To many Pennsylvanians, this is the most important week of the year. No, we do not refer to the swearing in of Congress or lawmakers beginning a new session of the General Assembly, but rather to the opening of the annual Farm Show. Or, more to the point, the Return of the Milkshakes. New treats this year include a Blue Ribbon Mushroom Blended Burger, topped with a special sauce and – drumroll please – A SLICE OF PENNSYLVANIA BACON!!! Ah, bacon… is there anything it can’t do? (More on that in a moment.)
Speaking of the General Assembly, House members and half of the Senate took the oath of office on Tuesday, including 23 first-time House members and six in the Senate. Republican Mike Turzai was reelected to a second term as House speaker. The honeymoon will be short as they face a growing budget deficit that will require increased taxes and/or spending cuts for the fiscal year beginning July 1, not to mention rummaging under the sofa pillows for spare change to plug the hole in the current budget.
About that next fiscal year… Governor Wolf has pledged to propose a budget devoid of any broad-based tax increases. During the swearing-in ceremonies, Republican lawmakers embraced the opportunity to “re-invent government.” All we’ll say is that this is maybe the one thing bacon can’t help, and we’ll go along with the lawmaker who said solutions “may not be popular.”
As if the budget weren’t a big enough challenge, the increased PA Turnpike tolls that begin Sunday remind us that the clock is ticking toward the sunset of the provision that provides the state’s public transportation agencies with nearly a half-billion dollars annually. And the $60 billion state pension deficit isn’t exactly chump change, either. But hey, welcome to Harrisburg, newbies.
One potential source for additional revenue could be online gaming. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa says he’ll introduce a bill to legalize and regulate such activity, and that it will resemble measures that appeared to gain some traction in the last legislative session, which would have generated about $100 million. While not a broad-based tax, some would suggest it’s a tax on those who don’t entirely grasp mathematical concepts.
On the other side of the ledger, a potential move to save money could come from the closing of two prisons, made possible in part by a declining prison population. The Department of Corrections said the two would be selected from a list of five – Frackville, Mercer, Pittsburgh, Retreat and Waymart.
Today is a big one for President-elect Trump, who will hear from intelligence officials why they believe the Russians were messing with the presidential election. And perhaps he will share with intelligence officials exactly why he and Julian Assange know that not to be true.
Trump poked a hornets’ nest a week ago when he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin on Twitter. These events culminated in a contentious CNN interview this morning, where Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway denied that Trump is sheltering Russia “and don’t you say that again.” In our combined decades of professionally speaking on behalf of others, no one on the Triad strat comm staff has ever tried that particular technique.
Members of Congress also were sworn in on Tuesday, and like a dog chasing a car, Republicans immediately began sprinting toward repeal of the Affordable Care Act before concocting something with which to replace it. What happens when a dog catches a car? Guess we’ll find out…
Rob Gleason, longtime state GOP leader, is hanging up his proverbial cleats, opting not to seek reelection to the party leadership post. He exits leaving Republicans in firm control of the General Assembly and with PA in the win column for the party’s presidential candidate for the first time since 1988.
On a somber note, PA State Trooper Landon Weaver was laid to rest this week after he was shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence incident a week ago in Hesston. We join in mourning his loss and once again take note of the danger that our law enforcement friends face every day in protecting us and keeping the peace. We are grateful.
Our weekly Shameless Client Plug goes, once again, to Pocono Raceway, which PennDOT has identified as one of three sites where the U.S. Department of Transportation and others would be more than welcome to test autonomous vehicles and the technology surrounding them. Other venues are the city of Pittsburgh, where Carnegie Mellon University has spawned a great deal of testing already, and a closed track at Penn State University.
This week’s installment of We Can’t Make This Up takes us to our nation’s capital. With Congress’ public approval rating clear up to a whopping 17 percent, House Republicans thought it would be a good idea to hold a secret meeting, where they could use their sizeable majority to strip the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics. What could possibly go wrong? In earlier times, one had to tune into an episode of The Simpsons or I Love Lucy to experience such absurdity, but nowadays you can find it regularly in the New York Times.
So that’s what passes for Grade A, U.S. certified, non-fake news around here. From all of your pals at Triad, have a terrific weekend, and we’ll be right back atcha next week.
The Triadvocate is a publication of Triad Strategies, LLC, a bipartisan lobbying, public affairs, strategic communications, grassroots advocacy, issue management consulting firm located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh