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December 2015

Friday Happy Hour: Fool’s Errand Edition

Up until this week, the U.S. Congress held the title for being the most gridlocked institution of democracy in the free world. That is until a $680 billion tax bill got done, along with a Don-quixote-windmill $1.6 trillion budget that averts a government shutdown. So, now that the Federal City is on firm ground, who holds the new title for most gridlocked institution?

Oh, hello Pennsylvania! We didn’t see you standing there! As we compose this morning’s tome, it occurs to us that this whole thing may just be a fool’s errand. As dawn splashed across Harrisburg on December 18th, there is still no state budget, still no pension reform, and no liquor reform. The week began with the Senate saying the House needed to pass the framework budget that has now been framed for almost three weeks. The House said “Show us the money.”

The very next day, members of the House began grumbling that there were not enough votes in the House to stop the framework budget, and for a brief, shining moment, it looked like Christmas would come to Whoville. Not so fast, Jack Spratt. Put back that can of Who Hash.

House leaders then gave the Governor 24 hours to round up the necessary votes to pass the tax bill that would cover the cost of the framework budget. So they called in Jack Bauer. Should Jack’s efforts fail, the House had another stopgap ready to be voted, which the Senate said they would not pass and the governor…well, who knows.

And so last night, the festivities came to a head as the House abruptly slammed the door on the agreed-to pension bill (“agreed-to” means very little these days) and that was that. There would be no pension vote, and the specter of a tax bill being voted floated into the either.

Speaking of pensions, the agency in charge of calculating the impact of pension legislation said late last night that the latest iteration of pension reform really won’t save the systems any appreciable money, but rather shifts the risk away from taxpayers. So after years of kicking around bills that saved 10, 11 or even 12 billion dollars, the General Assembly is now faced with a plan that has fiscal savings in the millions, not billions. Remind us why we are doing this again? We forgot.

Against this backdrop, we have schools announcing that they may close their doors after Christmas due to lack of funds. It is about to get very real for the wee ones across the state.

Human service agencies are also on their collective last legs, and many have stopped providing services altogether. The heads of those nonprofits (the real ones, not the multi-billion dollar hospital/health system nonprofits) kept up their pleas for relief this week.

Even the film industry in western Pennsylvania has taken a hit, as the shutdown of the state’s Film Tax Credit is costing jobs, we learned today.

So it now looks like the House will be in Session today and perhaps all weekend, with the Senate coming to town whenever something makes it out of the House. As we said, fool’s errand. Now to the rest of the news…

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale this week demolished the Department of Community and Economic Development’s claim that it aids the state’s poorest citizens. Many programs under the former gubernatorial administration did not seem to make driving out housing and utility assistance money a priority, although more than a million dollars sat available.

A new report came out this week telling us that pharmacists are a vital, often last line of defense against opioid addiction. Did anyone really need a report to learn that the people who dispense opioids are a pretty vital link in the chain?

Pittsburgh City Council this week passed a budget that would hike fees for landlords, which caused the head of one association to call this action a “declaration of war.” Given what is going on in the world today, how about we tone down the war rhetoric? It is a fee, not a drone strike.

As the unusually warm weather persists in the northeast, fuel prices continue to hover near the ground, we learned this week. Devotees of climate change theories are no doubt going to point out that warm weather hurting fossil fuel prices is kind of ironic when you think about it.

Zagat has named Pittsburgh the number one food destination in the entire country. That’s right, New York, Boston and Chicago; read it and weep, babies. Pittsburgh is more than French fries on your sandwich!

A New Jersey inmate has earned the nickname Johnny Sue-nami for filing over 700 Right to Know requests from state and federal government agencies. One such request sought, among other things, information on Kim Kardashian, whom he claims took his virginity. Swamping offices with RTK requests has spurred a Pennsylvania lawmaker to try and crack down on inmate abuses.  

In our We Can’t Make This Up section, we give you one of the world’s leading scumbags, Martin Shkreli, who famously purchased a company that sells AIDS treatment drugs and jacked up the price by 700%. The self-proclaimed “Pharma Bro” got pinched by the SEC this week for suspected securities fraud and now faces up to 20 years in prison. Looks like somebody’s karma has run over his dogma…

That’s what passes for news around here as we spend yet another day hoping for a happy ending to 2015. From all your friends at Triad, have a great weekend!

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


Friday Happy Hour: Christmas Goat Edition

The City of Brotherly Love might not be the best place for Donald Trump to hang out, we learned this week.  Philly Mayor Michael Nutter made it clear that he’s not interested in seeing Crs15 Mr. Trump set foot in his fair city, even going so far as to call The Donald a name that rhymes with brass hole.  Trump responded by calling Nutter a loser, and then firing off an “I know you are but what am I?” for good measure. Welcome to Presidential politics, America.

We also learned this week that Trump and U.S. Senator Pat Toomey will probably not ever be in the same zip code at the same time. 

It has been 162 days since the state budget deadline whistled by our collective ears.  So when the House of Representatives went temporarily rogue on the “agreed-to framework” this week, many Capitol observers braced for Armageddon – Christmas under the dome.  At long last, the unthinkable had occurred: dueling budgets (cue the banjo music!)

What happened next was a sight rarely seen in these here parts.  After the House passed a scaled-down version of the budget agreement along party lines, the State Senate moved with what we can only describe as stunning speed.  Within hours, the House plan was gutted and replaced with the budget the Senate passed last week. If a spending plan has ever met a quicker demise in the history of the Commonwealth, please e-mail us with details.

And so while all parties hit the reset button and staggered back to the negotiating table, the State Senate did what, historically, the State Senate does: emptied its calendar and washed its collective hands.  

Issue by issue, the Senate lobbed every budget related bill (except for a tax bill) into the House with more than a bit of top spin.  By late Thursday, the Upper Chamber was buttoned up until Monday, prompting that chamber’s leaders to essentially declare “This is the House’s problem now.”

“On liquor, on pensions, on fiscal code and school code!” they cried as the senate sleigh flew out of town. O.K., maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, so let us start with liquor.  After five years of liquor privatization talks, the Senate settled on a modernization plan that would expand wine sales, unshackle the State Store system, provide new discounts and…oh, never mind.  The only thing pertinent in this discussion is the baseline question: is it privatization or not?  The answer is NOT, Virginia, and there is no Santa Claus for big box retailers looking to sell booze by the barrel.   Moving right along…

And while the Senate had already acted quite convincingly on the question of pension reform, that plan hit a snag (where else?) in the State House, as the state’s pension systems came out against the use of collars.  These particular collars, for the uninformed, are legis-speak for “pay less now; pay more later.”  Until that little bugger is ironed out, expect pension reform to be stuck in neutral.

The Senate also passed the Fiscal Code bill, which is kinda like the instruction manual on how to spend $30 billion.  Tucked away inside its pages was a nice, early Christmas gift to the natural gas industry; a $12 million grant program for infrastructure.  Environmentalists also howled mightily at a provision that will delay implementation of the state’s federally-mandated clean power plan. So yes, it was a Christmas tree of sorts!

For its part this week, the House did pass a long-awaited reform package for the state’s horse racing industry, which should help ward off insolvency for the near future. No word on what the Senate plans to do with the pony bill.

One lawmaker this week introduced a plan to allow lawmakers to have the final say on any state contract with organized labor.  Given the efficiency and alacrity the General Assembly has shown when dealing with the state budget, we cannot see anything going wrong with that particular idea. Please let us all know how negotiating a contract with 254 different people goes; we will be over here waiting.  

Philadelphia City Council this week moved to transfer 833 parcels of property into the Land Bank, making it easier for the city to return these properties to productive (see: taxpaying) use. We can assume none of those properties will be developed by Trump Enterprises.  

Speaking of Philadelphia, our friends at the Goldenberg Group have unveiled plans for new luxury rentals on Walnut Street.  The development will include an elevated dog park and a yoga studio, which totally explains why Triad President Roy Wells and his better half Sharon, the owner of Yoga on Chocolate in Hershey, recently moved to Philadelphia.  

The battle over wages in Pittsburgh reached a screeching crescendo this week as one city councilman referred to health care giant UPMC as “a national disgrace.”  Well, that sure escalated quickly.  

The shale industry is helping to establish more affordable housing across the state through impact fee dollars, we learned this week.  Count on this story to greatly impact next year’s debate on a severance tax for natural gas drilling.  What, you thought that debate was over?  Silly rabbit.  

Instead of our Shameless Client Plug this week, we give you this Shameless Former Employee Plug.  Check out this great profile of Siena Saints head basketball coach, Jimmy Patsos, husband of former Triad ace Michele Patsos.  Go Saints!

In our We Can’t Make This Up section this week we take you to Sweden, home to the production and sale of a Christmas album sung entirely by goats. No, seriously.  Goats. 

That’s what passes for news round here, where the light at the end of the tunnel might not be a train for the first time since June. Keep up with us on social media as we track every bill from cradle to grave, and have a darned good time doing it!  From all your friends at Triad, have a great weekend!

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


Friday Happy Hour: Hunting Season Edition

Should anyone think that the Trump Phenomenon is just a passing phase, we would refer you to this morning’s Quinnipiac poll showing The Donald with an astounding 36%-%16 lead Hidden deerover his next closest GOP competitor (are they even competitors at this point?) Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  News Flash: he ain’t going away, folks.

The U.S. Senate today sent President Obama a bill that would repeal Obamacare.  This move is akin to asking your 5-year-old to voluntarily dump his ice cream down the sink and eat a nice bowl of kale instead.  In that likelihood the POTUS may veto this bill, someone will be eating crow.

On Monday, 750,000 hunters, and a few lawmakers, flooded Pennsylvania’s woods to find and kill the nearest deer.  As is our custom, we wished them all the best of luck in their endeavors so that there would be one fewer deer out there waiting to jump in front of our car. 

And of course, not even hunting season can be completely divorced from the never-ending budget tango.  The lack of state funds for food banks is making this year’s deer harvest even more important, as many hungry Pennsylvanians will be dining on venison from the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program. It is somewhat hard to believe that in 2015 we are relying on deer to feed our most vulnerable.

We should lead this week’s Pennsylvania political news off with an update on our slightly tardy state budget. We should tell you that the deal that was announced before Thanksgiving (expanding the sales tax, boosting education spending, pension and liquor reform) is chugging towrd the finish line.  We should tell you that votes are scheduled on the plan’s component parts.  But, we just cannot bring ourselves to do that, because with each passing moment it seems less and less likely that any of this will happen.   

So as we tumble toward the abyss, lawmakers have been told to pack some extra undies and socks and be prepared to stay in Harrisburg until either 1. The state budget is finalized or 2. The earth crashes into the sun.  We have ten bucks on the latter.

Ever the sunny optimist, the governor announced yesterday that he fully expects to have a finalized budget in hand by Christmas.  He is also expecting a new bike and a pony.

Many among you may have woken up today and realized that it is, in fact, December. That means that the General Assembly is wrapping up a full year under Governor Wolf, and while there has been no state budget plan, there have been some other things accomplished.  Our friends at Pennlive.com have compiled a nice list of what has been going on in Harrisburg during the budgetary fiddling and burning; check it out here.

Governor Wolf’s administration has also not allowed any moss to grow under its collective feet, we found out this week.  Despite no spending plan, the governor’s team has continued to spend a lot of cabbage, and that fact has a group of GOP members a tad bit exercised.  What followed was a nasty round of partisan sniping between the administration and the GOP, which we all can agree has been sorely lacking throughout this process. If there is one thing we don’t need around here, its measured tones and cooperation, heaven knows.

Despite a statewide hiring freeze, the Commonwealth has added 3,100 jobs since the start of said freeze, we found this week.  Perhaps climate change is affecting the “hiring freeze” the same way it is affecting the earth’s glaciers. Baby, it’s (no so) cold outside.

Speaking of climate change, 7,000 members of Penn State’s faculty and staff have signed a petition asking the university to step up its efforts to zero out its carbon footprint.  The online petition outlined several goals it for Penn State’s administrators to shoot for, including (oddly enough) beating Ohio State in football sometime before 2050.

 A group of lawmakers would like to see the Commonwealth vastly improve ballot access by allowing mail-in ballots, instituting same day registration, and reportedly having poll workers just come to your house and hand you a ballot.  We like democracy and thus we applaud their efforts.  But we cannot rid ourselves of the feeling that voting really isn’t all that damned hard to begin with, so maybe we need to boost our effort level.  

If you tend to think of Harrisburg as a debt-ridden, downtrodden dystopia (we love alliteration) of gridlock, inaction and partisanship, well, you are probably not alone.  So, we bring you this story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showing us all that our beloved capital city has its charming side, too. Because, you know, Christmas is coming.  So lighten up.  

Philadelphia City Council is kicking the tires rather animatedly on a proposed franchise agreement between the city and Comcast.  The agreement will allow Comcast to continue to have unfettered access to the city’s right-of-ways so the little mom-and-pop cable provider can continue to compete against…well, itself, we assume.  

In our We Can’t Make This Up segment this week, we give you the National Football League, specifically, the marketing geniuses within that organization who decided that Coldplay should be the featured act for the halftime show of Super Bowl 50.  The N.F.L., in its latest demonstration that the entire organization is suffering from post-concussion symptoms, has decided that a mushy, British alt-rock band would be the perfect way to honor 50 years of America’s game. We can’t wait until they play “Fix You.”  

That’s what passes for news around here around here on a crisp Friday.  It is beginning to look a lot like Armageddon around these parts, so we are just gonna walk away before anything else goes wrong.  Rest assured Team Triad will be working through the weekend so that our friends in the General Assembly don’t get lonely up there. We will be back next week because, frankly, we have no choice.  From all your friends at Triad, have a great weekend!

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