These Five Philly-Area Lawmakers Voted Against the Cigarette Tax

Anthony Williams was the only Democrat to vote to delay the cigarette tax, and that’ll cost him in the Democratic primary for Philly Mayor next year. But forget about that for now.

These Republican lawmakers all benefit from a strong Philadelphia economy, and their constituents won’t pay the cost of our local cigarette tax, but they voted to mess with our school funding anyway.

These are all districts within reasonable distance for GOTV, and Philadelphians who can afford it should really donate to their challengers. This stuff is going to keep happening next year if we don’t flip the state Senate this year.

Senate (see the roll call)

Bob Mensch, challenged by Jack Hansen.

Chuck McIlhinney, challenged by Steve Cickay.

House (see the roll call)

Justin Simmons, challenged by Mike Beyer.

Dan Truitt, challenged by Sandra Snyder.

Duane Milne, challenged by Anne Crowley.


Posted in Education, Elections, Issues, State House, State Senate

PA Local Gov Employment Down 5.9% Since the Start of the Recession

Obviously there’s a lot of duplication and waste inherent in Pennsylvania’s fragmented system of local government. When there are 2562 municipalities for 67 counties, clearly a great many local services could be administered more efficiently if local service providers could take advantage of some economy of scale.

Just look at how many police departments and planning commissions we have:

So in theory, there are some local government redundancies that could be ok if they resulted from consolidating services and municipal mergers. But in practice, this isn’t how we’ve been going about reducing local government employment in the recession. We could be combining municipalities and tax bases. We could be combining police departments and planning commissions. Instead, we’ve just been starving the existing under-capitalized local governments, and getting worse services.

The state Republicans’ cuts have forced local governments to either raise local taxes or lay off public employees, and in total, they’ve cut about 5.9% of local public employment since the recession began, according to this data from Governing.

Screen shot 2014-07-08 at 8.30.52 AM

Posted in Budget, Economy, Issues

Why Tom Corbett Might Not Sign the #GOPBudget

With all his priorities dashed, and no nice things to take on the road this fall to show the voters, it looks like Tom Corbett may have decided his best chance of hanging on to his office is to break off from the Republican pack and run against “Harrisburg.”

The latest evidence is his public indecision over whether to sign or veto the Republican budget, or let it take effect without his signature – a move that has his fellow Republicans flailing:

A week after its passage by the legislature, Gov. Corbett has yet to sign the $29.1 billion general appropriations bill for 2014-2015. Nor has the General Assembly finalized the a key budget-related bill – the fiscal code – that authorizes spending for schools and hundreds of other items.

Corbett has until Friday to sign or veto all or part of the budget. Without his signature it takes effect immediately.

“The governor is reviewing his options,” said Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni.

The governor’s inaction is causing friction even with his GOP allies in the legislature.

“We think the governor needs to sign the budget and move forward,” House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) said Monday in an impromptu session with reporters. “This is a responsible budget for the needs of the citizens of Pennsylvania, while also protecting taxpayers.”

The basic shape of the politics is that this budget is another nasty all-cuts budget, it does nothing to restore cuts to basic education despite a lot of big talk about that earlier in the year, and Corbett doesn’t want this to be seen as his latest accomplishment. The tea people think that spending cuts are popular, but they’re not.

Members of his party still had to vote for this beast though, so naturally they want Corbett to embrace it and echo all the stuff Turzai is saying, so that the Republicans at least look united after the budget got a  party-line No vote from House and Senate Democrats.

The bright light of accountability that the party-line vote is shining on the Republicans puts them in a fantastically uncomfortable position, as they now own everything in there, as a party. But Corbett seems to be thinking about publicly distancing himself from the product, leaving legislative Republicans to take all the blame at the polls.

(via Inquirer)

Posted in Budget, Elections, Governor, Issues, State House, State Senate

#PA8: Fitzpatrick the Moderate? Not so much.

Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick’s campaign website is all about the concept of political “moderation.” That’s probably because PA-8, the district he represents, is a swing district that President Obama carried in ’08 and ’12, with an 11,759 democratic voter registration advantage that has changed parties 5 times since the 1980’s. A district like PA-8 simply wouldn’t tolerate a tea-party republican. Mike Fitzpatrick may not appear to be such a republican, to be sure, but that isn’t the whole story, his votes are.

He might not always vote with the (R)’s, but when it counts, he does. He voted with the republicans to usher in a government shutdown over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He voted for the horrible Farm Bill (HR 2642), which gutted the food stamp program for over 1.7 million people across 15 states. He endorsed voter suppression tactics with his votes to require photo ID for voting in federal elections. He also has a terrible record on women’s health & choice issues, rated at 0% by both Planned Parenthood and NARAL . This just scratches the surface.

One would think that a moderate would tend to stay away from inflammatory language, such as, say, accusing President Obama of committing treason if elected to a second term, something Rep. Fitzpatrick did at a fundraiser in April of 2012. I guess the fundraising opportunity was too great to pass up.

If you’re still not sold that Fitzpatrick’s record isn’t pretty notable conservative, consider this. His voting has actually been getting more conservative through his last term, moving from voting with the Republican majority 81.0% of the time in 2011, to 88.4% of the time in 2013.

The fact is that at a glance Rep. Fitzpatrick looks pretty moderate, the kind of rare-breed moderate republican that many thought went extinct years ago. Primary Colors even lists him with a +10.6 progressive value. The truth is even his “moderation” is further right than can be tolerated, and while Fitzpatrick can’t be counted among the worst of the House Republican Caucus, a district that can (and has) elected solid progressive candidates should rally around the Democratic nominee, Kevin Strouse, and do so again. Mike Fitzpatrick wants to herald his moderation, but his rhetoric and most of his voting record point staunchly to the opposite direction. PA-8 is a highly competitive race, and presents one of the democrats’ best chances to pick up a seat in the House. If you live in the district, or even near it, get out there and knock on some doors!

Posted in Elections, US House

Peduto: Senator Fontana Introducing Bill to Override Tom Corbett’s PUC Appointees, Legalize Uber X and Lyft

Charlie Deitch reports that state Senator Wayne Fontana (and we’ve heard Erin Molchany in the House, though not sure if that’s been reported yet) is introducing a bill to create a new “transportation network” category in the PA code that would legalize e-hailing apps Uber X and Lyft in Pennsylvania. Since Tom Corbett’s PUC appointees think their job is to protect monopoly rents for incumbent taxi fleet owners, rather than provide safe and convenient taxi markets for PA’s cities – it’s become important to override them by creating this new category, similar to regulations in Colorado and California that regulate safety while encouraging more competition and choice:

After saying on Wednesday that he would fight for innovation, Mayor Bil Peduto announced this morning that state Sen. Wayne Fontana is preparing legislation int he state senate to permit the operation of rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber.

“State Sen. Wayne Fontana is set to introduce legislation to allow for operation of these innovative transportation systems and I support similar bipartisan efforts being introduced in the House,” Peduto said in a statement. “In the interim I fully support a resolution being introduced by State Rep. Erin Molchany calling on the Public Utility Commission to issue provisional approvals for the companies Lyft and Uber to operate this weekend to alleviate pressing public safety concerns about drunk driving this holiday weekend.”

This is an important cross-over issue for progressive Democrats and market-friendly Republicans because it creates a deep market of rides-for-hire that makes it convenient for people to give up their cars and reduce their carbon output, and it provides a transit-like service in areas poorly served by public transit. Peduto has been pushing for PUC to legalize jitneys (dollar vans) too, which heretofore have primarily served poor neighborhoods. And it also soaks wealthy medallion owners (progressive!) by way of lower barriers to competition for new businesses (free market!) so there’s plenty for both sides to like here.

Posted in Economy, Issues, Transportation

Ride-Share Fix Must Apply to Philly Parking Authority as Well as PUC

By some weird accident of history, the city of Philadelphia doesn’t have the same taxi regulator as the rest of the state. Whereas the Public Utilities Commission sets the rules for taxis in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, the Philadelphia Parking Authority is the taxi regulator for Philly.

It’s great to see Bill Peduto and his state allies, including our Brian Sims, are pushing a legislative fix for the derp that’s been flowing out of the PUC on ride-rental share companies Uber and Lyft in recent months – the latest being this cease-and-desist order barring them from operating in Pennsylvania. But it’s critical that the legislative fix – which will probably take the form of a new “transportation network” category in the PUC code – also apply to the PPA as well as PUC. Ideally, the legislation would make the PUC the regulator for all Pennsylvania, and take that power away from the PPA.

The PUC and the PPA unfortunately do not seem to understand that the job of the regulators is to promote competition for the benefit of consumers, not protect taxi fleet monopolists or medallion owner rents – one of the worst affronts to taxi drivers’ livelihoods here in Philly, as the Taxi Workers Alliance will tell you. PPA kicked out ride-share service Sidecar last summer, and Uber X won’t come here even though they’re expanding across the river in South Jersey because they say “the city of Philadelphia has proven time and time again to be against innovation.”

This is nuts. As former transportation head of DC and Chicago Gabe Klein explains in this CityLab post today, the future of transportation is increasingly about these networked services, and it’ll eventually give way to autonomous vehicles. Dumb laws meant to protect a wealthy minority of fleet owners shouldn’t be allowed to stop this innovation, and any state-level legislative fix needs to apply to Philly as well as Pittsburgh. The taxi regulation power is too important to leave to the PPA – a known Republican patronage potty.

Posted in Economy, Issues, Transportation

#PABudget: Why Aren’t We Talking About a Statewide Cigarette Tax Increase?

With the local cigarette tax for Philly schools passing out of committee, it’s a good time to zoom out and ask why we haven’t been talking about raising the cigarette tax all across the state to fill the Great Republican Budget Hole of 2014.

Here’s the most recent map of state cigarette tax rates I could find, from the Tax Foundation. As you can see, Pennsylvania doesn’t have particularly high state taxes on cigarettes and we could stand to raise it another $2.00.

Now, there’s a good conversation to be had here about whether we’re aiming for the revenue-maximizing tax rate (the sweet spot where not too many people quit or buy out of state/on the black market) or the public health-maximizing tax rate (where lots of people quit and we get less and less money over time.) But I don’t think an extra $2 a pack statewide would overshoot the revenue-maximizing rate.

Posted in Budget, Economy, Health, Issues

F&M Poll: Wolf Up By 22, Corbett Still Searching For the Bottom

PA GOv July 14

The only good news in here for Corbett is that some Republicans are starting to come home. The bad news is that even more undecideds are joining the #Wolfpack. Also notable: F&M asks voters who they expect to win, which is considered a more reliable predictor than asking voters who they personally plan to vote for:

York County businessman Tom Wolf leads Corbett by 22 points, 47 to 25 percent, with 27 percent of voters still undecided [...]

Fifty-four percent of all the registered voters in the poll expect Wolf to win the Nov. 4 general election while just 19 percent expect Corbett to pull out a victory. Just one in four voters think Corbett deserves a second term.

While the poll shows Corbett doing better with Republicans than he has in previous surveys, it also shows some in his party giving up on their candidate.

“He’s losing one in five Republicans,” Madonna said. “And he’s losing 2-to-1 among independents. That’s not a recipe for victory.”

The F&M memo also puts Corbett’s travails in context with this comparison to where Rendell and Ridge were polling at this point in their terms. Don’t (no really don’t) call it a comeback:

Rendell Corbett

(via Chris Brennan)

Posted in Elections, Governor

#PABudget: House Pension Bill Looking Pretty Dead

Nick Field is reporting that Gene DiGirolamo is about to put this thing out of its misery.

The State House voted to send the main pension reform bill to the House Human Services Committee where it is expected to wither and die. The committee is chaired by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), one of 15 Republicans who voted with the 92-member Democratic caucus to punt the bill away.

Now the House has two choices – allow Philadelphia to tax cigarettes more to raise more local money for schools that the House has not provided from the state level. Or, screw the Philadelphia schools for no good reason.

Posted in Budget, Issues

Corbett Says He Supports the Cigarette Tax, But Is Holding Philly Schools Hostage Anyway

We’ll have more details when all the different parts of the “on time Republican budget” are passed, but I was glad to see it passed on a party-line vote:

The Senate voted 26-24, with one Republican, Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks, breaking ranks. The House was still debating the budget as this column was filed. Around 10:30 p.m., the House voted 108-95 to approve the spending plan.

There was an air of disappointment over what didn’t get done: Namely, pension reform (which sort of happened in the Senate) and some kind of liquor reform (which is probably never going to happen).

Corbett, in a statement, hammered that disappointment home, saying he was withholding his signature because lawmakers failed to send him a pension reform bill.

In the meantime, here’s a disturbing line from Angela Couloumbis’s report. Corbett supports the cigarette tax, but he’s still holding it hostage anyway to shake down Democrats for an unrelated policy ask:

Corbett said that while he backs a cigarette tax to support Philadelphia schools, he still wants to see votes on a pension plan.

“While this action addresses the immediate needs of the Philadelphia School District, let me be clear: I continue to fight for meaningful pension reform for Philadelphia schools and all schools across the commonwealth, which will provide a long-term solution for them,” Corbett said.

How negotiations work is that you give something you don’t support to get something somebody else doesn’t support. If Corbett supports the cigarette tax, and Democrats support the cigarette tax, then there’s nothing to negotiate about. You both agree, so pass the cigarette tax.

If Corbett’s holding back something he agrees with just to get an unrelated concession, then that’s a pretty straightforward hostage-taking.

(via John Micek)


Posted in Budget, Elections, Governor, Issues