My advice to these people is always, do your own research

Article posted on June 30, 2013

At the time of this writing, the general appropriations bill was finished and the Governor was expected to sign it before midnight. We have to come back in the next few days to do the Fiscal Code and maybe the Welfare Code (if the House changes it) and the House, I believe, will do some budget clean-up tomorrow. We did not pass pension reform, liquor reform and transportation funding legislation. They are now scheduled for further work in the Fall. It’s been a long week with a very disappointing outcome. I was supportive of all three initiatives. The public sector unions that fought all of these efforts weren’t that successful in working the halls and chanting in the rotunda. What they are better at is spreading misinformation that frightens their members and encourages them to become active in the process. I received hundreds of calls and emails from public sector union employees about taking their pensions from them. Of course, this was totally false, but they heard it directly from their union bosses and accepted it as fact. I would be embarrassed if I was told something, and I repeated it, especially in a threatening manor, to find out later that the information was wrong. My advice to these people is always, do your own research.

-John

Tomorrow at midnight is the deadline

Article posted on June 29, 2013

I’ll start with an update of what happened late last night. We did get the amendment to HB 790, the liquor privatization bill, passed. It was a party-line 27-23 vote. We didn’t need the Lt. Governor to break a tie. If you didn’t know, the liquor privatization and transportation bills have been inextricably linked. The Senate has the liquor bill and the House has transportation. The deal is that we do both or none at all. The rumors tonight are that the House is having a tough time getting the transportation votes. It’s an interesting problem for the unions. The private sector unions want the bill to pass, the public sector ones don’t. They see defeating transportation as a way to save the state store employees. Things are wide open, including the very real possibility that the budget won’t be done on time. Tomorrow at midnight is the deadline.

-John

We’re lucky to have gotten this far

Article posted on June 28, 2013

It’s after 10:30 and I’m at my desk waiting for a call to go back up to the floor and vote for the liquor privatization bills. We didn’t have 26 votes a little while ago, so we’re counting on Jim Cawley to break the tie. He can vote on these amendments tonight, but can’t vote on the final passage of the bill. We’ll have to find one other vote between now and Sunday. The amendment isn’t what we really need, but it goes a long way to getting the state out of the liquor business. If we get the bills through the Senate, they still need votes in the House and with all of the changes, it isn’t a given. After everything I’ve seen and heard this week, we’re lucky to have gotten this far.

-John

There is still a path to success and tomorrow is a new opportunity

Article posted on June 27, 2013

We had another contentious caucus meeting today. The problems and personal differences from some issues have spilled over into others. I haven’t seen anything quite like this before from our caucus, but, then again, we’ve never faced an agenda with three major initiatives and a $28 billion budget due all in the same week. The liquor bills were scheduled for amendment this afternoon, but were passed over for lack of an agreement within our caucus. With no Democrat votes on this issue, we have to be almost unanimous on every floor vote. So, today we took a step back. But, there is still a path to success and tomorrow is a new opportunity.

-John

Sometimes there’s good news, sometimes there’s a snag

Article posted on June 26, 2013

We had probably the most contentious caucus meeting since I joined the Senate 6½ years ago. The big three issues are not popular with everyone in the GOP with various reasons to complain about a vote given by members who don’t support any given bill. The transportation and liquor privatization bills are complex, the pension reform bill is not. Although the public sector unions, especially the school unions, are putting out misinformation about the pension legislation, legislators have the accurate information at hand and should make the right decision. The big three issues today are still on track, but are in a more precarious position than I reported last evening. As I said earlier in the week, each day is different as the bills work through the legislative process. Sometimes there’s good news, sometimes there’s a snag.

-John

You never know how issues will progress on any given day

Article posted on June 25, 2013

Today was better than yesterday for the big three. The House moved their own pension bill out of committee. As I understand it, it is virtually the same as the Senate bill with the exception that they didn’t move currently elected officials into a defined contribution plan upon re-election or retention. Only newly elected officials would be considered to be new hires. But, hey, they agreed to do something. There are hopes that the transportation bill, now in the House, is expected to be brought back closer to it’s original language with floor amendments this week, and tomorrow the Senate will flush out changes to the liquor store bill that should get it closer to an agreed upon product. As I said before, you never know how issues will progress on any given day.

-John

There is no agreed-to path for any of these bills

Article posted on June 24, 2013

You can’t get too excited or depressed, depending on your perspective, about where things appear to be on any given day during the last week of June. They change frequently, and the rumor mill and media usually have it wrong. My prognosis tonight for the success of the big three is not good. Pension reform is almost dead because the House won’t commit to the votes, liquor store reform is off to a weak start in the Senate, and transportation funding has been all but wiped out in the House Transportation Committee. The budget is not ready for a Senate vote yet, but should be in time to make the June 30 deadline. A lot can happen with amendments and conference committees in the time remaining, but there is no agreed-to path for any of these bills.

-John

Now that would be a story

Article posted on June 23, 2013

I didn’t see any surprises in the news today. There was a lot of speculation about the big three initiatives, whether or not they’ll get done, who is holding up progress, what they mean to different groups, etc. There were also stories about getting the budget done on time. I didn’t see any questioning the budget, just when it will be signed by the Governor. The budget has largely escaped any real scrutiny by the press or anyone else for that matter. Most lines are close to where they were last year, so most people aren’t complaining. Two years ago, when the budget lines were made more sustainable and reality set in after the federal stimulus money stopped, the special interests said the world would come to an end if they didn’t get their usual amount or more. It’s too bad the media doesn’t take a look back to some of the statements made then and see just how well most of these groups have prospered since. Now that would be a story.

-John

Thank you Specialist Four Roy P. Yingling

Article posted on June 22, 2013

I helped again this year with Blair County’s Household Hazardous Waste Clean Up Day. It was held at the parking area of People’s Natural Gas Field. I asked survey questions to each driver entering the line. The turnout was a little lighter than last year, but still close to 200 cars went through. This afternoon I attended a ceremony at the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home where a Purple Heart was awarded to a veteran who was wounded during the Vietnam War in 1969. It was really an honor to be part of the event. The vet was humble and appreciative. A former Marine spoke at the ceremony about her accomplishments in battle, and added, my experience pails in comparison to what this honoree endured. Thank you Specialist Four Roy P. Yingling.

-John

With some luck we could get everything done

Article posted on June 21, 2013

Happy Summer! Charlotte and I attended a picnic in Huntingdon tonight. She reminded me that this is the longest day of the year. I reminded her that next week is the longest week of the year at the Capitol. I spoke to a group today and quickly summarized everything that we’re suppose to finish by next Sunday. It’s pretty staggering when you think about where we are and where we should be in nine days. With some luck we could get everything done, but I’m not making any predictions.
P.S. If you read my blog post last night, I mistakenly said that the retirement plan for elected officials would change upon reelection or retention to a defined benefit program. I meant to say defined contribution. Thanks to Representative John McGinnis for catching the error.

-John