Something terribly wrong in Harrisburg
I hesitated in writing this letter for many many months because people and politicians do not like to hear the facts, especially when something is terribly wrong. But here I go.
When Governor Ed Rendell started his tenure nearly eight years ago, the budget was at $20 billion. His last budget that he proposed is $29 billion. Someone must have informed him that All Pennsylvanians must be millionaires and would like for our taxes to go up.
Now mind you, I am not the proverbial fiscal conservative that says, Cut-Cut-Cut. I want to know what gets cut; whom does it affect; and how does it affect. I recall how our property taxes were on the way to elimination because of casino gambling. Now I am a proponent of casinos but little did I know that instead of property tax relief, the Legislature took out the money and was distributed for hockey rinks, economic expansion, building expansions for a bank in Philadelphia, and many more items that do not pertain to property tax relief.
During the one budget battle a few years ago, the Governor and Legislature gave a $600 rebate check for senior citizens. However, they took it out of the lottery fund and never repaid it. The money in that fund was defined for the programs already in place. But then again, that was an election year.
We all talk about transportation and nothing ever got done. in fact, if stimulus money (for those who don't know is the money everyone is complaining about) did not enter into the discussion, well we all would have sold our homes by now. The Governor in his great wisdom took $400-plus million dollars of Federal monies a few years ago and put it into transit. In other words it went to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. You see, in Pennsylvania the transit money breaks down like this, 70 percent for Philly; 24 percent for Pittsburgh, and 6 percent for the remainder of the state. In layman terms, this amounts to 70 cents for Philly, 24 cents for Pittsburgh, and less than 1 cent for Carbon or Schuylkill Counties.
Imagine that, we don't even get a penny for the bus. During last year's World Series, Septa in Philly threatened to go on strike. As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Governor Ed Rendell took $8 million of taxpayer monies and gave it to the workers in Philadelphia if they did not strike. Not too bad considering that since he's been in office, union state employees had a two year pay freeze instituted in the beginning of his term, and all management employees have had a four year pay freeze, which is currently on going. Let's get back to transportation for a minute. The leasing of the turnpike failed and the I-80 tolling failed. I might add about I-80, the common folk reading this were probably not aware that if it did occur, the nearly $500 million was not going into roads and bridges. Half was going to transit. Yes - Philly and Pittsburgh. During this comedy, the Governor wanted to clean up the Delaware. Everyone wants clean rivers, lakes, and streams, but at what cost. As reported again in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the sludge was to be transported to the Coal Regions. I guess that must mean us.
Now the big question is what were our elected state officials doing at this time and why didn't they protest? I would imagine that would take up a lot of space and time. However we have a current crisis with the current fiscal year deficit of over $1 billion dollars. That needs to be solved and the new budget is required to be passed on July 1, 2010. Wow, anyone taking bets?
There is a slew of people running in the primaries. What's their plans? Please do not insult the citizenry by saying cut-cut-cut or raise new revenues. tells us what those things are. Why isn't anyone working on the pension crisis? State employees are retiring and new people getting on board, under the same guaranteed defined benefit plan. Question: will the state legislature come under the new plan or will they be cart blanc like the past. For those Pennsylvanians that don't know, legislators receive 3 percent per year, unlike state employees. Theirs are 2.5 percent. State workers have a co-pay for medical - legislators do not. If state workers do retire at an early age, they are penalized; legislators do not. Vesting is currently at five years which gave every one of the Governor's Secretaries pensions, and not the small ones. One final thing about our elected state officials, remember the pay raise. Oh it caused quite a stir. However, as Paul Harvey says, the rest of the story. You heard how some legislators gave back their pay raise. What they didn't give back is how it affected their pensions. You see, by law they had to take the raise, upping their annual salary. By their annual salary going up, their pensions went up because it is based on their highest year's salary. Not too shabby I may add.
I would hope that the Fourth Estate would also get involved and hold these politicians feet to the fire. The first question should be, " With the budget crises we face, why did you recess until after the primary election?" It would be so nice just to hear a civil debate so one can make an intelligent decision prior to entering the voting booth. Thank you for your time.
Michael J. Vadyak