Monday, August 31, 2009

Political Games Bring Budget Negotiations to a Grinding Halt . . . Again

Written by Roberta Biros

For the endless number of citizens that depend on the flow of State funds to stay afloat, the most recent news out of Harrisburg is less than optimistic. When we last checked, the budget negotiation process was held up in the six person conference committee. Three Democrats and three Republicans were being “locked up together” and assigned the task of hammering out the details of a balanced budget. For weeks we have waited for some glimmer of hope, but we have been repeatedly disappointed. Yesterday, talks broke down once again, and this time the Democrats are accusing the Republicans of playing “political games”.

HELLO? From what I’ve observed, the citizens of Pennsylvania have seen nothing BUT “political games” since February when the budget was introduced by the Governor. We didn’t see a budget proposal from the Republican-led Senate until May. When it was received by the Democrat-controlled House, it was sent to the House Appropriations Committee where it SAT until the budget deadline had nearly come and passed. Senate Bill 850 was then eventually “passed” by the House for the soul purpose of allowing the Governor to eliminate all funding other than funding for State Employees and funding for the Governor’s own Executive Branch. Hmmm. Sure sounds like politics to me?

Since the beginning of this battle, Democrats have stood firmly for increased spending paid for by increased taxes, and Republicans have stood for less spending with no tax increases. My research has found that overwhelmingly individual taxpayers agree that tax increases ARE NOT the answer, but in a ridiculous “political” twist this week, Democrats are now implying that the GOP opposition to tax increases is motivated only by “big business” (natural gas and cigarette interests). Huh? Are you kidding me? What’s next? What old trick will the parties pull out of their “political handbooks”?

During the past few weeks, it looked as though there might be some small granule of hope when fiscal conservative Democrats agreed to sit down with fiscal conservatives from the GOP to work on a non-partisan and fiscally responsible “compromise budget”. It was all well and good until the “so called” Blue Dogs were pulled in by their leashes by their Party. The Blue Dogs were sent to the corner for a little “time out”, and fiscal conservatives from the right were left without the numbers and support to make a difference. [As a side note, if you can’t support a fiscally conservative budget, you aren’t a “fiscal conservative” and not a “Blue Dog” . . . so please don’t “soil the name” . . . just my opinion.]

Now here we sit . . . eight weeks have passed since the June 30th deadline and our leaders in Harrisburg are no further along than they were in February. The latest news reports state that the Democrats and Republicans are ONLY $500 million dollars apart. ONLY? FIVE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS? That is a HALF A BILLION to you and me. That seems like a WORLD of difference from where I stand.

I’ve been asked many times over the last few weeks what I think about the budget negotiations. I’ve been asked, “How long do you think this will go on?”

Well, folks, I’m sorry to say that I am not hopeful at this point. It is my opinion that we are potentially weeks or months away from any sort of agreement. I would bet that the “best case” scenario might be a finalized budget by late September. On the “worst case” side, I would say that Thanksgiving and Christmas are a possibility. Maybe we all need to send our “letters to Santa” a little earlier this year in hopes of getting some help from a jolly old man in a red suit (I wonder if Governor Rendell owns a “red suit”?).

One More Thing . . .

I’ve been personally talking to many voters in Mercer County lately. Many have brought up their concerns regarding the budget. Many are also under the misunderstanding that our State Representatives are to be blamed for this mess. I’ve had folks specifically blaming State Representative Mark Longietti and State Representative Michele Brooks for the stalemate in Harrisburg, and specifically saying that neither one should receive support for re-election because of it. Now hold on just a minute----I’d like to point out that individual Representatives are not responsible for the problems that are occurring with the budget standstill at this point. Beginning in May, the budget was controlled by a handful of legislators in the Appropriations Committee. Most recently, the budget has been in the hands of the six legislative leaders that make up the conference committee. State Representatives are working independently to come up with ideas and possible solutions, but the responsibility sits firmly in the laps of the Appropriations Committee, the conference committee, and the Governor. State Reps like Mark Longietti and Michele Brooks haven’t even had an opportunity to vote on a final budget yet. They are simply hostages in these negotiations like the rest of us. Let’s wait until after the General Assembly has voted on a final budget before we start pointing fingers and blaming our legislators . . . that is if we EVER get the opportunity to see a "final budget".

As always, just my opinion.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Representative Michele Brooks Supports Compromise to End Budget Impasse

Legislator Announcement

Administration creates crisis to get tax increase

In calling for swift action to end the state’s budget impasse, Rep. Michele Brooks (R-Crawford/Mercer/Lawrence) today announced her support for a budget compromise proposal. This is the third such proposal that fiscal conservatives have advanced in their ongoing efforts to enact a final budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year. This proposal is balanced without tax increases or new taxes.

“This budget just isn’t about a state spending plan,” said Brooks. “This budget affects every resident and business throughout the Commonwealth. It’s also about government finally living within its means, prioritizing spending, eliminating fraud and inefficiencies, as well as planning for our future. State government cannot spend and borrow its way to prosperity. California tried this approach, which put them into an IOU status. That is why we have worked hard to put together a fiscally responsible compromise so that we can end this impasse.

“Some in Harrisburg need to realize this isn’t state government’s money. It is the everyday working persons’ money. Overwhelmingly, the people who are paying the bills have said they can’t afford to take more away from their families’ budgets through increased taxes,” she continued. “We can only spend the revenues we have, and we cannot ask the taxpayers for any more of their hard-earned money. This budget plan respects those taxpayers and reflects the fiscal reality we face.”

The new budget bill, House Bill 1943, is a compromise previously drafted by fiscal conservatives on both sides of the aisle that funds core government services but curtails state spending to a level of $27.5 billion. The bill contains no new taxes or increases and uses a variety of different revenue sources.

Brooks also expressed her disappointment in the administration and its efforts to extend the impasse to create a crisis for school districts, local governments, human service providers and others. “The administration’s focus is to further this crisis as long as possible in order to gain support for a broad-based tax increase, which is now moving toward an increase in the state’s sales tax. The administration continues to underestimate Pennsylvanians and fails to realize the devastating impacts any type of tax increase would have on their families, their livelihoods, their local businesses and their communities.

“I am hopeful that our compromise budget plan will be passed and enacted, but in the event that does not occur as soon as I would like, I have authored House Resolution 444 that would provide funding to counties by overriding the administration’s veto which eliminated payments to counties,” she said. “This override must be initiated as a safety net to our counties and residents. Without a veto override for this specific line item, many counties will soon run out of money.”

Rep. Michele Brooks
17th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
(724) 588-8911
(800) 457-2040
(814) 337-8132
(717) 783-5008
Member Site: RepMicheleBrooks.com
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Senator Bob Robbins Joins "Alliance To Stop I-80 Tolling"

Legislator Announcement

Harrisburg, PA August 4, 2009 – Today, State Senator Robert D. Robbins (R-50) reiterated his opposition to tolling Interstate 80 and officially announced joining the Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling.

"I voted against Act 44 when it came before the Senate and I remain strongly opposed to it for a number of reasons. This proposal carries numerous financial, administrative and quality of life issues that would impact citizens and could be another blow to our weakened state and local economies." Senator Robbins continued, "A study conducted in Mercer County estimated that tolling will increase costs for its businesses by $8 million annually. Also, consider the adverse effect tolling will have on all other sectors of the economy including agriculture. For instance, dairy farmers are bound by prices set by the federal government, so passing increased production costs onto consumers is not a viable option."

"With the Turnpike Commission planning to resubmit its tolling application to new leadership at the Federal Highway Administration, we are grateful Senator Robbins has joined our ranks to prevent this unfair and ill-conceived plan. We commend Senator Robbins for his position that tolls on I-80 will have a devastating economic impact for generations to come," stated Ed Edwards, Alliance Co-Founder and President of the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce.
"Less than a year from July, 2010, we are at a critical time to adopt an alternative transportation funding solution. Our efforts are strengthened with Senator Robbins’s support. We’re grateful to have him as part of the Alliance," added Vince Matteo, Alliance Co-Founder and President of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.

Established in early 2008, the Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling has been leading the fight to keep Interstate 80 toll-free and prevent the implementation of Act 44. The Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling is comprised of Chambers of Commerce, businesses, elected officials and other organizations and citizens that are working to stop the tolling of I-80.

For more information on the Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling, contact Ed Edwards at 570.784.2522, or visit the Alliance on the web at http://www.noi80tolls.com/

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Blue Dogs or Lap Dogs? The GOP Just Doesn’t Get It!

Written by Roberta Biros

I login regularly to watch the Pennsylvania House Sessions ‘live’ HERE. I was watching this past Tuesday (August 4th) as Senate Bill 850 (a.k.a. “the state budget”) was scheduled for final vote. I listened as one speaker after another stood up to discuss their stand on the budget fiasco. When I heard Rep. Mike Turzai (R-28th) stand up to speak, I took a few minutes to watch and listen. As a fiscal conservative, I’m always interested to hear what Rep. Turzai has to add to any conversation regarding fiscal issues. Unfortunately, on that day, I was a bit annoyed with Rep. Turzai. I’ve waited patiently for the speech to be posted to YouTube so that I could share it with you and provide my commentary. Today is that day.

Below is a link to Rep. Turzai’s speech (or click HERE):



First, I completely agree that the ‘game playing’ in Harrisburg over the 2009-2010 budget is aggravating at best. I completely agree that if the House was going to pass SB850 anyway, they should have done so back in May. I agree completely with Rep. Turzai on that issue. Where my agreement turns during the speech is when Rep. Turzai decided to go straight for partisan politics when he talked about the Blue Dog Democrats.

As a Blue Dog (a fiscal conservative Democrat), I find that we get criticized from both sides of the aisle. Democrats are annoyed that we call ourselves “conservative”, and Republicans think we are trying to steal their brand. It is a constant uphill battle. It is for that reason that I respect individuals that stand up and proudly proclaim that they are “Blue Dogs”. Most recently, I’ve praised Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper for officially signing onto fiscal conservatism. She will be criticized by some for it, but she is brave in that she is attempting to satisfy the best of both worlds by standing somewhere in the middle.

When Rep. Turzai referred to the Blue Dogs as “lap dogs”, I lost respect for him. Partisan politics is the reason for the budget crisis in Harrisburg, and the ONLY way that any agreement will ever be reached is if some folks are willing to come to the center to push up their sleeves and hammer out the details. The Blue Dogs are standing up in Harrisburg and in Washington to do just that. They are concerned about high taxes and uncontrolled spending, and they are trying to work with both sides to protect the taxpayers. Rather than lashing out at the Blue Dogs, Representative Turzai and other fiscal conservative Republicans should be working WITH the Blue Dogs to come up with a valid and balanced budget. Instead, Rep. Turzai is drawing a line in the sand because he is afraid that the Blue Dogs are trying to steal the fiscal conservative label. UGH!!

I’ve been curious about who some of these Blue Dogs are in Harrisburg. My question was answered earlier this week when I received an email announcement from a conservative group. The purpose of the announcement, of course, was to criticize the Blue Dogs. I, however, was glad that I was finally supplied with the names of those State Representatives that now consider themselves Blue Dogs. The list (as I received it) is provided below:

Rep. Bryan Barbin
Rep. Frank Burns
Rep. James E. Casorio
Rep. Frank Dermody
Rep. John T. Galloway
Rep. Jaret Gibbons
Rep. Neal Goodman
Rep. Gary Haluska
Rep. Michael K. Hanna
Rep. R. Ted Harhai
Rep. Tom Houghton
Rep. David R. Kessler
Rep. William C. Kortz II
Rep. Bryan R. Lentz
Rep. David K. Levdansky
Rep. Mark Longietti
Rep. Rick Mirabito
Rep. Kevin Murphy
Rep. John E. Pallone
Rep. Joseph A. Petrarca
Rep. Harry Readshaw
Rep. John P. Sabatina Jr.
Rep. Chris Sainato
Rep. Steve Santarsiero
Rep. Tim Seip
Rep. Timothy J. Solobay
Rep. Don Walko
Rep. Jesse White

I’d like to point out that I have not verified this list with any other source. The list was published by Elizabeth Bryan of the Commonwealth Foundation, and I trust that it is correct. There were many names on the list that I personally recognize. I’d like to point out, however, one Mercer County “highlight” . . . that is the name of Representative Mark Longietti (D-7th). If the list is accurate, I’d like to be one of the first to welcome Representative Longietti to life on the ‘dark side’ as a Blue Dog Democrat. Representative Longietti and I have shared many conversations regarding fiscal issues, and I’m pleased to see that he is willing to take this brave step and officially state that he does not support higher taxes.

If the information is accurate, State Representative Longietti, Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper, and Congressman Jason Altmire (all three representing portions of Mercer County) all now join me as Blue Dogs . . . and I publicly applaud them all.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to remind Republicans, however, that it would serve them well to ‘make nice’ with the Blue Dogs. Perhaps it is time to attempt to reach across the aisle in order to finally work for “the good of the people”. It will only be by setting aside partisan politics that real progress can be made. If the fiscally conservative Republicans continue to back away (further to the right), they may find themselves ‘out the door’ in the not-to-distant future.

As always, just my opinion.
Roberta Biros, Mercer County Conservatives

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Representative Michele Brooks Says The Budget Stalemate Was Not Necessary

Legislator Announcement

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Representative Mark Longietti Joins Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling

Legislator Announcement

HARRISBURG, Aug. 3 – State Rep. Mark Longietti announced he has joined the Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling, joining with numerous other lawmakers and business leaders to fight a proposal to toll the highway.

"Tolling Interstate 80 would hurt some areas of Pennsylvania's most economically disadvantaged areas, including Mercer County," said Longietti, D-Mercer. "I will continue to fight to protect the local economy of Mercer County and prevent economic hardship to the northern tier of our state. Funding our transportation needs is a burden that should be shared equally across Pennsylvania.

"Our location along Interstate 80 is a great selling point to attract new industries and businesses," Longietti continued. "Putting tolls on the highway would slam the brakes on some economic development initiatives."

"With the Turnpike Commission planning to resubmit its tolling application to new leadership at the Federal Highway Administration, we are grateful Representative Longietti has joined our ranks to prevent this unfair and ill-conceived plan," said Ed Edwards, alliance co-founder and president of the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce. "We commend Representative Longietti for his position that tolls on I-80 will have a devastating economic impact for generations to come."

"Less than a year from July 2010, we are at a critical time to adopt an alternative transportation funding solution," said Vince Matteo, alliance co-founder and president of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce. "Our efforts are strengthened with Representative Longietti’s support. We’re grateful to have him as part of the alliance."

Established in early 2008, the Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling has been leading the fight to keep I-80 toll-free and prevent the implementation of Act 44. The Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling is comprised of Chambers of Commerce, businesses, elected officials and other organizations.