Elections Have Consequences: Environmental Secretaries Edition

With the confirmation of John Quigley as Tom Wolf’s Department of Environmental Protection Secretary this week, it’s an important time to pause and reflect on how drastically different of an approach Democratic and Republican administrations take to staffing this agency, and how critical it is for Democratic voters to turn out in midterm elections.

We recently had a DEP Secretary, Michael Krancer, who thinks we should regulate radioactive coal ash waste as municipal garbage, doesn’t really believe in climate change, and writes National Review essays about how fossil fuels are the keystone of our economy.

What’s Krancer’s background? His family is a major donor to Republican politicians. The Krancer family gave Tom Corbett $25,000 the day before Krancer’s inauguration as DEP head. And there’s no doubt that he’s very intelligent and has enjoyed a successful career as a business and policy wonk working the revolving door between fossil fuel companies and Republican governance, where he’s appointed to gum up the works. He’s Ron Swanson, basically.

By contrast, John Quigley started his career as a government relations manager for PennFuture, became a staffer at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and worked his way up the ladder as a career public servant until he became the Secretary of DCNR. This is a guy who fundamentally cares about the environment, and has dedicated his career to the technical ins-and-outs of public environmental protection.

Cynics take it as a given, but it really is crazy how accepted it is that Republicans will appoint people to this agency who want to skillfully do a bad job, because they have a fundamental objection to the existence and the mission of the agency. And the idea that this is merely a technical debate between people who agree about end goals, but have a good-faith disagreement about using heavy-handed command-and-control style regulations vs. more market-based interventions is just nuts.

The Republican appointees are drinking the same tea as the Republican base voters, so even when you have an issue like controlling fugitive methane, where the fix is eminently affordable, you still see the same “don’t tread on me” attitude, where the objection is more to DEP’s power and authority to tell business owners what they can and can’t do, rather than the actual content of the regulation.

Posted in Environment, Issues

Tea Party Garbageman Can Tell Which Schools Are Well-Funded By Flying Over Them in a Helicopter

So, this is a thing that happened:

“State Sen. Scott Wagner went for a helicopter ride last week. Sen. Wagner took WHTM’s Dennis Owens for a ride, figuratively.

The senator flew over three central Pennsylvania schools hoping to illustrate that schools are not hurting for funding. In the report that aired, he flew over Cumberland Valley, Northeastern and Central York, showing that those high schools indeed looked impressive from the air.

That’s about all it showed.

For one thing, Cumberland Valley has to be among the more affluent school districts in the state. Northeastern has one of the highest property tax rates in the county. And Central York, well, its educators aren’t exactly sitting by the side of the road holding “Will Teach Your Kids For Food” signs.”

What Senator Wagner gets wrong about flying over schools to check on their funding levels is that

1. You need to have the school budget in front of you to really get a handle on their numbers. You can only really get a rough idea of the school district’s balance sheet from looking at their land footprint from thousands of feet in the air.

2. You need to know whether their funding levels are solid because state funding is sufficient, not just total funding. As the York Daily Record editorial board points out, these particular schools are well-funded by local taxes, not state taxes. What the state funding formula conversation is about is whether the school districts who don’t have lots of wealthy homeowners are getting enough money per pupil to provide a “thorough and efficient” public education, as required by the state Constitution. And the answer there is clearly no.

Posted in Budget, Education, Elections, Issues, State Senate

Primary Lisa Boscola

It was true last year, and it’s truer still today: Lisa Boscola badly needs a primary challenge. Boscola is basically a Republican, has flirted with becoming a Republican, and her redrawn Senate district map opens up some space to challenge her from the left.

The latest offense is that Boscola was one of seven Senate Democrats who crossed over to vote with Republicans to preempt Philadelphia’s earned sick leave bill, and stop other local governments from stepping up where the state has failed.

The other Democrats who crossed over were John Blake, Jim Brewster, Judy Schwank, Matt Smith, John Wozniak, and John Yudichak.

Popular new Democratic Governor Tom Wolf opposes this bill and supports expanding earned sick leave across the state. None of these fake Democrats have lifted a finger to help him.

They need to get busy writing statewide paid sick leave bills, or get replaced with better Democrats who want to do that.

Posted in Economic Development, Elections, Issues, State Senate

Tea Party Garbageman Also Total Drama Queen

Get the popcorn.

Posted in Elections, State Senate

Tom Wolf is Keeping His Campaign Promise to Expand Real Medicaid

We’re going to take a wee bit of credit for this one, since we were the first to ask about it publicly after CorbettCare was announced, and Wolf promised us first that he’d scrap CorbettCare and do the real Medicaid expansion.

Hundreds of other advocates and elected officials did the heavy lifting from there, getting Wolf to spend political capital on this early, but that public promise was the thing that everybody else was able to latch onto subsequently. “Keep your promise” is a much easier ask of a politician than asking them to commit to a whole new policy.

This is all just a longwinded way of saying that the time-honored issue advocacy tactic of securing campaign promises from candidates in primaries works because politicians do actually try to do the things they campaign on, despite what the cynics think.

And of course the guy who deserves the most credit is Tom Wolf. Securing campaign promises can only be an effective advocacy strategy if you’re working with politicians who ultimately, in their heart of hearts, want to do the right thing. It would’ve been easy to just let CorbettCare roll out as planned and saddle our blue state with the reddest fake Medicaid plan in the country, but Wolf cares about the outcome for real people and he knew the Corbett plan was dumb.

Posted in Elections, Governor, Health

No More Corbett Appointees. Voters Chose a “Fresh Start”

Tom Wolf ran on a fresh start for the executive team in Harrisburg, and he won big. Voters kicked Tom Corbett to the curb.

By definition, appointing the remainder of Tom Corbett’s people to important executive branch positions is not a fresh start. Corbett had no credibility whatsoever to make any appointments on his way out the door. His political capital was deep in the red.

Voters may have chosen their familiar Republican state representative (or more likely, the Republican gerrymandering of the electoral map made it simply impossible for Democrats to win in many of the new districts) but they overwhelmingly chose a Democrat for the executive branch. Now it is time to let the Democrats govern and give the voters the fresh start they voted for.

Republicans need to accept that Corbett lost and stop trying to force-feed the voters more Corbett administration when they don’t want any.

Posted in Elections, Governor

Crazed Tyrant Tom Wolf Wants to Appoint Agency Heads Who Agree With Him

The way “Governor” works is that, to fulfill the agenda you laid out in your campaign, you appoint a bunch of people to the various executive branch agencies who agree with that agenda, you retain some people who agree with that agenda, and you replace people who don’t.

Governors don’t just govern by edict. They govern by appointing people to carry out all the stuff they promised to do.

So I really don’t understand Erik Arneson’s point that the executive branch offices are supposed to be independent from the Governor’s vision. That seems to me to be completely wrong, and totally antithetical to the concept of political accountability, where the things people promise to do while on the campaign trail are the things they try to do once elected.

The voters rejected Tom Corbett. They did not want him to be in charge of the Executive branch appointments or the policy direction anymore. That is why the Republicans did not convene a shame-duck session in January before Corbett left office. That is why Tom Corbett’s shady 11th-hour appointments to state agencies deserved to be rescinded.

Posted in Elections, Governor

The 67 District Plan for Repairing PA’s School Tax Bases

The state funding cuts are still the biggest problem facing local school districts but the second biggest problem many are having is that they are too small.

In the city centers and first ring suburbs, you’ve typically got some school districts without a lot of money. And then encircling those, you usually have some school districts with a whole lot of money.

Take an eraser and erase all the little school district boundary lines inside the county, and Voila! You’ve probably got a financially stable district.

That’s what Moody’s thinks is the most effective way to help distressed districts like Chester-Upland, Duquesne, and York:

Duquesne proposed sending all non-charter students to nearby districts, which would get tuition payments. But those nearby schools rejected the idea. Moody’s analysts say despite the opposition, those ideas seem like they’re more likely to improve education than the other districts’ strategy.

The main problem for this plan is the state lets local school districts make the call on whether to accept other districts’ kids or not, instead of bigfooting those decisions from the state level. We should have county-level school districts – 67, not 500.

School funding advocates who don’t like the York charter takeover plan should seriously consider making this the centerpiece of their alternative vision if they don’t want to see more takeovers.



Posted in Budget, Economy, Education, Issues

PPP: Toomey Approval Rating Only 28%

Rightwing Senator Pat Toomey manages to out-poll all the Democrats at this time, according to PPP’s first 2016 poll, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t vulnerable in 2016. Check out that 28% approval rating.

Four years into his first term, Toomey’s approval numbers aren’t terribly impressive. 28% of voters approve of the job he’s doing to 35% who disapprove, comparable to the 31/34 spread he posted on PPP’s last poll in June. A plurality of voters- 37%- don’t have any opinion about Toomey at all. That level of anonymity with voters leaves his fate next year somewhat up to the political winds- if it’s another good year for Republicans like the last time he ran he may be alright, but if it’s a stronger Democratic year he’ll be in deep trouble.

Demographic shifts in Pennsylvania are making it harder and harder for Republicans, especially nutty rightwingers like Toomey, to win statewide elections and 2010 was probably the party’s high-water mark for a statewide race. With Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket in 2016, the Democratic candidate is going to have the wind at his/her back in this contest.

Posted in Elections, US Senate

Yo Tom Wolf: Fix the State Assessment Law

The only reason you’re seeing this spot assessment wave is that the state of Pennsylvania doesn’t require all counties to reassess properties on a regular and predictable schedule.

County commissioners shouldn’t have to vote to do this, that’s insane. It should be required of all counties, at least every 3 to 5 years so that assessments remain current and people are paying property taxes on what their properties are actually worth.

Posted in Budget, Economy, Issues