Why This Isn’t What You Thought It Was

Maybe I don’t understand loyalty, maybe I’m not that big of a sports fan, maybe I, along with the rest of the world, is just mindlessly at the whim of the media, maybe I have a deep-seated hatred for Penn State.

What is it?

Maybe the world is mindlessly just standing in line with the media, all of us just shaking our head as CNN tells us what happened and why we should be outraged. Or maybe a 21-year-old sociology major with a part-time job at Starbucks is maybe unqualified to simply dismiss the findings of an independent report by the former Director of the FBI and commissioned by the Penn State Board of Trustees? Maybe that’s it.

What is more likely?  That we’re all biased and the media’s sheep and this is all a big misunderstanding, or that some unqualified people may be rejecting facts to fit their opinion of one man? Maybe they could be the biased one?

I can’t blame you, Penn State defenders, because it hurts to be wrong, and you definitely can’t climb out of the hole you’ve dug yourself into. But consider, maybe for a second, that this does not take place at Penn State, but rather at a private institution, nay not a private institution, a private corporation that makes something as uncontroversial as clothes hangers.

Just consider.

Consider that the general manager of a clothes hanger factory hears about a sexual episode involving one of his foremen and a young boy that he brought into his office after working hours. Now, the foreman’s been with Snyder’s Clothes Hangers for years, and is good at his job, and it seems unlike him. The mother of the boy reports this to local police who refer it to the D.A. who decides not to prosecute the man. Okay, end of story. Now, 4 years later that guy has retired but still comes into the factory because he still likes playing around with plastic, because ya know, it’s in his blood. Corporate gave him a key and the GM doesn’t care because the foreman doesn’t interfere in the day to day operations of the business.

Then, the GM gets a report from a worker that he saw something sexual in nature in the boiler room between the boy and the former foreman. He doesn’t say what happens but, by the GM’s own account, “something sexual in nature occurred.” The GM calls the corporate office and reports the problem. The corporate office decides to report the foreman to the Attorney General’s office, but then, after a talk with the GM, a member of the corporate office says that they should hold off on reporting the foreman. The details of this conversation are unknown, the only particular that is known is that the corporate office listened to this input from the GM enough to not report it to authorities.

What happened in that phone call? We don’t know exactly. We don’t know exactly what was said, but I’m sure that a “yes, let’s report it to authorities” did not happen. In fact, any semblance of “yes, let’s report it,” most likely would have resulted in the reporting of the foreman. I would say that only a strong “No, let’s not go to authorities,” by a trusted, capable, and revered GM could make an entire multi-billion dollar university pull a cover-up over any crime.

The consequences aren’t small:

-           Do the right thing and report it. The business will get a bad rap, and might lose business, but it would be doing the right thing and no one would be personally be liable.

-          Do the wrong thing and cover it up, you risk being party to a felony, the tarnishing of reputation, and most likely heavy prison time. But you’ll also get to have your cake and eat it too. If the situation just went away, it would be easier. Plus, the foreman probably wouldn’t do anything like that, he’s a good guy. And the GM, he’s an even better guy, and after that conversation it all seems to be pretty fine.

By the way, for the purposes of this story, this has nothing to do with the business of making and selling clothes hangers. It just doesn’t. I just want to say that so we don’t get mired in tangential arguments about the impetus behind any actions. Because, please, have some decency and think about the victims in this situation. Imagine what their feeling. This situation was separate from the clothes hangers business, except that it happened at the factory and the suspect is a former plant employee of whom we have given special access to the factory. That’s it. Look, what does two separate accounts of sexually assaulting a young boy mean anyway? I mean, who hasn’t been accused of sexually assaulting young boys? It happens all the time. It’s a frivolous accusation that gets thrown around too much, and quite frankly I’m sick of it. I mean really, let’s be serious. Are we really going to jump to conclusions? Did I mention how this isn’t a clothes hanger scandal? Nope. Not at all. Look, the company cares about the victims, not clothes hangers, that’s why they when the issue came up they decided to play it safe and not bring up anything. I mean, sure, two separate and credible people made the accusations. I get that, but let Snyder’s just go on making hangers, that’s all we can do at this point. It makes no sense to punish others for the sins of others.

Nine years later an arrest is made, and it’s unveiled that there are almost a dozen victims of the foreman’s, and much of the abuse occurred repeatedly at the Snyder’s factory.

This is how it plays out. Remember, this has nothing to do with clothes hangers or the business of Snyder’s Clothes Hangers.

Statement from corporate:

“We here at Snyder’s Clothes Hangers reject the early, unfounded reports that upper levels of our administration may have known something about the abuses and could have stopped them but did not act appropriately. We reject these charges. What we should really be concerned about are the victims of the foreman and their families and the hope that they may find peace. That’s why we’d like to announce that we will go to huge lengths to protect our own reputation and our business. I repeat, this has nothing to do with the sale of clothes hangers. We care about the victims, not clothes hangers.”

A few months later the GM dies and reportedly wrote this statement before he died:

“Dear fellow citizens. I cannot believe that people are saying that this scandal is directly related to clothes hangers. That’s nuts! You wanna know why? Because we’ve produced good, quality made clothes hangers for years at low prices all while keeping your dollars local and supporting the local economy. How could it be? All of our employees have been hard-working, well-to-do members of the community for literally decades. Believe me because I produced all those hangers for you and would never steer you wrong. Nope, not no way, not no how.  Doesn’t the past mean anything to you? I mean, I don’t mean to distract you from the real issue of this case, which has always been the healing process for the victims and their families, but we did awesome things in the past! Like really awesome things. WE made A LOT of good hangers, and you guys loved those hangers, always puttin’ clothes on them and what not. Remember? This isn’t clothes hanger related, though. I’m just saying, that when you think about this case, just remember that we made a TON of good hangers. Love you.”

A few months later

Statement from corporate:

“We at Snyder’s Clothes Hangers, seeing as it’s not a clothes hangers related scandal, would like to commission an independent panel to look into our business to see if there really was anything fishy going on. This will provide plenty of clarity for the victims and their families so they can see that it wasn’t us who covered up the situation and ruined their lives. Nope. That’s not us. You wanna know why? Because this is all about the victims and the families of these victims and we feel that the only way to provide healing and closure is to see if there is anything our company could be legally liable for.”

Then the independent report finds corporate and the GM at fault. While not a legal document, it was conducted by the former head of the FBI.

Statement from corporate:

“Welp, it looks like we messed up. We promise to do better next time. It’s a good thing that the foreman is going to prison for life, because as I stated before and repeatedly to the point of creepy exhaustion: this is all about the victims.”

Statement from GM’s family:

“I don’t understand why you want to come down on this family and the legacy of a great businessman. Remember when he made all of those clothes hangers? Everyone loved them, I don’t understand why there’s so much backlash.”

Remember, this is all about the victims, and is NOT a clothes hangers issue.

The statement from supporters of the GM and Snyder’s Clothes Hangers:

“It’s sad to see so many people rush to judgment after hearing the results of the independent investigation conducted by the former head of the FBI. But that’s okay, Snyder’s will be back making high-quality hangers in no time. Nothing can keep them down. Go Snyder’s!”

Please, don’t get caught up in the hype, this is not related in any way to the business of clothes hangers.

The Department of Commerce hands down fines and penalties against Snyder’s Clothes Hangers related to the cover-up.

Statement from supporters of the GM and Snyder’s Clothes Hangers:

“This is crazy. Clearly EVERYBODY is not thinking straight except us who love the clothes hangers at Snyder’s Clothes Hangers. This is a blessed local business with decades of doing the right thing. I mean, they put “Quality Guaranteed” on each package of clothes hangers. It seems really crazy to punish all of the workers who will lose their jobs but did nothing wrong, just because a few people acted poorly. But like we said before, we’ll be back, and we’ll be cranking out the best clothes hangers ever.”

This scandal is not related to clothes hangers. It really isn’t. Just stop it. Alright?

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Filed under Penn State, Pennsylvania, Satire

Generation Y in Politics: Part 2

This is part two of a series on the politics of Generation Y. You can read Part 1 here.

2002

In every era of human existence there has always been a cultural and political divide between the young and the generation that preceded them. While the youth always view their fathers and mothers with resentment because they believe pops is shrouded in old thinking, the older living and working generation dismiss the youth’s unmoving ideology as idealistic and potentially disastrous. .  I certainly can’t speak for my parents and their peers, and I can’t end the ongoing debate, but I can speak for my generation, Generation Y, and maybe excuse and explain ourselves to our parents who only sit now and shake their heads.

For the better part of 2002 life was a waiting game. Things were still not clear on the 9/11 front. The Bush administration released a culprit, Osama Bin Laden, and the name of a terrorist network known as Al-Qaeda, and a radical-Islamist political outfit, the Taliban. Now, having known no better I grouped all three into one, some sort of evil empire that was proven to, and still capable of, carrying out a ridiculously heinous assault. They all practiced Islam, and were hailed as Islamo-fascists, meaning they were Muslim and were opposed to the diversity of ideas; parochial haters marching towards something deceivingly just.

We’re far removed from the crusades and religious wars from long ago. War based on religious belief was not a common understanding following 9/11. War was sought on grounds of retribution: The Germans for killing innocents and their ruthless attempt to take over the world; and the North Vietnamese for siding with our cold war rival who had wronged us by various proxy. These were our ideas for just war, religion was separate. We were taught religion was separate from the state, and that religious teachings, for most of us the Bible or the Talmud, seemed to be disconnected from the state and promotes no offense to any other group of people.

By this time we were versed on the holocaust, but even that tragedy couldn’t prepare us for war based on religious grounds. We were taught that Nazi’s persecuted not only those practicing Judaism but those of Jewish descent, those with dark features, those who fit the bill as Jewish.  That war in particular was not based purely on religious grounds, more on precipitous hate against the Jewish race. Conflict based on race was something we were versed on however. So, Gen Y thought of the threat from “Islamo-fascists” as wildly different than previous wars. This was a war based on religious grounds, not retribution for a past wrong, or racial, simply religious. Thus, the personal challenge was not largely embedded in such a secular generation as generation Y. Holding our line was tough, the war effort, the anger, the fear, was tougher to come by for the generation where Sunday School meant cookies and kickball, not bible verse memorizing.  We were going to war with an enemy that did not oppose what we were politically or socially or for any vengeance of retribution. But the war was against what was perceived of us on a religious level, and religious we largely were not. To be clear, this is what we thought.

But battlegrounds were not yet smoldering in 2002 as Pennsylvania was forced again to elect another governor after Tom Ridge was appointed by President George W. Bush as the nation’s first Director of Homeland Security. After Lieutenant Governor Mark Schweiker took the reigns over from Ridge, he helped oversee the takeover of the Philly school district while only in office for a quick 14 months. For 3 of those days he led the rescue at the Quecreek Mine in Somerset County, once again turning the little-known part of Pennsylvania into a media landscape after it was made famous when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Stonycreek Township the year before.[1]

Schweiker doesn’t seek reelection and the state is up for grabs with no incumbent running for the first time in 8 years. Democratic candidate Fast Eddy Rendell is the current DNC Chairman and a marvelous speaker. Republican candidate Mike Fischer is less of a speaker[2] but a molded conservative, a safe pick, and the current state Attorney General.  Fischer was a consistent member of Republican leadership in the state Senate and Rendell played to his lack of executive experience during the campaign.

Now, Rendell attacking Fischer’s lack of executive experience is a weak attack, but consider that this attack is actually founded. Fischer had never been executive of any municipality or constituency, he was a legislator turned state top cop, a role that plays more to those who can lead grand jury investigations and look into corruption than to those looking to deal with the entire state legislature. Fischer was never solely at the helm of balancing budgets and creating policy for a diverse constituency. Rendell had battled unions in budget negotiations as mayor of Philadelphia. But having no prior executive experience doesn’t necessarily mean that person will go on to be a poor leader. That’s why this attack is poor; it’s more of character exploitation than record exploitation.  Fischer was in leadership in the state House and Senate, putting together budget deals and taking flack from constituents, so while an attack on his executive experience is valid, an attack on his experience in creating and shaping good public policy is not.

But Rendell’s personal attack, while shrouded, has an appeal to a younger crowd. The idea that two politicians achieve success by taking two different paths is curious to a young person. Like any untested young brain, it still has very broad definitions of the things and the people that surround it. Politicians are one group as much as athletes and teachers are another group. Teachers are where they are because they went to school and got a teaching certificate, while athletes played their sport their whole lives, went to college (usually), then became a professional. By this logic, politicians should follow suit. To a young brain, all politicians are pulled into one group. This group competes against one another for one seemingly important job. A young person simply accepts that a politician running for governor filled their duties to get to that spot. No policy is considered, no matter how much we want to think it does. The opinion of a young person of a political campaign is personal and based on organic disagreements between the two candidates. I.E. “You don’t have what it takes;” “You did this” and “You did that” are more relevant to a political novice. Nary does a young person equate the fight of two politicians as a microcosm of many different fights. Instead, the debate is as difficult to understand as a fight between any two people is to understand. If you can use simple wrong and right and body language, you can make a decision, right? That’s why younger people have such an easy time endorsing a politician. Essentially, they are picking a horse. No knowledge is really needed to make a decision, it’s just a decision. The reasons why you like or dislike something a candidate or party at such a young age is not the summation of a series of policy ruminations, but a more guttural social impulse.

The younger generation is still wallowing in this world based on social impulses at the time of the 2002 Pennsylvania gubernatorial debate. Once Rendell wins[3], the Republican establishment is shaken in a moderate state that mostly leans their way. They do have one thing on their side, redistricting based off of 2000 Census numbers. Pennsylvania is to lose two seats.

The Republican-controlled state legislature and Republican governor would like to use those two seats to ouster some Democrats. They succeed in their redistricting plan by pitting two western PA Democratic congressman, Frank Mascara and John Murtha, against each other in the Democratic primary in the 12th congressional district, in which Murtha was the incumbent. The Republican legislature split off Mascara’s district into district 14 (held by Democrat Mike Doyle), the 12th, and the 18th. Mascara runs against Murtha in the Democratic Primary and loses. The new 18th District is taken over by Republican Tim Murphy. Meanwhile, in central PA, Rep. Tim Holden has his seat dissolved and is forced to run against 10-term incumbent Republican George Gekas in a district that is heavily Republican. However, according to news reports, Gekas runs a shoddy campaign and Holden shocks central PA by winning.[4] I guess that’s why they hold the election.

2003

So Big Eddy officially takes the helm at the beginning of 2003, he hits the ground running, passing a personal income tax hike and the controversial legalization of slots gambling. Here was the beginning of Rendell’s devotion to education. The money raised by gambling revenues was to go to property tax relief, which paid for schools.

Rendell’s start as governor coincided with John Perzel’s rise to House speaker, which made for a funny team of Philadelphians to reach an accord resulting in legislation. In 2003, the Pennsylvania Report listed Big Eddy #1 and John Perzel #2 in their “Power 75” list of the most influential people in Harrisburg. Now, the storyline goes that when House Speaker Matt Ryan died of cancer in March 2003, Perzel was elected speaker and, teaming up with Rendell, went on to pass the personal income tax hike and the slots. But according to the Patriot-News, he grew ambitious, and at one point was charging $50,000 for admission to Philadelphia fundraisers. A foreboding tell if you will.

By the way, the first natural gas well drilled in the Marcellus Shale region was in 2003.

At the same time, as a Gen Y’er, I was much more concerned with my newest and realest girlfriend and all possibilities that stem from such a relationship. That relationship started off so shy that a third party might have thought we were mortal enemies, or were having a never-ending moment of silence. In my life now we are best friends and the opposite of mortal enemies.

But I’m not shy anymore and, unlike then, in my life now I’m not shy to the fact that my kind (caucasian males) are indigenous to power and ethical disregard. But in 2003, the rest of my generation and I were not so much aware of this. You see the time in your life between 14 and 15 is sort of the sweet spot for racial harmony in most people. No one this age is particularly racist, they are such a perfect balance of cynicism that they don’t accept any side to any argument.  Race to a 14-year-old is a school book topic and not that much more, regardless of whether they grew up in diversity or not. What an average 14-year-old expresses is simply ambivalence to structure whatsoever so the option of adopting their parents’ or anyone else’s views on politics, especially racial politics, is gone. Most racial epithets you hear from anyone 14-15 years old and younger are just regurgitations of things they’ve heard. Racial tendencies for most people don’t come into play until they start making money and when they start comparing themselves to other people. At this time, lifestyles and incomes are compared along with how those factors relate to socio-economics and heritage. Fourteen year olds are mostly busy not doing what those who are older and more experienced are saying to do, and more apt to base their life on their grab bag of underdeveloped notions of humanity and real life.

But enough. The fact of the matter is that at that age kids are naïve and more importantly illogical. Unorganized and often not directed, they either exist in this naivete as starry-eyed dreamers or doomsday-howling pessimists. But either way, any racial antagonisms towards those widely seen as the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and the enemies of America were not adopted by most Gen Y’ers. Any antagonisms perhaps grew overtime by those fighting in our two wars. The larger swath of us had an easier time separating those from the Middle East from the radical Muslims who sort of looked like them.

Speaking of, United States foreign policy changed forever in 2003 when a containment strategy towards Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction changed to preemption. The strategy really came to a head when President Bush made a speech announcing the invasion of Baghdad and threatening the death of Saddam and his sons if they didn’t surrender. According to the HBO miniseries House of Saddam, his sons and Saddam do escape for a little bit,[5] but are eventually killed along with their father.

The shock and awe tactics military tactics used on Baghdad were justified with Saddam’s continued defiance to the efforts of UN weapons inspectors over the years to inspect his arsenal. There were reports from before the invasion that found no WMD’s in Iraq. Yet just two months before, Colin Powell made one of the most memorable speeches of recent U.S. history by staunchly defending the existence of WMD’s in Iraq at the United Nations.[6]

The rest is history and it’s always curious how Colin Powell is received after both giving this speech staunchly heightening suspicions over the issue of WMDs in Iraq and then in later years being the one cabinet member most ambivalent about the war and the reasons for going to war. It’s the belief that America had unjust cause for going to war. But for Gen Y’ers, this debate is irrelevant because we are already entrenched in the war. Debating about whether or not we should of acted differently in 2003 is a waste of time, but spending time drawing down is the best method. However, drawing down isn’t simply pulling out. The debate is further clouded when you consider whether or not a tyrant or radical minority can take over Iraq again.

We’ve come full circle, hawkish feelings have faded if not for the feeling that our time in Iraq must end but for the fact that it is simply too expensive to stay in and domestic problems have worsened. That’s why Gen Y will be a domestic group of people. This doesn’t mean we’ll be soft, cowardly homebodies but those fixed on fixing our lives here. We’ve realized that a strong economy made us a power and not military might. Yes, a violent revolution led to our creation, but the hard work of the rank-and-file brought us to the prosperity we enjoyed as of 9-10-11. Green energy, government efficiency, urban redevelopment, and new industry describes Gen Y like World War II described our grandparents’ generation. The game hasn’t changed, it’s just a new task. Our grandparents were asked to move forward to protect the world from fascism, our task is equally virtuous. But for now our task isn’t romanticized and won’t be until we grow old enough to reflect with some experience.


[1] This story is maybe not worthy of an HBO miniseries but definitely a made-for-tv special. No, definitely an HBO one-time special. I mean the governor oversaw the entire rescue.

[2] In a gubernatorial debate in Hershey during that campaign, Fischer is seen bobbing back and forth as if he’s in some melodic meltdown as he explains why Rendell is a “limousine liberal,” a weak political attack by 2011 standards. Big Eddy, much bigger than today’s Eddy, defends the attack with deftness by numbering 3 ways in which he increased spending to education in Philadelphia and how the property tax yield is not constant and therefore public education funding should not rely on property taxes. Rendell – 1 Fischer – 0 and we’re only 3 minutes in. By the way, the CSPAN video of this debate has 36 views. I have two of them.

[3] A few months later, in 2003, Mike Fischer is appointed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals by then President Bush joining the wife of the man who beat him in the general election, Judge Marjorie Rendell.

[4] By the way, this redistricting plan was so blatantly gerrymandered that a few active citizens of our great commonwealth challenged the constitutionally of the redistricting plan. The case, Vieth v. Jubelirer, after President Pro Tempore of the state Senate, Robert Jubelirer, went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled that gerrymandering was not unconstitutional. Only in Pennsylvania, baby.

[5] A great mini-series by the way. It was essentially a mob movie. Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay, who are also political muscle with their father essentially live a lifestyle that would put Tony Montana to shame. Also, I’ve never seen two human beings use that little discretion and humility to their everyday life. If temperance is a virtue these guys were Hitler. At least this is how they were portrayed. Catch it on DVD.

[6] I’ve always found it interesting how this speech is the de facto turning point for intervention in Iraq but isn’t played much up in the mainstream media.

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Filed under Ed Rendell, Education, Marcellus Shale, Natural Gas, Pennsylvania, Policy, Politics, Tax

Generation Y in Politics: Part 1

Credit: Getty Images - Mario Tama

IN EVERY ERA of human existence there has always been a cultural and political divide between the young and the generation that preceded them. While the youth traditionally view their fathers and mothers with resentment because they believe ma and pa are shrouded in old thinking, the older living and working generation dismiss the youth’s unmoving ideology as idealistic and potentially disastrous.  I certainly can’t speak for my parents and their peers, and I can’t end the ongoing debate, but I can speak for my generation, Generation Y, and maybe excuse and explain ourselves to our parents who only sit now and #smh (you wouldn’t understand). Because in an effortless spin-zone, at least understanding would help. I mean, we’re only now graduating college and becoming productive members of society. Our revolution probably won’t be televised but rather smeared on a Twitter feed; even then, that revolution probably would have been speculated already by Joe Scarborough, Keith Olbermann, Glenn Beck, or Rush Limbaugh.

You see I don’t count any political memory before the year 2000 as having any real bearing on my generation. We were all hopping fences, riding our bikes, and playing Super Nintendo. The Clinton-Lewinski scandal  of 1998 was beyond us because A) Most parents didn’t want to tell us the real story, B) we didn’t know what perjury was and C) we maybe all inherently knew that we were going to experience dozens of political sex scandals much more juicy than Miss Lewinsky so we simply just didn’t pay attention. But honestly none of us were able to pay attention for more than five seconds at 11 years old let alone ingest social policy and relate it to millions of people enough to form an opinion. Yes, some of us were told that taxing was a form of stealing and others were told that we should always help our neighbor even if it meant giving up what we had. But really we had never earned any real dime, never dealt with strict management, or ever saw true selfishness. We were kids.

So 2000 is where I start, the year many of us started following politics and delightfully never stopped.

2000

In the year 2000 a puerile, peach-fuzz faced kid with hormones pumping faster than Pauly D’s fists at the Atlantic City Harrah’s was not paying attention to what turned out to be the most controversial election of all time. He was catching up on season one of the Disney Channel series The Jersey while the first son of Texas and his Dad’s hunting buddy (more on this later), former Defense Secretary and Congressman, Dick Cheney go up against the slowest talking liberal ever in Vice President Al Gore[1] and a now unrecognizable version of Connecticut Congressman Joe Lieberman for the title of having the hardest first year at any job EVER. [2]

For the six weeks after the first Tuesday in November in the year 2000, the United States and the world waited on a state that the rest of us only thought had hotels and old people to count their own votes. It turned out to be a series of disasters and a media field day as each day news broke of new sacks of votes being found, African-Americans being unexplicably turned away at the polls[3], and of course the debate over hanging “chads,” forever bringing back that pale name. Sorry, Chads[4].

So eventually the Republican regime challenges the legality of the recount. The Supreme Court eventually decides that Florida’s constitution allowing a recount is unconstitutional, violating the Equal Rights and Protection clause of the Fourteenth amendment. The state’s recount methods were inconsistent across the state thus violating the Equal Protection clause affirming “one man, one vote.”More importantly, the court said there would be no timely way to come up with a better solution. So the first election for the rest of my life is turned over to the original count and George Bush is our next president.

Beyond the 2000 presidential election, we Pennsylvanians elected Republican Senator Rick Santorum to his second term. Arlen Specter was old even then. Fast Eddy Rendell had wrapped up his term as Mayor of Phiadelphia earlier in the year and was now full time chair of the DNC. Future Senator Bob Casey Jr. won reelection to his second term as Pennsylvania’s Auditor General. Casey defeated Lancaster state Rep. Katie True.

Erie-native Tom Ridge was our Governor at the time coming from a place no one knew about, and what southeast Pennsylvanians oddly laud themselves for still not knowing about. He took typical Republican stances: tough on crime and proposed alternatives to public education and a school choice program. He was even prospected as an attractive running mate for Bush in the 2000 election and campaigned for Bush in Pennsylvania.

This same year our future president Barack Obama came in second in the Democratic primary for Illinois’ 1st congressional district seat to incumbent Bobby Rush. Obama continued serving in the Illinois state Senate.

Current Pennsylvania State Representative Justin Simmons was only 13.

So to recap: Generation Y’s first significant experience with politics resulted in a man winning the presidency that had not won the general vote. Up until then, we understood that our elections were based on a majority, that those with the most votes won. No one told us about the electoral college or why it was even there. So immediately we understand that our Democracy isn’t exactly what we thought a Democracy was, and this is before we were able to even see the process work outside of elections. We were now a group of people who resented the electoral college, because it seemed to have violated our idea of Democracy. If it was “who gets the most votes,” as we were told, then why don’t we just count the votes? Why do we need delegates. All of this is beyond the fact that we were hormonally sputtering into early-adulthood and we were grossly underprepared for what followed.

But again I really wasn’t paying attention.

2001

It was my first week of 8th grade and on September 11th it was looking like it was going to be a pretty good Tuesday: a little shop class in the morning then off to Language Arts. I was in shop class when the towers were hit, but I didn’t know anything was going on until another teacher at our school unapologetically walked through the door and said to my shop teacher “they hit the other one,” which garnered nearly no reaction from the 70 year old man at the front of the classroom. The worried teacher left and he calmly told us to start working on our projects as he stole to the side to watch one of our school’s wall-mounted televisions. It was strange for him to be watching T.V. in class. Eventually we all made our way over and he explained the events. But before he showed any shock or fear, which I’m guessing he was purposely not showing for our sake, he leaned over and said to a group of two or three of us watching it with him that he “would hate to muslim living in America right now.”[5]  Sadly, I think that was the first honest sentence a teacher had said to me, and the first time an adult had been so candid with me at all about America and it’s flaws. It is so audible to me still because it was honest to the point that it was cold.

Throughout the day kids were being pulled out of school left and right by their parents. We were all seemingly in danger, even here in Northwest Pennsylvania, far away from New York City, we felt like targets. A girl in my Language Arts class for whom I shared the same half brother (small town, not incest) who lived in Arlington, Virginia at the time, where the Pentagon is, was breaking down in class and asked me if I knew if he was alright. I said he was, probably. I was still unphased, this event simply couldn’t touch me, although numerous victims of the attacks died just 2 hours south of me.

Sadly, through all this, I did not acknowledge that this fear expanded outside of my world until I came home to watch Sportscenter and found it showing a non-stop loop of 9/11 coverage. I think I watched two straight days of coverage. Still sadly I was watching more because it was interesting to me to see everyone else losing their temperament and not me. It was others’ fear that led to my fascination, and that fascination never led to real fear.[6] By the time I was old enough to understand, others’ fear had faded.[7]

I came to grips with 9/11 by meeting veterans, talking to people who had lost people in the subsequent war on terror. I was never afraid and I think that I speak to many of my generation in that regard. We were too young. My generation’s fear was expended in patrolling mountains in foreign deserts and driving through the Khyber Pass. Our fear was placed in growing up in war.[8] It was a gradual process that coincided with growing up.

While a slow build-up to the war on terror started, meanwhile Republican State Representative John Perzel (see me in 2006) was named “Politician of the Year” by politicspa.com’s Sy Snyder. He was also one of three earning the “Hardest Working” title that year, along with fellow House Republican Mike Veon (see me in 2006). Bob Casey (see me in 2006) was listed as “Most Likely to Succeed,” and Senator Rick Santorum (see me in 2006) earned one of the titles of “Most Ambitious” (see me in 2011).

The year 2001 was a landmark year in education. In 2001, the state took over the Philadelphia School District by hiring a private education management group to come in and run part of the city’s schools and the infamous School Reform Commission was created to replace the city’s school board. The district’s financial problems pushed the state to intervene but the episode framed the school district as another casualty of Pennsylvania’s school funding strategy. Some people challenged that raising money through property taxes was not to the benefit of Philadelphia with low property values and a shaky tax base. Thus the state was burning through their property tax revenues faster than suburban and rural schools. A lasting debate and argument to this day.

As we were entering high school the No Child Left Behind Act was made law and created standardized tests as meters to gauging a school’s performance. We had never heard of teachers “teaching to the test,” but now these standardized tests suddenly seemed important and most kids seemingly never took them seriously. There was no incentive, which is some sort of a wild fail and catch-22 of those standardized tests. Teachers always told us it was used to see “how you are doing” rather than the truth which is “how the school is doing.” I never put one ounce of effort into those tests, probably making me seem a lot dumber than  my peers and bringing down my school’s scores.

Here’s where the catch-22 kicks in: would not the smart kids, realizing the test has no bearing on their grades or progress in school, be the ones blowing off the test while the other ones blindly followed and tried on the test. If school is supposed to teach you about thinking efficiency and critically and to reject notions of being close-minded then it would follow that by not taking the test that those particular kids had been taught well. This is probably making most school teachers shake their heads but standardized tests are eventually found out by the kids who take them. What’s worse is that by that logic the best kids in any school need to do well to boost their school’s scores but the smart kids are privy to the pointlessness of the test to them in their immediate world and shrug it off, leaving the others to take the test. What’s even worst is that those “smart” kids blowing off the test are thinking selfishly without no ramifications. Their scores affect school funding and the projection of the school that they selfishly failed. We can’t hold any kid to fully understand the ramifications of that last part though.

What happened these first two years was easily as sophisticated and misleading as it could get for someone trying to learn the culture of a Democracy. It was clear then and now that the awkward tween years spoiled us from absorbing the abundance of patriotism that was being readily absorbed. We were exhausted but because we had developed under crisis we were enthusiastic for more strategic, structured years to come.

Please check back for the second portion of Gen Y’s journey through politics.


[1]This was also the election where Ralph Nader became notorious for ruining the election for Al Gore by siphoning Democrat votes to his Green party ticket.

[2] For extra credit in my seventh grade history class our teacher offered extra credit to anyone willing to play one of the presidential candidates and give a stump speech in front of the class explaining why we should vote for them. A good friend of mine gave an impassioned, and prematurely policy-based, plea on behalf of Ralph Nader. He switched my vote along with four others that day. He still came in third place but that kid is now an energy industry engineer (hmm….).

[3] There were reports of African-Americans being turned away at certain Florida polling locations.

[4] Chad is an okay name.

[5] The prejudice towards people of the Muslim faith and Middle-eastern descent after 9/11 is a true example of embracing fear in lieu of principles. Also, see Patriot Act (next footnote).

[6] Much like our aforementioned prejudice, the signing of the Patriot Act in 2001 was one purely based on fear and another abandonment of principle due to fear. Here many young people learned how much legs fear had. The Patriot Act passed almost without a peep at the time and is historically looked at as controversial for its scope.

[7] This same year my Language Arts teacher gave us an essay assignment that simply asked that we describe the meaning of one phrase, “freedom isn’t free.” We all wrote about the aspect of sacrifice and yielding to the means of providing safety. I know in 2006, had I been given the same prompt, a more cynical and learned class would have included pleas for wrongs that need to be rights, it would be more reflective in tone.

[8] I never went to war and was never a member of any part of the military. I am certainly not comparing growing up in America with growing up in Baghdad, or for that matter, growing up while actually fighting the war.

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Transportation Funding Part 3: The Final Countdown

On Monday, Tom Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission voted to to recommend to the state legislature a plan to shore up $2.7 billion per year in transportation funding.

Two large parts of this plan  getting most of the attention, are raising the cap on the Oil Company Franchise Tax and raising numerous fees that drivers pay every year.

Now the yearly fees that we all pay: for driver’s licenses, registration, and others amount to about $36 per year currently. Under the proposal, this will increase to $49. Raising these fees, from a public policy standpoint, is uncontroversial and lends little to any political or economic ideology. It’s simply tacking on $13 to your normal bill and has nothing to do with how much it costs to process a registration or license, only that the state needs money and these fees have not been raised since 1997.

Ok. Most of us can be fine with that simply for the fact that it’s something we only buy once a year and it’s no real impediment to getting a license or your car registered.

But raising the tax on oil company’s selling liquid fuel in the state seems to hint more at political or economic ideology. Energy and how we use it, regulate it, and tax it are huge topics of discussion in Pennyslvania and, transportation funding aside, is one issue area that has lots of hands in play; many of these hands have money, and many have government.

The results of the commission’s report proposes raising the Oil Company Franchise Tax or the per gallon tax that is passed on to you when you fill your car with gas. The current cap is $1.25 per gallon of the wholesale price, the proposal calls to increase this to $1.63. This increase is proposed to be phased in over in over 5 years. The study states that without this cap, the state could be taking in an additional 13.8 cents per gallon for gasoline and 18.7 cents for diesel.

Now we know that Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission’s recommendation favors the creation of a local impact fee on natural gas drillers. But most important about this recommendation is that it is middle of the line if you consider the two extremes of the debate. In the debate that began almost three years ago, when many legislators caught on to the fact that drillers would be itching for a spot to drill in Pennsylvania, you had two sides. On one side, you had the environmentalists, yearning for a tax and strict environmental regulation. On the other, you had business, boosting the economic rewards that the industry has to offer. What resulted was not quite the tax that the environmentalists wanted and not quite the  unregulated industry that drillers wanted.

Now I mention this because it is important to understand the economic infedility that we may be creeping into if we raise the ceiling on how much we can tax liquid fuels in this state. The shallow drilling that is going to occur in our state is prime for the taking and stands to generate tax revenue while providing landowners with royalties through leases. At the same time, there will be overreaching and mismanagement of well sites, followed by mistakes, and environmental damage. Through all this our state will be tasked with both promoting and regulating this industry, much like many other industries. But for something so lucrative as natural gas, like that of other industries, the potentialities of disaster opens up.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration was tasked with regulating an industry along the desolate regions of Appalachia. Creating jobs along this stretch has always been an elusive priority for all three layers of government. During the Bush Administration’s reign they instructed MSHA inspectors to help mine operators comply with the laws rather than inflict strict punishments and fines. The lax regulation that resulted was found to be one of the reasons for the blow-out of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 people. Under subsequent investigation it was evidenced that with proper regulation the disaster could have been prevented. The federal government and West Virginia’s burden of both promoting and regulating an economically important industry did not cause the Upper Big Branch disaster, but it certainly was an impetus for the founded lax oversight found in the investigation at the Upper Big Branch mine. Of course, this wasn’t the sole cause of the disaster, but the dilemma created in the Mine Safety and Health Administration is potentially akin to what Pennsylvania may face with the natural gas industry. Juggling the task is a perfect storm of the push and pull of regulation and job creation that government regularly must deal with.

Our regulation of the natural gas industry is also tied to the new policies put forward by the commission. We are undeniably going to promote this industry and through that we are going to promote the use of products and vehicles that run on natural gas. As this is, from a funding standpoint, our decisions reflect either a continued faith in the dominance of liquid fuels like gasoline or the choice of a waning revenue generator which will have to be replaced in later years, or both.

By increasing the cap on liquid fuels taxes, we are now relying on these higher rates to bring in higher levels of revenue while on the other hand,  promoting an industry that creates an alternative fuel. It follows that if and when the natural gas industry picks up in Pennsylvania, with all of us driving cars that run on natural gas and heating our homes with natural gas, the revenues from our tax on liquid fuels would decrease.

In choosing this revenue source, we are again looking down the middle of the road as we neither fully put our full faith in the future of natural gas while holding on to past revenue generators.

The reason I endorsed the liquid fuels tax as a tax of the past is because over the last two decades the revenue generation of such taxes have been declining. It’s disproving itself. The proof is in the poor revenue returns of the Oil Company Franchise tax and the liquid fuels tax. The revenues from these two taxes head for transportation funding, which has clearly been one of the state’s largest problems for years running.

But it would also be foolish to ignore the fact that raising the liquid fuels tax could be seen as less a belief in the oil industry’s sustaining dominance than a deterrent to America’s most hated natural resource.

We’ll never know if there is more to the proposal than simply raising funds, but any further doubts as to whether it has political and lasting policy implications can be squashed for the time being.

Now we wait. The Governor has held off on endorsing or commenting on the proposal until the final report is submitted on August 1st. The legislature will pay attention to how he weighs in because Gov. Corbett has tended to dictate actions of Senate and House Republicans.

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Filed under Marcellus Shale, Natural Gas, Pennsylvania, Policy, Politics, Tax, Upper Big Branch Mine, West Virginia

The Saga of Harrisburg

It’s hard to ignore the symbolism in Harrisburg failing to agree to a state takeover plan to balance the fiscal milieu it is currently in. The city, the center of policymaking in our state, is in such poor financial shape that the state is attempting to force the city council to enact an austerity plan as part of the state’s Act 47 law.

It’s difficult to see how such a situation seemed to erode so far under the nose of the best policy minds in our state all condensed right in our capital city. It’s akin to parents paying attention to their kids while their marriage falls apart right in front of their faces.

Pennsylvania’s capital city has been avoiding a vote on a plan to handle the mounting debt they have stemming from the purchase of two trash incinerators that went over budget and failed to provide the city with any revenue. The incinerators were purchased under the Stephen Reed Administration in 2003 and were intended to generate a profit when surrounding cities, towns, and counties would pay to use the incinerators. The plan did not work out as planned. Not as many towns signed on to use the incinerator while the price of the incinerators went $100 million over budget.

Fast forward to 2009, City Council President Linda Thompson beats incumbent and long-term mayor Stephen Reed in the May Democratic Mayoral Primary. In the fall she wins the general election.

But by May 2010, five months after she became mayor, Harrisburg made the big time in a feature in the New York Times where the incinerator purchase, and the city’s finances, were less than the envy of other cities. Highlighted were the city’s horrible credit ratings, its immense debt, and that it pays the highest trash disposal fees in the country.

Act 47 is a state takeover law that imposes financial reforms on municipalities that are on the verge of municipal bankruptcy, or Chapter 9. The state Department of Community and Economic Development labels a troubled municipality “distressed” and that municipality is then subject to state takeover. State-hired consultants come in to cut the fat and come up with revenue streams. Think Rob Lowe and Adam Scott in the TV series Parks and Recreation. Localities avoid the enactment of Act 47 like the plague but most cannot evade the reforms. Harrisburg, while millions in debt, is attempting to avoid these reforms and the response from Harrisburg’s delegation in the state legislature differ on what the city’s plan should be.

In its putzy denial, the city of Harrisburg is rejecting the plan that was proposed in December. State Senator Jeffrey Piccola is trying to ram the reforms through but the city council and troubled mayor Linda Thompson will not budge. Harrisburg-area Rep. Ron Buxton disagrees with the Piccola plan because it gives too much say to Dauphin County, rather than leaving the reform package up to the city council. Piccola’s bill would create a three-person management board composed of two appointments made by Corbett and another by the Dauphin County Commissioners.

Both have their arguments. Harrisburg filing for bankruptcy would wreak havok on the credit standing of Pennsylvania’s cities and towns. But stripping the city of sovereignty in its own financial dealings appears to many to be too intrusive.

Buxton insists any reforms should be left to the city council and the Piccola plan would most likely appoint councilmen to the three-person team. But creating boards is almost a prudish political maneuvers that shows that action is ready to be taken but also is so ineffective that it isn’t seen as draconian or overly stringent, all while passing off the responsibility onto a body and not one person; sounds more like a pessimistic definition of democracy.

The idea of taking financial advice from a group of people that have skipped on pension obligations and gave themselves raises seems like a poorly hatched plan. But maybe the fact that they have learned from their mistakes makes them qualified. Who knows.

The mighty, allegedly imposing, specter reigning over Pennsylvania towns and cities may not be the best way to solve a debt crisis as history tells us. There are currently 20 municipalities in distressed standing, including Scranton, Pittsburgh, and Reading. Of those 20, 8 received a distressed determination before 1993. Pittsburgh, which has been “distressed” since 2003, is staving off having its pension fund taken over by only hinting at leasing their parking services.

A lot of these distressed towns are industry towns in the Northeast and southwest, Philadelphia has staved off Act 47 by hiring wage and sales taxes. Erie also avoided an Act 47 takeover in 2007. While Erie was mired in the muck of staving of Act 47, Erie Mayor Joe Sinnott called on local leaders across the state to band together to lobby Harrisburg into revising Act 111, which is enacted with Act 47. Act 111 is a stringent document that prevents financially distressed cities from exiting costly union contracts, imposing fees on nonprofits, and discharging debts. Sinnott said it is difficult for a municipality to recover with such limitations on reforms.

But this was in 2007 and the law is still unchanged. As of last Tuesday night, Harrisburg’s city council has agreed on a deal to reject the Act 47 reforms and move forward with filing it’s petition for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, which is the municipal version of chapter 11, the type of bankruptcy that allows for restructuring.

Someone who recognizes the symbolism established with Harrisburg’s folly is quick to apply a call for fiscal austerity statewide. Harrisburg attempted to raise revenue on a speculative business-type decision. It was a purchase of capital, in hope of generating profit, on an unproven industry. One could posit that such a decision is made often at the state and local level. The state appears to be attempting this in their consideration of placing tolls on numerous roads. The difference between these situations is that nothing was purchased, no new roads were built. Instead, fees would be enacted on existing capital rather than an investment being made into new capital. Put bluntly, the incinerator purchase was a business-like move made by a government organization. Dollars put into the trust of a few people were speculated away in a poor decision akin to Lehman Brothers covering up their losses with the investments of unwitting investors.

While my personal critique isn’t of concern, there are plenty of reasons to apply Harrisburg’s mistake into decisions related to revenue generation in other cities or municipalities. Revenue generation void of a significant initial investment, and which provides a public good should be the renewed standard. But as governments look to make up for years of dwindling revenues, the attraction to these investments may look more attractive. But they should remember that a business approach to government is attributable to keeping costs down but there can be no business method out of debt.

Now Piccola is pushing forward a bill that would result in a state takeover if Harrisburg rejects the Act 47 plan. The bill was voted out of committee and is poised to be voted on in the full Senate.

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Filed under Act 47, Adam Scott, Dauphin County, Erie, Harrisburg, Jeffrey Piccola, Joe Sinnott, Linda Thompson, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Policy, Politics, Reading, revenue, Rob Lowe, Ron Buxton, Stephen Reed

PA’s Acting DPW Secretary and His Medicaid Past

Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of the Department of Public Welfare, Gary Alexander, is a trailblazer when it comes to Medicaid reform. In a recent article in governing magazine, Alexander is highlighted as being central to block granting the Medicaid program in Rhode Island as that state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services secretary.

The article goes on to explain that Alexander, who started out working in the Massachusetts Legislature, was at the forefront of getting the go-ahead from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to block grant Medicaid. Alexander, along with Governor Carcieri of Rhode Island, implemented a reform program that saved the state $100 million in the first 18 months and cut the growth of Medicaid from 8 percent to 3 percent.

Alexander’s idea to block grant the program was based off what occured when a Clinton administration initiative to block grant TANF funding to states saved millions. The philosophy was to allow states more flexibility in how they administer Medicaid in exchange for a fixed amount of federal Medicaid funds. The idea rested on switching from a categorical grant to a block grant.  In a categorical grant, there are more narrow parameters for what the federal funds can be used for but the trade-off is that the feds match what states spent on Medicaid plus a little extra. In a block grant, the state applies funds but loosens up restrictions on what the funds can be used for, the trade-off is that the feds contribute a fixed amount.

The idea is seemingly based on the benefit of predictability. The feds win by having assurance that they are spending only a fixed amount on Rhode Island’s Medicaid program, while Rhode Island benefits by being able to adapt its own program to cost-cutting measures.

Rhode Island is the only state thus far to achieve a block-granted Medicaid system. But Alexander’s move to Pennsylvania, a state with a large debt and a public welfare system that has come under scrutiny for overspending, should be embraced. The guy is a reformer and his method is proven.

Spending on Medicaid is the largest expenditure for states and is taking up over 20% of state expenditures. The current model is unsustainable with the costs of healthcare far outpacing inflation. The article goes on to ask a good question: Is curbing Medicaid better than losing Medicaid?

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Filed under Pennsylvania, Policy, Tom Corbett

To Save: Trickle Down Power

Listen, our government is a top down scheme.

It’s true.

And if you find pyramid corporate structure appalling, where those at the top save money by getting more production of those at the bottom, well, that’s your problem.

But I should remind you that this is what we have in our federalist system.

PA Republicans have relished in their majority status in the Pennsylvania house, Senate, and governor’s office. They now head into budget negotiations having entertained and acted on bills that embrace the deference that local governments must pay to their state counterparts. Pennsylvania has embarked on a trend that pushes the duties of the state to the numerous  local governments that mesh our state together, or the process called “decentralization.”

Decentralization is a term usually used usually when speaking about the federal government. Relegating power back to the states has been a traditional stance of congressional Republicans for years. In the Republican wave of 1994, Newt Gingrich, as part of his Contract with America, put forward a group of proposals that shifted social welfare programs to state governments and away from federal governments . The “devolution revolution” was the  movement’s rhyming moniker.

Such transfers are being considered in our dear state as fiscal conservatives gear up to make large cuts in the 2011-2012 budget. The drop-off in stimulus funding, and a pressing deficit, has sprung forward proposals that transfer revenue-generating policy-making to local governments. Generating revenue means cuts and taxes, both unpopular for a Republican-controlled government. But simply passing the buck onto local governments allows state legislators to escape such unpopular policies having never voted on them. Their hands are clean. A political as well as a policy maneuver, fiscal conservatives are attempting to put unpopular revenue-generating decisions in the hands of local supervisors and councils.

The most glaring example is the approach Republicans have taken toward drafting legislation on the natural gas industry. Over the past few months, consideration of a severance tax has been replaced with that of a local impact fee, essentially a severance tax with carefully-constructed advertising.

The word “tax” is so politically-charged in the current political environment that Corbett has opted to support a local impact “fee” on the natural gas industry. The clamor from the industry, along with his symbolic signing of the Americans for Tax Reforms’ no-tax pledge, has made supporting anything called a tax a political liability. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, later sent a letter to Senator Joe Scarnati and Mary Jo White calling the impact fee a tax. Under the “fee,” which is very similiar to the unholy severance tax in the sense that it would cost drillers a fee per well-head and taxes on production and the price of the gas. Unlike a “tax,” under a the “fee” proposal most revenues would stay in local municipalities. Keeping revenues local is a characteristic that Corbett stated did not make the plan a tax, but rather a fee, since no money would go into state coffers, although some of the money will go to infrastructure on a state-wide level.

The impact fee proposal  will create a model ordinance for localities but it is still up to our municipal governments to pass the ordinance into law. Under the plan,  localities have no obligation to the state. Any town that does not pass such an ordinance that fits the criteria of the impact fee will not receive any of the revenues from surrounding localities. Under the plan, impact fee revenues will go to three pots, the local municipality where drilling takes place, the county, and surrounding towns that may be affected by the industry. These townships thus have a respected  autonomy passed on from the state in which they control their own destiny when it comes to drilling.

But where authority is delegated competence should be placed. Now local governments must take on more authority over what happens within their boundaries, which sounds wonderfully democratic yet burdensome when you consider the modest, blue jeans spirit of local governance in some of Pennsylvania’s smaller communities. Full-time state legislators are passing on policy obligations to part-time township supervisors that have a fraction of the time to process, decipher and make educated decisions about local policies. When power is shifted so is the directive of interests partial to particular policy goals. The lobbying efforts by drilling companies at the local level will most likely far exceed the professionalism of a local bureau council. Local ordinances will catch the eye of Haliburton and Chesapeake Energy, which will eventually create a never-before-seen professionalism in local government. We’ve seen the pressure gas drilling companies can have on local communities to adopt ordinances favorable to drillers.

This is certainly no pittance for local governments, who could profit from such initiatives while also having the chance to reject them. Consider the proposal to toll Route 422. The proposed plan would set up local authorities to toll parts of the road. Revenues from tolling would go to local highways. The revenues that could be generated for local infrastructure along could be immense. The power to toll is something that in Pennsylvania has only previously been done on the state level. In addition, a gas-rich community can benefit off of royalty payments and taxes from gas drilling wells. The passed-down powers put obligation on local officials but provides much-needed revenue sources for local communities, all while giving them the choice to do so.

Alternatively, a new bill propsoal would remove exceptions from a current law that opens up a school board’s decision to raise property taxes over the rate of inflation to referendum. The bill’s passage would be the purest form of populist governance but could be an almost tortuous financial bind on school boards as they blithely ask their neighbors whether they’d like to raise their own taxes. While school districts creating property tax code is not a new delegated authority, the threat of referendum is. State funding to K-12 schools will be cut in the 2011-2012 budget and school boards will attempt to raise property taxes to maintain a level of funding in local districts. But such tax increases passing public referendum is seen as an impediment to maintain these funds.

The decentralization proposals appear appropriate, not only in its delegation of authority to local governments to solve local issues, but in its appeal to the democratic nature in all of us to have closer contact to our lawmakers. Over the years, we’ve grown apart from our lawmakers at the state level. The 203 house members represent around 62,500 people  each and our Senators represent around 254,000. These are large swaths of people and area. House and Senate seats encompass multiple municipalities that stretch for miles. Therefore it is not unusual why a policy so relevant due to its physical presence in a community like gas drilling is considered deserving of local legislation. Who better to decide what goes on than those people who personally know their bureau councilman/woman or township supervisor?

But state government have reason to distrust localities. Pittsburgh, seemingly one of the more formidable local govenrments in the state, has been evading a state takeover of their pension fund for years by dabbling in leasing their parking services. The city of Harrisburg, our state capital, faces immense debt over the purchase of an incinerator years ago along with a myriad of problems.

It’s exhaustive to debate whether the state or locals will do a better job in developing effective policy. We need schools, social programs, etc. We used to have this money, now its gone. Years of work at the state level action hasn’t garnered enough resluts. A switch to local favor is a logical next step.

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Filed under Education, gas tax, Impact Fee, Joe Scarnati, Marcellus Shale, PA House, PA Senate, Patch, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Policy, Politics, property tax, Severance Tax, toll, Tom Corbett, transportation, Voucher