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February 2016

Friday Happy Hour: Ball-Peen Hammer Edition

We begin the week by asking all of our readers to send a good thought and perhaps a prayer or two to Governor Tom Wolf, who this week announced he will begin undergoing Ball-peen hammertreatment for prostate cancer.  Luckily, the doctors caught the disease early, and Wolf (aside from being entirely cool and unflappable about the whole thing) reminded all of us about the value of early cancer screening. Wise words, Governor. 

Another week brought another round of polling in the Keystone State, and the results pretty closely tracked what the nation seems to be careening towards: Hillary vs. the Donald.  If the mere thought of those two slugging it out all summer doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart, we don’t know what would.  

Like swallows returning to Capistrano, lawmakers returned to the Capitol this week for the annual round of state budget hearings, which began Monday and will last until God knows when.  For the uninformed, this is where every cabinet secretary submits to withering questions from lawmakers about how he/she needs to be doing more wonderful things, but with less money.

As is custom, first in the crosshairs was Wolf Budget Secretary Randy Albright, and there were no kid gloves to be found.  When you are the bearer of unrelentingly bleak fiscal news, it is probably fair to expect that you won’t be getting a hero’s welcome in the Appropriations Committee hearing room.  Albright was treated to the rhetorical equivalent of getting hit in the forehead with a ball-peen hammer for 8 hours.  

But if Albright had a rough few days, it probably paled in comparison to Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who found herself in the uncomfortable position of asking for money from the same group of State Senators who tried to toss her out of office a few weeks back.  So, that’s a bit awkward.

We also found out this week that impeaching the Attorney General could cost the state $2.4 million.  Where the state might find that $2.4 million remains a mystery at this point, but if you think that will slow down the train, think again.  In any case, expect a pretty spirited debate on whether or not it is worth the House’s time to impeach someone who leaves office in nine months.

While the Wolf top brass was doing its best to address questions about what they are spending money on and why, several lawmakers asked the State Auditor General to investigate why the Administration spent north of $30 billion last year with no budget in place.  This of course begs the question that has been on everyone’s lips for the past few months: do we really need a state budget? We suppose we are about to find out.   

One thing is becoming clear about the budget impasse, and that is the effect it is having on developers across the state who often utilize the Commonwealth’s Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program to close funding gaps on major industrial and commercial projects.  With RACP temporarily on ice, we can eventually expect that some of the largest construction projects in Pennsylvania are going to grind to a halt, taking with them jobs and tax revenue.  Yay for us.

 The House GOP this week launched a new program where they will seek suggestions from the public on how to save money and reduce waste in government.  While we applaud the efforts, we would point out that the people who would best know how to save government money are the people who actually run the government.  We are sure that Larry from Pottstown has great ideas, but we wouldn’t bet on finding billions under the cushions of his couch. 

The Big Four state-related universities (Pitt, PSU, Temple and Lincoln) sent out a letter this week reminding everyone on the Hill that the ongoing budget train wreck has cost them about $600 million, with no end in sight.  Alright, maybe we do need a state budget after all. 

Governor Wolf this week announced that he is seeking the help of Pennsylvania’s medical schools in the fight against opioid abuse and addiction.  This seems like a good approach, since a whopping 20% of doctors nationwide are educated in the Keystone State. 

As the Administration taps the expertise of our medical students, lawmakers are looking to do the same with pharmacists by giving them a greater role in the delivery of health care services.  With doctors being few and somewhat far between in the more rural parts of our great state, pharmacist can and should play a key role in keeping Pennsylvanians healthy.

Chesapeake Energy is pulling up stakes in Ohio and Pennsylvania after posting $15 billion in losses last year. Somehow, talking heads and elected officials in Pennsylvania turned this news into an argument against a severance tax being levied on PA drillers. Fair enough, we suppose, but we should also keep in mind that natural gas is cheaper than water these days.

Speaking of natural gas, we ran across a story this week about the use of eminent domain to build a 124 mile natural gas pipeline.  A judge has ruled that the pipeline company can go ahead cut down a grove of maple trees that are used by the property owner to make and sell syrup.  Seems like a rather smelly deal for the landowner.  We wonder if the ruling would have been the same if the landowner had a factory on the property instead of maple trees.  

The courts have ruled that citizens do not have the automatic, unfettered right to film police officers in the line of duty.  So before you hit the red button on your iPhone, you may wanna keep that in mind, Scorsese.  

A few weeks back, now-departed Secretary of Policy and Planning John Hanger was criticized for suggesting that those who seek increased funds in the state budget had better get off their duffs and support the governor’s tax plan.  Was he wrong?  Our own Mike Manzo weighs in on the pages of Pennlive.com.  

In our We Can’t Make This Up segment this week, we stick close to home and bring you a woman in Lancaster who tried to purchase a home with a $112,000 counterfeit cashier’s check.  Wow, dreaming large, are we?  You may wanna start by seeing if you can slip $20 in play dough past the clerk at Turkey Hill first.   

 

That’s what passes for news around here as February winds to a close.  Be sure to join us next week when we will do the exact same thing and expect different results.  From all of us 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: Good Luck Edition

The F.B.I. is going toe-to-toe with Apple, demanding that the company build backdoor software to allow access to any locked iPhone.  For its part, Apple’s response was “Yeah, we’ll get Ballons right on that someday.  Or probably never. ” Hand the feds a master key that can hack a gazillion iPhones?  What could possibly go wrong there?  

The Presidential campaign has now degenerated into a bad Ultimate Fighting Championship match, but lest you were wondering what may happen months from now in the Keystone State, our friends at PoliticsPA have a nice little graphic showing that Pennsylvania is Trump country, at least when viewed through Facebook metrics. We assume this means Pennsylvanians are not fond of the Pope, either. 

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Budget Update

This morning, Governor Tom Wolf outlined his proposal for a 2016-17 fiscal year budget. This proposal came despite the lack of a finalized budget for the 2015-16 year, a topic he addressed at the beginning of his speech.

His remarks also focused on credit downgrades, five in the past five years, and the urgent need to rectify the $2 billion structural deficit before an economic disaster in the Commonwealth.

For this next fiscal year’s budget, Governor Wolf proposed a $42.3 million increase to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, restorations human services cuts and new programs heroin-related services. Basic education would see an increase of $200 million, early education would see an additional $60 million, and $50 million in additional funding would go to special education.

All totaled, the spending number in his proposal comes to $32.7 billion, $2.7 billion of which comes from new taxes.

To pay for these increases, he proposed an increase in the personal income tax to 3.4 percent from 3.07 percent; an expansion of the sales tax to include basic cable services, movie tickets and digital downloads, among other things; a $1 per pack tax on cigarettes, a new tax on smokeless tobacco, an 8 percent tax on casino promotions; and a 6.5 percent tax on the extraction of Marcellus Shale.

The Motor License Fund, a constitutionally-protected fund for transportation related projects, would lose $814 million to funding the state police, a 9 percent increase over the previous year.

His proposal also includes an increase of the minimum wage to $10.15 per hour.

The proposal includes merging several government departments, including:

  • Merge Department of Corrections and Board of Probation and Parole: $10 million savings.
  • Move eHealth Partnership to the Department of Human Services: $1 million savings.
  • Transfer CHIP to the Department of Human Services to reduce administrative costs.

He concluded his remarks with a promise to compromise, and work on Republican-favored issues like liquor modernization and pension reform.

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: Varmint Meteorologist Edition

America’s favorite varmint meteorologist this week predicted an early spring.  It is snowing today.  Moving right along… Groundhog-day

NASA this week decided to completely screw with our heads and keep us up at night by telling us that the Earth’s formation (which some believe happened 4,000 years ago) was the result of two planets – Earth and Theia – smashing together to form one planet.  First Pluto gets punched in the gut, and now this.  Why did we even take science in high school? It was all LIES!  

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