Thursday, January 31, 2013

NRA Spending

Lately I've heard conflicting stories on the current state of the NRA's political power and whether they spend their money successfully.  Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post has written an excellent column, complete with easy to understand infographic on the topic.  Well worth the read:

A Note from the Prothonotary

from the inbox:

Montgomery County Prothonotary Mark Levy, in collaboration with the Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region’s office, hosted a private discussion on counter terrorism.  Dr. Jonathan Fine, an expert in Counter Terrorism with the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzlyzia was the guest speaker.
Prothonotary Levy was pleased to invite a variety of County and local officials including, but not limited to, Commissioner Bruce Castor, Sherriff Eileen Behr, Norristown Police Chief Willie Richet, Plymouth Police Chief Joseph Lawrence, Whitemarsh Police Chief Michael Beatty, Jury Commissioner JoAnn Olszewski and Kevin Steele from the District Attorney’s office.  Discussion with Dr. Fine revolved around how the effects of terrorism awareness can aid residents of Montgomery County.
Dr. Fine and the group conversed about differences in gun control in Israel and the United States, the intricacies of relationships between terrorist activity in Israel and violent shooting sprees in the United States and how understanding these terrorist activities can better ready ourselves and our County to deter these actions. His expertise in arms control, conflict resolution and counter terrorism was well received by all the attendees.
The Consulate General’s office is engaged in ongoing discussions with U. S. elected officials to develop future partnerships and outreach between local governments and the Consulate General of Israel. Today’s event was facilitated between Robin Schatz of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Prothonotary Mark Levy.

(cross posted to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice)

Corrected: PCN Coverage of State Budget Address

corrected, from the inbox:

On Tuesday, February 5, Governor Tom Corbett will deliver his third state budget address before a joint session of the PA House and Senate.  The address is the first step in the Commonwealth’s annual fiscal process.  The Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) will devote the day’s programming to extensive LIVE budget address coverage. 

The February 5 budget address coverage on PCN is as follows:

  • LIVE coverage begins at 11:00 a.m. with former state representative, Kathy Manderino of Intercommunity Action and former Chief of Staff to Governor Dick Thornburgh, Rick Stafford of Carnegie Mellon University joining host Larry Kaspar in the PCN studio.
  • LIVE coverage of the Governor’s Budget Address before a joint session of the House and Senate.
  • LIVE coverage from the state Capitol will continue with budget reaction from legislators.
  • At 7:00 p.m., viewers will get a chance to share their thoughts or ask questions concerning the state budget by dialing toll-free 1-877-PA6-5001 during the hour-long LIVE PCN Call-In program.

In the coming weeks, PCN will provide extensive coverage of the 2013-2014 fiscal year state budget proceedings.  Check the schedule at for upcoming programming details.

Streaming of this coverage will also be made available on the PCN Plus streaming page at on the network’s website at www.pcntv./com.

PCN is a nonprofit, noncommercial news organization created and supported by cable television companies. PCN receives no state or federal funding. Network programming is distributed by participating cable systems in Pennsylvania serving more than 10 million Pennsylvanians in 3.3 million homes.  For more information about PCN as well as network channel designations, visit

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mark Your Calendars: PCN Coverage of Budget Talks

from our friends at PCN:

On Tuesday, February 5, Governor Tom Corbett will deliver his third state budget address before a joint session of the PA House and Senate.  The address is the first step in the Commonwealth’s annual fiscal process.  The Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) will devote the day’s programming to extensive LIVE budget address coverage. 

The February 5 budget address coverage on PCN is as follows:

  • LIVE coverage begins at 11:00 a.m. with former state representative, Kathy Manderino of Intercommunity Action and former Chief of Staff to Governor Dick Thornburgh, Rick Stafford of Carnegie Mellon University joining host Larry Kaspar in the PCN studio.
  • LIVE coverage of the Governor’s Budget Address before a joint session of the House and Senate.
  • LIVE coverage from the state Capitol will continue with budget reaction from legislators.
  • At 7:00 p.m., viewers will get a chance to share their thoughts or ask questions concerning the state budget during the hour-long LIVE PCN Call-In program.

Monday, January 28, 2013

SEPTA's Love Train Returns

from the inbox:

Romance on the rails, bliss on the bus.

Can a ride on SEPTA's Love Train drive you to happily ever after?

Tickets are on sale now for the Love Train, the specially chartered SEPTA Market-
Frankford Line train that tours the more than 40 murals of the City of Philadelphia Mural
Arts Program's renowned “A Love Letter for You Project”. The Love Train departs on
Sunday, February 10, from SEPTA’s Center City Philadelphia Headquarters at 1234
Market Street.

The ride will be followed by a reception, this year hosted by WIRED 96.5 FM. Steve
Tingle, WIRED personality and “Conductor of Love”, will host “Singles Looking to
Mingle with Tingle” at the party.

To purchase tickets and for more event information, visit

Already have a Valentine? Enter WIRED 96.5's Cutest Couple Photo Contest for a
chance at Love Train VIP tickets and a trip to see Lady Gaga live in Miami. For contest
details and to enter, visit

Not a Victimless Crime

Some years ago a prominent figure in my profession was arrested for possession of child pornography.  One of my occasional train buddies said she didn't see why simply having those photographs was a crime.  I disagreed with her but, other than general principle, didn't have any data to show why her view of it as a "victimless crime" was wrong.

This week I ran across a New York Times Magazine story on two women who were sexually abused as children and their abusers photographed or videotaped those encounters and distributed them on the Internet.  They explain, fair better than I can, the continuing impact of those images have on their lives. 

It isn't a quick read; wait until you can take a little time to digest.  "The price of a stolen childhood," by Emily Bazelon, Jan 24, 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

John Micek Says Goodbye and Hello

John Micek, state political reporter at the Allentown Morning Call and author of the Capitol Ideas blog is changing jobs.  He is the new editorial page editor at the Patriot News.  His farewell blog post at CI is still online.  He has started a new blog at the Patriot News, called the Capitol Notebook.  Change your bookmarks to keep up.  Note his new twitter handle, @byJohnLMicek.  I'm wishing him smooth sailing and hope that you do the same.

John Hanger on PCN Call-In Show

John Hanger, the only announced Democratic candidate for governor appeared on the PCN Call In Show on December 11, 2012, with host Brian Lockman.  I watched the video on PCN’s website and took notes.  This is not intended as a full transcript and those wishing more information are encouraged to watch the video themselves.    As always I apologize for any errors or misconceptions. The video is available at:

Hanger previously service as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Environmental Protection.

BL:  Why running?

JH:  I have plans and experience.  I’m ready to be governor.  Very concerned about course Corbett has us on, education,  environment

BH:  Background

JH:  I was born in Nairobi, Kenya.  Some people in the birther movement may have confused me with the current president.  Also lived in Lucan, just outside Dublin, Ireland.  Came to US at age 12.  Came to Pennsylvania in 1981 for law school at U Penn.  I lived in Philly for 12 years, then moved to near Hershey where I still live, when Gov Casey appointed me to utility board.

BL:  What was your family doing in Kenya?

JH:  My dad was an agriculturist.  Helping to develop tea and coffee farms so new independent government would have crops to trade

BL:  Were your parents American?

JH:  No, they were British.  I was born a British subject.  You aren’t British citizens. You are subjects to the crown.  Glad to trade than in to be a citizen of the US.  In US for 6 years then, but became citizen in 1977, wanted to have it done in 1976 for bicentennial but paperwork not done in time.  Share immigrant experience, affects how I view policy.

BL:  Why come to US?

JH:  America offers more opportunity than any other country in the world.  This is where liberty was born and where liberty is protected.  As Reagan said it is a shining city on a hill.

BL: college

JH:  Duke and then Univ of Penn school of law.  

BL:  Pennsylvania Utility Commission?

JH:  Graduated law school 1984, went to Community legal services.  Thought I would be helping people who were struggling to pay their bills.  Director said I was in energy project and I had no idea what energy was or what law was involved.  Got on Broad St subway, reported to neighborhood legal office, reported to senior attorney, Janet Parrish.  People often had a dispute with utility company.  Customers had no official representation when gas works rate increase.  Worked to start Office of Public Advocate.  Great honor that I was appointed first Office of Public Advocate.  That got me some notice.  I was in some high visibility gas utility and water utility cases.  Friend of mine, David Barrish, recommended me to Joseph Rhodes, new Utility commissioner.  I became his staff lawyer.  Gov Casey cared very much about working people and the poor, who had major problems in their lives.  Committed to putting people on PUC with substantive knowledge in relevant area.  He was persuaded to nominate me, as a 36 year old.  One term, 5 years, had the opportunity to make some major changes.  Often monopolies don’t provide good services, spend money well or take care of customers.  True of electric utilities at the time, charging among 10 highest rates in US.  Punishing middle class families, killing jobs, making it impossible for poor to pay bills.  Working with others persuaded legislature to end monopoly on electricity.  Let customers choose where to buy electricity.  I buy 100% of my energy from a wind farm.

BL:  When you threw your hat into the ring, why getting in some early?

JH:  Corbett preparing for re-election since first election, raising money 24/7.  I’m the first challenger but behind Corbett in raising money for 2014.  Challengers have one resource and its time and I need to get going.

Caller:  Do you anticipate primary competition, thoughts on privatizing liquor stores, right to work, button issues that some other states using in legislature now.

JH:  liquor privatization – I am opposed, for one reason.  The stores create significant revenues, hundreds of millions of dollars that won’t be replaced, pay for education.  Also over 6,000 good paying jobs in those stores.  Short term benefit but long term budget hole.  Either cut education more or raise taxes.  While I sympathize that selling alcohol not a core state function it would lead to cuts or more taxes.  What’s going on in Michigan – right to work – I support collective bargaining.  It would be a huge distraction in this state, won’t create more jobs, will lower wages, lead to loss of good paying jobs.  Not at core of what state needs to do.  In terms of a primary.  The Dem party is vibrant, many good potential candidates.  I’m not alone.  D party has unique opportunity to rally around one candidate that is very vulnerable.  In fact there may be a an R primary.  Commissioner Bruce Castor says he might challenge Corbett.  I’m going to work hard to be D candidate.

Caller:  Pensions.  How would you handle PERSers and SERS.  They have to pay in $50M just into PSERS.  If state has to continue paying won’t be money for education and other.

JH:  Caller has a point.  I want to be constructive.  Basic problem is the pension bill when Gov Ridge and R party last controlled house and senate.  That has occurred.  We know Constitution and other legal precedents protect pension rights.  The room for figuring out a solutions is not huge and protected by Constitutional rights.  There are a number of changes that could be made.  The reality is that regardless of what changes are made there will need to be further budget requirements.

Caller:  76 year old man from Hershey.  Very cynical anymore.  Been voting sine age 21, biggest problem now is property taxes.  What would you do?

JH:  The cuts in education that this governor made, that was a choice, let’s be clear, he cut [missed this] out of education budget while he was putting money into rainy day fund and making business tax cuts.  One of the consequences is that local school districts had less state support and faced with terrible dilemma.  Could raise property taxes or lay off teachers and other education jobs.  In some cases had to do both.  State needs to live up  …..  Corbett has declared war on public education, as well as rising local school taxes.  Tremendous harm to public education, art and music and tutoring canceled.  Class sizes going up.  Many paying more in school taxes but getting less.

BL:  Corbett says education cuts is actually end of stimulus money

JH:  not accurate.  There was a stimulus program.  But he cut.  He put money into rainy day fund that could have been put into education, made $250M biz tax cut that could have gone to education.  He made choices.  My top two priorities would be education and public safety.  His assault on public education goes beyond state budget, supports charters without accountability and transparency, vouchers, trying to privatize public education.  Has harmed our economy .

BL:  where would you get the money

JH:  have to prioritize.  Mine public education and public safety.  He does seem committed to 14 charter schools, 13 have text scores lower than public school.  Making sure public not underwriting  cyber charters.  Several cases of senior exec at charters schools being indicted for taking public money but money keeps flowing to those schools.  A get rich quick scheme.  There are some excellent charter schools and there needs to be a charter option.  We are so far removed from a sensible use of taxpayer money.  We’ve got to examine education budget from top to bottom, public schools must remain our top priority for education

Caller:  LIHEAP funding.  Would you add LIHEAP state funding to federal funding.  At my office we get complaints from LIHEAP recipients that grants too low.

JH:  Low income heating assistance program.  Try to make sure heating bills as low as possible.  Worked for that, continued at DEP but at end of day we have to face up that there are some good people who can’t pay entire bill.  Everyone should pay something.  Need to make sure folks aren’t going through winter with no heat.  Money from feds, sometime state helped.  Can’t say it would make my state budget in 2015.  There are other ways.  Utility companies have customer assistance program, utility financed programs not public financed programs. 

BL:  R spokeswoman says anxious to compare Corbett’s pro-growth business, balanced 2 budgets to broken bloated tax and spend govt that Rendell and Hanger

JH:  full of talking points.  Let’s start with what Rendell left Corbett. Last budget ended July 2012, left $800M surplus.  That’s how he began his govt, Rendell laid off people to make sure he didn’t deliver deficit to budget.  The claim that Gov Corbett has been a successful job creating governor.  This governor inherited a lower than national avg employment rate.  Because Corbett cut education and believes shale alone can deliver all the jobs we need.  To day unemployment in PA higher than national.  National recovery slow but PA slower.

Caller:  lottery supposed to help.  Casino money, where is it going?

JH:  The legalization of gambling including casinos was done and a major reason it was done was profits from gambling go to property tax relief.  Not enough to abolish property taxes, gotten higher under Corbett because of education.  Gambling has helped reduce.  Partial answer not a complete answer.

BL:  you were secretary of DEP under Rendell.  Comment on how Michael Krancer, current secretary, is doing?

JH:  I had a better governor to work for.  Biggest problem at DEP is not the secretary but the governor.  I had one question for Rendell before I accepted job.  He gave me 5 things, one was protect environment as we produce shale.  Sec does not set priorities.  I have some qualms at what has happened at DEP.  There is a complete focus on gas, neglect and outright hostility to renewable energy.  PA an energy powerhouse.  We can do much more in energy efficiency.  The failure to boost energy and energy efficiency is a change from Rendell admin.  The other thing I would highlight is enforcement.  Our rules must be fairly enforced.  From 2008 to 2011 we increased gas oversight staff.  This administration doesn’t have some commitment.  We got creative, raised fee on permits to pay for more staff without tapping general fund

Caller:  eliminating poverty taxes

JH:  I won’t be able to eliminate property taxes.  We can make that problem worse or better.  We can do some very achievable to smart things.  What Gov Corbett is doing is making it worse.  It starts with where we put our education dollars.  If state cuts then burden passed to local areas.  Gov says proudly that he signed Norquist tax pledge.  He just won’t deal with responsibility of property funding k-12 and higher educ.  The budgets he has proposed for state higher education is outrageous.  Those universities have been hit with enormous cuts.  Our colleges and universities provide opportunities for families that they can’t get affordably at private colleges.  The state universities are hugely important investment.  This governor again just doesn’t seem to see the value of public higher education

BL:  Corbett and Marcellus

JH:  He has mismanaged it.  It’s just one of our energy resources.  Refused to sign simple letter to congress to extend wind energy tax credits.  PA has wind energy and wind jobs.  People in PA got laid off got laid off from a very real job.  Corbett wouldn’t even sign the letter.  The next way he has mismanaged it that he thinks gas alone will help economy.  His one strategy is to give gas energy all they as for.  We need more than 6M jobs in pa to have full employment.  Gas industry is a boost but not even close to providing all of them. He has refused because of loyalty to Grover Norquist, a DC lobbyist to set a proper reasonable drilling tax on gas industry.  Other states do this and also have a property tax on gas.  Texas and Wyoming produce most energy and gas.  PA will be third.  Texas and Wyoming have no income tax because they tax energy.

BL:  Tax would decrease gas industry

JH:  that would be true if other states didn’t have taxes on gas drilling.  Where will they go?  To Texas which has tax on gas drilling, West Virginia which has tax on gas drilling ….  Marcellus gas had lowest cost highest return gas industry in country.  S&P said this. 
Caller:  what governor is doing with lottery privatization

JH:  the governor is proving that he’s a right wing ideologue.  At war with all public services whether public schools or lottery.  Lottery has set records.  My mother taught me not to fix things that aren’t broken.  Our governor doesn’t even get that part of common sense.  No hearings, no transparency.  Now one company, a foreign company, and he seems determined to move forward.  Illinois did privatize and now in a mess, a lawsuits with private company which has underperformed. 

BL:  Back in March Standard Oil said PA possible site for cracker plant.  PA gave 15 year tax amnesty window, tax credit, largest in state history.  Governor says will created 20K new jobs.

JH:  Let’s start with that, does state need to do that to compete?  Unfortunately  yes, in order to compete.  Texas giving $19B in state and local incentives to bring jobs to Texas.  Successful but paying a big cost.  Don’t believe in unilateral disarming, believe in being careful with tax dollars.  Want to build cracker plant.  Important that taxpayer money spent wisely.  Don’t want to overpay.  Some of these deals, tax credits paid but jobs not appear or leave quickly.

Caller:  why govt doesn’t protect people against these gas workers who promise world  to sign things and nobody protects you.

JH:  Industrial activity, needs to be regulated, wanted more oversight workers.  If abuses against landowners, laws stopping that.  Tone of Corbett admin, including at DEP, hostile to those with complaints about gas industry.  Want to create ombudsman’s office about gas industry.  If gas industry makes mistake then need to fix, if no mistakes then need to say that too.  People need place to go where they will be heard respectfully.

Caller:  if want to be governor, need to develop plan to eliminate property tax, have gas money, lottery money, income tax.  Growing number of seniors.  People will move to Delaware or Virginia where property taxes lower.

JH:  You’re the third or fourth caller on pain of school and property taxes.  Also honest with you.  We can make this problem less painful, better not worse.  There are sources of revenue that can be put to property tax reform.  If governor willing to make changes, reform might be achieved.  But I can’t tell you that will come out of legislature. But we can make it less painful at local level.  If state pays its share of education money.

BL:  Corbett said next year he want s a plan to fund transportation.

JH:  We’re now going into the third year of Corbett admin and he’s now coming forward?  He’s let the issue go.  He’s got a good transportation secretary but hasn’t listened to him.  He’s been listing to Norquist.  You can’t be serious about transportation without being serious about revenue.  It takes money to repair or build a bridge.  I haven’t signed Norquist tax pledge.

BL:  Coal industry

JH:  Coal is a viable industry.  It’s a well run industry in PA.  In 2010 first year no miners died on job.  Industry and unions and government working together.  Big supporter of carbon capture sequestration technology.  It’s a way of making coal even cleaner.  Coal burned at a power plant with modern pollution controls doesn’t release the mercury that others do.  Can make coal zero carbon.

BL:  public safety.

JH:  It means policing, state police, gas drilling and safety around gas drilling. It means Jerry Sandusky.  Here’s a horrendous child predator left loose for 2 years and his home not searched for 2.5 years.  If the law needs to be changed to search a predator’s home once an accuser has stepped forward.  Then let’s do it.  It just took too long.  It is indefensible that it took that long.  He said I was ludicrous.  He’s ludicrous.

BL:  same sex marriage

JH:  I’m in favor of it but no church should be compelled to marry gay couple but in civil setting any consenting couple should be able to get a marriage license.  PA is the home of liberty and I’m proud of that.

BL:  one hand gun per month, lost and stolen

JH:  I have a different position.  My position starts with the fact that the Supreme Court has declared the 2nd amendment to be an individual right.  Many of the things that Rendell has said are quite likely today unconstitutional.  Violence by gun or other means is a constitutional issue.  Getting drawn into debate on this will not deal with problems of gun violence or other violence.  Need smarter better approaches.

BL:  Obamacare, state insurance exchanges.

JH:  It will be a disgrace if this governor doesn’t have his admin establish an exchange in PA.  I don’t want federal bureaucrats doing this.  PA know our business better.  Let Pennsylvanians design our exchange.

BL: voter id law

JH:  terrible terrible law.  Impinges on sacred right to vote.  Affects those who have given up drivers licenses because no longer safe for them to drive, over 80.  Costs over $12M to administer, money better to schools or prop tax.  No such fraud in elections period, voter fraud nonexistent according to Corbett admin.

BL:  Thank you

JH:  Thank you.  Good questions.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

SEPTA Sustainability Report

SEPTA has released the 2013 annual SEP-TAinable Empowering Action, report on the transit agency's sustainability efforts.  It is a 54 page pdf with great graphics.  Some of the recommendations and projects include green roofs and using captured stormwater to wash buses, recycling, increased ridership, and others.  It's an interesting read and if you don't have time to read the graphics are worth just browsing through.

PA Adds Mental Health Records ot Nat'l Database

from the inbox:

The Pennsylvania State Police today confirmed that it has shared 643,167 mental health records on prohibited gun purchasers with the National Instant Check System (NICS), according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In a 2011 report that revealed how many mental health records each U.S. state had shared with NICS, Mayors Against Illegal Guns ranked Pennsylvania among the worst performing states. Through 2011, the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) had access to 615,443 mental health records according to the Pennsylvania State Police. As of October 31, 2012, Pennsylvania had shared just one mental health record with NICS.

The Mayors Against Illegal Guns report, Fatal Gaps: How Missing Records in the Federal Background Check System Put Guns in the Hands of Killers, is available at

“After years of red tape, Pennsylvania officials have taken a big step toward keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals,” said Mark Glaze, Director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “In the nearly two years since we published our report, we’ve seen a renewed focus on ways to prevent people who have been judged a danger to themselves or others from obtaining dangerous firearms. We applaud the Pennsylvania State Police for cutting through the bureaucratic obstacles and putting the safety of American citizens first.”

In response to the shooting spree at Virginia Tech – the  deadliest mass shooting in American history – Congress enacted the NICS Improvement Act of 2007, which created incentives for states to share mental health records with NICS. Due to unanswered questions about which mental health records should be shared, Pennsylvania refused to upload mental health records from its own background check system. State Police officials say they have repeatedly sought guidance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) since June 2011. The ATF, which has not had a confirmed director in six years, has yet to respond.

“Commissioner Frank Noonan has taken a key action to make our streets safer and ultimately save lives, not only in Pennsylvania, but in neighboring states and across the country,” said Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, Pennsylvania Chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “We know that guns used in crimes have often crossed state lines, and until now, people who were adjudicated mentally ill in Pennsylvania could simply purchase guns in another state. This is not going to solve the illegal gun problem by itself, but it will make it harder for dangerous people to buy guns and use them to harm others.”

In Pennsylvania, Mayors Against Illegal Guns advocates ending the concealed carry reciprocity agreement with Florida known as the Florida Loophole, requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen handguns, and strengthening punishments for illegal guns. The coalition’s national goals include requiring background checks for all gun sales, making gun trafficking a federal crime, and banning the sale of military style weapons and high capacity magazines.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inaugural Speech Resources

The Washington Post has put together a nice site with video and transcript of Pres. Obama's inaugural address.  Find both, along with analysis, at

Monday, January 21, 2013

Montco Commissioners Townhall in Lansdale

The Montgomery County Commissioners are holding a series of public meetings, called “Conversations with Your County  Commissioners,” throughout the county.  The first was this past Saturday and held in the Lansdale Borough Hall.  

These are my notes from the meeting.  As always, this is not intended as an exact transcript and I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions.   Below the event notes are some personal notes and a list of articles on the event.

Commissioner Bruce Castor could not attend but both JoshShapiro and Leslie Richards were there.  The event was slated to start at 10:00.  I got there about 10:05 and it was just getting started.  Shapiro spoke, then Richards spoke, and then it was opened up for questions.  The commissioners stayed until all the audience’s questions were answered.


Benchmarks for assessing the commissioner’s performance:
1      Improving moral
3      Fiscal mess


The three previous commissioners engaged in a lot of bickering and fighting.  That had an effect on government and morale.  All of the votes of the current board have been unanimous. 

Reforming county government

I tried to pass reforms in the state house.  In the county we hold everyone to the highest standard and have passed a county employee ethics standard.  There will be no politics on county time and you can’t enrich yourself by what you learn on the job.  The County District Attorney has also adopted an ethics policy.  Other counties have asked for copies of our policy.  We also have a new procurement policy.  There is a Montco First initiative.  In some cases local businesses receive additional points in the decision.  We eliminated 19% of county departments and streamlined costs.  In the solicitor’s office there used to be two full-time employees and for other work the county hired outside counsel.  There are now nine full-time employees and that has cut down on outside legal costs.  The $450M pension fund used to have several money managers; it is now in a Vanguard  mutual fund. 

Fiscal situation

The 2012 budget was $10M short when we took office and also had a $49.3M structural deficit.  We can’t tax or cut our way out.  We instituted zero based budgeting; each department has to tell us what they need to do and how much that will cost.  We have passed a balanced budget.  We made investments.  When we took office the reserve fund was $20M; it had been $80M four years earlier.  We had lost our triple A bond rating.  We grew the reserve fund and made the first payment to the pension fund in four years.


We will revolutionize delivery of human services.  We plan to deliver human services through navicates, who serve as a navigator and an advocate.  We will start with four locations and grow to more. 
Emergency radio communications – Commissioner Bruce Castor led a task force on this.  It was estimated that it would cost $120M to get the system we want but we made a deal with Motorola for $29M.

We want to invest in infrastructure.

Leslie Richards (10:30)

The new 202 parkway took 50 years to complete.  We will work with DVRPC (Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission) and have received $8M in CMAQ funds. Only $16M came to the region and we received half of it.  We are embarking on a new planning process.

Voter services

I chair the Montgomery County Board of Elections.  Because of Voter ID concerns we issued our own id cards to make sure people could vote.  Only one other county in the commonwealth did that.  We issued 100 ids and then the law was put to rest but it is not coming back up again.

Questions (10:37)

Q:  In July the county was $417M in debt, what is the debt now?

JS:  We inherited about $420M in debt.  What matters is debt service.  We pay 10% of our budget on debt service.  We are trying to reduce that.  One way we are doing that is looking at assets we can sell to reduce the debt.  We recently put the human services building on the market.  Ratings agencies say our debt could be increased.  But in raw numbers it is still about the same.

Q:  Thanks for the transparency.  Presents report on hunger in Montgomery County.  Why didn’t the commissioners apply for a Medicare block grant from the state?  This was the only county in SEPA to decline.

JS:  A lot of human services is from the state.  Block grants are a little more flexible.  It’s less money but more flexible.  We think the navicate system is better than a block grant.  Not ruling out block grants forever.

Q:  [long speech on CADCOM program; want to be part of navicate program]

JS:  We rely on outside organizations to help with the navicate program.

Q:  International trade with China

LR:  Some restructuring in the Department of Commerce.  Looking at our sister counties internationally.  
Open to it.  Excited about it.

Q:  Gov. Corbett’s proposal to change the way PA’s electoral votes are awarded.

JS:  I am opposed to this.  You should contact your state representative and state senator to let them know what you think.  You can also write a letter to Gov. Corbett.

Q:  Will the cost of the new radio system be paid by local municipalities?

JS:  The radios will cost around $6M; the number for all the municipal departments will be around $3M and will work with them on a plan for paying for it.

Q:  Sandy Hook, county mental health program

LR:  We need common sense gun laws.  We’re on top of it, meeting with departments.

JS:  We are working to decrease the possibility of something like that happening here.  Montco installed a button in all public and some private schools that when pushed alerts the 911 system and local police respond.

Q:  There was a plan for a road from 309 to the Turnpike and a portion of it in Hatfield, along Allentown Road, isn’t completed.  Large trucks drive on residential roads.

LR:  I advocate for large transportation projects.  There are five projects on our plate and this is one of them.  It is programmed but at present the funds aren’t available.

Q:  privatization of the lottery

JS:  It doesn’t make sense.

Q:  Lansdale

LR:  [lengthy praise of Lansdale]

Q:  300 properties up for sheriff sale

JS:  The county can’t solve the problem but it can help, often by connecting people.

LR:  The planning commission is looking at that.

Q:  welfare reform / fraud

JS:  That is primarily a concern at the state and federal level.  We work closely with them.

Q:  fracking.  North Penn water supply is 75% from the Delaware River, Liquified natural gas sales overseas

JS:  Zero wells scheduled to be built in Montco.  Not aware of any pipelines in Montco.  When in the state house I pushed for a several tax.  We should have clean drinking water.

LR:  I worked closely with EPA and Conservation District.

Q:  Will the navicate program use existing employees or hire new employees? 

JS:  We advertised for four navicates and one supervisor.  There are some internal applications and some external.  The hiring process is underway.  The office locations have not yet been formalized.

Q:  People on disability with mental illness

JS:  We need to get them into the system as soon as possible.  The Montco Community College Power program helps with this.

Q:  [comment about stun guns in school]

Closing Comments

LR:  The county website will have a new look, but same address

Personal observationsI counted around 35-40 people, though some were staff; given the number of news articles on the event a handful were journalists.  

When Shapiro was in the state house he sometimes wore an orange tie.  It showed up often enough when he was pushing for legislative reform that I dubbed it the orange reform tie.  At this event he was again sporting an orange tie.  My memory is not good enough to say whether or not it was the same orange tie but I tend to think it was a  new one.  Perhaps it is version 2.0 of the orange reform tie or the county level orange reform tie.

At the requisite information table outside the meeeting room there were several flyers on Lansdale.  All were nicely done.  I was especially impressed by a packet on starting and running a business in Lansdale. That's a great idea!

List of published media articles on the event

For those who prefer their news via mainstream outlets, here is a list of articles on the event.  

"Montco commissioners answer questions in Lansdale" by Jennifer Connor, The Reporter 1/19 

"Standing room only for commissioner's chat," by Christina Kristofic Phillyburbs 1/20