#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:

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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

PA Working Families Makes its First Endorsement

New-to-Pennsylvania progressive organization Pennsylvania Working Families has been quietly plugging away this year, collecting signatures to put a local education control question on the ballot in Philly for this fall, and campaigining on minimum wage  in suburban Philly Republican districts , and now they’re making their first ever endorsement of Democratic Senatorial candidate Art Haywood, calling him a “champion of fair wages and good jobs.”

Art Haywood said of the endorsement, “As a strong Working Families Democrat, I am proud to accept the endorsement of PA Working Families. The name says it all about who I am running to represent. I am fighting to give raise the minimum wage, increase state funding for public schools, and reduce gun violence in our neighborhoods. I am excited to work in these fights with this group who shares my values. Together we represent change in Pennsylvania politics.”

Kati Sipp, Director of PA Working Families, “PA Working Families is thrilled to make Haywood our first endorsement, since he has made minimum wage and local control centerpieces of his campaign. Fighting for Pennsylvania’s working families isn’t just smart politics, it’s the right thing to do and we look forward to promoting candidates who are progressive champions like Art Haywood.

Since their launch, PA Working Families has focused on raising the minimum wage, paid sick days, and winning local control of the underfunded Philadelphia public schools.

This is just another victory for PA Working Families as they continue to increase their influence in Philadelphia, and throughout the state.  If Haywood can win the general election over the Republican candidate Robin Gilchrist, PA Working Families will have a voice in the Senate in the same year it launched, as well as the ears of many powerful members within the Philadelphia delegation.  Were that to happen, initiatives for a minimum wage increase and stability within the Philadelphia public school system would continue to gain traction.

While the rapid growth seems surprising at first, the people at Pennsylvania Working Families have listened to the citizens of Philadelphia, and because of their grassroots support, their influence has grown very quickly.  Back in May, the organization turned in 40,000 signatures to get a measure on the November ballot which promotes local control of the Philadelphia public schools.  As the school crisis continues to worsen and members of the GOP continue to vote against raises to the far-too-low minimum wage, expect the voice of Working Families to become even louder, especially if their new champion Art Haywood wins big in November.

Posted in Economic Development, Education, Greater Philadelphia, State Politics

Poll: Corbett at Lowest Polling Yet Against Wolf

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This race has been boring since the primary ended. Four in five respondents heard the Corbett attack ads and didn’t change their opinion. Corbett’s numbers actually got worse. He peaked against Wolf at 39% in July, and then started tanking again.


Posted in Elections, Governor