Posts Tagged united states

Winners and Losers


One of the many quirks of our political system is that each year there are winners and losers among politicians whose names are not actually on the ballot.  This year is no exception.  Neither Governor Tom Wolf nor State Senator Scott Wagner was up for election this year, but results of the balloting sent their career paths in opposite directions.

Governor Wolf has had a tough first two years in office dealing with a Republican-controlled legislature. His efforts to dramatically expand government spending, and to implement the historic tax hikes needed to pay for that agenda resulted in the longest budget stalemate in state history.  Legislative Republicans won.

Tuesday voters rewarded the GOP with even larger legislative majorities. Democrats in the state senate are now on life support.  Two Democratic incumbents were defeated by challengers; a third Democrat seat went Republican after the incumbent gave up several months ago and resigned from the ballot.  Combined, the three seats give Republicans a 34-16 edge and something rarely if ever seen in state government: a veto proof majority.

Meanwhile, across the rotunda in the House of Representatives Republicans saw their already historically high majority expand by three seats as four incumbent Democrats and one incumbent Republican lost.  The Republican pick-ups came in southwestern Pennsylvania which has been trending toward the GOP for several election cycles.  In fact, the most endangered species in Penn’s Woods might well be the non-urban legislative Democrat, with only a handful of Democratic lawmakers representing districts outside of the state’s urban cores.

All of this matters because next year’s state budget battle is shaping up to be even tougher than the first.  Republicans caved into Governor Wolf’s spending demands this year, but failed to fully fund the budget.  That coupled with revenue sources that either never materialized or have failed to meet projections presages a major fiscal fight next year.

Not only have Republicans added to their numbers, but this year’s legislative elections moved both chambers further to the Right.  Moderate state senators like Cumberland County’s Pat Vance and Lancaster’s Lloyd Smucker have been replaced by far more conservative legislators.  The continued drift of the House GOP caucus from moderate southeastern dominance to conservative central and western Pennsylvania influence means tougher sailing for those wanting to raise either taxes or spending.

Governor Wolf also saw his agenda rejected in another race; that the battle for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat.  The Democratic nominee, Katie McGinty, was Governor Wolf’s first chief of staff and architect of the tax and spend plan that triggered the epic budget battle.  Incumbent U.S. Senator Pat Toomey made hay of that effectively painting McGinty as out of touch with the financial needs of average Pennsylvanians. He won, she lost.

How then do the fortunes of one state senator rise on all of this? Senator Scott Wagner was an establishment pariah when he ran for an open seat in York County in 2014.  Shunned by his own party Wagner accomplished an historic first in Pennsylvania: He won a special election on a write-in defeating both party nominees.

The upstart senator has quickly gained clout and was tapped by his colleagues to lead the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.  The SRCC as it is known is tasked with recruiting, funding and electing Republicans to the state senate.  After playing a major role in helping to win several seats two years ago, Wagner effectively recruited candidates like Senator-elect John DiSanto of Dauphin County who upended Democratic incumbents last week.  Much of the credit for the senate’s now veto-proof majority goes to Wagner.

This is important because Scott Wagner has made no secret of his desire to run for governor in 2018 and is widely expected to announce his candidacy within weeks.  Having built a strong senate majority gives him a leg up both on the Republican nomination and on a grassroots organization for the battle against Tom Wolf who is expected to seek re-election.

Thus the 2016 election has set the stage for the beginning of the next big electoral battle in Pennsylvania. Political fortunes have risen and fallen. And the never ending cycle of campaigns has already begun anew offering no respite for weary voters.

(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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Grow Private Sector, Not Government


 

Tax policy received scant attention in the presidential debates, but when it did both candidates displayed a serious lack of understanding regarding at least one critical component of the tax code: carried interest. Although arcane in nature and unheard of by most, carried interest is a tax rule that fosters capital formation, encourages investment and ultimately leads to job creation.

Simply put, carried interest is a type of capital gain.  Homeowners are familiar with the term ‘capital gain’ which in that circumstance refers to the increase in value of your home over time as you make improvements or rising market prices increase its sale price.  If you sell your principle residence and make more than $500,000 in profit as a married couple, you must pay a capital gains tax.  You pay the capital gains tax rate, not the ordinary income tax rate, on the transaction because you have already paid taxes on the income used to purchase the house.

Likewise carried interest is a long-term capital gain that is earned by an investment partnership.  In this case the asset is not a house, but an investment portfolio that the partnership established and grew over time. When sold, the portfolio manager pays a lower capital gains tax rate on the fund’s profit, not the higher ordinary income tax rate.

The presidential candidates have, unfortunately, decided to portray carried interest capital gains as a loophole granted to special interests.  Both candidates want to raise this capital gains rate claiming it gives investment fund managers an unfair tax break.  Fairness, however, is not what such an increase would achieve. Rather it would amount to double taxation.

The negative effects would be much worse than over-taxing a sub-set of taxpayers.  The partnerships that are formed when an investor joins with a fund manager results in a structure that fosters informed investments that grow over time.  This growth generates profits.  When the profits are re-invested that is called capital.  Such capital is invested in businesses so that they can grow, expand and create jobs.

Carried interest capital gain rules play a critical role in allowing capital to form.  If you raise the carried interest capital gain tax rate, the government will take more in taxes–dramatically decreasing the amount of capital available for investment in the economy.

A significant portion of that capital available for investment is invested right here in Pennsylvania.  According to the American Investment Council, private equity firms invested an estimated $24.49 billion in Pennsylvania-based companies in 2015.  There are 143 private equity firms headquartered in Pennsylvania.  These companies support more than 185,103 workers at facilities both in Pennsylvania and in other states.

In other words, carried interest capital gains is not a tax device aimed at making Wall Street fund managers richer. Rather, it is appropriate taxation that makes more capital available for investment in the companies that are creating much needed new jobs for Pennsylvanians and elsewhere.

It is common in an election year for candidates to propose new government spending programs in an effort to win votes.  They then go looking for ways to pay for that higher spending. “Reforming” the nation’s complex tax structure is often an effective target.

But, changes can have unintended consequences.  Raising the current 23.8% carried interest rate to 33% as proposed by Donald Trump or almost 50% as suggested by Hillary Clinton would result in only a modest increase in tax revenue flowing into the federal treasury.  And we all know that any move to raise this rate would likely be coupled with other tax hikes on working families and small businesses.

Even if you set aside the unfairness of double taxing investors, raising the carried interest tax rate or eliminating that category of capital gain entirely would have the detrimental effect of reducing capital formation.  That means dramatically fewer dollars available for companies to grow and create new jobs.  Carried interest is not a tax break for the wealthy; rather it is a way for investors to put their earnings to work creating the new jobs needed as the nation struggles to recover from the Great Recession.

Lowman S. Henry is Chairman and CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org

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Leave Us Alone


It was a simple, yet revealing summary of the problems plaguing Pennsylvania’s businesses.  “Please stop trying to ‘fix’ it,” the business owner begged. “Leave us alone.”  That plaintive plea came as three new studies show our state’s economy is sagging under the weight of new regulations, higher taxes, and unsustainable government spending.

Recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-2009 has been one of the slowest in history.  But, some states have bounced back faster and farther than others.  Pennsylvania is not one of those states.  The Fall 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research found half of the business owners/chief executive officers surveyed saying the state’s business climate has gotten worse over the past six months, and only five percent reporting improving business conditions.

Like other states the people who actually run businesses reported a dramatic deterioration in economic conditions in Pennsylvania during the Great Recession. Optimism returned briefly during the Corbett Administration, but tanked less than three months into Governor Tom Wolf’s tenure.

Governor Wolf began his administration pushing for historic increases in both state spending and in taxes.  The Republican-controlled legislature successfully derailed that effort last year, but then caved into $1.4 billion in higher spending this year – earning the disapproval of 86% of the owners/CEOs.  All of this creates a climate of uncertainty leaving one owner to comment: “We expect another shoe to drop making it difficult to operate in Pennsylvania.”

The biggest shoe that hasn’t dropped is who will pay to bail out Pennsylvania’s massively underfunded public pension system.  Business owners fear a significant portion of that burden will fall upon them.  And the problem is, to use a currently popular word, huge.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) recently released a study of state pension systems entitled Unaccountable and Unaffordable.  It pegged Pennsylvania’s unfunded pension liability at nearly $212 billion dollars.  The commonwealth has amassed the 44th largest unfunded pension liability among the fifty states.

Compounding the problem is Pennsylvania has little room in which to maneuver in finding new revenue streams (taxes) to fund the public pension system.  The Tax Foundation’s State Business and Tax Climate Index found we have the 24th highest state tax burden in the nation.  We already have the most damaging taxes on the books: the Personal Net Income tax, Corporate Net Income tax, and a broad-based state sales tax.  Already suffering from a poor tax climate, any move to expand, increase or create new taxes would further erode our competitiveness.

These factors weigh heavily on the minds of business owners/CEO as they consider locating or expanding in Pennsylvania.  Forty percent said Governor Wolf’s proposed tax hikes have caused them to not expand their businesses.  That factor was second only to the explosion of new federal regulations in impeding business growth.

Why should non-business owners care about all of this?  Business relocation into Pennsylvania and the expansion of existing businesses will result in the creation of new jobs.  Penn’s Woods has lagged the national average in job creation in large measure due to state taxes and regulations.  The 2016 Keystone Business Climate Survey found 21% of the responding businesses reduced their employee compliment over the past six months while only 11% added employees.

Thus Pennsylvania continues on a downward spiral.  And there is little optimism among those on the front lines of business activity in the state for improvement at any point in the near future.  Uncertainty is Kryptonite to business development.  At the state level uncertainty abounds.  Governor Wolf continues to press for increased spending and higher taxes at a time when the commonwealth already faces a structural budget deficit.  The recent record of legislative Republicans has shaken confidence in their ability to either deal with cost drivers like the pension crisis or to successfully oppose future tax hikes.

The bottom line is Pennsylvania’s business climate will not improve, and significant job creation resume, until and unless state government gets spending under control, addresses the looming pension crisis, cuts onerous regulations and provides some measure of tax relief to businesses ready to expand but which are being held back by the heavy hand of government.

(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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What’s My Line?


There is an old television game show entitled “What’s My Line?” The game featured celebrity panelists questioning contestants to determine their occupations.  Let’s play a Pennsylvania version of the show: Who are Otto Voit, Joe Torsella, John Brown, John Rafferty and Josh Shapiro?  The answer is they are all currently running for statewide office in Pennsylvania.

Next question: Can you correctly identify the office for which they are running?  The answers are Voit and Torsella are running for state treasurer; Rafferty and Shapiro for attorney general; and John Brown, along with incumbent Eugene DePasquale are running for auditor general.

When it comes to statewide offices in Pennsylvania it is either feast or famine.  This year’s ballot will feature a veritable buffet for voters from President of the United States to U.S. Senate to the already mentioned three statewide constitutional offices. But next year statewide politics goes on a strict diet with only appellate court seats on the menu.

Voters respond accordingly.  Turn-out for the 2012 election topped 58% in Pennsylvania.  The following year, 2013 sported only one statewide race – a seat on the state superior court – and voter turn-out plummeted to less than 17%.  As a side note, that 2013 judicial race was won by Victor Stabile who has the distinction of being the only Republican to win a statewide election in the past four years.

In 2012, President Barack Obama powered a sweep of statewide offices as Democrats were elected state treasurer, auditor general and attorney general. It was the first time since attorney general was made an elected position back in 1980 a Democrat won that office. Four years later, however, former Attorney General Kathleen Kane and former state Treasurer Rob McCord have been convicted of high crimes and await sentencing.  Auditor General DePasquale, it should be noted, has served scandal free.

Corruption in these statewide constitutional or “row” offices is unfortunately not uncommon in Pennsylvania.  Former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer was recently indicted for alleged improprieties dating to her time in office.  Going back a bit further, former Auditor General Al Benedict and former state Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer were convicted of crimes. Benedict admitted his guilt, Budd Dwyer died proclaiming his innocence.

Of course it is impossible to know whether or not a candidate will be honest in advance, but it is clear the currently system has not provided voters with the opportunity to learn enough about the candidates.  While tens of millions will be spent on this year’s U.S. Senate race between Pat Toomey and Katie McGinty, candidates for the row offices will likely be lucky to have a couple of million to present their credentials to voters.

It is unreasonable to expect voters to pay attention to who will be state treasurer, auditor general or attorney general in a year when a presidential campaign dominates the news.  You aren’t going to see Otto Voit and Joe Torsella on the front page of the paper every day – in fact they’ll be lucky to be in the paper at all.  And no television station is going to go live and lead from an appearance by these candidates.  Many voters will go to the polls not even knowing their names, much less with a full understanding of their credentials and plans for the offices they seek.

This will continue to be the case for however long these offices are filled in a presidential election year.  So here is a thought: move the election of these three offices to the year following the presidential election.  In the four year cycle of elections the “off year” following presidential balloting is the lowest profile year.  Only statewide appellate court seats are on the ballot, and – except for home rule counties – there aren’t even county commissioner races to capture voter interest.

By moving the election of the treasurer, auditor general and attorney general to the off year they would become the marque races.  The news media could devote more attention to the candidates.  Fundraising would be easier.  Party activists could devote more time to their campaigns. Voters would be able to focus.  They would go from being a side salad in the electoral buffet to the main course.

With a brighter spotlight on these offices we would hopefully end up with more voters at the polls, and fewer of the officials elected in jail.

(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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Bellwether: PA Again the Keystone State


If early polls are any indication, Pennsylvania is posed to be one of the major battleground states as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton enter the final months of the 2016 presidential campaign. Some polls give Mrs. Clinton a one to three point edge; others place Mr. Trump in the lead by the same margin.  Both campaigned here pre-convention and voters likely will see a lot of the candidates and their running mates now that the general election phase of campaign is underway.

In political parlance Penn’s Woods can be viewed as one giant focus group.  We are, in many ways, a microcosm of America.  Philadelphia is a large eastern city; Pittsburgh is a mid-sized, mid-western city, with smaller cities like Erie, Harrisburg, Scranton and Allentown dotting the map.  We have thriving suburbs in the collar counties outside of Philadelphia and in places like Washington and Westmoreland counties near Pittsburgh. And, of course we have vast rural expanses.

Pennsylvania is economically diverse as well.  Manufacturing has struggled – as it has nationwide, but the commonwealth is home to high tech industries, pharmaceutical research, world-class medical centers, and thriving retail centers.  We have abundant natural resources, especially gas reserves and coal and fields overflowing with everything from apples to corn.

The diversity of our state’s economy has shielded it from the outer fringes of economic booms and busts, but for a variety of reasons having to do with both federal and state public policy our business climate remains stagnant with slow growth causing frustration across the economic spectrum.

A rare point of agreement is that the nation is sharply divided on how to proceed.  At times we can’t even agree on what the problems are, much less arrive at a consensus on solutions.  Against this backdrop, the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research surveyed delegates and alternate delegates to the Republican and Democratic national conventions to determine how big of a divide separates the two parties.

The delegations begin with polar opposite views on the role of government itself.  When asked whether the federal government is an adversarial force when it comes to helping to solve problems, or is it a positive force in helping people 97% of the Republican delegation said government is an adversarial force.  Democrats were almost evenly split on the question, with 52% viewing government as a positive force, and 48% saying it is adversarial.

There is disagreement on an even more fundamental question: whether we as Americans have natural rights that are God-given, or are our rights granted to us by government.  Again, Republicans were nearly unanimous with 97% saying our rights come from God. A majority of Democrats – 61% – think our rights are granted to us by government; 39% say our rights are God-given.

Pennsylvania’s delegations to the Republican and Democratic national conventions have vastly different views as to which issues should top the national agenda with one exception: Supreme Court nominations.  Both delegations place the selection of nominees to the Supreme Court of the United States on their lists of top three important issues.  From there the delegations diverge.  Republicans place the protecting of constitutional rights and ISIS/terrorism in their top three; Democrats are concerned about income inequality and the development of alternate energy sources.

As could be expected, the delegations have sharply different views on the impact of the Obama Administration.  For example, 70% of the Democratic delegation believes the administration’s foreign policies have made America more secure; 99% of Republicans say they have made the nation less secure.  Ninety percent of Democrats say the Obama approach to ISIS/international terrorism is on the right track; 100% of the Republican delegation said it is on the wrong track.

Republican nominee Donald Trump has made illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign for the presidency.  Twenty-six percent of the Republican delegates/alternate delegates backed his call for banning all Muslims from entering the country; 64% support banning entry from countries that are hotbeds of terrorist activity.  Not a single member of the Democratic delegation backed banning all Muslims with 97% saying current laws are sufficient.

Do the two delegations agree on anything?  The closest they come to agreement is on the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership.  Here Democrats disagree with President Obama, who is the main proponent of the deal, with 69% opposing TPP.  Sixty-one percent of the Republican delegation also oppose the free trade agreement.

The deep ideological and policy divisions among the state’s delegations to their respective national conventions reflect the electorate at large.  The battle for Pennsylvania will be hard fought between two vastly different views of where the nation is today and of America’s future.

(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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Fixing America


Once again America is grieving.  The deaths of five Dallas police officers and two young men who died elsewhere having been shot by police have rocked the nation.  Set aside for a moment the politics and circumstances of these events and reflect on the fact that as a result today there are children without fathers, mothers without sons, wives without husbands, sisters without brothers.

The shootings, and the protests than inevitably follow, are becoming ever more common.  What has become abundantly clear is there are inequities in our criminal justice system. The growing violence stemming from those inequities has made the already difficult job of law enforcement even tougher, which in turn has yielded more violence.

This being a presidential election year the powder keg upon which we sit will become even more volatile.  President Obama is calling for more federal control over local police departments.  Donald Trump struck a traditional tough on crime posture.

The solution is none of the above. More federal regulation only hamstrings local police and social services agencies, and filling our prisons even further does nothing to address the root cause of the problem.  It is time to admit that, while government has a role, government alone cannot fix what is wrong.

What can government do?

Criminal justice reform is in fact one of the few areas of public policy where the Left and the Right have found some common ground.  Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, speaking to the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference (http://www.paleadershipconference.org/2015-videos/205-ken-cuccinelli-2015) last year explained it well:  “Ninety-five percent of the people in our jails are coming back out.  So we can ignore that, or we can make the criminal justice system be what it was supposed to be and that is an opportunity for rehabilitation, for correction and for improvement.”

Some conservatives might recoil at that suggestion, but Cuccinelli explains: “I believe nobody is beyond redemption.  That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve punishment for doing wrong. But when you talk about literally or figuratively throwing away the key are you abandoning perhaps more important beliefs in your life?”

Those “more important beliefs” get to the heart of the ultimate solution, for our goal must be to prevent people from ending up in the criminal justice system in the first place.  The root cause of the current crisis is as much societal than it is governmental.

I served for four years as a Dauphin County Commissioner with oversight of human services.  During that time I watched many dedicated folks dealing with the result of what was a breakdown of family and community.  Simply put, government does not and cannot have the resources necessary to supplant the many individual support networks that family, church, and community provide.

While we must work with law enforcement and improve our criminal justice system, the ultimate solution comes down to three things: faith, family and education.  Until and unless we strengthen those institutions we cannot expect the situation to improve.

The removal of religion from the public square is not just some right wing talking point.  Religion – Christian or other – has throughout history provided the moral underpinning of our society.  It is through religion we learn not only rules of conduct, but find the most important of human yearnings including unconditional love, forgiveness and hope.  In the absence of these vital intangibles people, particularly the young, fill the void with drugs and crime.

There has never been born that person who did not need the guidance and discipline of strong family ties.  Define family in whatever way you will, but at the end of the day children and youth need someone who cares about them, provides for them, and nurtures them.  In particular, the absence of fathers has contributed to a breakdown of the family unit.  All of our institutions – government, school, church – must place an emphasis on responsible parenting.

The third fundamental building block of society is education.  Rather than endless debates over the minimum wage we should be focused on educating people for jobs that pay a living wage. And that includes preparing students for the hundreds of thousands of high paying jobs in manufacturing that go unfilled. Our education system must bring everyone up to the starting gate of their work life fully equipped.

Rather than looking at government, or the police, or around the room at others, repairing what is wrong with America begins with each of us.  We must strengthen our churches, our families and our communities.  Then, and only then will what we have witnessed in recent weeks become the exception rather than the rule.

(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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When in the Course of Human Events


This is the time of year when Americans celebrate the anniversary of our declaration of independence from Great Britain.  It is ironic that the United Kingdom itself a few days ago found it necessary “for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.”  By leaving the European Union the British people have reconfirmed that the longing for liberty is an eternal emotion.

Meanwhile, here in the colonies, the very document that ensured our rights as a free people has been under relentless attack.  The Constitution of the United States has withstood the test of time. After the Articles of Confederation failed to provide the framework for an effective federal government delegates from the 13 colonies met in Philadelphia and in September of 1787 put their signatures to the document which, at least theoretically, remains our nation’s ultimate authority.

On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify theConstitution which then took effect on March 4, 1789.  The document was, however, viewed as incomplete and several states insisted on the inclusion of ten amendments, which became known as the Bill of Rights.  Those amendments were ratified and became effective on December 15, 1791.

That the Bill of Rights was necessary is evidenced by periodic efforts throughout our nation’s history to disregard, water down, or remove them entirely.  Perhaps no amendment has been so violated as the tenth which limits the power of the federal government.  Congress and the president, frequently with complicity by the Supreme Court, have consistently throughout the ages infringed on this right.  Today the assault continues, especially upon the second amendment governing our right to keep and bear arms.  The non-existent “right” of freedom from religion has replaced the “free exercise of religion” guaranteed in the first amendment.

It is safe to assume that the founding fathers would place in the first amendment those rights that they viewed as most vital to a free people.  It is here that the Constitution guarantees our right to freedom of speech and of the press.  Now obviously there was no electronic media or internet back in 1787, but freedom of speech and of the press clearly applies to all means of communication.

A free press was instrumental in our nation’s founding.  The only method of mass communication was through the printing press producing formal newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides.  From Thomas Paine during the revolution to the Federalist Papers, the expression of opinion via the printed word was a vital means of exercising free speech.  Throughout our history we have depended on a free press to keep government in check, such as it did during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.  So vital is a free press that it is often referred to as the “fourth estate,” or fourth branch of government.

It is therefore disturbing to see candidates and elected officials from the national to the local level trampling this vital right.  In just the last few weeks, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has banned the Washington Post from covering his campaign events.  Here in Penn’s Woods, the Democratic mayor of Harrisburg, Eric Papenfuse, has revoked the credentials of the capitol city’s newspaper the Patriot News/Penn Live. Papenfuse’s actions are especially curious in that he is the owner of a prominent bookstore, so you would think he might have some loyalty to the unfettered circulation of the printed word.

My goal here is not to defend the content of these publications – whose left-wing ideology frequently taints their reporting of the news – but to stand up for their right to do so.  If elected officials, from mayors to presidents can decide who can cover the news they can also then control the news.  This is not only a violation of the media’s constitutional rights, but an existential threat to our democracy and ultimately our individual liberty.

As we celebrate our freedom with fireworks and back yard barbecues let us always remember that the trampling of one right is the trampling of all rights.  The loss of any one right puts us on a very slippery slope which will ultimately lead to the loss of all rights.  From freedom of the press, to freedom of religion, to our right to keep and bear arms, we must fight to protect our God-given rights against those who would take them away.

(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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Veepstakes: Trump & Clinton Weigh Options


Now that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have effectively secured their respective party’s presidential nominations, attention has turned to whom they might select as vice presidential running mates.  This is an important decision in that eight times in American history a president has died in office elevating the vice president to the presidency.  Another six times a vice president ran for and was elected president.

The U.S. Constitution proscribes few official duties to the vice president, with being president of the U.S. Senate – and thus able to cast tie-breaking votes – the most important.  The impact of vice presidents has varied greatly.  John Nance Gardner, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s vice presidents, famously said the office was “not worth a bucket of warm . . . ,” well he made his point.  Conversely, Vice President Dick Cheney was a political heavyweight in the administration of George W. Bush.  In short, the office is what the president and vice president make of it.

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, so there has to be something about which to speculate.  Over the next four weeks that speculation will focus on the selection of vice presidential running mates.  As their first major decision, who the nominees pick will say a lot about how they intend to run their prospective administrations.  The choice, of course, also depends on the immediate political situation.

For example, as one who has never held elective office Donald Trump might want to pick someone with government experience.  His statements to date tend to point in that direction.  As a result, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Ohio Governor John Kasich make the list.  However, Trump is possessed of an out-sized personality and might want to pick a bland running mate who will fade into the background, placing U.S. Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Sessions of Alabama on the list.

If Trump believes it necessary for his vice presidential pick to help him politically, he could follow the example of Ronald Reagan, who picked primary opponent George H.W. Bush to help him unify the party.  Senators Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would fit that bill.  With Democrats running a woman at the top of the ticket Mr. Trump could seek to add diversity by picking a prominent GOP woman.  That is why former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appears on many lists. Sarah Palin, who was tapped by John McCain as his running mate in 2008, also figures prominently in speculation.  Palin would also help solidify the party’s conservative base, as would former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has fewer options.  Republicans have decimated Democrats at the congressional and state levels over the past eight years yielding a shallow bench from which to select national candidates.  Here again, the first question Mrs. Clinton must answer is will her pick be a governing partner, or one who shores up her political standing.

The Democratic presidential primary proved to be more hotly contested and divisive than expected at the outset.  Senator Bernie Sanders tapped into a large vein of discontent within the party and Secretary Clinton’s first goal must be party unity.  Her recent meeting with ultra-liberal Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren resulted in rampant speculation there could be an all-female Democratic ticket.

Or, Democrats may wish to try and cement their standing in the rapidly growing Hispanic community.  Julian Castro, the former Mayor of San Antonio and current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is a rising star within the party and would fit the bill.  She too could go the route of choosing a governing partner, perhaps tapping former rival Martin O’Mally, or Virginia Senator Mark Warner.

Warner would have the added benefit of bringing a strong base of support in a battleground state, which is another route either candidate could go in making their selection.  There was a time when the vice presidential candidate was expected to help win a key state, one of the reasons why John F. Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson of Texas in 1960.  That has been less the case in recent years.

In fact, vice presidential candidates rarely make a significant impact on the outcome of a presidential election.  The single most important factor is that the pick does no harm.  The Thomas Eagleton disaster in 1972 and the disruption caused when George H.W. Bush selected Dan Quayle in 1988 come to mind.  As Trump and Clinton make their decisions, that factor must weigh heavily.

All these questions will be answered next month. Until then, the guessing game will continue.

(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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Déjà vu All Over Again


‘Tis budget season again in Harrisburg.  Governor Tom Wolf and the state legislature face a June 30th deadline for enacting the 2016-17 spending plan. If it seems like we just finished the budget; that is because it took until April for the longest fiscal stand-off in state history to be resolved.  And now, it is time to begin anew.

Hopefully, not the lengthy stand-off part.

June is typically when the heavy lifting on crafting the new budget is done, particularly the last week of the month when legislators act like college students pulling an overnighter to get their assignments finished.  In this case though, there is no penalty for tardiness.

The big question under the capitol dome is will there be a summer re-run of the 2015-16 budget drama, or will the state budget actually get done relatively close to the constitutional deadline?  So far, the signals are mixed – but ominous.

Will it be, as Yogi Berra once said, “déjà vu all over again?”  Two factors point to another epic battle.  First, Governor Wolf’s “budget address” last winter lacked any content actually pertaining to the budget. Instead, he unleashed a tongue lashing at the legislature for failing to approve his historic tax and spending increases.  This was as well received as an illegal alien at a Trump rally.  Second, not a single legislator lost in April’s primary as a result of the budget battle.

That second factor is significant.  With all House members and half of the Senate up for re-election this year pressure is normally on to avoid anything even remotely controversial so as not to upset the electorate.  However, Republicans in particular are emboldened because they stood their ground, bested Governor Wolf in round one, and were rewarded by voters.  This gives them no incentive to cave to the governor’s tax hike demands.  Quite the opposite, voters in their districts clearly don’t want expanded state spending and the taxes needed to pay for it.

Conversely, Democrats – who have become essentially an urban party in Pennsylvania – represent districts that benefit from state taxpayer largesse.  Their constituents want more spending because they are on the receiving end, thus those voters returned their representatives to office as well.

Stuck in the middle are the endangered species of suburban Democrats who represent so-called “swing districts.”  Largely located in western Pennsylvania, these districts have been flipping from Democrat to Republican in recent cycles.  This is where the biggest electoral battles of 2016 will be fought, and those Democrats are on the hot seat.

This brings us to the one factor that could bring about a prompt budget resolution: Democratic desires not to lose even more of their seats.  Already Republicans hold legislative majorities not seen in over a half century.  The electoral map does not offer Democrats much hope.  At least three Senate Democrats are imperiled while the GOP faces no significant opposition to holding their seats.  In the House, most battles will again be fought on the little remaining Democrat turf in the western part of the state.

In each of those districts the trend line has been favorable for Republicans, and the Democrat constituencies are far more conservative than those found in urban areas.  Thus, Democratic candidates in each of those districts can ill afford to be tagged with supporting Governor Wolf’s tax and spend agenda.  This is incentive for Democratic leadership to postpone until next year any epic battle over the budget.

Should that occur Pennsylvania taxpayers will have only a brief respite.  Governor Wolf must stand for re-election in 2018 meaning his last shot at enacting his bold plans to expand the size and scope of state government will come next year.  Lose, and his image as an isolated and ineffective chief executive will be cemented into place.  But for Tom Wolf, even winning comes with some risk: will statewide voters actually reward a governor who just imposed upon them a historically large tax hike?

The only thing we can say for sure is it will be interesting to watch.

(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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The Worm in the Education Apple


There is an old saying in politics that “perception is reality.”  That is how former Governor Tom Corbett got blamed for cuts in funding to public education that never happened.  To this day many Pennsylvanians believe he took an axe to education funding when in fact he left office with more state dollars being spent on K-12 education than at any point in the commonwealth’s history.

To drive the point home, Governor Tom Wolf campaigned promising to be the education governor.  He has done more to damage public education than any governor in recent history. This reality has been cloaked in the perception that he is pro-education.  In fact Wolf is really just pro-union, propping up a system that fails both students and taxpayers.

It is true he has proposed historic increases in education spending – and the higher taxes to fund that spending.  But, the proposed increases in both taxing and spending are so large they have proven politically impossible to implement. The untenable nature of these increases are such that even in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of the state capitol some Democrats have refused to go along.

The chances of Governor Wolf getting Republican support for more reasonable increases in k-12 public education spending are high if, as demanded by GOP leadership, reforms to cost drivers are included.  But the governor has adopted a “my way or the highway” attitude which gridlocked the process and produced a historic budget stand-off.

In the process of fighting that battle, the so-called education governor pushed school districts across Penn’s Woods to the cusp of closing due to the lack of state dollars flowing into their coffers.  Worse, many had to borrow money to keep their doors open, incurring costs that took dollars away from students.  His administration, willing to spend money to keep state bureaucracy operating, turned down appeals from school districts for relief.

Even if Governor Wolf were to push his education spending increases through the legislature precious few dollars would ever be spent benefitting students.  That is because the state’s pension system has become fiscally unsound. Its investments are under-performing projections and too generous benefits are draining the system faster than current employees add new dollars.  At the school district level, property taxes are rising to cover costs and the preponderance of any new state dollars directed to education must go to prop up the system as well.

June a year ago the legislature passed significant pension reform.  It was immediately vetoed by the governor who parroted the union line that the system is fine, just underfunded.  Thus an opportunity to at least partially address a major cost driver was missed.  The end result: fewer dollars available to directly benefit students.

Governor Wolf has also been waging a war on charter schools.  Even more so than traditional public schools, charters operate with minimal cash flow.  The epic budget battle resulted in teacher lay-offs, and even the closing of some charter schools.  More will likely close as the governor implements administrative policies aimed at forcing charter schools out of existence.  These policies are designed to deny parents and students valuable educational choices in an effort to preserve the union-dominated monopoly of public schools.

The latest example of Governor Wolf placing union interests over student interests involves legislation that would replace the seniority-based system for determining teacher lay-offs with a merit based system.  In other words, instead of “last in, first out” the best teachers would be retained.  At present, the legislation is on Governor Wolf’s desk – and he has vowed a veto.

Unless you are doing Common Core math, when you add all these factors together what you get is a governor whose every action has harmed students and made the state’s system of public education even more fiscally fragile than it was when he took office.  All of this is being done to prop up the very labor unions that financed the governor’s election.  For taxpayers, and for students, it is a very large worm in the education apple.

(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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