Where will the tax money go?

Article posted on August 31, 2010

The topic I hear about most these last days of summer is Marcellus Shale. Imposing a severance tax on drilling natural gas was part of the budget deal, so I imagine that a tax will be forthcoming this September. The question on everybody’s mind is where the tax money goes. The environmental groups I’ve spoken with think the money will be used to protect the environment. Local governments think they will get part of the money for the additional services they have to provide and to repair infrastructure. People in areas where the drilling is heaviest think they will receive a large share of the money for community development. And last, but not least, many legislators believe that this “gold rush” is the answer to the state’s budget deficit. I think that several interests will receive a portion of the money and none will be happy. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

-John

Fact vs. Fiction

Article posted on August 30, 2010

I got a few things done today, but not near what I wanted to. It was one of those days when I thought I’d get a lot done and let time get away from me. I got feedback today from several people on my blog post about the protesters at the Sarah Palin dinner. The word disgusting kept coming up. Again, there wasn’t much in the news. We’re just over 60 days from the fall election so political stories will soon be more prevalent than they are now. As a political junkie, I follow what is hot, but even I get tired of the onslaught of information after awhile. With all of the news sources we have these days, there’s no shortage of stories. The trick is figuring out what’s fact and what’s fiction.

-John

The rest of the story

Article posted on August 29, 2010

There wasn’t much in the papers today. Re-hashes of Sarah Palin’s speech were the most popular. The media stories about the local transportation rally held on Friday missed the basic elements of the situation. The transportation contractors and engineers want additional funding now so they have more jobs for next year’s construction season. They know that this Governor will raise fees and taxes to get extra money, but they are worried that either of the two candidates for the chief executive’s job, may not. The State Reps at the rally said they had a plan and would roll it out after election day. I pointed out that the Senate has an agreed-to rule that prohibits us from coming back into a lame duck session. This rule is law in many states and for good reason. There is a lot less accountability after an election than before it. A lot of bad things can happen and have happened with the legislature in session during this brief period. In fact, this proposed, or at least rumored legislation, apparently doesn’t have the votes to be passed in regular session. The advocates for the bill figure it has a shot after the election because legislators will do things they won’t normally do. So, if this new plan is good public policy, get it up for a vote right now. If it makes it to the Senate, we’ll take a look at it. We are developing a comprehensive funding plan in the Senate, but it won’t be ready until early next year. In either case, by law, any revenue bill must begin in the House. Now you know, the rest of the story.

-John

An embarrassment to our country

Article posted on August 28, 2010

Last night while leaving the Pennsylvania Family Institute’s dinner featuring Sarah Palin, protesters outside displayed signs that were more disturbing than any sign I’ve ever seen. I’m used to people carrying signs and demonstrating at events, I’ve even been the focus of such things. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, even if it is dead wrong, but there are boundaries for public discourse and last night they were crossed. What’s worse is that I didn’t see one word in the media about it. I could have missed a local story, but this should have been covered by the state-wide and national press. I’m sure it would have been if a Tea Party member did it or the roles were reversed and the dinner was benefiting a liberal organization. These signs didn’t have any text, just a picture, a color picture of Jesus Christ giving a hand gesture with his middle finger. What a disgusting and sac-religious display from those who don’t like Governor Palin and what she represents. Remember that this was a predominately Christian audience with a speaker who talked about her faith and the teachings thereof. These protesters are an embarrassment to our country and the press isn’t much better.

-John

She is a national treasure

Article posted on August 27, 2010

Tonight, Charlotte and I drove to Hershey for Pennsylvania Family Institute’s annual dinner. The gathering was impressive in many ways. Hundreds attended, caring people from across the Commonwealth and from around the country, a sizable press corp and a good meal. Of course, the main attraction was Governor Sarah Palin. She gave a rousing speech. She spoke about Alaska, her family, her campaign for VP and about the virtues of being an American. She mentioned the trials she and her family have faced from being in the public eye. She talked about her deep faith in God and her political philosophy. She spoke at length about her Downs Syndrome son, Trigg, and how he changed her and her husband’s lives. Her central theme was the protection of life, including the unborn. She told us to pay attention to what elected officials are saying in Harrisburg and Washington. She cautioned that under trying economic times, our children’s futures are being diminished by today’s spending and that economic insecurity can translate into a real threat to our national security. Her words were well received. She is a national treasure.

-John

He’ll really be missed

Article posted on August 26, 2010

I had meetings with constituents today, did the Christian radio show I regularly do, attended a Blair County Chamber reception and held a Town Hall Meeting in Allensville. We went a little over an hour tonight because of the volume of questions. People were concerned about how intrusive government has become, how slowly it is to react and a perceived general lack of common sense. I agree with my constituents. I also stopped by the funeral home today to see a tremendous worker in the Altoona area, Charlie Ofiesh. The phrase I heard over and over again since the news of his death is, he’ll really be missed. This man did a lot and will be remembered for his community service and his dedication to his family, church and country. Please keep his family in your prayers.

-John

I am a closet decorator

Article posted on August 25, 2010

I had a pretty full schedule today including a large meeting with constituents, a ribbon cutting and a dinner. In between things I got desk work done and phone calls made. The ribbon cutting I attended was for a new A.C. Moore store in Altoona. I told the gathering that I was a closet decorator and a regular customer of theirs. I do the decorating at home and at my offices. My staff, I’m sure, has been frustrated with my concern about the placement of every mug, ribbon and plaque we’ve received. But it’s just the way I am. Tonight, Charlotte joined me for the Improved Dwellings for Altoona’s annual dinner. This organization does a lot of great work in our area. I have gone to this dinner for years and have gotten to know many of the board members and staff. We enjoyed ourselves.

-John

The taxpayers deserve better than this

Article posted on August 24, 2010

Today the Governor announced that Pennsylvania did not qualify for the federal Race to the Top program, again. This is the second year for this competitive program. We came in 7th last year and only two states were given grants, this year, we came in 18th of 36 states competing with the top ten getting grants. There were three large shortfalls: we don’t have a quick certification program for people who want to teach after years in another profession, only a two year certification process is available; we don’t have a performance evaluation program for tenure and pay regulations; and only 128 of our 500 school districts were willing to sign on to the program. For a Governor who prides himself as an education champion, we aren’t doing very well compared to the other states. This federal program includes accountability standards, which has been the main sticking point for the districts to sign on. When I say districts I mean district teachers’ unions. We have poured hundreds of millions of extra dollars into public education since Ed Rendell has been Governor. The taxpayers deserve better than this.

-John

I doubt if anything will be passed this year on this issue

Article posted on August 23, 2010

I went to Harrisburg today for a couple of reasons. My first stop was the highly trumpeted “Transportation Caucus”. This bipartisan, bicameral meeting featured Transportation Secretary Alan Beihler explaining the Rendell administration’s funding plan. The proposal basics include license and registration fee increases to generate about $500 million and a tax on oil companies to generate another $500 million. This would be a recurring $1 billion added to the department’s current $7 billion budget. The Secretary tried to sell the need for the $1 billion fix, but also talked about the actual need being $3.5 billion. Senator Dominic Peleggi asked him to explain the difference between the two recommended figures and further to explain how if we would pass legislation to provide $1billion now, wouldn’t the Department be in asking for more next year. The Secretary really didn’t have a good answer for that line of questioning. He also tried to spin a few things his way today that didn’t escape notice by people who know the issues. All in all, I don’t think the presentation changed anyone’s plans. The House doesn’t have the votes for tax and fee increases and that legislation has to start in that chamber constitutionally. As I have stated before, I doubt if anything will be passed this year on this issue.

-John

You never know what tomorrow’s stories will be

Article posted on August 22, 2010

As I have mentioned before, the members of the Senate get news alerts by email throughout each day from a service in Harrisburg. There are also up-to-date stories about state government hearings, news conferences, etc. On Sundays we usually get two alerts that list stories from Sunday papers all across the state. Today, we only got one alert and it didn’t have many stories listed. I looked at a couple, but didn’t find any worth mentioning tonight. It’s always interesting to see what issues are getting attention and the quotes from members of the legislature, the Governor, cabinet members and others. I try to keep up with these stories as best I can. You can’t always know what’s happening in the legislature first hand, so these stories provide, at least, basic information, albeit filtered through the writer. You never know what tomorrow’s stories will be, but I’ll see them.

-John