Conference Committee Dissolves

Today House Appropriations Chairman Evans announced the Conference Committee will disband until further notice. Apparently Rep. Evans along with Sen. Pileggi will meet with Governor Rendell’s administration beginning tomorrow to try to begin to hammer out a budget agreement. If progress begins to be made in negotiations, then the committee may be called back together to finalize the arrangement. Governor Rendell also announced that he would potentially ask for SB850 so he can sign prior to Monday to allow state workers to receive their paychecks as soon as possible. It still appears that layoffs of state workers will begin as soon as payroll is resumed per what Governor Rendell announced in his press conference yesterday.

In the morning session of the Conference Committee barely any progress seems to have been made. It began much like yesterday ended with more disagreement over procedural and organizational flow of how the committee would move forward.

Conference Committee – Day 1

After spending nearly half the meeting arguing over whether or not a chairperson should be appointed, where to start with budget talks, and where the committee meetings would be held the committee got underway. Whether or not progress has been made is up for debate, but at least the dialogue found a starting point. The Conference Committee will reconvene Thursday at 9 a.m. at the Forum.

In other budget related news, Governor Rendell held a press conference where he announced that if progress is not made throughout the remainder of this week, on Monday he will formally request that SB850 be sent to him for signing and the bill would be used as a bridge bill and would not be the formal budget bill. He emphasized that point several different times during the press conference. Basically the Governor would line item veto all lines in the budget except for the lines that are necessary for the government to operate. Basically this boils down to the 77,000 state workers and vendors that are deemed essential for government operations being paid.

Check back for updates on this budget impasse that is approaching one month overdue.

Socialized Medicine-Rant #2

President Obama deserves credit for getting the ball rolling on the economic recovery. One area where I believe he is completely missing the boat is in reference to health care and his proposals. I agree that health care does need to be reformed. I will be the first to admit that. Having said that, his method to achieve that is completely wrong. It will lead to small businesses electing not to hire and paying lower wages in order to offer the health care coverage to employees they would not otherwise. The Congressional Budget Office has testified that the spending associated with President Obama’s healthcare proposal will increase the national debt. This was something that President Obama had said, if occurred, he would not go forward with the plan. So what does he do, he denies that it will add to the debt. So what is the economic impact of this plan? It will increase unemployment because of factors mentioned earlier. It will create lower wages. And finally, it will increase the national deficit.

Another major impact would be in reference to quality of care. Canada currently has the same type of system and mortality rates for diseases such as colon cancer are much higher than in the United States. The reason for that is that the Government has decided against certain treatments because of the financial cost associated with them. Also the wait times to see doctors are much longer than they currently are in the United States. In a nationalized system the Government would control what type of treatments are given to the patient as options. This speaks for itself in terms of who would benefit. We currently enjoy the freedom to make our own decisions in terms of treatments and medications prescribed by doctors. Once that is taken away from us, how are we free? We are not able to choose what is best for us, the Government would do it for us.

This is meant to be just a brief skim of how this would impact our lives as free Americans. You may do a little more research into the Canadian health care system to see more detailed ways the nationalized system is not a good system and is very dangerous to adopt.

Rant Collage Part 1

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I have decided to stray from my normal format and do an informal 3 part series about a few issues on both the state and national stage that deserve attention. I would like to start by discussing the debacle that has become the PA state budget. Then I would like to shift gears to the attempt at nationalization of our health care system. I will then end the series with a kudos in regards to the credit markets.

As most of you know that read my blog on a regular basis, Pennsylvania is facing a budget crisis. After a series of legislative ping pong with several various budget bills, we are left with nothing but a political nightmare with everyone trying to gain a political victory and the victims are the citizens of Pennsylvania. This “process”, there I used that word, will conclude where it should have started with a committee engaging in negotiations. There are several factors prohibiting this years budget from being passed.

The first and most apparent reason is the downturn in our national economy. This has caused state revenue collections to plummet, thus creating a larger than expected budgetary deficit.

Secondly, we have one of the largest legislatures in the country. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives have 203 members. It doesn’t take a college graduate to see the difficulty in getting a majority agreement with a legislative body that size. We have opposing parties controlling each house. The House of Representatives is Democratically controlled while the Senate is Republican controlled. Again, getting agreement on what color the sky is can be difficult with this setup.

Finally, partisan politics is getting in the way of making sound decisions that will benefit all Pennsylvanians. The House Democratic leadership announced earlier this week that they would be determining a spend number for the budget and then would enter into negotiations with leaders of the Senate and with personnel from the Governor’s office. At the press conference, they were hopeful of getting a handshake deal prior to the start of the Conference Committee early next week. So what happened? Senator Jake Corman, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, says that he would be willing to negotiate but not until the House Democrats take the proposed Personal Income Tax hike off of the table. This is simply being uncooperative.

Pennsylvania state workers are approaching the 24th day without a budget in place. Tomorrow the last portion of state workers will receive 20% of their normal pay check. Each subsequent pay will come and go without paycheck until a budget is passed. How can anyone think that it is acceptable to say they are willing to negotiate but only if certain pre-conditions are met? This is completely absurd. There are families struggling to pay bills and even buy groceries. Our state workers are being forced to go to local food banks for food. Who would have ever thought that this day would come? There are services that I feel are very important to the viability of our state. One is education.

It is very important that we properly fund education to ensure that the children of our commonwealth are receiving the best education possible. To drastically cut funding in that area doesn’t make sense. So having said that, if funding education requires new revenue that should be explored. To say that you are not willing to sit down until broad based tax increases are taken off the table is a vote against the future of our state, in my view. It would seem to me that regardless of your opinions, one should sit down and start discussing what areas are important to be funded and then use that information to develop a spend number and begin to talk about how that spending will be funded. It’s as if the cart is being put before the horse in these talks. It is my hope that the public with begin to put pressure on the legislature leaders to sit down and begin negotiations in an open, transparent way to get this budget passed and our state workers paid.

Time To Negotiate

On Tuesday the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to nonconcur on HB1416 as Amended. Governor Rendell held a press conference along with Democratic leaders to discuss the next step in the budget impasse process. The Senate Republicans are going to “insist” on their Amendment thus sending this process to a Conference Committee. The 4 Caucuses will now decide who their conferees will be and the Committee is expected to begin Monday or Tuesday of next week. However, the leaders will continue to negotiate until that occurrs. The leaders are hopeful that they will be able to work out a handshake deal on the budget prior to the Conference Committee commencing early next week.

Over the course of the next couple of days House Speaker McCall announced that they would be working on a spending number to begin negotiations. It appears that the biggest hurdle will be in dealing with education. The Democratic majority in the House feels that education should be fully funded. The Republican controlled Senate proposed drastic cuts to education in their Amendment to HB1416. That will be the biggest item to begin negotiations around. Once an agreement can be reached on the spend number and how much funding to allocate to education, I feel the rest will fall into place. To fund education at the level the House is hoping to will require some revenue source. Depending on the dollar amount of funding will determine the source of that revenue. There are several proposals for revenue on the table. The infamous PIT increase proposed by Governor Rendell, to place sales tax on smokeless tobacco, to eliminate certain sales tax exemptions for small businesses, and the least likely is through revenue generated from video poker. That is still a long way off in terms of coming to fruition.

It is my opinion that the leaders of all 4 caucuses should begin sitting down today and working together for the betterment of the Commonwealth. They all claim to have the best interest of Pennsylvanians at heart, however there are 77,000 state workers that are working without receiving their paychecks. It is clear that we have been enduring an economic crisis. Having said that, the leaders need to realize that despite the cries of lobbyist, it is time to make cuts to programs that are not necessities in order to ensure that the state can move forward and properly fund those programs that are deemed as essential to Pennsylvania continuing to prosper. Once the “fat” is cut off, it should be clearer to determine how to properly fund those programs deemed as important to Pennsylvania.

HB1416 As Amended Passes Senate

The Republican controlled Senate last night passed HB1416 as amended by a 31-19 vote. After nearly 6 hours of floor debate, the bill has been sent back to the House on concurrence. The House can either adopt the bill as is or what is more likely is a conference committee with the leaders of the 4 caucuses and the administration to begin negotiations to solve this budget impasse. Several Senators during their floor debate challenged the idea that Governor Rendell cannot pay state workers during this impasse. Senator Costa reiterated the fact that it is a Commonwealth Court ruling that prevents payments to state workers without a state budget in place. We’ll have to see what the days ahead hold in terms of getting this budget impasse, which is now going into it’s 21st day…..

Well….Not So Fast

Yesterday the PA Senate Appropriations Committee voted HB1416 out of committee with a negative recommendation. It will come up for second reading in the Senate today and then a potential floor vote on the bill on Monday. Governor Rendell held a press conference yesterday where he talked about funding for education and stated that if the Senate expected to cut funding to education that the members should expect to bring their coats to Harrisburg because it would be a long process. Not good news for the thousands upon thousands of state workers whose pay is effected by this impasse. Expect the Senate to try to amend HB1416 back to near Civera Amendment status which should not go far in the House. However, I think the best chance to move forward in the process will be through negotiations among the leaders of all 4 caucuses and the administration. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. The Senate reconvenes today (Sunday) at 4 p.m. but I don’t expect that session to last long. Probably just for the second reading technicality.

Round 2….House Dems Again

Yesterday, as expected, HB1416 passed mainly along party lines and has been sent to the Senate for debate. Kudos to the 2 Democrats and 3 Republicans that went against their party and voted based on beliefs in what was best for Pennsylvania. The bill is expected to meet a wall in the Senate. I would expect that the Senate would try to amend the bill and send it back to the House on concurrence. So having said that, I would not expect a budget to be finalized and passed in the next few days. Within a week may be more likely.

House Dems Win Round 1

Thursday was a day filled with partisan debate over the 2 proposed amendments to HB1416. In summary, the Democratic Amendment is the proposal previous talked about that would require that funding for higher education be split out into its own fund and up for future debate and how to pay for it. The GOP Amendment (AKA Civera Amendment) proposed no tax increase but did place severe cuts to certain state agencies. After nearly 6 hours of floor debate, the House voted down the Civera Amendment. As a result, HB1416 as Amended by the Democrats will be up for final passage on the floor of the House today.

If it is passed, as it appears it will, it would be sent to the Senate for debate and vote. The Senate has a few options. They can either pass the bill as presented, add an Amendment to the Bill, or reject the bill. If it passes the Senate as presented the bill would then go to the Governor for his signature and we would have a budget in place. If the Senate decides to amend the bill it would go back to the House for another vote, and if the Senate decides to reject the Bill there would be a special committee formed of the leaders of both the House and the Senate to attempt to negotiate.

It is possible to have a Budget passed over the weekend. However, judging by what the Senate leaders have said, they will not pass anything that has the potential for tax increases. Having said that, it is my belief that the Senate will feel some public pressure to get this done because we are close to resolving this budget issue if they pass it. That is not to say that will happen, but I haven’t really heard how the Republican members of the Senate feel about this bill.

It is likely that the House will pass HB1416 on Final Passage today. It remains to be seen what will happen in the Senate as they would begin to debate the bill tomorrow. In regards to SB850, it would appear that bill is basically dead because it is very similar to the Civera Amendment that was rejected yesterday in the House. We will have to continue to monitor this situation over the weekend to see how this plays out.

Another Socialist Idea

Reuters reported today that U.S. Government officials are considering proposing a rental option to struggling homeowners. In their plan, a homeowner that cannot make their mortgage payments can decide to rent their home to avoid eviction. In summary what would occur is the US Government would buy your home and then become your landlord. Where does this Government intervention into our personal lives stop? There seems to be no end to the level of involvement the Government is willing to go to. This is certainly something that should be followed. We should bring attention to this to ensure that opposition to this proposal is strong enough to withstand this coming to fruition.