An on-time, no tax increase budget

Article posted on June 30, 2014

It was a bad day for liberals. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled favorably for the Hobby Lobby folks. This case included a family-owned business from Lancaster County fighting certain ObamaCare provisions. Religious liberty was upheld. Another decision from the court stopped the SEIU, a public sector union, from collecting union dues from private individuals who received public funding to provide healthcare for individuals. That’s hard to believe, but it happened. And as I write this post, the Senate had already passed a general appropriations bill, usually referred to as “the budget” bill and it’s awaiting action in the House tonight. It looks like Pennsylvania will have another on time, no tax increase budget.

-John

Remember them when you get your school tax bill or you see state services cut

Article posted on June 29, 2014

Since the public sector unions have done their best to stop any meaningful pension reform, the Senate Republicans are attempting to start the reform with new language that changes the plan for elected state officials from defined benefit to defined contribution. This would affect the legislature, all of the judiciary, the Governor and the state row offices of Treasurer, Auditor General and Attorney General. This bill passed the Senate Appropriations Committee tonight and is expected to be voted on tomorrow by the full Senate. The union bosses have often said that any new plan would exempt legislators, which was never the case. This new effort will show leadership on this issue that has been needed, to lead by example. This issue has the single largest fiscal impact on the people of Pennsylvania and the public sector unions won’t agree to address any portion of it. Remember them when you get your school tax bill or you see state services cut to someone who has a true need.

-John

It was good to get a day back home

Article posted on June 28, 2014

It was a whirlwind day at home. I thought that I would be in Harrisburg today, so showing up at anything in the District was unexpected. I went to a men’s fellowship breakfast in Hollidaysburg this morning and went to see a friend in Bedford County this afternoon who is going through a rough patch with his dog, an Airedale. This evening, Charlotte and I went to a birthday party for our friend’s daughter who turned 16. It was a great time to relax and see friends. I got the lawn mowed in between things and got partially packed to get back to the Capitol tomorrow. It was good to get a day back home.

-John

That’s the way the budget negotiations always go

Article posted on June 27, 2014

We have had a pretty rough time so far during this budget. There are no easy answers. The appropriations bill that came over from the House has some inherent flaws, most notably it’s $380 million of revenue from the sale of the State Store system when there is no agreement to sell the State Stores. Although many members want to establish a severance tax on the gas drillers, there aren’t enough Republican votes to do it and the Democrats may not go along unless they get more spending. Conversely, many of us would like to see more substantial cuts and there aren’t enough votes for that. We have the opportunity to go home tonight and allow leadership to continue to meet and hopefully arrive at a deal to be presented for us to review on Sunday. Today’s forecast doesn’t look as good as yesterday’s for finishing by the 30th. But that’s the way the budget negotiations always go, hot and cold.

-John

There should be no dispute about this

Article posted on June 26, 2014

This morning the Senate State Government Committee passed my “Paycheck Protection” legislation on a party line vote. SB 1034 was drafted to stop a practice that has ethical, if not legal, ramifications. Using government resources to collect campaign funding is inherently wrong. Numerous people from the legislature have been convicted of crimes involving their use of official government resources for political gain. The bill was amended to include new language that I supplied this week. The original bill prohibited public sector union dues and PAC contributions from being collected through government payroll deduction. The PAC contributions are used by the unions for direct campaign donations to candidates, clearly and entirely political money. The union dues are used for member representation and negotiating, but are also used for lobbying, position advocacy, “get out the vote” activity, endorsing and promoting candidates, etc. Arguments from the public sector unions say that taking away their ability to collect their dues money through payroll deduction is more about union busting and would hurt their membership operations. So, the new language would prohibit any government entity from collecting PAC money through payroll deduction and breakdown the union dues into what has been defined in current law to be the difference between membership services and political activity. This definition is established as the “fair share fee” and has been set forth for all union classifications and job titles. There should be no dispute about this being fair and being good reform.

-John

Senator Eichelberger’s Paycheck Protection Bill Advances in Senate

Article posted on June 26, 2014

HARRISBURG (June 26, 2014) – The Senate State Government Committee today approved Senate Bill 1034, sponsored by Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr. (R-Blair). The bill, known as “Paycheck Protection,” would prohibit state and local governments from acting as collection agents for public sector union political money.

“Current law invites serious ethical questions about mixing taxpayer funded resources with political fund raising,” said Senator Eichelberger.

SB 1034, as amended, allows government payroll deduction systems to collect the portion of the public sector union dues which are used for negotiations and representation of union members. Any amount beyond that figure, defined in law as the “fair share fee” amount, would not be eligible for payroll deduction, nor would any Political Action Committee contributions.

SB 1034 now awaits consideration in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Please contact Patrick Schurr, Executive Assistant, at 814-696-6039 or email pschurr@pasen.gov for additional information.

###

We will work on changes over the next couple of days

Article posted on June 25, 2014

My bill, that requires “navigators” in the Obamacare system to register with the PA Insurance Dept. and undergo criminal background checks, passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee this morning on a party line vote. I wasn’t sure how the D’s would vote on this issue, and I found out today that they viewed it as an attack on the President rather than the consumer protection measure it really is. After it was revealed that several navigators around the country were convicted felons, and understanding that they have access to people’s confidential financial information, it seems prudent to require this protective measure. The House is expected to pass the first budget bill this evening. Today, we saw the budget lines from the bill as it went through the House Appropriations Committee yesterday. I don’t think they anticipated any changes to the bill on the floor. We will work on changes over the next couple of days and line things up for passage by June 30th, if all goes as planned.

-John

Don’t rule out anything at this point

Article posted on June 24, 2014

The House Appropriations Committee passed the budget bill today, setting the stage for a floor vote tomorrow. The bill includes a $29.1 billion spend number and no new taxes. It also assumes revenue from the sale of the liquor stores. If this bill comes to the Senate, it will be changed to take out the liquor store sale money and probably put in a severance tax on the gas drillers. Again, I am not in favor of the severance tax. There was no movement in either chamber today on any kind of pension reform. This is apparently a bigger lift than anyone first thought. A plan can come together on just about any issue quickly during budget time, so don’t rule out anything at this point.

-John

Paycheck Protection progress

Article posted on June 23, 2014

The House State Government Committee today passed the House Paycheck Protection legislation. This bill has been a long time coming with a lot of work from several members of the General Assembly. It’s unfortunate that the union bosses have come out so strongly against it when the reality is that it’s an ethics issue. No government resources should be used for political activity. The government’s collection of dues and PAC money for the unions is simply wrong. It doesn’t matter how much it costs or how the money is spent, it’s wrong to use tax dollars for that activity. If you get a chance, thank Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brian Cutler for their great work.

-John

I’ll be a “no” on a severance tax vote

Article posted on June 22, 2014

I didn’t see anything extremely interesting in the papers today. As expected, there were a number of stories about the politics of the State Committee meetings and the Governor’s race and a few on what to look for with the budget. Given comments by some of the legislative leadership and the Governor over the past two weeks, a severance tax on natural gas drilling appears to be in the offing. There is renewed pushback, however, from that industry. They say that the burden will be too great in PA and that they will move many of their rigs to other states. I spoke with someone from the industry last week who showed me a chart of how many drill sites there were before and after the state enacted an “impact fee.” There was a significant downturn. The severance tax would be a much bigger hit. So, the industry’s claim that thousands of jobs will be lost is valid from what I can see. Interestingly, another problem with enacting the new tax now, after the impact fee already was put in place (supposedly in lieu of a severance tax), is that the municipalities and counties are accustomed to getting an impact fee check. Is the plan to add the severance tax on top of the impact fee and totally drive out the drillers, or tell the local governments, that have already dedicated the money in some cases, that they will not receive any further funding? I was a “no” vote on the impact fee and I’ll be a “no” on a severance tax vote, as well.

-John