Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Pennsylvania State budget

Pennsylvania Officials Getting 1.7% Pay Increase Starting December 1 . . . Some Lawmakers are Standing behind Campaign Promises and Not Accepting Increase! What Will State Rep Warren Kampf Decide?

After elections won by many candidates based on fiscal conservatism, amid high unemployment numbers and screams to stop the spending, how is it possible that in Pennsylvania all the top officials, including legislators and judges, are getting pay raises of 1.7 percent?

That’s right, newly elected and returning legislators will get this cost-of-living pay raise starting December 1, when the new Legislature opens for business, even though they won’t be sworn in until January. Apparently, a 1995 law makes such adjustments automatic. State legislators’ salaries will increase from $78, 315 to $79,623, while the higher-ranking officials are paid more.

Do you remember the middle-of-the-night pay raise scandal in 2005? Pennsylvania lawmakers voted themselves a 16% salary increase making themselves the second highest paid legislators in the country (second only to California). The voters were outraged and amid powerful public backlash, the law was repealed several months later. In the 2006 elections, voters turned 24 incumbents out of office.

This year’s cost-of-living raises are authorized by a 1995 law and are based on changes in the US Dept of Labor’s Consumer Price Index that is set for the year ending in each October. Although that usually results in an increase, the index declined in 2009 and there was no adjustment to that year. Although I have not always been a fan of Governor Rendell, it should be noted that the governor has turned back his raises since 2008, and accepted no salary increase. Rendell does however pay taxes based on the full-authorized amount.

Based on campaign promises of fiscal conservatism in Election 2010, do you think our elected officials should keep their 1.7% salary increase? It is already being reporting that some legislators across the state are standing up to their campaign promises and refusing the salary increase. State Representative Brad Roae (R) representing the sixth legislative district is accepting his cost-of-living increase (which amounts to approximately $100 extra per month) but is giving the extra pay to a different charity each month. State Sen. Richard Alloway (R) from Franklin County has publicly stated that he will not take the increase because he expects state workers to be laid off in 2011, and thinks taking the extra pay sends the wrong message to his constituents.

For those Pennsylvania legislators who campaigned on controlling legislative expenses, how can they now accept the pay increase?

Fiscal responsibility was certainly a hallmark in our recent local election, so wonder what our newly elected State Representative Warren Kampf will decide. Should he keep his 1.7 percent increase?

PA State House 157 Candidates Drucker & Kampf . . . Campaign Finance Reporting

In the days leading up to the May Primary, comparison of expenditures between State House 157 Republican candidates Ken Buckwalter and Warren Kampf was discussed on Community Matters. At that time, some Community Matters readers criticized me for not discussing the expenditures of Democrat candidate State House Representative Paul Drucker. I explained that as an unopposed, endorsed candidate I thought it would be more appropriate to compare Drucker’s campaign expenses after the Primary (when we knew the identify of his Republican opponent). However, as a reader has recently commented, the Primary is over, Warren Kampf is the Republican candidate and the campaign finance reports are available.

Comparing the latest campaign finance reports of 5/3/10 of both Drucker and Kampf was an interesting exercise. (Campaign finance reports are public documents). Looking at the campaign finance reports shows you various things, including the level of funding received by candidates, listing of candidates expenditures and specific donations received by the candidates.

Here are the candidates totals as of 5/3/10:

  • Combining candidates contributions carried over from 2009 with funds raised during the first 4 months of 2010: Drucker $65,925.02; Kampf $58,448.49.
  • Total expenditures of candidates: Drucker $53,297.25; Kampf $33,896.18.
  • Ending available balance of candidates (after deducting expenditures and unpaid debts): Drucker $9,627.77; Kampf $14,907.31.

Looking at Schedule III of the campaign finance reports for Drucker and Kampf, it is interesting to look at how each candidate spent money. Below is a breakdown of the top expenses of each campaign:

  • Major Drucker Campaign Expenses: $33,716.98 consulting; Paoli office rental $1,000/mo plus utilities; Phoenixville office rental $450/mo; $1,025 computer software.
  • Major Kampf Campaign Expenses: $14,445 mailers; $6,535 consulting; $7,107 postage; $5,500 website; $1,982 signs

So where did the candidates receive their major campaign funding to date? The campaign finance report details the (1) Political Committee Contributions of $50.01 to $250 and over $250 and (2) All Other Contributions of $50.01 to $250 and over $250. Any contribution of $50 or less is not required to be reported.

Both candidates have received many donations from generous supporters. For the purposes of this discussion, I am only going to focus on the contributions that are $1,000 or greater.

In the category of Political Committee Contributions $1,000 or greater, the candidates received the following donations:

  • Drucker: Bricklayers Local 1 $1,000; Citizens Elect Dwight Evans for State Rep $2,500; International Electrical Workers $1,000; Iron Workers Local 401 $1,000; LawPac $1,000
  • Kampf: Aqua America Political Action Committee $1,000, White and Williams LLP PAC $2,000

In the category of All Other Contributions $1,000 or greater, the candidates received the following donations:

  • Drucker: Michael Barrett, Esq. $1,000; Larry Bendesky, Esq. $1,000; Stewart Eisenberg, Esq. $1,000; Ronald Kovlar, Esq. $1,000; Robert Mongeluzzi, Esq. $1,000; Deborah Willig, Esq. $1,000
  • Kampf: Paul Olson $2,500; John Piasecki $1,000; Robin Kohn $1,000; Edmund McGurk $1,000; James McErlane, Esq. $5,000

I remember hearing that the State House 157 race between Paul Drucker and Guy Ciarrocchi was the most expensive race in Pennsylvania’s 2008 election year. The amount of money spent on the 2008 race was shocking. How will the contributions in the Drucker and Kampf match up to the 2008 level of funding? Although the campaign contributions and expenditures indicated in the campaign finance report for Drucker and Kampf would seem high, I think it is safe to assume that raising money in today’s economic climate will be far more difficult than just a couple of years ago.

But then again, should it really need to cost $500K or more to win a Pennsylvania state representative seat? Personally, I would hate to think that Drucker and Kampf will expend anywhere near that kind of money between now and November’s general election. Much time can be spent by candidates “dialing for dollars” to a select few rather than talking with a wide range of voters about their beliefs, hopes and needs. It would seem that the endless competition for funds from special interest groups weakens the role of civic dialogue and can create ineffective governance.

Pennsylvania is one of only five states that have no contribution limits and no public financing of elections. As a state representative in Pennsylvania, with a 2-year term, you no sooner are elected than you are soliciting funds for the next campaign – almost as if fundraising becomes a second profession. The lax laws mean a candidate can spend an enormous amount of money on a campaign. This puts pressure on incumbents to keep their coffers filled in case of a well-financed challenge.

The rules on funding campaigns in Pennsylvania need to change. There are good proposals out there; lawmakers just need courage to vote on them.

Governor Rendell's Proposed Budget Includes $354 Million in Increased School Funding

Governor Ed Rendell released his 2010-11 budget proposal yesterday. His budget proposes over $11 billion of taxpayer funding for educational services, which includes an increase of $354 million for school funding. Several reasons were cited for the funding increase including advances in achievement scores. In Governor Rendell’s proposed budget, education support services would receive $31.8 million in funding; basic education spending would receive $9.5 billion, for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade; and $1.8 billion for higher education with nearly $424 million of that allotted for financial assistance for students. State-aided private schools – including Drexel University and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia – would lose all their funding under the proposal. The exception is the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak offered that Pennsylvania was leading the nation in achievement improvements. Mr. Zaharchak emphasized a focus on increasing enrollment at a pre-kindergarten level. He feels that that there is an adequacy gap between where students should be performing and where they are currently performing which needs to be corrected. Mr. Zaharchak is suggesting that the gap would need to be filled by taxpayer funded state-subsidies. Accordingly, more than 300 Pennsylvania school districts would require more than $2,000 of taxpayer funding per student from the state to close this gap.

The pressures faced by school districts will result in local property tax hikes unless the state continues its commitment to close the adequacy gap, the Governor said. “On average, it would take a 40-percent increase in local property taxes to generate the same investment as the state will contribute over the course of our multi-year funding formula,” the Governor said. “When the state pays its fair share, school districts can keep property tax increases to a bare minimum.”

Here is Pennsylvania Department of Education 2010-11 Budget if you would like to read the details.

In case you are interested, here is Governor Rendell’s Executive Budget 2010-11 if you would like to see the entire proposed budget.

Will Governor Rendell’s proposed state budget have an impact on TESD’s 2010-11 budget? Comments Anyone?

Specifics on Pennsylvania $161 Million Budget Cuts Announced

In December, Governor Rendell vowed to cut an additional $170 million from Pennsylvania’s state budget in order to make up for lower-than-anticipated tax revenues. It looks like the specifics of those cuts have now been finalized. Here is a press release with the specific cuts but I am confused. I thought that the recent approval of the tables games was to help the budget situation? And here I thought that the state was going to help us with the teacher’s pension contribution increase? How is that going to be possible?

Pennsylvania Budget Cuts Another $161 Million

Pennsylvania’s budget took another hit, as the state released details of a $161 million round of cuts, which Gov. Ed Rendell ordered last month. Each department was instructed to cut another one percent from its current budget and while some trimmed each program equally, other departments eliminated programs to make the cut.

The Department of Community and Economic Development shed almost $11 million, cutting in whole the $200,000 previously allotted for the Super Computer Center, $1.23 million for infrastructure technical assistance and $1 million for minority business development. Funding for agile manufacturing, powdered metals and digital & robotic technology, together less than $1 million, was also cut.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources lost $1 million even as its forest land fetched bids above $5,000 per acre today from natural gas drillers looking to tap into the Marcellus Shale. Cuts to the Department of Environmental Protection totaled $3.8 million and were an even one percent across all programs.

Education funding fell by $27.8 million, eliminating the $1.9 million mobile science education program, $400,000 of higher education assistance, and $2 million for community education councils.

In health services, a $2.6 million biotechnology research program was stripped of its funding. Children’s Hospital lost its $200,000 share from the Department of Emergency Management while the Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh had its $431,000 health appropriation cut to $215,000. Health care clinics that were due to receive $3 million from the Department of Public Welfare were cut from the budget, as were acute care hospitals, slated for $4.7 million in funding.

Several programs under the executive branch were eliminated, including safe neighborhoods, violence reduction, and $1.25 million for agricultural research, promotion, education and exports. Food marketing and research and the farm school nutrition initiatives were also axed.

Another $1 million was cut from the governor’s grants to the arts. Museums took another hit during this round. Museums took another hit during this round. General museum assistance grants were slashed by a third and specific funding for the Carnegie Museum of National History and the Carnegie Science Center was cut in half from $113,000 each to $57,000.

The Department of Labor and Industry cut is New Choices/New Options program, a $1.5 million initiative to retrain and place individuals looking for new careers.

Casinos Hit the Jackpot in Pennsylvania

The casinos have hit the jackpot. . . Pennsylvania Legislature has given them the authority to install table games such as poker and blackjack. The PA House voted 103-89 in favor of table games and the bill is now on Gov. Rendell’s desk, who will likely sign it today. The larger casinos will be allowed 250 tables for the new table games and the smaller resort casinos will be permitted to have 50 tables. The gambling regulators expect it may take up to six months to get the table games up and running.

For those who want to know . . . in addition to poker and black, the new law will include craps, baccarat and roulette. Table games will be taxes at a rate of 16% of gross revenue, with 2 percentage points going to local counties and municipalities. At the end of the second year, the gross tax rate will drop to 14%. Licensing fee to the larger casinos will be $16.5 million and the small resort casinos fee will be a charge of $7.5 Million. The fees will increase after June 1. It would seem to me that the licensing fees are really going to help fill the coffers of the state but some gambling opponents have argued that the fees are too small. There was also a suggestion that there should have been a ‘bidding war’ and let the licenses go to the highest bidder. Pennsylvania has nine operating casinos and all are expected to apply for the new table games licensing. In addition to infusing the state with licensing and tax revenue, the PA Gaming Board is expects casino table games will add thousand of jobs in the Commonwealth.

Gov. Rendell had turned to the table games revenue as a way to help settle the 2010 budget issues. If you remember, Pennsylvania lawmakers it a 100+day impasse that finally ended in October but the details for the table games had remained unresolved. If Gov. Rendell did not have the OK on this gambling bill settled by tomorrow, he was threatening layoff of more State employees; I heard the number could have been has high as 1,000.

What’s the saying, desperate times call for desperate measures. Not being a gambler, I guess I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other . . . except I am excited that the approval of the table games bill will offer our residents thousands of job opportunities. Not to mention the millions from licensing fees and tax revenues.

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