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.

PA Senator Responds to Corbett’s “Don’t Watch” Comment

The following piece is reprinted by permission from Daylin Leach's State Senate site:

Gov.  Tom Corbett said he would sign a proposed law to make women getting a  state-paid abortion watch a fetal ultrasound but said: “I don’t know how  you make anybody watch it, OK? Because you just have to close your  eyes. … But as long as it’s "on exterior, not interior,” he will approve  it.

By Peter L. DeCoursey
Bureau Chief
Capitolwire

HARRISBURG  (May 15) – The new Quinnipiac Poll says Pennsylvanians disapprove of a  proposal 48-42 percent to show a fetal ultrasound to women getting  state-paid abortions, but an unexpected demographic led that opposition:  men.

Women are tied on the idea, 45-45 in the new Quinnipiac Polling Institute survey, but men oppose it 51-39.

Voters with a college degree opposed it 57-35, while those without a degree are essentially tied, 45 percent for it, 44 against.

The poll surveyed 1,256 registered voters and its results carry an error margin of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

Gov.  Tom Corbett said Tuesday he continued to support the bill, and would  sign it “as long as it’s not obtrusive,” and the ultrasound is done  externally, over the belly, not intrusively in the vagina.

“But as  long as it’s on exterior, not interior,” he will approve it, Corbett  said. The bill awaiting House action, from Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, is  silent about whether the mandated ultrasound would be external or  trans-vaginal. A bill signed by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell requires the  mandated ultrasound to be external.

Corbett was then asked if he  considered forcing women to watch it “obtrusive?” He said: “I don’t know  how you make anybody watch it, OK? Because you just have to close your  eyes” to avoid seeing it.

Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery,  responded: “I'm going to assume he meant ‘intrusive’ instead of  ‘obtrusive.’ And while I'm not a woman, I would imagine that any woman  would find a tube inserted into her vagina against her will to be  ‘intrusive.’ This, coupled with his admonition to women to just ‘close  your eyes,’ shows a breathtaking, almost inhuman, insensitivity. I mean,  oh my God.”

Reminded that Corbett said he would only sign a bill  that mandated an “exterior, not interior” ultrasound, Leach responded:  “Well, I'm also told he said he'd sign the Rapp bill, which, if you read  it, is ‘interior.’ If he now says he veto Rapp, then that's different.  But we can't let him get away with looking slightly less crazy while  signing a fully crazy bill.”

Medical groups have said that  interior ultrasounds are needed during the early term when many  abortions are performed, to see the fetus, and asked that the Rapp bill  be clarified so that like the Virginia law, it is limited to exterior  ultrasounds.

The poll showed voters opposed trans-vaginal  ultrasounds 64-23. Men opposed it 67-18 and women, 61-28. It also showed  voters favored abortion to be legal in all or most cases, 54-37.

Tim  Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute, said  they were not sure why men opposed the bill more than women.

I'm proud and pleased that Daylin is in the State Senate. I'm considering moving 2 miles so he can be MY  state senator. It gives me hope that there are a few (Daylin is one of 3  I can think of offhand) people in the PA Senate who are thoughtful,  conscientious and sane. Hopefully the Pennsylvania electorate will elect  more of them. I feel ashamed that I pay taxes to support a  gubernatorial administration that supports these ultrasounds, as well as  the new Voter ID law.

DOJ Rejects Texas Voting Law. What Does That Mean For Pennsylvania?

Daylin Leach, Al Sharpton speak about Voter ID

Crossposted from the Brennan Center of Justice’s Redistricting Blog

— by Erik Opsal

The Department of Justice objected to Texas’ voter ID law Monday, determining the law would discriminate against minority voters, particularly Hispanics.

“Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said in a letter to the Texas director of elections.

The same day, the Brennan Center and other legal groups moved to intervene to stop the restrictive photo ID law, which will also be reviewed in federal court. The motion, on behalf of the Texas NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, argues the law erects unnecessary barriers to voting and disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of minority voters.

“Decades ago, our nation passed the Voting Rights Act to combat this kind of discrimination,” said Brennan Center Senior Counsel Myrna Pérez. “We urge the federal court to stand up for voters by blocking this law.”

This news comes just days after a Houston Chronicle analysis found that Texas’ voter ID law “could affect as many as 2.3 million registered voters.”

Court Rejects Voter Suppression Efforts

As November approaches, voter intimidation looms as a next battleground. A federal court in Philadelphia last week made clear the limits to what is allowed.

The judge upheld a long-standing consent decree prohibiting the Republican National Committee from using improper election tactics. The consent decree specifically bars the organization from using voter challengers, poll watchers, and a practice known as “vote caging” to target and intimidate voters of color.

“Under the agreement, the Republican National Committee must obtain court approval before implementing certain poll-monitoring activities in minority precincts,” Reuters reports.

The court’s opinion described how poll watchers and poll challengers have the potential to disenfranchise lawful voters by causing delays, crowding, and confusion inside the polling place and creating a charged partisan atmosphere that can intimidate many new voters. Here’s an analysis of these past problems.

With the 2012 election fast approaching, it is important for state officials to ensure other political groups — not just the RNC — follow the law and refrain from using poll watchers to intimidate or discriminate against voters, writes the Brennan Center’s Nic Riley.

Pennsylvania Update

The state Senate passed a voter ID bill, which the House is expected to vote on today. Opponents of the bill are still fighting, saying it limits a basic right. Read more here and here. Read an op-ed opposing the law from Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel at the Brennan Center.

The Pledge

— by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach

Howdy!

Beginning when we are children, we all take pledges. The earliest pledge for most of us is when we pledge allegiance to the flag. Most of us earnestly do this before we know what “pledge” or “allegiance” mean. All I knew was that it involved “the Republic for which it stands” which I assumed was all one word (“Forwhichistan”) and was probably near some of the smaller, similarly named countries in Soviet Siberia.

As I grew older I learned there are other pledges people take, almost all of which are bad ideas. For example, some people take a “Pledge of Chastity,” which, if the statistics are any indication, is tantamount to a pledge to get pregnant, immediately.

Then there are the loyalty pledges we made people sign during our dark, McCarthy period (I refer to Senator Joseph McCarthy, not Charlie McCarthy, the ventriloquist’s dummy, whose view of anti-communist purges is more ambiguous). Turns out, that people who are disloyal, have absolutely no problem signing loyalty pledges. Go Figure.

I remember taking the Boy Scout pledge. I don’t remember all of it, but part of it was me swearing to be “brave, clean and reverent.” But as a 15 year old, I was a scrungy, blasphemous coward, so clearly that pledge needed some tweaking.

Then there was the “Pledge Pin” where a young man would insert his fraternity pin directly into the pectoral muscles of his best gal. At least that’s what I did. Maybe that’s why I never got second dates. And then some pledge their “troth,” and who the hell knows what a “troth” is?

The point is that most pledges are a bad idea. They usually involve promises to do things that you know won’t feel right or won’t be right in days to come. That’s why you take the pledge now. You are saying:

“No matter what happens in the future, no matter what facts change, or what circumstances change, or how I change, I am pledging to this bone-headed thing, no matter what. So help me God.”

Let me give you an example. suppose I take the “No Right Turn Pledge,” which says as follows:

I __________, am of reasonable intelligence. This means I am not as dumb as a ________, nor is my name _____W. ___. I hereby pledge, when driving on the streets of Pennsylvania, that I verily, and with utmost rectitude, will never, under any circumstances, make a “right turn,” or “right hand turn” as people who need extra help call it.

I shall refrain from turning right even if I am driving straight and my destination is on the right. Or, if I am heading towards a brick wall and my breaks fail, and there’s a huge cliff on the left. Or, lets say I see a big sign that says “Lots of Money ahead, on right!!!”  Nope not even then.
By my Hand  _________________

Seems kind of silly, huh? Well, our governor has signed a pledge which makes the “No Right Turn” thing seem like pure genius. I refer to the “The Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”

This is a pledge written by a man named Grover Norquist, who has, to my knowledge, never even been to Pennsylvania (he may have taken a pledge not to), but who nonetheless appears to be running the state.

Mr. Norquist’s pledge requires the signer to never, ever vote to create a new tax or increase an existing one. It does not matter how low the existing tax rate is, what kind of tax would be raised, what it would go for, how dire the state’s fiscal situation is or how tiny the increase would be.

So even if the rapture did happen on May 21 (and I’m quite sure the guy is right about the new date) and we needed a small tax on… say… cigars to help deal with all of the unexpected rivers of molten lava and swarms of locusts, that would be unacceptable to Grover.

This pledge applies under absolutely all circumstances. If it only applied when it made sense, you wouldn’t need a pledge. That would be a no-brainer and not require the services of Mr. Norquist.

Recently, some in the legislature suggested that we charge the Marcellus Shale drilling industry a “local impact fee” to help defray the costs of the damage they do to the communities where they drill. The supporters of this proposal made it very clear that this was not a “tax.” It was a “fee.” You can tell because “tax” and “fee” aren’t even spelled the same. Plus, the money raised would not go to educating kids or giving medicine to sick people, or any other part of the radical, Kenyan Socialist agenda. Surely, Grover Norquist would smile on this.

But alas unicorns, it was not to be. Grover, communing with the Spirit of Jack Kemp, as well as the spirits of the Koch Brothers, who while not actually dead, are too rich to require physical bodies, issued his edict. This fee was really a tax, and would be a violation of The Pledge.

So apparently, because the Governor signed this ridiculous pledge to ignore all facts forever, our hands are tied. Grover Norquist rules the day, despite the fact that this does great damage to our state, despite the fact that he was never elected to anything in Pennsylvania, and despite the fact that his name is Grover.

I have an idea for a pledge. It goes something like this…

“I, ______ hereby pledge that I will address every public policy question with an open mind, and that I will consider all the facts and do my best to do what’s right for the people of Pennsylvania, without regard to rigid ideologies, or bone-headed pledges written by dudes I’ve never met named “Grover.”

In the name of Zeus ____________

Done. Now I’m off to put my troth on EBay.

Daylin

Agreement Among States to Elect President by National Popular Vote

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States. The bill ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election.

The bill has been enacted by the District of Columbiaand 8 states (VT, MD, WA, IL, NJ, MA, CA, HI) shown in green on the map. They total 132 electoral votes bringing us almost halfway towards the 270 necessary to activate the National Popular Vote.

Eleven more states (shown in purple) have passed NPV bills in at least one chamber of their legislature. For example, recently the Republican-controlled New York Senate passed NPV in a 47-13 vote. Republicans supported the bill 21-11 while Democrats supported it 26-2. Across the country, NPV has been endorsed by 2,124 state legislators.

The shortcomings of the current system stem from the winner-take-all rule (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state).

The winner-take-all rule has permitted a candidate to win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide in 4 of our 56 elections – 1 in 14 times. A shift of 60,000 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have elected Kerry despite Bush’s nationwide lead of 3,000,000.

Another shortcoming of the winner-take-all rule is that presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the concerns of voters in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign visits and ad money in the November general election campaign in just six closely divided “battleground” states — with 98% going to 15 states. This makes two thirds of the states mere spectators. (The maps on the left show a similar situation during the final five weeks of the 2004 Bush-Kerry election. Each purple hand represents a visit from a presidential or vice-presidential candidate and each dollar sign represents $1,000,000 spent on TV advertising.)

The winner-take-all rule treats voters supporting the candidate who comes in second place in a particular state as if they supported the candidate that they voted against.

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives the states exclusive control over the manner of awarding their electoral votes:

“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”

The winner-take-all rule is not in the Constitution. It was used by only three states in our nation’s first election in 1789. The current method of electing the President was established by state laws, and that these state laws may be changed at any time.

Under the National Popular Vote bill, all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes – that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).

The bill preserves the Electoral College, while assuring that every vote is equal and that every vote will matter in every state in every presidential election.

The bill has been endorsed by New York Times, Sacramento Bee, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times, Common Cause, FairVote, LWVUS, and NAACP.


As seen in this state polls are extremely favorable. Supports ranges from a “low” of 67% in Arizona to a high of 83% in Tennessee. On this map, shades of blue represent the highest support and 50/50 support would be represented in purple.

The movement for the National Popular Vote is bipartisan: The national advisory board includes former Senators Jake Garn (R-UT), Birch Bayh (D-IN), and David Durenberger (R-MN) as well as former congressmen John Anderson (R-IL, I), John Buchanan (R-AL), Tom Campbell (R-CA), and Tom Downey (D-NY). Former Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) and Governors Bob Edgar (R-IL) and Chet Culver (D-IA) are champions.

This Spring, Pennsylvania House Bill 1270 was introduced by Rep. Tom C. Creighton (R-Lancaster County) and Senate Bill 1116 was introduced by Senators Alloway, Argall, Boscola, Erickson, Fontana, Leach, Mensch, Solobay, Vance and Waugh. These bills have not yet be acted upon action by the State Government Committees.

Additional information is available in the book Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Electing the President by National Popular Vote.

Pennsylvania poll results follow the jump.

To support National Popular Vote efforts, donate money, contact your state legislator and get involved.
Pennsylvanians Strongly Support Popular Vote for President

Two out of three Pennsylvanians believe the President should be the candidate who “gets the most votes in all 50 states”, according to a recent poll conducted by noted Political Science Professor Dr. Terry Madonna.

The strong showing came in Madonna’s March Omnibus Poll involving a telephone survey of more than 800 Pennsylvania residents and voters. Among those interviewed, seven in ten agreed “it would be unjust to have a President who did not receive the most popular votes.”

The survey findings were released by the National Popular Vote Project even as state House and Senate sponsors are garnering additional support for enabling legislation on the matter.

Madonna said polling showed bipartisan public support for the project. “A clear majority of Republicans and Democrats favor popular voting in place of the Electoral College’s current method for choosing the President,” Madonna said. “The fundamental reasons the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College system no longer exist, and the voters of Pennsylvania understand that.”

The prime sponsor of the legislation in the House, Republican state Rep. Tom Creighton of Lancaster County, is quick to point out that his legislation (HB 1270) does not seek to supplant the Electoral College, but rather seeks to direct the electors as provided in the U.S. Constitution.

The Constitution, Creighton notes, spells out in Article II, Section 1, that only the state legislatures may set rules on electors and that, in fact, the term “Electoral College” does not appear in the Constitution.

“Right now, most states allow electors to abide by a ‘winner take all’ approach which casts all of a state’s electoral college votes for the candidate who wins that state,” no matter if the candidate wins by a single vote or in a landslide. That “winner take all” practice has resulted in four elections where the candidate who received the most popular votes was not seated as President. A half dozen other elections resulted in “near misses.”

Only about one in four persons surveyed believe that electing a President by the national popular vote will favor one party over another. And of those who believe that, there is a clear split over which party would be favored.

Support was strong for the popular vote across the state although the most vigorous support was noted in Northwestern Pennsylvania, where 72% supported the concept. Philadelphia and suburban counties came next with 69% supporting a National Popular Vote. 63% supported the concept in both Southwestern(including Pittsburgh) and Northeastern Pennsylvania. A clear majority (58%) supported the idea in Central Pennsylvania.

The Madonna survey included the questions on the presidential election at the request of the National Popular Vote Project, a non-partisan, non-profit organization promoting the issue nationwide. Interviews were conducted with 807 residents, of whom 659 were registered voters, using a random digit telephone number selection system that allowed for the inclusion of cell phone users, in addition to regular landline respondents. The sample error was plus or minus 3.4%.

Results in the survey were similar to those reported in a 2008 automated survey of more than 1,000 Pennsylvania voters conducted by Public Policy Polling. In that poll about 70% favored the election of the President by the national popular vote.

Stealing PA’s Electoral Votes: Have you no sense of decency?


— by State Senator Daylin Leach      

In America, we don’t elect our presidents directly. Each state elects representatives to the “electoral college”, which technically “elects” our president. For the past 224 years, since the first time we elected George Washington President, Pennsylvania has joined virtually every other state in casting all of its electoral votes for the presidential candidate who won the state’s popular vote. This has always made Pennsylvania a critical state in national elections because of the number of electoral votes we deliver.

On September 12, Governor Corbett endorsed changing our system and instead awarding one electoral vote to a presidential candidate for each congressional district they win. It is important to be clear. This is an obscene, transparent, blatantly partisan change in the rules, designed for one purpose only; to help Republican Presidential candidates. Republican leaders are distressed that their candidates have lost Pennsylvania in the past five elections, and they wish to correct this problem, not by fielding better candidates or making more compelling arguments, but by stacking the deck to ensure their nominees receive the majority of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, regardless of how the people of our state actually vote.    

We should be extremely suspicious anytime one political party unilaterally tries to directly affect the outcome of future elections. In this case, the Republicans in Harrisburg want to award electoral votes according to congressional districts. And who is drawing those congressional districts? Harrisburg Republicans! They control the congressional redistricting process completely. So they will essentially be deciding ahead of time just how many votes to guarantee future Republican presidential candidates. In fact, the congressional redistricting now occurring is likely to create 12 solidly Republican districts and 6 Democratic ones. This assures any Republican presidential candidate a clear majority of the state’s electoral votes. This means that your vote in the presidential election will be meaningless.

Not only will our votes as individuals be rendered useless, this plan will also end Pennsylvania’s status as a battleground state and will make us completely irrelevant to presidential campaigns. Why should candidates come here when we will know in advance what the final electoral vote count will be? Presidential candidates will spend far more of their time in states where electoral votes will actually be in play. It is extremely strange and distressing that our governor is pushing a plan that would make Pennsylvania matter less in national politics.

Notice that Republicans who control states that Republican presidential candidates usually win show absolutely no interest in changing their rules. We won’t be seeing this proposal moving in Texas or Mississippi. It is only states that Republicans currently control, but which tend to vote Democratic in national elections which will see the rules of their elections altered. Any change to our electoral college should be adopted uniformly across the nation, with buy-in from both red and blue states so there is no effort to rig future elections.

The Governor gives lip service to improving our electoral system. However, this bill has nothing to do with good government. It is simply a partisan power-grab. If Governor Corbett was really interested in improving Pennsylvania’s electoral structure, he would support bi-partisan proposals such as early voting, no-excuse absentee voting or a national popular vote. But he opposes all of these. Instead, the governor supports this bill, as well as additional legislation which will make it harder for people who disproportionately do not vote Republican to vote at all, such as requiring photo ID every time someone goes to the polls. This will disenfranchise millions of the poor, the elderly, and those who live in cities. In the past, there were times when Democrats have controlled the whole process. They could have passed anything they wished, and when it comes to substantive policy, they often did. But nobody ever attempted to abuse their temporary control to fix future elections. As the prime sponsor of redistricting reform, I find it particularly disheartening that this proposal will make gerrymandering an even more entrenched part of the system. This is extremely disappointing coming from a governor who ran on a promise to reform our political system.

Elections in a democracy are sacred. Permanently changing the rules which were created by our founders and which we’ve all lived by for centuries, in order to benefit your political party is profoundly wrong. It desecrates our history and is a repugnant attack on the very core of our nationhood. The governor’s endorsement of this profanity brings to mind the famous words of Joseph Welch spoken to Senator Joe McCarthy during another attack on the basic structure of our democracy. “Have you no sense of decency?”

Are Vouchers Good For Our Kids?


As the Pennsylvania General Assembly takes up the subject of school vouchers in September, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network will hold a discussion of vouchers at noon on Thursday, September 8, 2011 at Duane Morris LLP, 30 South 17th Street, Philadelphia. Register for details and to attend this event at 215-635-2664.

The speakers will be Pennsylvania Senators Anthony Williams and Daylin Leach. Last February, Marty Moss-Coane moderated a school voucher debate on Radio Times between William and Leach debated school.

Listen to the MP3.

Let’s Privatize the Legislature

— PA State Rep. Daylin Leach (D-17)

Governor Corbett really likes Commissions. In his short tenure he has appointed several to deal with issues such as Transportation, Marcellus Shale, and the role of Government.

Commissions can be very useful, particularly if you, like Governor Corbett, stack them with people who are already committed to recommending what you have already decided to do. For example, the Marcellus Shale Commission was composed largely of administration officials, energy executives and advocates from groups like “People for a More Noxious Tomorrow”.

I adopted a similar strategy recently when I had a dispute with my friend Walter. We were having a fight over which one of us is the bigger Dufus (it is a fight we frequently have). So I appointed a Commission to explore the matter composed of me, my mom, and 3 dudes who owe me money. Oddly, the Commission still found that I was the bigger Dufus (the evidence was compelling).

I am particularly intrigued by his new commission on privatization. The purpose of this commission is to find the “core functions” of government and to privatize everything else. I worry that the Commission will find that there are no core functions of government, particularly since the Chair of the Commission is also the President of the “There Are No Core Functions of Government” Foundation.

But I always try to be a “when-in-Rome” kind of guy. So I have a suggestion for the new Commission on something we can privatize, Let’s privatize the legislature!!!

More after the jump.
I know what some of you are thinking; Isn’t making laws a core function of government? Well that’s the sort of loathsome Socialist monkey-crap I’ve come to expect from your type (howdy mom!). Since the private sector does everything better, wouldn’t it obviously do a better job at making laws? Here’s how it would work:

We could keep the same number of seats we currently have in both the House and the Senate. But instead of electing people to fill those seats, we’d sell them, to the highest bidders. To be fair, the poor would have the same chance as corporate CEOs to bid for these seats.

This would have two huge advantages over the current system. First, we could then use the money raised by selling the seats to plough back into tax-breaks for the corporations that bought the seats in the first place. See, its Win-Win (a big “win” for the corporation. I’m still working on who the other “winner” is). Second, if we know that a particular seat was bought by Conoco Energy, it would save lobbyists time in unnecessary persuasion.

We could also make money selling naming rights. Think of the added cache our legislative chambers would have with the right branding. I think we all agree that the term “House of Representatives” is a bit stuffy. But the tourists would flock to, say “Keebler’s Law-a-Pallooza”. The Senate could be ‘Exxon-Ville” and the decor could be changed slightly from a Roman theme to more of a Fossil-Fuel Extraction motiff.

Think of the money we could raise (and give away to billionaires) if we could name the capitol building itself the “Cialis Center”. We could install adjacent bathtubs in the rotunda with sculptures of Ben Franklin and William Penn sitting in tubs next to each other looking pleased that their state was thriving, and that their genitals were working as intended.

In fact, our tax-pledge friend Grover Nordquist once said he wanted to “shrink government to the size where he could drown it in a bathrub”. He could use one of our Cialis tubs to do that, although he would have to work around a pharmacalogically aroused Ben Franklin.

Look, some people say our government is for sale already as big campaign contributions beget even bigger tax-breaks and subsidies to people who don’t actually need them. Why not just embrace that? What has democracy given us other than a social safety-net, clean air and some really annoying regulations about sending 6 year olds into sulfer mines?

A private legislature, on the other hand, could give us what Pennsylvania really needs. Blue-light specials on school funding, 2-1 deals on tax cuts, Instead of passing resolutions about Diabetes Week or recognizing some soft-ball team, we could pass resolutions honoring “The People who Own Us”. And to think, people claim I don’t do enough to support the private sector.  

Musing on Friction

— State Senator Daylin Leach

I like to think of myself as a pretty worldly guy. I’ve been to the rodeo. I’ve eaten the Easter Peeps. I’ve paid full price for a muffler. But every once in a while, something so outrageous, so off-the-charts awful happens (like Celine Dion making a new album) that even I am shocked.

Such a thing happened last Tuesday in Harrisburg when our new Governor, Tom Corbett gave his budget address. I entered the Hall of the House for the joint session all prepared. I had my ankle warmers and flask of hot cocoa, because one can get cold in the capitol. The Senator sitting next to me had his flask of Jaegermeister, because one can get sober in the capitol.

I was wearing my “Tony Luke’s Makes the Best Sausage” T-Shirt (I get a small fee) and my giant foam hand with extended index finger in case Corbett mentioned Temple University and my jar of mace, in case… well… just in case.

The governor’s speech started off promisingly enough in that he didn’t trip walking up the stairs. That is no small thing. In 1822 Governor Joseph Heister fell off of the dais during his budget address and hit his head. For the rest of his term he could not be persuaded that he wasn’t a large chicken, which led to some very restrictive, yet innovative agricultural legislation.

While there was much in Mr. Corbett’s budget I disagreed with, that is for another day. After the address was over, I dragged my neighboring Senator (he finished his flask) back to his office and started lazily paging through the 1,124 page Policy Statement which accompanied the budget. In it, I found something truly shocking.

Governor Corbett included the following paragraph which set forth a new policy on how we regulate. It turns out that the Governor wants a “friction free” relationship between regulators and the industries they regulate.

Regulatory Reform: Friction-free processes for government interaction with job creators are critical to maintain economic momentum and competitiveness. State government needs to be a partner with job creators. To address the length of time agencies take to act on permits and eliminate permit backlogs, PennDOT and DEP have begun auditing and assessing all of their permit processes to make them more responsive to the needs of job creators. In addition, the DCED secretary is empowered to expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.”

This is troubling. “Friction-free” relationships are very rare in the best of circumstances. I haven’t had a friction free relationship since my imaginary friend Dodo, when I was a kid. But by the time I turned 40, even he came to loath me.

Historically, friction doesn’t arise because regulators like Woody Allen movies and Industrialists don’t. There is only one reason for “friction,” which is that industry doesn’t like to be told they can’t dump poisons in lakes or mercury in the air or have to give their workers bathroom breaks. So in other words, a “friction-free” environment sounds frightfully like a regulation free environment.

Things then go from bad to worse. Under this new policy directive, those who head our regulatory agencies (the Secretaries of Department of Environmental Protection, Labor and Industry, etc.) will lose their power to make regulatory decisions.

Now, in order “to be more responsive to the needs of job-creators” (very little is ever said about the needs of “job-doers“) the Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development is “empowered to expedite any permit or other action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.”

Ok, lets stop there. What will our actual regulators now do since they are losing their ability to regulate. One word… Yahtzee!!

Keep in mind, that this strips the departments of their control over when to issue permits, and “any…other action.” Presumably going to the rest room now requires a call to DCED.

Of course, this only applies if “creation of jobs may be impacted.” I suppose this could have been broader. It could apply “only if air is being breathed somewhere” or “only if Lindsey Lohan is getting arrested.” But this is pretty darn broad.

Any regulation could theoretically impact the creation of jobs. For example if a regulation says you have to clean up a stream you polluted, that will cost money that could have gone to hire someone to dump more pollution into that stream. Or if a regulation says you can’t beat employees with rubber tubing, the guy who beats folks is suddenly on the street.

Finally its bad enough that there is a guy whose job is to stop health, safety, worker and consumer regulations. But its even worse when you realize who that guy is. The head of DCED is a man named C. Alan Walker.

Let me start off by saying that I do not know Mr. Walker. I have never met him. He may be a perfectly delightful man. Maybe he buys flowers for his wife on her birthday. Maybe he buys flowers for my wife on her birthday. God knows someone should. That said, his public record does not instill great confidence that he will be a strict guardian of our safety.

First, he has given $184,000 to Governor Corbett over the years. That sounds like a Kool-Aid drinker to me. I don’t have many $184,000 donors (although I am open to meeting them!). But if I did, I doubt I’d have a very arms-length relationship with them.

He is also the head of one coal company and has an ownership interest in an unknown number of other coal companies. That is also strange. At any given time, I know exactly how many coal companies I own. He also has a history of polluting and refusing to clean up until a court makes him.

More after the jump.
One Senator said to me that he’s not surprised that the Corbett Administration is doing this. He’s just surprised that they are saying it out loud. (No, this was not the Senator with the empty flask). But I disagree. Nothing like this has ever been done in the United States before, ever. This looks to be a hyper-aggressive move to gut our health and safety laws for the benefit of wealthy corporations. I’m starting to miss Governor Heister.  

Holocaust Denier at Lincoln University


Professor Kaukab Siddique at Lincoln University has recently been writing and speaking about Israel, the Holocaust and the Jewish people in an extremely offensive way. Since Lincoln University is supported through our tax dollars as part of the Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth System of Higher Education, State Senator Daylin Leach has organized an effort to prevent students of history in our state from being taught a revisionist, anti-Semitic version of history.

Lincoln University is an outstanding institution of higher learning. Distinguished alumni include Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, writer Langston Hughes, as well as the founders of South Carolina State University, Livingstone University, Albany State University, Texas Southern University, Ibibio State College (Nigeria) and the Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology (Ghana). It is a shame for Prof. Siddique to sully the reputation of Lincoln University.

Sen. Daylin Leach and numerous other members of the State Assembly have sent the following letter to Lincoln University President Ivory Nelson. The letter quotes Prof. Siddique’s at length to make clear how unacceptable he is as a “teacher of history.”

If your State Senator and State Representative are not on this list, please contact them and encourage them to sign on. (Please post a comment below to indicate their response.)

President Ivory V. Nelson, Ph.D.
Lincoln University
1570 Baltimore Pike,
P.O. Box 179
Lincoln University, PA 19352

Dear President

        As members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly we, as I’m sure you know, not only support Lincoln University financially, we also have a high regard for the University’s excellent reputation and a large stake in its future success. Given this, we maintain a keen interest in what is happening at Lincoln, and how it affects the image of the school, and by extension, our image as a state.

        It has recently come to our attention that Lincoln employs a literature professor by the name of Kaukab Siddique. Mr. Siddique  has written an article and appeared in a video in which he denies that the Holocaust happened, calls for the destruction of Israel through the use of violence, and calls Jewish people a whole series of offensive names.

        With regards to the Holocaust, Mr. Siddique writes:

“Open up the DISCUSSION of the HOLOCAUST story. What did really happen in World War II? The Auschwitz “gas chambers” story has been meticulously analyzed, rebutted and destroyed by critics like Mark Weber, David Irving. Germar Rudolf and Wilhelm Staeglich. These are scholars following the highest levels of scholarship. Notice that the chain bookstores do not carry their books and the corporate media simply don’t mention them. Read even one of them and you’ll be rid of the holocaust myth forever. Don’t take the “holocaust” issue lightly. It is the main source of funds for international Jewry. It is Israel’s milk cow.”

       With regards to Israel, Mr. Siddique writes:

“Israel is an ILLEGITIMATE, TERRORIST entity…DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH JEWS unless they clearly say that Israel is illegitimate. If you are careless, you might find that you have a doctor or a lawyer who supports Israel. You can pick and choose lawyers and doctors. Rabbis are the worst of the lot.”

       Regarding Jews, Mr. Siddique refers to them as “the hydra-headed monster” and “the devil who resides in Tel Aviv”. Further, he asserts:

“The Jews are a small minority in America, yet they have taken over this country by devious and immoral means. They control the government, the media, education, the libraries, the book chains, the banks, Hollywood, Wall Street, Madison Avenue.”

      For reasons which I am sure are obvious, this sort of rhetoric raises concerns.  We support academic freedom and certainly a professor has the right to criticize Israel, or any other entity or policy he wishes. However, we are all familiar with the adage “you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts”. I think this applies in this case. The Holocaust is not a theory or opinion, it is historically documented fact, denied only by those with a hateful anti-Semitic agenda.

     We are hoping that you can provide some clarification on a number of issues begged by Mr. Siddique’s conduct.

  1. What level of awareness did Lincoln’s administration have of Mr. Siddique’s propensity to engage in the sort of speech described above when he was hired and awarded tenure?
  2. Are Mr. Siddique’s anti-Semitic diatribes any part of his class-room presentation, or other presentations outside oft he classroom but on campus?
  3. What steps are being taken to ensure that Mr. Siddique is not teaching students at Lincoln University that the Holocaust is a myth, and is not perpetrating false and derogatory information regarding people of the Jewish faith?

    We appreciate your prompt response and very much look forward to hearing from you. You may reply to me and I will pass along your reply to my caucus.

Very Truly Yours,

  • State Senator Daylin Leach, District 17
  • State Senator Jane Orie, District 40
  • State Senator Vincent Hughes, District 7
  • State Senator Anthony Williams, District 8
  • State Representative Bryan Cutler, District 100
  • State RepresentativeGordon Denlinger, District 99
  • State Representative Eugene DePasquale, District 95
  • State Representative Russ Fairchild, District 85
  • State Representative Florindo Fabrizio, District 2
  • State Representative Dan Frankel, District 23
  • State Representative Mike Fleck, District 81
  • State Representative Robert Freeman, District 136
  • State Representative Pat Harkins, District 1
  • State Representative Phyllis Mundy, District 120
  • State Representative Harry Readshaw, District 36
  • State Representative Ken Smith, District 112
  • State Representative Dick Stevenson, District 8
  • State Representative Rose-Marie Swanger, District 102
  • State Representative Katie True, District 41