Oh no they didn't. Last week in Harrisburg: SRC debacle, payday loans, booze. And Corbett won't stop coming.
"Oh no they didn't" is Daniel Denvir's new weekly blog post on last week's moments in state politics. SRC asks GOP for union-busting powers, more vouchers, payday loan zombie revival, kill the poor, corporate welfare to big gas/oil, voter ID and booze. Oh: and Corbett won't stop coming.
Oh no they didn't. Last week in Harrisburg: SRC debacle, payday loans, booze. And Corbett won't stop coming.
“Oh no they didn't” is Daniel Denvir's new weekly blog post on last week's moments in state politics. Philadelphians know precious little about the legislature or governor, though capitol lawmakers have enormous power over our schools, the care of our poor, and whether or not you can access a safe abortion. Are you an advocate, concerned citizen, legislator or aide with something to say? Email email@example.com for tips or comments. Follow him on Twitter @DanielDenvir.
SRC goes around Philly legislators, lobbies Republicans for more power to crush unions
The state-controlled School Reform Commission, which has run Philadelphia schools since 2001, continues to receive loads of criticism for its plan to dismantle the city's public school system and potentially privatize its management, while possibly outsourcing all blue-collar work and securing major concessions from teachers. (Whew! see “Who's Killing Philly Public Schools?” for details)
“The SRC,” writes Inquirer education reporter Kristen Graham, “has long maintained in public that never-used powers written into the 2001 state takeover legislation gave it sufficient authority to impose terms on unions.”
In what has turned out to be an extraordinarily scandalous turn of affairs, they apparently don't think they do: SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos snuck behind Philadelphia legislators' backs to ask Harrisburg Republicans to introduce an amendment that “would give it the absolute right to cancel union contracts and set salaries and benefits.”
Philadelphia legislators are really, really angry.
State Rep. Curtis Thomas called it “old political trickery,” and told the Inquirer that “the delegation was outraged.” And state Rep. James Roebuck, the mild-mannered ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee who in April survived a heavily funded campaign backed by wealthy pro-school-voucher advocates, “lost his temper” and pledged that the amendment would never get through his committee.
But what's most remarkable wasn't the SRC secretly begging Republicans for new anti-union powers. What's truly revelatory is the confirmation that Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who has not spoken publicly about Philly's school crisis, is perhaps a major force behind the SRC privatization plan. When a legislator asked Ramos to withdraw his request for the amendment, he allegedly responded that he would have to consult with Corbett first.
“Go back to the governor and get the money to fix this.”
The SRC plan for Philly schools, it seems, is very much the Corbett plan (with a Nutter assist) to privatize Philly schools.
And so it is that the very same state government that has controlled Philly schools for a decade has failed to adequately fund those schools for decades and now proposes to dismantle the school system. And City Council, which the SRC and mayor have asked for $94 million in additional property tax revenue, is increasingly asking the SRC to go ask their boss―Gov. Corbett―for more funding.
Legislators even reported that Mayor Michael Nutter, who has defended the SRC privatization plan, was “surprised, and taken aback” by the SRC's sketchy Harrisburg behavior.
Corbett won't stop coming (on vouchers).
Pennsylvania Republicans are rushing to get a lot done before the June 30 budget deadline and further privatizing public education is, of course, on the agenda.
School vouchers, which use taxpayer dollars to fund private and religious school tuition, are a long-frustrated priority for Gov. Corbett, some legislative Republicans, a Catholic Church hemorrhaging cash to sex abuse lawsuits and charter schools and desperate for a bailout ― and, of course, West Philadelphia state Sen. Anthony Williams.
Corbett met with legislative leaders on Thursday, according to the inimitable Allentown Morning Call Harrisburg chronicler John Micek, to outline a “school reform” agenda that he wants passed before legislators leave town: further weakened charter oversight under a new state authorizing body and “tougher” teacher evaluations (this usually means increasing the use of high stakes standardized tests in evaluating teachers).
Corbett also wants an expansion of the state's Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), which pays corporations back for donating money to private school tuition (“vouchers lite”). This, even after the New York Times published a damning in-depth investigation finding that EITC funnels money through politically connected middlemen and sends taxpayer dollars to religious fundamentalists.
Corbett also promised that vouchers, which have Senate support but face bipartisan opposition in the House, could be back next session.
"I just keep coming," says Corbett. "If the other side thinks I'm going to stop, they have another thing coming."
There is pushback: Republican state Rep. Mike Fleck has actually proposed legislation tightening regulation of charter schools and decreasing funding.
Republicans actually pushing bill to legalize payday lending, boosting interest rates to 400 percent-plus
Coming from a Republican legislature and governor that have presided over a historic dismembering of the state public and higher education system and waged a merciless campaign against the poor, it is hard to be surprised by Harrisburg. But this is so disgusting that I'm still in shock: the House last week past a bill by state Rep. Chris Ross legalizing payday loans and raising 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.
Payday lending giant Cash America has, according to Inquirer Harrisburg correspondent Amy Worden, reported spending $125,000 on lobbying this session.
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill the poor?
Or just let them eat Tastykakes. That is, if Pennsylvania's poor can afford Tastykakes from here on out.
Gov. Corbett, who has proposed major cuts to higher education and services to the poor and disabled, and legislative Republicans, who want no cuts to higher education and fewer cuts to social programs, continued to negotiate last week (And what of the Democrats? Who?).
Last Tuesday, legislative Republicans proposed a $27.6 billion budget that restores roughly $500 million of Corbett's proposed cuts to education and services.
But it looks like both sides are poised to cut General Assistance, the measly but critical $205-per-month cash payment to the disabled, victims of domestic violence, and recovering drug addicts.
As I reported in March, the elimination of General Assistance would drain $87.5 million from the neediest Philadelphians and could send thousands of drug addicts onto city streets.
A liberal PAC, perhaps emboldened by polls showing widespread opposition to budget cuts and tanking approval ratings, have unveiled a new ad attacking the governor.
House Republican declares war on SEPTA because SEPTA won't subsidize natural gas frackers
Republicans in the age of the Tea Party claim to be all about small government. But in truth, they are all about small government for the poor and big government when it comes to handing over taxpayer dollars to private companies: see charters, school vouchers and tax credits to politically connected or religiously fundamentalist schools.
Last week, state Rep. Stan Saylor, the House majority whip, pressured SEPTA to open its financial troughs for hungry energy corporations, threatening to cut funding to the agency because it declined to buy natural gas-fueled buses. You see, Rep. Saylor wants SEPTA to buy these buses so they will have to fuel them with natural gas flowing from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. The problem: SEPTA has determined that the diesel-electric hybrids are cheaper than the gas buses.
So much for small and efficient government.
In related corporate welfare to big oil and gas news: last week, some people (including maybe some legislators) pretty much freaked out when they heard that Corbett was orchestrating a $1.7 billion and seemingly useless taxpayer giveaway to Shell Oil.
The political program is clear: small government for the poor, big government checks for big business.
City Commissioner Singer scraps with state over voter ID law
City Commissioners Chair Stephanie Singer had an appointment last week with state Transportation Secretary Barry J. Schoch: she wanted to compare the city's list of registered voters with PennDot's list of people with driver's licenses to figure out who in the city wouldn't have the IDs necessary to vote this November. Pennsylvania Republicans have, like their counterparts around the country, passed legislation requiring voters to show ID to vote. In what civil rights groups and Democrats say is really probably not a coincidence, the ID requirement could depress turnout amongst the sort of people who don't have state photo ID: poor people, non-whites, the elderly, and college students. Most of whom, of course, tend to vote Democrat.
But the Secretary of State cancelled Singer's appointment, saying that the state would soon send out such a comparison to county commissioners statewide.
But skeptical Singer, understandably, wants to double-check those lists herself.
Booze: It's not big government versus small government. Just weird government
Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai pledged last week to move legislation privatizing state liquor stores this week.
Pennsylvanians (or at least every Pennsylvanian I know) tend to hate our state liquor system and would like to buy booze, wine and beer in one convenient and nearby location.
The union representing state store employees, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, object to that: their 3,000 members would probably all lose their jobs.
And let's be fair to this argument that some might dismiss as self-serving (though unions are there, of course, to serve and defend their members): this is no small thing in a state where and in a time when good jobs for working class people are really, really hard to come by. And then there's the roughly $466 million the state would lose in annual taxes and revenue ― no small thing when Corbett is already slashing spending for education and services to the poor.
The political universe surrounding privatization is also fairly weird: Beer distributors, whom the legislation would also allow to sell six packs (OK: that's good news), oppose the current proposal, even though they would receive 1,050 of the 1,600 liquor store licenses that would be sold off.
“The plan is not good for beer,” Pennsylvania Beer Alliance president Jay D. Wiederhold told the Inquirer, in what is surely this week's most wonderful quote in state politics.
Wiederhold says that beer distributors would have a tough time affording the licenses and the expensive renovations and inventory necessary to sell an expanded line of wine and booze. Grocery stores, he warns, would snatch up their business.
There are clearly points to be made on both sides of the booze privatization debate. But whatever might pass this legislature likely won't have anything to do with making the market a “free” one: it's more of a battle between different business interests to decide who will reap the profits from the formerly public enterprise.
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