Pennsylvania Delegation Announces Their Votes – Video

Governor Tom Wolf

Governor Tom Wolf

On Tuesday evening, July 26, history was make when Hillary Clinton officially became the first woman nominated for president by a major political party. Here is the transcript of Pennsylvania’s announcement of their vote. The video of the proceedings is linked below. [Read more…]

Win One State and Become President

tckThe 2016 presidential election has been unprecedented already in so many ways, but it may be holding its biggest surprise for last, and by “last,” I mean January 2017.

Political analysts are focused on the Republican nominating contest. Some believe that Donald Trump may amass 1,237 delegates and win the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Others believe that no one will win a majority on the first ballot and in subsequent ballots the “Trump” delegates (who in many cases are not chosen by the Trump campaign) would coalesce in support of a Republican more palatable to the establishment.

Riot-control gear being acquired by Cleveland in preparation for the RNC.

Riot-control gear being acquired by Cleveland in preparation for the RNC.

I think either outcome is fairly likely. In any case there are likely to be a large number of unhappy campers at the Republican National Convention.
[Read more…]

EITC: A Tax Scam in Sheep’s Clothing

greedypersonIn 2001, the Pennsylvania legislature created the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC) in order to encourage companies to donate money to private schools. This program – little known and even less understood – expanded over the years to the point where it has distorted an act of charitable generosity into a accounting trick stealing money from the public treasury and actually paying schools only a fraction of the money lost.

While Pennsylvania’s legislature is unable to agree on a budget, EITC has grown into a bonanza for those willing to game the tax system. Here is how it works: A profitable company or a group of high-income tax payers have a total annual income of $22 million. Normally, Pennsylvania would tax this income at a rate of 3.07%, yielding $675,000 per year to help fund all the needs of our commonwealth including the most underfunded public schools.

However, under this law, the company could commit itself (over the next two years) to “generously” donate $750,000 per year to their favorite education school or scholarship fund. They are then able to use 90% of the value of their donation (i.e. $675,000) as a credit against their obligations to support the needs of our tax. This completely offsets their state obligation!

If we stopped our calculations at this point it would be bad enough. The group or company would be taking $675,000 from the coffers of the state at a net cost of only $75,000 to themselves. This money wouldn’t necessarily go to meet the state’s educational priorities with a public school system plagued with crumbling infrastructure. Instead it would go to whatever elite private institution was lucky enough to have benefactors with such large tax bills which they need to offset, and the tax/legal-savvy to form the fictive corporations necessary to exploit this fiscal loophole.

Yes, we should give more money to schools, but money should go to schools according to their need, not according to the luck of the draw and the whims of the elite. This credit is only available to the wealthiest citizens and corporations. Accordingly, low-income Pennsylvanians pay the full 3.08% state income tax while their high-income counterparts can offset all or most of their tax obligation.

The government should strive to make the best use of its revenue. Call your State Representative and State Senator and tell them to end this insane system of Orwellian accounting which rewards self-interested manipulation in the name of so-called charity.

Full disclosure: I personally benefit from EITC with my donations to Jewish schools. While I oppose the concept, it is currently legal though capped at $75 million. I rationalize my participation in this program arguing that the money will go to an elite school to the benefit of some high-income taxpayer whether I participate or not, so why not me and the schools I support. Meanwhile, I am calling for an end to EITC in Pennsylvania.

Take Action to End Gerrymandering

PA-177-District

Pennsylvania’s 177th Legislative District carves out a Republican stronghold in Philadelphia. Image: BallotPedia.

(JSPAN) Pennsylvania has some of the most gerrymandered political districts in the country. The Jewish Social Policy Action Network has long supported the creation of an independent redistricting system to restore competitive elections and government accountability and action to improve the Commonwealth’s process for reapportionment and redrawing of electoral districts.

Toward these goals, the JSPAN Board recently voted to join with the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and independent citizens across the Commonwealth in a coalition endorsing the efforts of Fair Districts PA to ensure fair districts and fair elections for voters in Pennsylvania. We believe that redistricting should be done in a manner that is transparent, impartial and fair. [Read more…]

New Dem. Leadership in PA & MontCo

Marcel Groen

Marcel Groen

— by Tom Infield

Marcel L. Groen, elected in September as the State Democratic Chairman in Pennsylvania, stepped down from his position as leader of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee on Thursday evening, saying it was time for him to turn over the reins of the local party and to give his full attention to crucial statewide races in 2016.

He is a member of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park where he was vice-president. Over the years Marcel has held a number of other positions of leadership in our Jewish community: He was board member of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce, board member of Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, president of Bucks County Jewish National, and vice-president of Solomon Schechter Day Schools.

Montgomery County Democratic Committee Officers: (Left to right) Olivia Brady, Jason Salus, Chairman Joe Foster, Jeanne Democratic Area Leader for Abington and Rockledge, Jeanne  Sorg, Veronica Hill-Milbourne, and Michael Barbiero.

Montgomery County Democratic Committee Officers: (Left to right) Olivia Brady, Jason Salus, Chairman Joe Foster, Jeanne
Democratic Area Leader for Abington and Rockledge, Jeanne Sorg, Veronica Hill-Milbourne, and Michael Barbiero.

The party’s Executive Committee, meeting in Plymouth Meeting, voted unanimously to select Joseph Foster, who had been First Vice Chairman, as the new Chairman. Foster hailed Groen for his 21 years of leadership and pledged to continue the unity and inclusiveness that enabled Democrats to achieve a historic first on November 3 by winning every county government office.

“The Montgomery County Democratic Party is large and vibrant and growing,” said Foster, who is a professor of American history at Temple University and serves on the county’s Board of Assessment.

“I have learned over time that the most important thing we do is stay in the same boat rowing in the same direction,” Foster told the Executive Committee. “Unity is our success. As long as we stay together, we will be successful.”

Jason Salus, re-elected as Montgomery County Treasurer on November 3, was unanimously selected as the party’s first vice chairman. Michael Barbiero, an attorney and Democratic Area Leader for Abington and Rockledge, was unanimously chosen to fill the position of party
Treasurer that was held by Salus.

The party’s ongoing leadership includes Jeanne Sorg, the newly elected county Recorder of Deeds, as Second Vice Chair; Veronica Hill-Milbourne as Corresponding Secretary, and Olivia Brady as Recording Secretary.

Groen, an attorney who was first chosen as party Chairman in 1994, said he was leaving with mixed emotions.

“This is really bittersweet for me,” Groen told the Executive Committee, which filled a large meeting room at the AFSCME offices on Walton Road. “You and this party have been an important part of my life.”

Two decades ago, Groen noted, Democrats were a minority in Montgomery County. The party trailed badly in voter registration, had only one Representative in the state Legislature, and held no competitive county offices. Now, the party holds a big lead in registration, has a large and growing delegation in Harrisburg, and dominates at the county level. The county has also grown into a major power base for the statewide Democratic Party, delivering large margins on November 3 for all of the statewide Democratic court nominees.

Groen praised the work of Democratic workers and volunteers at all levels of the county party, and said it was their willingness to sacrifice for the common good that made success possible. He also praised the work of the Montgomery County Democratic Party staff, led by Executive Director Dianna DiIllio and Political Director Joe Graeff.

Joe Foster

Joe Foster, the newly elected chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee. Photo: Bonnie Squires

Foster earned his Ph.D. from Temple in 1989 and began full-time teaching in 2009. For two decades, he worked on a research and publication project sponsored by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the National Endowment for the Humanities that focused on the state’s early history.

He and his wife, Debby, are parents of four grown children. They live in Bala Cynwyd where they are members of Lower Merion Synagogue.

Penn. Voting Technology Enters 21st Century

votePennsylvanians are now able to register to vote online, thanks to the efforts of Governor Tom Wolf’s administration. This is not a misprint!

The process is relatively straightforward, as the diagram to the right shows.

*October 5 is the registration deadline for the November 3, 2015 general election.*

This crucial election will determine not only control of city councils, county commissioners and school boards, but also the all-important Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The upcoming state redistricting will largely determine the balance of control in the state’s legislature and Congressional delegation, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will surely be called upon to settle disputes regarding this redistricting just as they have done in the past.

The new online process can be used by individuals registering for the first time, or for individuals who are already registered but have moved, changed their name, or want to change their party affiliation. Pennsylvanians can still use paper forms to register or change their registration info, if they prefer.

To register to vote for the first time in Pennsylvania, a person must be a U.S. citizen and a resident of the Pennsylvania district in which they want to vote for at least one month before the next election. They also must be at least 18 years of age on or before the day of the next primary, special, municipal, or general election.

DNC national director of voter expansion, Pratt Wiley, applauded Governor Wolf’s initiative:

Every day, Americans go online to pay bills, trade stocks, and even adjust the temperature in their homes – there’s no reason why Americans shouldn’t be able to use these tools to register to vote.

Democrats believe our nation and our democracy are stronger when more people participate, not less. That’s why we advocate for commonsense solutions like online voter registration and why we remain committed to ensuring that every eligible voter is able to register, every registered voter is able to vote, and every vote is counted.

Pennsylvania now joins 27 other states currently offering or implementing online voter registration.

Please share this information with others, particularly new residents in your neighborhood and younger people who will be turning 18 this fall. More details are available online.

Eliminating Background Checks Puts Guns in Wrong Hands

handgun_sales[1](CeasefirePA) Last April, State Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46) introduced legislation that would eliminate the state background check system.

Do you know what happened with the Charleston shooter’s background check? Did he pass it? Did he fail?

This is what happened: The background check was never completed. Most background checks take just minutes for an approval or denial to register. But some take a bit longer, and under federal law, if a clear answer does not come back in three days, the seller can sell the gun.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) allows extra time for a background check to be completed. The default is to protect safety, not to let a sale go through in the absence of a completed check.

PICS and the federal system work in tandem to keep Pennsylvania safe. We are fortunate to have this system in Pennsylvania. But the gun lobby does not like it, and is pushing a bill that would eliminate it.

Moving forward with this means putting guns in the hands of people who are dangerous. As we saw with the tragedy in Charleston, allowing sales to go forward without a completed check can be a death sentence for mothers, fathers and children.

Bipartisan Group Tackles Redistricting Reform in Harrisburg

— Charles M. Tocci

Calling it an “imperative” first step to any government reform initiative, a bipartisan, bicameral group of Pennsylvania lawmakers today announced the formation of a legislative workgroup aimed at hammering out redistricting reform legislation.

“Modern day government has deteriorated into a politically tainted, polarized and gridlocked force that is more about self-preservation than representative government,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton). “This bipartisan effort is not about whether we need to change redistricting, but how we should change it.”

The number of interactions between cross-party pairs has decreased drastically from 1949 to 2011. (Image: Clio Andris)

The number of interactions between cross-party pairs has decreased drastically from 1949 to 2011. (Image: Clio Andris)

The lawmakers claim that Pennsylvania’s many oddly shaped, gerrymandered districts have created politically impenetrable fiefdoms that pressure lawmakers to toe the party line at the expense of bipartisanship and compromise. A recent Penn State study concluded that members of Congress are now nearly seven times less likely to cross-vote on issues than they were a few decades ago. In the 112th Congress (2011-2013), just 7 of the 444 members accounted for 98.3% of all cross-votes.

Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) noted, “We’ve heard our constituents’ ask for a more accountable government and a more open and transparent redistricting process in Pennsylvania. I hope the formation of this bipartisan redistricting reform group shows that we are listening to those concerns, and we’re ready and willing to work together to overcome current challenges. This is a significant first step toward a bipartisan solution that works for all of Pennsylvania.

Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne) said, “There are some good proposals on the table. This workgroup’s job is to find common ground, draw the best from various ideas, and emerge with a strong bipartisan solution that we can all rally around.”

Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) added, “I believe that the difficulties and delays that plagued Pennsylvania’s last attempt to put together a timely map of legislative districts emphasizes the need to explore new methods of reapportionment in the Commonwealth. For that reason, I am happy to participate in the efforts of this workgroup.”

The lawmakers said it is important that the redistricting reform process take shape this legislative session to have a new system in place when district maps are redrawn again for the 2020 census. To change the redistricting process, the state legislature must pass legislation changing the state’s constitution in two consecutive sessions. Voters must then approve the reform proposal via referendum.

“Our democratic system requires that voters choose their legislators, but our politically motivated redistricting process allows legislators to choose voters instead,” said state Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry). “That must change.”

Lawmakers claim that the last Legislative Reapportionment Commission largely ignored sound redistricting tenants such as contiguity, compactness and community of interest. New legislative maps, which were supposed to be in place for the 2012 elections, were overturned by the state Supreme Court as being “contrary to law.” The decision sent the commission’s lawmakers, lawyers and staffers back to the drawing board and kept old legislative boundaries in place for the 2012 election.

Members of the group pointed out that the method we use for congressional redistricting in Pennsylvania isn’t any better. The 11th Congressional district runs from Adams County to the northern tier, while the 15th Congressional district goes from Easton to Harrisburg, and the 12th Congressional District traverses from Cambria County to the Ohio line.

The legislators said that drawing Congressional districts is more politically charged than drawing the state House and Senate districts because Congressional districts are presented in bill form and goes through the legislative process. A bipartisan reapportionment commission comprised of caucus leaders meets and deliberates on state House and Senate districts before presenting its state legislative redistricting proposal.

Non-partisan map would give Pennsylvania less biased representation in Congress.

Non-partisan map would give Pennsylvania less biased representation in Congress.

(Editor: Stephen Wolf has computed non-partisan maps “that give voters a real choice and allow the majority to have its voice heard.” Here are his maps for Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Wisconsin and other states.
Even more representative maps can be drawn by actively seeking proportional representation and competitive districts instead of ignoring partisanship as Stephen Wolf does.)

Other lawmakers at the news conference included Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna), along with Representatives Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), Dave Parker (R-Monroe) and Steve Also on hand to express their organization’s support for redistricting reform were: Barry Kauffman, Common Cause; Susan Carty, League of Women Voters and Desiree Hung, AARP.

Do We Want Our Judges Picked by the Luck of the Draw?

I recall sometimes going directly from morning services to the polling station on election day. On election day, we recite the Psalm for Tuesday (מזמור שֶׁל יוֹם שלישי) — Psalm 82, which praises G-d who “pronounces judgement over judges.”

The irony is palpable as I am then compelled to pass judgement on Pennsylvania’s judges, and vote on who will be retained as judge and who will pass on to retirement (a veritable judicial ונתנה תוקף).

Most voters are probably like me, without legal training and with no familiarity with any of these judges. In fact, as State Rep. Brian Sims mentioned, the single most determinant factor in predicting the winner of a judicial election is the ballot placement:

It’s time to remove partisan politics and campaign contributions from selecting our judiciary and implement a merit-based system for choosing Pennsylvania’s statewide judges. As you can see from the folks backing this effort, merit selection transcends party lines and geographical divides and pursues just one, clear goal: placing the most qualified and competent jurists in the courtroom.

Do we want our judges picked by the luck of the draw? And do we really want our judges pandering to special interests in order to raise campaign money and create a public name for themselves?

I would rather have judges who interpret the law fairly and protect the rights of minorities against the vagaries of whim of the majority.