Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wounded Warrior Project Wins Clio Award

There is a local connection to a Clio Award winning project.  The trailer for a new MSNBC documentary, Wounded:  The Battle Back Home, features a song by the band Imagine Dragons.  The documentary is connected to former Congressman Patrick Murphy's show on the same network, Taking the Hill.

Holding Up the Hate Crimes Bill

Now that same sex marriage is legal in Pennsylvania, it is time to extend further rights to all citizens.  Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law does not includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.  In 2013 it was one of only 15 states that did not.  Two bills that change this law, HB177 and SB42, have been sitting in committee for over a year.   HB 177 also adds ancestry and physical or mental disabilities to the law. 

The House bill was voted out of committee in early October, after sitting in the committee for months.  The Senate bill in the Senate Judiciary  Committee.  On December 3, 2013, the Harrisburg Patriot News asked the committee chairs (Jim Marsico and Stewart Greenleaf) when there would be action the bills.  Neither responded.  Greenleaf has said he has no intention of bringing the bill up for a vote.   This past Monday Greenleaf’s Democratic opponent, Ruth Damsker, delivered 80,000 signature on a petition calling for a vote on this measure.

Another House bill, HB300, would add gender orientation or identity to the state’s human relations bill; it also adds ancestry and physical or mental disabilities.  It also is sitting in committee; in this case the House State Government committee.

Text and status of bills can be found at


DeMarco, Emily, “PA’s hate-crime law still leaves many groups out,” Patriot-News, 12/03/2103

Newall, Mike, “Growing calls for stronger Pa. hate-crime laws,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/20/2014
Damsker campaign press release

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Better Late Than Never?

from the inbox:

On November 6, 2014, President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor to Army First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing for conspicuous gallantry. 

First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as commanding officer of Battery A, 4th United States Artillery, Artillery Brigade, 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac during combat operations in the vicinity of Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1863.

During Longstreet's Assault, also known as Pickett's Charge, First Lieutenant Cushing's battery took a severe pounding by Confederate artillery.  As the Confederate Forces advanced, he manned the only remaining, and serviceable, field piece in his battery.  During the advance, he was wounded in the abdomen as well as in the right shoulder.  Refusing to evacuate to the rear despite his severe wounds, he directed the operation of his lone field piece continuing to fire.  With the Confederate Forces within 100 yards of his position, Cushing was shot and killed during this heroic stand.  His actions made it possible for the Union Army to successfully repulse the assault.

First Lieutenant Cushing's cousins, Frederic Stevens Sater and Frederic Cushing Stevens III, and families will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service and sacrifice.

2015 PA Progressive Summit

Mark your calendars!

The 2015 PA Progressive Summit will be held February 6 - 7 at the Hilton Harrisburg in Harrisburg, PA.  Register early or monitor conference developments at:

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Op-Ed from Steve Cickay

from the inbox:

My name is Steve Cickay and I am running for State Senate here in District 10. My opponent, Senator Chuck McIlhinney, is a career politician who has been in Harrisburg far too long: 16 years too long of too little accomplishment. It’s time for a change. 

Change can be a challenge for some. The status quo is comfortable and known. But please realize now that not to change will be even more uncomfortable and wrong. For the Corbett/McIlhinney path we are on is clearly wrong for the people of Pennsylvania.

It is wrong for education.  It is wrong for the environment. And it is wrong for an economy that should instead be supporting well-paying jobs for middle-class workers and a secure retirement.

Chuck is a fine person and a fine family man and has tried his best to serve the public well. But after 16 years, we have seen much failure. Our property taxes keep rising each year. Our schools are underfunded. Big corporations and oil companies don’t pay their fair share of taxes at our expense. A pension crisis looms and nothing gets done to fix it. Working people’s wages are stagnant and the minimum wage leaves a million people in poverty. 500,000 of our fellow-citizens don’t have health insurance. Common sense gun safety legislation doesn’t get passed. Job discrimination laws are still on the books. Women, in 2014 in America, still often don’t get paid the same amount as men. Yet our 253 legislators in Harrisburg can’t seem to do anything about these important issues.

I feel a big part of the problem of why nothing gets done is career politicians are focused too much on campaigning and not governing, too much on getting campaign contributions from special interests and not enough on doing what the people want.

I promise to be both your servant and leader. I promise to listen to you in town halls all over the district every two weeks when I am not in Harrisburg. You won’t have to make a big campaign contribution to have me hear your voice. I will represent you if what you say makes sense for our community. I will represent the rich and the poor; the healthy and the sick, the strong and the weak; independents, Republicans and Democrats alike.

But if you stay the course with Chuck and Corbett, our public education system will continue to be underfunded. And the oil companies will continue to get tax breaks. Stay the course with Chuck and Corbett and our property taxes will continue to go up. And multinationals will continue to enjoy loopholes that allow them to pay zero taxes. Stay the course with Chuck and Corbett and soon you will see frackers drilling in our District. Think what that will do to the quality of our life here and our property values.

But elect me your senator and the change you will see will be a good one. I will work tirelessly for you, just as I have tirelessly walked and run the streets of this district for the last 8 months. I will strive to make Pennsylvania not the last among states, but among the first. Think of me then on Election Day as your first Democratic senator in 120 years. Make change happen. Yes, it’s time for a change here in District 10.  Vote for a new state senator, Steve Cickay, on November 4th.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Op-Ed from Jack Hansen

from the inbox:

My name is Jack Hansen and I would like to be your State Senator.

Working with our next Governor, Tom Wolf, with his record and mine of creating jobs, we can get many unemployed and underemployed Pennsylvanians back to work in good-paying jobs where they can support their families and educate their children.

I have been serving on Lansdale Borough Council for 7 years. My opponent Bob Mensch has been in Harrisburg for 7 years. He says he wants to run on his record. I will put my record up against his any time.

Since I have been serving on Borough Council, we have brought in a number of new businesses: Tabora Farms, Montella’s, Round Guys, Shell Fish Sue, and Molly Maguire’s, to name just a few. 

We have also redone our Main Street, curbs, sidewalks, and lighting. We built a new thoroughfare to relieve traffic congestion at our busiest intersection while increasing parking downtown.
Since Mensch has been in Harrisburg, our state has gone from number 4 in the nation in job creation to number 47.

I have consistently advocated taxing the natural gas industry to fund education. Children are our future decision makers, and we have to give them a good start in life.

We have to do a better job of regulating the drilling and fracking. We can no longer allow under-reporting of the waste that is going into our landfills, and the pooling of used fracking fluid in surface ponds that can overflow in a heavy rain, and flow into our rivers or leach into our ground water. We cannot allow drilling in our state parks or the Delaware River basin. State parks belong to the people, and should not be used for private enterprise. The Delaware River is now a pristine river. 15 million people depend on the Delaware for their drinking water. We cannot put them in jeopardy.

When political winds start to blow in an election season, an opportunistic politician may change his opinion from what he has supported to what he thinks the voters want to hear, just to get re-elected. 

This is just what Mensch has done.

Mensch has voted with Corbett against an extraction tax on our natural gas industry that could help to fund education. He has voted to take funding away from education for our young people. This puts an undue burden on our local municipalities and school boards to raise your taxes. In an election year, he now says he would favor such a tax. Which Bob Mensch do we believe?

If you believe, as I do, that we need a change in our state government, then please come out and vote on November 4th for Jack Hansen for State Senate and Tom Wolf for Governor. Thank you.

Jack Hansen
Democratic Candidate for State Senate in the 24th District

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense Founder Profiled in More

The October issue of More Magazine includes a profile of Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.  The magazine tucked the article, "The Accidental Activist" by Nanette Varian,  away in the very back of the issue, starting on page 131.

One of the pullout quotes is "they kept referring to me as well educated, which I thought was code for uppity housewife."  This is in reference to her testimony before Indiana legislature.  Watts has a four year degree.  Given the number of lawyers in the state legislature I, too, find it odd they would use this terminology and agree that it is intended as a slur.

The Moms group was intended to serve in a similar role that Mothers Against Drunk Driving did, to bring an issue to the public's attention.  In this case it is gun violence prevention.  They have had some successes,

"Since the group's inception, the Moms have helped get background-check laws passed in five states and laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers passed in six more.  They've persuaded Facebook and Instagram to take steps to prevent illegal gun sales on their platforms and Statrbucks, Target, Chipotle and other chains to ask customers not to bring their guns into their establishments." 

To read the full article pick up the current issue at your local newsstand.

Annual SEPTA Stop Hunger at Your Station

from the inbox:

SEPTA will kick off its sixth annual Stop Hunger at Your Station food drive to benefit Philabundance on Friday, October 17, 2014, at 10 a.m. at Dilworth Park (15th Street side).  SEPTA’s food drive will run October 20-31, with the Authority collecting donations of much-needed canned goods at 43 rail stations and transportation centers.  In 2013, SEPTA customers and employees collected a record 25 tons of food for Philabundance.  Over the last five years, the drive has collected 90 tons of food for Philabundance.

Biden Alert: Philly Visit on Thursday

Expect travel issues tomorrow, Thursday the 16th.  Vice President Joe Biden will be in town for an event highlighting the important of America's infrastructure.  You know, those roads, bridges, and trains we all use every day to get from one place to another.  Visits from high ranking officials always seem to create traffic tie ups.  We're glad to see them, though.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

State Legislation II: Hate Crimes

This post contained information taken from elsewhere (text was in blockquotes to show it was not original to this blog).  I have been informed that it was incorrect and thus have removed it.  My apologies for the error.

State Legislation I: State Senate Meddling with Gun Safety / Domestic Violence Legislation

This is taken from two CeaseFire PA communications:

Last week a bill to punish towns and cities for passing gun safety legislation was stopped.  The bill would have allowed organizations , for example the NRA or the KKK to sue municipalities for passing laws to curb the illegal trafficking of firearms.  This week that wording in HB 2011 / HB 1243 was attached as an amendment to HB 1796 on its third consideration in the state senate, which is primarily aimed at protecting the victims of domestic violence.  If the amendment is approved this will put state senators in the position of either approving the "sue the city" wording or voting against an otherwise productive bill.

Contact your state senator and ask them to vote against the amendment, or if it passes, vote against the bill.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Obama's Millennial Agenda

from the inbox:

FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Agenda for Creating Economic Opportunity for Millennials

A copy of the related report released by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors is available online HERE.

Last week, President Obama put forth his vision for continuing to build on the foundation we’ve laid for a strong, durable economy with secure middle class jobs. Thanks to the hard work and grit of the American people, we’re moving forward again and one generation in particular – Millennials – will shape our economy for decades to come.

Millennials came of age during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In the face of these challenges, President Obama acted quickly to rebuild opportunity for all hardworking Americans, including Millennials. Together, we kept more teachers on the job to improve the quality of education for kids at our local schools. We cut subsidies to big banks so that we could make college more affordable by increasing Pell Grants. And we expanded health care coverage so that no one, including young people just getting their start, would go broke if they get sick. 

There are still challenges to meet, but no generation has been better equipped to overcome them than Millennials. They’re skilled with technology and more educated than any previous generation. Today’s White House report details some of the key characteristics of the Millennial Generation as well as the impact that the Administration’s policies have had on them.

To build on this progress, there is also a path forward. Acting with Congress and on his own where he can, President Obama will continue to invest in our teachers and schools, cut student loan debt, build on our technology boom, expand health coverage and homeownership, and train every hardworking American with the skills they need to find a good job that pays good wages.
Making Higher Education More Affordable for MillennialsWhile college is more important than ever before, it is also more expensive. President Obama has taken steps to make college more affordable and increase financial aid – while Republicans have called for rolling back these expansions of student aid and opposed efforts to allow students to refinance student loans.
·         Increasing federal financial support for higher education. Higher education can be a pathway to the middle class for many people, but we have to ensure that students are able to afford this investment.

o   Creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college.

o   Increasing Pell Grant scholarships by $1,000 a year, while reaching millions more students each year.

o   Eliminating wasteful bank subsidies and passing along those savings to help more Americans afford college.

·         Making student loan payments more affordable. President Obama created a new repayment plan allowing students to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income. In June 2014, the President directed the Department of Education to make this plan available to every direct student loan borrower, benefiting nearly 5 million current and former students. The President has also supported Congressional efforts to allow student loan borrowers to refinance their loans, saving thousands in interest costs, which Republicans in Congress have blocked.

Supporting Innovation: Millennials are more connected to technology than previous generations, both in school and in work, and their innovations in this area have the potential to impact all workers through our economy for years to come. The President’s policies have supported innovation that helps students learn and entrepreneurs create new businesses.

·         Digital Literacy for the Tech Generation.  The President’s policies are creating new opportunity for a nation where life and livelihood will demand digital literacy.  The ConnectED Initiative is transforming education by connecting every school to high-speed broadband and wireless, with over $4 billion in public and private funding announced since 2013. 

·         Empowering Innovation:  The President has been actively working to make sure that patent trolls, who use vague and misleading threats of lawsuits to extort money from young companies, do not strangle American technological innovation.  He is driving an agenda that has reformed how and when the government issues patents to improve their quality, limited abuse of certain trade courts to hold up new innovations, and continues to call on Congress to pass comprehensive reform to curtail patent trolls.

·         Unlocking Consumer Choice: The President is also working to make sure that consumers have real flexibility when it comes to choosing technologies, and how they use them — like unlocking cell phones to use them with the mobile network that meets your needs.  The Administration called last year to restore and safeguard this common-sense freedom, and this August, signed that bill into law.

Creating Opportunity and Supporting Good-Paying Middle-Class Jobs: Upon taking office, President Obama immediately took action to put Americans back to work. But while the unemployment rate for workers ages 18 to 34 has come down 5.1 percentage points, there is still work to do. The unemployment rate remains elevated, and wage growth for young workers has not kept pace with the past. The President is committed to taking steps to support stronger growth today and a stronger economy going forward:

·         Supporting Equal Pay. The disparity in pay between women and men doesn’t just affect women’s financial well-being; it affects families and the nation’s overall economic health.  The first bill President Obama signed into law in 2009 was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In 2014 he took executive actions to advance the cause of equal pay by requiring federal contractors to submit data on employee compensation, and to prohibit retaliation when an employee of a federal contractor reveals his or her pay.   These are all commonsense steps that move us down the road toward economic equality, even as Congress continues to debate the Paycheck Fairness Act, which the President strongly supports.  

·         Increasing the Minimum Wage:  President Obama has called on Congress to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, which would provide 28 million workers with a raise, benefiting millions of lower- and middle-class families. But while Republicans in Congress have blocked this effort, progress is being made across the country: 13 states and D.C. have raised their minimum wage since the beginning of 2013 – benefitting over 7 million workers – and cities and businesses are also taking action on their own to raise wages. The President also signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for workers on federal contracts.

·         Expanding Tax Relief for Working Families: President Obama has expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, benefitting 16 million families a year – and has proposed permanently extending these expansions. The President has also proposed expanding the EITC for workers without dependent children, including the 3.3 million young workers ages 21-24 who are currently ineligible for the credit.

·         Supporting Immigrants and Creating an Immigration System that Works: Millennials are more likely to be foreign-born than the previous two generations.  The President has been fighting for a fair, effective and common sense immigration reform that lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  As that effort continues, the Administration is implementing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which has benefitted some 600,000 young people who were brought to this country as children by their parents, and for whom the United States is home.  Though DACA is an exercise of enforcement authority that does not provide permanent status, it has enabled young people to work without fear of deportation, to get new jobs, open their first bank accounts, and obtain drivers licenses.   

·         Investing in Infrastructure, Research and Manufacturing to Support Middle-Class Jobs: The President has proposed targeted investments in areas such as infrastructure, research and manufacturing that will both help create jobs today and lay the groundwork for stronger long-run growth. By contrast, the House Republican-passed budget would require deep cuts to early education, research, job training, clean energy and other areas that support a stronger economy.

Connecting Students and Workers with the Skills They Need for College and Career: The Administration has worked to make sure that more Millennials get the training they need for today’s jobs, including by better linking secondary and post-secondary education with industry to determine skills needed and design curriculum.

·         Providing Every Child with a Complete and Competitive Education:  As they begin planning families of their own, the Administration is committed to building the high-quality education system Millennials and their children deserve by incentivizing investment and improvement. With Race to the Top, the Administration has brought significant change to our education system by encouraging states to raise standards and aligning policies that promote college and career readiness, improve teacher effectiveness, use data effectively in the classroom, and adopt new strategies to help struggling schools.

·         Redesigning High Schools: Earlier this year, the Administration awarded $100 million in grants this year to redesign high schools to more fully prepare youth with the knowledge, skills, and industry-relevant education needed to get on the pathway to a successful career.

·         Better Training Students through Community Colleges and Connecting Job-Seekers to Work: To support the 7.7 million community college students across the country who represent 45 percent of all undergraduates, the Administration has awarded nearly $2 billion of competitive grants since 2011 to community colleges to partner with employers to expand and improve their ability to help job seekers get the skills they need for in-demand jobs. The Administration is also taking steps to connect the long-term unemployed to jobs, including by working with employers to spread best practices for recruiting and hiring the long-term unemployed.

·         Expanding Access to Apprenticeships: The Administration has also been encouraging the expansion of apprenticeships as pathways to help young adults get into middle-class jobs. The Department of Labor will also soon be releasing an application for $100 million to create apprenticeship opportunities in high-growth fields and that award college credit.

·         Working to “Upskill” Youth Early in Their Careers: To support youth who are starting out in their careers, the Administration has kicked off a new public-private effort – working with employers, educators, tech innovators, unions, training providers, cities, states, and non-profits – to help turn low-wage and entry-level jobs across the country into stepping stones to the middle class.

Increasing Access to Affordable Health Care: In addition to the direct economic consequences of the Great Recession, millions of Millennials were at risk of poor health outcomes exacerbated by unaffordable or unattainable insurance. The Affordable Care Act expanded coverage, helping millions of Americans obtain quality insurance.  Yet House Republicans have voted on dozens of occasions to gut the law.

·         Expanding Coverage to Age 26. Before the President signed the Affordable Care Act into law, most health plans kicked young people off when they turned 19 or graduated from college, leaving many college graduates and others with no insurance. Now, most health plans that cover children must make coverage available up to age 26, making it easier and more affordable for young adults to get coverage.

·         Providing Preventive Care for Free. The Affordable Care Act requires most insurers to cover preventive care services without copays and deductibles. This means that, for the first time, important preventive services – including birth control – are available at no cost to millions of consumers who have private health insurance.

·         Providing Affordable Health Care Coverage. Young Americans often have the least access to employer sponsored health care plans, which previously left many without any reasonably priced insurance opportunities. The Health Insurance Marketplace lets consumers choose a private health insurance plan that fits their health needs and consumers can also qualify for financial assistance. In fact, most people who shop in the Marketplace pay an average of $69 per month for their coverage.

Supporting Access to Credit for First-Time Homebuyers and Affordable Rental Housing and Putting in Place New Protections for Consumers:  As the economy has recovered, the housing market has improved and more families are purchasing homes. But with Millennials becoming homeowners at lower rates than prior generations, the Administration is committed to taking steps to ensure more Americans have access to credit to buy a first home and the ability to find affordable rental housing.

·         Making It Easier For Americans to Obtain Affordable Mortgage Financing Payments through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).  Today, the credit score that the typical borrower needs to get a government-guaranteed loan is significantly higher than in the past – and higher than we would expect given economic fundamentals. This leaves many responsible borrowers unable to find lenders willing to give them a mortgage at an affordable rate. In response, the Administration has launched a “Quality Assurance” framework to provide mortgage lenders with greater confidence to lend, while reducing FHA premiums for homeowners who obtain housing counseling. The Administration is also exploring additional reforms to drive progress and strengthen our housing market today.
·         Supporting Affordable Rental Housing. In June, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced an initiative to help provide low-cost financing to state and local housing finance agencies that provide multifamily mortgage loans insured by FHA. This will reduce interest rates for affordable housing, savings that will be passed on to renters. The Administration continues to explore administrative and legislative reforms to promote access to affordable rental housing for middle class families and those aspiring to be.

·         Protecting the Financial Well-Being of Consumers through Wall Street Reform. Through Wall Street Reform, the Administration has created the strongest consumer protections in history while reducing American taxpayer exposure to future crises. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has finalized rules and simplified disclosures to protect consumers from irresponsible mortgage lending, secured billions of dollars in relief for millions of consumers who were wronged, and launched a consumer response center to give people in need a place to turn. Efforts to undermine the CFPB by imposing structural or funding limitations – as supported by Republicans in Congress – would weaken important consumer protections and leave the economy more vulnerable to another devastating financial crisis.

PCN, PIAA Renew Contract

from the inbox:

The Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) will continue to provide exclusive coverage of all Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) championship events for an additional four years due to a recent contract extension.

“We look forward to continuing our work with PIAA to showcase the best in high school athletics in Pennsylvania. PIAA does an outstanding job of putting these events together every year, and PCN is pleased to be a part of it,” said PCN President Brian Lockman.
PIAA Executive Director, Dr. Robert A. Lombardi, stated “On behalf of the Board of Directors, our 1,440 member schools and the 14,000 registered sports officials, we are thrilled to continue our relationship with PCN and provide our championship events to all Pennsylvania residents.”
Exclusive fall championship coverage begins November 14, 2014, as PCN Sports presents “Super Sports Weekend,” featuring over 12 hours of live field hockey, soccer, and volleyball. All events will stream live online through the premium subscription service “PCN Select,” available at a special rate of $15.99 for the 3-day championship period. All events will also air on the network.
PCN has provided cable subscribers with exclusive access to all of the state’s championship games since 1998 and introduced live online streaming via ‘PCN Select’ in 2012. PCN has also showcased collegiate championships of the Pennsylvania State Athletics Conference sports championships since 2012.
To subscribe to PCN Select and view a full sports championship schedule, visit

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The "Nationalization" of Philadelphia Schools

When I am out at political events one frequent topic of conversation is how to repair the Philadelphia school system.  Personally I am wary of charter schools but I know people whose children attend charter schools in the city and love them.  I have concerns about magnet schools but also know people whose children attended such a school and love them.

The School Reform Commission's decision to cancel the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.  This is a nuclear option.  A few things that have not been mentioned in the papers:

Public employee unions, including teachers' unions, often trade in salary increases for decreased health care costs.  Saying the teachers with basic coverage have not contributed to their health care does not take into account what is likely years of lowered pay raises.

There is an informal agreement between schools and teachers.  Because of the nature of the school year, teachers being and end jobs at set times.  Even if a teacher leaves the profession they usually do so after the school year ends.  This is part of the professionalism of teaching, knowing how difficult to find a qualified substitute and how disruptive it is to students for a teacher to leave abruptly, and how chaotic it can be to class grading and teacher recommendations.  Teachers stay until the end of the year.

Except, of course, when the school system decides to violate that mutual respect and professionalism.  The Philadelphia school system has just done that.  I would not blame any teacher who walked, just left at the end of the day and didn't come back.  Respect has to be mutual and for Philadelphia teachers, right now, the district is showing them none.

When I look at the teachers m children have had in our suburban district, I see some amazing teachers.  Many came to teaching as a second career and have years of real world experience in relevant areas.  Science teachers who worked in research labs; some have doctorates.  Social studies teachers who worked in corrections.  Veterans who were military police and now work in middle school, a population that needs boundaries and discipline.  I am always amazed at the number of teachers who were students in the same school system.  They have chosen to come back on the other side of the classroom.  There is a good mix of teachers who have been there for over a decade and relatively new teachers.  They seem to work well together and sometimes team up for joint projects.  They are responsive to student questions and comments.  I cannot say I've had warm personal feelings for each and every teacher my children have had, but I have never felt that had a bad teacher.

Why can't Philadelphia students have that?  I know that if the teachers in my school district woke up one morning and found that the school board suddenly and without notice canceled their work contract many of them would leave, and I would not blame them.  I also feel confident that the parents in the district would demand the school board reverse that decision.

The School Reform Commission says the saving will be used to hire other teachers or staff.  But since the SRC has clearly shown that any contract they make can be revoked, I don't think they will attract the best and brightest job applicants.  I also don't think they can expect people to abide unwritten rule that school employees, as a rule, don't leave during the school year.

No one I've run into at political events has a solution for the Philadelphia schools' issues.  I certainly don't.  But I do know that this latest development isn't going to help anything.  The school always seems to have the money to fulfill the contracts it makes with people like Arlene Ackerman.  It just never has the money for the people who actually work with the kids on a daily basis.

That's my two cents.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Notes from Sept 22 Gubernatorial Debate

September 22nd, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry sponsored a debate between Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, in Hershey.  Dennis Owens moderated.

I taped the debate and the recording cut off during the last question so I missed the closing remarks.  

These are my notes from the debate.  It is not intended as a transcript.  Interested voters are encouraged to review campaign websites for each candidate.  I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

Format:  1 min open and 2 min close, 2 min answer and 1 min rebuttal

Since both candidates have the same first name they are identified by last initial:  C for Tom Corbett and W for Tom Wolf.

Opening Remarks

C: Good evening everyone.  Thanks to chamber.  Appreciate the opportunity to talk with Tom about the future of PA.  Thanks voters for opportunity to serve as Governor and Attorney General.  I believe in Pennsylvania.  Think about two troopers shot and all law enforcement searching for shooter.  Thanks to all.

W:  Thanks moderator and chamber for sponsoring.  I am an unconventional candidate.  Don’t look like usual candidate.  I’m running for a citizen democracy.  We can do a better job running the economy.


Q1:  Education.  Dems and Wolf insist Corbett slashed education.  He says he is spending more on education

W:  We have seen real cuts in education.  Look at what we see all around us.  20K educators lost their job, class sizes increase, property taxes going up.  Parents having to pay money, fees, for their children  to participate in sports and other activities.  Not doing our job to delivery good education.  Can’t throw money and expect a good outcome but have to invest.  Important public good for all of us.  Practical economic problem.

C:  I would agree.  We need to do better.  We need to present a better Pennsylvania to my successor than I was given.  Teachers’ unions putting out lie that I cut education.  How do you do it?  How do you reform it?  We have already begun that reform, better teaching evaluation, better education report on administrators.  We can tell how schools performing.  Better metrics.

Q2:  if more state money going to education why have more districts cut spending

C:  Federal stimulus should not have been put in their budgets.  Cost of pensions driven up property taxes.  Cost of health care.  Going to get much worse.  Go up even higher with Obamacare.  20,000 educators a false number.  Not all were teachers.  Ask how we will invest not how much can we spend.

W: Again the proof is in the pudding.  We have to do a good job providing a good education.  Have to make sure schools work properly.  We have to make sure this works.  I care as much about the education Philadelphia school children get as the education my daughters got at our public school.  We need accountability and a system that delivers on a good education.

Q3:  30 – 40% of budget, $27B spent on education in PA.  How much is enough?  What accountability can you offer?

W:  Great question.  We cannot throw money at any problem and get a good outcome.  Have to have accountability.  Right now we are not producing people we can employ.  Some places doing a wonderful job, some places not.  Need to prepare for jobs for 21st century.  How much?  I don’t know.  Need a public education system that can deliver.  Can’t hide behind false statistics.  Embrace idea that it is something we need.  Educated workforce, educated citizenry.  $27B number need to figure out how to reduce property tax burden.  Can’t give a number.   At my company I ask employees.  I would ask educators.

C:  We are not that far apart.  We agree that we need to make it better.  We’ve already started process to make it better.  Ask what is fair, started Fair Funding Commission.  Is what is fair in Philadelphia what is fair in another part of the state.  We could spend a lot of money.  Part of the idea of the metrics is to ask if it is being well spent.  Using school profiles to determine where it is being used wisely.

Q4:  Taxes.  You took a no tax pledge but won’t take it this time. 

C:  Everybody knows my record.  Did not raise taxes.  We know where Mr. Wolf is going to go.  Everybody above $60K will be taxed more.  Sales tax increase – everyone pays that.  Energy tax, electricity tax, everyone pays that.  Said I would run on fiscal discipline, [missed part of his remarks].  I have kept that promise.  We made tough decisions.  We were almost $29B in spending in my first year, including stimulus.  Reduced number of people working for state government so it is the lowest in 50 years.  Governor is steward of your money, from people making millions to people working for 5, 10, 15K years. 

Q5:  Was taking tax pledge a mistake?

C:  No.  It helped keep me focused, helped others stay focused.   Transportation bill not a tax but removal of false cap.  Seeing revenue come up but gas is cheaper than it was months ago.  When children get on buses, people get on transit it is a public [missed this]  to make roads safer.

W:  For whatever reason things aren’t working.  When I took my company back I had to make ends meet, make my company successful.  Have to do that with state.  Used to be at top of charts now near bottom in terms of economic growth.  Not doing as well as we should.  Fan of the private sector, come out of the private sector.  I built a business.  We need a government partner to make sure private entities and market work better.

Q6:  What is your tax plan? 

W:  Reporter asked me the mathematics of how my plan would work.  We need a flat tax, used 5% example, not my plan.  Talking about a tax that is fair.  Understand what state needs to do is set the table for private sector growth.  Fairer tax system. Some people paying too much now.  Have highest corporate income tax.  That’s too high.  Some people will have to pay more.  Fair tax that doesn’t destroy economy.  Fairness is in the eye of the beholder.  I think I should pay more. 

C:  As Secretary of Revenue budget must have as much money coming in as going out.  Has to be a balanced budget.  Looking at his plans, increasing 50% of state’s share of education.  We believe hi s plan would increase by 6B (M?).  Give us your plans.  Have a conversation about incorporating in Delaware not here. 

Q7:  What is your plan?  Do we need a tax increase?

C:  With me people know they will have someone who will fight to keep our spending as low as they can.  With Wolf there will be some increase.  This isn’t the first time we’ve had to borrow money against future earnings.  Want to grow the economy.  Have to deal with pensions.  Will be 3.3B for pensions in 2017/2018 year.  My predecessor did not completely fund the pension.  We have to come up with 610B this year as we did last year.

W:  We have to make ends meet.  Two parts:  keep expense in line and make numbers grow.   Not routine to borrow 2.5 months in to new fiscal year.  If as a business owner I had a cash balance that looked like the state’s right now no bank would have given me a line of credit.  We have a pension problem.  Need to adequately fund pension system.  Governors past and present have not paid in to it.  Balance goes up every year we do not pay our debt. 

C:  I’m surprised.  We are actually talking about the same thing.  Cost of business continues to grow.  Revenues growing.  No one grows by taxing.  Where does he want to spend the money, how much does he want to spend.  We could attract more businesses if we lowered corporate tax.  Have to control spending first.

Q8:  Marcellus shale.  Refusal to have extraction tax, why?

C: We tax it differently.  Higher corporate tax, higher personal income tax.  Small businesses that supply the industry.  Employees that earn good salaries.  We did add a fee, an impact fee.  Rendell said if tax shale we’ll get 100M a year.  Impact fee first year brought in 200M dollars.  Shared with communities and a little bit to the state.  No other state has an impact fee on natural gas.  Trying to grow new industry here in PA.  High taxes don’t attract new business. 

W:  I too believe gas industry could be game changer for PA economy.  I understand how taxes impact business.  5% severance tax could make a difference in state economy. 

Q9:  minimum wage

C:  I support the federal level.  I don’t want to see people have to work for minimum wage.  That’s why I’m trying to change the education system.  Encourage people to go into trades, high percentage of current workers are over 50.  Created job website, showing 200,000 open jobs.  People may not be trained, that ‘s our job to train them.  Get people out of minimum wage job, get them training for a good family supporting wage job.

W:  How are thing’s working out for us.  Unemployment going up.  Minimum wage should be increased, to 10.10 / hour.  In my own business when I went back I raised our wage.

Q10:  Look at your campaign donation, biggest donor other than yourself is unions.

W:  My second largest donor is a private business donor.  In primary did not get endorsement of traditional Democrats.  Share profits with employees.  Not indebted to anyone.  Not pandering.

Q11:  Polls show Wolf with a big lead.

C:  Everybody makes mistakes.  Probably haven’t communicated enough but I’ve made tough decisions.

[And that’s where the recording ended]