Friendly reminder

Just another reminder to RSS subscribers – State House Sound Bites is now hosted on WITF’s website:

http://www.witf.org/blogs/state-house-sound-bites

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Ch-ch-changes

Starting today, “State House Sound Bites” will be hosted at WITF’s website. The plan, for now, is to keep this site alive in some capacity. So keep checking back, if the mood strikes you.

Thanks to everyone in the small-but-growing audience for reading. We’ve had our fun here, especially with Joe the PlumberTom Corbett and some others.

So to paraphrase Derek Jeter, “we are relying on you to take the memories from this [website], add them to the new memories that come at the new [website], and continue to pass them on from generation to generation.”

Rendell’s transportation problem

The Allentown Morning Call’s John Micek posted a great analysis  of the politics of transportation funding on Sunday. He writes:

Here’s The Problem Facing Governor Rendell when it comes to finding new state money for roads and bridges.

On the same day that the Democratic governor’s barnstorming bus tour rolled into Ellwood City on the Ohio border Friday, a lawmaker from another part of rural western Pennsylvania was holding a golf outing for supporters who paid as much as $2,000 each for the privilege of supporting his re-election campaign and spending a few hours on the links under a blazing August sun.

In other words, Rendell, a lame-duck who leaves office in January, is looking to his legacy.

But the 253-members of the General Assembly who face voters in November are simply looking for another term.

And that means they’re unlikely to do anything to screw it up — like casting a vote in favor of the tax and vehicle fee hikes that the governor says are necessary to close a $450 million hole this year and to provide a stable funding source for a roughly $1 billion backlog of road and bridge repairs.

“They’re not voting for taxes,” said Terry Madonna, a political science professor and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. “They’d be loath to vote for taxes in a non-election year.” …

Rendell will be talking transportation at 9 AM on this morning’s WITF Radio Smart Talk.

Sestak = Michael Scott?

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Kevin Ferris makes a unique argument in today’s column. He says since winning the May primary, Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak has adopted the persona of lovable-but-bumbling Dunder-Mifflin regional manager Michael Scott.

He writes:

Start with the attacks on Toomey as a big spender during his time in Congress, from 1999 to 2005. A flier handed out by Sestak’s folks at a recent Toomey news conference pointed out that there was a $125 billion surplus when Toomey first took office, but a $412 billion deficit when he left. Devastating, right?

Republicans did spend irresponsibly during the Bush years when they controlled both Congress and the White House. But while Toomey is an unabashed promoter of tax cuts in order to spur economic growth, he also took a hard line on spending. For example, he was one of only 25 Republicans who voted against the $400 million Medicare prescription-drug program in 2003.

But let’s use Sestak’s reasoning and look at his side’s spending record. In 2007, when Sestak went to Washington with the new Democratic majorities in Congress, the deficit was $160 billion. This year’s projected deficit is $1.5 trillion, almost 10 times what it was when Sestak took office. So you’d think Sestak would keep quiet on spending, or at least have a good explanation for his votes in favor of trillions in bailouts, stimulus, and record budgets and deficits. Apparently not.

Sestak will, in fact, be in Scott’s hometown of Scranton on Tuesday. But he’s not there to shop for office paper. Instead, he’s campaigning with former President Bill Clinton.

Radio Times

A programming note:

I’ll be on WHYY’s Radio Times this morning from 10 to 11. Podcasting pal Alex Roarty of PoliticsPA and PLS and I will be talking elections – the Senate and gubernatorial campaign, as well as House races. You can listen online, or tune to 90.9 FM, if you’re in the area.

No blog updates this afternoon, as I brave the Turnpike on my way back from Philadelphia, and then work on some long-term projects.

GOP lawmaker hoping for a health care vote

A Tioga County Republican is hoping a Missouri referendum on the new federal health care law delivers some momentum for his effort to block the legislation in Pennsylvania. 7 in 10 Missouri voters recently opted to block the law’s health insurance mandate from taking effect in their state. Several other states, including Virginia, have also passed laws essentially nullifying a key portion of the measure.

Republican Representative Matthew Baker has authored a similar bill in Pennsylvania. He insists the federal government doesn’t have the right to make people buy a product.

Baker concedes the bill isn’t going to be brought up for a vote with Democrats controlling the House. Republican caucus spokesman Steve Miskin wouldn’t promise a floor vote if the GOP wins the majority in November, but says most House Republicans support the measure, and the bill would “definitely” be at least considered.

Pennsylvania’s Republican Attorney General, Tom Corbett, has signed onto a federal lawsuit challenging the health care bill’s constitutionality.

Politically Uncorrected

Terry Madonna and Michael Young think there’s an epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease among Pennsylvania’s politicians, and they’re concerned it’s spreading. Below, their latest “Politically Uncorrected” column.

Politically Uncorrected


By G. Terry Madonna & Michael L. Young


DUMB & DUMBER


Somebody needs to check Pennsylvania’s water supply. Perhaps it’s something those guys are drinking, or maybe smoking, that explains the faux pas outbreak spreading in the Keystone State. Either way, it’s threatening to become a serious epidemic.

First, Attorney General Tom Corbett, considered by many experts to be governor-in-waiting, recorded one of the truly boneheaded moments of the political season by trying to subpoena Twitter records in a legal showdown with a convicted Bonusgate defendant. This well-aimed shot to his own foot needlessly portrayed him as an enemy of the First Amendment.

Then, for an encore, he opined in an interview to a public radio reporter that Pennsylvania’s unemployed just weren’t looking for jobs hard enough because their juicy unemployment benefits kept them fat and happy.

These two gems, you might imagine, didn’t make anyone very happy. An embarrassed and uncharacteristically quiet Corbett quickly beat a strategic retreat, presumably seeking treatment for the foot-in-mouth disease he had recently contracted.

Almost on cue, Corbett’s backtrack came barely in time for incumbent Governor Ed Rendell to take center stage with a dazzling display of his own verbal maladroitness.

Rendell, always the consummate politician, is apparently concerned about keeping a bipartisan balance in Harrisburg. The governor doesn’t want anyone to think that only Republicans have dumb and dangerous ideas to proffer. Indeed, Democrats can hold their own in that category very well.

And here’s the proof if you doubt it. Rendell would like to mount cameras along highways to photograph license plates and compare the numbers against a database that would verify whether the driver has insurance. In short, he proposes that the state should monitor with cameras every driver out on Pennsylvania’s roads in case they’re doing something nefarious.

Not, you will note, because drivers have done something wrong or because there is a reasonable suspicion of wrong doing, but just in case. Is there an extra copy of George Orwell’s 1984 for the governor to peruse? Or maybe just a copy of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would do.

You will be relieved to know that strictly speaking Rendell’s plan is not a law enforcement proposal designed to get dangerous or financially irresponsible drivers off the roads. Allegedly Penn Dot and the state police are doing that already.

Instead, Rendell’s modern-day version of Candid Camera is really aimed at getting more money into the state’s fast dwindling treasury coffers. Who can blame him for good intentions? As Rendell winds up his final term, the state is, shall we say, financially embarrassed. It presently faces a $5 billion structural deficit and is flat broke by any benchmark you care to apply.

Now, Rendell is smart enough not to try to sell his camera scheme as law enforcement since everyone (over six years old, at least) knows that the state does almost nothing to enforce an insurance law already on the books for more than two decades. But he is naive enough to think he can get any serious money out of uninsured drivers who mostly are uninsured because they can’t afford insurance. This is the level of intellectual effort going on at the highest level of state government, circa 2010.

Rendell’s camera-in-every-lamppost proposition is so far his only recent entry in the I-can’t-believe-I-said-that category. Technically Tom Corbett’s still ahead. But stay tuned; these guys are very competitive. The campaigns still have many weeks to go, and the governor’s term doesn’t end until January 20. It’s still early.

What can we say about any of these not-quite-ready-for-prime-time doozies from the state’s top two officials? Rendell’s camera idea seems just plain frenzied. The state’s fiscal situation might be desperate, but the state’s governor doesn’t have to be.

As for Corbett’s blunders, maybe the less said the better.  He’s likely sorry for them, and everyone else is too.

But Rendell and Corbett have added further evidence, as if we needed it, that many politicians are falling more and more out of touch with average citizens. Even as Corbett seeks the governorship, his missteps are ominously bookended by Rendell’s late-term struggles. Yet both represent, by any measure, Pennsylvania’s best and brightest. None of this augurs well for a state facing its greatest governing challenges since the Great Depression. Get ready—the fun might just be starting.

High-risk insurance applications pouring in

Pennsylvania’s Insurance Department received more than a thousand requests to enter its new high-risk insurance pool during the first 24 hours of its application window.

About  1,100 applications have already been filed for the state’s new insurance plan targeted at people with preexisting health conditions. That’s about a third of the program’s 3,500-person cap, and department spokeswoman Melissa Fox explains they can’t increase participation. “The limitation on enrollment is based simply on the fact we are receiving $162 million from the federal government,” she explains. “The $162 million, when we look at the benefit package, will only be able to cover approximately 3,500  individuals.”

The Insurance Department is accepting applications at its website. Fox urges people to apply as soon as possible, though she says yesterday’s numbers don’t necessarily mean 1,100 spots have already been filled. “We have to do our due diligence by verifying social security numbers, citizenship and verifying that a preexisting condition exists. So I would not discourage folks to log on and complete an application.”

The money will cover a three-year stretch. Fox says the program is meant to serve as a bridge until 2014, when the new federal health care law goes into effect. The legislation bars insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.

“That’s not gonna be good for business…”

Last winter, as we all remember, the Capitol cafeteria shut down due to a severe rodent infestation. Aramark officials vowed to turn things around, and they did. Untill the cafeteria failed another inspection a few weeks later.

It’s been smooth sailing since then, health-wise, but the rodents’ legacy lingers. The cafe lost more than $600,000 in business this year, compared to a similar stretch in 2009, according to the Patriot-News’ Kari Andren. “The cafeteria, which is operated by Philadelphia-based Aramark Inc., brought in $674,262 less in the first six months of this year compared to the same time period in 2009. Sales for the first two quarters of 2009 totaled nearly $1.1 million, while figures for the first two quarters of this year were just $407,738.”

The drop in traffic has hurt the state, too. Aramark has paid just $18,349, compared to the $44,869 it wrote out in checks during the comparative 2009 stretch.

Personally, I boycotted the cafeteria for a few months in the beginning of the year, but started going back around March. However, I’ve begun to reconsider that decision, after  I discovering a fly in my salad yesterday.

Unfortunately, Grover wasn’t around to help me solve the fly problem.

Ardo to Thompson’s office

Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson’s office has sent out a press release this morning announcing its new communications director: former Rendell press secretary Chuck Ardo.

Thompson, as you may recall, advertised the position on Craigslist earlier this year. Her staff has experienced an unusual amount of turnover for a first-year executive, and Ardo will be her third communications director.

Ardo left the Rendell Administration about a year ago, and had been working for the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

UPDATE: Ardo’s one-time nemesis, House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin, has this to say: “We all know Chuck as thick skin. This proves it.”

UPDATE 2: Ardo weighs in with this comment, via email. “The Mayor needs to concentrate on the pressing issues facing the city without the added burden of searching for staff. I was local and available to step in quickly. My expecation is merely to do the best I can to inform the public.”

Here’s the release:

MAYOR LINDA THOMPSON ANNOUNCES APPOINTMENT OF

CHUCK ARDO AS COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR

HARRISBURG: Mayor Linda Thompson today announced that Chuck Ardo has agreed to join her team as Communications Director.  Ardo is a former spokesman for Governor Ed Rendell and served in multiple communications roles in several states prior to his days is Harrisburg. He will begin his new job on Monday morning.

“I am excited to have Chuck on board,” said Mayor Thompson.” He is already familiar with most of the issues and has an established relationship with key players as well as the press. I’m confident he will be as successful in his new role as he has been in so many others.  I appreciate his willingness to come out of retirement to serve the Administration.”

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