Wednesday, March 10, 2010

'Sunny Award' winners announced

Four Pennsylvania government Web sites were named winners of the "Sunny Award" today, marking them as some of the best state and local government Websites for transparency by Sunshine Review, a pro transparency organization.

The Pennsylvania winners are Avon Grove School District, Brandywine Heights Area School District, Philadelphia County and the state Web site.

From a Sunshine Review press release:
Award winners are among only 39 Web sites in America earning an "A" transparency grade from more than 5,000 analyzed. Sunshine Review's "Transparency Checklist" analyzes Web sites for information about budgets, meetings, elected and administrative officials, permits and zoning, audits, contracts, lobbying, public records, and taxes. The "Checklist" measures what content is available on government websites against what should be provided.

"Sunny Award winners deserve recognition for making information available to citizens and for setting a transparency standard that all governments can, and should, meet," said Mike Barnhart, president of Sunshine Review. "Access to information empowers every citizen to hold government officials accountable for the conduct of the public's business and the spending of taxpayers' money. Official accountability is the corner stone of self government and liberty."

Sunshine Review is a non-profit organization dedicated to state and local government transparency. The Sunshine Review wiki collects and shares transparency information and uses a 10-point "Transparency Checklist" to evaluate the content of every state and more than 5,000 local government websites. Sunshine Review collaborates with individuals and organizations throughout America in the cause of an informed citizenry and an accountable government.

Since its inception in 2008, Sunshine Review has analyzed the Web sites of all 50 states, more than 3,140 counties, 805 cities, and 1,560 school districts.
For more information, visit

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pennsylvania needs a constitutional convention

From DemocracyRisingPA:
It's Our Turn!

For too long, Pennsylvania's citizens have suffered some of the lowest standards of public integrity in America in a state government that has failed to meet basic requirements such as on-time passage of a state budget.

Despite the clear will of the people, our government has failed to improve itself. As a result, most people -- including reform advocates in the legislature itself -- now believe that only a Constitution convention can fix all the problems with our state government. They want a convention where ordinary citizens can propose and debate changes with due deliberation and without undue delay.

Polling in January 2010 showed that 72% of PA voters believe we need a Constitution convention, up from just 24% in 2005. After witnessing scandal after scandal and missed budget deadlines year after year, citizens are eager to accept responsibility for creating a government they can believe in.

The first step on the road to a Constitution convention is a referendum. The petition below asks lawmakers to put the referendum on the ballot in November of 2010. In short, it says, "Let the people decide whether we need a Constitution convention and what aspects of government we want the convention to address."

If you agree, please sign the petition. It will take only a few minutes, but it will send a loud and unmistakable message to lawmakers: The citizens of PA deserve a chance to vote on whether to have a Constitution convention.

Remember: A Constitution convention cannot change the Constitution. It can only recommend changes. Changes can take effect only if voters approve the convention's recommendations at another referendum.
To sign the petition, click here.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tom Corbett unveils 12-point reform package

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett has released a 12-point plan to reform state government.

"To create real economic growth in Pennsylvania and put hard-working Pennsylvanians back to work ... we must start from the foundation up and reform the government that guides our economy," Corbett writes at his Web site. "Our government needs to be held to a higher standard to restore taxpayers' trust and confidence and to bring about good government at all levels and in every branch."

Corbett said his campaign will emphasize the need for "an open, transparent, accountable and trustworthy government that finally puts Pennsylvania taxpayers first and gets the state back on track and moving in the right direction."

If elected, Corbett says he will introduce a comprehensive plan and begin the process of reforming Harrisburg and putting the "people" back in the "people's government."

During his first week in office, Corbett will issue executive orders to immediately implement far-reaching reforms that do not require legislative action and will work swiftly with the General Assembly on any reforms needing legislative approval, according to his Web site.

Here are the reforms Corbett is pushing:
1) Reducing the Size & Cost of Government
2) Transparency in State Government
3) Elimination of WAMS & Discretionary Funds
4) Elimination of State Government Paid Per Diems
5) Reducing the State Automotive Fleet
6) Biennial Budgeting
7) Zero-Based/Performance-Based Budgeting
8) Cap the General Assembly "Leadership Funds"
9) Sunset & Audit of State Boards & Commissions
10) Consolidation of Services
11) Health care contributions for Legislators
12) Ban Political Contributions and Gifts During Procurement Process
Corbett offers more details about the reform package at his Web site,

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Monday, February 22, 2010

How corrupt is Pennsylvania government?

If you haven't been paying attention to the Bonusgate trial of former House Democratic leader Mike Veon, you should.

Columnist Brad Bumsted says the testimony about the elaborate criminal enterprise allegedly set up by Veon and others inside the Capitol is appalling.

"Every Pennsylvania taxpayer should be furious," Bumsted writes.

Bumsted has written extensively on Bonusgate and this week's column focuses on testimony by Scott Brubaker, a former state House aide.

From Bumsted's column:
The secrecy was "exactly why we did it. You could get a bonus, and you didn't have to disclose it," said Brubaker. House Rule 14 didn't require that bonuses be publicly disclosed, he said.

"We would not report something we didn't have to report," Brubaker testified.

Right. Of course, you never tell the taxpayers how their money actually is being spent.

That statement by Brubaker accurately summarizes why Pennsylvania state government is regressive, insular and, to a certain extent, corrupt.

We have a Right to Know Law that will enable people to get some records never available before -- if you ask the right questions. Outside of the basics, the Legislature isn't covered on certain documents (such as e-mails).

And here was this ex-House staffer, who might be going to prison, talking about how they conspired to keep taxpayers in the dark about spending $1.4 million.

Meanwhile, the three-year compensation total for the Brubaker household, salaries and bonuses, courtesy of taxpayers, was $692,243.

What's galling is the hubris of Scott Brubaker, Mike Manzo, the former Democratic Caucus chief of staff, and Veon's former chief of staff, Jeffrey Foreman, who told the jury about ways they tried to keep information away from the public.

When the bonuses were revealed in January 2007, the House Democrat PR machine, day after day, insisted there were no bonuses for campaign work. Yet seven former staffers, including the Brubakers, Manzo and Foreman, have now pleaded guilty to participating in that scheme.

The real crime, however, was deceiving the taxpayers.
Read the full column at the newspaper's Web site.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Career Politician of the Day - Tom Caltagirone

Tom Caltagirone has spent the past 34 years in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

The Reading Democratic is planning to run for an 18th term in the state House in 2010.

If you like the way Harrisburg is run, then by all means, keep sending Caltagirone back to the Legislature. If you're tired of high taxes, uncontrolled spending and all the corruption, then stop returning the same people to Harrisburg.

Let's get real. If somebody hasn't done the job in 34 years, why should voters give them another two years?

Politicians are like diapers. They're full of doo doo and need to be changed frequently.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reform activist Russ Diamond running for PA Lieutenant Governor

The man who led the fight to overturn the infamous Pay Raise in 2005 and helped launch a reform movement that shook up the Pennsylvania Legislature in 2006 has announced he is running for Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor in 2010.

Russ Diamond is running on a platform of calling for a for a Constitutional convention, elimination of the property tax elimination, and state sovereignty.

Diamond, 46, of Annville, previously launched unsuccessful campaigns for Pennsylvania Governor and the state Legislature. A former Libertarian Party candidate for state and national office, Diamond, is seeking the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania.

From his campaign announcement:
"Pennsylvania needs a strong advocate for reform in the executive branch," Diamond said. "It's easy to talk about reform but there's really only one way to get it - a constitutional convention. But if we want to hold a convention, we need a specific plan to make it happen. I am the only statewide candidate with a legitimate, workable plan in hand."

In 2007, Diamond authored legislation calling for a citizens' constitutional convention and submitted it to the Senate State Government Committee. It was introduced as SB1290 and HB2723 in 2008. The bill was re-introduced with bipartisan support during the current legislative session as SB340 and HB1929.

In response to a recent study published by the Commonwealth Foundation, Common Cause/Pennsylvania, DemocracyRisingPA, and the League of Women Voters, Diamond has improved the plan and is asking the co-sponsors of SB340 and HB1929 to amend them accordingly or introduce it as a new bill.

"This is the only way to attack the roots of corruption, fraud, and budget debacles which have plagued Pennsylvania of late. We need to rebuild the Commonwealth's institutions of government and restore the faith of the people in them," he added.

On eliminating property taxes, Diamond favors a permanent constitutional prohibition that sets a future deadline and gives the legislature ample time to debate the revenue replacement mechanism.

"Some problems are too complex to tackle in one fell swoop," he said. "In order to be as effective as possible, we must separate the question of property tax elimination from the revenue replacement method. If we agreed today to prohibit property taxes as of June 30, 2015, there would be plenty of time for the legislature to weigh competing options for how to best replace this archaic system that drives citizens from their homes and imposes an intolerable burden on taxpayers and local government."

Diamond's focus on defending Pennsylvania from federal intrusion is centered on the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution.

"The 10th Amendment draws a distinct line between state and federal authority, but we also need to consider the practical ramifications of federal intrusion," Diamond said. "For instance, if we weighed the burden of federal regulations on Pennsylvania's public education system against the percentage of education funding Washington provides, would it really be worth it? Every state department and agency receiving federal funds should be tasked with publicizing the two sides of this equation."
Read the full announcement at Diamond's new campaign Web site,

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Five Most Ridiculous Lawsuits of 2009

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform has released its Top Five Most Ridiculous Lawsuits of 2009.

Voters at the Institute's Gave Top "Honor" to a Lawsuit Brought by Illegal Immigrants Who Sued Rancher for Turning Them Over to U.S. Border Patrol.

Read the full list at the link below:

Top Five Most Ridiculous Lawsuits of 2009 Announced


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dick Thornburgh: Abolish PA Turnpike Commission

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh, writing at The Commonwealth Foundation Web site, makes a strong case for getting rid of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, which he says is "a dumping ground for the institutionalized entitlement."

From Thornburgh's column:
During my campaign for governor more than 32 years ago, I made a pledge to restore integrity and efficiency to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).

At the time, 40 percent of our roads and 25 percent of our bridges were in substandard condition. It was widely acknowledged that PennDOT served as a patronage dump; I went so far as to label it the "home of the three Ps – payoffs, patronage and potholes." It was clear that fixing PennDOT was a necessity.

The residents of the commonwealth agreed, having faith in my pledge, and elected me governor. Shortly after beginning my first term, I began a thorough reconstruction of PennDOT.

Working with state Secretary of Transportation (and future Federal Highway Administration head) Tom Larson, I ignored all threats of political retribution and scrubbed PennDOT clean of graft and corruption. The difficult task of fixing PennDOT was a resounding success. In 1981 PennDOT was recognized as "one of the best managed – and financed – public works agencies in the country" by trade magazines.

Larson was recognized by one publication as its Man of the Year. That was nearly 30 years ago.

Today the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) has replaced PennDOT as a dumping ground for the institutionalized entitlement we helped eradicate.
Read the full column, "A Road to Savings: Abolish the PA Turnpike Commission," at The Commonwealth Foundation's Web site.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

The most expensive state legislature in the country

Columnist Brian O'Neill of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette attempts to explain why the Pennsylvania Legislature is the most expensive in the country.

From his column:
How in the name of all that is holy can you spend $84.5 million in just 101 days?

"It's stunning, isn't it?" state Rep. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat from suburban Philadelphia, replied when I asked.

That's how much America's Largest Full-Time State Legislature spent this past summer and fall while dawdling over the only real job its 253 members have.

That would be passing a budget on time. It came in more than three months late.

The daily tab for tardiness came to almost $837,000. That covered all the costs -- salaries, perks, travel, utilities, printing, mail, phones -- for the House, the Senate, their office staff and the various agencies that support them: the Legislative Budget and Finance Commission, the Legislative Reference Bureau, the Department of Redundancy Department, etc.
Read his full column, "Legislature works at its hardest when taking care of itself," at the newspaper's Web site.

And after you read it, you find your blood pressure reaching the boiling point, just remember that all 203 members of the House and 25 members of the Senate face re-election in 2010. You can do something about it ... but only if you're willing to change the cast of characters currently occupying Harrisburg.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Video: The Game

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reform candidate to challenge incumbent in 130th House Dist.

Two-term state Rep. David R. Kessler will face a Republican challenger in 2010.

David M. Maloney Sr. has announced he is seeking the Republican primary nomination to challenge Kessler, a liberal Democrat who won the traditionally Republican Eastern Berks County House district in 2006.

"As a patriotic Republican, I feel that 2010 will be a critical election year as we the people, rise up to stop expanding government and the over-reaching of the Democrats in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.," Maloney said in a prepared statement.

Maloney has lived in rural Pike Township with his wife and four children for the past 30 years. He served on the Oley Valley School Board from 2005-09.

As a self employed carpenter for the past 25 years, Malone said he has seen "the effects of this down economy and the hindrance government has placed on job growth."

His platform includes getting government out of the way of creating jobs; the elimination of school property taxes; Personal property rights; reducing the size of government; and improving public school performance and accountability.

"I would work to reduce taxes and eliminate wasteful programs," Maloney said. "I believe the job of our elected officials is to serve and represent the people, not the people supporting career politicians. I approach this campaign with a servant's heart and a deep affection for the people I have lived with in this district from the time I was a young boy."

Since announcing his intention to run for the state Legislature, Maloney says he has been encouraged by the positive reception he has received from residents of the 130th District and "it has confirmed and reinforced my decision; a decision I made humbly and prayerfully."

Among Maloney's civic activities are serving on the "Victory Mile" committee at Boyertown High School, an American Cancer Society Relay For Life Team Captain, member of several area sports clubs and associations, and serving as a PIAA official.

Maloney will formally announce his candidacy before friends and supporters on Wednesday, Dec. 30, at 7 p.m. at the Multi-Service building in Boyertown.

Former state Rep. Dennis Leh, a Republican who held the 130th Dist. seat for 20 years, will serve as Maloney's campaign chairman.

The 130th District includes Amity Township; Birdsboro; Boyertown; Colebrookdale Township; Douglass Township; Earl Township; Exeter Township (Districts 01, 03, 06 and 07); Fleetwood; Oley Township; Pike Township; Rockland Township; Ruscombmanor Township; and Union Township.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Government Watchdogs call for Constitutional Convention in PA

The latest corruption scandal to hit Harrisburg has prompted calls for a Constitutional Convention to reform state government. The problem is that a convention needs approval by the Legislature. The people of Pennsylvania can clean up the mess in 2010 when all 203 members of the state House and 25 members of the state Senate are up for reelection.

Government Watchdogs Call for Constitutional Convention in Pa.|abc27 News

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pennsylvania Coalition for Responsible Government

If you believe government is out of control, you're invited to attend the inaugural meeting of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Responsible Government, featuring Keynote Speaker Matthew J. Brouillette of The Commonwealth Foundation.

The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 23, at The Radisson Hotel in Greentree.

The Pennsylvania Coalition for Responsible Government ( seeks to unite people who believe American exceptionalism, America's founding documents, and individual liberty are under assault and need to be defended.

Featured speaker Matthew Brouillette, president & CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, will deliver an address entitled, "Capitalism Still Works."

Those wishing to attend can register for the event at

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sam Rohrer: Tea Anyone?

From state Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-128th District:
Tea Anyone?

In just another day, April 15th will be here. This is the day we are all reminded of how much of our hard-earned wages are lifted by government – at all levels. From the property tax to the sales tax, to the State and federal income tax, to the myriad of fees on literally everything, to the excise taxes, to taxes when you are born to taxes when you die, we are taxed on almost everything.

It's not that every tax is onerous or evil. Some may not like any tax. But, taxes are a legitimate way to fund legitimate government. It's just that when government begins to spend our tax dollars on unconstitutional programs or bailouts and then expects us to continue to dig ever deeper to fund those illegitimate programs that folks develop a very bad taste in their mouths. And like bad tastes in our mouths, normal folks try to get rid of that bad taste. It's only normal.

So, the focus of the April 15th Tea Parties provides the opportunity to people across this Commonwealth and nation to gather peaceably together to say that we're tired of that very bad taste. But is it the taxes that are the cause of this very bad taste or is it something else? The truth be told, taxes aren't the cause, they are the symptom. Out-of-control, unconstitutional and illegitimate spending is the cause. Illegitimate spending is why a crumbling economic system confronts us today. Illegitimate spending including unconstitutional programs, bailouts, subsidizing of those who don't or won't work and earmarks of all types to the favored few identify both the cause and the solution.

The solution: quit spending on unconstitutional programs, quit spending on government programs that compete with private non-profits and churches that exist to meet the needs of the needy, and quit spending on things that grow the size of government beyond the restraints of constitutional boundaries! Just let the people keep their own money! The solution is very simple – if you support the concept of independence and personal freedom. I think the solution is easy to see, a little harder to accomplish, but impossible to oppose – if you support the concept of independence and personal freedom.

So, if you have not yet decided to attend a "Tea Party" on Wednesday, please plan on doing so. It will be good for you, your children, and the cause. I will be one of the speakers at the "Tea Party" in the front steps of the Capitol in Harrisburg beginning at noon and at Lancaster Tax Day Tea Party at 4 p.m. in Musser Park. Hope to see some of you at one of these events.

For the Cause of Independence and Personal Freedom,
Sam Rohrer

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Monday, April 6, 2009

PA House Republicans push reform agenda

With two of the state's biggest Democratic political figures under indictment or already convicted for public corruption, you'd think the Democratic Party would take the lead in pushing ethics reform.

No so in Pennsylvania, where Democrats tend to look the other way when one of their own is caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

So it's up to the Republican Party to take up the cause of reforming what some consider to be the most corrupt state government in the country.

House GOP Leader Sam Smith unveiled the House Republican plan to help put state government on the right path: Pennsylvania's Agenda for Trust in Harrisburg, or PATH.

"We stand at a crossroads to either keep going in the direction of the status quo or change paths and make substantive changes in the way our government operates," Smith said at a Capitol new conference. "For the sake of our Commonwealth's future, I believe we have to change our ways."

Since the pay raise fiasco of July 2005, Pennsylvanians have lost trust in much of government, Smith said. The conviction of state Sen. Vince Fumo on 137 corruption charges and the Bonusgate charges against a dozen Democratic House staffers and elected officials have kept corruption in the headlines over the past few years.

Smith offered a 12-point agenda for dealing with the culture of corruption in Harrisburg.

Among the highlights: End the 'pay-to-play' system where campaign contributors receive lucrative state contracts; a ban on public officials starting nonprofit organizations while in office; strengthening the state Sunshine Law; creation of an Ethical Code of Conduct for executive branch; and independent audits of General Assembly spending.

"Pennsylvanians must believe their government is as effective, efficient, and accountable as it should be," Smith said. "I think it is the right thing to do. We have to stand up and say 'Enough, all this garbage must end now.'"

Read more of Smith's proposals in this press release posted at his Web site.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

'State Lawmakers' Outside Income, Private Interests' exposed

WTAE-TV4 in Pittsburgh has been doing some outstanding investigative reporting on the Pennsylvania Legislature, the most expensive in the country and arguably the most inefficient and corrupt state legislature in the U.S.

The latest investigation by reporter Jim Parsons exposes cases of lawmakers who benefit financially from ties to private interests, often leading to conflicts of interest.

A common example: Lawmakers leasing office space in buildings they own or buildings owned by political allies, all paid for by taxpayers.

From the Team 4 report:
Now, a Team 4 investigation finds many of our full-time legislators in Harrisburg get outside income from private interests -- and sometimes, those interests can conflict with the public's.

Remember, we pay our state lawmakers a minimum of almost $80,000 each to represent us full-time -- but our Team 4 investigation found a majority of lawmakers report income from at least one other source.

And in reading through this annual financial interest statement for each state lawmaker, we also discovered something else: More than one-third of state senators and a quarter of House members sit on legislative committees that oversee the industries from which those same lawmakers reported receiving income, owning stock or serving on a board of directors.

Critics say that's a conflict of interest. But there's no law against it.
You can read the transcript of the report online or watch the actually report by the Team 4 investigation online at the station's Web site,


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Sunday, March 22, 2009

'Do you get the idea that our nation and state are in deep dodo?'

Camp Hill citizen-activist Bill McIntyre has been perusing the newspaper headlines lately and is having some doubts about the people running Pennsylvania and the United States, too.

Here is his latest mailing to "Friends of Responsible Government" and members of the Executive, Legislative & Judicial Branches of PA Government:
Dear Friends,

"Obama's plan: $9.3 trillion in red?" appeared as the lead headline at the top front page in today's Harrisburg Patriot-News. Another headline read "Rendell sees stimulus money as state's 'lifeline'" and appeared at the bottom of the page.

Headlines are defined as the most important items of news in a newspaper or broadcast news media. A well composed headline will draw the readers and/or listeners attention to the article that follows. Some headlines across the state that have caught my attention since my last letter were:

"Auditor General Wagner to audit liquor control board contract"

"Governor hires $100K publicist to tout stimulus money"


"Fumo found guilty on all 137 counts"

"Fumo corruption case expands; others could be investigated"

"Pennsylvania lawmakers have history of criminal prosecution"

"Losses top $28 billion for 2 state pensions"

"Legislators want 'equitable' budget cuts"

"E-mail may tie DeWeese to scandal"

"DeWeese, Dems play tug-of-war with case file"

"Rendell says LCB deal should be investigated"

"President of PHEAA's fundraising arm fired"

"Former PHEAA head wants severance package"

It just goes on and on!

Do you get the idea that our nation and state are in deep dodo? We have mortgaged our future and future generations. Yet, government continues to grow and to spend beyond our means to pay for it all. One headline that caught my eye was "Speaker's pen gift adds $4,000 to Pa. red ink" by Eric Heyl of the Tribune-Review.

Eric wrote - "As is customary for new speakers, McCall rewarded all 203 well-compensated House members with a gift from their leader. He bought them each an $18.95 desktop pen set and purchased seven spare sets – spending nearly $4,000. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Tuesday."

I would have been impressed with Speaker McCall's generous gesture had he paid for the pens himself. Eric's article continues – "McCall's annual salary is $122,245, but he's having the public pick up the tab for the pens. McCall essentially is attempting to expense an outrageous and unnecessary expenditure, one that his bosses – state taxpayers – shouldn't tolerate."

With a projected $2.3 billion deficit in this year's budget, every penny counts. Speaker McCall evidently didn't listen to his grandmother who might have told him, like my grandmother told me; if you watch your pennies the dollars will take care of themselves. With our projected budget shortfall, $4,000 is pennies, precious pennies!

A very concerned,
Bill McIntyre
About spending ourselves into bankruptcy

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

'Let Us Read the Bill' campaign launched

Do you get the feeling members of Congress don't know what they're voting on?

The Institute for Policy Innovation has joined the Sunlight Foundation in the "Read the Bill" initiative designed to educate the public on the importance of Congress posting all proposed legislation online "to ensure both elected officials and citizens have the chance to read and understand legislation 72 hours before it is debated."

From an Institute for Policy Innovation release:
"Forty-two and a half seconds per page -- that's how long members of Congress were given to read, understand, evaluate and consider all the implications for the largest spending bill in history - the so-called 'stimulus' package," said Bartlett Cleland, director of the IPI Center for Technology Freedom.

"Even worse, the public never had a chance to access the language of the bill before passage," said Cleland.

Unfortunately, the recent stimulus bill was not the first legislation to fly through Congress with hardly a review. Too much groundbreaking legislation has done the same over the years with little to no time for a responsible, thorough assessment.

"By definition this is information that we, the people, own -- not to mention that we also pay for the repercussions," said Cleland.
For more information on "Read the Bill," visit

For more on the Institute for Public Innovation, follow the link below:

Institute for Policy Innovation: Let Us Read the Bill

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Taming the beast

Brad Bumsted, writing in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, says the only way to rein in the out-of-control expense of the Pennsylvania Legislature is to take an ax to the beast.

In addition to the 253 full-time elected lawmakers, there are more than 3,000 staff members who work for the Legislature, creating a huge, costly and unproductive bureaucracy the siphons more than $300 million a year from the state treasury.

"We have the second most costly General Assembly and yet we are the sixth-largest state with a population that's at best stagnant and, relative to other states, shrinking," Bumsted writes. "Reducing the size of the Pennsylvania Legislature was snubbed by the Reform Commission two years ago. There are pitfalls to be sure but there is no better time than now to revisit it."

The enormous size of the Legislature prevents the people's business from being done, Bumstead writes.

From Bustead's columnm:
In the House and Senate, there's a Democrat and Republican staffer for almost every position. That means four separate staffs: House Republicans and Democrats and Senate Republicans and Democrats.

The Democrat staffer answers to his Democrat masters. The GOP staffer reports to a GOP boss. It's why there's so much partisan bickering in the place.

It's reasonable for leaders to have partisan staff. They are elected by separate political parties and have their own vastly different ideas. But lawyers? One legal staff could serve the General Assembly like in New Jersey.

Here, each caucus also routinely hires private law firms for specialty issues, like the state attorney general's investigation into legislative corruption. Why are we paying so many high-priced outside lawyers -- and consultants like Casey?

Photographers and writers? One public relations unit should serve them all, not a separate staff for four caucuses churning out glowing news releases and newsletters at your expense.
Read the full column, "Shrink the beast," at the newspaper's Web site.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

State workers who make six-figure salaries

Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Baer, who has covered Harrisburg for decades, is having a difficult time understanding why members of the Pennsylvania Legislature, already among the highest-paid in the country, need to keep so many high-paid staffers around.

A recent Associated Press report listed 73 state legislative staffers who earned more than $100,000 in 2008, more than double what the average Pennsylvanian earns — $43,000. Two staffers brought home more than the governor's $174,914 salary, the wire service reported.

The Pennsylvania Legislature is already the most expensive in the nation, with an annual cost of $334 million, according to Baer.

In addition to 253 elected lawmakers, the Legislature employs 3,156 staffers, Baer says. Base pay for rank-and-file lawmakers is $78,315, but the job, with perks and benefits, is really six figures, Baer writes.

From Baer's column:
I never understood why the sixth-largest state needs the largest legislature (technically, New Hampshire's is larger, but part-time; its 424 lawmakers are paid $100 a year), especially given the legislature's performance, venality and, if you believe the state attorney general, level of corruption.

I sure don't understand why we need the largest staff - especially as thousands of regular state workers face layoffs.

Our bloated Legislature has a bloated underbelly.
Read the full column, "Our state lawmakers are tops ... when it comes to staff numbers," at the newspaper's Web site.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Daily Watchdog

The Center for Public Integrity has launched a new blog called The Daily Watchdog, which will compile investigative reports from around Washington, D.C. -- from the Government Accountability Office to Inspectors General to Congressional oversight committees.

"We'll be compiling these (often-overlooked) investigative reports, so you don't have to go searching for them," the Center said in announcing the new site. "The Daily Watchdog is your go-to resource for the latest results of important federal investigations."

Be sure to bookmark the site and check it often. The Democrats are back in power in Washington, but I'm afraid little has changed.

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Newspaper: Lay off the Legislature

I've been beating the drum for reducing the size of the Pennsylvania Legislature for a long time. I'm glad to see others are joining the chorus.

The Delaware County Daily & Sunday Times says in an editorial that cutting the size of the Legislature might be the smart thing to do in these tough economic times.

From the editorial:
As more and more workers in the state lose their jobs, there is one sure way to ease the tax burden, but it is the one thing this state’s elected representatives refuse to consider.

Pennsylvania should have a smaller Legislature. Honest, caring legislators have tried to make that happen. From 1997 through 2008, attempts have been made for those in General Assembly to reduce the House and Senate through passage of introduced legislation or through a constitutional convention, where the issue of a reduced Legislature could be addressed and put on the ballot. Those efforts did not muster enough votes for passage.

Pennsylvania has 253 members, second only to New Hampshire. Of course, New Hampshire's Legislature meets a limited number of days at $200 a day. That's a far cry from the $340 million price tag put on Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg Hilton crew last year.
The Delco Times also has trouble with the fact that 73 Legislative staffers earn at least $100,000 a year.

From the editorial:
An Associated Press report last week claimed 73 state legislative staffers earned more than $100,000 in 2008, more than double what the average Pennsylvanian earns — $43,000. Two staffers brought home more than the governor’s $174,914 salary.

These are the aides to the men and women voters send to Harrisburg each year.
It's getting harder to justify such exorbitant spending to maintain the political aristocracy in Harrisburg.

Read the full editorial at the newspaper's Web site.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Columnist: House Dems kill reform

Brad Bumstead, who covers Harrisburg for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, has a knack for cutting through the BS and getting to the heart of an issue.

Commenting on the recent move by House Democratic leadership to undo the Legislative reforms enacted over the past two years, Bumstead says the members of the entrenched Harrisburg political class "still don't get it."

From his column:
Then on the night two weeks ago when Gov. Ed Rendell unveiled his $29 billion state spending plan and most reporters were paying no attention to the House, the Democrats struck:

• They made it easier and more likely that the House will be able to hold late-night sessions. The 11 p.m. curfew can be suspended with fewer votes.

• Realizing they had erred in approving an amendment by Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, that prevented legislators from working as lobbyists, the Democrat majority approved a motion that declared Maher's amendment unconstitutional and allowed a handful of Democrat members to continue working at big law firms with lobbying arms.

• They restored the power of the House Rules Committee, a panel controlled by leaders, to serve as a mechanism to kill any bill or alter the face of legislation.

• They weakened the 24-hour rule before the House can vote on legislation. The previous rule was supposed to give lawmakers a chance to read the bills they'd be voting on. "In essence, I don't think we have a 24-hour rule any longer," said Rep. Curt Schroder, a Chester County Republican.

It's clearly a retreat from the measures proposed by the Speaker's Reform Commission and adopted by the House in 2007. And Schroder reminds that some Democrats who served on the reform panel voted for "this destruction of openness."
Read the full column at the newspaper's Web site.

Originally posted at TONY PHYRILLAS

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

GOP: End pay-to-play politics in Pennsylvania

A group of House Republicans introduced a package of bills today to end "pay-to-play" politics in Pennsylvania.

The bills are aimed squarely at Gov. Ed Rendell, who has awarded more than $1 billion worth of no-bid contracts to politically connected firms during his six years as governor.

From a press release issued by the GOP lawmakers:
"The recent allegations of corruption against Blagojevich, the swirling situation surrounding the award of millions of dollars in no-bid legal services contracts by Governor Ed Rendell to his old law firm, and now the information that Deloitte Touche has turned the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) into its own satellite office compel all Pennsylvanians to be concerned about the manner in which the public dollars are being spent," said state Rep. Douglas Reichley. "The disclosures over the last year of possible favoritism in awarding contracts leads us to worry that Pennsylvania is not immune to the perception that it’s not what you can do but who you know that gets you preferential treatment in government contracts. Pennsylvania needs laws in place to ensure that nothing like this can ever occur in our state."

During his six years in office, Rendell has taken advantage of a weak state law to give preferential consideration to former associates in his former law firm and campaign contributors who have received lucrative contracts for state services without any competitive bidding.
Read the full statement at Reichley's Web site.

And this from an article in today's edition of The Harrisburg Patriot-News by reporter Jan Murphy:
House Republicans, reacting to state Auditor General Jack Wagner's preliminary audit findings on questionable practices that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in technology contracts for Deloitte, called for state contract reform and a criminal investigation.

At a Capitol news conference, state Rep. Doug Reichley, R-Lehigh, outlined a list of bills aimed at ending what they describe as "pay-to-play politics in Pennsylvania" and afterward urged Attorney General Tom Corbett to investigate whether improprieties occurred involving Deloitte's work on state contracts as well as Gov. Ed Rendell's administration's failure to cooperate with auditors.

A report in today's edition of The Patriot-News shares findings from Wagner's preliminary audit that cites allegations ranging from vendor favoritism to no-bid contracts, along with concerns about the agencies' secrecy surrounding documents that led to Deloitte landing state contracts.
Read "House Republicans call for contract reform, criminal investigation" at The Patriot-News Web site.

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How PA ended up with the most expensive state legislature in the U.S.

Don't miss the final installment of Robert Swift's excellent three-part series on the Pennsylvania Legislature, published in The Times-Tribune.

The main story is a cautionary tale of the evolution of the Legislature into the most expensive in the country.

A report by the Commission for Legislative Modernization in 1969 paved the way for transforming the General Assembly from a body of part-timers to one in which members consider themselves on the job full-time, Swift writes.

More from Swift's story about the skyrocketing cost of state government:
While Pennsylvania voters never gave formal approval to this change, they elected candidates who ran during the 1970s promising to be a "full-time" lawmaker.

The transformed Legislature, with its greater scope of activity, equal footing with the executive branch and higher costs has seen relatively few changes. During the past 40 years, reforms have come slowly and grudgingly.

In the 1960s, the legislative staff totaled more than 500 people, but it wasn't equipped to do extensive policy research. The bureaucracy swelled to 1,700 people by 1984 and to nearly 3,000 staffers by 2003 even though voters set the number of lawmakers at 253 in 1968.

In 1964, it cost Pennsylvania taxpayers $6 million out of a $1 billion state budget to operate the part-time Legislature. In 1985, it cost taxpayers $80 million out of a $15 billion state budget for the Legislature. In 2008, legislative spending reached $316 million out of a $28.3 billion state budget.

Legislative pay increased from $7,200 in 1969 to $78,314 this year.

Per capita costs zoomed upward as well.

In 1981, the legislative operations cost $3.40 for every Pennsylvania resident. In 2007, the cost of the General Assembly was eight times that at $25 for every resident, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Pennsylvania ranks third among the states in per capita legislative costs.
Read the full story, along with all the stories in the series, at The Times-Tribune Web site.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

The most expensive state legislature in the country

The Times-Tribune is running a three-part series about the Pennsylvania Legislature, the most expensive state legislature in the country.

The first story, "Pennsylvania Legislature's growing girth," was published Sunday.

A few gems from Robert Swift, the newspaper's Harrisburg bureau chief:
In addition to salary (the fourth-highest in the nation), House lawmakers receive an average $11,349 toward health insurance, an average $5,351 for prescription drugs with a co-pay, dental and vision benefits and a number of per-diem payments. Pensions and life and disability insurance benefits also count as individual benefits.

Support costs for House lawmakers include a $20,000 office expense account, a $7,800 vehicle expense reimbursement and $4,000 postage account. House lawmakers can use a car from the state government’s fleet of more than 16,000 or be reimbursed for driving their own cars.

Senators receive an average $13,791 toward health insurance and dental and vision benefits. Since 2007, senators pay 1 percent of their salary to participate in the health care plan. They receive per diems, pensions and life and long-term care insurance as well.

Support costs for senators, who have larger constituencies, include a $25,000 expense account and $26,500 postage account. They can use a state car or claim mileage, currently at 55 cents a mile.

House and Senate lawmakers can claim a $143 per diem to cover costs of lodging and meals. The per diem amount fluctuates annually based on federal guidelines. Estimates of total annual per-diem costs are in the $2 million range. House members can claim per diems for voting and nonvoting session days, attending committee meetings, the day after the last weekday of a session and for overnight stays.
Swift also examines the perpetual debate of whether serving in the Pennsylvania Legislature is a part-time job:
Despite the Legislature's full-time status, Pennsylvania lawmakers don't put in a five-day workweek at the Capitol. The Senate is scheduled to be in session 54 days scattered through the end of June; the House has scheduled 50 days.

Lawmakers also spend time in their districts engaged in "constituent work," a wide-ranging category of activity without a common definition. It can run the gamut from handling driver's license and vehicle registration applications to guiding major economic-development projects. A key part of their job is making the rounds of civic events in their districts on nights and weekends.
Read the full story, along with a sidebar on the history of legislative corruption, at the newspaper's Web site.

The second part of the series, a look at how difficult it is a bill to make it through the Legislature, is in today's edition of the newspaper.

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Make way for his royal highness

Critics began referring to the Pennsylvania Legislature as the House of Lords a few years ago. Things toned down a bit after the imperial reign of John Perzel came to an end, but now it appears that Keith McCall, the new Speaker of the House, is attempting to bring back the royal trappings of his office.

From the Whispers column in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
UPLIFTING ITEM. Talk about a sense of entitlement.

At the state Capitol, one of two elevators on the House side is blocked by a guard when Speaker Keith McCall is headed somewhere important. No one else can get on.

Before Gov. Ed Rendell's budget address to the Legislature last week, people were turned away from one of the lifts because it was being reserved for McCall.

In the past, one of the two elevators on the Senate side has been reserved when senators were heading to session.

McCall isn't the first legislative leader to have an elevator reserved for him. But why should a Democrat legislator from Carbon County -- indeed, why should any legislator -- deserve such royal treatment?

Next he'll be sporting a signet ring.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Newspaper: House Dems vote to undo reforms

The "Year of Reform" is a distant memory in Harrisburg.

With a five-member majority in the state House of Representatives, Democrats moved quickly to reverse most of the reforms enacted last year to prevent the kind of maneuvering that brought middle-of-the-night votes to legalize slot parlors and grant politicians outrageous pay raise.

It's business as usual in Harrisburg as the professional politicians erased rules designed to make the people's business more transparent.

The new House leadership is firmly in control of the same political hacks who have given Pennsylvania the reputation of having the most corrupt state government in the country.

From an editorial in today's edition of The Pottstown Mercury:
Not only have the House Democrats proven that business goes on as usual in Harrisburg, but they have undone the hope for change their own Speaker's Commission on Reform had begun.

The Democratic leadership and membership in the House have demonstrated just how seriously they view the opinions of Pennsylvania voters.

Apparently, not seriously at all.
Read the full editorial, "House Democrats undo last year's reforms with party-line vote on rules," at the newspaper's Web site.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

PA House returns to 'bad old days'

In an after-hours vote Wednesday, Democrats repealed the reform measures instituted in the state House of Representatives two years ago.

The move opens the way for more late-night votes similar to the legislation that legalized casino gambling in 2004 and the pay raise lawmakers gave themselves in 2005.

On the House floor Wednesday night, Rep. Curt Schroder (R-155th Dist.) spoke out against proposed changes to House rules that would restore "the bad old days" before the Speaker's Reform Commission put an end to late-night voting and "gut-and-run" amendments.

From a statement issued by Schroder:
"The Speaker's Reform Commission's goals were to make sure House members, the press and the public could see what legislation was being proposed and have time to study it," said Schroder. "The commission's goal was to ensure transparency. Yes, it takes more time, but it is necessary to ensure openness."

Schroder said the vote by House Democrats to restore the old policies was akin to exchanging openness for expediency.

"This action rolls back and retreats from the rules established by the bipartisan Speaker's Reform Commission a couple of years ago that required 24 hours before an amended bill could be considered on final passage," said Schroder. "We are indeed opening the door to the bad old days. Under the new House rules, legislation may be rewritten at the last minute and brought to the floor for a vote and become law without giving adequate time for legislators and the public to absorb the changes."

In addition to the 24-hour rule change, the new rules pave the way for sessions to go past the 11 p.m. deadline established by the Reform Commission. They also give the Rules Committee more power to manipulate bills.

"The House rules adopted Wednesday night dim the light that was shone on the legislative process by the work of the Speaker's Reform Commission. The rule requiring a 24-hour waiting period to vote a bill after it is amended is now rendered ineffective; gut-and-run, last-minute amendments can once again be passed by the House Rules Committee and the likelihood is now greater that bills will be passed in the middle of the night once again," Schroder said. "The Democrat members of the Reform Commission and first-term Democrats who ran on a reform agenda were party to this destruction of openness."

Also Wednesday night, Schroder voted for an amendment that would have prohibited House members from being employed by lobbying firms. House Democrats defeated it.
This is the result of voters sending a Democratic majority back to Harrisburg despite the fact that 12 people connected with the House Democratic Caucus have been indicted in the "Bonusgate" corruption probe. You wanted business as usual in Harrisburg ... and you got it.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I learned a new word today

I've used a few choice words through the years to describe the members of the Pennsylvania Legislature, but "reprobates" is not one of them.

rep·ro·bate: A morally unprincipled person; One who is predestined to damnation; Morally unprincipled; shameless; Rejected by God and without hope of salvation.

Yep, sounds like the typical member of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review says the new Democratic leadership in the state House of Representatives is attempting to undo the reforms of the past two years and return the Legislature to the corrupt system that led to the infamous middle-of-the-night pay raise in 2005.

From the editorial:
Democrat House leaders have circulated a draft proposal to water down legislative reforms designed to end the shafting of state taxpayers. Among the measures they hope to ram into place by Friday:

• Reduce from three-fourths to a simple majority the number of votes required to allow House votes after 11 p.m.

• Reduce from 24 hours to six hours the waiting period for voting on bill amendments

• Again allow the leadership-controlled Rules Committee to "adjust" legislation.
Read the full editorial, "Harrisburg reprobates," at the newspaper's Web site.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Democrats try to undo legislative reforms

Emboldened by their five-seat majority in the state House of Representatives, Democratic Party leaders are moving quickly to undo many of the legislative reforms enacted in Harrisburg over the past two years.

DemocracyRisingPA, the reform watchdog group, has issued an "urgent alert" warning that "when the House resumes session on Tuesday, the Democratic majority will propose new rules that will turn back the clock to the bad old days of the Pay Raise of 2005, the slots gambling law and other stealth lawmaking. A summary - not an actual draft - began circulating in the Capitol at the end of last week, but it is not available to the public on the House web site. Members of the 2007 Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform received a briefing on the changes last Wednesday, according to House sources."

Citizens and media who want to know how their representatives plan to vote and why will have to act fast, DemocracyRisingPA says. "Although the current temporary House rules don't expire until February 6, Democratic leaders plan to rush the new rules to a vote on Tuesday. If House Democrats have their way, it may be the last time citizens are able to ask such questions about any important legislation before it's too late," DemocracyRisingPA says on its Web site.

From the DemocracyRisingPA post:
The Bottom Line

The Democrats' proposals will make it much harder for citizens to know what their government is doing in time to express their opinion either for or against proposed laws. They would repeal reforms adopted with great fanfare just two years ago through the Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform. Among dozens of proposals, House Democrats propose to:

* Render meaningless the rule requiring the House to stop session at 11:00 p.m. unless three-fourths of the members vote to continue.

* Repeal the rule allowing citizens and their representatives at least 24 hours to see amendments before voting on them, at least 24 hours to consider bills after their last amendment, and at least 24 hours before a vote on a report by a conference committee. Conference committee reports, such as every budget and the Pay Raise of 2005, are often the most complicated, controversial and important laws proposed in any session. As in the past, the proposal would allow action after as little as six hours.

* Repeal the rule prohibiting the Rules Committee from amending bills after they have been considered by another committee.
Read more and learn how you can fight the effort to turn back the reform movement at the DemocracyRisingPA Web site.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Teachers' union is hurting education

Matthew J. Brouillette, a former high school history teacher, coach and school board member, knows something about the public education system.

As president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, Brouillette spends much of his professional time researching the impact the state's largest teachers' union has on Pennsylvania schools.

Writing recently in The Mercury, Brouillette says there's no disputing the fact that the political agenda pursued by the Pennsylvania State Education Association has caused a great deal of harm to teachers, children and taxpayers.

"I know first-hand the challenges inside and out of the classroom," Brouillette writes in a guest column. "Until we address the systemic problems associated with who controls public education and how we deliver it, simply spending more money will fail to improve our schools."

From Brouillette's column:

Even Albert Shanker, the late American Federation of Teachers labor union president, recognized the need for systemic change when he candidly said: "It's time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody's role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It's no surprise that our school system doesn't improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy."

In spite of the inherent problems noted by Shanker, most public schools are able to teach our children to read, write, and figure. But when comparing the academic performance of our students to those in other countries, it's clear our current system is failing both our children and our nation.
Brouillette offers several solutions to improving our schools and invites the teachers' union to become part of the solution.

Read the full op-ed at the newspaper's Web site.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Rendell defends patronage hiring

And you wonder why Pennsylvania is facing a potential $2 billion budget shortfall?

Gov. Ed Rendell continues to defend the hiring of political crony Dan Surra to a $95,000 patronage job despite a hiring freeze that has left 5,000 other state jobs unfilled.

Rendell himself admitted this week that the state's General Fund deficit will likely reach $1.6 billion to $1.9 billion by the the end of June. Republican lawmakers say the deficit could top $2.1 billion.

"Everyone has to understand that what has happened leaves us no option," Rendell said this week. "We're going to have to cut virtually every program that there is."

But giving a $95,000-a-year-job to an ousted state lawmaker is not among the cuts Rendell is willing to make.

Reporter Brad Bumstead has more on Rendell's hypocrisy and "Go to hell" attitude toward Pennsylvania taxpayers in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

From Bumstead's article:
"Let me stress, I reserved the right when I announced the hiring freeze to make exceptions," Rendell told reporters while visiting the Pennsylvania Farm Show. During a speech at the farm show, he boosted his predicted budget deficit for 2008-09 from $1.6 billion to $1.9 billion.

Rendell said he did not create a special job for Surra, but he acknowledged the DCNR job was not posted and others weren't considered.
The Democratic governor's decision to hire Surra, a Democrat who failed to win re-election to the state House of Representatives in November, has been universally panned by the state's newspapers.

From The Pottstown Mercury:
THORNS to Gov. Ed Rendell for creating a job for a former state legislator, violating a hiring freeze imposed during the current state budget crisis ... Rendell also has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget to help offset a projected $1.7 billion shortfall this fiscal year. Creating a job for an ousted legislator in this fiscally-stressed environment was a slap in the face to state taxpayers. The governor should know better.

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Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Reform advocate Eric Epstein, a veteran observer of the Harrisburg scene, is not impressed with the "new" Democratic House leadership in the state Legislature.

Epstein is very familiar with Rep. Todd Eachus, the new House majority leader.

From Epstein's Capitol Domes blog:
On Monday, the Pennsylvania Legislature's "new" majority leader, Todd Eachus, announced that the House of Representatives was under "new management." The same day, the "new" majority whip, Bill DeWeese, introduced HB 21 to promote table games at Pennsylvania casinos. The next day, Dan Surra, former majority caucus administrator, landed a "new" job during a hiring freeze.

Alakazamm! Whoosh! Everything is fine.

Wait a minute. I think we've seen this magic act before.

Who is the new magician?

Eachus voted to increase his salary 22 percent from $69,648 to $85,102, defended the pay grab and kept the money. Mr. New Management never paid back the unconstitutional pay raise.

Eachus is a protégée of indicted former Whip Mike Veon. In fact, it was Mr. New Management who retired Veon's campaign debt. "Mike's contribution as a leader to our collective effort meant a lot to us," said House Majority Policy Chairman Eachus of Luzerne County, who chairs the campaign committee. But the committee's other three leaders -- Reps. Joe Preston, Dan Frankel and Jennifer Mann -- apparently had no knowledge of the two payments
As that great British philosopher Pete Townshend once said, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Read Epstein's full blog posting, "Todd Eachus: New boss, same magic tricks," at Capitol Domes.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Keeping an eye on PA Legislature

Those very helpful folks at The Commonwealth Foundation have launched a new Web site to help Pennsylvania residents keep an eye on the state Legislature. provides "concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Pennsylvania House and Senate," according to the site.

Visitors can search bills and votes by legislator, category or keyword.

Guests can also post comments about bills and discuss other state policy issues on the Web sites' forums. People have already left comments on Judicial Elections, Transparency and Mandatory Minimum Sentencing. also features handy links to other Web sites that offer information about public policy issues.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rendell rewards ousted legislator with $95,000-a-year job

This is wrong on so many levels.

Facing a projected $1.7 billion budget deficit, Gov. Ed Rendell imposed a hiring freeze last fall, which was a sensible thing to do.

But apparently the hiring freeze doesn't apply to career politicians tossed from office by voters. Especially when that lawmaker is a longtime political ally of the Democratic governor.

The Associated Press reports that Rendell made an exception to the hiring freeze and created a new job for former state Rep. Dan A. Surra, a Democrat who represented Elk and Clearfield counties before losing his re-election bid in November.

The new job title is "senior adviser" for the the "Pennsylvania Wilds" tourism program, which promotes outdoor activities in northern Pennsylvania.

The job pays -- are you ready for this? -- $95,000 a year — which is about $20,000 more than the starting salary of a Pennsylvania legislator. Surla was making $89,000 last year as a member of the Democratic Caucus leadership, so it's still a substantial pay raise, paid for by the taxpayers of Pennsylvania

Rendell's press secretary told the Associated Press the new job for Surra is a wise investment for Pennsylvania taxpayers. Surra's primary responsibility will be to balance the region's tourism with the surging interest in drilling for natural gas, Chuck Ardo told the wire service.

Let's review. The voters kick Surra out after 17 years in Harrisburg, but Gov. Rendell rewards the veteran politician with a cushy state job and a $6,000 pay raise. Surra can now pad his generous state pension with even more taxpayer dollars.

Only in Pennsylvania. Only under the "pay-to-play" politics that Rendell brought to Harrisburg six years ago.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

'Top 10 rules for new legislators'

Brad Bumstead, the veteran Harrisburg reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, offers some advice for the 34 freshman state legislators sworn in last week.

While the lawmakers go through an extensive orientation program, Bumstead's advice should be taken to heart.

"For the most part, don't emulate the freshmen class of 2007-2008," Bumstead writes. "Elected in the aftermath of the 2005 pay raise debacle, the 50-plus member class was expected to be the catalyst for wide-ranging reform. With a few notable exceptions -- like Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Uniontown, on open records and Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery County, who is bulldogging the Gaming Control Board -- that class was largely a bust."

Some other good advice offered by Bustead:
Don't take dinners from lobbyists or other members who get lobbyists to pick up the tab. It's another step on the road to corruption. Meet with lobbyists in your office during business hours.

Don't overdo it with press releases. Few news outlets use them. Wait until you really have something important to say. Less is better.

Never vote for a bill increasing your pay or benefits. If you hear it's happening, speak out against it ahead of time -- not afterward.
Check out Bumstead's "Top 10 rules for new legislators" at the newspaper's Web site.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

'We have a part-time Legislature that we're paying full-time'

Citizen activist Bill McIntyre welcomes the 2009-10 edition of the Pennsylvania Legislature, but isn't holding his breath that much will change in Harrisburg. Here's a copy of a letter he sent today to our fearless leaders:
To: PA General Assembly
Subject: Welcome!

Dear Senators & Representatives,

We welcome your return to Harrisburg and the Capitol! Things have been a little quiet around here in your absence. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed your vacation time away and the holidays with family and friends.

We need your help. The ship of state, the USS Pennsylvania, is sinking and is taking down our over 12 million passengers into a sea of red ink. We will need a like number of life preservers if you don’t plug the leaks in our budget. You had that chance in the last budget but, instead, you and the governor gave us a time bomb termed Act 44 that exploded in our hull, thus hastening our demise.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News last Saturday, January 3, 2009 contained a headline titled – “State revenues fall in November” by star reporter Jan Murphy. In the second paragraph Jan wrote – “The report released Friday by the state Revenue Department shows general fund collections in November fell $156.6 million short of estimates, bringing the year-to-date general fund collections to $11.2 billion. That is $814.5 million less than projected.” How large will the deficit grow in the next 7 months?

You were voted in as leaders to represent the residents in your district. As leaders, we have depended upon you to represent us and our needs throughout the state. I’m sorry to report that many of you have failed in this mission. Leaders lead by example. The majority of you have failed the test.

The example the majority of you have set is – every man or women for him or herself and the hell with the taxpayer. The proof of that was the infamous pay grab of July 7, 2005. Three and one half years later not much has changed except we can’t afford you and your lifestyles (refer to paragraph 3 above). So far, most of you have failed yourselves and the people who have placed you in office.

There is a solution to again regain public trust. A friend of mine, Gene Stilp wrote a letter published in today’s Patriot-News titled – “Legislators can show mettle by going on financial diet.” I quote Gene’s 8th paragraph – “It is time for the Legislature to show the way with a 10% cut in their own salaries, along with a law to rescind the recent and future cost-of-living increases for the Legislature, which incidentally met for only nine days in the past six months. It is also time to discard the entire incumbent protection system, which costs tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”

I concur. We have a part-time Legislature that we’re paying full-time, outlandish benefits. Future letters will bear this out and prove that we’re correct. Pennsylvania desperately needs a Constitutional Convention to reign in a runaway state government and return it to the citizens. Where are the reformers we’ve elected? Our fears are you’ve been bought by the present perks of office. Where are our real leaders? Hiding in perks? Your constitutes are hurting. Do you really care?

A thoroughly disgusted,
Bill McIntyre
Camp Hill
Continuing the fight for true government reform, not just window dressing rules.

CC: Executive & Judicial Branches of PA government

All Media and Friends of Responsible Government

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dear Santa

Citizen activist Bill McIntyre, a Camp Hill, Pa., resident best known for his open letters to Pennsylvania elected officials, has decided to go right to the top this time. He's writing to Santa Claus.
To: Santa Claus
North Pole
Subject: Merry Christmas!

Dear Santa Claus,

Last year I wrote you requesting three items: True government reform in Pennsylvania, an Open Records law and the repeal of Act 44 although there was much more I could have requested. I didn't want to be greedy like some in our state government. You were able to grant one request of an open records law and I want to thank you for it.

Time will tell if it was well constructed or poorly put together. It goes into effect next month. Our governor has been playing with it and I just hope he doesn't break it before we get our chance to use it.

I've watched and listened to the many boys and girls who make up our three branches of government in Pennsylvania. Some, Santa, are still very bad and they will write in an attempt to fool you. They get many gifts from the taxpayers and seldom give a gift in return. They think only of themselves.

We do have many good girls and boys who are trying to change things here in Harrisburg. The problem is they are outnumbered by the bad ones.

We can't place all the blame on the bad ones as they were sent here by the voters. I hope you have a list of the voters who returned them to office for they shouldn't get gifts either, not even coal in their stockings.

As you may be aware, the economy has not performed well this year. As usual, our governor and state legislature overreached when passing the budget in July. They had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. The economy rapidly turned those plums into prunes.

Many good boys and girls have been laid off and are looking for work this Christmas. It is difficult to enjoy and celebrate the season when you’re unemployed. Edward Langley, the artist once said – "What this country (state) needs are more unemployed politicians." Maybe then they would see what it is like out here in the "real world" and be satisfied with what we give to them.

Please visit the good politicians and ignore the bad ones this year. That would help balance your budget in these difficult times. It might even help with our future budgets.

Thank you for considering my request,

Bill McIntyre
Looking forward to your visit
CC: All the good and bad government officials
All the friends of responsible government

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Reformers want Argall to repay taxpayers

State Rep. David Argall was a leader of the House Republican Caucus when then-Speaker John Perzel pushed for the infamous middle-of-the-night pay raise in July 2005. Argall dutifully followed along and voted for the pay raise and also took the money as unvouchered expenses. Thanks mostly to pressure by reform groups, newspaper editorialists and bloggers, the pay raise was repealed. After the repeal vote, many lawmakers paid back the money. But not Argall.

Now Republican Argall wants to move to the state Senate, where the 29th District seat held by the late Jim Rhoades is vacant. Argall is the front-runner in the race, but before Argall moves to the Senate, a group of reformers want him to pay back the pay raise money and "per diem" money that Argall may or may not have been entitled to.

Below is a letter sent by five prominent citizen reformers.
Dear Rep. Argall,

It has been widely reported that you are seeking to the fill the late Sen. Jim Rhoades' vacant seat.

Before pursuing your newest political endeavor, however, we implore you to repay to the taxpayers the tens of thousands of dollars you owe them for: 1) tax-free, supplemental "per diem" money you've collected in excess of your actual expenses for food and lodging; and 2) the money you collected from the repealed pay raise of 2005.

With regard to the per diem money: a thorough review of official records from the House Chief Clerk's office indicates that, from 2005 to 2007 alone, you collected more than $48,000 in per diem money for food and lodging expenses that were incurred on approximately 420 separate business days in Harrisburg. That averages out to a per diem payment to you of $115 per day. This money of course was collected above and beyond your base salary of more than $100,000, and in addition to the money you collected for transportation expenses.

As you know, you and your fellow legislators have made it such that you don't even have to provide receipts for, or documentation of, your actual expenses for food and lodging. Therefore, it is difficult to calculate precisely how much tax-free, supplemental per diem money you collected above and beyond those expenses.

This much we know, however: in 2007, the average resident in Schuylkill County was living on $41.93 per day, and the average resident in Berks County on $49.43 per day – for housing costs, health care, food, transportation, utilities, etc. (United States Census Bureau). On average, you collected $113 a day in tax-free, supplemental income, - just for food and lodging – which is more than double what your constituents had to live on for all the costs of life.

We also know that it is only 78 miles from your Lake Hautto home to the Capitol (a drive of 1 hour and 28 minutes), which means you are often able to drive home from the Capitol after a session day or nonvoting business day, and not need taxpayer-funded lodging.

Further, we know that oftentimes during session days, representatives are usually provided with catered meals out of leadership accounts, or lobbyists simply pick up the tab – further driving down your actual expenses for which you collected per diem money.

Concluding our first item on per diems: given that your average per diem check for food and lodging expenses in 2007 ($113) was more than double what your constituents had to live on for all the expenses of life that year ($45, when averaging between Schuylkill and Berks counties' residents), and multiplying the differential ($68) by the number of days for which you collected a per diem in 2007 (149), we believe you overcharged the taxpayers by $10,000 (rounding down), just for calendar year 2007. We believe this figure to be a conservative estimate given that it does not factor in the abovementioned free meals provided to you from leadership accounts and lobbyists. Furthermore, if we were to multiply your years in the House (24) by the excess per diem money collected for each year, we'd likely compute an amount well over $100,000 in tax-free, supplemental income owed to the taxpayers (after adjusting for inflation). Again, this is a very conservative estimate.

Regarding the second item mentioned above – the 2005 pay raise money: according to news reports in the Morning Call, you collected $7,000 in so-called "unvouchered expense" money from a 2005 pay raise that was not only repealed, but ruled unconstitutional. Many legislators never collected a penny of this illicit raise. Of those that did collect, the overwhelming majority paid the money back, either upon its repeal, or upon its being ruled unconstitutional. Indeed, the man who once walked in the very large shoes you aspire to fill – Sen. James Rhoades – did the honorable thing and paid back every single cent.

You've stubbornly refused paying back the pay raise money, citing the fact that you gave it to charity, which in your belief should excuse you from reimbursing the taxpayers. We would remind you that in American jurisprudence, giving ill-gotten gains to charity is never an acceptable defense. To say it in other words, someone who robs a bank could never tell the judge he gave the money to charity, and expect to get off the hook.

Our first appeal is to your sense of integrity: Giving back the rather large sum of money you owe the taxpayers is simply the right thing to do.

Our second appeal is to your sense for fiscal need: the Commonwealth is presently staring at a budget deficit that experts predict will reach anywhere from $1 billion to $2 billion. We are likely facing a combination of tax increases and painful cuts in vital state services and programs. What a shame it would be, for instance, if we had to cut $100,000 for library services, when you alone owe the taxpayers at least that much in excess per diem money and unconstitutional, unvouchered expenses. Combined with like amounts owed by your colleagues, the figure grows exponentially.

Failing our first two appeals, our final appeal is to the political sense for which you are famous. It would simply be political suicide to seek an open state Senate seat when you owe a very large sum of money to the taxpayers for unvouchered expenses and excess, tax-free per diem money. This is akin to expecting to be granted approval for a mortgage with deficiencies in your credit history, something your constituents are painfully aware of during these rough economic times.

We look forward to receiving word from you in the very near future that you have decided to do right by the taxpayers you seek to represent in Senate by paying back your unvouchered expenses and excess, tax-free per diem money.

Eric Epstein
Rock the Capital
Gene Stilp
Taxpayers & Ratepayers United
Russ Diamond
PA Clean Sweep
Tim Potts
Democracy Rising
Dennis Baylor
PA Accountability Project

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Reform group finds $313M to trim from PA spending

Gov. Ed Rendell has spent months going over the state budget and has come up with $439 million in proposed cuts to stem the massive red ink pouring from the 2008-09 General Fund budget.

The current budget deficit has already topped $658 million in just the first five months of the fiscal year. Projections have the deficit reaching $2 billion by the end of the fiscal year in June 2009.

At a recent press conference the governor asked for help in finding more cuts.

Eric Epstein, coordinator of, a Harrisburg-based reform group, has answered the call. Epstein has released a list of $313 million that can be cut in state spending without impacting Pennsylvania residents.

Among the cuts:
Liquidate non-lapsing, leadership accounts $241.5 million

Eliminate Public Service Announcements by lawmakers: $1.35 million in annual savings

Reduce PHEAA funding by the amount spent on "lobbying fees": $1 million
For the full list, click here. Also visit for more on the group's efforts to reform state government.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Targeting 'systemic corruption in Harrisburg'

Brian O'Neill, a columnist for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, recently interviewed citizen activist Tim Potts about his ongoing effort to reform Harrisburg.

Potts, a former legislative aide who founded DemocracyRisingPA, has a new strategy to keep the reform movement alive.

Potts is attempting to create a citizens watchdog network across Pennsylvania to keep an eye on state legislators, according to O'Neill.

From O'Neill's column:
Mr. Potts, of Carlisle, puts about 30,000 miles on his car each year talking to folks like these. He doesn't want to hear that Joe Citizen can't do anything about the systemic corruption in Harrisburg, and so is trying to counter it with systemic civic vigilance.

It's an ambitious, localized plan, and the punster in Mr. Potts can't resist calling it "Local Eyes." Citizen volunteers will home in on one state representative or senator and track all recorded votes on integrity issues, all sponsorships of reform legislation and any statements on public integrity.

Democracy Rising will provide volunteers with a list of bills and the voting schedule, but volunteers will be expected to meet each month with each lawmaker "for updates on activities toward the highest standards of public integrity in America."
Read the full column, Staring down a corrupt Legislature, at the newspaper's Web site.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Newspaper: Reform begins Nov. 4

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has concluded that the only way to reform Harrisburg is the clean house in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Voters can accomplish that task on Nov. 4.

Pennsylvania voters, angry over the middle-of-the-night legislative pay raise in 2005, replaced 55 incumbents in 2006. So far this year, 27 incumbents have retired or lost their re-election bids in the primary, but real change can occur on Nov. 4 when 104 incumbents face opposition on the ballot.

Pennsylvania voters can put the fear of God into the Harrisburg political elite by throwing out scores of incumbents.

From the Tribune-Review editorial:
Why do Pennsylvania's leading lawmakers treat their constituents with such disdain? More to the point, how much more mistreatment are the people prepared to take?

In the twilight of yet another legislative session, for which so many spent so much to accomplish so little, bills to expand state transparency and promote better governance fade ever so deliberately into the haze that is Harrisburg.

For this inaction some Senate leaders blame an obstinate House. House Republicans slam the Democrat leadership. And the House leadership argues that it was the Senate that canned a lame-duck session -- which has been an excuse for all manner of mischief.

Funny how all the gibber-jabber about good government -- even for a fully warranted constitutional convention -- arises in the 11th hour when there was abundant opportunity for reforms this year, beginning with the state's overblown $28.2 billion budget.

Reform begins by pitching them on Nov. 4.
Read the full editorial, "Reforming Harrisburg: Throw 'em out" at the newspaper's Web site.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reformer Curt Schroder 'gets a pass'

Curt Schroder, who has served in the state Legislature since 1995, has rubbed the Harrisburg establishment the wrong way in recent years, but he hasn't suffered any political consequences, says Daily Local News columnist Jim Callahan.

Schroder, a Republican who represents the 155th House District in Chester County, did not face a primary opponent and won't have to worry about re-election on Nov. 4 since the Democratic Party couldn't find anyone to run against him.

That's surprising since Schroder was one of the "gang of six" who led a revolt against House Speaker John Perzel in January 2007, denying Perzel another term as leader of the state House.

Perzel has been known to fund candidates to run against people who cross him, regardless of their party affiliation.

Fed up with abuses of power and the direction of the House under Perzel, Schroder and five other Republicans wanted change, Callahan writes.

The GOP revolt (and a similar uprising against Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese) left the Speaker's post in the hands of Dennis O'Brien, a little-known Philadelphia Republican who was elected House Speaker mostly by Democrats.

O'Brien promised to usher in "The Year of Reform," but very little was accomplished in that area during his tenure.

"We've made progress, but no, I'm not completely satisfied," Schroder told Callahan.

Read the rest of the column, "A political rarity: Schoeder gets a pass," at the newspaper's Web site.

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