Instead of Just Making College Affordable, Make It Free

U.S. Unemployment Rate, 25 years and over:
July 2013 data:

Less than a high school diploma 11.0%
High school graduate, no college 7.6%
Some college or associate degree 6.0%
Bachelor’s degree and higher 3.8%

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job which pays a decent salary without a college education. Nevertheless, the cost of a college education is increasing exponentially, far outstripping inflation and typical salaries.

About one-third of college students receive subsidized Federal loans. The rate on these loans was fixed in 2007 at 3.4%. Last month, Congress let this rate expire, which caused the rate on new student loans to suddenly double to 6.8%, bringing a college education out of the reach of most students.

A life of privilege should not be the birthright of the privileged few, passed on from generation to generation like the titles of nobility, which we Americans have wisely forsaken (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8).

The outrage expressed by students, their parents, and all those concerned with the future of America’s highly educated workforce was heard in the halls of Congress. Last Friday, President Obama signed a compromise bill to lower interest rates. According to Cecilia Munoz, “Under the new law, nearly 11 million borrowers will see their interest rates decrease on new loans made after July 1, 2013. About 8.8 million undergraduate borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 6.80% to 3.86%, and about 1.5 million Graduate Unsubsidized Stafford borrowers will see their rates drop on new loans from 6.80% to 5.41%. Finally, over 1 million Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 7.90% to 6.41% — the first reduction in years.” (Since these rates are based on the bond market, The Washington Post notes that “as the economy improves in the coming years, as it is expected to, those interest rates will likely climb and could soon be higher than current rates, unless Congress again acts.”)

Undergraduates may be breathing a sigh of relief as they prepare to go back to school this fall, but still their education will end up more expensive than ever, before putting college out of reach of more and more of America’s youth.

Will this satisfy the many voices that have been clamoring for the government to make education more affordable?

Yet, others are advancing toward a more ambitious objective: making higher education not just affordable, but free.

Three ideas for free tuition follow the jump.
Pay it forward, pay it back

Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) writes about the legislation he and State Representative Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) are introducing in Harrisburg:

I will be introducing a landmark bill in the Pennsylvania Senate to make college affordable for every Pennsylvanian.

Growing up, my mom and I didn’t have much, and it was only because of programs like Pell Grants that I was able to go to Temple University for college. Since I graduated, tuition has risen astronomically, and state and federal financial assistance hasn’t been able to keep up. If I was finishing high school today, I would not be able to afford to go to Temple without taking on a mountain of debt.

That is why I will be introducing the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” program to make state, and state-related universities (like Temple) affordable for every student by letting them attend college with no money down and without paying high interest rates.

The way that it works is simple: we will create a fund from which students can draw funds to pay their tuition. After graduating and joining the workforce, students will “Pay Back” into the fund, interest free, through a small percentage — around 4% — of their income.  

The plan will eventually become self-sustaining, but until it does, we will use seed funding from a competitive, temporary tax on natural gas extraction.

Once this bill is signed into law, Pennsylvania will be one of the the nation’s leaders in affordable college education and every student will have the same opportunities that I did.

Boyle adds:

With Pennsylvania’s college graduates shouldering the second highest level of student loan debt in the country, the need to take a hard look at our existing system of funding higher education is urgent. This legislation would initiate the process of conducting a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the Pay It Forward model.

There are currently a handful of states that are considering or have passed similar legislation, including Oregon, which last month passed legislation that Boyle credits as the impetus behind their proposal:

I think the number of states that have expressed interest in this model demonstrates that the traditional way of financing public higher education is fundamentally broken and that there is a strong demand for new ideas. The Oregon bill offers an excellent template for how such a game changing proposal should be approached. Given that this plan would likely require an investment of tens of billions of dollars before becoming solvent, carefully examining the merits and cost of Pay It Forward on an objective and nonpartisan basis will provide insight into whether such a program is feasible in Pennsylvania.

A similar idea is being considered in California, where grantees would commit to paying 5% of their salary for the next 20 years.

This idea is not a Utopian, liberal, “pay what you can” dream. According to the journal Inside Higher Ed, the “concept was thought up, independently, by two Nobel winners in economics, Milton Friedman [noted Libertarian thinker] and James Tobin.”

Posse Scholars

Many promising students do not fulfill their potential, because they do not have the necessary support networks to guide them in their education. For that reason, the Posse Foundation steps into the breech and identifies at-risk youth “with extraordinary academic and leadership potential” while they are still in high school, organizing them into teams (or “posses”) of ten students.

The students in any posse are responsible for each other, support each other in their studies, and help each other stay out of trouble. The Posse Foundation’s university partners have committed to giving full scholarships each year to an entire posse, based on the posse’s total scores, grades, etc.

Knowing that they will earn this scholarship, or fail to do so, as a group, each posse is a team with a common goal to shoot for, and the raw talent to succeed. Since 1989, 4,884 public school student have succeeded as posse scholars. The posse continues to function when in the university of their choice and even beyond, as an invaluable, tried-and-tested support network for these talented youth, who may be the first children in their families to benefit from higher education.

President Obama has seen the value of the Posse Foundation’s work, and accordingly donated all of his $1,400,000 in Nobel Peace Prize money to the Posse Foundation, and 10 other charitable causes:  

The news that Posse will receive a generous gift of $125,000 came via a White House announcement.

“These organizations do extraordinary work in the United States and abroad helping students, veterans and countless others in need,” said President Obama. “I’m proud to support their work.”

The other nine organizations who will receive donations ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 are: AfriCare, the American Indian College Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the Central Asia Institute, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, College Summit, Fisher House, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

“On behalf of the entire Posse Foundation, I thank President Obama for this incredible acknowledgment and support”, says Posse President and Founder Deborah Bial. “For 20 years, Posse has been finding outstanding young people and connecting them to the great education they so deserve. The president’s support is more than financial; it is a message to the country that these young people are not only important, but needed as leaders. We are beyond thrilled.”

Loan Forgiveness

Another way students attend school for free is by committing to public service. Instead of giving back a small percentage of their salary for decades, they devote themselves to service for a shorter period of time. For example, the United States Armed Services will pay for students to attend medical school, if they agree to serve as a medic in the military for an equal number of years. Each year of free medical school equals one year of required service:

When you’re pursuing an advanced health care degree, the last thing on your mind should be how you’re going to pay for it. The U.S. Army can help with one of the most comprehensive scholarships available in the health care field — The F. Edward H├ębert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. Qualifying students receive full tuition for any accredited medical, dental, veterinary, psychology or optometry program, plus a generous monthly stipend of more than $2,000.

In fact, during summer break, the students receive officer’s salary while they get their military training.

Similar programs exist to encourage doctors to work for a few years in under-served rural communities, or for student to train (or engineers to retrain themselves) to teach science, technology, engineering or mathematics in poor urban neighborhoods.

These ideas may put higher education into everyone’s reach, and conversely, put everyone’s talents into the reach of society.

Same Sex Marriage in Montgomery County

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Last week, Montgomery County’s Register of Wills Bruce Hanes announced that he would start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In today’s Philadelphia Daily News, State Senate Daylin Leach defends Hanes’ action:

These licenses would seem to be issued in contradiction to the Pennsylvania statute that limits marriage to one man and one woman. Mr. Hanes says that he believes that law is unconstitutional and therefore not enforceable.

Some have attacked Mr. Hanes for essentially going rogue. They say that he does not have the authority to pick and choose which laws he wants to enforce and which ones he does not. They also point out that if a law is unconstitutional, it should be a judge who makes that determination, not a county row officer. While these are reasonable points to make, they miss the true issues at stake. A more comprehensive review of relevant legal issues reveals that the actions taken by Mr. Hanes were, in fact, correct.

In fact, Leach officiated over a Montgomery County same-sex marriage on Monday and PoliticsPA wrote a  piece about it entitled Leach Loves Gays So Much He Marries Them:

“I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to officiate the marriage of a wonderful, loving couple this afternoon in Montgomery County,” Leach said. “Today’s ceremony proves that little by little, we are making strides toward full equality here in Pennsylvania. Each court ruling and each supportive decision made by elected officials puts another crack in the armor of discrimination. Today’s ceremony shows that love can indeed conquer all.”

Leach has long been a supporter of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. He introduced the first bill in the state Senate to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010.

It’s Time for Pennsylvania to Pass Marriage Equality Legislation


An LGBT flag in Philadelphia

— by State Senator Daylin Leach

Yesterday, the Supreme Court spoke on the issue of marriage equality. And the sound you heard is the arc of history bending toward justice. The court did two things:

  • They struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which means that gay and lesbian couples who are legally married in any state, are now fully and completely married in the eyes of the federal government — they will now receive all rights and benefits of marriage — and the obscene discrimination that they faced in federal law prior to today is over.
  • The court also dismissed the appeal of a lower court’s decision striking down Proposition 8 in California. This means that the lower court’s ruling stands, and that gay and lesbian couples in California are now legally free to marry the person they love, and 38 million Californians now live under equality.

Continued after the jump.
These two decisions bring our nation into line with our historic values. Discrimination and bigotry are simply not in America’s DNA. The Court’s decision in the DOMA case was particularly poignant and insightful, saying that laws that treat gay and straight people differently have “no legitimate purpose.”

This language, and these decisions make it clear that legal discrimination against gay people is on its way to the ash-heap of history. The legislature and governor of Pennsylvania now have a crucial decision to make. Do we now embrace equality and, as Hubert Humphrey said, “walk into the bright sunshine of human rights?” Or do we join states like Mississippi and Alabama as dead-enders, fighting a sad and futile battle for prejudice and fear?

I know where I stand. And the polls show where the people of Pennsylvania stand. It’s time for our government to do right by all of the people of our great Commonwealth, and pass marriage equality and anti-discrimination legislation this year.

Americans for Democratic Action: Southeast Pennsylvania

ADA Founders Hubert Humphrey & Eleanor Roosevelt
Americans for Democratic Action founders Hubert Humphrey (left) and Eleanor Roosevelt (center) with Adlai Stevenson (right).

— by John Oliver Mason

The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) held its membership meeting in First Unitarian Church.

Guenevive Norton, chapter President, greeted the members and introduced Don Kusler, National Executive Director of ADA, “a voice for our causes in Washington.” Horton listed ADA’s recent activities, such as the campaign for earned sick leave, coalition work around voter ID legislation, merit selection of judicial candidates, endorsements for candidates in general and primary elections, and school funding and closing.

Don Kusler, National Director of ADA, spoke to the group, saying, “This is a sizeable group of people, dedicated to a single mission. You can get a lot done, and it’s so important that we do this with our chapters and expand our chapter base.” Pointing out that ADA members come from several backgrounds and deal with a variety of issues, Kusler said of the themes the members stood for, “one was equality, we talked about equality of education, equality of representation, equality when it comes to (ending) bias, I think that’s the underlying theme where all interested in.”

More after the jump.
Another theme Kusler found was creating an environment where voters are voting more along the line of their interests…

Many of the other issues that we talk about are aided if you move forward on equality and fix some of the electoral issues we have…There are certain things we’re interested in at ADA nationally, but the most critical thing-the direction we’re heading in in our operations-is that Washington, unfortunately, is not currently a place where we can get much achieved.

(Our politics) are so polarized, and our own voting records show this,” added Kusler. Referring to the “Liberal Quotient” score system of Congress-members, he said, “We’ve been doing it for sixty-five years, higher scores are liberal, lower scores are conservative. Over time, the parties, up until and in through the late ‘eighties and early ‘nineties, there was a lot of diversity in the scores; the Democratic caucus average was in the seventies, the Republican caucus average was in the thirties. They were solidly where you would think they would be.

With the election of Congress in 1994, Kusler added, “The scores go wide, and we were so divided, and it just gets worse and worse with the Tea Party infiltration.” Also, said Kusler, “We’ve become so obsessed with the sound-bite world we live in, trying to get Washington to do something it’s just not going to do, and we’re forgetting our local roots.”

Kusler called for a greater emphasis by ADA on strengthening the chapters and working on more localized campaigns,

and that’s where (ADA’s) chapters come in. It’s so important that you (the members) find out what it is that grew (the chapter), what is it that’s your strength, what it is that you provide to the larger Progressive and Liberal community here is the Philadelphia area, that you can get behind, whether it’s an issue, or a couple of issues, or whether it’s a particular function of advocacy or information, I think it will strengthen both your membership, your contribution to the community, if you can do that as a group. That’s going to really provide an identity when we’re doing coalition work.

State Senator Daylin Leach spoke about state level politics, saying,

The Pennsylvania legislature is going to do what the Pennsylvania legislature likes to do most, which is tell women how to live their lives. We have Senate Bill 3 coming up, which says that women cannot, if they buy health insurance through the exchange (set up under the Obama healthcare plan), buy (insurance) policies that cover abortion, even  with their own money…I debated the chief sponsor of this on television, a guy named Don White, a pleasant enough guy, and  he kept saying, ‘We don’t want taxpayer money going to abortions.’ That’s already the law. This does not do that, this goes a step further.

Think about what the bill does. At the end of the day, it requires people who want coverage for abortions to buy a health policy through the exchange, and then go outside the exchange and buy a second health care policy that mostly covers abortion. What insurance company is going to offer a policy that totally covers abortion? Putting the issue of abortion aside,  that’s how insurance works, spreading the risk over a large group of people for a variety of things. It’s like saying, ‘I’d like to buy an insurance policy that covers kidney stones,’ who’s going to do that? …Even if there was such a policy, what woman is going to go in and say, ‘I need to buy some abortion coverage.’ Most people don’t believe they’ll need that coverage, that’s why we don’t have individual insurance policies for individual things that can’t predict they’re going to have. It’s a crazy idea, and that’s what the Pennsylvania legislature loves doing.

Another bill coming up in the legislature, said Leach, is the contraception bill,

what I call the ‘ask your boss bill.’ This bill says that bosses can opt out of providing their employees, if it violates their conscience, with contraception coverage. If you’re a woman, and you want contraception coverage, you have to ask your boss’s permission. Think about the discussions that are going to result from that.

One bill Leach introduced, he said,

which would provide mandatory paid family leave, for men and women. If you have a newborn, you can get twelve weeks of paid leave. This (kind of) bill is already law in almost all of the industrialized world. This is already a standard benefit of employment. This is already something that employers in Europe, Canada, and Mexico, and most of the world have figured out how to provide…It’s really good for everybody; it’s good for the kids, the rate of child mortality, (and) the rate of impoverishment all go down when you have that twelve weeks of bonding.

 

Heard At The Electoral College

Florida Democratic electors sign election-results certificates in the Florida Senate chambersMembers of the electoral college met today in all fifty state capitals and the District of Columbia to officially cast their votes for President and Vice-President of the United State. Here are some highlights from Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona.

“What! No write-in votes for me?” — State Senator Daylin Leach (D-PA).

“I will quote loosely Vice-President Biden: ‘This is a…. uh… big deal.'” — State Party Chairman Rod Smith (D-FL)

AZ GOP Chairman Tom Morrissey and John Rhodes, sign Electoral College papers casting their vote for Mitt Romney. Both men said they have doubts about President Obama's birth certificate and his right to serveArizona Public Radio reports that the state’s electors cast their ballots for Romney — but not before three of them said questions remain about whether Barack Obama was born in this country. “I’m not satisfied with what I’ve seen. I think for somebody in the president’s position to not have produced a document that looks more legitimate, I have a problem with that.” — State Party Chairman Tom Morrissey (R-AZ)

According to the Los Angeles Times:

More than five weeks after election day, almost all the presidential votes have been counted. Here’s what the near-final tally reveals: The election really wasn’t close.”

In the weeks since the election, as states have completed their counts, Obama’s margin has grown steadily. From just over 2 percentage points, it now stands at nearly 4. Rather than worry about the Bush-Kerry precedent, White House aides now brag that Obama seems all but certain to achieve a mark hit by only five others in U.S. history – winning the presidency twice with 51% or more of the popular vote

Discussion on Voter ID Laws in Pennsylvania

A panel discussion about voter ID laws in Pennsylvania took place at the Liberties Bar and Restaurant, in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties area. The discussion was sponsored by the Philadelphia chapter of the Jewish labor Committee (JLC) in collaboration with the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

Referring to the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision suspending provisions of the voter ID law, Hornstein said, “We’re going to pivot the energy from making sure everyone has the proper ID, which is of course what the right-wing wanted us to be focused on, to actually getting out the vote.

More after the jump.
“The Jewish Labor Committee,” added Hornstein, “is really about building bridges between the Labor community and the Jewish community. Back in my grandmother’s day, Jews and Labor were synonymous. Nowadays, except for teachers and some classifications of work, Jews are now highly represented in the Labor movement, except on staffs. We feel it’s important, because the Jewish community is generally a progressive community, and generally in tune with what the Labor movement does, if they knew what was going on.”

Hornstein introduced the panel: Laura Wentz, Executive Vice-President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and member of IATSE Local 8; Elizabeth McElroy, Secretary-Treasurer of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO; State Senator Daylin Leach; and Anne Gemmell, Political Director of Fight for Philly.

Fighting the voter ID bills was, as Dalyin Leach put it, “in the last few months my full-time job…One of my most recent experiences was debating (House Republican Leader) Mike Turzai on Fox News.” Leach described Turzai as “just out of it, reading notes and talking to people off camera during the debate.”

Judge Robert Simpson, added Leach, “was not considering the constitutionality of voter ID, as was often misrepresented in the press. Judge Simpson was considering the preliminary injunction, (and) to grant a preliminary injunction, you are not required to find that a law in unconstitutional, all you have to find is that there is a reasonable likelihood (that there is) a strong case that it’s unconstitutional.” The State Supreme Court said, added Leach, that “in order for this law to survive for the 2012 election, the judge had (to hold) another hearing and find, as a factual matter, that everyone in Pennsylvania who wanted an ID could feasibly get an ID.”

Pointing out that many of the 71 offices of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) were only open one day a week, Leach said, “If you take the total number of PennDOT hours, and the total number of people that need these IDs, every PennDOT office would essentially have to give out a thousand IDs a day. If a thousand people showed up to a PennDOT office, 970 of them would be sent home.”

Of the claim that the voter ID bills were designed to eliminate voter fraud, Leach said, “Any remedy you craft has to be in response to an actual problem. In-person voter fraud is not an actual problem, in that it never happens…People tend not to commit extremely high-risk, no-reward crimes-that’s just human nature.” Leach also raised the danger of “fistfights as polls, as people who voted for fifty years showed up at the polls show up and the person who’s been signing them in for fifty years told them they couldn’t vote- that’s going to get very ugly. There’s going to be people challenging every single ID at certain polls, and that will create long lines and (they will) hope that people go away without voting.”

Ann Gemmell pointed out the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where “they sit around and create model legislation, and as soon as they get total control of a state house and senate, they start flying this legislation in, and it happened in Pennsylvania.’ Gemmell said that progressive have been “spending a lot of time and energy that could be spent on talking about Kathy Kane (running for Pennsylvania Attorney General) and registering voters.”

Liz McElroy reminded people that “Before 2006, no state had a law in their books for photo ID every time somebody voted. Today, now, at least thirty (states) do. That’s not an accident, if you think about what happened in those intervening six years in this country.” There are many people, said McElroy, “who think, what’s the big deal about voter ID? You need a (driver’s) license to but cigarettes, you need a license to buy beer, all these things you need ID to do. It’s not necessarily crazy right-wing people who are saying this, it’s our friends, neighbors, and union members.

“It’s a big deal because,” said McElroy, “it’s not my right to get on an airplane, (but) it’s my right to go into the voting booth and vote, so they’re very different things. It’s not my right to buy cigarettes or beer, but it’s my right to walk into a voting booth.” In the years from 2006, she added, “We’ve seen a relentless attack on workers, on teachers, on public employees- I’m not just talking union workers, (but on) all workers.” Companies, she said, want to “completely cut workers’ benefits and pay, and exploit them. You’ve got to work more hours for less money, (or) we’ll ship your job to China. That conversation has been around for a long time…The same people who are coming after us as workers, or as women (attacking) our reproductive rights, or as Gays and Lesbians, whatever category, they’re the same people who are going after our voting rights. It’s all tied together, and it’s really one of those issues that, truly, we’re all in it together.”  

Defense of PA voter ID law crumbling

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In a document filed ahead of a hearing, Republican officials say “there have been no investigations of prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania” and that fraud would be unlikely to occur if the voter ID law was not in place. This contradicts earlier positions by the state’s governor.  Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach joins Rev. Al Sharpton with his response to the new evidence.

Joe “You Lie!” Wilson Imitator At Congregation Keneseth Israel

Area Jewish Dems Praise Obama’s Support  Of Israel & Jewish Values


Photo: Richard Chaitt / Jewish Exponent.

Last night the Jewish community came out in force to Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park for a serious discussion of politics sponsored by Jewish Americans for Obama.

As expected Pennsylvania State Representative (17th district) and former standup comic Daylin Leach had everyone’s attention with his unique blend of political analysis and satire. However, Daylin’s comedy was overshadowed by the spectacle afforded by a small group of tea party enthusiasts who were in attendance. These right-wing extremists stood up and interrupted speaker after speaker.

Representative Joe Wilson only interrupted President Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address with “You lie” only once, but these protesters were comfortable shouting “It is a lie” over a dozen times during the night.

Their random outbursts seemed like a crude caricature of a rabid Tea Party member. The continual refrain of “It is a lie” punctuated the most anodyne statement of fact.

Here is one example: Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro praised Obama’s record of vetoing every anti-Israel United Nations Security Council Resolution since he took office. And the protester was rose and cried out,

“It is a lie.”

Really?!

Tell us what UNSC resolution escaped the attention of this administration? Perhaps he was thinking about UNSC #1405 which required Israel to submit to UN inspections of the Jenin refugee camp as a result of libelous accusation against Israel during Operation Defensive Shield. Actually, this happened under President George W. Bush’s watch in April 2002. That was the last time the US failed to wield its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to protect Israel.

Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rod McCord quoted Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai who proudly took credit for our state’s new Voter ID law saying

“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done.
First pro-life legislation — abortion facility regulations — in 22 years, done.
Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

To which our friendly protester provided comic relief by bellowing out “It is a lie” at the top of his lungs.


At the Keneseth Israel event, Rabbi Lance Sussman(second from right) addresses the crowd. Also at the podium are (from left) State Sen. Daylin Leach, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro and county Democratic head Marcel Groen.
Photo: Richard Chaitt / Jewish Exponent

Spiritual leader Rabbi Lance J. Sussman welcomed the standing-room-only crowd of 1,200 members of community packing the sanctuary. He welcomed the community’s commitment to the political process and indicated that Keneseth Israel desired to hold a similar event on behalf of Governor Romney.

Montgomery County Democratic Chairman Marcel Groen served as master of ceremonies, he and all the members of the political panel started their remarks with their Jewish bona fides, detailing their history of commitment to Israel and the Jewish community (even if some of the panelists didn’t have very Jewish names).

Daylin Leach and Josh Shapiro echoed the sentiment that a candidates’ understanding of the unique relationship between Israel and United States was condition sine qua non to get their support. Neither had any doubt that Obama’s feels a love for the State of Israel “in his kishkes.”

Daylin Leach said he was just 20 feet away from Barack Obama at this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference when the President declared that “I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Rep. Leach also praised Obama for fighting anti-Semitism here and around the world.

Rep. Leach spoke about the importance of the separation of church and state. He warned that it was not so long ago that we had mandatory school prayer, and that if school prayer were to return, it would probably not be the shema. He emphasize the closely divided nature of Supreme Court on this issue. The next President will likely nominate one or more justices who will shape our understanding of law for decades to come. Romney used to hold Chief Justice John Roberts as an example of the type of judge he would nominate for the Supreme Court. Now that Roberts ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act, Romney has now chosen Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as his model for a Supreme Court nominee. To understand who Obama is likely to nominate, we can look at the two judges he has nominated so far: Associate Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

United States Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz (PA-13) was on hand. Rep. Schwartz is the only woman and the only Jew in Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation. Her Congressional District covers much of Eastern Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia. Thanks to the latest redistricting Congregation Keneseth Israel is now part of her district, and she welcomed her new constituents.


U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz fields questions at K.I.
Photo: Richard Chaitt / Jewish Exponent.

The highlight of the evening was Democratic National Committee Chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-20). She addressed the many hoaxes being circulated attacking Obama’s stand on Israel. She recommended that everyone keep a copy of the campaign’s Myths vs. Facts document and their six-page fact sheet detailing the ironclad relation with Israel that the Obama campaign has nurtured.

The crowd also heard from Obama’s Pennsylvania Jewish Outreach Coordinator Alan Fuchs, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Rodeph Shalom, as well as Obama for America Montgomery County Field Director Dan Siegal. The campaign opened their county headquarters at 115 Yorktown Plaza in Elkins Park, PA. The headquarters was conveniently located at the intersection of RT 611 and Church Rd just across the street from Keneseth Israel.

The 2012-2013 Pennsylvania Budget: Areas to Improve

Daylin Leach— by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach

Since the state’s fiscal year ends at midnight on June 30th of each year, May and June are always a busy time when everyone in Harrisburg is scrambling to put together next year’s budget. We’ve had tough budgets for the past four years because during a recession, demand for government services goes up while revenues coming into the state coffers go down. Unlike the federal government, we are constitutionally required to balance our budget each year, so every dollar we spend must come from a revenue source.

There are really only two ways to eliminate a budget deficit: you can either cut expenditures or raise revenues. Actually, the smartest approach is to use a balanced approach that does both prudently. Unfortunately, for the past several years — due to the political realities of Harrisburg and the fact that Governor Corbett has pledged to Grover Norquist, a lobbyist who lives in Washington, DC, that he won’t increase revenues in any way — the budget has been balanced exclusively through cuts.

It is important to remember that there are many areas of the state budget that can’t be cut, either due to federal or state law or contractual obligations. In some cases, if we tried to cut money from a given program, we could be sued and required by a court to spend the money with interest. In other cases, our laws force additional spending. For example, Pennsylvania’s criminal code creates about 2,000 new net prisoners per year (the second highest number in the nation). This requires us to build a new prison, which costs about $300 million to build and $50 million per year to operate, every single year.

All of the cuts we can make must come from a relatively small sliver of the budget that is discretionary. This includes money for first responders, education, libraries, human services, health care for our citizens, transportation improvements and our safety net for the very poor. We have continued to go back to these same areas of funding when making deeper and deeper cuts each year.

As a result, we have now reached the point at which we are in real danger of abandoning basic government services and the citizens who rely on them. You may have read about how some of our poorer schools literally would have had to close their doors if the federal courts had not intervened and ordered us to provide additional funds. Tens of thousands of people have lost their access to healthcare, childcare facilities have had to close, and libraries are either closing or drastically cutting back their hours and programs. Schools are eliminating art and music programs, guidance counselors and tutoring; and we are opening 30,000 new natural gas rigs across the state while drastically reducing the funding for environmental inspectors charged with making sure the drilling is done safely. In short, the picture is very bleak.

Following the jump below, I am going to try to give you a fuller picture of the cuts we are facing and provide you with the alternatives for which I am fighting. In my view, we could easily raise sufficient revenue to avoid most of the worst cuts without burdening a single Pennsylvania family. We could accomplish this by, among other things, enacting a reasonable tax on the Marcellus Shale extraction that is giving energy companies billions of dollars and closing the “Delaware Loophole,” which allows 70% of Pennsylvania companies to avoid paying their fare share to help our state prosper.

These and other ideas will enable us to continue providing basic services to our citizens and will ensure that Pennsylvania is a state with the educational, economic and environmental quality of life that will attract businesses and families for decades to come. I hope you find this information helpful.

A list of programs funding to be restored and funding mechanisms follow the jump.
As I noted above, I would like to stimulate an open and honest dialogue about the current budget’s shortcomings. There are a number of cuts that I believe will be extremely harmful to our state. I will first enumerate some of the
worst of the many troubling cuts in the budget proposed by Governor Corbett.

If I want to restore the funds for these important programs, I obviously have an obligation to identify where the necessary revenues would come from. So I will provide some suggestions along those lines as well.

Top 5 most destructive cuts in the budget proposal.

  1. Higher Education
    Governor Corbett has proposed cutting higher education by 30 percent this year, on top of the 19 percent cut passed last year. These draconian proposals represent not cuts, but an abandonment of our commitment to make college affordable for all Pennsylvanians. These cuts would result in dramatic tuition increases in state related universities and put college out of reach for many of our citizens.
  2. Basic Education
    Last year, over my “no” vote, the legislature and governor enacted a budget that cut over $850 million from basic education. These cuts came disproportionately from poor school districts, but hurt all public schools. The governor
    has proposed hundreds of millions in dollars of additional cuts, including eliminating the No Child Left Behind Compliance grants and the Charter School Reimbursement grants.

  3. Department of Environmental Protection
    At a time when we are opening over 30,000 new fracking wells in Pennsylvania, the DEP budget is being cut, which will result in many fewer inspectors and enforcement agents ensuring that this new and controversial fracking technology is being used safely and responsibly.
  4. Human Services
    The governor proposes to cut human service funding by 20 percent ($168 million). These services cover needs including Mental Health, Behavioral Health, Drug & Alcohol, Intellectual Disabilities, Child Welfare, Homeless Assistance and what remains of the Human Services Development Fund. These cuts will obviously have a devastating impact on many of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.
  5. Child Care Services
    If this budget passes, we will have cut childcare services and assistance by almost $140 million over the past two years. Without these services, parents may be unable to get back on their feet, receive training, or go back to work if they have to turn down a job or opportunity because they can’t afford or find childcare. Also, this lack of funding could mean the elimination of “Keystone Stars”, a nationally-recognized program that provides resources and professional development to the educators who prepare children for school success.

In addition, the governor has rejected the recommendations of his own hand-picked commission to raise money to fund much needed road and bridge repairs.

How to pay for the restoration of these funds:

  1. Levying a Marcellus Shale Impact Fee
    Imposing an impact fee on drillers would go a long way toward helping recoup the loss of natural resources taken from our state, as well as toward helping us balance the budget. Going further, imposing a tax on those drillers would do even more to help us. Consider that a 6% tax on producing wells would generate about $312 million in 2012-13 and $396 million in 2013-14. This rate is consistent with what virtually every other state in the nation charges for the extraction of natural resources from its soil.
  2. Closing the Delaware Loophole
    The Delaware Loophole, a way under the law for corporations to evade paying taxes, is an issue that has needed fixed for years. For some reason, this has yet to happen. If we closed the Delaware Loophole, our state would be able to bring in $550 million in just one fiscal year.
  3. Ending the Vendor Discount
    Under the Vendor Discount, Pennsylvania pays private businesses millions of dollars each year just to handle sales tax receipts and remit them to the state. This program was conceived many years ago before the advent of computers, and since there’s no longer a valid need for it, it’s time to end it. Currently, Pennsylvania is one of only 13 states with an unlimited sales tax vendor discount. If we stopped providing this unnecessary discount, our state would save nearly $75 million per year.
  4. Taxing Smokeless Tobacco
    Currently, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not tax smokeless tobacco. This would be an easy solution that would garner $50 million per year, simply by imposing a tax of $1.35 per unit — the same tax that is levied on cigarettes.

The Case for Intolerance

— by Barry Bub

Though I’ve lived in the USA for almost 40 years, my blunt South African roots sometimes show. Take for example some recent dinner party prattle.

“What do you do?” I asked her.

“I work for an agency that promotes tolerance” she replied.

“Is tolerance really such a good thing?” I blurted. “For example, do you love your husband or do you tolerate him?”

She walked away.

Tolerance has its limits. Nor, for that matter, did I ever receive an answer.

But of course, there is something worse than tolerance, and that’s intolerance. I was reminded of this by the allegation that the Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney when a teenager, led lead a group that attacked an effeminate boy brutally cutting off his bleached blond hair. Romney has offered no denial but claims he cannot recall the incident.

More after the jump.
At Shabbat dinner that week the conversation slipped from talk of mitzvoth and joyful embrace of the Sabbath to politics and Mitt Romney.

“Obviously he cannot be held accountable for his actions as an eighteen year old. It was just a prank”, said our neighbor. Heads nodded in agreement. Our friend was not to know that he was dangling bait before a hungry South African mackerel. I bit down hard.

“Think of all the eighteen-year olds sent to war. The ‘old man’ on a WWII bomber flying over Germany might have been all of twenty-two. Plenty of accountability then, no?”

I was just warming up.

“After this so-called teenage prank, some of the perpetrators claimed to have felt great remorse. Romney, with his entire adult life to reflect and repent, instead simply forgot the incident. That is, if you believe his statement — which I don’t. Speaks volumes of his character, no?”

How easily do we tolerate those who relish intolerance.

Since then Romney has gone on to pledge his opposition to same-sex marriage. North Carolina has banned it. Immigration reform is dead. Health care reform awaits the axe in the Supreme Court. Minorities are being disenfranchised in Florida. Women once again stand to have their reproductive rights controlled by men and the Catholic Church. Most of our Jewish friends are in anguish at this state of affairs, but others are content to support the party and candidates that they believe “is good for Israel.”

Somewhere in New Jersey is a young man waiting sentencing for his actions as an eighteen-year old. He crime was that he recorded his roommate kissing another boy and then circulated the tape on the Internet. Disastrously, his actions led the roommate to commit suicide. At time of this writing this now twenty-year old faces a lengthy prison sentence and possible deportation.

My earlier statement needs modification.

How easily do we tolerate those who relish intolerance, hypocrisy and injustice.

But the news is not all negative. President Obama has been ‘outed’, perhaps by Vice President Biden’s expression of frank support for same-sex marriage. His position has evolved, he says. He has moved from tolerance to understanding to support. Now, with no small risk to his re-election he has stood up and expressed his support for same-sex marriage.

Tolerance is sometimes necessary as a holding state but if we are to enjoy freedom as citizens of this country, sooner or later each one of us must make the decision to jump off the fence. On the one hand — to learn, understand and support difference when it is healthy. On the other — to be absolutely intolerant to those that practice and preach intolerance — even if they proclaim their ‘support’ for Israel.

The Bible is clear on this. Justice, justice shall you pursue.