Bob Casey Comes Out in Support of the Iran Deal

Good stuff. The polling on this issue in PA is tilted against the deal by a not-unsubstantial margin, but the fact is that there’s no way most voters have actually read up on what’s in the deal, so politicians have a lot of responsibility and political latitude to do what they think is right. Does Casey lose some donors over this? Maybe for a little while, until they see the nutty stuff Jake Corman or whoever is running on in 2018 as the GOP nominee against Casey. In the end though, it’s just not going to be the thing that sways the 2016 or 2018 Senate races. Now we still need to hear from Katie McGinty!

Here’s the key part of the statement, from the inbox:

“After the more than six weeks of intensive review, I have concluded that I will support the JCPOA, vote  no on the motion to disapprove and no on a veto override vote if necessary. I firmly believe that effective implementation of the JCPOA, bolstered by other U.S. policies, including a strong deterrence policy of the U.S. and our partners, will be in our national security interest. This agreement will substantially constrain the Iranian nuclear program for its duration, and compared with all realistic alternatives, it is the best option available to us at this time. 

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a detailed, technical agreement that is the product of serious, tough, multiparty negotiations.  I respect the views of each constituent, expert and official who has reviewed this agreement and reached their own conclusion.  Thoughtful concerns have been raised, and I have asked tough questions of the Administration over the course of my review.

I have been among the strongest supporters of the tough sanctions against Iran, which brought the regime to the negotiating table. I will continue to advance legislative efforts that prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, exporting terrorism in the region, and committing human rights atrocities at home.

I will vote to support the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action because I believe it is the best option available to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. It places strict limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, requires robust monitoring and verification measures, and grants relief only from nuclear sanctions in exchange for verified actions on Iran’s part.”

Posted in Issues, Miscellany

A Severance Tax is Just the Beginning

The push for a severance tax on natural gas production has all the attention right now because it’s a major piece of the budget negotiations, but the past week has also sent us several reminders that there is much more work to do even after that tax passes.

Before we get to that though, here’s how crazy low Pennsylvania’s effective tax rate on gas drilling is. No wonder southeast and south central Republicans were even running on raising it.

Conservatives want to say that this isn’t interesting because Pennsylvania has a higher total tax rate than these other states, but that’s a non-sequitur. Even if you think Pennsylvania’s overall public sector should be lower, this doesn’t refute the argument that natural gas taxes should make up a larger share of whatever size budget we’re looking at.

People currently care about this issue because there’s potentially money for their other budget priorities in play, but the Wolf administration and environmentalists in the legislature also need to be paying attention to the pollution angles.

Three gas companies were just hit with fines for methane gas migration into PA residents’ drinking water, and there are other chemicals proliferating unchecked out there.

Weak federal and state regulations mean “toxic waste materials such as benzene and mercury that are produced by the fracking boom of the last 10 years…are still classified as non-hazardous waste which includes household trash” according to a constellation of environmental groups who are considering suing the EPA.

The federal government is making moves toward regulating methane–one of the most potent greenhouse gases–released into the air during gas extraction, but it wouldn’t cover emissions from existing sources.

That’s all just to say that there’s plenty of scope for more aggressive state-level action from the Wolf administration after the severance tax gets passed, and plenty of political space out in the electorate to accommodate a more ambitious agenda of environmental regulation. And that space can be enlarged further, as starting the conversation about some of these other regulatory goals shifts the political goal posts even further out, making more room for action on the severance tax.

Posted in Budget, Energy, Environment, Issues

EPA’s Proposed Methane Rules Underscore the Need for State Action

Big news in the natural gas world yesterday as the EPA released their methane reduction proposals under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

The proposed federal rules aim to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025, however they only target “new and modified sources,” and don’t go after existing sources.

Federal methane regulations are welcome and can be expanded later, but the “new and modified sources” carve-out is a big problem because, as Mark Brownstein of EDF tells Jon Hurdle, that only covers about 5% of emissions nationally. And in the more intense gas-producing states like Pennsylvania, that carve-out is really going to limit the benefits.

That’s why it’s so important for Tom Wolf to honor his campaign promise to regulate methane emissions at the state level, and to include existing sources in that process.

As the EPA release mentions, methane is a potent greenhouse gas “with a global warming potential more than 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide,” so there’s no way for natural gas to be a “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future if gas corporations don’t control their methane pollution.

Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas after C02, and nearly 30 percent of human-caused methane emissions come from oil and gas production. If adopted, the rules are “expected to reduce 340,000 to 400,000 short tons of methane in 2025, the equivalent of reducing 7.7 to 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.”

What would drillers have to do? It’s all simple stuff like finding and repairing leaks, capturing natural gas from completed wells, limiting emissions from new and modified pumps and compressor stations. You can read more about the specifics here, but the takeaway is that this is all eminently affordable things that the oil and gas industry nevertheless doesn’t want to be required to do.

We’re going to keep tracking this issue because it really gets to the heart of the political debate about natural gas policy in Pennsylvania. The “bridge fuel” talking point has basically won the political argument among center-left and center-right lawmakers who want to engage in good faith on the environment, but that actually has to mean something.

Posted in Energy, Environment, Issues

Ed Rendell’s Been Reading His Keystone Politics

Sounds familiar:

Did you see the movie Field of Dreams? Remember those messages Kevin Costner got? I’ve been texting him messages from that movie. “Stay the course.” “Go the distance.” “If you hold, they will fold” — my version of “If you build it, they will come.” He’s got to hang in there, and not let the tail wag the dog. The Republicans made a big deal how Governor Corbett got every budget done on time. Yeah, but they sucked!

Rendell is also making a lot of sense on alcohol reform, which he says Wolf is probably going to have to compromise on. The key is letting everybody sell everything, and letting the chips fall where they may:

There is a way to compromise on that where you could expand private sales without doing away with state stores. You give supermarkets the right to sell beer and wine. You give beer distributors the right to sell beer and wine. You give restaurants the right to sell everything on a retail basis. And leave the state stores in place. Now the state stores that aren’t very profitable will eventually go out of business, but the profitable ones will stay.

(via Billy Penn)

Posted in Budget, Issues

Replay: *Racial Conservative* John Morganelli Slams “Illegal Aliens”

Rerunning this as the John Morganelli for AG trial balloon has unfortunately surfaced once again, and must be popped as quickly as possible.

Whether you like it or not, there are about 12 million people living in this country without formal approval of the U.S. government. They go to school with our kids, they work at our places of employment, and the places where we shop. We all interact with these people all the time. They are embedded in our lives, in our culture, and while racists find this point controversial, they make us all richer.

Deporting all 12 million of these people, and the things we’d have to do to get there, would obviously entail a heaping helping of grave moral injustice, and the fact is that the vast majority of them are here to stay. And while they’re here, they’re going to be driving on our roads. Some people don’t like that, because they don’t accept the anti-deportation case, but if you do accept it, then you have to realize that people need to get driver’s licenses, because if they don’t then everyone else is less safe.

John Morganelli disagrees because he’s a big *racial conservative*, and last night he let loose with this crazyass rant that Bernie O’Hare pulled from Morganelli’s Facebook:

“Last night, although well intentioned, a misguided and uninformed Easton City Council passed a resolution to allow illegal aliens to obtain valid Pennsylvania drivers licenses. These are people who intentionally entered the US illegally with no respect for our immigration laws and without permission from our government. Council should have asked for input from those of us in law enforcement who know that the terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center and killed thousands of Americans all used fraudulent drivers licenses to pass money, get on planes and give themselves cover from their criminal activities. States that in the past handed out drivers licenses to people illegally in the US saw an influx of thousands of foreign criminals to their states and many are now moving to repeal them like New Mexico. This is bad public policy and makes it easier for illegal foreign criminals to do us harm under the cover of a valid state issued drivers license.”

Morganelli still uses “illegal aliens” to talk about undocumented immigrants, which is nuts. If somebody breaks our traffic laws, we don’t call her an “illegal driver.” The term is clearly meant to dehumanize people.

This isn’t the first time Morganelli has let loose with this kind of derp. Back in 2010 he went to a Lehigh Valley Tea Party meeting to fire people up about a “tidal wave” of “illegal aliens” coming to tk yr jrbs.

As Bernie O’Hare reported:

I arrived at Friday night’s monthly LV Tea Party meeting just in time to hear Northampton County DA and Fear Monger John Morganelli warn a 300-plus crowd that a “tidal wave” of illegal aliens is coming our way. He was singing that song four years ago, so it must be an awfully slow tsunami […]

But to hell with facts. Morganelli made points with tea drinkers by slamming both Bush and Obama for lacking the “political will” to do anything about this problem. Morganelli incited the crowd with accusations of “a number of sexual assaults by illegal aliens. They should not be here. … No one wants to do what has to be done.”

What’s that? The final solution?

The DA claims they’re everywhere, kinda’ like bed bugs. “Go to any job site and you’ll see people who are not home grown Americans.”

Home grown Americans!

Look, this guy has no business running or winning as a Democratic nominee for anything. Somebody needs to primary him, stat.

Posted in Civil Rights, Elections, Issues

Tom Wolf is Winning the #PABudget Fight the Ed Rendell Way

Mark Dent’s attempt at grading Tom Wolf’s budget performance thus far contains a useful error I see a lot of journalists making, which is worth flagging because it’s really the lodestar of bad budget reporting.

The trouble starts with reporters’ preference for scoring the budget fight based on whether the budget is passed on time or not. This basically doesn’t matter, but the media is uncomfortable judging questions of policy and political priorities (is there enough education money? should taxes be increased?) because those are located in the realm of opinion, so they prefer to fixate on objective measures like the arbitrary date the budget was due on.

The problem with scoring the budget debate based on timeliness is that it vastly shortchanges the importance of the contents of the budget, which is really the whole game.

In Dent’s view, if Tom Wolf ends up like Ed Rendell, holding firm on his veto threat until December, he’s necessarily losing the budget fight, because the budget just gets later and later.

But then he says right there in the post that Rendell ultimately got what he wanted by holding out for so long. That sure sounds like winning to me!:

No matter how calm Wolf acts about the impasse, he doesn’t want to begin approaching Rendell territory. Rendell is the Michael Jordan of late Pennsylvania budgets, having not passed one on time during either of his two terms, and his performance in 2003 was the equivalent of Jordan’s flu game, something that will not soon be forgotten and ended well but probably hurt like hell while it was going on.

In 2003, Rendell first introduced a budget that he didn’t really like, but the Republicans passed it anyway. So Rendell decided to veto it and held up billions of dollars for schools. That made many people none too happy during the fall, but Rendell ended up getting the tax increase on cigarettes and the use of slot revenue to reduce taxes he wanted when the budget finally passed in December, about six months after it was due.

Corbett had an advantage that neither Wolf nor Rendell had: a legislature controlled by his party. He didn’t receive a single vote from Democrats in the Pennsylvania house or senate but united all the Republicans on his first budget. That was enough for it to pass, a budget that was similar to the one he proposed in March of that year. It contained no tax increases and several cuts, including to public education. The cuts Corbett made throughout his term would end up dogging him as he tried for re-election last year.

By contrast, Tom Corbett “won” the budget debates every year because his budgets were on time, but then he lost reelection because the Republican budgets had shit for contents and the voters didn’t like the results.

Dent gives Wolf only two wolf emoticons for his budget performance so far, but why? He’s so far emulating the successful Rendell strategy, with the veto threat almost certain to crack up the Republicans’ “majority of the majority” policy at some point this fall, making it likely that Wolf achieves several of his key policy priorities at the end of it. And unlike Corbett’s priorities, Wolf’s priorities enjoy popular support.

Posted in Budget, Issues

Rendell: Candidates Who Run Against Sestak for #PASen “Do So At Their Own Peril”

Wonder if he still thinks this:

“Anyone who thinks Joe Sestak will be easy to beat in a primary is crazy. Joe has worked extremely hard the last four years,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), who backed Sestak’s opponent, Specter, last time around. “Anyone who undertakes a primary should do so at their own peril.”

Posted in Elections, US Senate

#PASen: Rendell Chairing McGinty for Senate Campaign

Ed Rendell has a pretty mixed track record as a political king and queenmaker in the races he’s chosen to get involved with, but obviously you’d rather have his backing in a Democratic primary than not.

Rendell’s already made it known he supports Katie McGinty in the US Senate primary, and now comes the word from the McGinty campaign that he’s actually going to be chairing the campaign, and putting his name on the line a good bit more for his former DEP Secretary.

Senate candidate Katie McGinty today announced that former Governor Ed Rendell will serve as Chairman of her campaign. Rendell said that is joining the McGinty campaign because she has the right priorities and skills to deliver for working Pennsylvanian’s in the Senate.

“I am glad that Katie McGinty answered the calls from across Pennsylvania for her to enter the race for U.S. Senate,” Rendell said. “I encouraged Katie to run because she’s a problem solver who knows how to get things done. Middle class Pennsylvanians will have a Senator who will fight for good schools, good jobs, and affordable health care in Katie McGinty.”

McGinty served as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection in the Rendell Administration. Working together, Rendell and McGinty made Pennsylvania a national leader in clean energy, demonstrating that environmental challenges can also be economic opportunities.

“When she was in administration, I saw first-hand that Katie McGinty is a problem solver who knows how to get things done for working families,” Rendell said. “She will go to Washington and work to make sure that anyone willing to work for it has a shot at the American Dream.”

“It is an honor to have Governor Rendell as the chair of my campaign. He knows how to win tough races and I appreciate his support and encouragement,” McGinty said.

 Rendell served as Governor of Pennsylvania from January 2003 to January 2011. He also served two term as Mayor of Philadelphia from January 1992 to January 2000.

Posted in Elections, US Senate

Why Wolf Must Veto a Short-Term Budget

A three-month budget should be a non-starter for Tom Wolf, and he should immediately make clear that he’ll veto anything less than a full fiscal year’s worth of funding.

What the Republicans want to do here is essentially extend the Tom Corbett budget for another three months. And then another. And then another. And on and on for four years, as each stand-off leads to more can-kicking, and more extensions of the brutal 2011-2014 Republican education cuts.

No thanks!

The veto pen is the greatest tool anybody has in this debate, and as long as Wolf makes clear he’s going to use it, he can powerfully shape the terms under which the budget is debated. It forces Republicans to find a supermajority for another Corbett budget, and that’s just not going to happen.

After Leanne Krueger-Braneky’s special election win in Delco on Republican turf Tuesday night, there’s no way southeast suburban Republicans are going to provide the votes necessary for a veto override.

As long as Wolf keeps credibly promising to veto the Corbett budget, and doesn’t let himself get cowed by the media trying to shame him for a late budget (a total non-issue invented by Republicans when they were trying to pressure Ed Rendell to abandon his priorities in a similar situation) then he is going to win this.

Wait long enough, and the Republicans will take on more and more damage, and eventually knuckle under on the “majority of the majority” trick that’s slowing things up. Then suburban Republicans and the minority Democrats will hash out a deal on a severance tax, property tax reform, and education funding increases and everybody can go home and have a nice Christmas with their families.

Posted in Budget, Issues

#PA161: Leanne Krueger-Braneky Win Takes Veto Override Off the Table

Former Sustainable Business Network executive director Leanne Krueger-Braneky’s impressive victory over Paul Mullen last night on Republican turf in the 161st District special election sends a clear signal that Delaware County voters are unhappy with their Republican state representatives’ behavior during the PA budget standoff.

They want the suburban Republicans to support Tom Wolf’s legislative priorities, which they ran on. In 2014, Republicans did everything they could to communicate their support for a liberal agenda, doing everything from leaving their party affiliation off their mailers, supporting a severance tax on natural gas, and promising to restore the 2011-2014 Republican cuts to education.

Many Democratic voters split their tickets to vote for those Republicans, believing their campaign promises, and now those representatives are failing to deliver. Once in office, they did a 180 on the voters, and have been putting partisan politics ahead of the campaign promises they made.

Republican Paul Mullen ran the exact same play from that playbook in the special election in the 161st, trying to repeat the trick his colleagues played.

Voters weren’t buying it though. They are tired of fake liberal Republicans saying one thing on the campaign trail, and then not doing it in office.

That’s why they sent a real Democrat, Leanne Krueger-Braneky, to go get the job done in Harrisburg for real.

That should send a strong message to other collar county Republicans that the voters mean business, and the same fate could await them if they don’t deliver on their campaign promises.

And it should also put to rest the Republican leadership’s silly fantasy of winning a veto override vote against Tom Wolf. None of those suburban Republicans are going to vote for a veto override now.

The only option left at this point is for Republican leadership to abandon the “majority of the majority” practice that’s holding things up, take the Tea People out of the driver’s seat, and let the suburban Republicans negotiate with the Democrats so we can actually get a deal done.

Posted in Budget, Elections, Issues, State House