We are moving in the right direction

Article posted on June 30, 2008

It has been an interesting day with the budget announcement late last night. The press reports have been relatively good but there still are some questions about the details. I am relatively happy at this point with what I have seen. There are many things within the budget that I don’t like and the overall spend number still is too high for my liking. I am very concerned about not having an agreement on the MCare Abatement reauthorization, the Blue Cross merger and funding for full time District Attorneys (that was promised to the counties) but I am glad that the school funding formula was changed so that school districts across the state were treated more fairly instead of just giving a pile of money to the Philadelphia schools. The Rainy Day fund was a target of the Democrats this year; they wanted their hands on it for more government programs. The final agreement was that the current money in the fund would not be touched but that the usual contribution this year into the fund would be spent on general budget items. The Capital Stock and Franchise Tax phase out also was continued for another year. The Democrats, again, would have sooner taken the lost revenue from this tax cut and spent it. The new tax cuts proposed by the Senate Republicans in our Tax Stimulus Program did not make it either, but there were no new or increased taxes in this budget. Last year’s budget increase was about 5.7%, this year’s is about 3.8%. We are moving in the right direction.

– John

I don’t understand their lack of common sense

Article posted on June 29, 2008

I am back in Harrisburg and on the floor of the Senate listening to debate on some bills. In addition to budget bills or bills that would have a financial impact on the budget, we also continue to work on other bills that are proceeding through the system. In fact, some bills are released by committee chairs or leadership as part of the budget negotiations. If a bill has been stalled by someone in the legislature and one of the caucuses wants it to move, it may be bargained for at this time. The biggest bill tonight is House Bill 1150, which requires insurance companies to provide coverage for the treatment of autism and colorectal cancer screening in addition to language addressing the proposed merger of two Blue Cross entities. Although I agree with the language concerning the Blues merger, I do not support mandates on the health insurance companies that operate in PA. Currently we have 37 mandates on companies and if this bill would become law, we will have 39. Each time we pass a mandate, the price of insurance goes up for everyone. The companies do not take a hit financially, they pass the costs on to their policy holders which ultimately drives the cost past the threshold of some customers and therefore increases the number of uninsured people in PA. These same people will soon complain about the number of uninsured in this state. I don’t understand their lack of common sense.

– John

This answers it

Article posted on June 28, 2008

Since we started session this morning at 10:00, got done by 12:30 and don’t have session or a committee meeting on Sunday until 5:00, I took the opportunity to come home and get some clean clothes and some work done locally, including mowing my grass. The budget negotiations are ongoing with some encouraging news and then some news of set backs. This is typical, from what I have learned but the clock is ticking. June 30th is Monday and there is no way, mechanically, that the budget will be done in time making Ed Rendell 0 for 6 with his budgets. We will have had 12 late budgets since Milton Shapp was Governor and 6 of those are from this Governor. If anyone wonders where the breakdown in the process is, this answers it.

– John

They don’t know the half of it

Article posted on June 27, 2008

Another day during the budget process with not a lot to report. We went through some bills today on the floor. I had one committee meeting where I was again, the only “no” vote on a bill. This bill was to allow Philadelphia to increase their lodging tax by 1.5%. Yet another exception for Philadelphia and yet another increased tax. Also on the floor today was an amendment to a bill that would keep a certain area of Philadelphia free from any government financial assistance. That is correct, the legislators from that area do not want anything substantial to be built in that area and wanted a special law to stop it. People from my area are frequent complainers about the special considerations for Philadelphia from the state legislature and Governor, they are right, and they don’t know the half of it.

– John

The Governor has no legal requirement to furlough state workers

Article posted on June 26, 2008

During session this afternoon Senator Vince Fumo collapsed. He was in the front of the chamber, not too far away from me when he went down. It was a little scary for a while then he seemed to come around after medical personnel came into the chamber. They took him out by wheel chair and I have not heard of any report on his condition since, I’m sure that we will hear something tomorrow. We went through a number of bills today, some in preparation for the budget. The House sent over a tax reduction bill that was changed in the Finance Committee meeting to reflect the original set of four tax cutting bills the senate introduced as our tax stimulus package. The Governor was dealt a blow today when it became known that the State Treasurer, through her attorney, said that the Governor had no legal requirement to furlough state workers on July 1st if the budget was not in place. This is the same opinion the Republicans have had all along. We still cannot get a clear answer from the Governor about his position. He doesn’t seem to want to present any legal evidence, probably because there is none. The clock is ticking and it could be after June 30th until the budget is signed by the Governor. Remember that it will take at least three days to finish any deal once it is agreed to.

– John

Keep us in your prayers

Article posted on June 25, 2008

I am working at the capitol office again tonight and getting caught up on some letters and filing. A typical schedule at the capitol at budget time is very busy with multiple meetings scheduled where I literally run from one to another for hours then periods where we wait for the leadership to emerge from meetings or wait for the other chamber to pass a bill or for the Governor to respond to a proposal. Last year I had a hard time focusing on other things that needed done, this year, so far anyway, I have managed to get quite a bit of additional work out when I’m not on the floor or in a meeting. This morning I had a hearing with one committee and three other committee meetings. Two of those meetings were finished later this afternoon after session. Any bills that could be part of the budget need to get through committees so we end up cramming a lot of committee meetings into the final days before a budget is passed. There are still some major issues to put together for the budget but there seems to be more cooperation than last year so we shall see how negotiations hold up. Keep us in your prayers.

– John

We are in the vote buying phase of the process

Article posted on June 24, 2008

Not much new today with the budget, at least from what I know at this point. The rumor mill is saying that we should be done before the 4th of July but not before the constitutional deadline of June 30th. My fear is that deals will be cut to get the budget signed that will not be good for the people of Pennsylvania. That the Governor will borrow too much money and that the principles of small government, controlled spending and lower taxes will be sacrificed for expediency (and a couple of projects in certain members districts). We are in the vote buying phase of the process and this Governor, with willing accomplices, can do it and do it well. When you hear members of the legislature say, I didn’t get enough for my district to vote for the budget, tell them that they should be looking out for the people of Pennsylvania and not an announcement for their re-election bid. If we all stayed together and did what is right, this budget would be done and done fairly. Someone told me the other day, “this isn’t like the history books report it”, boy, was he right.

– John

Working our way through the budget

Article posted on June 23, 2008

We’re back in Harrisburg and anxiously working our way through the budget. Nothing really new happened today; at least that I am aware of, concerning the progress. We did have a long caucus to go over things and there is of course a lot of discussion with just about everyone around the building. Since the leadership members of the caucus are the only people in the room negotiating with the Governor, each day the rest of the Senate waits for an update and provides input. Last year the Senate Republicans fought for no tax increases and a small spending increase. We accomplished the no increased tax part but fell a little short on the spend number, and that’s the main reason why I voted against the budget. This year we are holding tough again and with good reason, given the downturn in the economy, we can afford less this year than last. Many states are at record deficit numbers and we have a small surplus. If the Governor would have spent what he wanted to spend last year, we would be in the red too. The biggest thing missing from the budget again this year is reform, new ideas about how to get the same old things done. We just don’t do that well and we should. We have the resources to develop better solutions but no one likes to rock the boat, well, I wouldn’t say no one does.

– John

One for the history books?

Article posted on June 22, 2008

After church this morning I changed and got to the Huntingdon County Fair Grounds for the Central PA Rodeo. I said hello to the folks at the beginning of the show and stayed for a while just to watch the entertainment. I had the privilege of being in the announcers booth with the judges and a few other people so I had a great view and a lot of good information about what I was watching. I really enjoyed it and hope that I can get back next year. There wasn’t much news in the papers today about the budget. I was hoping for a piece of inside information that somebody had whispered into the ears of a reporter, but I didn’t see any of that. The nonbudget issue that could mean a budget delay is the persistent rumors that some legislators will be indicted as a result of the “Bonus Gate” investigation. If that would happen this week and any of those indicted are in a leadership position, those members would not have to resign from their seats but would have to step down from the leadership position they hold. Any deals made with someone who stepped down would have to be renegotiated with new people filling that position. There could also be a delay in filling any vacant position of leadership. This would be a very interesting situation to see unfold, one for the history books and one that would shame Pennsylvania in the national news.

– John

My grass might not get cut for quite a while

Article posted on June 21, 2008

I ran in the Bloody Run Race this morning in Everett. I finished 4th overall in the 10K. I got the grass cut and a haircut, now I need to get the oil changed in the truck and I’ll feel better about the weekend’s work. I have a pretty full day tomorrow and am interested to see the newspapers and any stories they have about the budget. In some respects it doesn’t really matter, but occasionally they have new information that could be valuable. In any event, I am preparing for a long week or so in Harrisburg, my grass might not get cut for quite a while.

– John