11 things PA Republicans (and Dems) have done that you should know about.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed a budget Saturday. So before taking off to drown your sorrows in cathartic mock combat with our erstwhile British overlords, ponder 11 things that Pennsylvania Republicans, sometimes with a Democratic assist, have accomplished this session.
11 things PA Republicans (and Dems) have done that you should know about.
“Oh no they didn't” is Daniel Denvir's weekly blog post on last week's state politics. Philadelphians know precious little about the legislature or governor, but pretending that Tom Corbett doesn't exist will not make him go away. Follow on Twitter @DanielDenvir.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed a $27.7 billion budget 15 minutes before Saturday's midnight deadline. So before you take off to drown your sorrows in cathartic mock combat with our erstwhile British overlords, ponder 11 things that Pennsylvania Republicans, sometimes with a Democratic assist, have accomplished this session.
Much of the legislation—privatizing public services, voter ID, targeting immigrants—has little to do with our local needs. Today, Pennsylvania is more like a cog in a national agenda controlled by anti-tax power brokers like Grover Norquist, and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which brings conservative state legislators nationwide and corporations together to draft and lobby for legislation.
As the AP curtly summarized, the new budget is “cutting businesses' taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars and slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from services for the poor, homeless, troubled and disabled.” But there's more.
1. Privatized already defunded schools
Public schools and universities that underwent enormous cuts this past fiscal year will basically see flat funding, after educators and school districts mobilized to push GOP lawmakers to fight the governor.
But schools are still deep in the hole after $1 billion in cuts, hemorrhaging thousands of teaching positions and in some districts contemplating the elimination of Kindergarten. Philadelphia, which still faces both an enormous shortfall and a controversial plan that would dismantle the district and potentially put schools under private management, has already eliminated 3,800 teacher and staff positions. Upper Darby's legendary arts program, which produced people like Tina Fey, still looks like it may be on the way out. Though I'm guessing that Corbett doesn't like Tina Fey. She is, after all, from Kabletown.
Anyhow, it might strike you as an odd time for the legislature and Corbett to decide to hand over an additional $75 million to private schools. But that, dear Pennsylvanians, is precisely what happened: the state's EITC program, which gives corporations a tax subsidy for subsidizing private school tuition, is expanding from $75 million to $100 million, with $50 million in additional in tax subsidies for students who live in an area with low-performing public schools.
A recent New York Times investigation, as I will never tire of reminding you, found that EITC funnels money to religious fundamentalists and that middlemen use the program to coordinate private school donations with politicians whom they also lobby.
Philadelphia Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput celebrated the vote, likely because it constitutes an enormous bailout of his fiscally beleaguered church and schools.
"The new vouchers plan still drains away funding from public schools after a one-year period. This would be bad enough on its own, but the new Corbett-Republican budget locks in last year’s nearly $1 billion cut to K-12 public education,” says state Rep. James Roebuck, a leading voucher critic and the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee. “The new vouchers bill sets public schools and their students up to fail. It is a cruel joke on struggling neighborhoods and communities."
So what's really funny (ha ha) about this cruel joke is that many Democrats voted for the tax-credit voucher bill, including from Philly: Reps. Kevin and Brendan Boyle, Rep. Michael McGeehan, Rep. William Keller, Rep. Maria Donatucci. In the Senate, Larry Farnese and lead voucher supporter Anthony Williams backed the bill. The other senators from Philly voted no—making up four out of five of the “no” votes.
The corporate reform movement did fail to pass a bill that would have moved charter authorization powers to the state and thus weaken what little charter oversight currently exists.
A bill from Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Dauphin), which would have reigned in excessive charter school spending that Auditor General Jack Wagner's calculates at $365 million a year, also failed. As the Inquirer put it in an editorial calling for reform: “the state's 13 cyber charter schools, which — with no buildings and fewer expenses — cost $10,145 per student, while the national average is $6,500.”
Corbett also signed into law a new teacher evaluation system that will incorporate student's high-stakes standardized test scores. The stakes of Bush/Obama No-Child-Left-Behind-era-high-stakes testing, which have pushed teachers to cheat and teach to the test, just got higher. Students will also be required to pass new end-of-year tests in algebra I, biology and literature in order to graduate.
And Chester Upland and three other fiscally strangled school districts are heading for state control thanks to a new law—potentially moving schools to private charter management and breaking unions. Chester just finished 16 years under state control in 2010. Sixteen more years!
The budget ratifies Pennsylvania's austerity regime, a war of attrition on government that, according to a new report from the liberal Keystone Research Center and Economic Policy Institute, has cost the state 16,900 public sector jobs between May 2010 to May 2011 alone. The nationwide loss of 706,000 public sector jobs makes an economic recovery impossible. This seems to suit Republicans, with an eye on November, just fine.
2. Cash support for the poorest and most vulnerable, including victims of domestic violence and the temporarily disabled, eliminated.
General Assistance, which provides $205-a-month in cash assistance to the temporarily disabled, domestic violence survivors, people taking care of a disabled or elderly relative, and recovering drug addicts, will be eliminated. As I have reported, this could put thousands of drug addicts in a situation where they have no place to go but Philly's streets. Of the 69,115 people receiving General Assistance statewide, 35,097 live here.
And the Department of Public Welfare has decided to implement the cuts in the most painful and, really, plain-old-mean way possible. Initially, DPW had announced that benefits would be cut beginning July 1, giving recipients almost no advance warning. And bizarrely and seemingly illegally, the cuts had not even been passed yet.
As a result, the cutoff was pushed back a month, and Corbett promises to, well, do something to make things less horrible.
"We will work to find what help we can," he said, according to John Micek of the Allentown Morning Call.
Making matters worse, DPW Acting Director of Bureau Operations Rich Wallace sent County Assistance Office workers an email, obtained by City Paper and first reported in the Inquirer, threatening them with “disciplinary action” if they suggested that panicked clients losing benefits contact their legislators:
“It has come to our attention that when clients are contacting the County Assistance Office about their General Assistance Cash Program, that the CAO staff are telling the clients to contact their Legislator or Representative.
Effective immediately, all CAO staff should be instructed NOT to direct the clients to their Legislator or Representative. Such direction is contrary to the Department’s position on the matter. Failure to follow this directive will subject you to disciplinary action.”
Instead, they instructed CAO employees to tell their clients (you know, the people they are charged for caring for):
“Inadvertently, the Department mailed what were meant to be DRAFT letters prematurely to recipients. These letters erroneous announced GA cash assistance policy changes that have not yet been passed by the legislature or signed by the Governor. These letters are not valid unless any amendments to the Public Welfare code impacting the General Assistance program are adopted in conjunction with the 2012-13 budget.”
Yo poor people with letters: keep an eye out for “amendments to the Public Welfare code impacting the General Assistance program” that are “in conjunction with the 2012-'13 budget”! Okay.
The Corbett administration, clearly no fan of poor people, doesn't seem too keen on democracy either —at least that modern variety that enfranchises the poor and non-white. Speaking of which...
3. Voter ID, GOP admits, will suppress vote
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) made national headlines last month when he bragged to the Republican State Committee that the state's new Voter ID law — which critics call a cynical attempt to suppress Democratic-leaning poor, black and elderly voters — would help Romney win Pennsylvania.
“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done,” he said, touting the GOP legislative victories. “First pro-life legislation — abortion facility regulations — in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
“This is making clear to everyone what Voter ID was all about. This is about one thing: disenfranchising Democratic voters and rigging elections for Republicans,” Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware) told the website. “When they get behind closed doors, they admit it. And that’s exactly what Turzai did.”
Credit where credit is due: PoliticsPA had the scoop. Turzai's slip caught big-time national attention because, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette political cartoonist Bob Rogers put it, they had let the cat out of the bag.
4. Funding to the counties that supports the poor, disabled, and homeless cut
Though Corbett failed to wrap line-item funding for the most vulnerable — the poor, homeless, mentally ill, disabled — into a controversial block grant, he did succeed in pulling off a 10 percent ($84 million) cut, half of what he initially proposed.
See Monica Yant-Kinney's column on how the cuts will hurt the mentally disabled.
5. Imposed a weak tax on natural gas drillers
Tom "no-new-taxes-no-matter-what" Corbett finally, under enormous pressure, signed what critics, including House Democrats, call the “one of the lowest tax rates in the nation on natural gas drillers and weak environmental protections.”
And the agencies that are supposed to be regulating all this drilling? The budget cuts nearly $12 million from Department of Environmental Protection and $2.5 million from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
6. Refused to deal with the state's infrastructure crisis: subways and bridges are crumbling.
SEPTA, as I've reported, is heading toward a major fiscal crisis next year that could force it to hike fares or cut service. And all at a time when a record number of Philadelphians — and people nationwide — are riding transit. The roads and bridges are also crappy, and even dangerous.
Yet Corbett, tied like a knot to the no-new-taxes pledge he signed with anti-government Washington powerbroker Grover Norquist, has refused to raise the revenue that even his own commission says that he needs to raise.
He did, however, pass a new public-private transportation partnership law, which “allows state and local government to turn over the operation of roads, bridges and public transit to private companies for up to 99 years.”
Think private companies paying to build a highway and then operating and tolling it for 99 years. This has received precious little coverage and I plan to delve further into this, and other corporate-friendly legislation, later this week.
"It's taking the view of residents out of the mix," Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) told the Inquirer. "It's also letting companies that might not be anywhere near the area be responsible for it."
7. Payday lenders one step away from a dramatic return.
The House passed a bill legalizing payday loans, sponsored by state Rep. Chris Ross (R-Chester), that could raise annual interest rates from 24 percent to potentially more than 400 percent; payday lenders prey not only on the poor but on members of the armed services; and payday lending giant Cash America has, according to Inquirer Harrisburg correspondent Amy Worden, reported spending $125,000 on lobbying this session.
The legislation is currently held up in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. Why might your legislator support this bill? I don't know. Call them and ask. Unlike a county welfare office worker, I can tell you to do that. And a massive coalition of groups opposing this bill have made it easier for you: www.stoppaydayloanspa.com
8. Legislators unanimously declare 2012 “Year of the Bible”
“The Bible, the word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people,” according to a resolution unanimously passed by the legislature in January. Oops. Lot's of progressive reps got egg on their face because, let's face it, there are lots of crazy or usually plain banal resolutions congratulating so-and-so for his long-time ownership of such-and-such delicious rib shack that nobody reads. But this one was completely insane and not, of course, compatible with the separation of church and state. And so people apologized like hell for the vote while an atheist group sued.
“The history of our country,” the resolution continues, “clearly illustrates the value of voluntarily applying the teachings of the scriptures in the lives of individuals, families and societies.”
Which is precisely why we need to government to tell us to do it.
9. Restricting access to abortions.
A law that aimed to make it more difficult (perhaps prohibitively expensive) for abortion clinics to stay in business that passed in December went into effect in June.
Fourteen of the state's 22 clinics have been provisionally licensed, and eight unlicensed clinics either closed, moved under a hospital license or may now only give patients the Mifeprex pill.
Right now, it's really just plain unclear how this will play out. It could, for example, become a lot harder to expand access in the future and open new clinics.
“What's notable is that the intent of the law was clearly an anti-choice agenda,” Planned Parenthood Vice President for External Affairs Maggie Groff tells me. “And they have had success in passing a medically unnecessary and burdensome law. But we are not finished with the licensing process yet ... we anticipate that we will be a fully licensed provider.”
10. Immigrants begone. Poof!
A bill requiring government contractors to use the federal (and faulty) E-Verify database to make sure employees are not unauthorized immigrants awaits Corbett's signature. Unsurprisingly, this dramatic expansion of federal and state power over individuals and corporations was championed by right-wing state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a conservative close to the black-helicopter-militiaman far-right that is usually pretty paranoid when it comes to the Feds. An exception to anti-government hysteria can be made, it seems, when it comes to bashing immigrants.
And yes, this guy is aligned with the same gun rights organizations that oppose barring people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns.
But what's worse is that in a testament to the political spinelessness of Democrats and the ease with which immigrants are scapegoated across the political spectrum, just a few Philadelphia Democrats in the House, like outgoing state Rep. Babette Josephs, voted against the legislation. The Senate vote was also lopsided, though with a much greater proportion of Philly senators voted “no.”
A second bill (SB 9), supposedly about blocking undocumented immigrants from using public aid programs, passed the House and Senate but because of new amendments didn't make it out of the Senate a second time. But like the dog-whistle and fiscally meaningless law above, it received overwhelming support and so plan on seeing it again in the fall.
The law would make it a third-degree felony for an undocumented immigrant to use an ACCESS card (food stamps), which critics say is a problem since federal law protects an immigrant's use of food stamps on behalf of their citizen children or an elderly neighbor.
11. And the big winner is: Big money.
There are, of course, winners in Corbett's Pennsylvania. You'll have a goddamn heart attack when you hear that those winners are major corporations.
There's the $1.65 billion tax subsidy, based on fairly dubious job-creation projections, to Shell oil.
The budget also continues the planned phase-out of the corporate stock and franchise tax, which along with other corporate tax breaks will cost the state what liberal think tank Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center estimates to be $2.4 billion. Critics argue that the phase-out should be delayed until the economy (and thus the state's fiscal situation) improves.
There's that public-private transportation funding bill (see above).
And there's the failure to close the “Delaware loophole,” through which corporations transfer revenues to shell incorporations in Dela-where? to lower taxes they should pay here. A fascinating recent article in the New York Times finds that Delaware is an absurd tax haven on the scale of the Cayman Islands, that has bilked other states out of an estimated $9.5 billion in taxes over the past decade. Pennsylvania's next big offenders? Frackers. Per the Times:
More than 400 corporate subsidiaries linked to Marcellus Shale gas exploration have been registered in Delaware, most within the last four years, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit group based in Harrisburg that studies the state’s tax policy.
In 2004, the center estimated that the Delaware loophole had cost the state $400 million annually in lost revenue — and that was before the energy boom.
More than two-thirds of the companies in the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry alliance based in Pittsburgh, are registered to a single address: 1209 North Orange Street, according to the center.
“So many of these Marcellus Shale companies have figured out that it is fairly easy to siphon profits from Pennsylvania, so that they don’t pay taxes here,” said Michael Wood, research director at the Harrisburg center.
- Ask A Man-About-Town
- Award Tour
- Bad Idea Factory
- Below the Curve
- Brian Hickey
- Budget Fuss
- City Council
- City Hall
- CP Abroad
- CP in the Community
- Criminal Justice System
- Day Tripper
- Death and Taxes
- Delaware River
- Dubious Distinction
- End of Days
- Film Fest
- Financial Meltdown
- Free Library
- Gay Stuff
- Get Lit
- Hall Monitor
- Health Care
- Hello, Kitty
- Ice Cubes
- In Memoriam
- Marcellus Shale
- MUST READ
- Mysterious Mysteries
- Non Sequitur
- PA politics 2010
- Parking Wars
- Parks and Recreation
- People Send Us This Stuff
- Philadelphia Police
- Philadelphia Union
- Philly From Scratch
- philly madness
- President Obama
- Print Edition
- Readers Write
- Real Estate
- Rock Bottom
- Screwing Philly
- So Lush
- Sporting Life
- Sports Complex
- State Politicians
- State Politics
- Street Art
- Stuff We Like
- Taxi Drivers
- Tech Fetish
- The Budget Crisis
- The City Paper
- The CLOG
- The Human Condition
- The Mayor
- The Phightin Phils
- The World
- Things that make you go hm
- Tinfoil Hats Off
- Under the Table
- Under the Tables
- Urban Development
- Urban Planning
- urban wildlife
- Video Poker
- We Call Shenanigans
- Web Junk
- Weekend Omnibus
- White House
- What We've Found
- Women's Issues
- Flyered Up!
- How 'Bout That Weather?
- it's always sunny in philadelphia
- get out
- 10-track mind
- Bruce Being Bruce
- Gigantic Surprises
- Hello Canary
- Hello Puppy
- get lost
- Inside The Fishbowl
- Library Closings
- Local Support
- Night Moves
- Skeeze Police
- State Politicians Screwing Philly
- That's a cool stencil!
- Things We See
- This Week
- This Week in Oates
- University City
- What we don't heart
- what we heart
- Feeling Guilty
- Broke in Philly
- Dear Paper Doll
- Do A Good Thing
- Film Fest Schism
- G20-20 Vision
- Great American Heroes
- Pearl Jam Week
- Stars of the Photostream
- Lower Merion Webcam-Gate
- The Cycle
- Equality Forum
- Bureaucrat of the Week