It will be ugly

Article posted on June 30, 2010

Despite what the media is saying, the appropriations bill that passed both chambers today, is not the budget. There are more bills to come and not everything is agreed to. The other glaring fallacy is that there is no tax increase in this budget. Part of the budget agreement includes a new severance tax. Some of the things I heard tonight from the media and from the mouths of members of the General Assembly were pretty scary. Either they didn’t understand the facts or were deliberately mis-stating them. There were 13 “no” votes in the Senate on the major appropriations bill this afternoon. Three were Democrats that wanted higher spending and taxes, but 10 were Republicans, concerned about the level of spending and taxes as well as the legal question of whether or not to include 850 million dollars of federal money that has a slim chance of being appropriated by Congress. I was one of the 10 for all of the reasons stated. I hope we can get things on track next year after this Governor leaves office. The spending level we’ve achieved is frightening. The cuts next year will have to be tremendous to get even close to a balanced budget. The new Governor could make bold changes to state government in his first year or figure out a way to kick the can down the road. He can’t get out from much, it will be ugly.

-John

I have two primary concerns

Article posted on June 29, 2010

I’m at the capitol office tonight waiting to go to a caucus meeting and see for the first time, the line by line figures in the budget. We were supposed to have the numbers by 7:00, now it’s 8:00. The way this Governor negotiates, the budget could have and should have been done weeks ago, but wasn’t. He holds out for everything he can get and uses time to his advantage. The caucus leaders negotiated until about 3:00 am last night and then got together again this morning to finish up. This process is incredibly bad. With virtually no time to review and question the details of the budget, the Senate is supposed to vote on it tomorrow morning. I have two primary concerns at this time. There is language promising some sort of gas severance tax in the future and there is included in the budget revenue, $850 million of federal FMAP money that the state has a good chance of not getting, at least not getting all of it. The latter concern is two-fold. We are not permitted under our state constitution to use budget numbers that are not reasonably sound. Secondly, if the money doesn’t come through, either the current or future Governor will make $850 million in cuts unilaterally. I will be working on these issues, and others, until session tomorrow morning.

-John

Keep your fingers crossed

Article posted on June 28, 2010

We are back in Harrisburg and waiting word on the progress of meetings on the budget to determine the direction of our next few days. We can balance this budget without a tax increase, if things line up right, but in any event there is still too much spending, way too much. In addition, there might be funding shortfalls from the feds that this budget won’t account for. The coming cuts won’t be popular again this year, but they will be nothing compared to what’s coming in 2011-2012. I have to testify on my term limits bill before the Senate Majority Policy Committee tomorrow morning and have been reviewing some material on term limits this evening. 15 states currently have term limits on their legislatures. My bill is on the more generous end of the spectrum when compared to the others, but has value in many ways. Maybe I can make some headway tomorrow, keep your fingers crossed.

-John

The majority haven’t gotten the message

Article posted on June 27, 2010

According to news reports today, budget negotiations have reached a tentative agreement with a spending number above $28 billion. This is a much higher number than it was last week and, it seems, too high to reach without a tax increase. We should have about $27.5 billion in projected income next year. We can move a couple hundred million or so over from other accounts on a one time basis and then we need to raise taxes to go higher. This is what I understood last week. Maybe there is new information or the articles are wrong or there are the votes to increase taxes on the citizens of this state. I will not be a vote for any new tax, but I have been out voted on this issue each year since coming to the Senate. When will the legislature realize that the families and businesses of this Commonwealth just don’t have the extra money to support every wiz-bang program that comes out of Harrisburg? So far, the majority of the General Assembly and the Governor haven’t gotten the message.

-John

We can cut our way out

Article posted on June 26, 2010

I didn’t have anything scheduled today, so I got caught up on some paperwork, did yard work at home and went shopping with Charlotte for shrubs at a local nursery. We are, and have been working on a landscaping project at home and figuring out what to plant hasn’t been easy. I ran into a retired SCI employee this afternoon who told me about a lot of wasteful spending at our prisons. I get a lot of good information from retired state employees, they don’t have anything to lose. It seems that the administration goes overboard on training of employees, something I heard about PennDOT, as well. Unnecessary or repetitive training is a waste of time, and time is money. These are examples of the vast array of changes that need to be implemented in our state. The next time you hear someone say that we need to raise taxes to provide adequate levels of service, don’t believe it. We can cut our way out of this budget shortfall. Unfortunately, there are vested interests that don’t want us to.

-John

Watching paint dry

Article posted on June 26, 2010

I attended Camp Cadet of Bedford County’s graduation ceremony this evening.   I’ve gone to this event each year since I’ve been in the Senate.  Our State Police in cooperation with the MD State Police host the week long camp.  It’s a good experience for the kids that includes physical training, shooting and fosters a general appreciation for respect and discipline.  Alyssa Turkovich, niece of our Bedford and Fulton County staffer, Sharon Turkovich, won a physical fitness award.  Maybe she takes after her Aunt Sharon, I’ll have to ask the other staff about that.  When I got to my seat tonight, the Bedford County Commissioners asked me, “how’s life in the fast lane?”.  My answer was, “slow”.  The budget process can be like watching paint dry, and we are in a paint drying period right now.  We can pick up the pace, but only if the Governor cooperates.  He can hurt Pennsylvania by being unreasonable, like he was for the last budget.  We can only hope he learned from his mistakes.

-John

Time to go

Article posted on June 24, 2010

At the time of this writing, the last story I read said the budget negotiations had broken down this afternoon.  I have not received any official word and news reports are often unreliable, but this sounds very possible and what was feared.  The Governor’s spending numbers are unreasonable, some would say crazy in this economic climate.  His attempts to build a legacy around education are damaging everyone’s potential to prosper.  When an elected official puts his or her image before the good of the people, it is time for him or her to go.

-John

Stay tuned

Article posted on June 23, 2010

The budget situation is very tentative.  There is a possibility of a deal over the next few days, but it depends on the cooperation of every caucus and the Governor.  A reasonable spending number can be achieved with no tax increases if everyone is willing to make prudent decisions and look at what things will be like in the following budget year.  A new wrinkle may impact the budget negotiations.  Rumors and then news stories swept the capitol today concerning the Governor’s alleged romantic affair(s).  He denied the charges formally, but rumors are that more info is to come.  This could be nothing or a really big diversion.  Stay tuned.

-John

Proposed budget deal

Article posted on June 22, 2010

Stories broke this afternoon about a proposed budget deal.  The discussions have centered around a $27.5 billion spending number, far less than the $29 billion the Governor wants.  It looks at this point like the Senate will do the heavy lifting by putting the budget together and sending it to the House next week.  The budget will not include a tax increase.  The House Democrats have not been able to pass a tax increase so far and may not have the votes to do it in this economy and in this election year.  The Governor is threatening to veto any bill that cuts his basic education budget and does not include at least a new natural gas tax.  The legislature has the upper hand at this point.  If the Governor doesn’t have the support of the House D’s, he will have to stand alone against the entire General Assembly and ask for more spending and more taxes when states across the country are cutting jobs, services, programs, everything just to stay afloat.  If he doesn’t care about the future of Pennsylvania because he’s leaving office, it’s a shame, if we allow him to force spending and tax increases on the people of this state, shame on us.

-John

We need common sense and guts

Article posted on June 21, 2010

We are back in Harrisburg working on various issues as well as the budget.  I have said since joining the Senate that the legislature can do more than one thing at a time.  For appearance reasons, the legislature, or portions of it, go into budget mode at this time of year and stop working on all other business even though only the leaders work on the budget negotiations daily.  I am glad to see that at this point, other work is still being done in the Senate.  The budget is day to day and details have yet to be worked out.  Some basic parameters have been established by most of the parties.  Specific cuts are the last thing to occur and are still in the very early stages.  The mood is somewhat optimistic on time of passage and spending levels.  What we need now are common sense and guts.  It could happen, but I’m not betting my truck on it.

-John