PLCB Ethics Scandal (Again)

OCTOBER 24, 2014  | by DAWN MELING

Pop quiz! What year is this headline from?

A. 2014
B. 2013
C. 2012
D. 2011
E. All of the above.

If you answered E., you win! (And Pennsylvanians lose.)

Excellent reporting from Kari Andren of the Tribune-Review today revealed that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) and its employees are under investigation by a federal grand jury for potential "improper relationships with wine and spirits vendors doing business with the agency."

If you aced the quiz above, this should come as no surprise. Such reports now are about as regular as the changing of the seasons. Andren reports:

A significant pattern of wrongdoing or potential violations that cross state lines could prompt federal officials to look into the case, he [law professor John Burkoff] said. Earlier this year, the Ethics Commission found the former top-ranking LCB officials guilty of taking all-expense paid trips to Florida and California, golf outings across Pennsylvania, high-end merchandise and fancy meals, all on the dime of executives and sales people at national wine and spirits companies.

The rounds of golf, dinners and hospitality gave vendors direct, informal access to influential LCB employees who played a variety of roles in selecting what wines and spirits would line the shelves of more than 600 state-owned liquor stores across Pennsylvania.

When will these ethical scandals stop? When will taxpayers stop paying for the moral and monetary mismanagement of a state-run alcohol system that most Pennsylvanians don’t even want? A government booze monopoly will continue to breed corruption and mismanagement until, once and for all, we get government out of the business of selling alcohol.


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Huge Premium Hikes Expected in PA Exchange

OCTOBER 24, 2014  | by ELIZABETH STELLE

Health Care

Premiums are poised to rise significantly in Pennsylvania in year two of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Three insurers announced this week that they are seeking premium increases of more than 10 percent.

Highmark is asking for increases up to 15 percent, Gesinger up to 19 percent and Independence Blue Cross up to 14.9 percent. The reason, according to Highmark spokesman, is “pent-up demands for care.”

Last year, about 250,000 Pennsylvanians lost their insurance because the ACA determined their coverage was substandard. Some of those individuals received a reprieve when the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner allowed insurers to continue pre-ACA plans until 2016. Now, Highmark is canceling those plans to bring them up to ACA standards. Translation: get ready for hefty out-of-pocket costs.

Tom Peters of Ross Township would like to keep his $288 premium and $2,200 deductible plan another year. A similar plan on the exchange, however, would cost him $290 a month with a deductible of $6,300.

In fact, the ACA is raising deductibles so much that people are choosing to delay or forego care. The New York Times reported on several individuals who are avoiding treatment because they can’t afford their deductible. For example, Gina Brown avoided the doctor when she got an ear infection. Her deductible was $4,000.  

Discouraging necessary care is the result of government mandates that dictate what insurance must include. All ACA plans must provide "free" preventative care as defined by Washington D.C. But the fact is preventive care looks different for everyone. For cancer survivors it might mean yearly scans, for a diabetes patient it might mean regular visits with a nutritionist, while for others, immunizations and annual check-ups would suffice. What's more, "free" preventive care is often priced into higher premiums. 

It's clear the mountain of consumer protections within the ACA is doing more harm than good.

Only by eliminating mandates can consumers can regain control and lower out-of-pocket costs. After all, potential patients, not bureaucrats or insurance companies, are best equipped to decide which health care services matter the most.


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What are Their Priorities?

OCTOBER 24, 2014  | by DAWN MELING

PSEA Political Money

At at time when teachers are complaining about having to buy school supplies for their students, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) reported spending $3,764,154 from union dues on political activities and lobbying alone in 2013.

We looked at prices from WalMart.com for our school supplies: pencils, pens, notebooks, and scissors. By simply using their political money to buy school supplies, the PSEA could have bought 1.7 million pens, 1.7 million notebooks, 1.7 million scissors, and 3.4 million pencils—enough for every single public school student in Pennsylvania. 

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Victory for Student Safety

OCTOBER 23, 2014  | by JAMES PAUL

In an important step for safety in the classroom, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill that will put an end to the abhorrent practice of “passing the trash.” Gov. Corbett recently signed HB 1816, which prevents teachers accused of abuse from quietly resigning and relocating to a new school without having to inform that new school of their alleged misconduct. The law strengthens the background check process and prohibits school districts from entering into “confidentiality agreements” that suppress abuse allegations.

Government unions had previously taken a neutral position on this commonsense legislation.

Of course, the vast majority of teachers are committed to the well-being of their students. But state lawmakers should be commended for addressing the rising claims of inappropriate relationships, abuse, and staff misconduct in the commonwealth. A most tragic victim of "passing the trash" was Jeremy Edward Bell, a twelve year old student who did not surivive educator abuse. HB 1816 will help ensure that such an atrocity never happens again. 

Having approved this important safety measure, attention should now turn to improving the quality of education in the commonwealth, both through expanded school choice and commonsense reforms to reward excellent teachers.


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Video: There's No Magic Money Tree

OCTOBER 23, 2014  | by JOHN BOUDER

Growing money on trees

From education to health care to public pensions, it seems like the answer to every problem—for some—is always more spending. But where does that money come from? And why doesn’t it ever seem to solve the problem?

Matt Brouillette debated taxes and spending with Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center Executive Director Sharon Ward earlier this week on PCN TV’s Call-In Program. It would be an understatement to say their views differ.

One of the most frequently discussed sources of new revenue is a new severance tax on natural gas. This tax would be in addition to all the taxes businesses in that industry already pay. Matt says the industry should—and does—pay for the cost of government they use:

Beyond the question of whether it’s fair, would imposing a severance tax even cover the cost of new education funding proposals? If not, where will that extra money come from, since, as Matt says: “There isn’t a magic tree growing along the Susquehanna where this money comes from—it comes from working Pennsylvanians. And it will be the middle class that gets hit the hardest in this.”

Matt points at that we’re fooling ourselves if we think more money is the answer, especially when it comes to education. In Pennsylvania, per-pupil spending is already at an all-time high. More dollars won't make more scholars:

Watch the full show at www.PCNTV.com.


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Teachers Pay the Price for their Unions' Politics

OCTOBER 22, 2014  | by BOB DICK

CF recently attended a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) rally with the goal of bringing our message directly to the teachers and families of Philadelphia. What exactly is our message? PFT leadership is failing teachers, children, and the poor

The teachers we spoke with at the rally passionately expressed their frustration with the current situation. They have plenty of reasons to be upset.

But among them should be the fact that as a member of the PFT, they are compelled to pay approximately $800 annually to an organization that uses their dues to fund blatantly political activities, whether they agree with them or not.

Time and again, we hear that union dues cannot be used for political purposes. Yet the evidence doesn’t support the claim. By their own admission, Pennsylvania's five largest government unions spent more than $5.5 million of their members’ dues on politics and lobbying last year. The unions report these numbers to the state government.

So what sort of union political activities have teachers funded this year? Here are just some examples:

PFT Wolf 1

  • Another email was sent out to PFT members in September (below) urging teachers to canvass for Tom Wolf. 

PFT Wolf 2

The PFT isn’t the only teachers’ union using their members’ money for political purposes.

AFT-Pennsylvania paid for—with union dues—this mailer, repeating the "$1 billion education cut" myth, recommending Tom Wolf for governor and telling members to vote. The AFT also posted an endorsement page for Tom Wolf on their website.

The political expenditures don't end there. The AFT national headquarters gave $500,000 to PA Families First, a left-leaning Pennsylvania Super PAC, and it has announced it will spend $20 million on politics this election cycle—the largest amount in the union’s history.

The president of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, is no stranger to the political scene. She appeared at the PFT rally last week to implore Philly educators to vote for Tom Wolf. In fact, the AFT posted this video of the PFT rally in which Weingarten yelled "This Governor is morally bankrupt and he has got to go!" as "Crush Corbett" signs were waved.

To be clear, unions have a right to engage in the political process. But they should not have the right to fund their political expenditures without their members' consent or collect that money at taxpayers' expense.


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Unions Bankroll Candidates on the Backs of Taxpayers

OCTOBER 20, 2014  | by BOB DICK

Government unions have not been reluctant to use their exclusive political privilege to finance candidates this election cycle.

According to an AP analysis, four of the top ten contributors to Tom Wolf's gubernatorial campaign are government unions, combining for nearly $2.5 million in donations to Wolf. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with supporting a candidate for office. In fact, it’s a right protected by the First Amendment.

The issue here is not candidates receiving union money, but that union leaders use taxpayers resources to collect their political money.

It's unfair to force taxpayers to subsidize the collection of money for political causes they find antithetical to their own values and beliefs.

It’s not fair that government unions are the only entities that have their political action committee (PAC) money and union dues, which can also be used for political purposes, collected at taxpayers' expense.

Despite the Senate's recent vote against paycheck protection, the fight to restore fairness and level the political playing field will continue.


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Audio: PFT Fails Students, Teachers & the Poor

OCTOBER 17, 2014  | by JOHN BOUDER

Matt Brouillette and other members of Commonwealth Foundation were on the ground at the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) protest yesterday, handing out fliers and letting teachers know how PFT leaders are failing them, students, and Philadelphia's poor.

WPHT's Dom Giordano interviewed Matt Friday morning to find out why he waded into the midst of a union protest to advocate for the teachers, students, and the poor left behind by Philadelphia Federations of Teachers' policies.

Matt, a former high school teacher, said:

The Philadelphia Federations of Teachers is failing the kids, the teachers, and the poor in the city and it is their policies that block millions of dollars from going into the classroom . . . [PFT leaders] are harming the very teachers they are there to protect and they are preventing the kinds of reforms that are needed that I believe will make it better for the good teachers in the district.

In response to figures like former Gov. Rendell, Philadelphia's Mayor Nutter, and others coming out against PFT's actions, Matt said, “What you are seeing is a union that is out of touch with the public… even with those who are on their traditional side."

Listen here or below for more of the interview:

The Dom Giordano Show airs daily on WPHT in Philadelphia.

Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.

And for mobile listening, get the SoundCloud iPhone and Android apps


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Audio: Healthcare Solutions Week—What Comes After Obamacare?

OCTOBER 16, 2014  | by ELIZABETH STELLE

Four years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, few think healthcare is more affordable.

Premiums and out-of-pocket costs are rising, a new wave of Pennsylvanians are losing their health insurance plans, and we're expanding Medicaid. The broken Medicaid program is notorious for high costs and poor healthcare outcomes. But real healthcare solutions exist.

During Healthcare Solutions Week, dozens of organizations around the country are highlighting commonsense reforms that can reduce the cost of care and improve access for those who can't afford insurance.

Elizabeth Stelle discusses the state of healthcare and real solutions for Pennsylvania on WSBA’s The Gary Sutton Show. Listen here or below:

The Gary Sutton Show airs daily on WSBA 910AM in the York area.

Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.

And for mobile listening, get the SoundCloud iPhone and Android apps


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How the PFT Fails Philadelphia

OCTOBER 16, 2014  | by JAMES PAUL

By standing in the way of tens of millions of new dollars for Philadelphia classrooms, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) has revealed its true identity—a self-interested, self-serving interest group that fails teachers, fails students, and fails the poor.

Today, the Commonwealth Foundation launched PFTfails.com to inform the city of Philadelphia—as well as all Pennsylvanians across the state—about the failed track record of PFT leadership. Instead of working to improve the broken status quo, PFT executives use children and teachers as pawns to protect their political influence.

And make no mistake: the status quo has demonstrably failed in Philadelphia public schools. More than 80 percent of students did not achieve proficiency in both reading and math in 2013, according to the Nation’s Report Card. Violence remains a major problem in city schools, with 2,485 violent incidents reported during 2013-14. Despite the abysmal performance and violent conditions, PFT leaders oppose charter schools and tax credit scholarship programs for low-income families seeking better, safer education opportunities.

Construct a broken system, defend a broken system, and trap low-income families in the broken system. That’s the PFT playbook. 

But it’s not just students and low-income families who are failed by union executives. PFT fails hard-working, high-performing Philadelphia teachers by clinging to rigid seniority mandates that can result in the best teachers being fired. What’s more, PFT refuses to embrace merit pay.

Why does PFT leadership stand in the way of higher salaries for excellent educators? Instead of encouraging and developing their best talent, PFT leaders oppose common sense reforms that would reward the most effective teachers and keep them in the classroom.

To make matters worse, the same teachers hurt by the PFT are forced to subsidize the PFT’s political agenda—whether the teachers agree with it or not. Philadelphia teachers are required to pay union dues or fair share fees—with an average annual cost exceeding $800—to various union affiliates just to keep their jobs.

Union executives take full advantage of their unique political privilege by spending dues at the astounding rate of $70,000 per minute on political television advertisements. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—the Washington D.C. based mothership of PFT—is primed to spend more on elections than ever before. This includes a recent gift of $500,000  financed by teachers' dues, and used for political attack ads via a ‘SuperPAC.’

All told, the PFT fails the entire city of Philadelphia by refusing to agree to health care concessions that would distribute an additional $54 million for classroom instruction in the current school year. Former Governor Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, and the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board all agree that this money belongs in the classrooms.

But the PFT refuses to compromise. Add it to the list of PFT failures. They fail us all when they put personal political scores ahead of what’s best for teachers, students, and the poor. 


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Who are We?

The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.  The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.