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.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week kicked the tires on so-called “fair share” fees, deciding whether or not unions can compel employees to pay such fees if they do not want to belong to the union. This impending decision has public sector unions quite nervous, as one might expect.
What about the state of our commonwealth, you ask? Glad you asked, it’s really quite funny. It looks like our elected officials cannot agree whether or not we have a state budget. We know, we know; that sounds like a silly question, right? A simple yes or no? Like, do you have a car? Why yes, we do! Nothing is that simple in Harrisburg, folks. Some in the GOP insist that we do have a budget, Governor Wolf and legislative Democrats say we do not, and still others in the GOP are not really sure. We wish we were making this up.
A wise person once said that time is money. We would like to add the caveat that wasted time is a whole lot of money. A report this week tallied all the additional costs of the state lumbering along for 7 months with no budget in place, and the price tag is pretty staggering, starting with the interest on the more than $1 billion that schools have had to borrow to keep their doors open. So for folks who are inclined to believe that a government that does nothing is preferable, remember: doing nothing costs money. Or something like that.
The House of Representatives returned to action in Harrisburg this week to pass a Fiscal Code bill, which for the uninformed, is sort of an operators manual on how to actually spend the money that is in the budget (or half-budget or non-budget, or whatever the hell it is.) Sounds easy, right? WRONG! We don’t do “easy” here! Go to Maryland if you want that crap. There was an immediate disagreement over the basic education funding formula that was put into the bill (a formula that should be in the School Code bill, but we digress) prompting veto threats and he said/she said and LALALALALALAWEARENOTLISTENINGANYMORE!
The Fiscal Code bill also extended the time the state will have to comply with federal clean air mandates and move money away from alternate energy into natural gas pipeline construction. Environmentalists were thrilled, we can assure you.
Also, there was a slight disagreement over whether or not the state has the money to spend on state-related universities, namely Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln. The House GOP says yes, and they brought the funding bills to the House floor, only to see them all fail because Democrats voted no and such bills need two-thirds of the chamber to vote in favor of them. And the band played on. Just not the Blue Band, they’re broke.
As the first cold snap of the season gripped the Commonwealth, we found that as many as 24,000 households in the state have no heat. So when you complain that you didn’t hit the Powerball jackpot or your football team lost, remember that little fact. No heat.
Speaking of Powerball, Pennsylvanians were buying 20,000 Powerball tickets per minute the day before the big jackpot was announced. Wonder how many homes we could have heated with that money. Our guess is somewhere around 24,000.
And one western Pennsylvania lawmaker wants the federal government to lift the ban on sports betting, a ban that oddly enough applies to 46 states. If there was ever a case for equal treatment under the law, this would sound like it. In any case, if lawmakers across the country truly want to tap into a massive non-tax revenue source, you may wanna check out how much cabbage this idea could generate. Americans love to gamble, people. See: Powerball.
For those who believed that Governor Wolf’s failure to secure a severance tax on natural gas drillers in 2015 would end the conversation, think again, Sally. With conservative lawmakers beginning to float their own severance tax plans, it looks like this question has now moved from the “if” column into the “when” column. Of course, given the price of natural gas, we can expect a severance tax to generate about 30 bucks and change.
The PA Secretary of Education this week said it is the opinion of the Wolf Administration that schools are spending way too much time on standardized tests, and that those tests should not be the be-all, end-all solution. School officials responded by nodding their heads in agreement and then saying “GIVE US OUR MONEY!”
The Pennsylvania legislature is not exactly suffused with members of the millennial generation, it was reported this week. Our General Assembly is pretty much still the domain of the baby boomers, which helps to explain why public policy issues in this state often tilt towards things that could benefit seniors. There will not be much talk about income equality, wages or the cost of a college education until the General Assembly gets a little less gray around the temples.
Jumping into the political pool for a minute (it is 2016, after all), much of the recent talk has been about who may emerge from a three-way primary to take on incumbent U.S. Senator Pat Toomey. Regardless of who that fortunate soul happens to be, it should probably be noted that Toomey is reporting $10 million cash on hand today. Oh, and he won’t be spending a red cent of it on the primary election. So, you’re welcome!
In our We Can’t Make This Up segment this week, the unabashed love that Georgia residents have for Waffle House was on – ahem – full display this week, when a naked woman entered the breakfast haven and began assaulting customers and throwing food around the joint. We are saddened to report that many slices of bacon were lost in the melee.
That’s what passes for news around here as 2015 fades further into the rear view, and we instead turn our focus to what’s in store for 2016. Make sure you join us for the journey, and bring your friends, too! It will be loads of 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