Sunday, January 31, 2010

Center of Nerd Universe: PA

Nerd Merit Badges, my new favorite Pennsylvania small business, is located in West Chester. Check out all the currently available merit badges and the nifty laptop sash at

PA in Feb 2010 Fast Company

On Friday I finished reading the February issue of Fast Company. There were three Pennsylvania notes:

Anil Dash, director of Expert Labs, grew up in Harrisburg. His first job is described as "As a kid in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Dash helped build a computerized grading system for a neighbor who was a community-college professor."

A note on museum admission tags includes a graphic of those little things you clip to your lapel. The Philadelphia Museum of Art's tags are included.

In an article on Volkswagon is it noted that VW's first U.S. factory was in New Stanton, Pennsylvania in 1978.

4th Quarter GDP Growth

Two statements on 4th quarter GDP Growth

Bryan Lentz:

Representative Bryan Lentz released the following statement regarding the surge in the nation’s economic growth at the end of 2009. Numbers released by the U.S. Department of Commerce showed the gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic activity, expanded at an annual rate of 5.7% last quarter, the fastest pace of growth in over six years.

“The American economy is growing again, and we must seize this moment to create good, full-time and long term jobs for the American people. Today’s GDP numbers are the best in over 6 years and are a great sign for our nation’s economic progress,” said Lentz. “Consistent economic growth is the first step on the path to full recovery. Our next step must be creating jobs and setting aside petty partisan politics to promote clean energy, high-speed rail and other innovative technologies that have major job-creating potential.

“Too many talking heads and politicians have been wallowing in the negative and suggesting that we surrender and wait for the economic cycle to play out, but I could not disagree more. Every downturn is an opportunity when you have the hardest working, best educated and most innovative workforce in the world. There is no reason we should not lead the world in developing and manufacturing clean energy technologies, no reason that the United States should not have the most advanced transportation system in the world and no reason we cannot rise out of this period of insecurity stronger and more prosperous than ever.”

Elizabeth Lucas, State Director for Organizing for America (OFA)-Pennsylvania issued the following statement regarding the 5.7 percent growth in the nation’s economy in the fourth quarter of 2009 released by the United States Commerce Department today:

“The news today that the nation’s economy grew by 5.7 percent in the last quarter of 2009 is both welcome and encouraging. With two straight quarters of GDP growth this past year—and the last quarter growing at the fastest rate since 2003—it is clear that the President’s policies are beginning to take effect. We are pleased to see signs of recovery, and confident we will continue to make progress on behalf of the millions of families and communities still struggling through the global economic downturn.

“In the coming months, it is critical that we implement the President’s proposals to support middle-class families and businesses so we can spur the job creation necessary to move beyond recovery to broad economic prosperity.

“This is only the beginning. By putting into action the plan unveiled by the President earlier this week, we know we will keep our economy moving in the right direction.”

Doherty Ad Wins Award

The Reed Awards have recognized Devine Mulvey's ad for PA gubernatorial candidate Chris Doherty as "Technology – Web Video: Best Spot that Could Never Appear on Our Airwaves"

Stodgy Jane

A few thoughts that make me sound stodgy.

A gentleman of my acquaintance, Catholic and married for many years, brought something to my attention. A local free paper, distributed on public transit, has been running full page ads for a dating service that caters, in part, to married people. I don't read that paper and so hadn't seen them. He was incensed that ads are encouraging people to have affairs. You know, I agree with him. Gay people getting married won't have any impact on heterosexual marriage but ads in mainstream papers telling married people to fool around might. Ad revenues are down but surely papers can do better than this!

A week or so ago I was staffing a booth near an alley; it was a dead end, too narrow for cars, just a walkway between a building and a wall. Three kids passed the table and went into the alley. Two boys and a girl, all looked around 12 or 13. I turned to the parent at the booth with me and said "no good can come of that." She agreed, so off I went to be nosy. Only one of the boys and the girl were visible, engaged in an introductory Biology 101 activity. The kids looked about the same age and it looked consensual, but mindful that teen pregnancy rates are up I yelled down the alley "Hey, what are you guys doing?" They dashed out and when I left about 30 minutes later they were sitting on the monkey bars at a nearby school playground. Apparently I have become an old busybody.

Mark! Zandi! Mania!

Mark Zandi (chief economist at West Chester based Moody's, frequently quoted in the Wall Street Journal, and expert sought out by those in both parties, has reached the pinnacle of fame. Yes, he is the subject of a profile in Philadelphia Magazine. Chec out "The Hardest Working Man in the Recession" by Don Steinberg.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

DGA Conference Call

Earlier this week the Democratic Governors Association held their monthly blogger conference call. These are very informative conversations, even if each state isn't discussed in detail each call. There are 37 gubernatorial races this year, including Pennsylvania's. Topics covered included campaign finance, keeping new voters engaged, as well as some state specifics. The DGA has been getting ready for the fight and has more cash on hand now than they spent on all the 2006 races combined. It should be an interesting year.

Fed Funding for PA Rail

From the inbox:

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will today announce that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is awarding $8 billion to states across the country to develop America’s first nationwide program of high-speed intercity passenger rail service. Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), these dollars represent an historic investment in the country’s transportation infrastructure, which will help create jobs and transform travel in America. The announcement is one of a number of job initiatives the President will lay out in the coming weeks that follow up on the continued commitment to job creation he discussed in last night’s State of the Union Address. A full list of the awards can be viewed HERE.

“Through the Recovery Act, we are making the largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was created, putting Americans to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, and waterways for the future,” said President Obama. “That investment is how we can break ground across the country, putting people to work building high-speed rail lines, because there’s no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America.”

“By investing in high speed rail, we’re doing so many good things for our country at the same time,” said Vice President Biden. We’re creating good construction and manufacturing jobs in the near-term; we’re spurring economic development in the future; we’re making our communities more livable—and we’re doing it all while decreasing America’s environmental impact and increasing America’s ability to compete in the world.”

Today’s awards will serve as a down-payment on developing or laying the groundwork for 13 new, large-scale high-speed rail corridors across the country. The major corridors are part of a total of 31 states receiving investments, including smaller projects and planning work that will help lay the groundwork for future high-speed intercity rail service. The grants are not only expected to have an up-front job and economic impact, but help spur economic growth in communities across the country, provide faster and more energy-efficient means of travel, and establish a new industry in the U.S. that provides stable, well-paid jobs.

This historic $8 billion investment is expected to create or save tens of thousands of jobs over time in areas like track-laying, manufacturing, planning and engineering, and rail maintenance and operations. Over 30 rail manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, have agreed to establish or expand their base of operations in the United States if they are hired to build America’s next generation high-speed rail lines – a commitment the Administration secured to help ensure new jobs are created here at home.

“The President’s bold vision for high-speed rail is a game changer,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “It’s not only going to create good jobs and reinvigorate our manufacturing base, it’s also going to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and help create livable communities. I have no doubt that building the next generation of rail service in this country will help change our society for the better.”

Among the projects listed:
PA Philadelphia - Harrisburg - Pittsburgh Northeast These grants will eliminate the three remaining grade crossings on the corridor, further improving the 110 mph service, and will fund a planning study for extention of the service to Pittsburgh.

Bryan Lentz Update

A few update items from current state rep and congressional candidate, Bryan Lentz.

Lentz has posted another entry on Daily Kos, this one focusing on political corruption in Pennsylvania.

Lentz announced the 1st Vice Chair of the Delaware County Democratic Party and the Chair of the Marple Newton Democratic Party, Tony Campisi, endorsed his campaign for the 7th Congressional District.

He is conducting a town hall meeting on state and local transportation issues from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28 at the Folsom Fire House, 411 Sutton Ave. and will discuss his regional airport legislation (H.B. 2138) aimed at alleviating the overcrowded conditions at Philadelphia International Airport and reducing the impact of increased flight traffic on surrounding neighborhoods by effectively using regional airports.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

SOTU Reactions

From the inbox, various reactions to this evening's State of the Union address:

Congressman Paul Kanjorski:

Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11) released the following statement regarding President Obama’s State of the Union address:

“Tonight, President Obama spoke openly to the American people about the struggles we face and how we can improve the lives for everyone going forward. Now is the time to work together to address the complex problems that reach way beyond the partisan bickering that has too often overwhelmed real debate on the issues. As the President said, we owe it to the American people to move forward, create more American jobs, reform Wall Street rules, control excessive spending, and turn our economy around. I very much agree.

“During the past two years, far too many Americans have personally experienced the devastating consequences of the economic crisis. Since joining Congress, my top priorities have been job creation and economic development, particularly in Northeastern Pennsylvania. During these difficult times, I agree with the President that we need to enhance and expand efforts to generate more jobs.

“The Recovery Act has preserved jobs throughout the nation, but we can, and we must, do more, much more. With my support, the House has already passed the Jobs for Main Street Act to create more jobs here at home. We must also do everything reasonably possible to turn the tide of our economy and improve the well being of every American. I am committed to doing just that. As I have continued to stress, fixing our economy will not happen overnight, but I have faith that we will emerge from these tough times stronger than ever.

“As we work to create new jobs, more jobs, and better jobs, we must also take action to change the rules of Wall Street and rein in the biggest financial institutions which caused the current crisis. As the President stressed, reforming Wall Street is essential to preventing another economic crisis like the one we just experienced. In December, with my strong support the House passed a Wall Street reform bill. This bill included my amendment to limit the risk of financial companies by preventing them from becoming ‘too big to fail.’ The President’s remarks tonight only strengthened my resolve to enact into law a common-sense financial regulatory reform bill to better protect the financial security of every American and fundamentally change the way Wall Street operates.

“Finally, the President outlined his plan to address the looming federal deficit. Because I worked with President Clinton to turn a massive deficit into a sizable budget surplus, I know we can fix this problem. To reverse the vast deficit built up in the last 8 years, we must now make tough choices. By making prudent fiscal decisions and creating a bipartisan budget task force, as the President stated, we can once again work to reduce our budget deficit, focus on national priorities, and decrease spending.”

Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz issued the following statement in response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

“Tonight, President Obama addressed the serious challenges facing our nation and put forth a renewed call for policies that restore economic security for middle class families and American businesses. The plan the president laid out tonight will continue our efforts to rebuild our economy by jumpstarting private sector jobs and will put in place measures to reduce the federal deficit.

“I agree with the president’s call to spur job creation by making long-term investments in small businesses, clean energy jobs and transportation infrastructure and by enacting policies to boost American manufacturing by increasing exports of American products.

“For too long skyrocketing health care costs have inhibited our nation’s economic competitiveness. Rising premiums have hurt millions of American families and the uncertainty of health care costs has impacted small businesses’ hiring decisions. We made enormous progress last year on finding a uniquely American solution to ensuring that every American has access to quality, affordable health care, and I was encouraged to hear the President’s commitment to meeting this promise to the American people.

“As we continue to make progress with recovery measures enacted earlier this year, American families and businesses are still struggling and the pain of last year has not subsided. As vice chair of the House Budget Committee, I know how important it is that we address our nations’ budgetary challenges. While we must focus on reigning in spending and reducing our national deficit, we must continue to make smart investments both today and in the future that ensure America’s economic prosperity.

“The time for building a strong foundation for America’s future is now.”

Congressman Joe Sestak

"I applaud the President tonight for recognizing that in 2008, Americans voted for change, not just of parties or policies, but for a fundamental change in politics and the way we do business in Washington. As he said in his speech, 'We face a deficit of trust - deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years.' Too many in Washington have strayed from principled compromise to a compromise of principles. Too many have forgotten that it is jobs for American workers that matter, not our own. Americans should be frustrated. Now we need to prove that government can restore accountability and transparency and work for the working families by making job growth and long-term financial security our top priorities.

"To rein in deficit and debt spending while ensuring quality job creation with real income growth, we must pass a job creation plan that

* strengthens small business hiring,
* invests in new and emerging industries like alternative energy,
* closes tax loopholes that ship jobs overseas,
* implements job share programs,
* saves jobs by closing state budget deficits, and
* ensures consumer confidence by providing relief to job seekers.

"To restore faith in our public officials and institutions, Congress and the President should work together to implement a statutory "pay-as-you-go" (PAYGO) rule that requires an offset for all new government spending and expand PAYGO to cover all spending-both mandatory and discretionary - and to end the earmark system by gradually replacing it with an objective, competitive grants process that removes political influence.

"President Obama delivered the right message with the right tone. Now results must happen to ensure accountability for what has been said."

Just to be different, we'll end with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, chair of the Democratic Governor's Association:
DGA Chair Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware issued the following statement in support of the President’s State of the Union address tonight:

“The President spoke directly to Americans families tonight about the issues that matter most in their daily lives. Better jobs, access to a great education and a more cost-effective government are the priorities we must have and the promises we must keep.

Democratic governors will work with the President to create and save jobs and hope others will not work to derail his agenda simply to score political points. Our states’ citizens are clamoring for leaders who will come together around the best solutions – not partisan bickering.

We will tap into the historic optimism and boundless talent that have always solved our nation’s problems and oppose appeals to fear and division meant to stop our economic progress. We will build a strong foundation to move our economy forward, and reject efforts to plot a course back to the failed policies that caused this long recession.

As Governors who live and work outside the D.C. Beltway, we meet families every day who are coping with lost jobs or rising health care costs. We hear from parents who want to make sure their children are ready to compete with and win against students anywhere in the world. We fight each day to make our governments more efficient, effective, responsive and responsible. The President has clearly heard them as well.

In trying times like these, Americans rise to meet our challenges together. The President called on all of us to respond as one, and we will. We look forward to working with the President to lay the new foundation for prosperity.”

Onorato on BRT

From the inbox:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato said today that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's decision to put a 2-year stop to property tax reassessments is proof that Pennsylvania's assessment system is broken and needs a statewide solution.

“I have spent years standing up for Allegheny County's homeowners to stop back-door property tax hikes through reassessment," Onorato said. “As Governor, I will do the same for all Pennsylvanians by enacting a statewide fix to our broken property tax system.”

Onorato said that Pennsylvania is one of the only states in the nation where assessment is fully controlled by counties and disparities from one county to another are allowed to fester -- threatening families' economic security and hurting economic and community development.

“Pennsylvania's over-reliance on property taxes hurts our homeowners as well as the quality of education in our schools. That is why I believe we must continue to implement the Legislature's Costing-Out Report to increase the state share of school funding, while simultaneously addressing the broken property tax assessment system,” Onorato said.

"I applaud Mayor Nutter's actions to protect Philadelphia homeowners from unfair and inaccurate reassessment,” closed Onorato. “The residents of all 67 Pennsylvania counties deserve a state law that ensures reassessments are fair, accurate and necessary -- especially during these tough economic times."

Two PA Residents Seated with First Lady at SOTU

Two Pennsylvania residents will be seated with the First Lady at the State of the Union address. They are:

Jeffrey Brown (Philadelphia, PA)

Jeffrey Brown is the founder, President and CEO of Brown’s Super Stores, Inc., a growing ten-store supermarket chain trading under the ShopRite banner. As one of the leading supermarkets in the Philadelphia area, the company employs 2,300 associates who are committed to making a difference for their customers and the local communities they serve.

Brown graduated from Babson College, Massachusetts with a degree in entrepreneurial studies. He resides in southern New Jersey with his wife Sandy and their four sons Joshua, Alex, Lenny, and Scott.

Tina Dixon (Allentown, PA)

Tina is currently employed by Lehigh Valley Health Network as a Technical Partner Trainee, a job that she was able to secure through the EARN program (Employment Advancement and Retention Network – a program focused primarily on Paid Work Experience placement) at the Allentown, Pennsylvania CareerLink in preparation to re-enter the workforce after years as a stay-at-home mother to three girls, Olivia, Allison, and Lauren.

It was at CareerLink that Tina met President Obama on the first White House to Main Street Tour in December 2009.

Schwartz on Budget Outlook

From the inbox:

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, Vice Chair of the House Budget Committee, issued the following statement today after a Budget Committee hearing to discuss the economic and budget outlook with Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf.

“Today’s report from CBO indicates that the federal deficit is expected to improve in 2009 and our efforts to stabilize the American economy are working. While this is good news, we have serious work to do to reduce our national debt and ensure economic opportunities for American families.

“When President Bush took office, he inherited a surplus of $236 billion, the largest surplus since 1948. After eight years of deficit spending and fiscal irresponsibility, he squandered that surplus and left President Obama with a record deficit of $1.3 trillion and the worst recession in 80 years.

“While we still have far to go, our economy has seen progress due to recovery measures enacted by President Obama and Democrats in Congress. We experienced a very deep and broad recession and while we are seeing stabilization, these are still challenging times for American families and American businesses.

“The long-term projections included in the report and the difficulties our economy still faces, means that we must begin to address our nation’s budgetary challenges now if we want to create lasting economic revitalization.

“I applaud the President for his commitment to make deficit reduction a priority this year and I urge my colleagues to pass budgetary rules such as statutory pay-as-you-go legislation that helped transform budget deficits into surpluses in the 1990’s. I also support the creation of a debt commission that places America on a path toward a balanced budget, deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility.

“The road to success has been difficult, but as the economy improves, now is the time to put deficit reduction plans into motion, ensuring that the recovery is lasting and built on a sound foundation.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hoeffel Kicks Off Campaign

Joe Hoeffel formally launched his campaign for governor today. He held events across the state, ending in Philadelphia, at the convention center. I stopped in. If you haven't there, the convention center is a big place. I teamed up with another woman wandering the halls trying to find it. Hoeffel did give us a big clue -- he brought a MARCHING BAND. Yes, the Lincoln University Orange Crush were playing away when I got there. I've never seen a marching band at a political event before. It was very cool. A marching band, complete with those big hats, uniforms, high stepping and a drum major. One more time: a marching band!

Marcel Groen, chair of the Montgomery Count Democrats, started things off. He said politicians don't always like Hoeffel but people do.

He introduced Kate Michelman, president of NARAL from 1985 to 2004. She is chairing Women for Hoeffel. Michelman is a resident of Pennsylvania and lives in the "T." She has known Hoeffel since he was a state rep in Harrisburg. He went on the serve on the Montgomery County commissioner, congressman, and again as county commissioner.

Hoeffel then spoke. He said he believes in public service and wants to make Pennsylvania better by changing the way things work in Harrisburg. He challenges people to step forward and take part in the election. Describing himself as a socially liberal and fiscally conservative he wants to focus on our hopes and dreams not our fears and anger.

Priorities will be jobs and good schools. He wants legislation that will treat people fairly and equitably. He mentioned specifically choice and gun safety legislation (one handgun a month, reporting of lost and stolen guns). In economic development we need to invest with the private sector to create opportunities.

Hoeffel's family, wife and two grown children, joined him on the stage.

It was a very nice campaign kickoff. Did I mention he had a marching band?

Greg Kravitz Runs for State House

Gregg Kravitz, who has been working with 6th congressional candidate Manan Trivedi, has decided to run for office himself. He is taking on Rep. Babette Josephs who represents the 182nd district, which is located in the Center City area of Philadelphia and includes the neighborhoods of Grays Ferry, Center City, Fitler Square, Washington Square West, Bella Vista, South of South Street, Passyunk Square, Logan Square, Hawthorne, and Fairmount.

Kravitz send these comments in a press release:

“My decision to run for state representative is not about me or any other candidate in this election,” said Kravitz. “It is about you, and it’s about the future of Pennsylvania. The challenges facing our state are complex, and often intertwined. We have deficits on so many fronts: jobs, education, health care, civil rights, safety, infrastructure – the list goes on and on,” Kravitz continued. "Now more than ever, we need to stop worrying about who is wrong and put our focus on what is wrong and how to fix things."

Active in his community from the time he was a teenager, Kravitz has taken on leadership roles within his synagogue, his university NAACP chapter and the Philadelphia Democratic Party. The son of small business owners, he learned the importance of serving his community from a very young age: “My parents' influence has made a tremendous impact on my life,” said Kravitz. “From their entrepreneurial spirit, to serving others through our synagogue, I learned the value of hard work and civic engagement. With that, I have always tried to do right by those around me."

"The level of corruption and cronyism that is so prevalent in Pennsylvania's state Capitol is unacceptable at any time - but it is particularly damaging at a time when real leadership is needed. I will step up and push for the necessary changes that need to be made so that the people of this district will feel confident that their interests are once again the priority in Harrisburg. And that is why I am running to be their next state representative,” Kravitz concluded.

I've emailed with Kravitz regarding the Trivedi and was impressed with is work.

PA OFA Responds to Middle Class Task Force Findings

From the inbox:

Organizing for America Pennsylvania State Director Elizabeth Lucas released the following statement after President Obama and Vice President Biden’s meeting of the Middle Class Task Force where they laid out key initiatives to help middle class families affected by the economy. Organizing for America (OFA) is a project of the Democratic National Committee committed to supporting President Obama’s agenda for change.

“President Obama and his administration are working tirelessly day in and day out to get Pennsylvanians working again and to strengthen our economy for the long term. The initiatives announced by the White House Middle Class Task Force yesterday will help middle class families in Pennsylvania get back on their feet and start getting ahead.

“The plan the President announced today will help the middle class by expanding tax credits for middle class families, easing the burden of student federal loan payments, creating a system of automatic workplace IRAs, expanding tax credits to match retirement savings and helping families pay for care for elderly relatives. These are the type of common sense solutions that President Obama promised on the campaign trail in 2008, and it’s clear that as President he’s delivering.”

For the last year, the White House Middle Class Task Force has traveled across the country talking with Americans from all walks of life as well as policy makers and experts to develop policies aimed at raising the living standards of middle class, working families in America.

The recommendations of the Middle Class Task Force will:

1. Reduce costs of child care by nearly doubling the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit for families earning less than $85,000 per year and increasing child care funding by $1.6 billion, helping an additional 235,000 children.

2. Ease the burden of student loan payments by ensuring that no student pays more than 10 percent of his or her income on loan repayment.

3. Help workers save for retirement by requiring employers to provide an option for employees to enroll in a direct-deposit IRA.

4. Protect retirement by expanding tax credits to match retirement savings and enact new protections on those savings.

5. Support families caring for elderly relatives, help them to manage this responsibility and allow seniors to live in their communities for as long as possible.

Remarks by Pres and VP on Middle Class Task Force

From Monday's inbox:

President Obama and Vice President Biden Preview Initiatives for Middle Class Families Discussion Previews a Key Theme for State of the Union Address

Today President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will hold a meeting of the Middle Class Task Force, where they will lay out key investments for middle class families. Today's discussion will preview one of the key themes of the President's State of the Union address, which include creating good jobs, addressing the deficit, changing Washington, and fighting for middle class families.

President Obama said, "We are fighting every single day to put Americans back to work, create good jobs, and strengthen our economy for the long-term. The additional steps laid out today focus on easing the burdens on middle class families who are struggling in this economy, and providing the help they need to get ahead."

"Every day, middle class families go to work and help make this country great. For a year, our Task Force has been hearing that they are struggling with soaring costs and squeezed family budgets. These common sense initiatives will help these families cope with these challenges," said Vice President Biden.

After traveling across the country the past year talking with families, caregivers, educators, students, seniors, as well as policy makers and experts, Chair of the White House Task Force on Middle Class Families Vice President Joe Biden will join President Obama to announce several recommendations of the Task Force. These initiatives, borne out of the meetings, travel and work of the Task Force, are aimed at helping middle class families afford soaring child care costs; care for their aging relatives; cope with the challenge of saving for retirement; and pay for their children's college tuition.

Since its creation one year ago this week, the Middle Class Task Force has held 11 meetings around the country and at the White House. At these meetings, Vice President Biden heard from parents who were grappling with the costs of child care; students coming out of college drowning in debt; children of elderly relatives struggling to care for them; and workers who were barely able to pay their mortgage, much less save for retirement.

As a result of these meetings, conversations and feedback from around the country, the Vice President and the Task Force will propose several policy initiatives to help middle class families:

1. Nearly Doubling the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit for middle class families making under $85,000 a year. This is accomplished by increasing their tax credit rate from 20% to 35% of qualifying expenses. The value of the tax credit nearly doubles for all families making under $85,000 a year, and every family that makes under $115,000 will see their tax credit increase.

Additionally, for families struggling to join the middle class, the administration will provide a $1.6 billion increase in child care funding, the largest one-year increase in 20 years, to help an additional 235,000 children.

2. Limiting a student's federal loan payments to 10 percent of his or her income above a basic living allowance. This will lower payments for hundreds of thousands of students, who are struggling to make ends meet coming out of college.

3. Creating a system of automatic workplace IRAs, requiring all employers to give the option for employees to enroll in a direct-deposit IRA.

4. Expanding tax credits to match retirement savings and enacting new safeguards to protect retirement savings, making it easier for families to plan for retirement.

5. Expanding support for families balancing work with caring for elderly relatives, helping them manage their multiple responsibilities and allowing seniors to live in the community for as long as possible.

The Task Force's final report, and full recommendations, will be released in February.

Additional information about these Middle Class Task Force initiatives is included in the attached fact sheet.

About the Middle Class Task Force: The Task Force, Chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, is a group of top-level administration policy makers, charged with the mission of focusing on developing policies aimed at raising the living standards of middle-class, working families in America.

Since its creation on January 30, 2009, the Middle Class Task Force has held 11 meetings around the country and at the White House:

· February 27, 2009: Green Jobs (Philadelphia, PA)

· March 17, 2009: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Middle Class Families (St. Cloud, MN)

· April 17, 2009: College Affordability (St. Louis, MO)

· May 26, 2009: Green Jobs (Denver, CO)

· June 23, 2009: Manufacturing in the 21st Century (Perrysburg, OH)

· July 10, 2009: Health Reform Roundtable (The White House)

· July 16, 2009: AARP/Health Care Reform Discussion (Arlington, Virginia)

· September 9, 2009: Access to College (Syracuse, NY)

· October 19, 2009: Middle Class Recovery Through Retrofit (The White House)

· November 5, 2009: Roundtable with Policy Experts (Washington, DC)

· December 16, 2009: Roundtable with Leaders in Manufacturing Sector (The White House)

Members of the Task Force include: Vice President Biden, Chair; the Secretaries of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, Treasury, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Agriculture; the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; as well as the Directors of the National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Domestic Policy Council, and the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.

To read reports released by the Middle Class Task Force, please visit: www.WhiteHouse.Gov/AStrongMiddleClass.

Fed Money for PA Transit

From the inbox:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Announces

$2.8 Million in Federal Recovery Act Funds to Pay for Transit Improvements in Pennsylvania

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced $2.8 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funds for transit improvements in Pennsylvania.

“The Recovery Act was put in place quickly to rescue the economy from the worst recession since the Great Depression and rebuild it for a stronger future,” said Secretary LaHood. “Rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure is a key part of that prescription for strength. It creates jobs today and builds a better, more sustainable economy moving forward.”

Grants are being awarded as follows:

· Red Rose Transit Authority: $2.45 million towards facility renovation and expansion project.

· City of Washington: $371, 099 towards the City Intermodal Transit Center/Park & Ride.

Since President Obama signed ARRA into law on Feb. 17, 2009, grants totaling more than $7.2 billion have been made available for transit improvements throughout the nation.

“These funds are creating jobs now while investing in the future of our transit systems,” said Administrator Peter Rogoff of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). “The public’s demand for transit service continues to grow, and these dollars will help meet that need.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation is making $48.1 billion available for highway and bridge, rail, transit, small shipyards and airport construction and repairs nationwide. Of that, $32.5 billion already has been awarded and will support 11,805 projects in 55 U.S. states and territories.

Monday, January 25, 2010

LWV Event in Abington

Last Thursday the League of Women Voters of Abington – Cheltenham – Jenkintown, along with the Rydal Meadowbrook Civic Association held the annual LWV legislators’ forum.

State House Reps. Rick Taylor(D-151), Josh Shapiro (D-153), Larry Curry (D-154), Brendan Boyle (D-170), and State Senator LeAnna Washington (D-04) attended.

The League had three prepared questions and then took written questions from the audience. I’ve attended this event a few years ago and, as always, found it very informative.

These are rough notes and should not be taken as transcripts. Apologies in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

Q1: Will next year’s budget be adopted on time and will the legislature be pressured to make serious public policy decisions that should be made independently of budgetary considerations?

RT: Thanks for holding the forum. It was a regrettable moment. We need to do better. We should start the process in earnest earlier, perhaps moving to a biennial budget. I don’t’ believe in penalties, such as docking legislators pay, though voluntarily gave up salary until budget passed. Penalties will lead to a bad product [budget].

JS: It was a debacle; there was no excuse for the delay. How much more can you realistically cut and now much revenue can you realistically raise. Does think the legislators should not be paid if the budget goes over schedule and voluntarily gave up his own pay. We should tax Marcellus shale extraction.

LW: Thanks. By law we should finish the budget by June 30th. Gaming was the only revenue source we had. WE should have done marcellus shale the same way.

LC: Hard thing to live through. Budget season began in the state senate. The GOP said no tax increase.

BB: Thanks. 1) enormity of the problem, 12% deficity, 2) divided government; Democrats control the House, Republicans the senate, 3) obstinance of leadership of both parties.

Q2: What reforms, if any, would you propose to make the legislature operate more efficiently?

BB: campaign finance reform. disagrees with recent Supreme Court decision. 16 states have public financing of elections.

LC: fundraising is the least pleasant aspect of the job. We need spending and contribution limits. Some legislators talk too much on the House floor, but you can’t limit free speech.

LW: legislation is online now. Senators and senate employees pay a percentage of their health insurance. The senate doesn’t have debate and discussion.

JS: 1) greater transparency, 2) reduce cost of legislature When he was on the commission on reform they passed a lot of reform legislation. A lot of irresponsible spending practices have gone way. Now the chair of the audit committee. You can see where the money goes. There is $200 million in the legislative leadership accounts. Should be returned to the general fund.

RT: Shapiro hit on a number of his points. Legislature is a deliberative body, not built to be inefficient. Rewards seniority not merit. Should elect committee chairs and empower chairs. Now leaders control what legislation gets to the floor to be voted on.

Q3: Please provide your thoughts on how the state constitutions comment on the environment (see Article 1, section 27) should guide legislative decision making on environmental issues.

LW: guided by mandate. we should take a serious look at the Marcellus shale situation.

LC: water issues because of Marcellus shale.

JS: one of the most progressive parts of the constitution. worked to pass growing greener 2, fund to clean up hazardous sites. How to deal with Marcellus shale, ensure safety of environment. voted to tax Marcellus shale.

RT: economic development vs environmental protection.

BB: very strong believer in energy independence. Marcellus shale is a great opportunity but must protect the environment. cant keep cutting DEP. Mentions Delaware and Chesapeake River watersheds.

Audience questions

Q: As Montgomery County legislators, do you support the expansion of commuter rail to avoid parking garages?

LW: alludes to proposed Jenkintown SEPTA station parking garage. SEPTA said she supported it and she doesn’t.

JS: absolutely should support commuter rail

Q: paper trail for elections?

JS: yes

RT: yes

LW: yes

BB: yes, implicit in right to vote is right to have that vote counted.

Q: small business and health care costs

LW: introduced legislation to classify businesses with 250 or less employees as a small business, up from current 150.

JS: For years I introduced legislation to allow small businesses to work together to form pools for health care. Has passed in the House.

Q: movement for more gun control in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania generally

LW: introduce 1 handgun a month for Philadelphia with an opt in for the rest of the state, will introduce each year. People like to hunt and she likes deer meat. People in the western part of the state don’t like gun control.

LC: difficult to get the bill going.

RT: Been working with CeasefirePA, lost and stolen guns, too many straw purchases. Believes in the right to own guns and hunting.

LW: Lynn Abraham had begun to support legislation, closed down gun shops that were lax on straw purchases

Q: 2010 census, redistricting by nonpartisan independent commission?

LW: yes, ethics laws changed some things of the past.

BB: yes, he represents the most gerrymandered district, looks like the letter C. not correct way to conduct democracy.

JS: HB 1805, and LC”S HB 619 bills, key is to take politics out of it, better policy.

LC: must be careful with HB 1805, talks about legislative reapportionment that doesn’t mention congressional districts, HB 619 does.

Q: SB 935, same sex marriage

JS: Three years ago he voted against a bill in the house to do away with same sex unions, including domestic partnerships. PA has to be catch up with the times, and be compassionate.

BB: It is legal to discriminate in the workplace and housing on the basis of sex orientation. This is wrong.

RT: We recently celebrated Martin Luther King Day, a day of service. Think of same sex marriage as a civil rights issue.

LW: Government should get out of people’s bedrooms.

Q: Adult Basic [state health program], waiting list is growing

JS: We are in limbo with Adult Basic, waiting to see what Congress does. 2 problems 1) less money available, and 2) federal matches set to expire at the end of the calendar year. We can’t continue to use Adult Basis to be insurer for the poor, can’t afford it.

LW: universal health care is important. Preventive medicine saves money.

RT: There has been a 40% increase in the uninsured since he took office.

Q: extraction tax

LC: some opportunity before floor vote, helpful. in legislature felt some pressure to pass tax, rebuild DEP.

JS: all 4 House members voted for it, not a tax on people but on companies. Sent to the Senate. GOP leadership did now bring it up for a vote. Look at their campaign finance reports and see who is donating to them.

LW: everyone needs input on what legislation is voted on.

BB: theme – need for govt reform. Instead of extraction tax someone came up with the arts tax and taxing small games of change. Those did not pass.

RT: Proudest of his vote against the arts tax. All forms of tobacco should be taxed. Instead of Marcellus shale extraction and tobacco tax we got table games.

Q: greater transparency with disclosure of lobbyists

JS: already voted on it, on the PA Secretary of State site.

Q: number of signatures required for third party candidates to get on the ballot

BB: not fair. Pennsylvania has very restrictive requirements for this. There should be some requirement but it should be reasonable.

JS: agree

RT: bring back the Bull Moose Party!! [this was a joke]

Q: given the judicial scandal in Luzerne County, should we elect judges?

JS; merit selection is gaining steam

RT: We want the best quality people in the judiciary, support merit selection but might not be realist, campaign finance reform

BB: RT;s bill on public financing for judicial elections. Teddy Roosevelt came up with campaign finance reform to address a scandal. That is a pattern – scandal, reform, unintended consequences.

Q: tax increase, teacher’s pension fund

JS: pension system in PA, in 2011, 2012 will have a deficit. Is that the question? [yes] This is a 10 billion dollar problem, fundamental restructuring of government, no answer yet. Sponsored legislation, passed twice in the House to keep pension money out of Iran and Sudan. It is in the Senate now, but sitting, not being acted on

Q: 2 top priorities

RT: unemployment and job creation

JS: jobs, jobs, jobs, health care system for small businesses, use of hand held cell phones and texting while driving

LW: jobs jobs jobs and job training

LC: jobs and job training, poisons chemical in making of plastic bottles

BB: spurring economic growth in the sate. getting more regular ordinary Pennsylvanians involved in state and local government.

Tonight's Schwartz Event

Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz (D-13) held an event this evening at Finnegan's Wake. I stopped in briefly, as I have in previous years. It is always well attended with a lot of nice people. If there were any public announcements I missed them, but had a good time regardless.

Tax Credits for AE Polysilicon

From the inbox:

Today, Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-8th District) joined AE Polysilicon to announce over $44 million in investment for the creation of green energy jobs in Bucks County . The investment comes from tax credits that are available as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and will allow AE Polysilicon to continue to create green jobs in the 8th District while developing cutting-edge green energy technology. Congressman Murphy has been a tireless advocate for the development of clean energy technologies in Bucks County that rebuild our economy, create jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

The program, administered by the U.S. Department of Energy, provides a 30 percent tax credit for investments in 183 manufacturing facilities for clean energy products across 43 states across the country. The credits encourage investment in clean technologies that will decrease our dependence on foreign oil, strengthen our national security, and create good-paying jobs. With these $44 million in tax credits, AE Polysilicon can expand their manufacturing technology to develop the next generation of cutting-edge solar panel technology, meeting the need for clean energy products with parts and equipment made in the U.S.A.

“Congressman Murphy’s support for local business and bringing green jobs to Bucks County has been outstanding, and these tax credits will help us leverage our investments and continue to create jobs here in the 8th District,” said Dr. York Tsuo, President of AE Polysilicon.

“This tax credit that I fought for will help AE Polysilicon bring good-paying green jobs to Bucks County ,” said Rep. Murphy.

Congressman Murphy has successfully fought to bring millions in investment and hundreds of jobs to Bucks County in the past year alone. This is in addition to the thousands of jobs saved by his vote for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act- ensuring police officers, teachers, and highway workers were saved from layoffs. Several examples include:

§ February 2009 – ETC Southampton , U.S. Navy contract: 300 direct jobs, hundreds more from using local contractors/vendors
§ March 2009 – Humanistic Robotics: several dozen jobs and new company moving into Bucks
§ April 2009 – Neshaminy Creek Watershed: 200 jobs elevating homes and businesses along the flood plain
§ May 2009 – Lockheed Martin, NASA contract: 50 new jobs direct from contract; many more expected through 2010 (total of 250 so far since Rep. Murphy took office)
§ June 2009 – SEPTA Croydon Station revitalization: 2-year project, over 100 jobs
§ August 2009 – Brenner Aerostructures, Boeing contract: 25 new jobs over 2 years
§ November 2009 – ETC Southampton , South Korean Air Force contract: 100 direct jobs, hundreds more from using local contractors/vendors
§ December 2009 – Y-Carbon, Inc.: 25 jobs from expanding their manufacturing operation to Bucks from Montgomery
§ January 2010 – Gamesa USA : $2.8 million in tax credits for manufacturing and green jobs
§ January 2010 – AE Polysilicon: $44 million in tax credits for manufacturing and green jobs

PA House Passes Calling / Texting While Driving Ban

From the inbox:

Today the state House passed legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, to make Pennsylvania’s roads safer by banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Shapiro’s amendment to H.B. 2070 passed by a bi-partisan vote of 156-40.

House Bill 2070 bans text messaging for all drivers and cell phone use for novice drives. Shapiro’s amendment expands the legislation to include a ban on the use of hand-held cell phones for all drivers. Exceptions would be provided for law enforcement officers, drivers of mass transit vehicles, operators of emergency vehicles when on duty, and leeway would be provided for drivers to use a hand-held cell phone to report a traffic accident, or make a 911 emergency call.

“I am pleased with the bi-partisan support my amendment received in the House today,” said Shapiro. “Since I first introduced a bill to ban talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving I’ve received thousands of phone calls and emails from citizens all across Pennsylvania in support of my efforts. We will save lives and stop accidents from happening by disconnecting distracted drivers from their hand-held devices on Pennsylvania’s roadways.”

“Today, the House of Representatives voted by an impressive bi-partisan margin to join the ranks of other states to ban the dangerous practice of drivers using hand held cell phones to speak or text others. My constituents have expressed aggravation and frustration about the numerous occasions in which they were endangered by other drivers distracted from safe behavior because of the use of cell phones,” said Rep. Doug Reichley, R-Berks/Lehigh. “This is particularly true of teen drivers, whom studies have shown are most frequently involved in accidents arising from distracted driving. I am pleased to have joined with Representative Shapiro and many other members from both sides of the aisle to move Pennsylvania into column of states who wish to protect its citizens from dangerous distracted driving behavior.”

Studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Virginia Tech, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Utah have all shown that drivers who talk on their cell phones are three to four times more like to be involved in a crash. According to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation statistics, since 2003, there have been only 397 accidents in Pennsylvania were hands-free phone were a contributing factor, while 6,877 accidents listed hand-held phones as a contributing factor. Furthermore, a Quinnipiac University Poll released last March revealed that 85 percent of Pennsylvanians favor a ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

Shapiro has long advocated for a statewide ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving and first introduced this legislation in 2006. California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Utah, Oregon and Washington, and the District of Columbia have already enacted bans on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rematch in the 8th Congressional District

This past weekend Mike Fitzpatrick announced he was throwing his hat into the crowded field of people wishing to be the Republican candidate for the 8th congressional district. Fitzpatrick held the seat from 2004 to 2006, when he lost by a narrow margin to current 8th district Congressman Patrick Murphy.

In 2006 I wrote a blog post on Mr. Fitzpatrick's political history. Here is a quick synopsis:

In 1990 and 1994 he lost state house races.
In 1995 he was appointed to fill out a term as Bucks County Commissioner, and was then re-elected three times.

In 2004 when then Congressman Jim Greenwood decided to drop out of the congressional race, Fitzpatrick was selected to step in, less than 90 days before the election.

Two years later he lost to Murphy.

So while was in elected office for over a decade, he didn't really run for either of those offices. To the first he was appointed and for the second he stepped into an established campaign.

When announcing his candidacy Mr. Fitzpatrick said, among other remarks:

“Pat Murphy raises a lot of money, most of it from outside this district,” he said. “But I’ve got a message for him: He’s not going to buy this election.”

While Mr. Fitzpatrick has many positive qualities to recommend him, and I especially admire his work with the Boy Scouts, it would appear that knowledge of Congressman Murphy's campaign finance reports is not one of them. The Center for Responsive Politics website will give in state and out of state statistics and in none of Murphy's campaigns have most of his donations come from outside of Pennsylvania.

I did note that in 2006 49% of Fitzpatrick's donations came from PACS, and 45% from individuals. In 2005, 44% of his donations were from PACs, and 40% from individuals. Looking at the FEC reports for Fitzpatrick's earliest 2004 campaign finance report, July - October 2004, there are donations from PACS called Carolina Majority, Wisconsin Leadership PAC, and the Texas Freedom Fund. Dennis Hastert's leadership PAC donated, as did TomPAC, which included as one of its criteria supporting candidates who will support George Bush and Dennis Hastert. The Center's ranking of top industries donating to Fitzpatrick's 2004 election listed leadership PACS as the top donor by industry. Leadership PACs also led in 2006.

Mr. Fitzpatrick may try to present himself as a candidate of change, but when he ran for office and served previously, he was clearly an establishment candidate. If Jim Cawley, currently a Bucks County Commissioner and candidate for lt. gov. is elected, a position on the county commission will be open. Mr. Fitzpatrick did well, I am told, as a county commissioner. Perhaps he would be interested in returning to that post.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gov Update III: Hoeffel

Joe Hoeffel, currently a Montgomery County commissioner, and Democratic candidate for governor. Here are few notes from his campaign:

*Endorsements from: Area 4 Montgomery County Democrats, Hatfield Area Democrats, theAbington Rockledge Democratic Committee and the Cheltenham Democratic Committee and Roofers Local 30.

* Kate Michelman, past president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, will be heading up “Women for Hoeffel”.

* Hoeffel will be formally kicking off his campaign with events across the state.

Gov Update II: Doherty

Chris Doherty ran for re-election as Scranton's mayor last year and is also running for governor. That means he was raising money for both races at the same time. While formal reports are not due until the end of the month the Doherty campaign has released some preliminary numbers:

The Doherty for Mayor committee reported raising a total of $674,793 in 2009. Mayor Doherty successfully won both the Democratic and Republican primaries last year and went on to win re-election to his third term in November. The Doherty for Pennsylvania committee, Mayor Doherty’s gubernatorial campaign committee, will report raising $441,369 in 2009 despite having to share time and attention with the mayor’s race.

Gov Update IA: More from Wagner

Another missive from the Jack Wagner campaign:

The economy in the United States is bad and Pennsylvanians are hurting. Our families are being squeezed by high and prolonged unemployment, by rising costs for gasoline, electricity, health care, and education, and have suffered a dramatic reduction in pensions and other forms of savings. One in five Americans is currently unemployed or underemployed. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. Allegheny and Philadelphia counties each lost 20,000 jobs in 2009, nearly 20 percent of the entire commonwealth’s job loss.

There is no miracle on the horizon. We need to face up to the tough economic times and take the necessary steps to cope with the situation in a manner that does not further stress family finances. That is what my campaign is all about.

There are common sense solutions that will make state government a catalyst for job creation and economic revival. These solutions do not involve tax increases. We can’t ask for new taxes at a time when we are in the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression. There needs to be more emphasis placed on making sure every single tax dollar that all of you pay is properly spent.

We need massive reform in state government. The size of the Legislature must be reduced, a measure that I championed as a state Senator even when it was an unpopular idea. We also must eliminate bonuses in state government, and I am the only elected official to sound that alarm.

State government also needs to get its spending under control. Pennsylvania has a significant deficit, and it’s very difficult to fill that void. The only real way to do it is with reform in state government. We have to find greater efficiencies in every department of state government. As Governor, I will eliminate waste and be more efficient with tax dollars. I will also pass state budgets on time.

We also need to reform that state’s contracting process that currently leaves out many qualified companies. There are not enough companies involved in the bidding process to create economic opportunity for smaller companies that can bring innovation, that can bring jobs, and that can reduce the costs of contracts in state government.

We have examples of the state awarding contracts when only one company submitted a bid. The American system doesn’t work that way. There has to be competition to get the best price. There has to be competition to get creativity and innovation. If you do not have competition, the system is not serving the taxpayers well. As Governor, I will demand that there be competition in every single contract in state government.

While we reform state government and open contracts to competition, we must also do a better job of providing students the help they need to prepare for productive employment. Therefore, higher education must be at the forefront of issues. We are the second leading state in terms of importing students to Pennsylvania. That means a lot to our economy. Just look at Centre County where unemployment remains lowest in the state largely due to Penn State University being a premier economic engine there.

We need to make our higher education system stronger and reduce costs to make education more affordable and accessible. Other states have addressed that issue through a HOPE scholarship program and Pennsylvania should start one too. HOPE stands for Helping Our Pupils Excel. The program would help students go to a state-owned, state-related, vocational- technical, community, or private college, university, or school by providing a grant at a level equal to the cost of tuition at a state system university. As Governor, I will provide a HOPE scholarship program paid for by the expansion of gaming.

Pennsylvania is a magnificent commonwealth. I am proud to be a Pennsylvanian, and I know you are too. I am running for Governor to maximize Pennsylvania’s potential for the benefit of its residents. Elected officials in government need to work with you. We need to listen to your ideas and suggestions about what the priorities of government should be and must be. I have been listening, and I have heard the issues that are important to you.

Gov Update I: Wagner

This came in from the Jack Wagner campaign earlier this week"

Here's what Jack has been up to this past week:

*Talking education. Jack spoke about school safety, reducing the high school dropout rate, and reforming state government at the Pennsylvania State Education Association gubernatorial forum on Saturday. Visit PSEA's website to view clips or watch the replay on PCN on Sunday at 3 p.m., 6 p.m., or 11 p.m., or on Monday at 3:15 p.m. or 7 p.m.

*It's your money! Jack held a press conference on Friday to explain how the money lost by school districts through risky financial schemes is paying for huge bonuses to Wall Street bankers. Watch the coverage by Harrisburg's WHTM-TV 27 here.

*Lending a hand at the Farm Show. The celebrity cow milking contest was quite a hit on Friday! Also catch the replay of Jack's speech to the Penn Ag Democrats on PCN on Sunday at 5 p.m. or on Monday at 2:15 p.m.

*Bringing HOPE to Penn State students. Jack spoke to Penn State University students on Wednesday about a variety of important issues, including his HOPE Scholarship program to make higher education affordable for Pennsylvania students who attend Pennsylvania colleges and universities. The Daily Collegian covers the event here.

*More endorsements. Thanks to Greg Leathers, Chair of the Greene County Democratic Committee, for being the latest to back Jack!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Lentz on Kos

Bryan Lentz, currently representing the 161st district in the state house, and candidate for the 7th congressional district, posted a diary entry on Daily Kos today explaining why he is running for office. It is well worth a read:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Statements on SCOTUS Decision

Manan Trivedi

“The Supreme Court’s decision today to allow corporations to spend endless amounts of money in an attempt to influence political campaigns is abhorrent. For many of the corporations that will engage in this spending free-for-all, the money they will be using is the very same money that taxpayers gave them to bail them out.

“But I am not deterred. I will lead during this campaign and when I am in Congress to fight against these egregious acts against fairness and justice. The people of the sixth district and the nation are already furious at the culture of corruption in Washington politics and what the Supreme Court decided only adds fuel to the fire.

“And to all the big corporations who intend to come into my home district and spend their money against me, let me be clear that I have no hesitation in calling you out on it and exposing you for who you really are. Your reign on peddling your flawed policies that have destroyed the fabric of working America will end, and it will end right here in the sixth district.”

Joe Sestak:
Following today's 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that overturned longstanding rules limiting corporate spending on political campaigns, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Congressman Joe Sestak released the following statement:

"I disagree with today's Supreme Court decision that gives the same status to corporations as to individual citizens in society by removing decades-old precedents that protected the electoral process from the influence of money. Corporations/unions are not equal members of society as an individual citizen. And I believe that any step that can be taken toward removing the influence of money, including through public financing of campaigns, would be significant for restoring public trust in our public institutions and their integrity. I would not have voted to place those Supreme Court Justices -- Thomas, Alito and Scalia -- on the Court as Senator Specter did. This demonstrates why it is important to have the right type of Democratic Senator who truly believes in the rights of individuals as opposed to what is best for corporations."

From Pennsylvanians for A Modern Court:
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts (PMC) and PMCAction today predicted that the United States Supreme Court’s long-awaited decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission will open the floodgates to direct corporate and union spending in statewide judicial elections. The decision, focusing primarily on the right to free speech, grants corporations and unions a constitutional right to make independent expenditures in elections directly from their corporate coffers, without the need to establish separate political action committees to fundraise and spend money. The decision invalidates the laws of Pennsylvania and 21 other states prohibiting such independent campaign expenditures. Shira Goodman , Deputy Director of PMC and PMCAction, explained, “It’s like the Supreme Court said ‘let the money roll in.’”

“But,” explained Goodman, “given Pennsylvania’s experience in the 2009 Supreme Court election, more money spent on getting judges on the bench is the last thing we need.” According to a recent report by PMC, that election cost at least $4.5 million dollars, and when political party spending is factored in, likely several million more.

The public has been increasingly concerned about the role of money in judicial elections, worrying that justice might be for sale to the biggest campaign contributor or spender. Today’s decision will only intensify those concerns by making it easier for corporations and unions that frequently litigate in the state courts to participate in electing the judges who will decide their cases. As Justice Stevens noted in his dissent (quoting the Justice At Stake amicus brief PMC joined), “At a time when concerns about the conduct of judicial elections have reached a fever pitch . . . the Court today unleashes the floodgates of corporate and union general treasury spending in these races.”

In recent years, judicial elections have become more like elections for other public offices, despite the fact that judges are different from legislators and executive officers. Electing judges in expensive, partisan contests complete with negative ads, third-party spending, mass media campaigns and debates over “hot button” issues, makes it difficult to remember that judges are sworn to be impartial arbiters of the law. Instead, people worry that popular opinion, personal bias, and the desire to please campaign contributors or supporters will sway judicial decision-making. This is unacceptable, but it is the natural by-product of our electoral system. Justice Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority, discounted arguments that campaign contributions and expenditures create the appearance of influence and would “cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.” However, he failed to consider that the appearance of influence and access to judges already has been shown to cause voters to lose faith in our court system.

“There is a simple solution,” said Goodman. “Change the way we select appellate court judges.” Merit Selection is a hybrid system that combines the best features of appointive and elective systems and adds a new component – an independent, bipartisan citizens’ nominating commission to screen and evaluate potential candidates for the bench. The Governor nominates a candidate from the nominating commission’s list of the most qualified, and that candidate is subject to Senate confirmation. After an initial four-year term (and every ten years thereafter), a judge would stand before the public in a nonpartisan yes/no retention election.

Bills are currently pending in the Pennsylvania legislature to implement a Merit Selection system for the three state-wide appellate courts. Amending the constitution requires the legislature to pass the bills in two successive sessions. Then, the people of Pennsylvanian would vote in a referendum on whether to change the way we select appellate judges.

As noted in the amicus brief in which PMC joined, “Courts can only be impartial if they are independent. To ensure due process, judges must be able to make decisions without looking over their shoulder at wealthy donors [and supporters] whose cases they must decide.” The Supreme Court today made that more difficult. Pennsylvanians have the opportunity to make it much easier: change the way our appellate judges reach the bench. “PMC and PMCAction believe it’s time to let the people decide.”

Kanjorski Statement on Bank Restrictions

From the inbox:


President’s Proposal Molded After Kanjorski Amendment to Address Companies that Are “Too Big To Fail” and Prevent Future Bailouts

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11), Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises, provided the following statement supporting the President’s proposal to limit the size and scope of financial institutions and better protect taxpayers by preventing companies that are deemed “too big to fail” to exist. The President’s proposal is similar to the Kanjorski amendment that was included in H.R. 4173, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which the House passed on December 11. The Kanjorski amendment would empower federal regulators to rein in and dismantle financial firms that are so large, inter-connected or risky that their collapse would put at risk the entire American economic system, even if those firms currently appear to be well capitalized and healthy. Therefore, American taxpayers should no longer be on the hook for bailouts, as financial companies would not be able to become “too big to fail.”

“I applaud President Obama for joining me in working to end the era of reckless financial institutions that have become so large and interconnected that they could be deemed ‘too big to fail’,” said Chairman Kanjorski. “A year and a half ago, Congress took drastic, but necessary action, to prevent an economic disaster that would have severely affected every American and set back our financial system by decades. But, many of the financial companies do not seem to have learned their lessons from that harrowing experience. In November, I took the first action in Congress to prevent companies from becoming too interconnected and risky by introducing an amendment, which was included in the House-passed Wall Street reform bill, to prevent companies from becoming ‘too big to fail.’ Now that the President has put forward a similar proposal, I hope that we can work to enact Wall Street reform that will better protect every American and ensure that no single company can pose a risk to the entire economy. We owe it to the American people to make these ideas a reality.”

A summary of the Kanjorski amendment follows:

· Objective Standards. Size is by no means the only factor to determine if a financial company is “too big to fail.” The recent financial crisis has shown that many other factors can also cause a company to become a systemic risk. Rather, the amendment considers a variety of objective standards to determine if financial firms pose a threat to our financial stability, including the scope, scale, exposure, leverage, interconnectedness of financial activities, as well as size of the financial company. The Kanjorski amendment does not cap the size of financial institutions.

· Mitigatory Actions. If a financial company is deemed systemically risky, the Kanjorski amendment provides responsible preventative actions to protect our financial system and curtail those risks. These include modifying existing prudential standards, imposing conditions on or terminating activities, limiting mergers and acquisitions, and in the most extreme cases, breaking up a financial company.

· Protects American Competitiveness. We have learned from this financial crisis that we are all connected. The Kanjorski amendment addresses the concern that our regulatory system works in conjunction with those around the globe. Currently, the European Union is considering similar action, and harmonized regulations would benefit both economies.

Obama Calls for Bank Restrictions

From the inbox:

President Obama Calls for New Restrictions on Size and Scope of Financial Institutions to Rein in Excesses and Protect Taxpayers

WASHINGTON, DC- President Obama joined Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve; Bill Donaldson, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; Congressman Barney Frank, House Financial Services Chairman; Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman of the Banking Committee and the President's economic team to call for new restrictions on the size and scope of banks and other financial institutions to rein in excessive risk taking and to protect taxpayers.

The President's proposal would strengthen the comprehensive financial reform package that is already moving through Congress.

"While the financial system is far stronger today than it was a year one year ago, it is still operating under the exact same rules that led to its near collapse," said President Barack Obama. "My resolve to reform the system is only strengthened when I see a return to old practices at some of the very firms fighting reform; and when I see record profits at some of the very firms claiming that they cannot lend more to small business, cannot keep credit card rates low, and cannot refund taxpayers for the bailout. It is exactly this kind of irresponsibility that makes clear reform is necessary."

The proposal would:

1. Limit the Scope-The President and his economic team will work with Congress to ensure that no bank or financial institution that contains a bank will own, invest in or sponsor a hedge fund or a private equity fund, or proprietary trading operations unrelated to serving customers for its own profit. .

2. Limit the Size- The President also announced a new proposal to limit the consolidation of our financial sector. The President's proposal will place broader limits on the excessive growth of the market share of liabilities at the largest financial firms, to supplement existing caps on the market share of deposits.

In the coming weeks, the President will continue to work closely with Chairman Dodd and others to craft a strong, comprehensive financial reform bill that puts in place common sense rules of the road and robust safeguards for the benefit of consumers, closes loopholes, and ends the mentality of "Too Big to Fail." Chairman Barney Frank's financial reform legislation, which passed the House in December, laid the groundwork for this policy by authorizing regulators to restrict or prohibit large firms from engaging in excessively risky activities.

As part of the previously announced reform program, the proposals announced today will help put an end to the risky practices that contributed significantly to the financial crisis.

Call for Citizens Medal Nomination

From the inbox:


Public Invited to Nominate Candidates for Nation's Second Highest
Civilian Honor

WASHINGTON, DC--In a video message released today, President Obama announced that the American public will be invited to nominate candidates for the Citizens Medal, the nation's second highest civilian award. For over 40 years, the Presidential Citizens Medal has recognized Americans who have "performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens." Past recipients have included
some of America's most respected public figures including Colin Powell, Bob Dole and Muhammad Ali but also everyday heroes like Oseola McCarty, a washerwoman who left her entire life savings to establish a scholarship fund for students in need. The President's video message can be viewed HERE

By asking the public to submit nominees, President Obama hopes to recognize exemplary citizens and local heroes who have significantly impacted their communities but who may not have garnered national attention.

"No matter who they are or where they come from, recipients of the Citizens Medal are united by an unwavering desire to serve," said President Obama. "And that's why this year, we are asking you to help nominate candidates for this extraordinary honor who exemplify the kind of selfless dedication that inspires us all to greater heights."

Public nominations will be reviewed by White House staff with the recipients selected by the President. Additional awardees may be selected outside of the public nomination process. The President will award the Citizens Medal in a ceremony at the White House in late spring.

Nominees must be citizens of the United States and fulfill specific criteria <> . The nomination form is available at In order for nominations to be considered, all applications must be completed in full and submitted via by
Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 11:59 pm EST.

Cookies From Home

If you've been out and about lately you might have noticed that it is Girl Scout cookie time. In lieu of buying cookies you can also have one or more boxes sent to troops overseas. Ask about the Cookies From Home program.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Local Remarks on Haiti

From Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-13):

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz supported legislation today to help earthquake victims in Haiti by offering an immediate tax benefit to Americans who make charitable donations to the region. The bipartisan legislation will allow individuals to claim any donations to the relief effort as an itemized deduction on their 2009 tax return, instead of waiting to claim it on their 2010 return.

The bill would also ensure that those individuals donating to victims of the Haiti earthquake via text message will be able to use their cell phone bill when claiming a charitable donation.

“The situation in Haiti has been absolutely devastating and there has already been an incredible outpouring of support from the American people to help those suffering in the region,” said Schwartz, an original co-sponsor of the bill. “This legislation will provide an immediate benefit for those who have already made a generous donation and will encourage even more people to help aid the relief effort. Any contribution, large or small, is critical to helping those struggling after this tragedy.”

In January of 2005, Congress enacted this type of relief for individuals that made charitable contributions to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami that occurred in late December of 2004.

In addition to passing this measure, the House of Representatives voted to pass a resolution expressing condolences to and solidarity with, the people of Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake of January 12th, 2010.

State Rep. Bryan Lentz (D-161) (also a candidate for the 7th congressional district:
Today, Representative Bryan Lentz released the following statement regarding the two bipartisan measures passed unanimously today by the House of Representatives aimed at expediting aid to the Haitian people.

“I applaud Congress for this swift bipartisan action to aid the Haitian people in this time of crisis. With nearly 200,000 reported deaths and over 1.5 million Haitians left homeless after this devastating earthquake, it is imperative that the American people take whatever action we can to assist our neighbors in relief and recovery operations,” said Lentz. “By offering immediate income tax relief to Americans who donate to this worthy cause, the bill will encourage continued American generosity in the days and weeks ahead when the people of Haiti most desperately need it.

“In a day and age when unanimous Congressional action is rare, it is important to send the message to the American people and the world that this recovery effort is of the highest priority. I am grateful for the outpouring of selfless support that we have already seen in this country,” said Lentz. “I firmly believe this bill will help to motivate even more donations and humanitarian aid.”

“In this time of great need for the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, Americans have responded with swift generosity, contributing more than $220 million to U.S. relief groups. This money will fund relief for the homeless, medical attention for the injured, and assistance to all those struggling from the severe damage to their homes, schools, ports, roads, and hospitals.

“I am proud of the American people for their immediate and compassionate response in the wake of this tragedy. These bipartisan bills will encourage continued efforts by the government and the people to aid the devastated communities of Haiti, and I commend our representatives for enacting them quickly” said Lentz.

-- Bryan Lentz is a former Army Airborne Ranger, criminal prosecutor and Iraq war veteran who currently serves in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from Delaware County. He also served overseas as a peace-keeper in Bosnia and the Sinai Peninsula and was awarded both the Bronze Star for Service and the War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal for his military service. He lives in Swarthmore with his wife Jennifer and their son Thomas.

The first bill, H.R. 4462, will help in the efforts to build a relief fund by speeding up the tax deduction for charitable contributions made to victims of the earthquake. The bill allows individuals who have donated to help the victims in Haiti between January 11 and March 1 to claim these charitable contributions on their 2009 tax return instead of waiting until 2010. This measure provides an immediate benefit to those who have already contributed and an extra incentive to those who are still considering making a donation.

The bill also clarifies that a cell phone bill will be sufficient to claim a donation made by text message on a tax return. This new and innovative donation method has already generated a $22 million for victims of the earthquake.

The second resolution is an official expression of the legislature’s condolences and sympathy for the victims of this tragedy and commendation for the domestic and international organizations and people that have so far contributed to the relief efforts. It also encourages the President to continue to make resources available to aid in the aftermath of this natural disaster.

Obama Cracks Down on Tax Cheats

From the inbox:

President Obama Directs Administration to Crack Down on Tax Cheats Seeking Government Contracts

Today, President Obama will direct the Office of Management and Budget, together with the Treasury Department and other federal agencies, to take steps to block contractors who are delinquent on their taxes from receiving new government contracts. He will also direct the IRS to conduct a review of the overall accuracy of companies’ claims about tax delinquency to be sure that when a company says it’s paying taxes, it is telling the truth. The President will be joined today by Vice President Biden, Senator Claire McCaskill, Congressman Ed Towns, Congressman Brad Ellsworth, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, and Chief Performance Officer of the United States Jeffrey Zients.

In addition, the President is calling on Congress to give the government the tools necessary to ensure that the public’s tax dollars are not used to boost the profits of companies who refuse to pay their taxes.

“By issuing this directive, all of us in Washington will be required to be more responsible stewards of your tax dollars. All across this country, there are people who meet their obligations each and every day. You do your jobs. You support your families. You pay the taxes you owe – because it’s a fundamental responsibility of citizenship,” said President Barack Obama. “The steps I’m directing today and the steps I’m calling on Congress to take are just basic common-sense. They’re not going to eliminate all of the waste or abuse in government contracting in one fell swoop. Going forward, we’ll also have to do more to hold contractors more accountable not just for paying taxes, but for following other laws as well.”

When President Obama was in the Senate he sponsored legislation to give federal contracting officials the tools that they need to recoup these funds or stop tax scofflaws from getting federal contracts. The Administration urges Congress to approve legislation to allow the IRS to crack down on corporate tax cheats. Congress also is urged to allow data sharing between the IRS and contracting officials at agencies to ensure that scofflaws do not exploit some loophole to continue to win federal contracts.

Today’s directive builds on steps the President has taken to crack down on government waste – strengthening what works and eliminating what doesn’t:

· In December, the Administration released an update on the President’s efforts to cut high-risk, no-bid contracts, showing federal agencies on track to save $19 billion in contracting reforms this year and $40 billion by the end of 2011.

· In November, the President outlined steps to crack down on wasteful, improper payments which, in 2009, were expected to reach about $100 billion.

· In May, the Administration released the results of the line-by-line review of the Budget and identified more than 120 programs that were wasteful, duplicative, or outdated. Congress approved more than 60 percent of the President’s proposed cuts – significantly higher than recent administrations’ results.

The memorandum the President will sign at today’s event is available HERE.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sestak's Philadelphia Kitchen Call

Congressman Joe Sestak has been having “kitchen calls” around the state as part of his senatorial campaign. They are billed as opportunities to discuss local issues. I attended a kitchen call Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia at the Arch Street Presbyterian Church. There were about 65-70 people in attendance (enough that I could tag along with a group and avoid signing in). From the way people talked it sounds like email invitations went out although some people might have wandered in. The crowd was extremely diverse in all ways, age, race, gender, and, going by visual cues and questions asked, income and life circumstance.

Sestak came in quietly at 3:00 as advertised. He spoke for about 20 minutes, giving biographical information and a general introduction. The day’s schedule had been packed, leaving home at 5:30 in the morning and more events yet to attend after the kitchen call, which may have accounted for a few flubs that he caught and corrected. Sestak has a velvet voice and speaks well. He also has a good stage presence, gesturing to individuals in the group, walking around the chapel aisle, and speaking loud enough to avoid being tethered to a microphone.

In the introduction he said that in the military everyone has health care. In the greater Philadelphia area 60% of the uninsured are working. His office handled 4 times the average amount of constituent problems for a congressional office. While he respects Arlen Specter he doesn’t see how you can ask someone who got us into the mess to get us out of it. In regards to education he said Pennsylvania is now the second oldest state in the nation because our young men and women move out of state for jobs.

Sestak took a number of questions. The answers were broad-ranging and often brought in other topics. For example when asked about the group of hikers being held in Iran, Sestak said he had gone on tv the day after the capture and spoken about it. Then he said he was not going to try to grab headlines, which led to a comment about Specter and then to note that Specter called for hearings on the low conviction rate in Philadelphia’s courts (with a shout out to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s series on this subject), with a note that when Specter was Philadelphia’s District Attorney the conviction rate was also low.. From there he hopped over to the prison population generally, saying that the percentage of women going to prison was increasing and that in 2040 people of color would be in the majority. From there he veered into the need to address juvenile delinquency. So, as you might imagine, it was sometimes difficult to follow. Below you will find the gist of the q&a, but it is by no means a complete guide to what was said.

Q: getting rid of the filibuster
A: The 60/40 rule was brought in for civil right legislation, to protect those in the minority. Not in favor of changing that right now. Instead we need principled leadership in the senate. It is outrageous that Ben Nelson could ask for things in exchange for his vote. Recommends the book Power and Ambition. He won’t sacrifice good policy for bipartisanship.

Q: Afghanistan
A: We need an exit strategy. When failures become more costly than benefits then it triggers an exit strategy. The best thing to do in Afghanistan is teach women to read. Supports the assault weapon ban (has a 0% rating from the NRA). Pakistan is almost a failed state, with nukes.

Q: banking regulations
A: We need to require transparency of derivatives trading. There is a new consumer protection agency.

Q: no bank should be too large to fail
A: A lot of it depends on how oversight goes. Health insurance is exempt from anti-trust laws. 90% of health insurance companies have no competition.

Q: local hikers taken prisoner / hostage (see note above)
A: Went on tv the day after the capture and spoke about it. Not spoken up regularly because does not want to use this to grab headlines. Arlen Specter is holding hearings about the conviction rate in Philadelphia. The number of women going to prison is rising. By 2040 people of color will be in the majority. We need to address juvenile delinquency.

Q: senior citizens
A: Seniors are living longer. Would like to encourage seniors to volunteer in schools. Concerns with social security. Less income is taxed for social security now. As the country’s wealth has shifted to the very upper class less of it is considered income and therefore not taxed for social security.

Q: excessive military spending
A: gave examples and how he had tried to solve them

Q: Iran
A: Should engage in diplomacy with Iran. The country is going through a velvet revolution. We need a knowledge upgrade.

Q: deficits
A: Clinton administration had 3 balanced budgets with “pay as you go.” Bush administration did away with this. Obama inherited an $11 trillion deficit. We need to close loopholes that let companies keep their profits overseas. The IRS’s budget was slashed but billions go uncollected. We should put taxes on top earners back to what they were in the Bush years. That will keep Social Security solvent. Right now Social Security will be insolvent in 2019.

Q: What action do you need from the people in this room to get elected?
A: Raise votes not money. Money important but he runs a frugal campaign. Votes more important.

Q: Pay as you go is good but solving social problems often requires pre-empting them with spending in advance. Mentions housing problems for people with HIV and AIDS.
A: He agrees. Just became aware of this problem a few weeks ago.

Q: How important is Specter’s seniority?
A: Not very. Mentions things that Specter has voted against that have affected his district. One is education. Mentions that a local shipyard imports welders because can’t find properly trained welders here. Discusses training needed and why it is important to get kids interested at a young age.

That ended the formal part of the meeting. It was 4:20 at this point, nearly half an hour after the scheduled ending point.. Sestak stayed to answer individual questions. I left at 4:40 and most of the audience had left but Sestak was still there talking to people.

There were a lot more remarks about Specter that I didn’t jot down. Sestak doesn’t talk in sound bites and while that makes things much more interesting it also makes it harder to take notes on scrap paper using your knee as a desk. If you have an opportunity to see Sestak in person you should take advantage of it.

Personal note: Circumstances relating to my arrival allowed me to have a tour of part of the church. It is a lovely old building with some interesting architectural and decorative points. The two women I shared a pew with were friendly and I also had a really nice conversation with a gentleman in the pew in front of me.