Sunday, December 31, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Political bombshell in Pennsylvania

Just when you thought it was over ...

That John Perzel has more lives than a black cat.

State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, a Reading Democrat, sent a letter to fellow Democrats in the state House of Representatives Saturday announcing he will support Republican John M. Perzel for another two-year term as Speaker of the House.

This is a political bombshell. Perzel was attempting to strongarm a Democrat from Philly to turn for him, but Caltagirone was never mentioned as a potential turncoat.

If Perzel somehow keeps his post as Speaker despite the fact that Democrats now have a 1-vote majority in the House, the only conclusion is that Perzel has sold his soul to the devil in return for keeping control of the House.

Nothing else could explain the defection of a lifelong Democrat like Caltagirone, who will face the wrath of fellow Dems in Berks, his pals in the House and Gov. Ed Rendell. You have to wonder what Perzel promised Caltagirone to get his vote.

The defection could have a domino effect on other Democrats who can't stand Bill DeWeese, who was in line to be the next Speaker of the House.

Of course, all this hinges on Perzel getting support from every single member of the 101-member Republican caucus and Perzel has made a lot of enemies in the past two years by supporting Rendell's agenda and helping orchestrate the disastrous legislative pay raise that cost Republicans control of the House.

The stakes are enormous. The party that controls the House determines who heads committees, where tens of millions of tax dollars are spent and how far Gov. Ed Rendell gets in his second term.

If the Republicans can hold the Speaker post, Rendell is a lame duck even before he is sworn in for a second term. The Republicans control the state Senate by a comfortable 29-21 margin. Rendell's only hope of pushing through his tax-and-spend liberal agenda was Democratic control of the House.

This is truly a case of the evil of two lessers. Republicans can't stand Perzel. Democrats can't stand DeWeese. Who is willing to hold their noses and vote for either man as Speaker?

Stay tuned.

The text of a letter (obtained by The Associated Press) sent from Caltagirone to fellow members of the Democratic caucus:

December 30, 2006

To the Members of the Democratic Caucus:

I am writing to inform you that, after extended and careful deliberation, I have determined that I cannot support Rep. William DeWeese for election as speaker of the House of Representatives.

I have served as a member of the House of Representatives for thirty years. During that time, I have been a steadfast member of the Democratic Caucus, supporting our positions and candidates. In the past legislative session, my campaign committee contributed $30,000 to the House Democratic Campaign Committee, and $23,500 to individual Democratic House candidates. I also helped raise additional thousands in support of our Democratic candidates. I have been a loyal Democrat since I entered politics, and will remain a member of the Democratic Party.

However, I have become increasingly distressed over the years with the manner in which our Democratic leaders have conducted the business of the Caucus. The leaders of our Caucus have shown little regard for many members of the Caucus, the constituents they represent, and the legislative initiatives we should be supporting. Instead, they have operated the Caucus as a personal fiefdom, promoting their own personal and political ambitions behind a wall of secrecy and petty personal vindictiveness.

As you are aware, at the request of Rep. DeWeese, I recently provided him with a list of reforms which, I believed, would enable our Caucus to embark on a new era of transparency and fairness. I had hoped that with the election of Rep. McCall and other new members to leadership positions in the Caucus, these proposed changes would be seriously considered, and adopted.

Instead, all that I have received from Rep. DeWeese in response is his usual outpouring of obfuscation. Unfortunately, I no longer have any confidence in his ability to lead the Democratic Caucus, and do not believe him and his associates to be capable of fulfilling the responsibilities necessary to lead the House of Representatives.

I am under no delusions as to the nature of partisan politics in the House of Representatives. However, Rep. Perzel has pledged to implement House rules which reflect the current split in the membership of the House, and to conduct the affairs of the House in an open, inclusive and fair manner. I have always found Rep. Perzel to be a man of his word, and serious about issues of public policy. I believe the people of Pennsylvania will be best served if he is elected as speaker on January 2, and he will have my support.

I look forward to working with each of you in the upcoming legislative session. I believe that all of us, Democrat and Republican, can work together for the people of Pennsylvania.

Sincerely,
Thomas R. Caltagirone

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

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Promises of legislative reform

Promises of legislative reforms While Gov. Ed Rendell is busy planning his inaugural ball and John Perzel is barricaded in the Capitol waiting for the SWAT team to remove him from office, some Pennsylvania politicians are actually promising to reform the way they do the people's business.

Just got a press release today from state Sen. Rob Wonderling, who represents the sprawling 24th Senate District in Montgomery County and the Lehigh Valley.

Wonderling, a freshman Republican who easily won re-election on Nov. 7, says in the release that he will vote for new rules designed to make the legislative process more open to the public when the Senate returns to session next week.

Wonderling said the Senate expects to consider seven reform proposals compiled by Republican and Democratic leaders when the 2007-08 legislative session begins Tuesday, Jan. 2.

Under the new rules:

1) Session times will be limited to between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m.

2) Amendments will be posted to the Internet before being offered on the Senate floor.

3) The Senate will wait at least six hours before voting on an amended bill or a conference committee report.

4) All roll call votes will be posted on the Internet as soon as possible after a vote, but always within 24 hours of a vote.

5) Committee votes on bills will be posted on the Internet within 48 hours of the vote.

6) The Senate’s Legislative Journal — which includes the full text of all floor debates — will be posted on the Internet upon Senate approval of the Journal or within 45 days, whichever is earlier.

7) An updated fiscal note will be prepared if a bill is amended after consideration by the Senate Appropriations Committee, if the amendment has a fiscal impact.

"Openness and accountability are the hallmarks of good government, and these measures will improve public access to information about the bills we vote on in the Senate," Wonderling said. "We have an obligation to the people we represent to make this information more readily available in a timely manner, and these reforms are critical as we continue our efforts to build the public’s trust."

That's the kind of talk we like hearing from our elected representatives. In the past, it's been just talk. But with the ouster of 55 members of the political aristocracy in 2006 though the ballot box or force retirements and the Republican loss of the state House, maybe ... just maybe ... the message is beginning to sink in.

Wonderling is one of the good guys in Harrisburg. He's served his constituents well during the past four years and he is a rising star in the state Senate. Same goes for John Rafferty, the state senator from the 44th District, which covers parts of Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties. Rafferty has also been outspoken on the need to clean up the way things are done in Harrisburg.

Unfortunately, you have a lot of political dinosaurs still left in Harrisburg whose only goal is get as much for themselves as they can. For many of these obstructionists to reform, 2008 is right around the corner when voters can get rid of 25 state Senators (and all 203 members of the House).

Look for more promises of reform, but remind your state lawmakers that you're on to them and have run out of patience. Here's a simple message to deliver to your representative and state senator: "Get the job done or you'll be out of a job."

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Time for Perzel to face reality

Someone who knows John M. Perzel personally recently sent me an e-mail about the pathetic situation in Harrisburg, where Mr. Perzel is refusing to face reality and give up his office as Speaker of the House now that the Republicans have lost control of the House.

The person who sent the e-mail is a well-known Republican who can't stand seeing what Perzel has done to the Republican party over the past two years.

This is the gist of the note: "I just read the newspaper article, "Perzel says he won't move before House votes on speaker." Perzel's spokesman Al Bowman was quoted, "Rep. John Perzel does not plan to relinquish the offices that he occupies before the House votes on its next speaker Jan 2." He further states, it's a question of whether he feels he can still make a difference in the Legislature, and I don't see anything to the fact that he cannot."

Was Bowman out of the country when his boss passed up the opportunity to give real property tax relief (The Commonwealth Caucus Plan) for PA taxpayers? Perzel teamed up with Democratic Gov. Rendell to legalize gaming in PA that provides little relief for PA taxpayers.

In addition, Bowman was still out of the country when his boss orchestrated the middle of the night pay grab to include unvouchered expenses, the vehicle used so that Legislators can pocket the cash immediately, a violation of the PA Constitution. Only upon public outcry was the pay raise repealed.

Perzel's comments after a 2-month hibernation, was 'we did it in 1995' and migrant cow milkers make more money than legislators, so they deserve the pay raise.

As a result of Perzel's arrogance and ignorance, there were 26 open Republican seats in the 2006 election cycle. Almost half of the incumbent Republicans lost in the primary and the other half retired as a result of the pay raise vote. End result the Democrats are in the majority in the House. For that, the Dems have John Perzel to thank.

In response to Bowman's question, whether Perzel feels he can still make a difference in the Legislature, and he does not see anything to the fact that Perzel cannot. Perzel has made a difference, which is not in the best interest of the taxpayers of the Commonwealth and their families.

Perzel has single-handely caused the destruction of the Republican majority in the state House. Perzel has this dream that he can persuade 1 Dem Legislator to either switch parties, stay a Dem but cast their vote for him for Speaker, or stay off the floor and not vote for speaker on Jan 2. Rendell has already said publicly he will personally speak to Dem Legislators to prevent any of the scenarios from happening. My money is on Rendell. It is time for Prezel to face reality and move out of the Speaker's offices , and he has only himself to blame."

The Republican Party has flung itself over the cliff under the leadership of people like John Perzel, Robert Jubilirer and Chip Brightbill. And of course, you have the behind-the-scenes puppetmaster, Bob Asher. Their record is one of utter failure that has cost the GOP a U.S. Senate post, four U.S. Congressional seats, the governor's mansion and control of the state House.

What more will it take for Republicans to dump these failed leaders and begin rebuilding the party?

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

Monday, December 25, 2006

GettysBLOG: Clarity and Vision

I wanted to share with you something brought to my attention by friend Randy. It is a speech given by a Lieutenant Colonel Randolph C. White, Jr., at the graduation ceremony for advanced infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia this past April.

I wanted to present a transcript of the entire speech to you, but then had the thought that, no…it would not do. It is much better that you should go to the site and watch the speech itself. Watch and listen to this man give the speech. It is twelve minutes long. And it is one of the most remarkable speeches I’ve ever heard.

If you do nothing else this week between Christmas and New Years, please go to this site and watch and listen to this extraordinary man giving an extraordinary speech.

Here is the link to the speech at the Black Five website:
[click here].

Please go listen to the man.

Happy New Year!


GettysBLOG

Copyright © 2006: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: A lump of coal for John Perzel

John Perzel's reign of terror in Pennsylvania appears to be over.

The fat lady is singing up a storm in Chester County and the sound is carrying all the way to Northeast Philadelphia and the halls of the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

With Thursday's concession by Republican Shannon Royer in the last disputed Legislative race, the Democrats have officially won a majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Allow me to rephrase that. The Republicans lost the majority they held before the Nov. 7 election.

Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith won the 156th House District seat by a mere 28 votes, but that one victory tips the balance of power in Harrisburg for the first time in 12 years. Imagine that. Twenty-eight votes will mean the difference in where millions of tax dollars are spent and which party gets the lion's share of the patronage and the amenities holding state office has to offer.

The biggest loser is John Perzel, who goes from Speaker of the House to the Republican Doghouse. Perzel presided over the biggest disaster since the Titanic sailed on its maiden voyage.


The 109-seat majority the Republicans enjoyed before the November massacre is now a 102-101 Democratic edge.

I hate to say I told you so, but I warned every Republican who would listen back in June that Perzel would sink the party.


I spoke those words to several incumbent Republican legislators, Republican committee people and GOP candidates for legislature. Nobody listened. Or they heard me but decided they didn't have the backbone to stand up to Perzel.


The only chance Republicans had to hold on to the majority in the state House this year was to toss Perzel overboard before the November elections. The party faithful refused ... and they went down with the ship.


Now we have to live with two years of Bill "Mushmouth" DeWeese. And with DeWeese's brain (Mike Veon) surgically removed by voters in Western Pennsylvania, the lights will be on, but nobody will be home in Harrisburg.


I guess I shouldn't be too upset at the GOP's reversal of fortunes. It's probably worth two years of Democratic control of the state House to finally be rid ourselves of John Perzel, whose arrogance and asinine behavior were allowed to fester unchecked too long in Harrisburg.

We can only hope Perzel will go away. During an interview with the Pennsylvania Cable Network earlier this year, Perzel said, "I don't think that I would want to continue doing this if my party were not to win. I would not enjoy being in the minority at this stage in my life, I would not enjoy that any more." Of course, Perzel says a lot of things that he doesn't mean.


The ouster of Republican Senate leaders Robert Jubilirer and Chip Brightbill in the May primary and Perzel's downfall in November are steps in the right direction, not only for the Republican Party but for Pennsylvania in general.


Three of the biggest obstacles to reforming Pennsylvania's corrupt political system are gone. Unfortunately, we still have Ed Rendell, who couldn't spell R-E-F-O-R-M if you spotted him the first three and the last two letters.


And don't count on DeWeese to pull a Nancy Pelosi and promise to "drain the swamp" in Harrisburg. DeWeese has wallowed for decades in the political muck of Harrisburg.


Once again, Republicans took care of business while Democrats rewarded partisanship and greed.


New House members will be sworn in Jan. 2. Now is the time to get a message to your local legislator that you're on to them and you will remember in 2008 how they voted for legislative leadership positions.


With Perzel out of the picture, the Pennsylvania Legislature can have a fresh start. But that means new leadership across the board.


Wouldn't it great if Democrats develop some backbone and unload DeWeese in favor of a true reformer? I won't hold my breath. The Democrats are lemmings. This is after all, the party that gave us the Three Stooges of Pennsylvania politics: Rendell, Catherine Baker Knoll and Bobby Casey Jr.

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

197: An Early Christmas Gift for Gettysburg


In a stunning and staggering blow to all things LeVan, the Pennsylvania Gambling Control Board today unanimously rejected a license application for the proposed casino at Gettysburg, opting instead to award the two free-standing casino licenses to the city of Bethlehem and the old Mt. Airy resort in the Poconos. Despite last minute “push advocacies” from Wall Street analysts [who could have just as easily offered their “analyses” as far back as 18 months ago], the Board simply agreed with the majority of those polled, both nationwide and locally, that a casino here in Gettysburg was a bad idea.

LeVan will likely appeal the rejection to the state Supreme Court because he refuses to shy away from a project no matter how much it stinks, refuses to admit he used bad judgment, refuses to admit error. Failing that appeal, or the filing of it [he could be over ruled by the other investors], you can bet your bottom dollar – and it would be your bottom dollar – that David LeVan will find some other way to insult the nature of the Gettysburg area.

He has been described by many as a philanthropist. Let us get one thing straight: David LeVan is no philanthropist. Philanthropy is silent, mostly anonymous. When LeVan gives money, everyone hears about it. It is not given out of generosity, it is given to curry favor, apply influence, engender a feeling of debt to be repaid at another time and to purchase good will.

We have heard recently [and cannot support this but it sounds correct], that there are more people living in the Gettysburg area who moved here from somewhere else, than there are who were born and raised here. It is safe to say that most of those who moved here did so, at least in part, for the history. So far, it is our opinion that those who are native to the area generally care much less for the history than those who moved here. That is a generalization, and is the impression that has been made upon us by the people we have met here.

David LeVan is a native of Gettysburg, born and raised and educated here. He is the epitome of the generalizations in the preceding paragraph. One of the first things he did after moving back here with his “golden parachute” from Conrail was to open up a Harley Davidson dealership. Not just a dealership, but the largest Harley dealership on the East Coast. He also set his wife up in a downtown business. The Harley dealership was built about a half mile from East Cavalry Field, the part of the Gettysburg Battlefield where Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer (among others) turned back an attempt by Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry to reach the rear of the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge. In a pitched battle fought with cannons, rifles, revolvers, sabers, knives, axes, and bare hands, Stuart’s vaunted cavalry was repulsed repeatedly, and Custer won kudos for his leadership there.

Now, instead of the roar of battle, we hear and feel the roar of hundreds of Harleys riding up and down almost all weekends of the year, and several weeks during the summer. All sponsored by David LeVan and his “Battlefield Harley Davidson” dealership on East Cavalry Field Road. No, as he has said repeatedly, he will not trade on the history of the area. Not much anyway.

LeVan ascended to the Board of Gettysburg College, his alma mater. Suddenly, the old Majestic Theater was now “The Majestic at the David and Jennifer LeVan Performing Arts Center”.

Whatever he touches seems to leave an unctuous residue that identifies itself as coming from LeVan.

In the midst of all the brouhaha over the proposed casino, LeVan openly admitted offering a bribe to the Borough Council of Gettysburg to have them testify favorably at hearings conducted by the Gambling Control Board. He offered them $1 million, no strings attached. To their great and undying shame, the Borough Council agreed to the deal. Then, after their testimony, we suddenly find out there are indeed strings attached. LeVan built in an escape clause. If the law was changed regarding distribution of money from the casino, and Gettysburg Borough would become a recipient of $1 million or more from their [newly legislated] share of the funds, LeVan would not have to pay the bribe out of his pocket.

And that is indeed what happened…the law was changed. Now the Borough Council is off one hook - for their highly unethical, ill-advised, weak-kneed, and downright stupid participation in a bribery scam – and on another hook to come up with the missing $1million they think they need anyway!

Dealing with David LeVan often brings out the baser instincts in people. Borough Council proved that.

We are pleased to see LeVan defeated, though he will surely find another way to “stick it” to the people of Gettysburg now that we have defied him. We are pleased to see the Gettysburg Borough Council moved from one hook to another.

We go back to something we wrote about a year and a half ago:
"Greed knows no limits, and has no character. Greed endures no absolute moral values, and has its own ethics. Greed has no memories but vengeful ones. Greed has no friends, and no family, only partners, and partners are expendable. Greed consumes and corrupts absolutely. Greed is blind to itself."
We are always pleased when an evil like greed is defeated, even if only partially. It is defeated here at Gettysburg, but our gain in the fight against evil is someone else’s loss - in this case the City of Bethlehem, and Mt. Airy Manor. Slot machine gambling should never have happened in Pennsylvania, but if it had to, it should never have gone past the race tracks, as originally planned. Too bad a concerted, statewide effort never fully materialized to gain a legislative repeal to the Gambling legislation.

Merry Christmas, Gettysburg!

And may the General Assembly and Governor of Pennsylvania be forever damned for authorizing the doling out of free liquor in the casinos across the state. Curry one addiction to feed off another.

Merry Christmas, Pennsylvania!

GettysBLOG




We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Kick the hubris out of Harrisburg!” --

THE CENTRIST

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!"
--GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.”
--GettysBLOG

Remember in November! Before you vote,
GettysBLOG!

Copyright © 2006: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Russ Diamond: Who Watches The Watchers?

The case of former State Representative Mark McNaughton gives Pennsylvanians a grand opportunity to see exactly how government truly operates in the Commonwealth.

For the unaware, McNaughton decided to retire from the legislature instead of facing the voters of his district after supporting the Great Pay Raise of 2005. He was subsequently appointed to a seat on the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board by Speaker of the House John Perzel, who cited McNaughton’s steadfast opposition to gambling and a desire to make sure the slots law is meticulously followed as significant reasons for the appointment.

As a result, the former legislator is slated to get a boost in pay after all, from roughly $72,000 to a whopping $145,000 plus some lavish perks. Unfortunately for McNaughton, The Philadelphia Inquirer recently discovered that he failed to list thousands of dollars of personal gambling winnings over the past few years on his Statements of Financial Interest, which are required by the State Ethics Commission from each lawmaker every year.

Oddly, McNaughton’s failure to report gambling winnings would not have even registered on the radar had he not abused the power of his former position by attempting to quash certain information in a very messy divorce proceeding. As a result, some of his federal tax returns, on which he did report the winnings, are now part of the public record.

McNaughton claimed ignorance in regard to the omissions, although instructions on the Statement of Financial Interest clearly list "prize winnings" as one of the sources of income to be reported. But even if we were to give him the benefit of the doubt and consider the matter an oversight, is this a quality we’d want in someone charged with overseeing the activities of a multi-billion dollar industry?

While it’s all a bit ironic - on many different levels - it could become even more so.

The penalties for violating the ethics regulations are a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one-year imprisonment. Such a finding would need to be reached by the State Ethics Commission and could potentially disqualify McNaughton from serving on the seven-member Gaming Control Board or in any other official capacity in the Commonwealth.

Coincidentally, the State Ethics Commission also consists of seven members appointed to their positions in exactly the same fashion as the Gaming Control Board: one appointee each from four leaders of the legislature and three from the Governor.

An optimist might view this scattered appointment system on the ethics panel as a way to keep things balanced so no individual is singled out for political punishment. A pessimist might view it as insurance to protect everyone’s cronies - a slightly twisted version of "equal protection under the law."

While any citizen of Pennsylvania is entitled to file a formal complaint on this matter with the State Ethics Commission, Section 21.2 of the ethics regulations permits the Commission to launch its own inquiry.

The Inquirer story was subsequently picked up by the Associated Press and widely disseminated across Pennsylvania. Between seven appointed Commissioners and nineteen staffers listed on the State Ethics Commission’s website, surely one of these 26 must have caught this latest tidbit regarding McNaughton. If not, they’re not doing their jobs.

Here’s hoping that for once, a government entity in the Commonwealth will step up to the plate, do what’s best for its citizens and give them some hope that the public outcry launched after July 7, 2005 is actually being heard somewhere in Harrisburg. Even better, however, would be for Mark McNaughton to withdraw his name for consideration as a member of the Gaming Control Board.

Who watches the watchers? We’ll find out soon enough.
-------------------------------------------------

Russ Diamond is a Central Pennsylvania Businessman and was a 2006 Independent candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Voter remorse

Some 2,451,830 Pennsylvania voters cast ballots for Gov. Ed Rendell on Nov. 7, but I haven't been able to find a single person willing to admit they voted for Rendell.

Why do so many people regret giving Rendell a second term? What if people realize they made a mistake the day after the polls closed? What if the governor starts behaving badly after winning a second term.

One Philadelphia columnist has come up with a new nickname for "Fast Eddie." He's now calling Rendell "Crazy Eddie."

Maybe we should have a 30-day return policy on election returns. Can't voters change their mind before Rendell is sworn in to a second term? Here's what Gov. Rendell has been up to since Election Day.

1) He vetoed a bill that would have allowed communities to spread out collecting of the $52 local services tax, effectively slapping Pennsylvania workers in the face. Instead of giving municipalities the ability to spread out the tax burden (maybe even $1 a week), Rendell wants the $52 to come out of your first pay check in 2007.

2) A week after the election, Rendell floated a trail balloon about raising the state gas tax (already the second-highest in the nation) by 12.5 cents. That would accompany raising vehicle registration fees and driver's license fees. And Rendell wouldn't mind seeing an increase in the realty transfer tax.

3) Rendell signed a bill (passed without debate by the Legislature) to permit casinos to serve free booze to gamblers.

4) Rendell appointed his favorite lobbyist (the guy who gets free rides on Rendell's private plane) to a committee that is supposed to draft new lobbyist disclosure regulations. Talk about the fox guarding the chicken coop. Rendell's pick, lawyer and lobbyist Richard Gmerek, is the same man responsible for getting the state's last lobbyist disclosure overturned in court.

5) Rendell accepted a pay raise on Dec. 1, boosting his salary from $161,173 to $164,396 a year.

6) Rendell gave one of his political pals, Joe Conti, a $150,000-a-year job as CEO of the Pennsylvania's liquor store monopoly. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has operated without a CEO for decades and already has a three-member board overseeing the operation. Each of those board members makes $65,000 a year. But Rendell gave Conti a job without telling the three board members ahead of time. While Conti is a Republican, he is credited with helping push through Rendell's agenda (tax increases, casino gambling, the pay raise) through the Senate. In Rendell's world, party affiliation doesn't matter. If you scratch Fast Eddie's back, he'll reward you with a taxpayer-funded job (see Joe Hoeffel). Conti, by the way, chose to retire as a state senator and collect a big fat pension instead of facing the voters this year. But Uncle Eddie took care of him and sent you the bill.

7) Rendell has proposed turning over the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private company in order to raise more money for his out-of-control spending.

8) Rendell has hinted he wants to raise the state sales tax in 2007. Not to cut property taxes, but to raise more money for his pet projects.

Can we have another crack at the election?

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: The Democratic double standard

Remember all the talk by Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean of cleaning up Washington if voters elected a Democratic majority to Congress? Voters bought into it hook, line and sinker, giving Democrats control of both the House and Senate for the first time since 1994.

The Democrats have a dilemma on their hands and we will soon find out how hypocritical the Democratic Party is when it comes to ethics.

Last weekend, Louisiana voters re-elected Rep. William Jefferson to Congress. Jefferson is the nine-term congressman who allegedly hid $90,000 in bribe money in his freezer, according to the FBI.

Voters in arguably the most corrupt state in the nation don't have a problem with congressmen who put their bribe money on ice. Granted, Louisiana Democrats are the dumbest voters in the country. How else do you explain New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin or Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco?

Jefferson's re-election will cause severe problems for the national Democratic Party. Although he hasn't been charged with any crime yet, Jefferson hasn't explained what $90,000 in cash was doing in his freezer.

Where is the outrage by Democratic Party leaders about Jefferson? Why no calls for his resignation? Why no demand for investigations? Why isn't the liberal media hounding Jefferson like they did Tom Delay and Karl Rove?

It will be interesting to see how the Democrats deal with Mr. Jefferson since the party spent all of 2006 complaining about the "culture of corruption" under Republican leadership.

Soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has vowed to make this "the most honest, most open, and most ethical Congress in history."

On Tuesday, Pelosi sat down for an interview with Barbara Walters, who named Pelosi the "most fascinating person of 2006."

The topic of corruption came up and Pelosi once again vowed to "drain the swamp in Washington, D.C."

Pelosi told Walters that cleaning up Congress is her No. 1 priority.

"Until we bring integrity to the political process, we won't be able to go forward," Pelosi said. "It's a big, dirty swamp. That's why the very first day of Congress, we will break the link between lobbyists and legislation."

And what about Mr. Jefferson and the $90,000 found in his freezer? That subject didn't come up during the Walters' interview, which was the typical fluff piece Barbara does with celebrities and assorted liberals.

How will Mrs. Pelosi deal with Mr. Jefferson and the bag of frozen cash? Will she shun Jefferson? Will she force him to resign? Don't bet on it.

Republicans have a track record of taking care of their ethically challenged members. You don't have Tom Delay or Bob Ney in Congress anymore. But you still have Democrats William Jefferson, John Murtha and Alcee Hastings in Congress because Democrats refuse to clean up their own messes.

Why isn't the liberal media jumping all over the Jefferson scandal or Pelosi's unwillingness to deal with corruption in her own party?

Pelosi is too busy redecorating her new office to realize it, but the Jefferson scandal and the ongoing hypocrisy of the Democrats will be remembered by voters in 2008 when Republicans will regain control of Congress.

Catch me on the radio Dec. 18

I'll be be on the Nick Lawrence Show from 4 to 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 18, on WPAZ 1370 AM. You can listen to the program on your computer by going to www.1370wpaz.com and clicking on the "live audio" button. You can participate in the show by calling the station at 610-326-4000 during the live broadcast.

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Pennsylvania by the numbers, Part II

2 -- Pennsylvania's current ranking for the highest gasoline tax among the 50 states. Pennsylvania also ranks 2nd among the states in the highest corporate income tax on businesses.

73,614 -- The number of dollars paid to a freshman Pennsylvania legislator as of Dec. 1, 2006, when the 10th consecutive pay raise (they call it a cost-of-living-increase) for these "public servants" kicks in.

24,571 -- The annual per capita income of a Pennsylvania worker, roughly one-third of what a freshman state legislator makes.

2,451,832 -- Number of votes Gov. Ed Rendell received in the November election.

1,608,285 -- Number of votes GOP challenger Lynn Swann received in the November election.8,182,876 — Number of registered voters in Pennsylvania.

5,731,044 -- Number of registered Pennsylvania voters who did not vote for Gov. Ed Rendell the November election.

6 -- The number of days after the Nov. 7 election Gov. Ed Rendell's transportation commission waited to issue a report recommending $1.7 billion in new taxes and fees to repair Pennsylvania’s deteriorating roads and bridges and keep its failing mass transit systems afloat.

76 -- The current age of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, who would take over as the state’s chief executive should Gov. Rendell pursue national ambitions.

55 -- The number of Pennsylvania legislators fired by voters or forced into retirement in 2006. Unfortunately, there's still around 200 more legislators who were returned to office.

28 -- Pennsylvania's ranking on the list of healthiest states released this week by the United Health Foundation.

347,000,000 -- The cost in millions of dollars that Pennsylvania taxpayers shell out each year to support the largest state legislature in the country, including 253 elected legislators and 3,000 people who work for them.

2,700,000 -- The number of dollars in millions Pennsylvania taxpayers pay their legislators as a reward for showing up in Harrisburg. It's a racket called "per diem," in which legislators collect $141 each day they show up for work (on top of their $73,614 annual salary and the most lucrative benefits package in the country).

77 -- The average number of days Pennsylvania lawmakers were in session in each of the past five years. (Legislators typically take the entire months of July, August and December off).

2008 -- The next year voters will have an opportunity to continue the housecleaning in Harrisburg when 25 state senators and all 203 state representatives run for re-election.

50 -- The number of state senators in the Pennsylvania legislature. In contrast, California, with a population of 36 million, has 40 state senators in its legislature.

203 -- The number of state representatives in the Pennsylvania legislature. California, which has four times the population of Pennsylvania, has 80 state representatives. Unlike Pennsylvania, where lawmakers can serve for life, California has term limits for state legislators and they do not receive a taxpayer-funded pension. Pennsylvania lawmakers who stay in office for 20 years earn an average pension of $53,400 a year for life.

8 -- The number of Republican House seats lost in the Nov. 7 election under the leadership of John Perzel and Sam Smith. Inexplicably, Republicans re-nominated Perzel and Smith to leadership posts for the next two years.

7 -- The number of newly-elected House Democratic Caucus leaders (out of a total of 7) who supported the July 2005 pay raise.

6 -- The number of newly-elected House Republican Caucus leaders (out of a total of 8) who supported the July 2005 pay raise.

4 -- The number of newly-elected Senate Republican Caucus leaders (out of a total of 6) who supported the July 2005 pay raise.

6 -- The number of newly-elected Senate Democratic Caucus leaders (out of a total of 7) who supported the July 2005 pay raise.

501 -- The number of school districts in Pennsylvania, each employing a superintendent earning an average of $114,000 a year regardless of experience or the size of the school district.

33,000 -- The total number of children forced to miss school so far in 2006 by teacher strikes. Pennsylvania ranks No. 1 in the nation in teacher strikes.

0 -- The amount of money Pennsylvania residents have received in promised tax relief from casinos during Gov. Ed Rendell's his first four years in office.

0 -- The amount of time the Pennsylvania Legislature spent debating a bill that allows casinos to serve unlimited free drinks to gamblers.

0 -- The number of programs set up by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to help state residents with gambling addictions since casino gambling was approved on July 4, 2004.

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

Monday, December 04, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Democrats won in spite of themselves

The midterm election of 2006 is one for the history books. Democrats, the perennial bridesmaids of American politics, managed to win the whole thing.

They hit the jackpot, winning not only both houses of Congress, but the majority of governorships and many state legislatures. Could this be a seismic shift that will bring the Democrats out of the political wilderness or is it an anomaly? I'm leaning toward an aberration.

The 2006 election will go down as a footnote in U.S. history. It was a no-confidence vote on a president who led us into an unpopular war.

The clock is already ticking on the Democratic Party. Nancy Pelosi, the soon-to-be Speaker of the House, has already made a major blunder. She was rebuffed by her own members when they rejected John Murtha, Pelosi's hand-picked choice for majority leader. And Pelosi is having a difficult time controlling the oddballs in her party.

Take New York Congressman Charlie Rengel. He wants to re-institute a military draft, a move that would be political suicide for the party in power.

And how long will the far left fringe element of the party remain silent? The liberals control the party leadership and the money. They want to steer the country toward their own extreme agenda and expect Pelosi to start catering to them. Will she risk alienating her coalition of conservative Democrats from the South and West to appease the liberals from the East Coast and California?

Just before the election, I finished a book by Joe Klein, a well-known Democratic Party cheerleader. Even with the success the Democrats enjoyed Nov. 7, I suspect Klein would still say that the Democratic Party is headed nowhere.

A political columnist for Time magazine, Klein has written five books, the best known of which is “Primary Colors,” an inside look at how Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992.

Klein's latest, “Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid,” takes a look at how both major political parties have veered off the deep end in the past decade.

Klein pulls no punches in describing the sad state of American politics.“The Republican Party, once the home of a prudent conservatism, has gone foolishly radical — fiscally irresponsible at home intemperate and bullying abroad, purveyors of an intrusive religiosity that is shockingly intolerant of science or reason,” Klein writes.

Klein saves the harshest criticism for Democrats.“The Democratic Party, once the home of democracy's more gracious impulses, has become a reactionary bastion — its signature issues of health, education and welfare held hostage by teaching and social-work bureaucracies that are utterly resistant to change; its spiritual vigor sapped by vehement secularism and an overdependence on the judicial system, symbolized by the fanatic defense of abortion rights; its soggy internationalism spineless in the face of a dangerous world,” Klein writes.

Klein sees both parties on the edge of precipice, with extremists on both sides ready to push the party faithful into the abyss.“Both parties swan toward their extremes, since the extremists are the most adept at raising money and crowds, using direct mail, negative advertising, and the other dark arts of political consultancy,” Klein writes. “And individual politicians, ever mindful of the dangers on all sides, terrified that the next thing they say will become fodder for a thermonuclear negative ad, grow ever more cautious. We are drifting, I fear, toward a flaccid, hollowed-out democracy where honest debate is impossible — a democracy without citizenship.”

Much of the book is an insider's look at every presidential campaign from 1976 to 2004. Stuff only a political addict would be interested in reading. There are occasional gems, such as Klein's explanation of why Al Gore lost a presidential race he should have won in 2000: “He lost the election — actually, it was a dead heat — because he did not seem a credible human being.”

The next two years will be fascinating to watch for anyone who has even a mild interest in politics. It's the first time in 12 years that the Republicans have had to share power with the Democrats, who have steadily veered to the left.Can the parties work together in a spirit of bipartisanship? That's what most of us hope for. But don't hold your breath.

Klein's book is a bit anti-climactic. He poses a lot of questions, but doesn't have many answers to the problems facing American politics. His advice to politicians is to get rid of the pollsters, consultants, focus groups and just “be themselves.” Not very profound.

I do find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with this observation in Klein's book: “Politics is no longer about governing. The political parties are the same in one regard. Politics today is about how to gain and keep power.

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

Friday, December 01, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: The Pennsylvania Taxman Cometh

Gov. Ed Rendell's Minister of Propaganda was bragging earlier this week that Rendell received a mandate to do whatever he wants over the next four years because he received 60 percent of the vote on Election Day.

That may include raising the gasoline tax (already the second highest in the nation), the sales tax (one of the highest in the nation) and the income tax (raised 10 percent by Rendell in 2003).

In case you need a reminder of how much taxes Pennsylvania residents pay, here's the monthly recap from the Department of Revenue:

The state collected $1.6 billion in General Fund revenue in November, $56.4 million or 3.6 percent more than anticipated, according to Revenue Secretary Gregory C. Fajt.

Fiscal year-to-date General Fund collections total $9.2 billion, which is $8.7 million or 0.1 percent above estimate, Fajt reports.

Sales Tax receipts totaled $669.4 million for November, which was $16.2 million below estimate. Sales Tax collections year-to-date total $3.6 billion, which is $26.7 million below estimate or 0.7 percent less than anticipated.

Personal Income Tax (PIT) revenue in November was $625.1 million, which was $8.8 million above estimate. This brings year-to-date PIT collections to $3.5 billion, which is $17.6 million or 0.5 percent above estimate.

November Corporation Tax revenue of $106.2 million was $48.7 million above estimate. Year-to-date Corporation Tax collections total $996.7 million, which is $32.6 million or 3.4 percent above estimate.

Other General Fund revenue figures for the month included $60 million in Inheritance Tax, which was $500,000 above estimate, bringing the year-to-date total to $296.9 million, which is $24.1 million below estimate.

Realty Transfer Tax was $39.9 million for November, bringing the total to $252.5 million for the year, which is $18.7 million less than anticipated.

Other General Fund revenue including the Cigarette, Malt Beverage and Liquor Tax totaled $126.4 million for the month, $25.3 million above estimate, bringing the year-to-date total to $574.7 million, which is $28 million above estimate.

In addition to the General Fund collections, the Motor License Fund received $171.3 million for the month, $11.7 million below estimate. Fiscal year-to-date collections for the fund total $1 billion, which is $11.5 million or 1.1 percent below estimate.

The Gaming Fund received $52.8 million in unrestricted revenues for November. Fiscal year-to-date collections for the fund total $102.8 million. Gaming Fund receipts include taxes, fees and interest. Of the total for the month, $2.8 million was collected in state taxes for property tax relief.

Other gaming-related revenues collected for November included $325,000 for the Local Share Assessment; $406,000 for the Economic Development and Tourism Fund; and $1 million for the Race Horse Development Fund.

Let's review. In the past four years, property taxes have risen by $2 billion for every Pennsylvania homeowner despite Rendell'’s promise to lower them. And thanks to Act 1, signed into law by Rendell, your school board will most like raise the Earned Income Tax or Personal Income Tax in 2007 AND also raise your property taxes. That's what Rendell has done for you in the past four years and you went ahead and gave him another four years in office.

Now that the Democrats apparently control the state House, it will make it that much easier for Rendell to get his way with raising taxes, so get ready to fork over more of your hard-earned dollars to Uncle Eddie.

Don't say I didn't warn you about re-electing Rendell. And now with Bill DeWeese will get his hands on the state budget, start packing. You won't be able to afford to live in this state much longer.

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