Saturday, August 19, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Stuck in a state of frustration

I've got a lot on my mind today so here goes.

Gov. Ed Rendell is spending millions of dollars in television ads to brag about how Pennsylvania's economy is booming under his leadership. Just the other day, Forbes magazine published its annual list of "Best States for Business." Where did Ed Rendell's Pennsylvania rank? It came in 41 out of 50. The Keystone State finished right behind Alabama. That's not something to brag about. Forbes ranked the states based on such categories as economic climate, business costs, crime rates, taxes and quality of life. So who are you going to believe? A politician who would say anything to get re-elected or a prestigious national business publication that has no ax to grind?
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Another disturbing revelation about how Rendell does business came out in the Allentown Morning Call. The newspaper reported that state officials want taxpayers to help pay for promoting slots parlors. The Governor's Tourism Partnership thinks that casinos will be a big draw for out-of-state visitors, but until those casinos start making money, taxpayers should chip in to help promote the gambling palaces. I don't know about you, but I don't want my tax dollars going to help poor Donald Trump or any other multibillion-dollar corporation that operate casinos. It's bad enough that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has spent somewhere between $50 million to $100 million so far and has yet to award a single license, but why should the state's beleaguered taxpayers have to chip in for Rendell’s latest corporate welfare scheme?
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And speaking of the hapless Gaming Board, did you see how quickly it reversed its policy of keeping secret the identities of potential casino owners? The Associated Press reported Monday that the agency had concluded that the 2-year-old state law that legalized slot machines barred it from releasing the information. Imagine that. The people of Pennsylvania don't have a right to know who has ownership stakes in the lucrative casinos. What does the Gaming Board have to hide? Is Rendell’s Aunt Gertrude one of the owners? Is the Gaming Board trying to protect the privacy of mobsters or convicted felons? Do state legislators and their relatives own a piece of the pie? Thanks to the public outrage over the secrecy, state gambling regulators announced Wednesday that they would reverse their policy and will, in fact, release documents showing the potential owners of Pennsylvania casinos. The information will be posted on the Gaming Board's Web site starting Monday. The culture of corruption involving the licensing of casinos in this state is astounding. To keep up with the latest shenanigans involving casinos, check out CasinoFreePa.org And while you're there, you may want to sign the group's petition to put a stop to the casino debacle.
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Does anyone else think it's obscene to be paying a state worker nearly $500,000 a year? The chief executive of Pennsylvania's college student-loan agency, PHEAA, made $469,900 in 2005, about 7 percent more than the previous year, according to The Patriot-News of Harrisburg. Richard Willey was paid $290,000 in salary and earned a bonus of nearly $179,900, according to the newspaper. That makes Mr. Willey the highest-paid employee in state government, earning about three times as much as the governor. Imagine how many deserving students could attend college if the $500,000 was used for loans or grants instead of fattening the wallet of one individual. And it doesn't just stop with Mr. Willey. PHEEA's six vice presidents also received bonuses ranging from $110,700 to $113,100 for a total compensation of about $330,000 per person, the newspaper reported. Bonuses for those top executives total $852,835 — enough to give the maximum individual grant of $4,500 to 189 college students, according to the newspaper. PHEEA is also notorious for sending its workers on expensive trips and lavishing them with gifts.
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When it comes to government, Ed Rendell and I differ in a crucial area. I believe government should not be making a profit from its citizens. A budget surplus means government is collecting too much in taxes. That money should be returned to the people. If Mr. Willey thinks he should be paid like a corporate executive, let him take his skills to the private sector. If he wants to be in public service and help send more Pennsylvania students to college, he should return the bonus money to increase the pool of available grants and loans. I'm sick of politicians and their millionaire pals living lifestyles of the rich and famous on the backs of taxpayers. Election Day is Nov. 7. If you want real change, Rendell and most of the state Legislature must be voted out of office on that day.
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I'll be back on the radio Monday at 4 p.m. on WPAZ 1370 AM. Listeners are invited to call in to the Nick Lawrence Show with questions or comments about current issues. The one-hour program can also be heard live over the Internet at www.1370wpaz.com. Just click on the "live audio" button at the top of the station's Web site and follow instructions.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com