Tuesday, January 30, 2007

GettysBLOG: Maitland Just Another Greedy Politician

Word from the Hanover Sun that Steve Maitland has decided to stick it once more to the “stupid taxpayers” who turned him out of office last May because he suddenly got a greedy streak, and made bad decision after bad decision.

His pleas that he took few of the perquisites available to his peers in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives justified him keeping an unconstitutionally passed pay raise, delivered in an unconstitutional format, and padding his retirement from it, simply fell on deaf ears. Greed is greed. You don’t do without for 12 years so you can suddenly become greedy!

His latest stunt is going back over the past couple of years and claiming a per diem expense “reimbursement” to the tune of over $11,000. Swimming pools and law school tuition are both costly expenses.

One final way to stick it to the “stupid voters” who voted him out.

Maitland showed his true [lack of] character when he voted for the unconstitutional pay raise, and then refused to return the money. His retirement funds shall be forever tainted by this avaricious decision.

Maitland continues to attempt to justify his actions by pointing to the first 12 years of his time in office. It doesn’t matter how good he was during those twelve years, the last two finally showed the true Steve Maitland to be just another greedy politician.

It does not matter if the money was legal, which is one of his justifications, it matters that it was wrong, and most of those involved have repaid the money, and many paid a similar price at the polls.

So Steve Maitland stood on the floor of the House last year and delivered a rant about the stupid electorate throwing him out – they didn’t know a good thing when they had it.

No, Steve, they knew a bad thing when they had it. You however, apparently did not know a good thing when you had it.


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,

Copyright © 2007: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Russ Diamond: CENSORED!!!

At any given time, a good and virtuous system of government cannot be created by those who occupy elected offices at that particular moment…

by Russ Diamond

On May 15, 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution directing each of the thirteen colonies to develop a constitution in order to plan for self-governance in anticipation of breaking ties with England. On July 16, less than two weeks after the official Declaration of Independence from the king, Pennsylvania’s first constitutional convention opened with the unanimous election of Benjamin Franklin as its president.

On September 28, the convention unanimously approved the new Pennsylvania Constitution. The document was a two-chapter affair, including a Declaration of Rights and a Frame of Government. The plan for governing the Commonwealth included provisions establishing a legislative branch consisting of elected representatives in a single chamber, an executive branch embodied in a President and a twelve-member Council, and a judicial branch overseen by a Supreme Court.

Well aware of the temptations for the abuse of power, and themselves victims of abuse under the king’s rule, the framers included an important provision within the Constitution to keep ultimate control of government in the hands of the people. Chapter II, Section 47 provided for a Council of Censors to be elected from the citizenry every seven years to review the actions of those who govern.

The Council would be charged with determining if the Constitution had indeed been followed over the previous seven years, if those who governed had abused their power and if any taxes levied had been fair. Finally, the Council was authorized to determine if the Constitution, or any part of it, was so unworkable that it required a rewrite under the guise of another convention.

Throughout the American Revolution, Pennsylvanians lived and governed themselves under the Constitution, but there were some elected officials who clearly had desires to alter the established plan for government. In 1777 and again in 1778, the General Assembly passed resolutions calling for another constitutional convention.

The motives of those who wanted a new convention were apparently: dividing the General Assembly into two chambers, further empowering the executive branch, and curiously, abolishing the Council of Censors years before it was scheduled to meet. The citizenry, realizing that the power to call a convention belonged exclusively to the Council of Censors, overwhelmingly rejected the notion and the Assembly rescinded its resolutions in 1779.

In November, 1783 the duly elected Council of Censors met for the first time to carry out its duties, but it was obvious that the primary intent of some members was to follow the earlier whims of the General Assembly. The divided Council ignored or delayed most of its duties, focusing instead on altering the Constitution. In late January, 1784 the Council produced its preferred constitutional changes and recessed until June. A dissenting opinion was issued by the minority, objecting to the call for a convention, primarily on the grounds that two-thirds of the Council had not approved it, as required by the Constitution.

By June, it was clear the inhabitants of Pennsylvania overwhelmingly sided with the dissenters. Nearly 18,000 citizens signed remonstrances against a convention while less than 300 petitioned the Council in favor. Additionally, two members of the Council were replaced during the recess and another pair who did not attend the first session were in attendance at the second, allowing a new majority to steer the Council on its proper mission of judging the constitutionality of government action during the previous seven years.

The Council’s findings were scathing. It found many instances of the General Assembly and the Executive Council overstepping their bounds. By far, the biggest fault it found with the legislative branch was the hasty passage of legislation. Chapter II, Section 15 of the Constitution mandated that all legislation produced in any given session first be published, with voting delayed until the next session “except on occasions of sudden necessity,” ensuring that all acts “may be more maturely considered.”

Modern government observers would find many familiar themes among the body of legislation passed in violation of Section 15, including massive pay raises for elected officials, authorization of per-diem payments, increases in ferry fees, government giveaways to widows, children and the poor, appropriations for questionable public projects, dubious uses of private property (including one estate appropriated as a stable - including free oats and hay - for the horses of Representatives and another as a residence for the Chief Justice), and other acts passed to favor the friends of officials.

The Council cited a “striking example of the mischiefs” in a bill which consisted of a mere 26 lines of text during its first two readings, but upon third reading was found to have been altered to include “sundry new paragraphs” establishing the collectorship of the port of Philadelphia. The bill was approved by the General Assembly within two days, yet another violation of Section 15.

The Council concluded its proceedings in late September and authorized a written address to the citizens of the Commonwealth summarizing their findings, including their reasoning for not calling another constitutional convention. They noted that those among the minority who did support a convention did so for reasons which were “highly pernicious, and utterly inconsistent with liberty.”

Under the Constitution, the next Council of Censors was due to convene and sit in judgment of government after the general election of 1790. The General Assembly, perhaps in anticipation of another negative report, short-circuited the process by again calling for a constitutional convention in 1789 by a 41-17 vote in March and a 39-17 vote in September.

The dissenting opinion on the first vote noted that such power was not invested in the legislature, but instead belonged solely to the Council of Censors, and warned that “if we begin to tear up foundations, we are persuaded a much more dangerous system will be established in its stead.” The second vote’s dissentient declared that “this house is not competent to the subject” of calling a convention and that “this measure at once infringes the solemn compact entered into by the people of this state with each other.”

Despite those warnings, the General Assembly’s convention was hastily convened in November of the same year, eventually producing the Constitution of 1790, which divided the legislature into two separate chambers, established the office of Governor, and - conveniently - abolished the Council of Censors.

In form, the convention turned the Constitution on its head. While the Declaration of Rights existed as Chapter I in 1776, the plan for government took up the first eight Articles of the 1790 version, relegating the rights of the people to Article IX. This was eventually corrected in 1874, but remains as haunting evidence of the true motives of those who occupied the seats of power at the time.

In 1789, the General Assembly usurped the power of the people - via the Council of Censors - to define the structure of government. Today, elected officials continue to mistakenly insist that they and their bi-partisan committees are the best arbiters of how government should be constructed.

At any given time, a good and virtuous system of government cannot be created by those who occupy elected offices at that particular moment. Rather, those officials should prostrate themselves before the citizenry and allow for objective and independent judgment of any prospective form of self-governance.

Russ Diamond

[Russ Diamond is a Lebanon area businessman, political commentator, and former candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania. Mr. Diamond is the founder of PA Clean Sweep.org.]

Permission is hereby granted to reproduce, publish and/or distribute this article in its entirety. To read more about self-governance in Pennsylvania, visit: http://www.paconstitution.duq.edu/

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

GettysBLOG: Battlefield Update Photos

The reclamation of the Gettysburg Battlefield to its 1863 condition is proceeding apace. Below are a few images showing before and after views of some parts of the Battlefield.

The Slaughter Pen area and Devil’s Den from Little Round Top, May, 2002.

The Slaughter Pen, Devils Den, and Elephant Rock after the tree clearing, November 2006.

Another view of the above area (annotated).

Photograph taken by a local Gettysburg Photographer of the family of Major General John F. Reynolds, of Lancaster, PA, visiting in the Plum Run area between Devil’s Den and the Slaughter Pen. Little Round Top is in the background. November 19, 1863. Note lack of trees on Little Round Top’s crest compared to modern photo below. Local farmer was hired by the Army to harvest those trees after the Battle.

Modern view of same area. Note the trees on the crest of Little Round Top.

It should be noted that the modern condition being achieved by the National Park Service and its staff at Gettysburg National Military Park consists of not only removing trees to match the historical photographic and documentary evidence from the time, but also adding wood lots and orchards where period maps, photographs and documentary evidence show them to be located.

While the tree thinning has caused some of the written history to be revisited, the newly planted wood lots and orchards will take at least ten-fifteen years to approach maturity and demonstrate their effect on the written history of the Battle.


“Legislation without representation is tyranny.”

Remember in November! Before you vote,

Copyright © 2007: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: The other half of the school tax problem

Ask the average Pennsylvania resident what they consider to be the most important issue facing the state and nearly all will tell you it's high property taxes.

Most blame the Legislature and Gov. Ed Rendell for failing to provide meaningful tax relief despite years of promises. You remember Rendell's famous tap dance during last year's debate with GOP challenger Lynn Swann: "Let's begin with the proposition that no governor over the past 50 years who promised tax relief" kept his word. I guess that lets Rendell off the hook when he promised to cut property taxes by 30 percent for every Pennsylvania homeowner.

Not a single Pennsylvania resident saw property tax relief during Rendell's first four years in office. And don't hold your breath Rendell will push for tax relief over the next four years. It's not on his radar screen. He'll be busy raising the sales tax or the gas tax or selling off the Pennsylvania Turnpike to fund his voracious spending appetite.

Same goes for the Legislature. Now that House members are safely back in office until 2008 and half the Senate has been returned to office for another four years, the urgency to do something about property taxes is gone.

Blame yourself for re-electing so many incumbents, especially Democrats, who have only given lip service to property tax reform. (Only 10 of 94 House Democrats supported the Commonwealth Caucus plan to eliminate property taxes by raising the sales tax when it last came up for a vote on June 13, 2006.)

The only recourse for voters in 2007 is to go after the other half of the problem. While state politicians have failed miserably to deal with property taxes, the people most directly responsible for burdensome taxes are the men and women who serve on your local school board.

Some 2,000 school board seats will be up for grabs across Pennsylvania in 2007. Here's your chance to make the incumbents who have voted repeatedly for double-digit property tax increases accountable for their actions.

And thanks to Act 1, also known as the "Rendell-Perzel Property Tax Shift of 2006," your local school board will soon be deciding which tax hike referendum it will put on the ballot for the May primary. Will you choose to pay more in earned income tax or personal income tax so a few senior citizens may see a few hundred dollars in savings on their tax bill?

That's essentially what Act 1 is: A plan to raise taxes on working Pennsylvanians so a few retirees can save on taxes. That's the best Rendell & Co. came up with in that "special legislative session on property tax relief" in 2006.

You can gripe all you want about high property taxes, but unless you're willing to run for your local school board with other like-minded residents who’ve had enough with runaway school spending, then don't complain.

Does Pennsylvania need 501 school districts, each employing a superintendent who makes $114,000 a year? That's just the average. Some superintendents are pushing the $200,000 mark. The highest paid superintendent in Pennsylvania earns $242,000 a year.

And every school district has a bunch of assistant superintendents who earn much more than the average worker in that district. Each district has a business manager and a transportation director and somebody in charge of the cafeteria, etc. Every one of those administrators enjoys high pay and great benefits, including pensions not available in the private sector.

Here's a few more interesting statistics about administrative costs from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association:

· Nearly three-fourths of school management positions earn in excess of $74,000 annually.
· The highest management salary reported was $243,360 for district superintendent.
· 74 percent of the 142,890 bargaining unit positions (primarily teachers) reported annual salaries of $42,000 or higher.

The nine members of your local school board are also the people who approve those multi-million-dollar "Taj Mahals" that pass for school buildings these days. And let's not forget the athletic facilities that could qualify to host the Olympic Games.

How much of your tax dollar goes to fund education (teachers, books, supplies) and how much goes to pay the salaries of administrators or covers the upkeep of grand palaces that school districts construct?

While I have the utmost respect for the job most teachers do, I still can't figure out why Pennsylvania leads the nation in teacher strikes when Pennsylvania teachers are among the highest paid in the country. The average teacher in Pennsylvania is paid $54,000 a year. Those numbers are from the 2005-06 school year, the most recent figures available. And while most teachers give 100 percent, few jobs allow you to take off three months in the summer. (The only other one I can think of is Pennsylvania legislator).

Not to get sidetracked, but for more information about why Pennsylvania usually leads the country in teacher strikes, check out this interesting Web site: http://www.stopteacherstrikes.org

The politicians in Harrisburg are safe for now, but it’s time to send a message to the school board members that "Enough is enough!"

Tuesday, Feb. 13, is the first day to circulate nominating petitions for school board elections in 500 of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts (Philadelphia has an appointed board).

More than 2,000 school board positions across the Commonwealth will be on the May 15 Primary Election ballot, according to the Education Policy and Leadership Center.

Candidates can cross-file as both Democrats and Republicans, so these four-year terms on school boards are often won in the primary. There's no pay involved in serving on a school board, but somebody has to be the first line of defense in Pennsylvania's losing struggle with burdensome property taxes.

The battle is often won or lost at school board meetings.

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

Returning to radio Jan. 19

I'll be the guest on the Nick Lawrence Show on WPAZ AM 1370 on Friday, Jan. 19, from 4 to 5 p.m. You can call in to the live broadcast with questions or comments at 610-326-4000. You can also listen to the show live on your computer by logging on to www.1370wpaz.com and clicking on the "live audio" button at the top of the main page.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: Perzel is a plague on Pennsylvania

Are members of the Pennsylvania Legislature subject to random drug testing? Is there some sort of mental health screening available in the General Assembly?

How else can you explain the absurdity of bestowing the title of "Speaker Emeritus" on ousted Speaker John M. Perzel, who lost his post Jan. 2 when 99 Democrats and 6 Republicans voted for Dennis M. O'Brien as the Speaker for the next two years.

The repudiation of Perzel sent the Philadelphia Republican on a week-long downward spiral from the most powerful leadership post in the House to rank-and-file member, one of 203 representatives in the most bloated, under-worked and overpaid legislature in the United States.

One week after Perzel's demotion, the Republican Caucus, which is now in the minority in the House thanks largely to Perzel, voted to make Perzel the "Speaker Emeritus" of the House. Or at least half the House. There's no indication that the 102 Democrats in the House -- or Speaker O'Brien -- recognize Perzel's honorary title.

Let's review what John Perzel has done in the past four years as Speaker of the House.

* Perzel pushed through the massive increase in the state income tax proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2003 through the House.

* Perzel ushered in the flawed casino slots bill proposed by Gov. Ed Rendell in July 2004.

* Perzel orchestrated the July 2005 pay raise along with Gov. Rendell and Ralph Cappy, chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

* Perzel helped Gov. Rendell increase state spending by billions of dollars over the past four years, setting the state up for financial disaster.

* Because of Perzel's miscalculation of the public backlash to the pay raise and his steadfast refusal to consider repealing the payjacking, 50 House members were voted out of office or forced to retire in 2006.

So what do the remaining Republicans do? They reward Perzel for his ignorance and arrogance. They refused to dump Perzel despite losing their 13-seat majority in the House. Republicans could have pushed Perzel overboard after the primary election or after the general election or at any point up to the Jan. 2 Speaker vote.

It finally took 99 Democrats to toss Perzel out of office on Jan. 2 when they found a moderate Republican they can live with in Dennis O'Brien. But how do you explain the fact that 94 Republicans voted to put Perzel back in the Speaker's office after all the damage he has done to the party and the House?

I'm beginning to question the mental stability of the 101 members of the Republican Caucus in the House of Representatives.

Pollster and political analyst Lowman Henry, writing today in his Lincoln Blog, gets it: "The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting you have one. Some members of the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus are urgently in need of a 12-step program, with step one being how to deal with denial. While the position will carry with it no increase in pay, and only a few additional staff members, the very creation of it signals the continued unwillingness of certain House Republicans to face up to the fact that John Perzel has been an unmitigated disaster for their diminished caucus and for the Republican Party as a whole."

John Perzel is the reason the Republican Party lost the majority in the House. Perzel is the reason 55 lawmakers, mostly Republicans, are no longer serving in Harrisburg. Perzel is a walking, talking disaster area.

Perzel is a malignancy on the Pennsylvania Legislature. He will continue to infect lawmakers as long as they keep him in power. And the people of Pennsylvania are the losers. Again.

By creating the post of "Speaker Emeritus" and allowing Perzel to influence the business of the House, by turning their backs on reform and allowing lobbyists to continue running state government, Republicans guaranteed they will remain the minority party in the House in 2008 and beyond.

That's why the 101 House Republicans need to have their heads examined.

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

Friday, January 05, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: All I know about Dennis O'Brien

Here's everything I know about Dennis M. O'Brien, the newly-elected Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

O'Brien supported the July 2005 legislative payjacking. Strike 1.

O'Brien is from Philadelphia. Strike 2. (Philadelphia politicians care only about Philadelphia. Their only goal is to bring more of our tax dollars back to Philadelphia, where the money will be squandered by other corrupt or incompetent politicians. See Ed Rendell for numerous examples of this).

O'Brien says he has "chemistry" with Gov. Ed Rendell. Strike 3. (Anybody eager to work with Ed ‘Tax Hike’ Rendell scares me.)

O'Brien was nominated by Democratic Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, one of the architects of the payjacking and a man who has opposed Legislative reform for 30 years. Strike 4.

O'Brien, a Republican, was voted into office by 99 House Democrats. Strike 5. (Something doesn't smell right when Democrats want a Republican to lead the House.)

While nobody is happier than I am to see Republican John Perzel finally ousted as Speaker, his replacement has a long way to go to win the public's trust and restore some sense of integrity to the Legislature.

I'm not convinced the members of the Pennsylvania Legislature who gave us the July 2005 payjacking and have resisted reforms for decades woke up on Jan. 2 and finally "got it" after paying lip service to constituents for the past 18 months.

I tend to side with this assessment from the editorial pages of The (Delaware County) Daily Times about the sudden burst of bipartisanship in the House and promises of reform: "Only a 'cockeyed optimist' would believe that was what happened in the state House. What happened in Harrisburg was Pennsylvania politics as usual. One back-room deal after another, reminiscent of the closed-door meetings that lead to the middle-of-the-night pay raise that so angered the electorate."

Let's wait until the smoke clears before we decide if the Legislature got the message or we have to continue to sweep out career politicians.

Let's see some results before we decide of Dennis O'Brien is a true reformer or just Perzel-light. Is he the man who can usher in a new era of good government or is he a puppet of status quo politicians like Ed Rendell and Bill DeWeese?

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

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tony Phyrillas: A fresh start for Pennsylvania

"Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"
— William Shakespeare
(Henry IV, Part II)

The reign of John M. Perzel ended Tuesday when the Pennsylvania House of Representatives elected Philadelphia Republican Dennis M. O'Brien as Speaker of the House, the post Perzel has held since April 2003.

The vote to give O'Brien the powerful job of Speaker was 105-97, ending a week of political intrigue that included a veteran Democratic legislator publicly announcing he would vote for Perzel, effectively denying the Speaker post to Democratic House Leader Bill DeWeese.

Six Republicans broke ranks with their leadership, breaking Perzel's iron grip on power. They are Reps. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Center), Jim Cox (R-Berks), Brad Roae (R-Crawford), Sam Rohrer (R-Berks), Curt Schroder (R-Chester) and David Steil (R-Bucks).

They outnumbered the three Democrats -- Reps. Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks), Angel Cruz (D-Phila.) and Rosita Youngblood (D-Phila.) -- who voted for Perzel.

The fallout from Tuesday's explosive leadership vote will take days to settle. It could signal a fresh start for the beleaguered Legislature, which has been under siege since July 7, 2005, when lawmakers voted themselves pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent in a middle-of-the-night vote that led to a political backlash that cost 55 legislators and a Supreme Court justice their jobs.

Perzel was blamed for orchestrating the pay raise and losing Republican control of the House. Before the Nov. 7 election, the GOP enjoyed a 109-seat majority in the chamber. Democrats now control the House by a 102-101 margin, but DeWeese was unable to hold the Democratic caucus together.

The House welcomed 50 new legislators Tuesday and many of them ran on a platform to clean up Harrisburg. The rejection of Perzel and DeWeese could signal the end of the "business-as-usual" mentality promoted by these career politicians.

Perzel and DeWeese brought baggage to the leadership vote. Perzel's arrogance and habit of saying stupid things cost him support in his own party. DeWeese demoted 15 Democratic committee chairmen in 2005 after they refused to back the pay raise.

O'Brien, who has served in Harrisburg for 30 years, has kept a low profile and apparently was a compromise candidate both parties could support. After realizing he did not have the votes to win the Speaker post, DeWeese himself nominated O'Brien for Speaker. DeWeese hailed O'Brien as "a fine-hearted idealistic Republican" who is well-suited to lead "a clean slate" in House leadership, which Republicans have controlled for 12 years, according to The Associated Press.

Unlike Perzel and DeWeese, who have blocked reform for much of the past decade, O'Brien immediately promised to preside over a more open House.

"You have my pledge. I will move reform issues forward and I will try to be as fair as I possibly can," O'Brien was quoted by The Associated Press.

What a difference a year makes. The smackdown of Perzel and DeWeese follows on the heels of last year's ouster by the voters of the Senate's top two GOP leaders. The only politician who helped orchestrate the payjacking who survived the voters' wrath was Gov. Ed 'Teflon' Rendell, who will be sworn in to a second term on Jan. 16.

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