Sunday, June 17, 2007

Steil and Shapiro on PCN

On Monday, June 11th State Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-153) and State Rep. Dave Steil (R-31) appeared on PCN’s Call-In Show to talk about the Speaker’s Commission on Reform, which they chair.

Larry Kaspar (LK) interviewed Shapiro (JS) and Steil (DS). Callers also asked questions.

These are rough notes from the online copy of that program. My apologies for any errors or misinterpretations.


JS: Proud to serve on commission. Dennis O’Brien tapped 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans, got to work right away on reforming rules, now working on statutory rules. Members check partisan affiliations at the door. Got a ways to go but accomplished a lit.

DS: extension of work begun 2 years ago, speaker picked up on that, appointed JS and himself.

LK: positives and negatives

JS: Always hard to make recommendations to change yourself. Pennsylvania govt needs to reform itself. Not too many Pennsylvanians sit home at night worrying about rules in legislature but if we don’t reform ourselves and change culture in Harrisburg we’ll never pass important legislation, bread and butter issues.

LK: ill-fated pay raise had something to do with atmosphere?

DS: no question, raised level of public scrutiny. many people wondered if their reps had a fair opportunity to represent their interests,

LK: What was accomplished in today’s meeting?

JS: discussed cutting cost of legislature, cut $31M out of legislative line item

LK: where coming from

JS: in budget line item for legislature, 12 recommendations for additional cuts

DS: many deal with staffing, staffs now partisan, could combine into bipartisan staffs, reducing number of people to do job

JS: also today took a start with campaign finance reform, caps on contribution. Commission voted to put limits on contributions, 527…

LK: why called 527s?

DS: an organization formed under McCain Feingold, section 527 of IRS Code

JS: we wanted to make sure anyone who contributed to one of those should be disclosed, hope to come up with number for cap, but members of both parties said there should be contributions limits

LK: more audits?

DS: one of the things we looked at was opening up audits at end of each 2 year session. Current routine done by house audit committee, simple audit of expenditures, if they are proper, never tied to invoices, when processed, if properly approved

LK: just making recommendations?

JS: are making recommendations, require supermajority of each part to pass recommendations. In phase one we adopted more than 30 changes in house rules, adopted by house. Now meeting to discuss statutory and constitutional issues, open records, campaign finance, etc.

Caller: getting a masters degree in international relations, does reform take globalization issues into account?

JS: a form of reform, but task force concerned with institutional issues not policy. Has been reading about globalization

DS: We want to make sure every member has the opportunity to present issues before the house

LK: 527s, how much of an impact?

JS: ask John Kerry about Swiftboat, ask Tom Knox about 527 formed at end of camping (he probably would have lost anyway). If you make a contribution we need to know who you are and how much you gave

Caller: game commission, penndot, too many employees

DS: looking at legislature, did vote on size of legislature, compared to cost of other states, it is high, purpose is to look at ourselves first

LK: proposed numbers on reducing size of legislature

JS: conducted thorough investigations, pa house districts are 14th largest in nation, a lot of pushback from legislators, like connection to constituents, issue was cost not number of legislators, looked inside, cut $31M and look in future at further cuts

LK: term limits, voters 75% support term limits

DS: constituents are from other districts. Voters believe that their rep is acceptable but want to get rid of others that don’t think like they do, if people had problems with me they wouldn’t re-elect me

JS: won election by 76% of vote, honored to have support of R & D, but level of support for legislature generally was around 30%. Want to get rid of somebody else’s legislator. Voters feel connection to their own legislator

LK: what are term limits, 8 years?

DS: 19 states have term limits, range from 6 years to 12 years, usually tie house and senate to same number

LK: clip of State Rep. Sean Ramaley (D-16) on term limits (detrimental to process, take away right of people to serve, every 2 years we have to apply for our jobs, they have decision making authority, term limits take that choice away from voters)

DS: believe term limits already in place, 2 years, out of a job unless voters reelect us

Caller: we need term limits, have to stop career politicians, not listening to the voice of the people, most important reason for term limits,

JS: we legislators need to do a better job of listening to people, not sure term limits are the best way, contribution caps would limit special interest, don’t let one or two legislators make decisions but let whole body be involved

DS: people see high return of incumbents but turnover in legislature higher than people realize, this past election 25%, in my first 12 years 50% turnover, natural attrition as members move on to other phases of their life, more uncommon for people to serve more than 20 years,

LK: 50 new faces in legis

JS: brought a new spirit, new expertise to the house, forced the dialogue to change, can’t point to a particular bill but manner in which debate occurs indicates change, only in 2nd term but thinks there is an impact

LK: Do the newcomers stick together?

DS: they do stick together, reform efforts would not have happened without group effort by new people

Caller: term limits not necessary, can vote out, question about pensions, if term limits of 8 years would those term limited have pensions, why can’t people vote on benefits on legislature

DS: constitution guides how legislators are paid

JS: much more comfortable with a commission established to determine pay and benefits than with legislators voting on their own

Caller: 5 years ago school employees received a cost of living adjustment, have a number of retirees receiving less than $1K a month and have to pay health insurance

DS: support cost of living adjustment if paid for out of teacher retirement fund, because of investment issues, not currently fully funded, in private sector no cost of living adjustments

JS: also support a cost of living adjustment

LK: reform, open records, what is current law?

JS: if citizen of PA wants access to govt document has to prove why they should get it, want to reverse that presumption, burden is on govt agency why it shouldn’t be public, wants to restore integrity of process

LK: How does PA rank?

DS: probably right about the middle, looking at debate and record, many states have declared their records open records, produced with tax dollars, people have right to see them, some reasons to keep records closed, contains personal info, etc., reversal of presumption a good thing

LK: records of state universities included? [bloggers note: one sticking point in open records is that it might make Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s salary public – it is currently a closely kept secret]

JS: important issues with keeping some personal information private, salaries, depend on how funded, public tax money or private donations

DS: in terms of all employees’ salaries, there are some personnel issues, people can compare salaries, with merit aspect of salaries, creates hr problems

Caller: make it easier for people to become involved in the electoral process, easier to get on ballot

DS: several pieces of legislation that would lower number of signatures an independent would need, supports this. Reps have to run every 2 years, sometimes in primaries, independent doesn’t have to do that

JS: reform checklist determined by speaker, not on the list now, state govt committee addressing that issue

Caller: term limits, with tenure comes power and corruption, after hours pay raises, professional politicians rather than public servants

JS: reason pay raise came out after midnight, several reasons, now can’t vote after 11 p.m., in states with term limits one complaint, some have reversed, term limits created career politicians. We may have career representatives, but career politicians look for next office to run for, jump from one office to another, good elected official should be kept, others vote out

Caller: former legislator, first elected in ’64 in for 28 years, loved the house, first salary $6K a year, phone in home, wife took phone messages, he called them all back.

DS: number and complexity of issues has increased, experienced legislators can be important, do people want legislators making decisions or staff and lobbyists making decisions?

JS: we are more to our constituents today than in prior years. Are we spending too much? Yes, which is why commission adopted $31M in cuts. We are too expensive and too bloated.

Caller: casinos and revenue, how much longer do we have to wait for real estate tax relief?

DS: good question, good news in that regard, took awhile for casinos to be up and running, revenue greater than expected, he thought it would be 2009 before relief, but now may be 2008.

LK: didn’t a casino open today?

DS: yes, 5th opened today

JS: Act 1 did have something good for seniors, now 52% of his seniors qualify for tax rebate, will help more as more gaming venues open

Caller: in California costs $10 per person per year to pay for legislature, in PA $23. term limits are a good idea, serve 2 terms and leave, no pensions

JS: issue of cost, again we tried to address that today with $31M and recommendations for more, term limits would increase costs because need more staff and time to learn, knee jerk reactions to problems instead of thoughtful response

DS: those states that have reversed term limits because they are losing experience, could not get budgets and other bills passed because no experienced legislators

Caller: term limits a catch 22 situation. Better off to keep good legislators

DS: experience is the key, my first few terms, first term didn’t accomplish anything because didn’t know how, took into 3rd term to learn how to get things done, if no experience legislators look elsewhere, staff and lobbyists

LK: legislative leave [bloggers note – sometimes also called “ghost voting”]

JS: in most recently passed session, allowed to vote by proxy, did away with that practice in reform. Must be present to vote. Members have a responsibility to listen to debate.

DS: usually we review bills and amendments in advance, but vote can change as a result of listening to the debate.

LK: info on bills posted online

JS: proud of that and commission proud of that, every bill and vote either on the floor or in committee, spending, all now available electronically. Created more transparency and open govt

DS: eliminated private car leases, must be through state general services dept, saves state money, can utilize fleet rates

Caller: fund for motor vehicles protected, but Rendell moving funds? [bloggers note: I did not quite understand this question but it dealt with moving monies from one budget line to another]

DS: compare last years budget to this years, same line items, some things moved from one line to another, [missed some of this]

JS: spending somewhere around 3 or 4%, not a partisan issue, problem is irresponsible spending in DC, must have fiscally responsible budget

Caller: disagree with Steil on experience, have to have fresh blood to get new ideas

DS: institutional knowledge not gained in one or two terms, takes time to learn about issues. Reason I can get bills passed is people who may not know issue know me and know I can be trusted.

JS: working on bill of rights for foster children, most representatives don’t deal with this issue, Rep. Phyllis Mundy put it forth, took a lot of time and knowledge that she has developed over the years. Without someone like that it would have been written by special interests

Caller: propaganda to say term limits already in place, elections are a popularity contest, who you know

DS: votes who ultimately vote for us. I only have to satisfy people in 31st district, even if others in the state disagree.

JS: I am a test case that is it not a popularity contest, when I ran 3 years ago more Republicans than Democrats in my district, first poll showed me down 51 points to former congressmen whose approval rating was in the 90s. but I went out knocked on doors, eventually won. Voters able to make a conscious choice

LK: session hours, late night pay raise, can vote to change hours (11p.m.)

JS: house rules can be suspended with 2/3 vote. Important to end at 11p.m. but must have ¾ vote to stay late and vote after 11. It has worked.

DS: changes to rules committee itself. Ensured that the rules committee that was no longer repository of bills that were changed without vote on amendments

Caller: remember education sales tax, how much goes to education, govt structure in PA out of control, every year we don’t pass a budget on time, governor comes up with wild eyed spending

JS: confident we will get a budget on time, members sobering to fact that tough choices to be made. It is a negotiation, it is a bargain. Each of Rendell’s budgets passed with Republican and Democratic support. First time he has a house with Democratic control. Important issues to deal with outside budget, mass transit, governor’s energy proposal, health care proposal. Confident if not June 30 then shortly after. Now have 24 hour waiting period before voting on a bill, more legislators involved in budget process, more people involved.

DS: now that bills posted, look at votes most bills have bipartisan support

Caller: in favor of term limits, tax relief is really tax shifting, most PA voters do not look at issues and how state representative votes. Unless media brings to attention the mistake a rep makes voters don’t notice

DS: agree that voters need to be more involved in the process. When legislators have town meetings or breakfasts and only 8 people show up this is bad

LK: preview of next big issue:

JS: term limits for members and committee chairs and open records

DS: term limits issue is a rules issue. That recommendation can go directly to house rules. Open records – who will be included and who won’t

LK: thank you to guests and callers


ruth said...

I have a comment on The politicians of pa acting like they are doing something with thier incentive programs.18 year old boys sent to prision for 30 years for supposedly trying to kill a another boy out of jealousy and the fact that the other boy was known child sx affender but of course in pa he is released to try with this 18 year old boys baby.but your judge was not impressed he had no money for real lawyer which by the way Pa lawyers are also jokes the incentive programs this boy is one of many who are in your jails and your tax payers are paying thousands of dollars to educate them with degrees they will never use cause they got 30 years no bail while real murders run free after 3years
So PA point is dont try to kill do it you get less time but only in Paevan if this boy was a perfect shot hunter like he was If he really wanted to kill he would have
but thats one of your many jokes one of my favorite is watching a judge in a PA court conduct court with no typist no balif and evicting a woman and her son because his friend the landlord wanted them out You see i know he was the landlords friend because he told he also said it did not matter that she was never late on her rent nor that the single mother and her son had no place to go he ask his friend when he wanted them out and together they agreed on10 days you say there must be more well there is not i saw it with my own eyes I felt like i was on hehaw lol she told him she had no money no place to go andlived paycheck to paycheck He said find a friend and borrow it.If i had not heard it nor would i have believed it.oh and try to call 911 in PA thats the best if you dont getplease hold lol youll get are you sure you want someone there.we are really busy and with an attitude But welcome to PA What are they reforming oh i know ships
your state is a joke you stand by there liberty bell and say justice for all the cant hold a candle to your fore fathers and your politiciansare worth nothing,
im imbarresed to say i was born there.they say there is no such thing as an honest politician just one trying to get votes and thats fixed grateful to be in jersey at least they try to help thier people.and children that educate themselves in prision and are model inmates will one day be free not the childmolesters.Why educate if they are never going to see daylight again why not just do like hitler and get it over with 30 years for an attempted crime at 18 no bail r u serious Hitler was better than PA

ruth said...

its not blank nor was it

AboveAvgJane said...

Well, that was interesting. Not perhaps as cogent or coherent as one would like, but what can you do?