Its Friday the 13th, and to honor the day, Triad's Ron Boston came to work this morning wearing a hockey mask and wielding a plastic fork.
Down in the Federal City this week, Big Oil was in the crosshairs, as the Senate Democrats started their debate on spending cuts by targeting oil subsidies, which they claim cost $21 billion over ten years. To be clear, $21 billion is the profit Exxon Mobile made while you were reading this sentence. Of course, if those subsidies are rolled back and pump prices jump as a result, this effort may fall under the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Uncle Sugar this week also dropped a cool $40 million in our laps to help speed up rail travel. The money will be used to trim 7 to 9 minutes off a trip between Harrisburg and Philly, which may not sound like a lot until you consider that would be 7 to 9 fewer minutes you would have to endure some chowderhead talking at 120 decibels on his cell phone the whole trip.
So, when is a surplus actually a bad thing? We found out this week, as lawmakers began calling for using the estimated $500 million in excess revenue collections to mitigate some of the more drastic budget cuts. Problem here is that three caucuses want to go in this direction, while one caucus and Governor Corbett favor holding on to it to help bite into next year’s deficit. So the discovery of this surplus actually makes this year’s budget negotiations tougher. Cuz yeah, why wouldn’t extra money cause a problem? We hate finding an extra finski in our pockets when we do the laundry.
The first salvo in this battle came on Wednesday, when the House GOP eschewed the surplus and instead moved about $470 million from the Department of Public Welfare (their estimate of waste, fraud and abuse numbers) to help restore education cuts. This move obviously caught the incoming DPW Secretary off guard a bit, as his response was, “You took how much from me? How am I…where would…man, that is a lot of…is it too late to head back to Rhode Island?”
And in case you missed all of our handy-dandy analysis, jump on over here and immerse yourself in as much as you can handle.
PA colleges and universities reacted to the budget plan with cautious optimism. Under the House GOP plan, schools would be restored to pre-stimulus levels, while colleges would see their cuts roughly halved. So, their optimism is sort of like the optimism you have when, after a grease fire torches your kitchen, somebody inevitably approaches you to inform you that “hey, you still have your health!”
In a somewhat surprising development, that State House this week overwhelmingly passed an expansion of the Education Income Tax Credit, only to be informed that it was as welcome as a dead skunk in the State Senate. Some powerful GOP Senators see the EITC as the Trojan horse that contains the death of the proposed school voucher plan, and they are having about none of that particular noise, thank you very much.
Meanwhile, the voucher debate cash war escalated again this week, as the amount of money being used for advocacy on both sides began to reach Exxon Mobile profit margin levels. If you do not believe both sides view this as a struggle for the soul of education, then you might also believe that Sarah Palin is fairly ambivalent on the topic of President Obama.
Speaking of education, things are getting a wee bit testy between Governor Corbett and the state’s largest teacher’s union. In his strongest statement yet, the governor intimated that perhaps the union was spending too much time collectively bargaining and not enough time educating. The union responded that it was all those crummy unfunded mandates that really eat up their time. We might need to call a 20-second time out here to let both sides catch a few swigs of PowerAde and calm down a bit.
Casino revenues from the past year have made possible about $612 million in loot for property tax cuts, which immediately set of rounds of howling about how that number is not high enough. It is always amusing when some folks get handed what is essentially free money and complain about the size of the largesse. We’ll say it again: imagine the outcry if the Department of Revenue announced it was raising taxes by $612 million. Lawmakers would be holding Session from a cave in Tora Bora.
Pittsburgh-based EQT this week reiterated its support for an extraction tax on shale gas drillers, something that is no doubt making that company just the Belle of the Ball in the industry. For its part, EQT has been very consistent all along about the need for a tax, but shied away from the debate about where the proceeds should go. That is a minefield nobody wants to step into at the moment.
The State House this week gave a thumbs-up to a bill that would establish tougher regulations and inspections of facilities that perform abortions, spurred by a grand jury investigation of the horrible conditions of a clinic in Philadelphia. As you might imagine, the Floor debate was very collegial. Kinda like a European soccer crowd collegial.
Second Amendment supporters rallied at the Capitol this week, some lamenting about “having to play defense while we should be playing offense.” Um, not to make too much of big deal about that argument, but being in Harrisburg to rally for the expansion of gun owner rights is, by definition, playing offense. Rallying in Harrisburg to stop gun control bills? Well, that is known as defense. Hope that explanation helped.
Organized labor heavy hitters and workers from across the nation will be joined by veteran actor Danny Glover up in the Poconos tomorrow, as hospital workers continue to protest their lack of a contact due to a dispute over closed shop provisions. Maybe after his speech somebody can impose upon Glover to immediately stop work on Lethal Weapon 5. Really, Dan. Enough is enough.
Government dollars that are used for large scale construction projects are slated to get a lot scarcer in the coming years, as pressure from fiscal conservatives starts to dry up those pots of cash. That was the basis of a story we read this week. So naturally, we were a bit surprised to find that a Capital Budget Bill, the legislative vehicle used for these types of funds, had in fact been introduced this week in the State Senate. Perhaps somebody lost the memo.
Privatization continues to be all the rage with the cool kids, much like the Electric Slide was in the halcyon days of our youth. Across the nation, everything seems to have a price, from highways to parking garages to state lottery systems. It remains to be seen how far Pennsylvania wants to wade into that particular pool, but cash-strapped governments that are loathe to raise taxes seem awfully interested lately. Its electric! Boogie Woogie Woogie.
That story dovetailed nicely with a piece we posted this week on a plan for Harrisburg to lease its incinerator and parking facilities to finally get back in the black. The naysayers are already shouting their requisite nays, but we’ll see if any of the other options are more palatable.
The General Assembly is once again poised to add more rules and restrictions for teen drivers, which always warms the cockles of our hearts. It will be nice if those fine youngsters were a bit less distracted by things like texting, noisy passengers, the newest Lady Gaga opus on iTunes, or drinking their triple caffeinated caramel mocha latte with skim milk, whip cream, pine nuts, cherries and Alfalfa sprouts. Seriously, where do teenagers get the money to afford these liquid monstrosities? Oh, sorry. We were talking about being distracted. Or something.
It was a big week for the National Popular Vote campaign in Pennsylvania, as Reps. Tom Creighton and Mark Cohen officially introduced the NPV bill, House Bill 1270. In addition, national heavyweights former U.S. Senator and former Presidential candidate Fred Thompson (he of Law and Order fame) and former Governors Chet Culver and Jim Edgar signed on to the efforts. Check it out here!
Oh, and here is our favorite Fred Thompson moment, just because:
That’s the Yin and the Yang from an incredibly busy week in and around the hallowed halls of your state government. For all you politcos out there just dying to get rid of some of your loot, remember that you can find a list of political fundraisers on our Facebook page. As always, follow us on Twitter for the best morning headlines, or risk being the butt of jokes at the water cooler.
As a point of clarification for Triad's Crisis Communications guru Rick Kelly, the aforementioned Fred Thompson was not, in fact, a Thompson Gunner, like Roland.
From all your friends at Triad, have a great weekend!