Pro-Taxpayer, Pro-Transparency Bills Move Forward

APRIL 22, 2015  | by JAMES PAUL

Government union contract negotiations—long shrouded in secrecy behind closed-door meetings—are one step closer to openness and transparency. Today, a series of bills passed the Senate State Government Committee that will inform taxpayers about the contracts they are ultimately responsible for financing.

  • SB 643, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument, requires public notice and open meetings when public sector collective bargaining agreements are negotiated.
  • SB 644, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, empowers the Independent Fiscal Office to estimate the costs of public sector union contracts prior to ratification.
  • SB 645, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano, requires public sector collective bargaining agreements to be posted on state, school district, or local government websites two weeks prior to signing.

In addition to enhanced transparency, these bills would protect taxpayers against the conflict of interest that exists when politicians accept government union campaign donations before engaging in secret negotiations with those same donors. Gov. Wolf, for example, accepted $2.6 million from six unions whose contracts he is negotiating or will soon be negotiating—including more than half a million dollars from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest state employee union in Pennsylvania.

Coincidentally, at the same time lawmakers in the Senate are promoting open-government legislation, Gov. Wolf appears close to a one-year agreement with AFSCME. The AFSCME contract is typically the basis for other state contracts. If the AFSCME deal is applied to all union contracts expiring this year, it represents approximately $76 million in additional taxpayer costs.

Should the transparency bills be signed into law, Pennsylvania would join 11 other states that have pursued similar good-government legislation. It's time to follow the trend and shine a light on this significant expense.


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PA is One Step Closer to Outlawing Harassment

APRIL 22, 2015  | by BOB DICK

Stop Union Violence

Sarina Rose, VP of Development for Post Brothers Apartments, knows firsthand what its like to be harassed. She was verbally berated and threatened in a Philadelphia restaurant. But because the abuse occurred during a labor dispute the harassment was deemed legal and the judge dismissed the case.

That would change under legislation passed in the House yesterday. HB 874 would close a deplorable loophole in Pennsylvania's Crimes Code. The loophole allows an individual to harass, stalk, and threaten the use of a weapon of mass destruction IF these aggressive acts are carried out during a labor dispute.

Neither management nor union employees should be harassed, stalked, or threatened with impunity. While both groups have a constitutional right to express their opinions about business practices, they should not have a license to be violent.

HB 874 now heads to the Senate.

Click here to see how your representative voted.


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Taxpayer Protection Act Advances in the Senate

APRIL 21, 2015  | by JAMES PAUL

In the face of Governor Wolf’s proposed $4.5 billion tax increase, a group of Senate lawmakers are offering an alternate vision for Pennsylvania—one of limited government and economic prosperity.

Today, the Senate Finance Committee passed two versions of Taxpayer Protection Act legislation. Senate Bill 70, an amendment to the state Constitution sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta, and Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, are now eligible for a vote by the entire chamber. These bills protect middle-class Pennsylvanians from reckless spending and tax increases.

The Taxpayer Protection Act achieves four goals:

  • Limits the future growth of government spending to inflation plus population growth
  • Requires state government to prioritize future spending
  • Establishes a Rainy Day Fund to help balance the budget during economic recessions
  • Provides tax relief for working families

On several occasions, Gov. Wolf has urged his fellow citizens to, “please come with your own ideas. It’s not good enough to just say no and continue with the same old, same old.” The Taxpayer Protection Act would set the state on a new course.

Working Pennsylvanians deserve a government that lives within its means. They deserve to keep the fruits of their labor.

Read more about the Taxpayer Protection Act.


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This Unionization Scheme is About Money

APRIL 20, 2015  | by NATHAN BENEFIELD

I am angry.

As my colleague Dawn pointed out last week, ballots were mailed to home health care workers asking them whether or not they want to be represented by the United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania—a self-described “union” and joint project of two other government unions, AFSCME and SEIU.

Most of these homecare workers are taking care of a family member or friend, and have no need or desire for a union to get in between them and those they care for. Yet, if just a majority of those voting check 'yes,' United Home Care Workers will have a union monopoly over all homecare workers.

This stealth unionization scheme was made possible by an executive order from Gov. Tom Wolf. The Wolf administration denies this is a unionization effort. According to Gov. Wolf’s press secretary, these ballots to elect a union are “not a union ballot.”

This despite a mailer sent to homecare workers highlighting “a special message about our union election” and urges home care attendants to get involved “by forming our union.” (Emphasis added)

UHWP mailer image 3

UHWP mailer image 4

Here’s what this unionization scheme is about: money. SEIU and AFSCME want to skim union dues off the top of Medicaid payments to homecare providers. Already, the union has sent out forms to authorize paycheck deductions which will total an estimated $8.4 million in additional revenue for SEIU and AFSCME coffers.

UHWP mailer image 2

Gov. Wolf would also benefit. AFSCME and SEIU contributed more than $1.5 million to Gov. Wolf’s campaign in 2014, while spending hundreds of thousands more in independent expenditures and “SuperPAC” contributions—directly from union dues—to support his election.

Our latest policy memo provides a background on Wolf’s executive order and the lawsuits filed to stop this stealth unionization scheme and dues skim.


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Video: Tax Credit Scholarships Give Options to Thousands

APRIL 17, 2015  | by JONATHAN REGINELLA

The Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC) offers businesses the chance to be more involved in their communities by offering tax credits in exhange for sholarship funding. This program allows students in failing or dangerous districts to attend thriving educational organizations like Logos Academy in York.

Matt Brouillette, CF’s president & CEO, and James Paul, a CF senior policy analyst, recently sat down with David Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, to discuss the EITC program and the opportunities it affords students who are trying to flee failing school districts.

Season 4, Episode 8: Educational Improvement Tax Credit from PMA Perspective on Vimeo.

These scholarships help students who want a better quality education, but lack the resources to obtain one. As Matt describes, these businesses “are either going to pay that money to Harrisburg or give it to a scholarship organization that is rescuing kids and families” from dangerous and violent school districts. Seems like an easy choice, doesn’t it?

Both the continual growth and increasing political support of the EITC program show how beneficial educational choice can be for students. James describes the program’s success by pointing out that “since the implementation of the EITC program in 2001, Pennsylvania has seen nearly 500,000 scholarships awarded”­—scholarships targeted at students in the lowest performing school districts.

Aaron Anderson, CEO of Logos Academy, calls programs like EITC a “no brainer” since they provide  businesses the opportunity to give a student who is in a struggling school district a real opportunity and a real alternative to get a world class education. EITC is ensuring that every child in Pennsylvania has access to a quality, safe school of their choice.

For another example of the benefit tax credit scholarship programs bring to Pennsylvania families, read James Paul's commentary Scholarships Offer Lifeline to PA Students.


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"This is Not a Union Ballot"

APRIL 15, 2015  | by DAWN TOGUCHI

This is not a union ballot, according Jeffrey Sheridan, press secretary for Gov. Wolf.

UHCW ballot

UHCW Ballot 2

The ballot you see was mailed to a home health care worker. Gov. Wolf issued an executive order that effectively unionizes home health care workers, potentially adding millions to government union coffers. Last election cycle, government unions gave $3.4 million to Gov. Wolf's campaign.

United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania is a joint project of two government unions, AFSCME and SEIU. On its website it self-describes as "a union". In a mailer sent to home care workers, they offer "a special message about your union election."  (emphasis added)

"It’s not a union ballot," Jeffrey Sheridan told the Post-Gazette. "It's just not. They’re wrong."

Mr. Sheridan doesn't have to call it a "ballot." He can call it a unicorn if he wants, but the fact remains that deceptive tactics are being used against those who serve some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.


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The Worst "Subsidy" Study You'll Never Read

APRIL 14, 2015  | by NATHAN BENEFIELD, ELIZABETH STELLE

Energy Policy

The radical environmentalist group and corporate welfare lobbyist PennFuture has updated an absurd study about the "subsidies" Pennsylvania taxpayers pay for fossil fuels. While we oppose subsidies for any industry, most of PennFuture's "subsidies" are the absence of higher taxes on consumers.  

PennFuture's analysis show less than $60 million in actual direct subsidy for fossil fuels (some of which is for alternative energy programs). What they consider a "subsidy" is not taxing certain goods and services.

Most of their "subsidy" total comes from not applying the sales tax to gasoline and electricity. That is, taxpayers would "save" by paying more in sales tax at the pump and in their heating bills.

But wait, you must be thinking, don’t we have a gasoline tax and an electricity tax?

Why yes, yes we do. They are claiming we are subsidizing gasoline by taxing it, but not taxing it twice.

  1. Almost 44 percent of these "subsidies" are for NOT imposing the sales tax on gasoline. Yet gasoline is taxed separately under the Oil Company Franchise Tax. In fact, as of 2015, Pennsylvania has the highest state gasoline tax in the nation.

    Gasoline is exempted from the sales and use tax for that reason and that reason alone—it doesn't make any sense to double-tax a product. To suggest state taxpayers are "subsidizing" gasoline production by imposing a tax on gasoline (but not two taxes) is beyond ridiculous.

  2. Another 20 percent of these "subsidies" are for not imposing the sales tax on electricity and heating fuel. Again, these utility bills are taxed separately under the Gross Receipts Tax. Making consumers pay another tax on their electric bill or heating bill does not repeal a subsidy, and in certainly doesn't save taxpayer.

Both of these tax exemptions—making up almost two-thirds of PennFuture’s estimates of "subsidies"—suggest we should impose taxes on top of taxes on consumers at the pump or in their utility bills. Either PennFuture doesn't understand how taxes work, or are deliberately misleading their readers, but either way, they what they are suggesting is higher taxes on families.

Other "subsidies" include not taxing the government for its use of fuel (because we don’t tax the government for anything) and not imposing property taxes on the value of natural gas. This is a tax that would hit homeowners; it is not a subsidy for the businesses.

PennFuture seems to have no idea what a subsidy actually is. Ironically, they are lobbying for new subsidies, specifically $225 million in subsidies for alternative energy under Governor's Wolf budget proposal.

Worse yet, these subsidies will come from borrowed dollars. Governor Wolf wants to borrow funds and pay it back (with interest) using a new tax on natural gas severance. In other words, PennFuture not only wants to double-tax fossil fuels, they want to place a special tax on natural gas to subsidize cronies in the wind and solar power industry.

It's clear that these subsidization schemes not only punish taxpayers, but fail to create jobs. Pennsylvania continues to see anemic job growth, despite $2.9 billion in taxpayer-financed alternative energy loans and grants since 2003.


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Wolf's Stealth Unionization is Happening Now

APRIL 14, 2015  | by JOHN BOUDER, NATHAN BENEFIELD

Two lawsuits filed in Commonwealth Court last week say Gov. Wolf’s February executive order is an illegal attempt to unionize thousands of Pennsylvania homecare workers. But both the governor and his spokesman have consistently denied it does any such thing. Now, secret ballots sent to homecare workers for a union ambush election show those claims to be deceptive.

The Fairness Center, which sued to halt the executive order along with the Pennsylvania Homecare Association last Monday, obtained this union secret ballot delivered to Pennsylvania homecare attendants. It must be returned by April 23.

The ballot is for a final union election which would unionize tens of thousands of homecare workers under the United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania—a "joint effort" of the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State County, and Municipal Employees.

Yet last week, Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan told WITF that the order "doesn’t allow [homecare workers] to organize." When asked about the lawsuits during a Wednesday East Liberty visit, Wolf himself said, "I'm not forcing anyone to join a union, nor am I granting collective bargaining rights or making anyone a state employee," according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The fact that SEIU and AFSCME are organizing for their union right now directly contradicts these statements. People like Don Lambrecht—who has cared for his friend and employer David Smith day and night for the past 25 years—are being cajoled to vote for the union.

Indeed, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board called Wolf’s order "an example of politics at its worst," and pointed to the SEIU's substantial donations to Wolf’s gubernatorial campaign as his likely motivation.

The Wolf administration's cozy relationship with the SEIU is being revealed elsewhere today. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that Wolf’s chief of staff advised the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to "let the SEIU unilaterally organize” their workers. A UPMC spokesman called Wolf’s approach “straight of out SEIU’s playbook."

A pattern of union favors is developing in the Wolf administration that should give Pennsylvanians pause.

Wolf accepted nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from the SEIU and employs a former executive director of the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council as a special assistant. AFSCME, between its national and state arm, gave Wolf another $550,000 in campaign support. Those contributions seem to be paying a dividend for union leaders.

Even before SEIU and AFSCME's ballots were sent, it was clear that the order’s purpose was to unionize workers.

The union could actually win the election with just a majority of those who return ballots. Even if just 20 percent of homecare workers cast a ballot, SEIU and AFSCME would become the monopoly representative for 100 percent of homecare workers and could begin collecting union dues and campaign contributions right out of Medicaid payments.

It’s disgraceful that these deceptive tactics are being used against those who serve some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians. It’s a shame that it’s being done by a man who claims to be a "different kind of governor."


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Pennsylvania's Economy Ranks a Dismal 39th

APRIL 10, 2015  | by BOB DICK

Is placing 39 out of 50 in any competition acceptable? Most people would say no, which is why a new index published by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is so unsettling.

Released on an annual basis, the Rich States, Poor States index ranks states based on their economic performance and economic outlook. In the first category, Pennsylvania performed poorly, ranking 39th. Future economic performance doesn’t look promising either. The authors of the index place Pennsylvania in the bottom ten at 41.

The rankings are based on fifteen different variables that include tax rates, debt service as a share of tax revenue, labor regulations, and tax or expenditure limits. Pennsylvania ranks poorly in nearly all of these areas year after year. As Jana Benscoter of Watchdog points out, Pennsylvania’s economic outlook ranking has never been higher than 33rd.

This isn’t surprising given the dramatic growth of government spending and taxation since 1970 and Pennsylvania’s inhospitable regulatory environment, both of which are roadblocks to job creation and prosperity.

But Pennsylvania doesn't have to continue down this path. If the commonwealth lowers the tax burden on businesses and families, restrains spending growth, and fixes its regulatory climate, we can shed these low rankings and grow an economy that works for everyone.

We're at a watershed moment, with a choice between the largest tax hike in Pennsylvania's history or reducing government spending to leave more in the pockets of Pennsylvanians. It's a choice between prosperity or economic stagnation.


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Audio: Reforming Pennsylvania's Pension System

APRIL 9, 2015  | by JONATHAN REGINELLA

While Gov. Wolf seems to think borrowing money will solve the pension crisis, the commonsense approach to getting out of our $53 billion pension hole is to “stop digging”–i.e., stop piling more people into the current, failing system.

CF’s Nate Benefield was recently on the Gary Sutton Show to discuss Pennsylvania’s public pension problem and the need to overcome roadblocks to reform.

Defined contribution plans offer an alternate solution to the current pension system that would benefit both state employees and taxpayers and are always “fully-funded” (meaning they can’t pile up public debt).

Without much-needed legislative reform, public pensions will bankrupt cities like York—which has a quarter of its budget dedicated to pension funds—and continue to dig the commonwealth into a deeper financial hole.

Listen below to hear some of Nate’s interview with WSBA’s Gary Sutton and to learn more about pension reform.

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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