Primary Election Tomorrow

The Pennsylvania Republican Primary election is tomorrow, April 24. Voters will be able to select nominees for the following:

Federal: President, U.S. Senate, U.S. Representative, Delegate to the National Convention

State: Attorney General, Auditor General, Treasurer, Senator (Odd districts),Representative

To find your polling location: enter your name, county and date of birth in the Dept. of State voter registration status database.

Time Legislature Puts Own Fiscal “House” in Order

In an act of good faith, the State House adopted legislation aimed at reducing the operating costs of the state legislature. After producing state budgets that require local governments and school districts to do more with less, representatives took the initiative to lead by example and downsize their own budgets. The rallying cry to put their own “House” in order received bipartisan support with a vote of final passage (140-49) earlier this month.

This proposed efficiency measure, House Bill 153, is now before the State Senate. Appropriately named, the proposed legislation would shrink the State House from 203 to 153 members. An amendment added to the bill also calls for downsizing the Senate from 50 to 38 members. This will result in a 25 percent reduction in each chamber. Without a doubt, this legislative reform will effectively shrink the General Assembly budget. However, realistically, the proposed bill will not begin to save taxpayers money anytime soon.

First and foremost, the proposed legislation must go through the constitutional amendment process. This means the bill must be debated and passed in two consecutive sessions and subsequently approved by voter referendum. Even if HB 153 is ratified in the next few years, the scheduled reductions are not to take place until after the 2020 Census and legislative redistricting. In the meantime, the legislative budget will remain largely intact.

The mantra behind the shrinking of the General Assembly is bolstered by the fact that Pennsylvania has the second largest state legislature in the country. While this fact is indisputable, there is a major component missing from the debate. PA may have the second largest legislature, but comparably speaking, the constituents per legislative district are not proportionately less than other states. For each of the Commonwealth’s 50 Senate and 203 House districts, there are more than 245,000 and 60,000 constituents respectively. This equates to less representation than 43 other state senates and 36 other state houses. While HB 153 will provide future savings, it will come with a price. That price will be in the form of less representation and voters will get the opportunity to evaluate this tradeoff.

Legislature reform proposals which offer immediate cost savings and actually draw a shared sacrifice from lawmakers must also be considered. Currently, PA state legislators enjoy lavish perks and benefits. In addition to the fourth highest state legislative salaries in the country, lawmakers average pensions of more than $35,000 and collect more than a whopping $1 million. While the Commonwealth is facing a looming pension crisis, state officials should be encouraged to switch over to a 401(k) system as outlined in HB 418. Additional cost savings include reducing the legislative staff, which has more than doubled since 1980. Quite simply, there are several ways in which General Assembly members can strive to put their own fiscal “House” in order that yield more immediate returns.

Reducing the size of the General Assembly may be a viable method of saving taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, Pennsylvanians will not reap the savings from HB 153 until 2020. In the meantime, and for immediate action, General Assemblymen should turn to reform measure that reduce luxurious perks and benefits. This would be a more genuine way of leading by example. These changes will speak volumes for a shared sacrifice during times of difficult budget negotiations.

Support HB1329: Mandate Relief for Schools and Taxpayers

Fiscal responsibility entails not only cutting wasteful spending, but even more importantly, includes the implementation of government reforms that prioritize taxpayer dollars. The Republican leadership deserves credit for producing their second sustainable budget, but in a time when lawmakers are asking school districts and local governments to do more with less funding, there must be a focus on enabling local officials with the ability to do so.

Recognizing this necessity, Rep. Fred Keller (Snyder/Union) introduced House Bill 1329 to alleviate the costly prevailing wage laws on construction and renovation projects. The bill would effectively ease the financial burden for schools and municipalities while protecting taxpayers and promoting job creation. Unfortunately, there have been significant delays in the path to reform in Harrisburg. It is absolutely essential that Pennsylvania’s taxpayers urge their Representatives to vote in favor of HB 1329.

The Commonwealth’s prevailing wage laws were enacted more than a half a century ago with the intent of protecting construction workers from out-of-state competition. The law requires local government to pay a mandated wage for construction projects exceeding $25,000. Straying far from its original intent, prevailing wage is responsible for increased labor costs upwards of 30 to 75 percent. This effectively adds more than 20 percent or $2 billion a year in extra construction costs.

In response, The Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSABA) testified before the General Assembly. They asserted that the prevailing wage law is “one of the most burdensome mandates imposed on school districts.” A PSBA representative explained that wage requirements take away resources that could be utilized to develop educational programs or provide property tax relief. The PSBA supports an outright repeal of the costly wage law.

In an interview with Rep. Keller, he proclaimed that his legislation is a compromise bill. Instead of repealing prevailing wage altogether, HB 1329 is designed to raise the minimum threshold to $185,000, accounting for inflation for the past 50 years. Rep. Keller argued that raising the threshold should not be deemed controversial, but rather common sense. The Union County lawmaker reasoned that the 1961 law exempted small-scale projects and that the $25,000 threshold in today’s prices no longer provides a meaningful exemption.

The reform measure has garnered substantial support from the PA State Association of Township Supervisors and Boroughs in addition to business interests throughout the state, but the compromise bill remains stalled in the State House. The bill, which was successfully reported out of committee for consideration this fall and scheduled for a vote last week, has been postponed yet again. Rep. Keller shared that the vote count is in the mid 90s, just shy of a 102 member majority, and there is a great possibility for the bill to receive a House vote shortly after the April primary elections.

It is vitally important that the General Assembly pass HB 1329 in order to provide schools and local government the relief they need from an antiquated and costly mandate. The reform measure will more efficiently spend taxpayer money, thereby reducing property tax increases. This savings can then be allocated towards additional construction and renovation projects, which will create more jobs.

ObamaCare: The Wrong Prescription for Pennsylvania

March 23rd marked the second anniversary of President Obama’s signing of his signature healthcare bill into law. The administration’s celebration lethargic celebration was largely overshadowed by the pending Supreme Court decision on the act’s constitutionality. The controversial law has only exacerbated uncertainty in the weak economy. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi infamously stated, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Now that two years have passed and thousands of pages of regulations have been written, independent policy analysts at the Congressional Budget Office assert that ObamaCare is nothing more than a series of broken promises wrongly suited for both America and Pennsylvania.

In an attempt to sell his plan to the American people, President Obama promised citizens that were satisfied with their current healthcare coverage that they would be able to keep their plan. Unfortunately, the CBO has estimated that a staggering 20 million Americans will lose their employer-provided coverage as a direct result of ObamaCare. This disheartening reality will betray millions of Americans as the President’s centerpiece for reform ensured that employer-converage would remain intact.

Additionally, President Obama pledged to make healthcare more affordable by lowering family premiums by as much as $2,500. In contrast to the proposed savings, CBO calculations project that family premiums will actually increase by more than $2,100 by the year 2016. An Annals of Family Medicine study determined that costs will continue to rise. In the year 2021, the average family’s premiums are projected to equal half of their median household income. This unsustainable trend is expected to continue to the point where insurance costs will exceed family incomes by 2033.

ObamaCare represents a government takeover of the healthcare system and the implications for Pennsylvanians are alarming to say the least. Reports indicate that in less than one decade, more than 800,000 Keystone residents will be added to Medicaid. A staggering one out of four Pennsylvanians will be enrolled into this government insurance program. Medicaid currently consumes more than 30 percent of the entire state’s operating budget. In a national comparison, this represents the second largest share of any state. The influx of nearly a million extra enrollees will only accelerate the rapidly rising public welfare spending and will undoubtedly impose further hardships on the state budget. In exchange for the lavish price tag, Pennsylvanian will expand a government insurance program which is notorious for providing less than adequate healthcare services.

The ObamaCare debacle is only beginning to take its toll on the American people. Two years after its enactment, it is becoming abundantly clear that President Obama’s promises were nothing more than hopeful rhetoric. Americans are now faced with many uncertainties. Employer coverage is anticipated to drop by the tends of millions while healthcare costs are projected to steadily rise. As a result, state government are burdened by a massive expansion in Medicaid. This does not even take into account the half a billion dollars in taxes or the individual mandate current before the Supreme Court. The justices must acknowledge ObamaCare’s assault on the Constitution, which enables government’s ability to regulate inactivity. Constitutional or not, it is absolutely essential that the government’s takeover of healthcare is repealed so that Americans can move forward with market reforms and competition.