Entire State of Pennsylvania Held Hostage by Handful of Ideologues Refusing Budget Compromise


Pennsylvania’s hostage crisis goes into Day 258 Saturday.

Republican lawmakers continue to block the passage of a state budget that was required by law at the end of June 2015.

In fact, Gov. Tom Wolf – a Democrat – released his spending plan this week for the fiscal year 2016-17 – yet the previous year’s budget still has not been approved!

Even after numerous difficult concessions made by Democrats, Republicans still decline approval of any spending plan but their own.

I call this a “hostage crisis” because their actions are not supported by the majority of Pennsylvanians.

The overwhelming majority of residents want a budget. The overwhelming majority of voters cast ballots for Democrats in the last election, but the GOP remains in control of the legislature purely because of gerrymandering. That’s why the majority of residents booted out the former Republican Governor and overwhelmingly approved Democrat Wolf to replace him.

Meanwhile, legislative Democrats lead by Gov. Wolf have made numerous concessions to the opposition. For instance, the Keystone state is one of the richest in the nation in shale deposits yet it is the ONLY one not to tax the industry. That’s right: Ohio, Wyoming, North Dakota, West Virginia, Colorado, Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, Kansas, Arkansas, California, Oklahoma, Utah and Alabama all have a severance tax. Only Pennsylvania does not.

GOP legislators receive massive donations from the energy industry and have demanded gas drilling remain untaxed. Though Wolf promised to make shale drillers pay their fair share, the Democrats have conceded the issue in the name of compromise.

Our posterity will look back at us and wonder why we let gas drillers poison our environment. But we aren’t even asking questions about the industry’s impact on our water and soil. Instead, we’re fighting over whether to tax them or not! And still there is no budget!

Additionally, Republicans demand we further dismantle our urban school districts like Philadelphia City Schools. The GOP insists on accountability from the district while making sure no one actually responsible for the schools’ hardships will ever actually be held accountable. The district has been systematically underfunded. Administrative decisions have been taken over mostly by the state. Yet somehow the solution is further privatizing the poorest buildings without any transparency from the for-profit companies that will take over.

Democrats have given in to this outrageous ultimatum. And still we have no budget!

No amount of public bloodletting has been enough for Republicans. As each demand has been met, a new one is leveled. The latest example is a GOP commandment to shortchange state workers pensions.

Republicans insist the Democrats allow them to reduce pension payments to new and current employees. Never mind that this is illegal. Pensions are bills for services rendered. You can’t sign a contract promising to pay X and then years later decide to give less. Pensions are part of a trade off state workers make when they take the job. In essence, state workers agree to lower wages than they would receive in the private sector in exchange for a safe, reliable pension when they retire. You can’t renege on that.

A tentative agreement was reached to reduce benefits for only new state employees, but it failed. Never mind that this measure would achieve no cost savings for a generation. Never mind that it would reduce the quality of employee who would even apply to work for the state. Never mind that just last year Republicans – who controlled both the executive and legislative branches – could have enacted any bill they wanted. But they are only pushing the issue this year to force Democrats to take partial responsibility for legislation they didn’t have the courage to enact alone.

This is not partisanship. These are facts.

On the local scene, there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that are willing to put party aside and work for the common good. But at the state level, Republicans almost exclusively are destroying the value of our government. It shouldn’t exactly be surprising that people who got into office campaigning that we don’t need government turn out to do a bad job of running it.

The national banking and investing world have made it quite clear. Standard & Poor’s cited the state’s budget impasse as the reason it withdrew an A rating from the Commonwealth’s public school system. Moody’s Investors Service likewise downgraded the state’s general obligation rating. The legislature’s actions are destroying our national reputation and ability to get things done.

The major sticking point is that Wolf and the Democrats are asking Republicans to restore the almost $1 billion in budget cuts made to education for the last 4 years and continuing through this year’s budget temper tantrum. The GOP had no problem robbing public schools of this money when they also controlled the Governor’s mansion. They are just now adamantly opposed to returning it.

Make no mistake. This has nothing to do with protecting residents’ taxes. Blocking the passage of a budget forces local municipalities and school districts to do state legislator’s dirty work for them and raise local taxes. Legislative Republicans are shirking their duties and pointing fingers elsewhere.

After even worse actions by Republicans in Michigan, it’s hard not to wonder what has become of the GOP? Poisoning the town of Flint? Systematically disinvesting in Detroit Schools? And now in Pennsylvania refusing to pass a fiscal budget!? This isn’t your father’s GOP!

Are state Republicans even a political organization anymore? With actions like these, don’t they more resemble home-grown terrorists? If ISIL took over Harrisburg and shut down the state budget, it would be an act of war. They are spreading chaos for chaos’ sake.

If it weren’t for Gov. Wolf releasing emergency funds through an executive order, many schools would already be closed. Many public services would be shut down. But this can’t last much longer. The Governor can’t govern alone indefinitely.

It is time for the hostage crisis to end. If you live in a Republican-controlled legislative district, you need to let your representative know that you want compromise. Send your legislator back to Harrisburg. Don’t let any of them return to their home districts until the impasse is over. Heck! Thousands should march outside of the capital building keeping a quorum present until the matter is resolved. None of them should get to leave until they DO. THEIR. JOBS.

Until then, all of us in Pennsylvania remain at the mercy of a handful of ideological cowards while our schools go wanting and public services rot on the vine.

Gov. Rick Snyder Should Be Forced to Drink Nothing But Contaminated Flint Water for the Rest of His Life

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As I write this, I have a fresh glass of ice cold water sitting next to me.

It is so clear I can see the wood grain of the the table through it. When I put it to my mouth, my lips almost go numb from the cold.

I gulp down way more than I should. In moments, it seems, the glass is empty.

Nothing satisfies like a crisp simple glass of water.

But in Flint, Michigan, that straightforward, easy pleasure can kill you.

And-or poison your children, cause learning disabilities, hearing loss, vomiting, high blood pressure, pain or numbness in the extremities, infertility or miscarriage. Among a host of other equally terrible maladies.

From the water.

Nine months ago the state officials who took over running Flint because the city was just too darn poor for self government, they shut off the flow of already treated Lake Huron water from Detroit. They replaced it with untreated raw water from the Flint River. The plan was to save money by treating this water, themselves, from a source that had been continually polluted for decades by the disappearing auto industry.

However, this noxious brew corroded the pipes, stripped out the lead and put it right into the water glasses Flint parents were using to hydrate their children.

More than 8,500 children. With high amounts of lead in their blood. Suffering untold injuries. For life.

Oh and the overwhelming majority of them are African American and/or impoverished. Whoops!

Gov. Rick Snyder has been defensively apologizing for this disaster. He knew all about it long before the taps were shut off. He even released a slew of inter-office emails about the situation where officials play pass-the-buck as Flint residents gulp down this filth from their faucets. As citizens complained about the water’s color and odor. As physicians protested it wasn’t safe for human consumption.

Even now Snyder STILL says people can safely bathe their children in this dirty, smelly, poisoned water. Just make sure the kiddos don’t drink it. In fact, he says he wouldn’t mind bathing his own grandchildren in this mess.

Yeah. Kinda takes away any sincerity from his “apology” and his statement that he’s responsible, doesn’t it?

Why isn’t this man in jail? Why is he still in the Governor’s mansion?

If we lived in a just country, this poor excuse for a human being would AT VERY LEAST be locked away in a dungeon somewhere never to sting our eyes at the sight of his repulsive face. A more appropriate punishment would be making him drink nothing but his own contaminated Flint tap water for the rest of his life as he suffers from the effects of lead poisoning – like all those thousands of children he helped poison to save a few bucks.

But no. In the America where we live, his only mistake was getting caught. And now he’s losing political points having to apologize without really doing much. Yeah, he’s called in the National Guard to help deliver bottled water. Yeah, he’s turned back on the Lake Huron water, but Flint’s pipes are already ruined so lead is still leaking into the water. Why are these poor people still being charged with a water bill for something they can’t use? No one except for Grandpa Rick Snyder would use this foul stuff for anything!

Meanwhile, Darnell Earley, the emergency manager appointed by Snyder who actually switched Flint’s water in the first place is at a new government job. He’s emergency manager of another Michigan public service – Detroit Public Schools! Dilapidated buildings, fungus growing on the walls, slime leaking from the ceiling, broken toilets – a state-provided learning environment overseen by this functionary who’s doing a heckuva job! Teachers trying to raise awareness of the situation have staged a series of “sickouts.” But Snyder’s administration still doesn’t have any money to waste on Detroit school kids – just like it didn’t have any money to provide potable water to Flint residents.

And the cycle continues. Crap gets flushed from one source to another – and I’m not talking about the Flint water system!

You can try to make justifications and excuses, but the lie gets awfully thin in Michigan. And if you think this is the only place where business trumps public welfare, you must be drinking from Snyder’s water cooler. Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, the entire island of Puerto Rico! Terrorists with government jobs are slowly dismantling our metropolitan areas, our public goods, everything that made America great!

And what the heck is being done about it? A lot of news stories, talking heads shaking their noggins and pointing their fingers everywhere except where the blame really lies.

It’s enough to drive one to drink.

Speaking of which, excuse me while I take another swig from my water glass.


No, I don’t live in Flint. But this sure isn’t tap water. Are you kidding me?

In Pennsylvania we’ve had too many scares with Giardiasis and other bacteria in our municipal water occasionally making us sick.

I pay extra to bring this water to the house in huge jugs and put it on a machine that keeps it ice cold and refreshing anytime of the day or night.

Some people can’t afford it.

What are they to do?

Can anyone really feel safe drinking from the tap ever again?

What kind of a world is it where we can’t even trust the water?

What kind of world are we leaving for our children?

We are all a few months from becoming Flint.

It could already be happening.

Will we let it?