October 15, 2014 |
HARRISBURG - As the General Assembly returns this week for its final voting days of the 2013-14 legislative session, there is little certainty about which bills will ultimately reach the governor's desk. But two of Gov. Corbett's top priorities - liquor privatization and pension reform - are not likely to be among them. After debating those issues for two years, it appears that the House and Senate will adjourn without reaching agreement on single pieces of legislation to privatize the State Stores or address skyrocketing pension costs by shifting state employees to a 401(k)
September 16, 2014 |
HARRISBURG - It's do-or-die for a new cigarette tax to help Philadelphia schools, as well as scores of other bills, when the state legislature returns from its summer break Monday. The fall legislative agenda is packed with bills touching on everything from public employee pensions to public records. Not only will it play out against the backdrop of a contentious election season, but it will also contend with a time crunch: Any bills that don't get approved this year will effectively die and have to be reintroduced come January, when a new two-year session begins.
July 17, 2014
EVER NOTICE how Harrisburg often mirrors Washington? Talk about two ugly images. Not on the same issues, mind you, but on the same mind-set: Why do something when you can survive by continually doing nothing? Washington refuses to act, for example, on immigration reform. Harrisburg refuses to act, for example, on pension reform. And the key word here isn't the particular issue, each of which is called a "crisis" despite each being unattended for years. The key word is "reform," of which there's little in either capitol.
July 16, 2014
WE DON'T often agree with Tom Corbett, but the governor did the right thing in facing down the Legislature last week over the budget and pension reform. The fact that a Republican governor is acting against a Republican-led Legislature has the political community twittering (and tweeting). Politics aside, the position Corbett took has real meaning. The governor has been pressing the Legislature to send him bills to reform the pension systems for state employees and teachers. Both funds have large deficits that can be made up only by ever-increasing payments by local school districts and the state - unless something is done to change the benefit structure.
July 15, 2014
LET'S TALK about Gov. Corbett's semiballsy declaration of war on the Legislature. First, though, let's acknowledge that picture of the guv giving a one-finger salute to the Legislature after signing a budget that cuts some of its funding. The photo, which I'm calling "Fund You," is an instant classic, certain to be reprised. The action - cutting lawmakers' cash and special projects while essentially calling them lazy, greedy and worthless - is merely political theater. If you were down the Shore last week or otherwise doing things better than tracking the squirrely world of Pennsylvania politics, here's a quick recap.
July 14, 2014 |
Harrisburg is finally getting ambitious. Legislators took a look at Washington and realized they could do better. And by better, I mean so much worse. Summer is usually sleepy in our state capital, but this season fireworks keep igniting, though not in a good way. Gov. Corbett approved the state budget but cut a fifth of the legislature's allowance because it wouldn't give him pension reform. Corbett's critics immediately assailed the move as "about politics and not the hard work of governing.
July 12, 2014
The Pennsylvania legislature finally got what it deserved Thursday: many millions less. Gov. Corbett's line-item veto of more than $70 million to be spent on the legislature and its pet projects drew attention to lawmakers' tendency to take care of themselves while ignoring the state's pressing problems. Most egregiously, they left town for a long summer vacation without doing anything to avert further disaster for Philadelphia's state-run schools. While the governor, both chambers of the legislature, and city officials all agreed to a Philadelphia-only cigarette tax expected to cover only part of the schools' deficit, a bill enabling the levy was mired in bicameral bickering.
July 11, 2014 |
G OV. CORBETT has discovered the one thing Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature can agree on: Their mutual dislike for him. Corbett yesterday signed into law the $29.1 billion 2014-15 state budget approved by legislators 10 days ago, but used his line-item veto power to carve out $65 million - 19.7 percent - from the Legislature's $330 million budget and another $7.2 million in other legislative spending. Corbett is using that combined $72.2 million cut as leverage to force the state House and Senate to return from summer break to work on pension reform.
July 8, 2014
LET'S TALK about governing and leadership. And no smart-aleck remarks like, "Well, if you mean in Philly or Harrisburg, there isn't much to talk about. " Don't be a cynic. That's my job. Why, just last week, Philly folks managed to get Harrisburg to allow increasing the local cigarette tax $2 per pack to raise money for city schools. OK, it's not settled. Some legislative hoops remain. Gov. Corbett, who seems to have writer's cramp, needs to sign it. And it doesn't come close to closing the district's deficit.
July 7, 2014
During another great education debate, George W. Bush blamed the "soft bigotry of low expectations" for the underachievement of many of the nation's students. Given the low expectations with which Pennsylvanians are forced to regard their government, lawmakers' vote last week to fund Philadelphia schools with a new cigarette tax, along with a tentative move toward pension reform, qualifies as a victory. Taking place two days into the new fiscal year with no budget in place, the breakthrough didn't come at the 11th hour so much as the 59th.