#PAGov: A Tom Wolf Win Isn’t Enough. Democrats Need to Get Serious About the State Senate.

While the Governor’s race is all but decided, Wolf still has a giant problem: What does he do after Nov 4th when he wakes up and finds he is stuck with a Republican controlled State Senate?

The hope of flipping the state house evaporated due to the sheer incompetence of the PA HDCC. They raise about $4-$5 million a cycle, and they couldn’t even field candidates in 10 GOP districts with a Dem registration advantage, in a year with the most unpopular Governor on the GOP ballot. Fresh Start should have fielded some independent candidates in those races.

Does Wolf think Pileggi is suddenly going to abandon the GOP special interests, and support funding public education, transportation, minimum wage increases, abortion rights, clean air/water, etc?

Wolf can win by more than the total vote out of Philadelphia, but he’d be happier losing if he’s stuck with a Republican Senate. There are only two or three Senate seats that are considered flippable. How much is it worth to Wolf’s supporters for him to be able to accomplish anything?

Pennsylvania SEIU Cope gave Wolf $500K. PSEA PACE $500K. AFT $450K. How much have they given to flip the senate?

Is it worth a million dollars to win 3 State Senate races and control a chamber?

I’ve been going to events and talking to the troops. The biggest complaint I hear is that Wolf has no coordinated campaign to have coattails.

Every call, every ad should have language to the effect of: “Vote for Tom Wolf as part of straight Democratic ticket, to give him a legislature that will reverse, not preserve, Tom Corbett’s failed legacy.”

This is the most important thing Wolf can do at this point. If he can’t flip the Senate (and make gains in the House), he’ll be a Governor who can’t govern. He’ll be blocked at every turn by the same special interests supporting Corbett, and their elected stooges.

Wolf was thwarted when he tried to install his pick for the Dem State Committee. If he really wants to lead the party, he’s got to have coattails.

Posted in Elections, Governor

#PA26: A DelCo Senate Race Primer

If you haven’t heard, there’s an extremely important race brewing in Delaware County for the District 26 Senate seat which will soon be left vacant by retiring Republican Edwin “Ted” Erickson.

The Democratic candidate, John Kane, is the business manager of the local DelCo Plumbers Union, and is running on a platform critical of the policies imposed under the current administration.  Kane is up against Tom McGarrigle, a city council member since 2008, and chairman since 2012.

Since a win here could help swing the Senate in the Democrat’s favor, both sides will be exhausting all of their resources on this campaign.  Considering that the Inquirer recently published a story stating that this race is at “ground zero,” the next two months will ultimately shape the election result.

A few weeks ago, McGarrigle penned an editorial for the DelCo Daily Times in support of a 4% natural gas extraction tax.  Under his proposal, 100 percent of the revenue from the severance tax would go towards funding K-12 education, effectively reversing some of the education cuts which have occurred over the last four years; sound familiar?

“We have a booming natural gas industry that is making billions of dollars annually. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s fee on Marcellus Shale natural-gas wells is the lowest among 11 states. The severance tax of 4 percent that I have proposed will put Pennsylvania in the middle of the pack compared to other states. Natural gas companies would pay their fair share, and it would not hinder the future development of the industry.

When I announced my support for a severance tax on natural gas, I turned a few heads as one of only a handful of Republicans to support it. But the bottom line is that it makes sense.”

While I’m all for Republican support of an extraction tax, this is clearly just an attempt by McGarrigle to distance himself from Tom Corbett as much as possible.  The divide within the GOP has become very clear over the past few months, with Republican legislators refusing to submit to the Governor’s demands on liquor privatization and pension reform during budget season, and now prospective candidates skewing themselves more towards the moderate.

Although McGarrigle’s refusal to align himself with any Corbett policies shows the dysfunction within the GOP and general distaste for the Corbett administration, it is also a very smart move in a race that will come down to the wire.

By supporting the extraction tax, the city council chairman is attempting to undermine one of the main pillars of Kane’s campaign; to restore the education funding cuts and force the natural gas drillers to pay.  While this strategy makes sense because McGarrigle will certainly win some votes from Democrats, he also risks alienating many within his own party who will feel that he isn’t conservative enough.  We won’t know the true impact that the editorial has until updated polling figures are released.

For Kane to win, he will need Democrats to flock to the polls in November.  Although District 26 has supported several Dems in recent national elections, the District also re-elected Senator Erickson twice since 2006.  Simply riding the pro-Wolf, anti-Corbett wave may not be enough for a win, so expect Kane to be on the DelCo campaign trail non-stop over the next two months.

If you’ve missed out on this race to this point, now is the time to get familiar, because it will no doubt be one of the biggest storylines in the Democrat’s campaign to take the Senate in November.

Posted in Education, Elections, Environment, Issues, State Politics, State Senate

#PAGov: Wolf’s Lead Widens to Almost 60%

A new Quinnipiac poll out today says Tom Corbett is getting “clobbered across the board” with no sign of tightening in the numbers.

When that Harper poll came out last week, everybody paid attention to who respondents said they’d vote for, but they really should’ve been looking at Harper’s other finding. 61% of voters believe Tom Wolf will win the election. Responses to this question tend to be a better predictor of who actually wins.

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And if you look at it that way, Harper wasn’t an outlier at all, because today’s Quinnipiac poll also shows Wolf approaching 60%.

Fifty-nine percent back Wolf, to 35 percent for Corbett, the poll finds, with huge majorities saying the Democrat would better handle the top two issues facing the state, the economy and education.

Wolf leads 91 percent to 7 percent among Democrats and 53 percent to 39 percent among independents. Just 66 percent of Republicans say they back Corbett, to 28 percent who oppose him.

Here’s the updating polling chart.

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Posted in Elections, Governor

Corbett Giving Industry Hack Group Taxpayer Money to Study Effects of Fracking

Last week, Tom Corbett’s Department of Environmental Protection was finally forced to admit that natural gas drilling had contaminated drinking water “hundreds of times” after years of furiously and dickishly denying that this had ever happened:

As the AP reports, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection posted details about the contamination cases online on Thursday. The cases occurred in 22 counties, with Susquehanna, Tioga, Lycoming, and Bradford counties having the most incidences of contamination.

In some cases, one drilling operation contaminated the water of multiple wells, with water issues resulting from methane gas contamination, wastewater spills, and wells that simply went dry or undrinkable. The move to release the contamination information comes after years of the AP and other news outlets filing lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests from the DEP on water issues related to oil and gas drilling and fracking.

Just for fun, here’s former Corbett DEP head Michael Krancer (now a lawyer representing natural gas companies) back in 2011:

“The myth that terrible chemicals are getting into the groundwater is completely myth. It is bogus,” Mr. Krancer told the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

So what’s the Corbett administration going to do about it?

Marie Cusick at State Impact is reporting that they’re going to fund a hack study on the effects of fracking. The money will be awarded to an industry-dominated group on a non-competitive basis:

The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved a $150,000 grant earmarked in the state budget for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling” to an industry-backed nonprofit organization.

The funding was approved on a non-competitive basis– other groups were not able to apply for the money.

The Pittsburgh-based Shale Alliance for Energy Research (SAFER PA) was formed as a partnership between industry and academia. Its board includes two representatives from Pennsylvania universities and five members from the oil and gas industry. SAFER PA’s president, Patrick Findle, heads the Pittsburgh office of the Gas Technology Institute– an Illinois nonprofit that conducts research for gas companies. In 2012 Findle also served as the research committee vice chair of the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Finding examples of Corbett administration environmental hostilities is like shooting fish in a barrel, and any Democrat would obviously do better on this front, but it’s still critical that we hear from Tom Wolf on issues like fugitive methane, bonding requirements and other nitty gritty regulations in the natural gas debate.

He got off easy without really having to talk about these issues during the Democratic primary, and gave a pretty soft answer when asked about methane emissions (which are worse for climate change than carbon pollution) back in May:

Pennsylvania is a major emitter of greenhouse gas, and I know we need to adopt stricter regulations and support innovative tools for reducing our emissions, especially as the natural gas sector continues to grow. As governor, I will work with key stakeholders to set new testing and monitoring regulations, and I will work with the private sector to promote the development of new technology that quickly and effectively detects fugitive methane emissions.

Additionally, I will focus on reducing our overall greenhouse gas emissions by having Pennsylvania join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. I will work with the initiative and the member states to set emission caps that are fair to Pennsylvania, and I will use a portion of the revenue generated from the sale of permits to invest in renewable energy technology.

Wrong answer. The technology to secure methane emissions already exists and is affordabe. The question is whether or not a Wolf DEP would force all natural gas drillers operating in the state to use that technology. Colorado has the model law at this point, but as the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas” Pennsylvania should be striving for the best-in-the-nation policy.

Posted in Elections, Energy, Environment, Governor, Issues

PLCB Contributed $80 Million to the General Fund This Year

One talking point you often hear from defenders of the state monopoly on wine and liquor retail sales is that the PLCB contributes over $500 million to the general fund.

They’re actually counting tax revenue that would be collected anyway whether we have a private market or state monopoly.

The actual profits that get transferred to the general fund are only about $80 million. State used to budget for about $105 million in transfers, but it was more like $72 million a year between 2009 and 2012, and in 2013 they finally had to adjust expectations downward to about $80 million.

So yay! It’s finally back up to $80 million in general fund transfers this year, but that’s down over $20 million from what the monopoly was bringing in during the Rendell administration, and that’s partly because pension payments are up 43% in the past year.

Replacing $80 million in a liberalization deal wouldn’t be easy, per se, but we have a $29 billion budget, so we’re talking about a medium-low political difficulty for replacing any lost revenue.

Posted in Economy, Issues

#PAGov: RMU Poll Confirms Huge Wolf Lead

Robert Morris University’s new poll confirms that the F&M poll wasn’t a “junk poll” as Team Corbett claimed, and a whole summer’s worth of attack ads haven’t bought the Republican Governor a better shot in November. National Journal is calling this race a “near-automatic pickup” for Democrats. But you still have to show up to vote!

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Posted in Elections, Governor

#PHL2015: Alan Butkovitz is Super Vulnerable as 54th Ward Leader

As Philadelphia’s 2015 elections approach, I’ve been familiarizing myself with some of the political geography of recent elections using David Diano’s excellent VoterWeb application.

And one interesting point that stuck out for me in the 2014 ward election results is how vulnerable City Controller and rumored Mayoral candidate Alan Butkovitz is as 54th ward leader.

Before we get to Butkovitz though, here’s a quick recap of what a ward leader is:

The city Democratic Party organization – the Democratic City Committee – divides Philadelphia into 66 wards, each with typically about two or three dozen divisions. Each division is supposed to be represented by two Democratic committeepeople. Ward leaders aren’t directly elected in the voting booth. They are elected by the ward’s committeepeople, who are directly elected by the Democratic primary voters in each division.

The committeepeople are a political resource for their neighborhoods, and are responsible for getting out the vote for the ward’s endorsed candidates in primary and general elections. Those responsibilities come with a lot of power, but the most powerful is the vote for ward leader.

The name of the game for ward leaders, then, is to make sure a majority of committee seats are held by their allies. And Alan Butkovitz is not doing a very good job at this.

The 54th ward has 22 divisions, so there should be 44 committeepeople. But after the 2014 ward elections, there are still 10 open committeeperson seats – almost a quarter!

Perhaps more interestingly, 21 of the 44 committeepeople – over half the people now seated –  won with fewer than 30 votes. Nine of them won with fewer than 20 votes:

Screen shot 2014-09-01 at 10.08.06 AM

Not being an expert on the local politics of Oxford Circle or Castor, I can’t say for sure which of the newly-elected people are Butkovitz allies, but it seems clear that the Controller has a fairly weak hold on what should be his base.

In the chart above, on the left side you can see the total number of active registered Democratic voters in each division, the number of votes incumbent committeepeople won, and the percentage of registered voters they won.

A Butkovitz challenger need only find about 30 to 40 votes in each of the blue highlighted divisions, pick up 2 or 3 of the open seats, and they’ll have the 23 votes they need to topple Butkovitz.

It’s possible that a challenger could even do this with a minimum of 500 voters in the whole ward (getting one more vote than all the blue committeepeople, and winning the open seats with single-vote write-ins), even assuming that no one on this board is open to supporting a ward leader other than Butkovitz.

For Alan Butkovitz to have any shot at the Mayor’s office, he’s got to run strong in Northeast Philadelphia, but this seems like an incredibly weak base to start with.

Posted in Elections, Philadelphia 2015

Simple Answers to Stupid Questions


This concludes another edition of Simple Answers to Stupid Questions.

Posted in Elections, Governor

#PAGov Meltdown: Corbett Campaign Manager Accuses Terry Madonna of “Unfairly Influencing This Election With Bad Polls”

Tom Corbett’s campaign manager Mike Barley got a bit salty on the Twitters earlier because F&M isn’t skewing their polls to favor Republicans, and accuses Terry Madonna of “unfairly influencing this election with bad polls.”

Hey Mike, if you want to salve your emotions with some feel-good numbers maybe you guys should hire Mitt Romney’s polling firm to draw you up some fake numbers you can snuggle at night.

Posted in Elections, Governor

#PAGov: Doing Medicaid the Corbett Way Imposes Hefty Corruption Tax on PA Taxpayers

While it’s certainly great news for the hundreds of thousands of poor and middle class people who no longer need to live in fear that a random accident will destroy their finances all because the Republican Governor wanted to be a boob about things, there is a pretty hefty corruption tax attached to the price tag when we use the federal Medicaid money the Republican Way:

Mr. Corbett’s plan, submitted to the federal government in February, would not directly expand the state’s Medicaid program, but would offer federal subsidies to about 500,000 low-income Pennsylvanians to purchase private insurance.

Medicaid is more efficient than private insurance. People on Medicaid get basically the same access to care as people with private insurance, but for lower administrative costs.

Doing this the Republican Way is like running a leaking sack full of the federal Medicaid money down a long gauntlet of private insurance companies, as dudes grab money off the top before it gets to actual patients.

On the administrative side, if we just accept regular Medicaid, we could hire as few as 40 people to administer it. Doing it the Republican Way, we have to hire about 723 new state workers:

Pennsylvania’s ambitious alternative to expanding Medicaid – a private-market initiative that Gov. Corbett says is designed to save money – would require 723 new state workers, about one percent of the current workforce.

The projected number of hires, detailed by state officials, is far higher than most states have needed and surprised some public-policy experts. Many states are adding employees to review applications and confirm eligibility, and to implement all the changes required by federal law. Those new hires typically are in the dozens. New Jersey, for example, said the contractor that coordinates its health benefits hired 38 permanent employees and 62 temps.

“The enrollment system is heavily automated for Medicaid,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University. “This is not being done by ladies with shoe boxes and pieces of paper.”

Worst of all, Medicaid beneficiaries earning at more than 100% of the poverty line have pay premiums. The weird work search requirements didn’t make it into the federal proposal, but what you have here is essentially a benefit cut for Medicaid beneficiaries to finance a nice round of pointless grift for hospital corporations and for-profit insurance companies.

(h/t Post-Gazette)

Posted in Budget, Elections, Governor, Health, Issues