why not, like Maryland to our south, have a part-time legislature that meets only 90 days each year?  That would cut both salaries and operating costs.  It would be even easier to eliminate unvouchered per diems – a system regularly abused; switch from a defined benefits pension system of questionable constitutionality to a defined contribution system; and, with part-time lawmakers eliminate costly health care benefits.

When considering any reform it is important to look past the nice sounding words that accompany its introduction and fully consider all possible ramifications.  The road to reform is one Pennsylvania highway that has been well paved with good intentions gone awry.

(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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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Pension Reform


Radio Program Schedule for the week of May 11, 2013 – May 17, 2013

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Phil Kerpen of American Commitment about the impact of a possible carbon tax
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story behind the Mark Sanford comeback in South Carolina
  • Benjamin Yount takes a Watchdog look at the compensation practices of Goodwill
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA seeks your opinion on immigration reform on his American Radio Journal commentary

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm and Melissa Daniels have news headlines from www.paindependent.com
  • David Taylor of the PA Manufacturers Association hosts a Capitol Watch look at Governor Tom Corbett’s plans to reform Pennsylvania’s public pension system with Kevin Shivers from the PA Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business and Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation
  • Lowman Henry has a Town Hall Commentary on gas, booze and feral swine

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: Senator John Eichelberger talks reform


Radio Program Schedule for the week of April 20, 2013 – April 26, 2013

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Dr. Jason Sorens of the Mercatus Center about his new report Freedom in the Fifty States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story about a looming loss for the GOP in a special Congressional election in South Carolina
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA has an American Radio Journal commentary on immigration reform

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm and Melissa Daniels have news headlines from www.paindependent.com
  • Lowman Henry talks with State Senator John Eichelberger about efforts to reform state government to curb corruption
  • Joe Geiger of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations has Janice Thomas from the Mix at Arbor Place in the Community Benefit Spotlight
  • Jennifer Stefano has a Stefano Speaks! commentary on the late “Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher

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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