Senate Passes Cash Gift Ban

cash banIn the wake of scandal and consequent uproar, the Pennsylvania State Senate approved a bill to ban cash gifts.

Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-13) and Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20) introduced Senate Bill 1327 to prohibit public officials from accepting cash gifts from lobbyists and other individuals who seek to influence the legislative process. The legislation also applies to public officials and employees in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

The bill was approved unanimously and would implement harsh penalties for any lawmaker found accepting a cash gift.

“It is our responsibility to take direct and decisive action to change the culture, to strengthen ethical standards, and to make certain that enforcement follows infractions and that meaningful penalties are applied,” Smucker said. “This is our chance to strengthen ethical standards, and we must seize the opportunity.”

This legislation sailed quickly out of committee and there has been much outcry for such a rule.

The renewed fervor for a ban on cash gifts is clearly the result of the Philadelphia sting investigation that yielded no criminal charges. According to the investigation, State Rep. Ronald G. Waters (D-Philadelphia) reportedly accepted $7,650, while State Rep. Vanessa Brown (D-Philadelphia) accepted $4,000, State Rep. Michelle Brownlee accepted $3,500 (D-Philadelphia), and State Rep. Louise Bishop (D-Philadelphia) accepted $1,500. Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes was also implicated for accepting a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet.

If the tapes from this investigation reveal what is alleged, then these payments were given with the qualification that they were in exchange for a “No” vote on the Voter ID bill (which every House Democrat voted against anyway.) If this is the case, then these cash gifts were instead bribery, which is already illegal.

Bipartisan Coalition Proposes Marcellus Shale Tax

Elk-Co-Marcellus

A bipartisan coalition of PA legislators stood together today to announce their support of a tax on the extraction of Marcellus Shale gas, a hot topic among environmentalists as of late. The lawmakers have different tax rates, but a common theme is that much of the money would be directed to fund education. .

The package of bills introduced in different forms by the legislators at the press event will act as an addition to the current impact fee imposed on drillers due to 2012’s Act 13. Currently, Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state that lacks a tax on the extraction of shale gas.

According to 2012 rankings provided by the legislators, PA is number three in the list of the top 10 states for natural gas drilling, generating 9% of U.S. natural gas production. The impact fee currently in place is equivalent to 0.6% of an effective tax rate in 2014. The two states above PA in the top 10 list, Texas and Louisiana, have tax rates of 7.5% and 3.0%, respectively.

All sponsoring legislators believe that the proposal balances the needs of both the Commonwealth itself and the natural gas industry by instituting a fair tax. They also believe the proposal would put Pennsylvania in line with other states that conduct a good amount of drilling for natural gas.

The revenues gained from the tax will be put to fundamentally-accepted good uses. Senate Democrats, who took the lead in organizing the event, provided details of their proposal at the event. In FY 2014-2015, the revenues will be invested in public education, proven economic development and environmental protection programs. To take a closer look at how the money will be split up: Senate Democrats has said the state will receive around $720 million in revenue from a 5% drilling tax. The biggest chunk, $375 million, will fund public education. This would grow to $453 million by FY 2015-2016 and end up culminating in over $1 billion for public education in 2020. All annual tax increases and fees after FY 2015-2016 would be put toward funding education.

$195 million will go toward the economy and creating jobs for FY 2014-2015. In FY 2015-2016, and every year thereafter, $250 million would be put toward PA’s economy. The funds could have several uses, including funding DCED programs, infrastructure investments, local development or new tax reduction incentives.

The last $150 million will go toward protecting Pennsylvania’s environment. $75 million would be provided for Growing Greener programs and another $75 million would replace Governor Tom Corbett’s plan to allow Marcellus drilling near state parks and forest land. In FY 2015-2016 and every following year, the plans would provide $120 million for Growing Greener programs and $30 million for other environmental programs.

The bipartisan members of the coalition also point out that during FY 2014-2015, the money gained from this tax would help to provide short-term budget relief in a number of different ways. This would include relieving the need to end the moratorium on drilling on state lands as proposed by Corbett.

The support for this State Senate and the State House. These include Democratic Senators Vince Hughes, John Yudichak, Christina Tartaglione and Jim Brewster. Democratic House members involved are Reps. Greg Vitali, Harry Readshaw and Pam Delissio. Republican legislators involved are Senator Ted Erickson and House Reps. Gene DiGirolamo and Thomas Murt.

Senators Stack and Leach Propose Minimum Wage Bill

leach and stackState Senators Mike Stack (D-Philadelphia) and Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) proposed S.B. 1317, a bill that would eliminate tipped minimum wage and raise the overall minimum wage to $12 an hour.

“The tipped minimum wage hasn’t changed in 23 years and allows business owners to take advantage of low-wage, disproportionately female workers even demanding they do un-tipped work like dish washing and cleaning bathrooms for $2.83 an hour,” Leach said. “Pennsylvania’s economy will grow as over 1 million workers in PA would see their wages rise if we pass this bill. Twenty years of research has shown that in states that have increased the minimum wage, small businesses had lower turnover and increased productivity.”

Stack believes those who defend the “poverty wages” have been putting too much pressure on working families, and it’s getting more and more difficult to handle with the slip ‘n’ slide economy.

“Adjusting the minimum wage to account for inflation prevents working families from being trapped in poverty and reduces dependence on public assistance,” Stack said. “Fair wages for a day’s work is fundamental to achieving the American dream and generating self-determination and independence.”

Advocates point out that since most minimum wage earners, tipped and otherwise are women, poverty wages aggravate the gender pay gap.

“In Pennsylvania, nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers and workers in tipped occupations are women, said Wendy Voet, executive director of WOMEN’S WAY. “In order to move the needle on women’s status as a whole, and to support the economic success of our communities, we need to support policies and programs to enhance women’s economic security.”

S.B. 1317 would index the minimum wage to inflation each year. Stack and Leach mentioned that currently, 11 states index their minimum wage to inflation. Current PA law allows for a tip credit that permits employers to use tips against all but $2.83 of the current $7.25 minimum wage.

The last time the Pennsylvania General Assembly voted to raise the overall minimum wage was in 2007, from $6.25 to $7.15. The state’s minimum wage reached $7.25 per hour when the federal minimum wage increased in 2009. As of now, 21 states have higher minimum wages than PA.

This proposal is higher than the popular federal number of $10.10, and will likely earn backlash from small business organizations. In fact, the National Federation for Independent Businesses recently put out a study saying that raising the minimum wage to above $8 would eliminate jobs in the state.

The National Federation of Independent Business Research Foundation report projects the effect that three Pennsylvania minimum wage bills will have on jobs and economic activity in our state. The findings forecast the loss of as many as 28,000 to 119,000 jobs over a ten year period when the wage is increased to $8.75 or $9.00, as those increases are tied to cost-of-living adjustments. According to NFIB, the report uses a widely accepted regional economic model that is also used by the federal government, local governments and universities created by REMI, Inc.

In the busy election season 2014 is turning out to be, both Leach and Stack are making attempts at higher office. Leach wants to replace Rep. Allyson Schwartz, since she left her post to run for governor. Stack is in the middle of the race for lieutenant governor.

Schlossberg and Pileggi Featured in “State Legislatures”

state legislatures

In an article featured in the April edition of the magazine State Legislatures, State Rep Michael Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) and State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester) discuss the benefits of social media’s unique place in the lives of lawmakers.

The article, which is clunkily entitled “Almost everyone is using some kind of social media, including legislatures and lawmakers,” Pileggi touts the role social media can play in reaching out to voters.

“Social media is a phenomenal way to reach constituents,” he says in the article. “As a policymaker, I find the direct, immediate feedback to be tremendously helpful.”

Schlossberg, a young first-term Rep. who hosts a blog about social media and politics, discusses how he believes using social media is just part of the job for lawmakers nowadays.

“We have finally hit a point where being an elected official on Facebook is no longer unique, but practically a job requirement.”

Schlossberg recommends lawmakers use social media in creative and effective ways.

“To get constituents to connect with an elected official on social media, they have to want to get to know that official on a deeper level. They want to see what a day is like for their representative and where he or she stands on issues. Constituents want to get information that is relevant to their lives.”

Schlossberg recommends lawmakers post “Where Am I?” photos on Facebook, host Town Hall Twitter meetups (which Schlossberg recently did on LGBT issues), record videos of how they voted on important issues, and more.

But as Pileggi points out, as social media expands and becomes ever more ubiquitous, ethical questions will arise.

“Using social media presents some new and important ethical questions related to how to maintain a proper division between legislative work and campaign work,” Pileggi says.

The article is good exposure for the two Pa. lawmakers, but in the end, all Senators and Representatives, at the state or national level, are finding it harder and harder to avoid having a presence on social media.

PACD: Gov. Rendell Delivers Keynote

pacd rendell

Former Governor Ed Rendell delivered the Keynote address at the Pennsylvania Democrats’ Annual Convention at Temple University.

He rallied the young party loyalists with a strong pitch to vote this year.

“Things look pretty good for us in Pennsylvania. More than 55-60% of people say Corbett shouldn’t be reelected. It looks like we can’t lose,” Rendell said. “I have news for you, its an election we can lose. No incumbent governor has ever lost reelection.”

Rendell shared anecdotes from his time in the Governor’s Mansion, including his big win over Lynn Swann and the time he gave Rep. Bud George $10,000 in what he thought was a competitive re-election battle (George took 91% of the vote in that election).

He advocated for an increase of the minimum wage and enact an extraction tax in Pennsylvania, extension of unemployment compensation benefits in Congress and accept the federal Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act.

“The bad news is that the governor chose not to cover [the 600,000 people eligible for the Medicaid expansion],” Rendell said. “The good news: any governor can come in and notify the federal government that they’ll accept the Medicaid expansion.”

Last night at the PACD gubernatorial debate, each of the four remaining candidates pledged to accept the Medicaid expansion. Rendell mentioned the forum from last night, acknowledging that while the Democrats in the room may now have their different picks for the nomination, on May 21st they need to come together.

He also talked about his book, “Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great.”

“People always ask why I wrote my book, and I wanted to codify all the things I had done over the years,” he explained. “But I had other reasons. I wanted to motivate young people about what a wonderful way to live your life in public service is.”

He continued to belabor the issue of turnout in the general election, and encouraged the College Democrats to bring their friends to the polls.

“Your job, and I know its a job you’re willing to accept, is to galvanize the base,” Rendell said.

Following Rendell’s address, the luncheon featured a variety act of 2 minute speeches from candidates for various offices. Congressional candidates Manan Trivedi (PA-6), Kerith Strano Taylor (PA-5), Kevin Strouse (PA-8), Dr. Val Arkoosh (PA-13) and former Rep. Joe Hoeffel on behalf of Daylin Leach (PA-13) gave their mini-stump speeches, as well as State Senate candidate John Kane, Lt. Gov candidates State Senator Mike Stack and Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski.

Rep. (and Philadelphia City Council candidate) Ed Neilson did introductions for each of the speakers.

The rest of the day will feature panels on a myriad of topics, including one with this reporter (Social Media, Social Change at 3:20pm).

Leach Proposes Bill to Tackle Employment Discrimination

Sen. Leach

Sen. Leach

State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) proposed a bill that would make it illegal in Pennsylvania for employers to discriminate against applicants on the basis of their marital and familial status.

Similar laws have been passed in 17 states around the country, and those laws effectively make asking whether an applicant is married or if they have children illegal.

“Profiling based on marital or parental status occurs when potential employers ask job applicants if they have children, plan to have children, or are married,” Leach said. “All too often, a qualified applicant makes it to the final stages of the hiring process only to be asked if they have children. If the answer is yes, the job suddenly goes to somebody else.

“Some employers are concerned that a person with children will be distracted from their work, while others object to the marital status of a woman. Neither of these concerns is relevant to a person’s qualifications or potential ability to do the job. This disparate treatment is a relic of a more discriminatory past. It may have been acceptable during the era of ‘Mad Men,’ but it is not acceptable now.”

The proposed legislation is already backed by 10 co-sponsors, and advocacy groups have already taken notice.

“It’s outrageous that in this day and age, Pennsylvania employers can ask invasive questions about a woman’s maternal or marital status in a job interview,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and Executive Director of MomsRising. “These questions open the door to increased discrimination against moms.”

Most news surrounding Leach has been about his campaign in Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district, but the state legislator is still highly active Harrisburg.

As this new bill showcases, Leach is a staunch of advocate of progressive policies and was even profiled by ABC News as an “Elizabeth Warren Democrat” — named for the popular progressive Senator from Massachusetts.

Why Miller Backed Out of SD28, in One Map

SD28 results

State Rep. Ron Miller decided not to pursue a rematch against businessman Scott Wagner. Based on the results of the special election contest between the two of them, it’s no surprise.

Wagner’s special election win last Tuesday was historic. As a write-in candidate he defeated Miller, the GOP nominee, as well as Democrat Linda Small. It marked the first time in Pennsylvania history that a state legislative candidate waged a successful write-in campaign.

It didn’t hurt that the conservative businessman was largely able to bankroll his effort, which was opposed by Republicans dollars in Harrisburg.

Wagner will fill the remainder of former state Sen. Mike Waugh’s term and will run for a new term this year.

On Wednesday, Miller withdrew his candidacy in the May primary election.

“I don’t see the tone of the race changing a whole lot,” Miller told the York Dispatch, commenting on the bitter, personal tone of the special election. “It’s not good for York County, and I don’t want to see us go through it.”

The map above shows where each candidate won on March 18.

The lightest shade indicates a simple plurality. A solid shade indicates a candidate reached or exceeded 50% of the vote. A dark shade indicates a candidate hit or exceeded 60%. Red = Scott Wagner. Green = Ron Miller. Blue = Linda Small.

Miller earned a plurality in 9 precincts of the 111 in the district, including just 2 where he reached or exceeded 50% of the total vote.

Outside of the heavily Democratic City of York, which Small won handily, Wagner’s performance was strong district-wide. Wagner won with 48% of the vote, Miller took 26.48%, and Small received 24.52%.

Troublingly for Ron Miller he lost even his own legislative district, shown in the map below. Wagner took 45.7% of the vote there, while Miller took 32.4% and Small received 21.9%.

Wagner faces first-time candidate Zachary Hearn in the GOP primary in May. Small is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

Wagner, the owner of Penn Waste, advertises on PoliticsPA.

SD28 results in HD93

Stack Introduces Marijuana Reform With Hanger Support

Senator Stack

Senator Stack

State Senator Mike Stack proposed two reforms to Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws: one to decriminalize small amounts of the drug and another to help expunge criminal possession records.

He was joined at his press conference by outspoken marijuana legalization advocate and former gubernatorial candidate John Hanger.

“The old hard-line stance on marijuana has been ineffective at eradicating its use and the cost to taxpayers is outsized for the job,” Stack said. “These bills are not intended to be a commentary on the wisdom or health of marijuana use. They are targeted at the wisdom of continuing an approach that is expensive, ineffective and misguided. These bills are a challenge for those who talk about identifying programs that don’t work and either fixing or eliminating them.”

The first bill he’s proposing, the decriminalization legislation, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana would be a summary offense, which can be handled through paperwork rather than a misdemeanor arrest. After two of these offenses, a defendant could be charged with a misdemeanor.

The second would allow people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana can apply to have their record expunged after five years.

Stack appears to be picking up the marijuana reform mantle left by Hanger’s exit from the governor’s race, particularly given Hanger’s public support of the bills. Hanger’s People’s Campaign included a detailed policy platform for the legalization and taxation of marijuana to fund his other initiatives. While Stack’s policies are not quite so progressive, they do put him to the left of his competitors in the primary race.

Hanger has not yet made an endorsement in the Lieutenant Governor or Governor’s race, and appeared at today’s press conference solely in support of Stack’s latest legislation.

In order to win the Lt. Gov. nomination, Stack will have to defeat Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski, Jay Paterno, Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith, State Rep. Brandon Neuman and former Congressman Mark Critz.

SD-28: Miller Drops Out of Republican Primary

Rep. Miller

Rep. Miller

Rep. Ron Miller (R-York) dropped out of the Republican primary for Senate District 28.

Miller lost by 20 points to conservative challenger Scott Wagner in the special election for the seat last week, despite being the official pick of the York County GOP. Wagner took 47.68%; 26.64% for Miller; and 25.67% for Linda Small (D).

“I don’t see the tone of the race changing a whole lot,” Miller told the York Dispatch. “It’s not good for York County, and I don’t want to see us go through it.”

This leaves Wagner to face first-time candidate Zachary Hearn in the Republican primary, and likely to face Democrat Linda Small in the general election.

This special election was triggered by the resignation of Senator Mike Waugh. Waugh announced his resignation to take a job with the Farm Show, and a special election was called to fill his seat. He had initially planned to retire and conservative activist Scott Wagner was one of the first to jump into the race.

Wagner believes the special election was rigged to disadvantage him, in favor of party pick Rep. Ron Miller (R-York). The two Republicans exchanged shots in the lead-up to the special election, with SRCC buying up television ad time to attack Wagner, who had been airing biographical ads.

“From this side it would be different,” Miller said, discussing his withdrawal. “But I believe (the Wagner-supporting group Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania PAC) would continue with it, and I’m just done with it. I have no intent of going through it again.”

Think Tanks Spar Over Minimum Wage

workforceThe National Federation of Independent Businesses released a study showing that raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania will lead to the elimination of jobs – but the Keystone Research Center protests their findings.

The National Federation of Independent Business Research Foundation report projects the effect that three Pennsylvania minimum wage bills will have on jobs and economic activity in our state. The findings forecast the loss of as many as 28,000 to 119,000 jobs over a ten year period when the wage is increased to $8.75 or $9.00, as those increases are tied to cost-of-living adjustments. According to NFIB, the report uses a widely accepted regional economic model that is also used by the federal government, local governments and universities created by REMI, Inc.

Earlier this year a Congressional Budget Office report on raising the national minimum wage to $10.10 projected 500,000 job losses in the U.S.

“The NFIB study shows that more than half of the jobs would disappear from the small-business sector in Pennsylvania,” said Kevin Shivers executive state director of NFIB Pa., “While minimum wage hikes are intended to help those below the poverty level, they will do just the opposite. Small-business owners will ultimately hire a more skilled employee rather than pay someone with no skills and no experience higher wages.”

“The actual costs of a minimum wage increase will be higher for small businesses because employees who make over the minimum won’t want to be paid the same as a co-worker with less experience, so the full pay scale is likely to be adjusted” said Shivers.

But the left-leaning Keystone Research Center doth protest.

“Twenty years of rigorous economic research shows that raising the minimum wage boosts worker pay without causing job losses – even in regions where the economy is weak or unemployment is high,” Mark Price, Labor Economist with the Keystone Research Center, said.

“The NFIB’s recent minimum wage analysis has two significant flaws that render its findings unusable. First, it employs a model that assumes job losses, thereby guaranteeing its conclusion that there will be job losses. Second, this model ignores research indicating that increased productivity and lower staff turnover will offset higher labor costs from a minimum wage increase. By assuming its own conclusion, the NFIB report adds no information to the debate in Pennsylvania about the actual impact of a minimum wage increase.”

But apparently, the model is not as flawed as KRC suggests.

“This rebuttal comes as a big swing and a miss,” Shivers told PoliticsPA. “[This] is one of the premier economics research models.”

The model used, from Remi, Inc., is one that is employed by federal government, the Maryland Legislature, the Pennsylvania State University and Ernst and Young, among a myriad of other public and private organizations.

Study aside, KRC also pointed to an opinion survey from March 2014 that found 57 percent of small business owners support raising the minimum wage to $10.10, along with a cost of living adjustment. That poll was conducted by the Small Business Majority.

Several of the Democratic candidates have called for an increase in the minimum wage and there’s at least one bill in the General Assembly proposing an increase.

 

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