If you happened to be living under a rock for the past week, you may not have noticed that we had ourselves an election in Pennsylvania. If you were not under a rock, you know by now that the big Tuesday winners were Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, shocking exactly nobody outside of Ted Cruz. Katie McGinty also easily outpaced her two rivals to capture a shot at taking on U.S. Senator Pat Toomey and his $10 million bankroll. If you’d like a deeper dive on all things electoral, you can check it out here.
Although hard to imagine in today’s climate of fiscal austerity, 20 years ago the commonwealth was rolling in cash. Even though we never used the term, the state was running “structural surpluses” – taxes and other revenue exceeded expenses by hundreds of millions of dollars a year. The state’s two primary pension funds – the Public School Employees Retirement System and the State Employees Retirement System – were well funded with annual returns on investments in the double digits.
The political world was rocked this week when a Pennsylvania court decided to allow Joe Vodvarka’s name to be placed on the Primary Election ballot for U.S. Senate. Joe-mentum is upon us. Oh, sorry Admiral. Maybe it was already upon us.
Thursday was a wild day in your Capital City, to say the least. Bill Clinton kicked off the festivities by doing a tour de force of Harrisburg, stopping at a senior center, a coffee shop and a bookstore before an appearance at a rally in the Keystone Building. But Billy wasn’t the only game in town!
Donald Trump rode into town shortly after Clinton’s departure and appeared before a packed house at the Farm Show Complex. In stark contrast to the former President’s more – ahem – subdued visit, Trump supporters and detractors clashed outside the Farm Show, prompting police to set up a human barricade. http://www.pennlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/04/chaos_descends_on_trump_rally.html#incart_most-read_
After whipping up the college faithful and dear old Penn State this week, Bernie Sanders weighed in on Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny’s proposed sugary drink tax. If you think the Democratic Socialist would be all in favor, think again. Just when you think you know someone…
As an aside, there were also three very loud Bernie Sanders supporters standing on the corner of 2nd and Pine Streets yelling unintelligible things about war, capitalism and “free stuff.” We are not making this up.
Politico reported this week that some of the GOP’s unpledged delegates have been receiving death threats from Trump supporters, with one such delegate having his cell phone inundated with thousands of calls, many of which ended with instructions on the best way for him to kill himself. Ah, making America great is tireless work.
A pro-gun group this week urged its supporters to write in a candidate next Tuesday instead of casting a vote for U.S. Senator Pat Toomey. Apparently, Toomey had the temerity to support tougher background checks, which makes him insufficiently 2nd Amendment-ish for some. The gall.
Stepping out of the political arena for a moment (trust us, you will see enough political ads this weekend to make you insane), there was actual state business going on around here. While all the ink was spilled over Governor Wolf signing the Medical Marijuana bill into law, he also signed the ABLE Act, which will allow Pennsylvania’s people with disabilities to save money tax-free. This was really big news that got swept up in the all weed chatter. Consider this a public service announcement
If you still want to know more about medical marijuana, you can check out this handy Q and A.
To answer the most obvious questions that we have received, in order:
On a related note, we found out this week that some towns in Pennsylvania have ordinances prohibiting landlords from leasing to people with felony drug convictions. We are certainly not lawyers, but we would be shocked if those types of ordinances would withstand legal scrutiny. Yeah, if you have a felony drug conviction, you can buy a house in our town, but cannot rent one. O.K.
Governor Wolf this week signed an Executive Order (he seems to like those things for some reason) that will provide open data on the operation of your state government, right at your fingertips. This will save hackers the time and energy of doing it themselves, we assume. Government that works, folks.
While the General Assembly wrestles with legislation to make ride sharing a permanent fixture in Pennsylvania, the state’s PUC came out this week and walloped Uber with an $11 million fine. Maybe someday when Governor Wolf signs ride sharing legislation into law, we will all look back on this and laugh. Well, maybe not.
Did you know Pennsylvania is building a new prison the size of the Comcast Center in Philadelphia? We assume the hockey played inside of the prison won’t be nearly as exciting as a Flyers game.
Pennsylvania ranks 43rd in spending on public health, according to a report issued this week. If you think public health dollars only go to things like fighting drug addiction, you’d better hope you don’t get bitten by a mosquito this summer. One word: Zika.
Shameless Client Plug Alert! SEIU HealthCare PA and Golden Living, one of the nation’s largest nursing home chains, got together this week for a round of Kumbaya after agreeing to a series of contracts that will put nursing home workers firmly on a path to $15.00/hr. See what happens when we all get along?
And as today is Earth Day, we have another Shameless Client Plug Alert for you, this time from our pals at Pocono Raceway. What could Earth Day and a raceway have in common, you ask? Glad you asked. Check out this story about NASCAR Green, and how our family-owned racetrack in Long Pond is leading the way!
In our We Can’t Make This Up section this week, we take you to jolly old England, where one man built a commemorative shrine to a bag of cookies that fell onto the street. We may have a staffer here at Triad who would do the same thing if she found cookies on the ground on Pine Street. Just sayin’.
That’s what passes for news round here on this pre-election Friday! Come back next week and we will regale you with more tales from the sea, or something! From all your friends at Triad, have a great weekend!
The Triadvocate is a publication of Triad Strategies, LLC, a bipartisan lobbying, public affairs, strategic communications, grassroots advocacy, issue management consulting firm located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders staged a shout-fest last night in Brooklyn. The debate was so cantankerous that at one point the CNN moderator had to ask the crowd to stop heckling. Yeah, good luck with that in Brooklyn. Fuggedaboutit.
If you missed the debate, we have distilled the action down to one, handy clip.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who never was running for President, held a news conference this week to announce that he is still not running for President. This is what we have come to, folks. After saying “no” about 15 times, reporters all raced off to file their obligatory “What did Ryan REALLY mean?” stories.
Donald Trump was in the Steel City this week to announce that, as Commander-in-Chief, he will be bringing back the steel industry. He also intends to bring back Isaly’s chip-chopped ham, Mr. Rogers, Chuck Tanner and Joe Paterno.
In two short days, Governor Tom Wolf will slap his signature on Senate Bill 3 and medical marijuana will indeed be legal in the Keystone State. Hopefully one of our trusted friends in the media is getting ready to write a book on how this issue went from “deader than Dillinger” to final passage. It was truly a remarkable journey.
Against the backdrop of yet another coal company bankruptcy, Democrats in Harrisburg held a confab to discuss the future of clean energy jobs in the Commonwealth just in case Donald Trump is not successful in bringing back coal. It would be nice to have a Plan B, for sure.
After the state budget became the law of the land without the signature of Governor Wolf, there was much rejoicing over at the Public Employees Retirement Commission, as funding for that agency began to flow again. Many will remember that the governor unilaterally shuttered that office, so this action was truly a victory for Big Government.
With the next state budget due in just over two months (we had a hard time typing that without laughing hysterically), lawmakers and the governor are already trading barbs and predicting a long, hot summer. We can’t, people. We just can’t.
Against this backdrop, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack are calling for reform to the budget process by moving Pennsylvania’s budget cycle to two years. Probably worth considering, as the old way of doing business surely isn’t working. Heck, let’s go for three.
The House and Senate this week sent the governor yet another version of the Fiscal Code, and now all eyes are on Wolf to see if he signs, vetoes or punts. As we have mentioned before, the Fiscal Code is sort of the operating manual for the budget, so it’s kind of important. The bone of contention is once again the Basic Education Funding Formula, which all sides agree upon but can’t agree when it should go into effect. We wish we were making that up.
A pair of midstate lawmakers is working to enhance Pennsylvania’s distracted driving law by making it illegal to talk on a hand-held device while driving. Now if we could only make Justin Bieber music illegal in cars, none of us will ever be distracted again.
Speaking of the midstate, plans are afoot to film a new movie called “Meltdown” in the Harrisburg area, and the casting calls have already gone out for extras. We will let you guess what the topic of “Meltdown” will be.
With eighteen members of the General Assembly retiring this year, one would think there would be a mad scramble and tons of candidates jockeying for those open seats. Well, one would be wrong. Perhaps the people of Pennsylvania really were paying attention for the past year and have collectively decided that the job just ain’t worth the hassle. Or maybe they were watching Dancing with the Stars and didn’t realize there was an election this year.
Our Shameless Client Plug of the week goes to our good friends at McCaffery Interests, who are moving forward with plans to redevelop the historic produce terminal in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The $65 million plan will include “foodcentric” retail and office space, as well as a complete upgrade to Smallman Street. Triad is proud to be a partner with DTI Development on what will be the highest profile redevelopment in downtown Pittsburgh.
Our other Shameless Client Plug goes to our friends at Pocono Raceway, who this week announced they are constructing the first-ever dog park (Bark Park, for the uninformed) at a national motorsports facility. No word on how Tricky the Fox will react to a few dozen canine visitors in the track’s infield.
Our We Can’t Make This Up segment takes us to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where a man filled his home with so many insecticide fumes that he inadvertently blew it up. Thankfully, nobody was injured in the blast, including all the cockroaches he was trying to kill in the first place.
That’s what passes for news around here in what we lovingly referred to as Weed Week in Harrisburg. We will be back next week with all the news we care to comment on, so join us for the fun! From all your friends at Triad, have a great weekend!
The Triadvocate is a publication of Triad Strategies, LLC, a bipartisan lobbying, public affairs, strategic communications, grassroots advocacy, issue management consulting firm located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
It was a big week in the Keystone State, as the Villanova Wildcats captured the NCAA Men’s basketball championship in heart-stopping fashion. A big shout-out to our good friends at Versant Strategies on winning the Triad basketball pool (which was, you know, solely for entertainment purposes.)
The other big Pennsylvania winner was Carlisle Borough, which captured the crown in the America’s Strongest Town competition by defeating Hoboken, New Jersey in the title match. That’s right, Jersey, we are still better than you in every conceivable way. Congratulations to Mayor Tim Scott and Borough Councilman Sean Crampsie (husband to Triad’s own Brittany Crampsie) for leading Carlisle to the Promised Land. One shining moment, indeed!
Presidential hopefuls continued to pour into the Keystone State this week, and the annual AFL-CIO conference in Philadelphia was ground zero, with both Hillary and Bernie addressing the throngs of labor faithful. Enjoy all this attention while you can, friends, because these people will be outta here like Vladimir on April 26th, and you may not see them again. Yes, we can tell you are heartbroken.
And if you are indeed planning to hit the polls in two weeks, you may want to check out this handy primer on what your vote will mean if you are on the GOP side of the field. In a nutshell? Your vote probably doesn’t mean what you think it means. Take heart, Democrats; your delegate-awarding system is just as screwed up, just ask the nearest Sanders supporter.
And in the weeks leading up to the Primary Election, prepare to be bombarded with polls telling you everything you never wanted to know about every candidate who will appear on the ballot. Quinnipiac weighed in this week with a poll showing that Pennsylvania voters pretty much don’t like anyone, which is no shock given the national mood.
House and Senate GOP leaders this week threatened to sue Governor Tom Wolf over the manner in which he has decided to disburse school funding under the recently-enacted state budget. So in case you were functioning under the delusion that the budget enactment would calm everything down around here, snap out of it, Sally. This is Harrisburg.
If you have a hankering to find out if your school got more cash or the smelly end of the plunger, Pennlive.com has a nice rundown for you. Bonus: it’s not even one of those annoying click-through slide shows!
Governor Wolf, apparently tired of waiting for LGBT anti-discrimination legislation to find its way to his desk, has signed an Executive Order enacting these protections at the Executive level and for any private entity doing business with state government. Perhaps when everyone sees that the world will not end next week, the actual bipartisan legislation can start to move through the process.
One issue that does seem to be moving with some level of – ahem – speed is a bill that would ban certain abortion procedures and criminalize abortions after 20 weeks. It is certainly heartening to see that the General Assembly has taken a break from all the partisan fighting to take up a bill that is not controversial at all. A vote on the final passage of the measure is expected next week, so you may wanna steer clear of the House side of the building Monday.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has dealt a whack to the noggin’ of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, telling that body that is doesn’t, in fact, have the broad range of powers (think Batman AND Superman, combined) that it apparently believes it does. To say the ruling is a serious setback to the SRC is like saying the Sixers had a below-average year.
If the big shots at UPMC thought their recent announcement about boosting wages to $15.00/hr would squelch talk of workers organizing, they may have miscalculated, we learned this week. Given the fact that those wage increases were driven by relentless work from the same people who want to unionize UPMC’s work force, wages are just the start, you can be sure.
The House and Senate this week passed a bill that, if signed by the governor, would subject all potential state and local collective bargaining agreements to an analysis by the state’s Independent Fiscal Office. Given the sheer volume of contracts they will have to analyze, the IFO will need to increase its own budget by about 4,000%.
The House and Senate are also trying to put the brakes on their own plan to send a ballot question to the voters in two weeks, one that would potentially change the mandatory retirement age for judges from the current 70 years old to 75 years old. Apparently, no one can agree on the wording of the ballot question, so everyone now wants to put it off until the November elections. Words do matter, apparently.
In our We Can’t Make This Up segment this week, we take you to Rhode Island, where the state’s tourism chief had to resign after her department’s rollout of a new Rhode Island promotional video that featured skateboarding scenes shot in Reykjavik, Iceland. Besides the fact that Reykjavik is decidedly NOT Providence, they may also wanna rethink their new slogan: Cooler and Warmer. Y’all paid real money for that, huh?
That’s what passes for news around here on this snowy (!!!!!) Friday morning in April. We will be back next week, largely because we are contractually obligated to be back next week! From all your friends at Triad, have a great weekend!
The Triadvocate is a publication of Triad Strategies, LLC, a bipartisan lobbying, public affairs, strategic communications, grassroots advocacy, issue management consulting firm located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
Yes, it is April Fool’s Day, and no, we are not pulling any cheap jokes out of the hat for this edition of the weekly wrap-up. You expect more from us, and frankly, we are better than that. Besides, announcing that Triad President Roy Wells has endorsed Donald Trump would be way too easy.
The Presidential Primary season has begun in earnest in Pennsylvania with Ted Cruz and John Kasich on the way to central PA, and Bernie Sanders bringing his progressive posse to Pittsburgh. It was at the Steel City event where U.S. Senate candidate and Bernie-backer John Fetterman inadvertently ended his campaign by proclaiming that The Bern’s rally was “better than a Steelers game.” Fetterman is now projected to receive six votes in Allegheny County, five of which will come from Fetterman’s family.
President Barack Obama this week announced he has chosen U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland as his nominee to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Garland’s reception was less than hospitable, to put it kindly, as Senate GOP leaders vowed not only to never hold confirmation hearings, but to never speak to Garland, period. We think the latter may be a bit much, but one thing is for certain: if a Democrat wins the White House in November, we have a sneaking suspicion that Garland’s chances might vastly improve
Fresh off his victory in the Ohio G.O.P. Presidential primary, Governor John Kasich got a boost in Pennsylvania this week as surrogates for the Marco Rubio campaign dropped their court challenge to Kasich’s petitions, meaning he will be on the April 26th ballot in the Keystone State. Rubio, meanwhile, disappeared into the ether after he realized that his overwhelming victory in Puerto Rico was not really translating into support anywhere else.
Here at Triad Strategies, we are all about happiness, and the pursuit of it. We work hard to make our beloved clients happy, to make the Accounts Receivable Department happy, and to generally make the office one, giant happy, pastry-filled place. That’s why we were thrilled that the state’s tourism office (with an able assist by our client Brandon Igdalsky, CEO of Pocono Raceway) unveiled Pennsylvania’s new slogan this week: Pennsylvania. Pursue your happiness. Maybe these words will inspire our elected officials to also pursue a budget agreement, which would make everyone happy.
A few hundred Pennsylvania employees and an untold number of those who work for the state through a third party got a bit happier this week when Governor Tom Wolf issued an Executive Order, raising the minimum wage for those folks to $10.15 an hour. Poverty, we have found, makes almost nobody happy.
By Rick Kelly
By most measures, Cedar Fair is a thriving enterprise. Its share price since 2010 has nearly quadrupled, most analysts rate its stock as a “buy,” and the $1.24 billion in revenue it generated in 2015 was its sixth straight annual revenue record. As the economy strengthens, the outlook is bright as attendance is expected to increase at its 11 amusement parks, four water parks and five hotels. Its ticker symbol is FUN. In terms of advancing a mission, we’d call this kicking butt.
In late January, the company’s Allentown venue, Dorney Park, announced it was starting its summer hiring process and expected to hire more than 3,000 seasonal workers this year. Christopher Emery, a 29-year-old with special needs, expected to return for his 13th summer of cleaning restrooms.
We’ll let the Morning Call take it from there:
Claudia Emery, of Macungie, said her son looks forward to going back to Dorney each spring and takes pride in his work. This week, she said, the family was informed that the park's interview process was changing, and that Chris would be required to complete some tasks with other potential employees, including building things with Legos and other group activities.
At the end of the session, Claudia Emery said, she was told that Chris didn't do well on the test and would not have a job when the park opened.
"I had to hold everything back until we got out the door," she said. "I told Chris that he was not going to work at Dorney this season. He didn't understand.”
Claudia Emery said she had to console her son, who was very upset about not seeing his friends at the park. One of those friends, fellow Dorney employee Matt Redline, wrote an angry post on Facebook that quickly went viral:
"I can't express how angry and hurt I am right now!!! This is my buddy Chris. I had the pleasure of getting to know him and his family during my 10 year employment at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.
Redline posted a photo of Chris proudly holding a certificate praising him for 12 years of service at Dorney. Redline blasted Dorney officials in the post.
As one would expect, Facebook, the Twittersphere and other social media channels erupted, and the news articles spread internationally.
By the next morning, Dorney Park had retracted its decision and posted the following, attributed to the vice president/general manager:
"We respect, value and appreciate all of our dedicated associates. I've known Chris for many years, and when I became aware of this situation I requested that we immediately reach out to him and his family to let them know that we would happily welcome Chris back for a 13th season."
Under the circumstances, the park acted just about as quickly as it could and did the right thing. It didn’t satisfy Mrs. Emery, however, who at last report said she would decline the offer in order to avoid subjecting her son to more humiliation. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police chapter and Autism Speaks said they would take their annual Dorney Park events elsewhere. There’s no telling how many others who learned of this episode have taken Dorney Park off their itineraries.
There are many events that can throw organizations into crisis – acts of nature, accidents, structural failures, actions of others, regulatory or legislative changes, and more. But the ones that sting the most are the ones that could have been avoided.
There’s nothing wrong with screening new employees for their suitability for employment, but when you launch a process that could result in turning away returning employees, that should constitute a red flag. When you turn away a returning employee with special needs, you should not only see the red flag, but smell it, hear it and taste it as well.
Every organization can benefit from someone whose radar is calibrated to identify “the worst thing that can happen.” Whether that person is an employee or a crisis management consultant, he or she should have the ability to assess potential consequences, estimate the probability of each and identify steps to mitigate or avoid the risk. The easiest way to manage a crisis is to not have it in the first place.
Will this episode prevent Cedar Fair from achieving another revenue record this year? Maybe not. But you can bet the company’s investors are not pleased about it, and neither are those whose job is to keep the investors happy.
Rick Kelly directs Triad’s crisis management practice. For more information, follow this link.
The GOP campaign for the Presidential nomination reached a boil this week after 2012 nominee Mitt Romney took to the stage and said some not so nice things about one Donald Trump. Trump then found himself on the defensive when the New York Times published a piece quoting him as being supportive of the individual mandate under Obamacare. Of course, this all meant less than zero to Trump supporters. Because really, what does? Your normal campaign skills are no match for his above average hands, apparently.
Of course, by the time the Trump train pulls into 30th Street station in April, the GOP nomination may already be sewn up, we learned this week. And with Hillary Clinton holding an almost-insurmountable delegate lead over Bernie Sanders, it looks like we will once again be the bridesmaids.
We begin the week by asking all of our readers to send a good thought and perhaps a prayer or two to Governor Tom Wolf, who this week announced he will begin undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. Luckily, the doctors caught the disease early, and Wolf (aside from being entirely cool and unflappable about the whole thing) reminded all of us about the value of early cancer screening. Wise words, Governor.
Another week brought another round of polling in the Keystone State, and the results pretty closely tracked what the nation seems to be careening towards: Hillary vs. the Donald. If the mere thought of those two slugging it out all summer doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart, we don’t know what would.
Like swallows returning to Capistrano, lawmakers returned to the Capitol this week for the annual round of state budget hearings, which began Monday and will last until God knows when. For the uninformed, this is where every cabinet secretary submits to withering questions from lawmakers about how he/she needs to be doing more wonderful things, but with less money.
As is custom, first in the crosshairs was Wolf Budget Secretary Randy Albright, and there were no kid gloves to be found. When you are the bearer of unrelentingly bleak fiscal news, it is probably fair to expect that you won’t be getting a hero’s welcome in the Appropriations Committee hearing room. Albright was treated to the rhetorical equivalent of getting hit in the forehead with a ball-peen hammer for 8 hours.
But if Albright had a rough few days, it probably paled in comparison to Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who found herself in the uncomfortable position of asking for money from the same group of State Senators who tried to toss her out of office a few weeks back. So, that’s a bit awkward.
We also found out this week that impeaching the Attorney General could cost the state $2.4 million. Where the state might find that $2.4 million remains a mystery at this point, but if you think that will slow down the train, think again. In any case, expect a pretty spirited debate on whether or not it is worth the House’s time to impeach someone who leaves office in nine months.
While the Wolf top brass was doing its best to address questions about what they are spending money on and why, several lawmakers asked the State Auditor General to investigate why the Administration spent north of $30 billion last year with no budget in place. This of course begs the question that has been on everyone’s lips for the past few months: do we really need a state budget? We suppose we are about to find out.
One thing is becoming clear about the budget impasse, and that is the effect it is having on developers across the state who often utilize the Commonwealth’s Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program to close funding gaps on major industrial and commercial projects. With RACP temporarily on ice, we can eventually expect that some of the largest construction projects in Pennsylvania are going to grind to a halt, taking with them jobs and tax revenue. Yay for us.
The House GOP this week launched a new program where they will seek suggestions from the public on how to save money and reduce waste in government. While we applaud the efforts, we would point out that the people who would best know how to save government money are the people who actually run the government. We are sure that Larry from Pottstown has great ideas, but we wouldn’t bet on finding billions under the cushions of his couch.
The Big Four state-related universities (Pitt, PSU, Temple and Lincoln) sent out a letter this week reminding everyone on the Hill that the ongoing budget train wreck has cost them about $600 million, with no end in sight. Alright, maybe we do need a state budget after all.
Governor Wolf this week announced that he is seeking the help of Pennsylvania’s medical schools in the fight against opioid abuse and addiction. This seems like a good approach, since a whopping 20% of doctors nationwide are educated in the Keystone State.
As the Administration taps the expertise of our medical students, lawmakers are looking to do the same with pharmacists by giving them a greater role in the delivery of health care services. With doctors being few and somewhat far between in the more rural parts of our great state, pharmacist can and should play a key role in keeping Pennsylvanians healthy.
Chesapeake Energy is pulling up stakes in Ohio and Pennsylvania after posting $15 billion in losses last year. Somehow, talking heads and elected officials in Pennsylvania turned this news into an argument against a severance tax being levied on PA drillers. Fair enough, we suppose, but we should also keep in mind that natural gas is cheaper than water these days.
Speaking of natural gas, we ran across a story this week about the use of eminent domain to build a 124 mile natural gas pipeline. A judge has ruled that the pipeline company can go ahead cut down a grove of maple trees that are used by the property owner to make and sell syrup. Seems like a rather smelly deal for the landowner. We wonder if the ruling would have been the same if the landowner had a factory on the property instead of maple trees.
The courts have ruled that citizens do not have the automatic, unfettered right to film police officers in the line of duty. So before you hit the red button on your iPhone, you may wanna keep that in mind, Scorsese.
A few weeks back, now-departed Secretary of Policy and Planning John Hanger was criticized for suggesting that those who seek increased funds in the state budget had better get off their duffs and support the governor’s tax plan. Was he wrong? Our own Mike Manzo weighs in on the pages of Pennlive.com.
In our We Can’t Make This Up segment this week, we stick close to home and bring you a woman in Lancaster who tried to purchase a home with a $112,000 counterfeit cashier’s check. Wow, dreaming large, are we? You may wanna start by seeing if you can slip $20 in play dough past the clerk at Turkey Hill first.
That’s what passes for news around here as February winds to a close. Be sure to join us next week when we will do the exact same thing and expect different results. From all of us at Triad, have a great weekend!
The F.B.I. is going toe-to-toe with Apple, demanding that the company build backdoor software to allow access to any locked iPhone. For its part, Apple’s response was “Yeah, we’ll get right on that someday. Or probably never. ” Hand the feds a master key that can hack a gazillion iPhones? What could possibly go wrong there?
The Presidential campaign has now degenerated into a bad Ultimate Fighting Championship match, but lest you were wondering what may happen months from now in the Keystone State, our friends at PoliticsPA have a nice little graphic showing that Pennsylvania is Trump country, at least when viewed through Facebook metrics. We assume this means Pennsylvanians are not fond of the Pope, either.
This morning, Governor Tom Wolf outlined his proposal for a 2016-17 fiscal year budget. This proposal came despite the lack of a finalized budget for the 2015-16 year, a topic he addressed at the beginning of his speech.
His remarks also focused on credit downgrades, five in the past five years, and the urgent need to rectify the $2 billion structural deficit before an economic disaster in the Commonwealth.
For this next fiscal year’s budget, Governor Wolf proposed a $42.3 million increase to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, restorations human services cuts and new programs heroin-related services. Basic education would see an increase of $200 million, early education would see an additional $60 million, and $50 million in additional funding would go to special education.
All totaled, the spending number in his proposal comes to $32.7 billion, $2.7 billion of which comes from new taxes.
To pay for these increases, he proposed an increase in the personal income tax to 3.4 percent from 3.07 percent; an expansion of the sales tax to include basic cable services, movie tickets and digital downloads, among other things; a $1 per pack tax on cigarettes, a new tax on smokeless tobacco, an 8 percent tax on casino promotions; and a 6.5 percent tax on the extraction of Marcellus Shale.
The Motor License Fund, a constitutionally-protected fund for transportation related projects, would lose $814 million to funding the state police, a 9 percent increase over the previous year.
His proposal also includes an increase of the minimum wage to $10.15 per hour.
The proposal includes merging several government departments, including:
He concluded his remarks with a promise to compromise, and work on Republican-favored issues like liquor modernization and pension reform.
America’s favorite varmint meteorologist this week predicted an early spring. It is snowing today. Moving right along…
NASA this week decided to completely screw with our heads and keep us up at night by telling us that the Earth’s formation (which some believe happened 4,000 years ago) was the result of two planets – Earth and Theia – smashing together to form one planet. First Pluto gets punched in the gut, and now this. Why did we even take science in high school? It was all LIES!
Fox News held the 469th GOP Presidential debate Thursday night, but one of the merry pranksters was conspicuous in his absence: one Donald J. Trump, whom you may have come to know in the past few months. Oddly enough, for a slate of candidates who do nothing but complain about Trump’s media monopolization, none of them could stop talking about him for five stinkin’ minutes on the stage last night. Great job, team.
By the time you read this, winter storm Jonas (at least that’s what the rock band Weezer calls it) may have covered your house, knocked out your power and stolen your babies. Governor Wolf has declared a state of emergency for the Commonwealth, much of which sits in the path of the latest Snowmageddon event. All jokes aside, be safe out there and check in on your elderly neighbors from time to time.
The impending winter doom has caused the state Democratic Party to cancel its annual meeting, meaning there should be plenty of rooms in Hershey-area hotels should you be so inclined to strap on the snow shoes and head on out to the Sweetest Place on Earth.
The Philadelphia Police this week channeled their inner Drake to remind people not to put large objects (i.e. lawn chairs, orange cones, garbage cans, other family members) into freshly-shoveled parking spaces. No savesies, people. You used to call us on our cell phones, now we suggest you dispense with that nonsense and just call the police.
Our indomitable friends at Lyft, however, intend to remain at your service (if they can) if you happen to be stranded in the City of Brotherly Love at any point this weekend. Keep in mind, however, that even the best Lyft drivers cannot traverse two feet of snow, so temper your expectations a bit.
Speaking of Lyft, the chorus of supporters who favor statewide, permanent legalization of ride-sharing is starting to swell. The General Assembly (more to the point, the State House) now holds the keys to that particular kingdom after the State Senate acted late last year. So yeah, let’s get a move on, people. The 21st century is here.
If you thought that the upcoming Primary Elections season might put a damper on any potential tax votes in the General Assembly, we tend to agree with you. At least our own Michael Manzo agrees with you, as you can read here in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. After the Primaries? Well, now that might just be a whole different story!
While funds begin to trickle out of the Governor’s budget office as a result of his signature (and heavy blue-lining) of the state budget, college kids slated to receive PHEAA grants have reason to rejoice as they look to be next in line to be made somewhat whole. Funds for their respective state universities and colleges, however, remain very much locked in the drawer, as we mentioned last week. So it is truly a good news/bad news issue. Many kids can now to a college that may not be open when they get there.
The Department of Corrections funding stream is about to dip below “E’, we learned this week, and the State Senate is already making strides to send a supplemental funding bill to the governor. Lack of funding will not mean that the state’s 50,000 or so prisoners will be in your neighborhood anytime soon, so no need to worry, despite what one might think when one hears that the prison system is out of cash.
The State Senate this week also kicked the tires on a few bills that would reduce the size of the legislature. While it is certainly not in our purview to tell you exactly how large or small the General Assembly should be, we would caution you to not raise your expectations. Trimming a few House or Senate seats is not going to solve the state’s budget woes, folks, despite what you may have read in the comments section of PennLive.com.
The Wolf Administration this week came out in support of a State Senate move to delay the implementation of the state’s Keystone Exams. The remarkable part of this story has nothing to do with the exams themselves, but instead it is the fact that Governor Wolf and the State Senate actually agree about something. Détente! Eh, probably not.
The state’s casino industry posted another record year in 2015 dragging $3.17 billion out of the pot, of which $1.4 billion went to property tax reductions. If you believe that $1.4 billion in property tax cuts is a paltry amount, we will go ahead and add $1.4 billion to your collective property tax bills next year and see if you notice.
Only one in six wee ones in Pennsylvania is enrolled in a quality pre-K program, we found out this week. One would think that after two decades of talk about “quality Pre-K” instruction in this state, we could do a hair better than one in six. We are certainly aware that pre-K instruction can be expensive, but as our father always told us, nothing is more expensive than stupidity.
There was quite a kerfuffle at the latest pipeline task force meeting, as anti-frackers and anti-eminent domain folks turned the normally staid and bureaucratic (read: boring) gathering into a UFC event. For anyone who believes that throwing state money at pipeline construction is going to solve the shale industry’s capacity problem, we encourage folks to read up on how disruptive grassroots actions can be if employed properly. There may have even been a thing or two written this past week on civil disobedience, if we recall correctly.
If you were interested in checking out the highs and lows of the first year of the Wolf Administration, check out this piece by PennLive.com. Just don’t read the comments section, as we mentioned previously.
In our We Can’t Make This Up section this week, the house where the Bill of Rights was drafted was partially demolished this week, largely because very few people know where the Bill of Rights was drafted. No word yet as to when Donald Trump will vow to rebuild that house bigger and better, perhaps with a casino attached.
That is what passes for news around here, as we stare into the ominous gray skies enveloping the Capital City like a….O.K., enough with the drama. Just get home safely tonight, everyone, and join us again next week. From all your friends at Triad, have a great weekend!
President Obama gave his final State of the Union address on Tuesday, and as always, bipartisanship and good manners were on display for all of America to see. Nah, just kidding. The President talked (for a long time), the GOP sniped at him when it was over and everyone turned on Jimmy Fallon and that was that.
During the speech, Obama took a shot at the partisan Congressional map-making exercise known as gerrymandering, citing it as one major reason our politics in this country have become so divisive. Of course, being Pennsylvanians, we just assumed he was talking about us.
When last we visited, Pennsylvania did not have a 2015-16 fiscal year budget, and there were numerous issues gumming up the prospects for completing the job, which was six months late. Lots has changed in recent weeks, so we’ll get right to it.
Not only do we still not have a budget, it’s now six months and eight days late, and there are even more issues gumming things up. Instead of a budget, we have a measure that provides emergency funding for social services and schools, which began as an earlier Republican no-frills budget that Governor Wolf customized by chain-sawing a few billion more out of it and then christened it an “exercise in stupidity.”
It was not a complete buzz kill, however, as it did manage to open up the ol’ PA fiscal spigot a bit as $3.3 billion in emergency funds began flowing. The emergency allocation included money for film tax credits as well, which a Post-Gazette editorial pointed out creates jobs and injects more income and tax revenue than the credits cost.
On the other hand, some observers said the release of emergency funds lessens what little leverage existed to finish the task in the first place, thus creating the possibility that we will double our pleasure by working on two spending plans at the same time as winter morphs into spring.
How did it come to this? Well, an outfit called the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership undertook a national review of state budget rules and found that Pennsylvania is unique in that there are virtually no consequences for failing to pass a budget on time. Or apparently at all? Hmmm. You’d think that six months of snarky commentary in the news media across the state would constitute some level of consequences.
Well, maybe there are SOME consequences. With only 18 days before nominating petitions begin to be circulated, a significant number of legislators are choosing not to seek reelection. Several of those who have announced their decision acknowledge that the budget stalemate has been a contributing factor.
Among the more prominent lawmakers bowing out is longtime Republican Rep. Bill Adolph, majority chair of the House Appropriations Committee. By our count, at least a dozen more have either announced or are rumored to be thinking about hanging up their cleats, and it appears that the number will grow as Petition Day draws near.
Meanwhile, a hundred miles to the east, inauguration festivities were Monday’s order of the day. Jim Kenney is now officially Philly’s 99th mayor, and he and City Council marked the day with a series of celebratory events. Looking at the year ahead, Council President Darrell Clarke listed affordable housing, better schools and jobs at the top of the city’s agenda.
One of the mayor’s first acts was to restore Philly’s status as a “sanctuary city,” meaning that local police are not obligated to cooperate with federal immigration agents by providing information about undocumented immigrants.
Also in Philly, Eagles’ owner Jeff Lurie killed coach Chip Kelly’s buzz, firing him before the last game of the season and saying that Kelly just couldn’t seem to connect with people. Fans, current players, Deshaun Jackson and even Mayor Kenney expressed their satisfaction with Kelly’s dismissal. There were no flags for piling on.
Montgomery County Commission Chair Josh Shapiro remains mum on the subject, but all of Pennsylvania expects him to become a candidate in the Democratic primary for attorney general, joining Stephen Zappala, Dave Fawcett, John Morganelli and Jack Stollsteimer. Incumbent Kathleen Kane would make six – still not enough to require a kids’ table – and it appears that Republican John Rafferty has the GOP side all to himself after winning a couple of straw polls late last month.
On the national front, President Obama signaled that he’s ready to relax and coast through the last year of his presidency, turning his attention toward a mundane, noncontroversial initiative to tighten gun control laws without consulting Congress. An Adams County lawmaker responded by introducing a bill that would render guns manufactured and sold in Pennsylvania exempt from the president’s rule changes.
The PA Department of Environmental Protection caused a stir in launching more stringent regulations for oil and gas drilling. Speaking on the buzz kill side of the issue, the Marcellus Shale Coalition said it was not consulted, and the new regulations will cost the industry an additional $2 billion per year.
This week’s installment of We Can’t Make This Up finds us at a California Pizza Hut, where employees posted video of themselves smoking dope while working in the restaurant’s kitchen on New Year’s Eve. On its website, the company said, "There is no tolerance for this kind of activity at any of our restaurants. The local franchise owner took swift action and the employees involved will no longer work for Pizza Hut." Now that, friends, is a DOUBLE buzz kill.
So that should bring you up to date as we rush headlong into the new year! From all of us at Triad, have a great weekend, and we’ll see you back here next week!
Up until this week, the U.S. Congress held the title for being the most gridlocked institution of democracy in the free world. That is until a $680 billion tax bill got done, along with a $1.6 trillion budget that averts a government shutdown. So, now that the Federal City is on firm ground, who holds the new title for most gridlocked institution?
Oh, hello Pennsylvania! We didn’t see you standing there! As we compose this morning’s tome, it occurs to us that this whole thing may just be a fool’s errand. As dawn splashed across Harrisburg on December 18th, there is still no state budget, still no pension reform, and no liquor reform. The week began with the Senate saying the House needed to pass the framework budget that has now been framed for almost three weeks. The House said “Show us the money.”
The very next day, members of the House began grumbling that there were not enough votes in the House to stop the framework budget, and for a brief, shining moment, it looked like Christmas would come to Whoville. Not so fast, Jack Spratt. Put back that can of Who Hash.
House leaders then gave the Governor 24 hours to round up the necessary votes to pass the tax bill that would cover the cost of the framework budget. So they called in Jack Bauer. Should Jack’s efforts fail, the House had another stopgap ready to be voted, which the Senate said they would not pass and the governor…well, who knows.
And so last night, the festivities came to a head as the House abruptly slammed the door on the agreed-to pension bill (“agreed-to” means very little these days) and that was that. There would be no pension vote, and the specter of a tax bill being voted floated into the either.
Speaking of pensions, the agency in charge of calculating the impact of pension legislation said late last night that the latest iteration of pension reform really won’t save the systems any appreciable money, but rather shifts the risk away from taxpayers. So after years of kicking around bills that saved 10, 11 or even 12 billion dollars, the General Assembly is now faced with a plan that has fiscal savings in the millions, not billions. Remind us why we are doing this again? We forgot.
Against this backdrop, we have schools announcing that they may close their doors after Christmas due to lack of funds. It is about to get very real for the wee ones across the state.
Human service agencies are also on their collective last legs, and many have stopped providing services altogether. The heads of those nonprofits (the real ones, not the multi-billion dollar hospital/health system nonprofits) kept up their pleas for relief this week.
Even the film industry in western Pennsylvania has taken a hit, as the shutdown of the state’s Film Tax Credit is costing jobs, we learned today.
So it now looks like the House will be in Session today and perhaps all weekend, with the Senate coming to town whenever something makes it out of the House. As we said, fool’s errand. Now to the rest of the news…
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale this week demolished the Department of Community and Economic Development’s claim that it aids the state’s poorest citizens. Many programs under the former gubernatorial administration did not seem to make driving out housing and utility assistance money a priority, although more than a million dollars sat available.
A new report came out this week telling us that pharmacists are a vital, often last line of defense against opioid addiction. Did anyone really need a report to learn that the people who dispense opioids are a pretty vital link in the chain?
Pittsburgh City Council this week passed a budget that would hike fees for landlords, which caused the head of one association to call this action a “declaration of war.” Given what is going on in the world today, how about we tone down the war rhetoric? It is a fee, not a drone strike.
As the unusually warm weather persists in the northeast, fuel prices continue to hover near the ground, we learned this week. Devotees of climate change theories are no doubt going to point out that warm weather hurting fossil fuel prices is kind of ironic when you think about it.
Zagat has named Pittsburgh the number one food destination in the entire country. That’s right, New York, Boston and Chicago; read it and weep, babies. Pittsburgh is more than French fries on your sandwich!
A New Jersey inmate has earned the nickname Johnny Sue-nami for filing over 700 Right to Know requests from state and federal government agencies. One such request sought, among other things, information on Kim Kardashian, whom he claims took his virginity. Swamping offices with RTK requests has spurred a Pennsylvania lawmaker to try and crack down on inmate abuses.
In our We Can’t Make This Up section, we give you one of the world’s leading scumbags, Martin Shkreli, who famously purchased a company that sells AIDS treatment drugs and jacked up the price by 700%. The self-proclaimed “Pharma Bro” got pinched by the SEC this week for suspected securities fraud and now faces up to 20 years in prison. Looks like somebody’s karma has run over his dogma…
That’s what passes for news around here as we spend yet another day hoping for a happy ending to 2015. From all your friends at Triad, have a great weekend!
The City of Brotherly Love might not be the best place for Donald Trump to hang out, we learned this week. Philly Mayor Michael Nutter made it clear that he’s not interested in seeing Mr. Trump set foot in his fair city, even going so far as to call The Donald a name that rhymes with brass hole. Trump responded by calling Nutter a loser, and then firing off an “I know you are but what am I?” for good measure. Welcome to Presidential politics, America.
We also learned this week that Trump and U.S. Senator Pat Toomey will probably not ever be in the same zip code at the same time.
It has been 162 days since the state budget deadline whistled by our collective ears. So when the House of Representatives went temporarily rogue on the “agreed-to framework” this week, many Capitol observers braced for Armageddon – Christmas under the dome. At long last, the unthinkable had occurred: dueling budgets (cue the banjo music!)
What happened next was a sight rarely seen in these here parts. After the House passed a scaled-down version of the budget agreement along party lines, the State Senate moved with what we can only describe as stunning speed. Within hours, the House plan was gutted and replaced with the budget the Senate passed last week. If a spending plan has ever met a quicker demise in the history of the Commonwealth, please e-mail us with details.
And so while all parties hit the reset button and staggered back to the negotiating table, the State Senate did what, historically, the State Senate does: emptied its calendar and washed its collective hands.
Issue by issue, the Senate lobbed every budget related bill (except for a tax bill) into the House with more than a bit of top spin. By late Thursday, the Upper Chamber was buttoned up until Monday, prompting that chamber’s leaders to essentially declare “This is the House’s problem now.”
“On liquor, on pensions, on fiscal code and school code!” they cried as the senate sleigh flew out of town. O.K., maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, so let us start with liquor. After five years of liquor privatization talks, the Senate settled on a modernization plan that would expand wine sales, unshackle the State Store system, provide new discounts and…oh, never mind. The only thing pertinent in this discussion is the baseline question: is it privatization or not? The answer is NOT, Virginia, and there is no Santa Claus for big box retailers looking to sell booze by the barrel. Moving right along…
And while the Senate had already acted quite convincingly on the question of pension reform, that plan hit a snag (where else?) in the State House, as the state’s pension systems came out against the use of collars. These particular collars, for the uninformed, are legis-speak for “pay less now; pay more later.” Until that little bugger is ironed out, expect pension reform to be stuck in neutral.
The Senate also passed the Fiscal Code bill, which is kinda like the instruction manual on how to spend $30 billion. Tucked away inside its pages was a nice, early Christmas gift to the natural gas industry; a $12 million grant program for infrastructure. Environmentalists also howled mightily at a provision that will delay implementation of the state’s federally-mandated clean power plan. So yes, it was a Christmas tree of sorts!
For its part this week, the House did pass a long-awaited reform package for the state’s horse racing industry, which should help ward off insolvency for the near future. No word on what the Senate plans to do with the pony bill.
One lawmaker this week introduced a plan to allow lawmakers to have the final say on any state contract with organized labor. Given the efficiency and alacrity the General Assembly has shown when dealing with the state budget, we cannot see anything going wrong with that particular idea. Please let us all know how negotiating a contract with 254 different people goes; we will be over here waiting.
Philadelphia City Council this week moved to transfer 833 parcels of property into the Land Bank, making it easier for the city to return these properties to productive (see: taxpaying) use. We can assume none of those properties will be developed by Trump Enterprises.
Speaking of Philadelphia, our friends at the Goldenberg Group have unveiled plans for new luxury rentals on Walnut Street. The development will include an elevated dog park and a yoga studio, which totally explains why Triad President Roy Wells and his better half Sharon, the owner of Yoga on Chocolate in Hershey, recently moved to Philadelphia.
The battle over wages in Pittsburgh reached a screeching crescendo this week as one city councilman referred to health care giant UPMC as “a national disgrace.” Well, that sure escalated quickly.
The shale industry is helping to establish more affordable housing across the state through impact fee dollars, we learned this week. Count on this story to greatly impact next year’s debate on a severance tax for natural gas drilling. What, you thought that debate was over? Silly rabbit.
Instead of our Shameless Client Plug this week, we give you this Shameless Former Employee Plug. Check out this great profile of Siena Saints head basketball coach, Jimmy Patsos, husband of former Triad ace Michele Patsos. Go Saints!
In our We Can’t Make This Up section this week we take you to Sweden, home to the production and sale of a Christmas album sung entirely by goats. No, seriously. Goats.
That’s what passes for news round here, where the light at the end of the tunnel might not be a train for the first time since June. Keep up with us on social media as we track every bill from cradle to grave, and have a darned good time doing it! From all your friends at Triad, have a great weekend!
Should anyone think that the Trump Phenomenon is just a passing phase, we would refer you to this morning’s Quinnipiac poll showing The Donald with an astounding 36%-%16 lead over his next closest GOP competitor (are they even competitors at this point?) Florida Senator Marco Rubio. News Flash: he ain’t going away, folks.
The U.S. Senate today sent President Obama a bill that would repeal Obamacare. This move is akin to asking your 5-year-old to voluntarily dump his ice cream down the sink and eat a nice bowl of kale instead. In that likelihood the POTUS may veto this bill, someone will be eating crow.
On Monday, 750,000 hunters, and a few lawmakers, flooded Pennsylvania’s woods to find and kill the nearest deer. As is our custom, we wished them all the best of luck in their endeavors so that there would be one fewer deer out there waiting to jump in front of our car.
And of course, not even hunting season can be completely divorced from the never-ending budget tango. The lack of state funds for food banks is making this year’s deer harvest even more important, as many hungry Pennsylvanians will be dining on venison from the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program. It is somewhat hard to believe that in 2015 we are relying on deer to feed our most vulnerable.
We should lead this week’s Pennsylvania political news off with an update on our slightly tardy state budget. We should tell you that the deal that was announced before Thanksgiving (expanding the sales tax, boosting education spending, pension and liquor reform) is chugging towrd the finish line. We should tell you that votes are scheduled on the plan’s component parts. But, we just cannot bring ourselves to do that, because with each passing moment it seems less and less likely that any of this will happen.
So as we tumble toward the abyss, lawmakers have been told to pack some extra undies and socks and be prepared to stay in Harrisburg until either 1. The state budget is finalized or 2. The earth crashes into the sun. We have ten bucks on the latter.
Ever the sunny optimist, the governor announced yesterday that he fully expects to have a finalized budget in hand by Christmas. He is also expecting a new bike and a pony.
Many among you may have woken up today and realized that it is, in fact, December. That means that the General Assembly is wrapping up a full year under Governor Wolf, and while there has been no state budget plan, there have been some other things accomplished. Our friends at Pennlive.com have compiled a nice list of what has been going on in Harrisburg during the budgetary fiddling and burning; check it out here.
Governor Wolf’s administration has also not allowed any moss to grow under its collective feet, we found out this week. Despite no spending plan, the governor’s team has continued to spend a lot of cabbage, and that fact has a group of GOP members a tad bit exercised. What followed was a nasty round of partisan sniping between the administration and the GOP, which we all can agree has been sorely lacking throughout this process. If there is one thing we don’t need around here, its measured tones and cooperation, heaven knows.
Despite a statewide hiring freeze, the Commonwealth has added 3,100 jobs since the start of said freeze, we found this week. Perhaps climate change is affecting the “hiring freeze” the same way it is affecting the earth’s glaciers. Baby, it’s (no so) cold outside.
Speaking of climate change, 7,000 members of Penn State’s faculty and staff have signed a petition asking the university to step up its efforts to zero out its carbon footprint. The online petition outlined several goals it for Penn State’s administrators to shoot for, including (oddly enough) beating Ohio State in football sometime before 2050.
A group of lawmakers would like to see the Commonwealth vastly improve ballot access by allowing mail-in ballots, instituting same day registration, and reportedly having poll workers just come to your house and hand you a ballot. We like democracy and thus we applaud their efforts. But we cannot rid ourselves of the feeling that voting really isn’t all that damned hard to begin with, so maybe we need to boost our effort level.
If you tend to think of Harrisburg as a debt-ridden, downtrodden dystopia (we love alliteration) of gridlock, inaction and partisanship, well, you are probably not alone. So, we bring you this story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showing us all that our beloved capital city has its charming side, too. Because, you know, Christmas is coming. So lighten up.
Philadelphia City Council is kicking the tires rather animatedly on a proposed franchise agreement between the city and Comcast. The agreement will allow Comcast to continue to have unfettered access to the city’s right-of-ways so the little mom-and-pop cable provider can continue to compete against…well, itself, we assume.
In our We Can’t Make This Up segment this week, we give you the National Football League, specifically, the marketing geniuses within that organization who decided that Coldplay should be the featured act for the halftime show of Super Bowl 50. The N.F.L., in its latest demonstration that the entire organization is suffering from post-concussion symptoms, has decided that a mushy, British alt-rock band would be the perfect way to honor 50 years of America’s game. We can’t wait until they play “Fix You.”
That’s what passes for news around here around here on a crisp Friday. It is beginning to look a lot like Armageddon around these parts, so we are just gonna walk away before anything else goes wrong. Rest assured Team Triad will be working through the weekend so that our friends in the General Assembly don’t get lonely up there. We will be back next week because, frankly, we have no choice. From all your friends at Triad, have a great weekend!
While the political world (and everyone with a Facebook page and a half-baked opinion) wrangled over how our country should treat Syrian refugees, it may have gone unnoticed that U.S. Customs agents in Los Angeles quietly saved our Republic this week by seizing and destroying hundreds of immigrant tamales. Heaven knows what would have happened if those delicious pork products had snuck by our border patrols.
For his part, Governor Wolf is sticking by his decision to welcome Syrian refugees with open arms. It bears mentioning that thanks to a 1980 federal law, he pretty much has no choice. Not that anyone will care, we are sure there will be no controversy surrounding this decision at all.
A guest post by James Van Buren, president of the Pennsylvania Highway Information Association (PHIA), Harrisburg.
A recent article in the York Daily Record detailed how some communities are considering abandoning their municipal or regional police forces, opting instead for “free” police coverage from the Pennsylvania State Police.
Pennsylvania has 2,561 municipalities, and as the Daily Record pointed out, 67 percent receive some level of State Police coverage. A total of 1,274 – barely under half – receive no police coverage other than from the State Police.
Of course, we all recognize that nothing is “free,” so who exactly pays for “free” state police coverage? If you own or drive a car or truck or have a drivers’ license, you do.
Under our state constitution, all revenue derived from liquid fuel taxes, vehicle registrations, drivers’ license fees and some fines go into the state’s Motor License Fund. From there, the revenue can only be used “for highway purposes.”
The State Police performs a variety of law enforcement services. Its website lists the following: major case team, patrol services, forensic services, collision analysis and reconstruction, vehicle fraud investigators, Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center (PaCIC), Amber Alert activations, liquor control enforcement, polygraph, Fire Marshal, K-9 unit, aviation patrol, drug recognition services, Special Emergency Response Team (SERT), Clandestine Lab Response Team, hazardous device and explosives, equestrian detail and computer crime unit.
While patrolling highways qualifies as a “highway purpose,” the agency certainly does not spend two-thirds of its time, attention and resources doing that. Yet two-thirds of the entire State Police budget is diverted from the Motor License Fund, and that proportion is growing.
The current state budget proposal calls for a $78 million increase in Motor License Fund support for the State Police compared with last year, a total of nearly $758 million in a budget of just under $1.2 billion. Of the approximately 55 cents per gallon in taxes currently levied on gasoline users (69 cents for diesel), about 12 cents per gallon goes to the State Police budget.
The diversion of highway funding has been a bipartisan undertaking, beginning in the administration of Republican Tom Ridge, gaining more steam during the tenure of Democrat Ed Rendell, still growing under Republican Tom Corbett and reaching an all-time high in the proposed budget of Gov. Tom Wolf.
Why does this happen? Because elected officials fear there would be voter backlash from increasing sales, income or business taxes, so they prefer to quietly divert money from somewhere else.
In 2013, the General Assembly and Governor Corbett approved Act 89, which will increase Motor License Fund revenue by $2.3 billion per year, ostensibly for transportation. We knew from our periodic public opinion polling that nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters consistently supported investing an additional $2.50 per week in order to improve safety and relieve congestion in our transportation system (that amount reflects the impact of Act 89 on a typical driver).
Last spring, a year and a half after passage of Act 89, we asked voters the following question in another poll:
“In 2013, Pennsylvania increased gasoline taxes and license and registration fees to pay for transportation improvements. Would you favor or oppose using some of this money to fund other non-transportation items in the state budget?”
Not surprisingly, 80 percent opposed diverting the money, with 61 percent of them strongly opposed.
Consequently, everyone who owns or drives a vehicle or has a drivers’ license is contributing three-quarters of a billion dollars to the State Police budget, an amount that will reach a billion within the next few years at the rate that it’s growing now.
Moreover, if you live in a community that has its own police force or that participates in a regional police force, you’re paying twice. Not only do you pay for your local police coverage, you’re also subsidizing “free” State Police coverage in half of the municipalities across Pennsylvania.
Is it important to fund the State Police? Of course. Is it fair to do so by diverting money that was supposed to be used to bring our transportation infrastructure up to an acceptable standard, and forcing Pennsylvanians who are already paying for police coverage to pay for it twice?
No, it’s not, and our elected officials need to address this growing inequity and deliver to voters what was promised to them in Act 89.
James Van Buren is president of the Pennsylvania Highway Information Association (PHIA), Harrisburg. For more information about PHIA, please visit www.PaHighwayInfo.org.
This week, we at Triad Strategies celebrated National Sandwich Day by eating BLT’s. We view this as an act of civil disobedience against the buzzkills at the World Health Organization, who last week declared bacon to be bad for you. Take that, WHO.
A military blimp made a daring escape from its Maryland-based prison this week before finally asking for, then receiving, asylum in Pennsylvania. The blimp’s newfound freedom was short-lived, however, as it was promptly shot. Pretty shoddy treatment for something that cost the taxpayers $275 million.
Hillary Clinton had a big week this week as Vice-President Joe Biden announced he would not run for the Big Chair. Also, somebody named Jim Webb announced he was dropping out of the race, thereby depriving the nation of a candidate who has actually killed someone. Then some guy named Lincoln something-or-another dropped out, too. Clear the field!
Because our headquarters happens to be in sunny Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we decided to open this week by pointing out that local leaders this week endorsed a transportation plan that will fund, among other things, the reconstruction of the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge that was swept away by flood waters in 1995. Once again, denizens of Dauphin County’s East Shore will have unfettered access to the West Shore. Contrary to rumors, green cards and/or passports will NOT be necessary for entry.
The U.S. House GOP this week was thrown into chaos when Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced he would not be running for Speaker of the House. The move left current Speaker John Boehner feeling very much like Al Pacino in Godfather, Part III. He thought he was out; they pulled him back in.
Two weeks after the Volkswagen emission test cheating scandal erupted, the company has taken several important steps toward redemption. Here we present our second installment in this real-time case study in crisis management.
The eastern seaboard is once again back to normal (if by “normal” you mean bracing for a potential Category 3 hurricane) after Pope Francis’ historic visit. Two of the most notable stories to emerge were courtesy of Congressman Bob Brady and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Brady availed himself of a little holy water when he Bogarted the Pope’s discarded water glass, and was subsequently charged $3.94 for said glass.
It has been a long time coming in some ways. We've all heard the expression about "herding cats," but Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been herding hummingbirds: all flying in differing directions and a few flocking together when it seems like a beneficial thing to do. Many would agree — even Democrats — that Boehner is a good man. However, when given the impossible task of leading the unleadable, what is he to do?
In case you had not heard, Pope Francis will be in Philadelphia today. If you had not heard this news, you definitely have not been travelling on any major roadway in Pennsylvania, since the electronic road signs warning of Pope-related traffic delays begin popping up essentially at the Ohio border, all the way north to Erie. This is not hyperbole; we saw the signs yesterday for ourselves. Listen, if Pope-traffic backs up to Presque Isle, we have big problems.
Its iconic “Beetle” was named the world’s fourth-most influential car in the 1999 Car of the Century competition. Its models were three-time winners of the European Car of the Year and five times the Motor Trend Car of the Year. Earlier this year, Volkswagen overtook Toyota as the world’s top carmaker by sales. The company is a financial juggernaut, recognized as a major driver of Germany’s economy.
Yesterday morning, State Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) stood with members of FOP Lodge 5 and FOP President John McNesby, and outlined her new piece of legislation HB 1538, which would bar police departments from releasing the names of officers involved in violent confrontations while an investigation is ongoing. (You can watch the full Harrisburg press conference at this link)
Wednesday night, the current crop of G.O.P. presidential hopefuls got together for a little chat at the Reagan Library, and most of the evening featured ten people beating up Donald Trump. Amateurs, all of them, compared to our own U.S. Congressman Bob Brady, who this week swatted The Donald down in his own inimitable Philadelphia way. Memo to Trump: don’t make up wild stories about any project spearheaded by Congressman Brady.
Before we get into our usual tomfoolery, we would like to point out that today marks fourteen years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Today is a time to sit back and take a moment to remember those who fell on this day, and to remember those who answered the call and paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. If you’re interested in paying respects in person, the new Flight 93 National Memorial opened up yesterday just outside of Somerset, Pa.
Welcome to our truncated Labor Day Weekend version of your weekly update. President Obama this week became the first sitting U.S. President to venture into the Arctic Circle by paying a visit to Alaska, where he could see the Russians from his hotel room. Obama also managed to anger the entire state of Ohio by renaming Mount McKinley. All in a week’s work.
This week marked the 95th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates the passage of the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote. On the very same day, Governor Wolf announced that Pennsylvania will now become the 23rd state where you can register to vote online, which was a total coincidence, we are sure. The state is making it easier to vote? How novel.
Williamsport will be rocking tonight at 8:00 PM when our little buddies from Red Land take the field in the Little League World Series tournament! Best of luck!
To get things rolling this week, we thought we would bring you this video of an angry eagle knocking a drone out of the sky. Drones may be important tools in America’s ongoing war against terror, but match it up against an eagle and…yeah, not so much.
PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards makes her first appearance on Pennsylvania Newsmakers this week, joining Bob Latham of Associated PA Constructors and host Terry Madonna for an update on the highway construction program, the Rapid Bridge Replacement Program and efforts to urge federal policymakers to advance a multiyear transportation funding measure when the 34th short-term fix expires in October.
For decades, America has held a strong position in the global energy market because of the oil that we refine here before selling to other countries. But now, Congress is considering legislation that would permit crude oil to be shipped overseas to be refined and then sold back to us.
The first of 289 GOP Presidential debates was held last night, and by all news accounts it was very entertaining and perhaps even informative. But, there were also a few really good baseball games on, so some of us decided to watch America’s pastime instead. We are sure that Fox News will notify all of us when they are finished selecting a candidate, and then we can get down to business.