Oh no they didn't. Last week in Harrisburg: Budget, school takeovers, fracking, surveillance state. PA generosity equals one Wawa "sub" for Romney and $1.65 billion for Shell oil.
This Monday's roundup of things you probably won't be happy to hear happened in Pennsylvania state politics: more state takeovers for schools bankrupted by state takeover, Catholic Chaput-zpah on vouchers, Democrats cut out of budget negotiations may have a ploy.
Oh no they didn't. Last week in Harrisburg: Budget, school takeovers, fracking, surveillance state. PA generosity equals one Wawa “sub” for Romney and $1.65 billion for Shell oil.
“Oh no they didn't” is Daniel Denvir's 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 firstname.lastname@example.org for tips or comments. Follow him on Twitter @DanielDenvir.
Budget negotiations continue. Democrats cut out—at least for now.
Legislative Republicans continue their negotiations with Gov. Tom Corbett over the budget, due June 30: Corbett wants big cuts to education and programs for the poor and disabled, GOP legislators want fewer.
Some news of note: Republican House Appropriations Chairman William Adolph (R-Del.) wants to restore funding for the Keystone Fund, which delivers money to things like state parks and playgrounds. And it still seems like both groups are set to eliminate General Welfare, the cash assistance program for the commonwealth's neediest.
Democrats, controlling absolutely nothing in Harrisburg, have so far been left out.
"We have ideas and we want to share them," said a spurned, and even plaintive, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny).
“There's been no shortage of middle-aged and mostly white men spilling out of the executive suite during budget negotiations this week,” reported the Allentown Morning Call. “But as the clock ticks down to the June 30 deadline to pass a new spending, one set of mostly white and middle-aged guys are still waiting for their invitation to the bargaining table.”
(It should be noted that Philadelphia's delegation is, at least in terms of gender and race, actually pretty diverse.)
But Democrats may, as the Inquirer reports, have found some leverage over Corbett. Corbett, undertaking a major cabinet shakeup amidst criticism from fellow Republicans that his operation is a mess, is attempting to hustle his exiting chief of staff William Ward into an Allegheny County judgeship. But Corbett needs Senate Democrats to help deliver the two-thirds majority necessary for Ward's nomination to be approved.
Ward's nomination has also been criticized by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, who say the move is nakedly political and, along with six other nominations, will cost the broke courts way too much money.
Meanwhile, I concede defeat: the Pittsburgh City Paper has triumphed over the Philadelphia City Paper (Corbett in a spaceship attacking City Hall) and Daily News (The Tin Man) in the battle for covers most hilariously mocking Governor Corbett. (Corbett called the Daily News cover “sophomoric,” insisting “I have a heart”!).
Last week for a story on Corbett's corporate tax breaks Pittsburgh CP spoofed the controversial Time cover about women who breastfeed their kids until they're pretty darn old, showing a corporate shill sucking at the guv's. Some commenters on my Facebook wall, however, dissented: it should have been Corbett, an eager recipient of campaign donations from gas drillers and school privatizers, doing the sucking.
NRA-aligned legislators move to block city gun laws
The legislature is moving to pass a bill that would undermine laws in Philadelphia and 29 other cities to require gun owners to notify police when a gun is lost or stolen.
Why would anyone not want to require gun owners to do this, you might ask?
“Because,” as the Inquirer puts it, “the National Rifle Association has its minions in the legislature on speed dial, it is able to quickly direct them to act.”
And act in really sketch ways, too. Check how they did an endrun around the Senate Judiciary Committee:
“Legislators took a bill already passed by the Senate, but shelved because it was redundant, deleted the original language, and substituted the attack on lost-or-stolen ordinances. The deception is similar to hiding a porn magazine inside a copy of Time.”
Corbett under fire for $1.7 billion subsidy for Shell oil
Speaking of things so embarrassing you want to hide them under the bed from your parents.
The normally-reclusive Corbett is doing something pretty weird for Corbett: He is actively courting the public in an effort to win them over. According to Business Week, the governor has dispatched three members of his cabinet to talk up the controversial $1.65 billion tax credit for Shell oil to build an already tax-exempted (yep, I don't even understand that last redundant-seeming piece of corporate welfare) “ethane cracker” out west, saying that it “would more than pay for itself through the creation of thousands of new jobs.”
But the 10,000 to 20,000 jobs to be created might actually be more like 6,000 to 10,000 jobs, reports the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The liberal Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a critic of the tax credit, says the ethane cracker will employ just 400.
And there are allegations that the tax credit could pay to clean up the polluted site and thus also serve as a bailout for the current owners.
Meanwhile, many legislators (including Republicans) seem skeptical or hostile.
For your edification: According to the Inquirer, an “ethane cracker” is something that “"cracks" or converts ethane, a component of natural gas, into ethylene, one of the basic building blocks of petrochemicals. Ethylene is used in a wide range of plastics and chemicals, and most of it is now produced on the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana. But the growing production of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale has created opportunities in Appalachia.”
Yet Corbett's dispatching of high-level surrogates does not mean the governor is actually going to shed his sheepishness and personally take to the stump, according to a nice piece of analysis from the Beaver County Times: “Lawmakers roundly point to what they view as Corbett's mystifying detachment: They expect him, as they have with previous governors, to mount a town-to-town and, in the statehouse, office-to-office campaign to drum up support for his agenda. But he doesn't.”
Meanwhile, Corbett's approval ratings have reached a record-low 36 percent, with 47 percent disapproving.
“Democrats,” Beaver County Times reports, “fully intend on using Corbett as their punching bag in fall campaigns.”
And as I reported in Salon last month, the same goes for November's presidential election. Pennsylvania Democrats “are already hard at work to tie Mitt Romney to Gov. Tom Corbett, whose anti-abortion statements and austere budgets have proved unpopular in the state.”
Yet Corbett nonetheless felt compelled to assure fellow Americans that Mitt Romney, one politician who might actually have lesser people skills, wouldn't tap him for the VP spot.
“Not me,” he told ABC. “I’m busy here.”
Fighting the next big ed cuts
Busy indeed. And so are protesters like the teachers and students in Harrisburg last week. I have not written enough about the proposal to eliminate the $100 million program that many districts use to fund full-day kindergarten.
House Republicans want that funding back.
Meanwhile, austerity continues to dismantle the Philadelphia School District and 260 new layoffs were announced the end of the week before last: “97 'supportive service assistants,' 85 parent ombudsmen/student advisers, 39 counselors, 22 nonteaching assistants, nine school operations officers, six secretaries, and four teachers — two of home economics, two industrial arts.”
No news on booze
The Republican effort to privatize state liquor stores, a move that would no doubt bring bipartisan joy to drinkers statewide, is a continuously frustrated one. But House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) says he will give it another shot this week.
The system is clearly awful in a lot of ways, but I feel compelled to remind people that at this moment eliminating thousands of good-paying union jobs in the state should be thought about really carefully.
"I get nauseous every time people get excited about throwing 5,000 people out of work,” said Local 1776 United Food and Commercial Workers Union's Wendell Young IV. (The fourth!?)
Sandusky prompts child abuse legislation
I leave coverage of the ongoing Sandusky trial to every other media outlet left standing but will note that the case has prompted a bill from Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) that would toughen penalties for failing to report suspected child sexual abuse. It passed out of committee last week.
Chaput-zpah: Catholic Church ratchets up demand for taxpayer bailout in form of school vouchers
Speaking of not only failing to report child abuse but placing the abuser back in jobs working with children: the Philadelphia Archdiocese, in a case that has received widespread national attention, is currently enmeshed in the first church sex abuse prosecution that targets not just abuser priests but a member of the hierarchy who protected them. These lawsuits are costly, and the New York Times on Thursday reminded us that newish Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput “led the successful campaign to defeat” a Colorado bill to raise the statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes and “says that current restrictions exist for 'sound legal reasons.'”
“Pennsylvania expanded the limits, and for crimes from 2007 on, charges will be possible up to the time that victims reach age 50. Advocates are now pushing to abolish the statute of limitations for child sex abuse and open a window for civil suits over long-past abuses. But the legislation appears stalled in the face of church opposition.”
Chaput, however, isn't satisfied with covering the Church's legal rear and so he took to the pages of the Inquirer last week to demand that the legislature pass a bill legalizing school vouchers — taxpayer subsidies for private and religious school tuition. The title was charming: “Pass voucher bill now — or else.”
Chaput, our transplanted Catholic culture warrior, received backing from the Wall Street Journal. Editor David Feith wrote that vouchers would pass in Pennsylvania if “Republicans proved the courage of their supposed voucher convictions.”
The Catholic Church hierarchy is certainly breaking new ground in Chaput-zpah, including the Vatican campaign to smear and attack American nuns, accusing them of focusing too much on poverty and social justice and not enough on homosexuality and abortion. Outageous, right?
I stopped a nun on the street last week to thank her and told them that the community has their back in this fight. She appreciated it. You should do the same. They're organizing a bus tour! Maybe it will come to Philly.
Anyhow: vouchers appear dead for this session. But expect another push in the fall.
And, as I noted last week, Corbett still wants to pass “school reform” legislation including 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).
And he still 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.
Broke school districts threatened with state takeover, including Chester Upland, which the state just finished taking over
As you know, poor school districts across the state strangled by Corbett's cuts are spinning deep into crisis. So the the legislature is moving a bill that would place these districts—Chester Upland, Harrisburg, York City and Duquesne for now—under state control. Like the School Reform Commission's privatization plan for Philly schools, this bill will use the state-created fiscal crisis as a disaster capitalism-like opportunity to dismantle the school system and hand it over to the private sector.
The funny thing about this, and by funny I mean profoundly sad, is that Chester Upland has been been broke since Harrisburg ended 16 years of state control in 2010. That was two years ago. Its student body and finances are currently being cannibalized by a hyper politically-connected charter school run by a Corbett ally and a guy who had long-standing business ties to a convicted criminal and alleged mob associate.
I'm sure another 16 years of state control will get things just right.
"It is nothing more than union busting and taking away the rights of a community to run its school system," Chester Upland school board member Charlie Warren told the Inquirer, where the editorial board has also criticized the legislation. "They cut the funding last year; now they are dumping even more on poor communities. Why not give fair funding? This is nonsense. It’s not right."
Corbett lobbies Delaware governor to support fracking in the Delaware River basin
In November, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell thrilled fracking opponents when he forced the cancellation of a Delaware River Basin Commission after announcing his opposition to a proposal to allow drilling in the Delaware River watershed, which provides Philadelphia and New York City with drinking water.
Corbett, it seems, has been lobbying Delaware to change his mind.
ACLU contends that new law creates a surveillance state
Last week, the Pennsylvania House voted to amend the state's Wiretap Act so as to for the first time allow citizens to record private conversations without giving notice—if they think a crime will be revealed in the course of that conversation. Whatever that means.
"This bill brings Pennsylvania one step closer to a surveillance state," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania in a statement. "There is a balance to be struck between public safety and our right to be left alone. This bill goes too far and significantly diminishes our right to privacy."
Romney orders a “sub” at Wawa while running from Ed Rendell
Mitt Romney was going to a Wawa in Quakertown but Ed Rendell and 250 protesters were waiting there. True story.
So Romney went to another Wawa and ordered a meatball "sub" before catching himself and remembering that we are tribal and trivial people in Greater Philadelphia. In 2004, John Kerry requested Swiss cheese at Pat's and sent Philadelphia into apoplexy. Wait: that's not a true story. It was actually conservatives, with the mainstream media dutifully in tow, that were angry and desperately eager to make points about how Democrats are so effete and don't hunt and eat too much organic food.
Maybe all any of this means is that John Kerry and Mitt Romney are not from Philadelphia?
Shame on the drunk and lazy public employees
The public loves nothing more than when the media uncovers public employees being lazy or criminal. Take the FOX 29 investigation of postal workers drinking (and driving) on the job last year. I mean, I'm glad they got caught and slacking public employees can really cost the public money, as the Daily News' ongoing reporting on police overtime suggests.
But it's painful that for local television news this is the height of what is left of “investigative reporting.”
So I encourage readers to take a deep breath before crucifying the Liquor Control Board's seven administrative law judges who used work time to take “leisurely swims and long lunches. Shopping outings and afternoons spent with the kids. A jaunt to the Bahamas.”
This according to the Inquirer, which obtained a copy of a 2010 Inspector General investigation.
One contrary point that I feel obliged to make as a “professional” who works weird and variable (but far more than 40!) hours, and often puts in a long midday run: workers, when possible, should be judged by their productivity and output and not by time cards. Pennsylvanians have yet to hear whether these LCB judges were actually slacking off. If they were playing hooky from whatever it is an LCB administrative law judge is supposed to be doing, they should be fired. But if they weren't, the state should consider modernizing management practices to encourage other workers to have more flexible and healthy, and less arbitrary, work hours.
Okay okay: a week-long vacation in the Bahamas without putting in for vacation time? Point taken. Just saying I happen to prefer working at coffee shops, and maybe these judges do too.
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