Blogs

'How 'bout No, You Crazy Dutch....'

By Mark Price, Third and State

The Only Proper Villian We Could Find From the NetherlandsOn Monday night, the Lower Allen Township commissioners in Cumberland County considered a proposal from Ahold USA, the corporate parent of Giant Food Stores, for a $400,000 property tax abatement on a meat repackaging plant on which the company has already broken ground. (Ahold USA is itself the subsidiary of the Netherlands-based Ahold.)

The company has neglected a basic principle of the economic development game through which companies extract subsidies and tax breaks from states and localities where they were going to build anyway: until you have the subsidy in hand, don't give away that it will not impact your location decision.

But since the company made this error, the title of this blog post, taken from the Austin Powers movie Goldmember, should suffice for the township's answer. (It is pure coincidence that Goldmember, a Dutchman pictured to the right, has a gold G on his velvet sweatsuit.)

Here are two stories on this issue.

The Lower Allen commissioners should continue to say no to Ahold's request because it is a simple giveaway that diverts needed tax revenue from the township. It would be that much costlier if the West Shore School District (which has absorbed $2.2 million in state budget cuts since 2010-11) and Cumberland County (where property taxes for most homeowners and businesses may rise by 22% next year) follow suit.

The repackaging plant will consolidate meat cutting operations for Ahold USA's stores in the mid-Atlantic region. Customers will no longer get their meat freshly cut in the store, instead, the meat cutting and packaging function is being moved to a central location with easy access to the interstate. Some meat cutters will lose their jobs in the process, while others might be offered jobs at the new facility, at a lower wage.

For its $400,000, Lower Allen Township is being promised between 450 and 800 jobs; there is no word on how many jobs will be lost at Giant Food Stores in the region or at the company's Maryland division.   

Normally, a corporate giant like Ahold will approach government officials to inform them they are on the short list for a new facility being planned. Just look at how the Shell Corporation enticed incentive offers from Ohio and West Virginia before securing the mother lode of all incentives from Pennsylvania (a $1.67 billion, 25-year tax break).

Unfortunately for Ahold USA, the company has already broken ground on the meat repackaging plant. So the township commissioners made the right move by putting the request on hold. Why divert scarce tax dollars to a profitable corporation to do something they are already doing anyway?

While they make good beer in the Netherlands, Ahold corporate honchos could learn a thing or two about economic development blackmail from Dick Yuengling Jr., the owner and president of D.G. Yuengling & Son’s.

Although the company recently expanded distribution in Ohio, making Western Pennsylvania an economically attractive location to expand production, the brewing scion doubts he would build a new brewery in Pennsylvania. Yuengling wasn't specific about what he means by business climate, but it is pretty clear from a Patriot-News interview that he doesn't think Pennsylvania as a rule offers enough taxpayer cash to corporations. (Although, Yuengling says his decision of where to build will not be based on the incentives offered.)

The decision comes down to taxes, incentives and the state’s business climate, Yuengling said. 

In the interview, Yuengling hinted that there are far more business-friendly states. And while he didn’t directly criticize any Pennsylvania administration, past or present, he said he can never be certain which way the state is leaning in terms of its tax and business policies. 

By contrast, he said enticing incentives offered by other states might be too good to pass up. However, he declined to cite any states he might be considering for the brewery... 

“We don’t necessarily base business decisions on incentives like that. But if they are going to give them to somebody, we would stand there and take them.” 

News Flash! Marcellus Shale Coalition Takes on PA Charities

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Thanks to Citizens United, we are all the beneficiaries of unlimited corporate money in our elections — witness the onslaught of TV ads interrupting our ballgames and the fall lineup of TV shows.

In a new twist, the very groups that agitated to spend unlimited funds to promote their point of view are now critical of others who challenge them. What brings this to mind is an Associated Press story this morning that the Marcellus Shale Coalition is not happy about the funding priorities of the Heinz Endowments and William Penn Foundation.

Citizens groups and nonprofits around the nation are asking questions about environmental and health impacts of natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and Pennsylvania charities are funding much of the debate.

Foundations from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh have provided more than $19 million for gas-drilling-related grants since 2009, according to an Associated Press review of charity data. The money has paid for scientific studies, films, radio programs, websites and even trout fishing groups that monitor water quality.

That’s led to expressions of gratitude from those who say state and federal governments aren’t doing enough on the issue but also protests from some in the gas-drilling industry, who claim there’s bias in the campaigns...

But the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a leading industry group, criticized what it sees as a “record of bankrolling organizations and institutions opposed to the safe development of job-creating American natural gas.”

(Full disclosure: the Keystone Research Center receives funding from the William Penn Foundation and Heinz Endowments.)

What the groups, and their funders, are critical of is the unsafe development of natural gas. Since Pennsylvania’s official Marcellus policy is drill baby drill, somebody has to do the due diligence, so thank your local charity.

A related story provides heartening news that public debate can smoke out research that is simply advancing the perspective of the group that paid for the study.

A natural-gas driller’s group has canceled a Pennsylvania State University study of hydraulic fracturing after some faculty members balked at the project that had drawn criticism for being slanted toward industry.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which paid more than $146,000 for three previous studies, ended this year’s report after work had started, said Kathryn Klaber, coalition president.

The earlier studies were co-written by former Penn State professor Tim Considine, an economist now at the University of Wyoming who has produced research on economic and energy issues under contract to trade associations. The first study, in 2009, initially failed to disclose its industry funding and was used by lawmakers to kill a state tax on gas drillers. It was characterized as advocacy for producers by groups such as the nonprofit Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center in Harrisburg...

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pittsburgh-based drillers group, paid Penn State for the three economic-impact studies beginning in 2009, according to John Hanold, senior associate director of Penn State’s Office of Sponsored Programs...

Subsequent studies by other researchers have found that gas drilling created fewer than half the jobs projected by Considine in 2009.

The public needs reliable data to understand what drilling does and what it doesn’t do — information that the industry just won’t provide. Rational, independent studies funded by an unbiased government or private foundations, are in this post-Citizens United environment the antidote to unlimited, year-round campaign commercials, like the ones offered by our friends in the gas industry.

As the Rich get Richer, Two Who Were Once Desperately Poor, Inspire

Looking at the 1st Presidential Debate led me to take a stiff drink, Romney blaming the poor while Obama is afraid to mention them only mentioning the middle class. Logically it is better to be ignored then blamed. There is a persistent drift over many elections that less and less people are paying attention to politics. But maybe if the Greens can inspire the stay-at-homes as the Libertarians and Constitutionalists shave votes from Romney, the future will be brighter even if a last minute economic meltdown leads to a Romney win.

After the debate was over I turned on my computer to watch the last half of the expanded debate with Jill Stein the Green Presidential candidate and Rocky Anderson the Justice Party candidate offering inspiration despite my being tipsy with alcohol. I promise if Pennsylvania is no longer Obama Blue but a toss up state November 6, I will vote for Obama unless Obama depresses me so much I couldn't make it to the polls. Part of the economic depression is Obama endless compromises even though it is good to get excited about Romney's last hurrah foreign policy which is in this declining economic period is suicidal.

Thursday's expanded Vice-Presidential debate Oct 11, on Democracy Now might be very inspirational. Both Cheri Honkala and Luis Rodriguez came out of extreme poverty and are getting poor folk involved in politics,

http://www.democracynow.org/events#events_anchor
democracynow.org/events#events_anchor
http://www.democracynow.org/events/2012/10/kunm__democracy_now_vice_pres...

If the Libertarians join, a former judge, Libertarian Judge Gray who once liked to convict people like the young hood Lois Rodrogues who used to deal drugs can debate Judge Gray who used to make a faddish of putting jail drug dealers in jail. Since he reformed Rodrogues became a prize winning author. Thank to all the 3rd party efforts with a particular appreciation for the Libertarians and Constitutionalists for destroying or at least raining on the super-rich conspiracy, I may not have to get drunk and forget it any more.

7pm New Mexico I hope is 6pm Philadelphia where I can hopefully watch it on Democracy Now Channel 35 TV.Try to get a hall or movie theater to hook itself to the internet.

Politics turned Rodrogues's and Honkala's life around, collective self-help politics is making Honkala's life soar. Kids heading for trouble have football and basketball stars put in their face, Don't let the hacks say registration to vote is almost over, if someone gets turned away from the voting booth for being unqualified or in some way indicates interest everyone even Obama diehards make sure you have a registration form to hand them for future participation.

I would like to see 5 second ads on the TV screen, “'Vote “No!” to two party corruption shop for 3rd party hope election day.

Staying home is giving corrupt politicians the world they want”; with a link or several at the bottom of the screen. If one can't buy a less then 15 second TV ad perhaps the Sierra Club and the ACLU could each have 5 seconds.

Why sit around depressed as things slowly get worse under Obama or rapidly collapse under Romney when we can do better? Winston Churchill inspired Britain with his Blood, Sweet and Tears policy, the Libertarians with a no foreign bleeding policy would be better than Obama-Romney as well.

PS in Philadelphia there was a small Peace Demonstration with no war on Iran or Syria signs at 30th Street bridge, and the Schuylkill Expressway light, as cars gave a quick toot of approval like they used to at the height of the Vietnam War. I hope this is repeated all over the country. I want a one hour demo at that spot twice a week.

By Richard Kane

What's so great about a vacant lot?

I've had a chance to parse the new zoning code, and found some rather interesting changes in the language about how the City (well, City Council who writes the zoning code) views vacant lots.

Basically, they're bad news. Something to avoid.

However, with recent public dustups about vacant lots,
first in Point Breeze (vacant lot improved into park contrary to objections and warnings of the City),
second in Roxborough (demolition of a half block of 1800s homes to create, oh-boy, another vacant lot)

it does raise an interesting question
- is a vacant lot really, logically,
a "use of the property"?

It seems that it's exactly the opposite- an intentional NON-USE,
rather than any positive use.

Hal

Changing the Subject Doesn’t Make Payday Lending in PA a Better Idea

By Mark Price, Third and State

In legislative hearings last month, proponents of a bill to legalize high-interest payday loans tried to change the subject and questioned the motives of some of their constituents. But these attempts don’t alter the fact that allowing payday lending is a bad idea. 

As we’ve explained before — and as the U.S. military, U.S. Congress, and former President George W. Bush have all agreed — payday loans are a debt trap that further impoverishes low-income families, driving more of them into bankruptcy. Pennsylvania should leave in place the strong regulations that make use of payday loans much less common here than nationally.

Here is a bit more detail on what happened at the September 19 Senate Banking and Insurance Committee hearing on House Bill 2191. Chairman Don White raised the issue of credit cards and alleged that the AARP’s opposition to payday lending was motivated by the organization’s desire to protect a credit card product it offers. At another point, Representative Chris Ross, the sponsor of the bill, warned that payday lenders currently selling a limited number of online payday loans illegally may be stealing the identities of consumers. 

Even if this were true, why does it mean we should legalize storefront payday lenders to locate in local communities throughout Pennsylvania and charge 369% annual interest rates on short-term loans? It doesn’t. 

While the strategy of House Bill 2191’s supporters was to talk as little as possible about the dangers payday lending poses for consumers, more telling was who attended the hearings. The hearing room was full of people who had driven in from around the state — Pittsburgh, Allentown, Philadelphia. Pastors, credit counselors and affordable housing groups showed up in opposition to the bill, even though they weren't testifying.  

Their presence didn’t stop some committee members from questioning the motives of an AARP volunteer and rushing the testimony of a pastor of a social service ministry and a military veteran. The only supporters of the bill were the out-of-state companies that stand to benefit financially from these 369% APR loans.

The will of the people — and the editorial boards — on payday lending is clear. Don’t legalize it. Let’s hope that the will of the people outweighs the dollars of the payday lenders in this year’s end game on this issue.

Confused About Voter ID? You’re Not Alone

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

The eyes of the nation are truly turned to Pennsylvania as the ACLU is back in court today challenging Pennsylvania’s strictest-in-the-nation Voter ID Law. The Commonwealth Court is hearing evidence to determine whether the new Department of State voter ID will do the trick to ensure that anyone who needs an ID can get one, for free, in time to vote in November. If the state fails to make that case, the judge could issue an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect.

Early evidence seems to indicate that could happen. As Capitolwire.com has reported (subscription), Judge Simpson indicated Tuesday he will consider an injunction and has asked lawyers to be prepared to provide input on its scope and force. 

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center released a report on this topic exactly. The report, Moving Target: Pennsylvania’s Flawed Implementation of the Voter ID Law, asks the question: "How is PennDOT handling the new Department of State ID?" The answer, in layman’s terms, is simple: Not so good.

Fact Checking the Corbett Jobs Record...and Some Unsolicited Advice

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

The Corbett administration has a new summary of Pennsylvania's recent job performance. Today's news that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate is as high as the national unemployment rate underscores, however, that the state's recent jobs record is not  good. Let’s take a closer look.

PA vs. U.S.: The Corbett jobs summary notes that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate is below the national rate — and it was when the summary was first released. This was not a new trend: the Pennsylvania rate was a point or a point-and-a-half below the national rate for most of the four years before Governor Corbett took office. A year ago, the gap between the Pennsylvania and U.S. unemployment rate was still statistically significant. (See Table A.) But the gap between the two rates — the "Pennsylvania advantage" — has been shrinking steadily since 2010 until the Pennsylvania rate finally climbed to the U.S. level in August 2012, both equaling 8.1%.

Private-sector Job Growth: While the administration touts private-sector job growth in 2011, the numbers reflect a national trend, rather than a unique Pennsylvania story. 

The U.S. economy has had 30 consecutive months of private-sector job growth. In fact, Pennsylvania's rank for the percent growth in private-sector job growth has fallen from 8th in 2010 to 36th in the 12 months ending in July 2012. One of the reasons that Pennsylvania's private-sector job-growth ranking is down is the deeper cuts in public employment in Pennsylvania compared to other states. Deep cuts to Pennsylvania public schools and colleges led to a loss of 14,000 education jobs alone in 2011.

These layoffs impact the classroom and Main Street too. Unemployed teachers, like unemployed factory workers, don’t have money to spend, which affects the broader economy. 

Manufacturing Job Growth: Manufacturing jobs growth improved in 2011, but again reflects national trends. In fact, Pennsylvania's manufacturing job growth since early 2010 is slightly below half the national increase. (See The State of Working Pennsylvania 2012.) 

New Hires in Marcellus Shale: Not this one again. The administration is touting natural gas industry growth by citing the number of new hires. As we've explained repeatedly, new hires are not new jobs (most new hires replace people who quit or are fired). In fact, the number of new hires is basically a meaningless number. Statewide there were 580,400 new hires during the 2nd quarter in Pennsylvania, while total non-farm employment rose between the 1st and 2nd quarter by less than 300 jobs. In other words, the only reason to cite new hires is to make the job gain seem substantially larger than it really is. 

The gas industry has led to some job growth in Pennsylvania, just not on the scale claimed by the industry. Between the 4th quarter of 2008 and the 4th quarter of 2011, employment in the core Marcellus Shale industries grew by 18,000. That gain was largely wiped out by the loss of 14,000 education jobs in just one year. Even using the most generous estimates, employment in the Marcellus Shale in direct and ancillary industries in the 4th quarter of 2011 (as published by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and industry) was 238,400 – about 4.2% of total state employment.

Here's the unsolicited advice: Twenty months into Governor Corbett's first term, there is still time for the Governor to pursue policies that will improve Pennsylvania's job performance. There are multiple options that have strong bipartisan and business support. For example, investing in transportation infrastructure as recommended by the Governor's own transportation commission. 

In manufacturing and workforce development, the administration is also saying some of the right things. But talk is cheap: we need actual investment in skills and innovation if our job performance is going to improve relative to other states and the nation.

Will Senator Williams recuse himself from Marcellus related votes?

Fun fact, everyone, I don't work for any non-profit at all any more. I am no longer a professional Organizer. My career in that vein has ended. That's not to say that I don't still care a ton about the issues. Especially the issue of the environment. Ironically, in fact, I found I did the worst job on the issue I cared the most about. Strange, but that's a post for another time.

The reason I am writing today is because I wanted to put an exchange I had with Senator Anthony Williams of West Philadelphia onto the record. First, because it should be instructive for other politicians on how not to use Twitter, and also because it raises an important public policy question: should politicians recuse themselves from voting on issues that their households have a vested interest in?

It started with this story in The Inquirer. From the short piece:

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the natural gas industry trade group, is expanding its presence in Southeastern Pennsylvania by hiring Shari Williams, a former communications specialist at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the wife of State Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D., Philadelphia).

If you're not familiar, The Marcellus Shale Coalition is a lobbying group that would have you believe that natural gas drilling is so clean and pure that loading the ground full of hydrochloric acid actually improves soil quality. Like... potatoes come out with vitamin C and manganese after one of their shale rigs gets done with a site.

Notably, Sen. Williams was one of two noteworthy Senate D's to cast the wrong vote on the only significant piece of legislation that has passed on the Marcellus Shale so far. Now known as Act 13.

So then when the news came out that his wife is now working for Team Pollution, my hackles were raised. It's not hard to imagine that the Senator had some idea that this relationship might be consummated even as the vote was going down. Shady. Or maybe he didn't. There had to be some reason why he and Hughes backed this legislation when every other Democrat stood against it, though. The crummiest part is that I don't think they even needed their votes to get it passed.

So I sent him the following tweet last Friday:

For the full exchange that followed, hit read more.

Post-Labor Day Thoughts: Middle Class Can't Afford Another Lost Decade

By Mark Price, Third and State

Labor Day 2012 is behind us, but the challenges confronting the middle class are not.

As we do each year around this time, the Keystone Research Center has released the State of Working Pennsylvania. My co-author, a.k.a El Jefe, had a Labor Day op-ed in the Harrisburg Patriot-News where he laid out the theme of this year's report — namely, that the middle class in Pennsylvania and the U.S. cannot afford another lost decade.

The next three figures lay out the major elements of this year's State of Working Pennsylvania: employment growth over the last decade has been weak (Figure 1.10); as a result, incomes over the last decade declined (Figure 1.11); and in the first year of the recovery and of the new decade, income inequality resumed its growth as the top 1% increased their share of all income (Figure 5.1). 

With job growth weak and many policymakers advocating that we lay off more teachers and continue to put off needed investments in infrastructure, we are very concerned that working and middle-class families may end the next decade with less income from work than they started with in 2010.

Memo to Ripoffs, Swindlers, and Job Destroyers: Philly has a Tax Break for You!!!

Philadelphia now has a tax package in place that supposedly was a major factor in persuading Josh Kopelman to move his venture capital company, “First Round Capital” to Philly. It seems like FRC is a fine company. It funds brand new start-up businesses, and plans to provide incubator space for many of them in its new headquarters in University City. Patrick Kerkstra over at the Inky is crowing over FRC’s move and is all but saying “gotcha” to people like me who questioned the tax breaks that the City is giving them.

Here’s the rub. Those same tax breaks are available to Bain Capital and Mitt Romney (if and when Mr. Empty Suit returns to full-time vulturing with the firm.) They’re also available to similar companies in the private equity industry, one which has over $4 trillion of buying power under its control without any tax help from us. So here’s the question: In order to get a First Round Capital, do we also need to exempt all these other private equity firms and their leaders from business taxes? Here’s the business model for many of them: buy up existing companies with money borrowed on their assets, pay huge management fees, sell off assets, dump workers.

The New Yorker gives an example of how this model played itself out in real life after Bain Capital acquired Armco Steel Company and reorganized it into “GS Industries”:

[W]ithin two years of investing eight million dollars to create GS Industries and take a majority interest, Bain Capital had paid itself a special dividend of $36.1 million, financed by a big issue of debt. . . . G.S.I. subsequently struggled against domestic and foreign competitors. In 1999 it sought a federal loan guarantee, and in 2001 it entered bankruptcy protection. More than seven hundred workers lost their jobs, health insurance, and some of their retirement benefits. A federal agency had to put up $44 million to bail out the company’s pension plan. Even while G.S.I. was fighting for survival, Bain continued to extract management fees from it—about $900,000 a year, according to a recent Los Angeles Times story. “Bain partners think the profits they made are a sign of brilliance,” an official of the steel workers’ union who negotiated with G.S.I. told the paper. “It’s not brilliance. It’s lurking around the corner and mugging somebody.”

Sometimes jobs aren’t destroyed, they’re just sent away:

The next step in many leveraged buyouts is outsourcing—closing plants and selling assets, using the returns to pay back the loans, and then contracting production out to low-wage factories in other countries, usually where repressive governments prevent workers from organizing their own unions. This is precisely what happened when Freescale Semiconductor was taken over in a 2006 leveraged buyout. In the first year after the buyout, Freescale was forced to pay $760 million in interest on the debt it assumed because of the LBO. In 2007, it laid off more than 2000 employees and outsourced a substantial amount of work, including 50 percent of its assembly, packaging, and testing. In the fall of 2007, Freescale announced plans to open a design center in China that would employ 100 engineers.

Most interesting about these stories is the point about that federal agency putting $44 million into GSI while its management was extracting $900,000 a year in fees. It’s interesting because it’s so typical. This industry thrives on government largesse. Indeed, the single largest source of capital to the leveraged buyout industry is government pension funds. Why is that? Well, apparently, it’s because governments are such good marks for the con-men that run the industry. By using a variety of bogus methodologies for calculating their returns, these companies feed the need of public pension managers to report strong growth in their funds. And as we’ve seen with governmental gullibility respecting interest rate swaps, City managers just can’t resist the pitches of anyone approaching them with a deal that seems too good to be true.

So here’s what we have, for the most part, in this industry: ripoffs, swindlers, and job destroyers. (I’m trying to be nice here.)

Now if these companies come to Philly, that doesn’t mean they would destroy Philadelphia jobs. Who knows, they might actually add some management type jobs. But isn’t extending tax breaks to such companies the reverse of socially responsible investing? Do we want to be known as the go-to City for socially irresponsible investing?

Of course it’s easy for the press to make anyone who suggests that we stop subsidizing evil into looking like silly, naïve, navel-gazers. Kerkstra and I had a long chat about how we might survive as a civilization without getting in bed with corporate pillagers before he wrote his piece. But the only comment he published from me was the wistful one in which I suggested that we be leaders in just saying no. That comment was turned into lovely softball to be served up to the City’s Commerce Director, who replied: "We don't get that luxury. We have to be competitive, and this is a baseline requirement for being competitive."

Well, that’s not all I said, Mr. Commerce Director. I noted that we have a Mayor who happens to be the head of the National Conference of Mayors. He’s also a leader in the region, and perhaps a rising star in the national Democratic Party. Couldn’t our Mayor take the lead in proposing that cities and counties stop throwing their money around by engaging in the zero-sum game of corporate bribing? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to figure out how to use the money that would be saved by all of us just saying no for things that would improve the livability of our towns and cities? That would start a race to the top, instead of the bottom. It would be a race in which no one loses, instead of the one we’re in, in which everyone – except the .000001 % - loses.

But no, the conventional wisdom is that cities are helpless, they must pay and then pay again for companies that rip off everyone, from workers, to cities, to school districts, to pension funds. It’s all pretty shameful, not to mention very, very unimaginative and downright stupid.

Mayor Nutter forgot the meaning of "public" in public ed

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear a Pennsylvania politician questioning the very definition and premise of public education. It may surprise you that Philadelphia’s leading Democrat is on record saying public vs. private ought to be meaningless when it comes to education.

At a press conference Thursday, Mayor Nutter said parents deserve school choice and that public, private, religious designations don’t matter. In his talk, the Mayor went on to say:

"I’m not getting caught up in all this. At my level, these are esoteric debates that ultimately don't mean anything to these young people sitting here in this room.”

Children care about their teachers, recess, lunch and whether they’re in a safe learning environment.

“That’s what this is all about,” he cried out.

While the mayor certainly hasn’t been hanging around the high schoolers I know, he may be right that my nine-year-old isn’t really paying attention to such discussions.

Does that mean we shouldn’t either?

Ask a parent who can’t dream of paying a $26,100 tuition bill from Penn Charter whether a quality free public elementary school in their neighborhood is a matter of meaningless “esoteric debate.”

Philadelphia public schools are 85% students of color and 80% economically disadvantaged. We have 20,000 children classified as special need and almost 12,000 English language learners. Is it “meaningless” that private and religious institutions hold the right to discriminate against and exclude those whom they choose not to serve? There’s no mandate for private schools to provide language services for new immigrants, serve special needs students, or take recently adjudicated youth. They have the right to promote religious scripture and denounce same sex orientation. They have the right to deny collective bargaining and employ non-certified teachers.

Would the Mayor consider it a matter of meaningless “esoteric debate” to take some lessons from Philadelphia’s failed history with privateeers like Edison Schools Inc. which exploited public funds for private gain with miserable results? Is it meaningless to take a look at our neighbors in Chester City and consider the fractured relationship they have with a charter school run by a for-profit company and a bankrupt school district?

I’m sure our governor would love for us to call concerns about transparency with voucher programs like the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) “meaningless” and “esoteric.” A recent New York Times investigation found that EITC programs nationwide permit forfeited tax dollars to go toward private and religious institutions that might otherwise be blocked from receiving public monies.

No matter to Pennsylvania. Since 2001, PA has diverted close to $400 million to organizations that give out the scholarships. The state's program was cited extensively in the Times investigation for questionable practices. And Harrisburg just approved a new $50 million per year tax credit targeted toward students who live in areas with low-performing schools.

Notably, the Times cited the architects of the program who crowed about the intricate and ingenious ways they were able to evade scrutiny. Perhaps if fewer people treated this as an “esoteric” subject, maybe there would be more public accountability.

We have more than a decade of money and broken promises poured into the idea that there’s some magic solution to neglected public schools. Philadelphia has been ground zero for every manner of experimentation from reformers touting the miracles of the private sector. When the Mayor calls the “public” in public education a mere label, he dumbs down important conversations about what lessons we’ve gained from using public funds for too many failed private enterprises.

He plays into widespread disinvestment in public education and the resulting gross inequities. He gives cover to a Governor whose billion dollar slashing of public education funding and promotion of private and charter enterprises has resulted in school districts across the state starved to the point of dysfunction.

Thanks to such efforts a Philadelphia public school classroom is $78,000 poorer than a classroom in a surrounding suburb. Three-quarters of our elementary schools lack a certified librarian. We’ve got one nurse for every 1500 students and a mindset that only guarantees nursing care for the “medically fragile.” Is it any surprise that the choice debate is here and not in Lower Merion which generously funds its schools?

The Mayor’s right that we don’t need meaningless esoteric debates. What parents want is a free, safe, well resourced neighborhood public school for our kids and we want to know why politicians can move heaven and hell to make everything BUT that a priority.

We want a smart conversation about the things our public schools SHOULD provide to every child and what resources it will take to make that happen. We want our political leaders to know that a public school is a communal responsibility – not a matter of individual whims.

Most of all we need our Mayor to understand that - at his level - underfunded public schools serving high poverty, high needs children versus a failed history of exploitation and privatization is never a meaningless esoteric debate.

Chaos at the PennDOT

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Now that Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson has given the green light to Pennsylvania’s strictest in-the-nation Voter ID Law, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians will have to make their way to their local PennDOT office to get a photo ID. We can tell you, it won’t be easy.

This summer, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center recruited volunteers to visit PennDOT offices across the Commonwealth and tell us about their experiences trying to obtain free photo ID under the new law. The results of that survey are in our new report, Pennsylvania’s Identity Crisis: Rushed Implementation of Voter ID Law Puts Voting Rights at Risk.

Volunteers visited 43 PennDOT centers in 27 counties across the commonwealth, representing three-quarters of the state’s population. They completed a survey that looked at very simple things: whether there was signage, if forms were available, if there was information that the IDs could be available for free, if volunteers got accurate information. We were surprised just how difficult it was for our volunteers to get the right information and the right forms — and they knew exactly what to ask for. 

The report finds that voters are likely to be frustrated in their attempts to secure a free ID from PennDOT. Some volunteers found the offices weren’t open the first time they visited and they had to return another time. There was no signage and limited information in half the sites, and the forms needed to secure a free ID were not available most of the time. In almost half the cases, voters received information that proved to be incomplete or inaccurate from staff at the centers. Problems were as likely to occur in Franklin and Luzerne counties as in Philadelphia or Allegheny County.

Providing a free ID to anyone who needs it is one of the key constitutional tests of the validity of a state’s voter ID law, and we found Pennsylvania is not making the grade. Most volunteers were not told they could have an ID for free, and in 30% of the visits, they were told incorrectly they had to pay.

Few Informed that Voter ID Could Be Obtained at No Cost

We report on a man who took 16 people from his church to the PennDOT at 8th and Arch Street in Philadelphia, where they were told incorrectly they had to pay for a photo ID. Twelve of the 16 didn’t have the money with them and left empty-handed.  

The Department of State is rolling out a new Commonwealth ID next week, which may end up creating more problems than solutions. 

The bottom line is that the Commonwealth isn’t ready to get an ID to everyone who needs it for the November election, and unless we put on the brakes, people will be disenfranchised. They sure ain’t making it easy. 

Pennsylvania's Natural Gas Tax Giveaway Exceeds $500 Million Mark

By Michael Wood, Third and State

The state's Department of Environmental Production (DEP) recently published a biannual report on Marcellus Shale production in Pennsylvania. (Most states require monthly reporting, but that is a different story.) In the data, we can now see how much the state has really given away by refusing to put a robust gas extraction tax in place — and the sum is staggering.

From July 2009 to June 2012, over $8 billion worth of natural gas was extracted from Pennsylvania’s share of the Marcellus Shale. The Commonwealth would have collected more than $500 million had we had West Virginia's natural gas tax in place. Instead, we got $0.

The recent DEP report was incomplete, as the Associated Press highlighted. Production from Chesapeake Energy (likely the state's largest gas producer) wasn't included nor disclosed as being missing in the initial release. Add in the production from Chesapeake over the last six months, and the lost tax revenue figure would be even bigger.

You may remember the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center's "drilling tax ticker," which tallied up the lost revenue to the state from not having a meaningful drilling tax in place. Those figures were based on conservative estimates of per-well Marcellus Shale production. We now have real production data (well, all drillers but Chesapeake) to analyze — giving us more accurate estimates.

Gas producers will pay an annual drilling impact fee beginning September 1, 2012, but the proceeds from the fee are expected to be lower than a modest drilling tax would bring in — even at today's low natural gas prices.
Click to enlarge

How could this foregone $500 million over the last three years been used?

  • Rehire 3,000 teachers;
  • Save General Assistance for 68,000 needy Pennsylvanians;
  • Restore funding for parks and environmental protection; or
  • Help the state meet growing pension obligations.

Pennsylvania continues to lose out on this one-time resource and may possibly be turning our natural bounty into a resource curse. These new data give us an idea of how much we are giving away.

YOU can Prevent the Vote Stealing

You all know what's going on; the GOP is trying to take us all back to the 18th century, to have a country that literally is governed in the image of the founding fathers. Justice Scalia will fill in the details. To make it happen, they have to be sure the women, the people of color and the young, don't vote.

You don't like that idea? Then you have to keep reading. . .

THINGS YOU CAN DO NOW TO HELP VOTERS VOTE

1. Transport voters with the necessary documentation to PennDOT to obtain a Non-Drivers License Photo ID Card, stay with them and help them through the process and transport them back. Volunteer trainings will be scheduled at the Coalition office at 310 W. Chelten Ave. Call the Coalition office to get more info: 215-848-1283.

2. Volunteer with the Homeless Advocacy Project or the Senior Law Center (215-701-3201) clinics to help voters obtain birth certificates.

3. Take calls from voters with questions about the birth certificate process or other aspects of Voter ID requirements. Contact either of the organizations above.

4. Make calls to voters in your neighborhood to see if they have proper id. Jeff Garis of Pa. Voice is coordinating a calling blitz from 8/12-8/25 at least. Contact him at jgaris@infoservicesgroup.net or 215-694-4783.

5. Contact the NAACP to help: 8/22 (today) from 3-7 pm at a high volume location to assist with voter registration and educate about Voter ID. There will be a team leader to assist you. There will be other dates and times to do this; let Gloria Gilman (215-568-4990; gmgilman@igc.org) know what you’d like and she’ll connect with the NAACP to try to set up a group or contact them directly. Locations include Broad and Olney, Bridge & Pratt; Market East; FernRock; Frankford Transportation Center; 69th Street Terminal. NAACP coordinator is John Jordan: j715jordan@yahoo.com; 215-715-5681.

6. Canvas door to door (put on door hangers with needed info to targeted neighborhoods where it is believed that there are a lot of people without proper id); phone bank; do data entry; do packet assembly: daily. Shifts in morning, afternoon, evening, weekends daily. Call the Coalition office: 215-848-1283 or go there at 310 West Chelten Ave. It’s near the Chelten Avenue station on the Chestnut Hill line, and if you’re driving, there is free parking.

7. Get trained about Voter ID issues by the Coalition office and agree to do one or more speaking engagements. There are many unfilled requests for this. Contact Molly Morrill to arrange this: mmorrill@seventy.org; 215-557-3600. There is a lot of information and forms available online at the Committee of Seventy website: seventy.org website.

8. Check the Coalition calendar to see what’s listed: http://www.seventy.org/ElectionsVoterID.aspx

9. There is an app called the Cost of Freedom App widget detailing voter ID requirements in Pa and around the country which can be sent out to your email lists or social media contacts, especially to young people: www.costoffreedom.info or contact Faye Anderson at 215-995-5028 or costoffreedomproject@gmail.com about this.

Don't let Harrisburg destroy Philadelphia

Register to vote here, and fight for your picture ID This is meant to be a big poster in front of a table or a leaflet

YOUNG-PHILLY-POLITICS-ers help me to set up pro-Vote Philly tables.

Harrisburg hates SEPTA and public transit, and Republicans have always been against a National ID,
Philly is one place in the US that one is not handicapped not to have a driver's license, and if Philadelphians yawn it may mean no more SEPTA.

You don't have to blame Romney if you want to register Republican. As governor of Massachusetts he supported Public Transit, but he picked Paul Ryan for VP who wants to destroy SEPTA.

Register to Vote here, whether Dem, Repub, (or Green to expand SEPTA), or Libertarian, despite Republicans systemically trying to prevent Libertarians or Constitutionalists from Running a Presidential Candidate in Pennsylvania.

The effort to get Philadelphia the Public Transit Oasis in this country not to be denied the vote is being run by the National Obama campaign. But all of Philadelphia is being screwed. We all must get together to prevent Philly's Voice from being muzzled in Harrisburg, Help me set up a Pro-Philly less partisan vote and ID effort. Get some non-profit organization money involved to help people get ID's and register instead of just politicos such as League of Woman Voters.

LINK for Paul Ryan will destroy Septa,
http://transportationnation.org/tag/mitt-romney/

LINK for Green Party and better Cheaper SEPTA
http://www.thepoliticalguide.com/Profiles/President/US/Jill_Stein/Views/...

LINK to Democratic Party hurts their cause by refusing to help Libertarians and Constitutional Party stay on the ballot
http://blogs.philadelphiaweekly.com/phillynow/2012/08/16/libertarian-par...

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As soon as I find a good link for Green Party registration drives I will post the Obama site by editing this site. Of course a commenter can post it as well.
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Material on our local hero and icon Cheri Honkala, unless comments added regularly comments will close on that site,
http://my.firedoglake.com/richardkanepa/

AFTERTHOUGHT Lack of ID in this modern world is a handicap. So many people without one in Philly is probably at least a slight economic drain on the whole city. I understand it is illegal to ask people to get a free ID without asking them to vote. A party with a former homeless mother in the Vice President slot can be at the forefront of getting Philadelphians the ID they need.

Could someone clarify what I can and can not say to get thousands of new people to get the ID they need, some of which will take the opportunity to vote, maybe more than those who see the ID helper as trying to force Obama in their face.

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UPDATE
New suggestion for tabling

Register to vote here and let up help you to get the picture ID you need for many purpose. Sponsored by the Green Party (We process all voters regardless of party).

Informational note Harrisburg opposes Philadelphia and public transit,
http://www.city-data.com/forum/city-vs-city/1234560-there-any-other-stat...
So does Paul Ryan but not Romney. Green Party fights to lower fares and improve service. And fights voter depression. There are many issues, but please register and vote the way your conscience dictates. And if you don't have valuable picture ID take this public voting crisis as an opportunity to get one.

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