Talking turkey

Article posted on September 30, 2010

We had a town hall meeting tonight in Petersburg. There were about 40 people in attendance and we talked about a wide range of issues such as transportation funding, marcellus shale tax, appointments to vacancies, lottery fund allocations, state police coverage and county-wide governance. It was government at its finest, honest hard working people talking turkey directly with their state official.

-John

We’ll need every minute

Article posted on September 29, 2010

We’re back home from Harrisburg, but not before putting a lot of legislation through the Senate today. As we wind down the session schedule, the final days are focused on bills that have been agreed to by the Democrat led House and the Republican led Senate. In addition, there were commitments made during the budget negotiations for two pieces of legislation, a severance tax and the creation of an independent fiscal office. Although I am not in favor of the new tax, which was passed by the House this evening, I am a big supporter of the fiscal office. This new office could be the biggest change to the legislative process in our lifetimes. We’re now down to three days and we’ll need every minute of them.

-John

The bill appears to be unconstitutional

Article posted on September 28, 2010

We had another long day between meetings, session and caucus. The House debated the severance tax bill most of the day, I don’t know the outcome at this time. The bill with the new tax amendment, appears to be unconstitutional, even to an untrained observer. There are at least three provisions in the PA constitution that very clearly prohibit legislation that is concocted that way. If the bill did or does make it through the House, it will face a more stringent legal review in the Senate. Aside from the merits of the bill, if it is not sound legally, the gas company attorneys will tear it apart in court. This is the kind of thing that happens when you try to circumvent the system.

-John

I got a bill through the House today

Article posted on September 27, 2010

I heard tonight that I got a bill through the House today, SB 918. This bill codifies the tax assessment laws of PA taking existing laws from seven different areas of the law as well as case law. It doesn’t make any significant changes to the tax assessment laws, it cleans up the complicated array of laws currently in place. Another bill that was ready for a vote on the floor of the House was SB 1155. This is a bill to update the financial guarantees (bonding) of county officials. These laws have not been changed for decades and fall short of acceptable limits of coverage and do not allow for new forms of coverage. Unfortunately, this afternoon, the House Appropriations Committee Chairman amended my bill in his committee to include his severance tax proposal. The details of the proposal are still being released. Rumors are that the Democrats don’t have the votes to pass the new tax. We’ll see soon, maybe tomorrow. If it does get through the House and gets to the Senate, I won’t vote for it.

-John

This is make or break for many issues

Article posted on September 26, 2010

I put in about 9 hours of office work so far today. When you’ve been out of the office as much as I have lately, you really need a day like today to get caught up. I have a lot scheduled for the coming week as well, starting with a 9:00 meeting tomorrow morning in Harrisburg, which means leaving the house by 6:45. There wasn’t much in the papers again this Sunday, outside of the usual political stories. There should be a lot to write about this week. We cut our time back to three days from four this week and are scheduled to come in one more three day week for the rest of the session. This is set up to be make or break for many issues and bills floating in the system. The trick is getting the good ones through and keeping the bad ones out. Somehow, there’s always a few of both.

-John

Yet another severance tax proposal

Article posted on September 25, 2010

Charlotte and I went, with friends, to the Penn State game today. The weather was about perfect. The game was tough to watch, we actually trailed Temple for most of it, then pulled ahead at the end. If we keep playing this way, don’t count on a bowl game. In Temple’s defense, they are a great team with a new head coach who’s turning their program around. Keep an eye on Temple. There was a story out today on yet another severance tax proposal. This time part of the money would go toward property tax relief. It looks like, for the moment, that is the plan the House leadership will introduce.

-John

I recommend traveling to the elk viewing areas

Article posted on September 24, 2010

Charlotte and I got back from the Elk trip late morning so I got a few things done this afternoon, which was nice. The presentation this morning was from the elk biologist. He gave us a lot of information about the elk population including what they eat (grass, conifers and other vegetation) when they give birth (usually June), how long they live (the oldest on record in PA was 28) and other facts and figures about this majestic creature. I recommend traveling to the elk viewing areas to anyone. You are pretty much guaranteed to see them and since they are accustomed to having people around, they’ll get fairly close. It’s much different than watching any other wildlife that I’ve ever seen.

-John

Quite a day

Article posted on September 23, 2010

Charlotte and I went to see and learn about the Elk today. This trip is similar to the bear trip we’ve done with the PA Game Commission. We spent a large portion of the day looking at food plots, wetlands development, acid mine drainage treatment and habitat. We went to the new Elk Visitor’s Center and the various viewing stations. We did finally see Elk in the evening. We came up on a cow and calf in the yard of a cabin along side of the road. We stopped and watched for a while and the bull came out to get them. He bugled and directed them back into the woods after about ten minutes. It was great to see them up that close. We saw a group of nine with one bull and another group of eight with two bulls. It was quite a day.

-John

I learned a lot this week

Article posted on September 22, 2010

I attended my monthly Local Government Commission meeting this morning. We have a lot going on with the commission and a lot of bills close to being passed in the session days remaining. There is still no visible movement on the severance tax or the independent fiscal office bills, both are promised to be done before October 1st. The severance tax bill, if one is introduced, will not do what most people who contact me expect. I have learned that there is more bad information than good circulating about the gas drilling issue and severance tax. I learned a lot this week about both and am better prepared to separate fact from fiction.

-John

8 days left and counting

Article posted on September 21, 2010

Another day with a new twist to the lack of action in the House on key issues. The House and Senate Democrats today said they expected the Senate to produce a severance tax bill. When they were asked about the constitutional provision requiring all revenue bills to be started in the House, Senator Jay Costa, the Minority Chair of the Appropriations Committee, said that was just a “technicality”. There seems to be a real lack of cooperation between the House and Senate Democrats and the Governor. In fact, it appears that the House Democrats are split on the major issues slated for action. We’re at 8 days left and counting, the House is at 5 days.

-John