Monthly Archives: January 2014

Illogical Response to Simple RTK Request – Pennsylvania DPW Digs in on Healthy PA

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Healthy PA is Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s idea for unconventional optional Medicaid expansion that would require a waiver from the Federal Government.  As part of the process the Department of Public Welfare held a series of hearings around the Commonwealth, soliciting public comment via strictly limited three minute turns at the microphone.  Written comments were accepted at the same time or separately through January 13, 2014.  This video is the Power Point presentation that preceded public comments at each meeting.

I was able to get a total of nine minutes to comment by attending three of the eight hearings.  At two of the hearings I spoke unscripted and at the Harrisburg hearing January 9, read a prepared script which I then left as a written submission.

My intention was and is to publish some observations on the hearings.  I took notes but made no recording, especially since the presenter’s comments were being transcribed either by manual input or voice recognition and appeared on a large screen facing the audience in real time.  DPW says they intend to publish a summary of the comments with responses prior to the waiver request submission, but I wanted the verbatim account in the transcripts, both to read comments of others and publish my own unscripted remarks as they were presented.

I called DPW to let them know what I wanted.  They said I would have to go through Right to Know to get records they never suggested do not exist.  So that is what I did in a simple straightforward request.  Today, within the required period, I got an answer.  My request is being delayed for up to 30 more days for the following reasons:

    • Your request is under legal review to determine whether a requested record is a “public record” for purposes of the RTKL
    • The extent or nature of the request precludes a response within the required time period.

I simply cannot buy either of these excuses.  How can they solicit public comment, which anyone had the right to record, obviously make a direct transcription of it, and then suggest it may not be part of the public record?  Then too, why would it take longer than a week to give the records to anyone who properly requests them?  Would the fact that they know me to be a detractor from Healthy PA have anything to do with their response?

Also I wonder why any of this should be necessary.  Yes, I did have a right to record the event but chose to not do it.  That said, how much trouble would it be to require all public meetings to be voice recorded (if not video also) and posted within hours online so anyone unable to attend in person could listen?  It seems that would be a very easy but very significant improvement to our Sunshine Act and Right to Know laws, greatly improving transparency, as well as saving costly clerical efforts in situations like this.

While I’m waiting for bureaucratic determination involving legal experts, what follows is my prepared text I read at the final Healthy PA hearing in Harrisburg on January 9.  Among what mostly amounted to various interest groups slithering up to the Federal money trough, or those objecting in favor of unaltered Medicaid expansion, or those complaining of any suggestions whatsoever of personal responsibility (as exist in Healthy PA), or even one arguably socialist Republican house member passionately pleading to not delay grabbing Federal money one more day, there was this:

Comment to PA DPW hearings on Healthy PA

Despite its good intentions Healthy PA is a misguided and dangerous additional step in the direction of fiscal insanity.  First let’s think about the insidious lure of “Federal” money.  Federal money IS our money.  It comes from the pockets of Pennsylvanians or is imposed as a crushing debt on our children. 

While Healthy PA is not exactly an expansion of the existing failed structure, we know there are better approaches to the entire Medicaid program.  We can see the results of situations where people are empowered with ownership of accounts they control.  We know how spending one’s own money can control overuse, encourage wise use, and reduce fraud.  Healthy Indiana showed how money can be saved by giving it away-such is the power of ownership! Knowing this we should insist that any expansion only be considered after first changing how we run the existing system, using savings wrung from it, except in this “partnership” arrangement the rules only go in one direction, from the Federal Government top down.

We also know of suggestions to boost the number of and participation in free charity clinics, where doctors can operate outside the crush of burdensome regulations.  We’ve passed Act 10, and HB1760 sits in our Health Committee and would not need a Medicaid waiver.

While any state would put itself at an extreme financial disadvantage by exiting the Medicaid program entirely, we also know that if every state did so we would all be better off.  The added layer of Federal bureaucracy and administrative expense could be used to treat needy sick people. 

Think then where we are today.  Here we stand asking a powerful central authority to give us permission to do what should be the absolute right of free sovereign states and people under a constitution unique in the history of the world.  This is America upside down.   This is a great nation in decline.  Healthy PA is further participation in that decline, and it’s time we stop allowing it to continue and expand. 

Rather than making a stand for commonsense solutions we do understand, by becoming leaders for freedom, educating our citizens to what really would work to the extent they understand and demand it, we succumb to expediency, dare I say, political expediency, in an election year.  It’s time we act like the sovereigns we are and end this bowing to a powerful central authority in Washington DC that is changing the fabric and face of America.  Thinking beyond ourselves to generations yet to come we would set Healthy PA aside and choose a different path.

Submitted January 9, 2014

Todd Keefer, York County

Note: This article shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania 1/27/14

Pa Transportation Bill Revisited and a School Board Meeting

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Whether revenue increases in Pennsylvania’s new transportation bill were tax increases in violation of a governor’s promise or added user fees never interested me much because really, in the end, what difference does it make?  On November 25, 2013 Pennsylvania Governor Corbett signed into law a bill to raise $2.3 Billion annually for the state’s transportation infrastructure.  That’s an amount roughly 8% of the entire state general fund budget, and an increase of 40% over existing transportation expenditures.  Those arguing its necessity claimed the state had failed to keep up with repairs and we had a lot of catching up to do before something really tragic happened, usually involving a school bus full of children.

I had no objection to spending whatever necessary on what I consider a core function of government and understood what some didn’t want to admit, that tax contributions per mile had gone down due to vehicles becoming more fuel efficient.  Part of any increase would be, in reality, a restoration of taxes (or fees) previously adopted and paid.  No one had complained as they were paying less over time, a point not disputed even as it was mostly ignored.

Still, many fought to stop the increase, especially among the most fiscally conservative legislators.  Times were still tough after all.  Rep Steve Bloom argued for prioritization of projects within transportation and no increase.  He voted against the bill and the wishes of our Governor and party leadership.  So did my Rep, Mike Regan, along with others, who, in the process, learned about the application of party pressure to get in line.

I respect these legislators and others who stood their ground.  On the left or the right, progressive or classic liberal, on any particular issue goose stepping is still goose stepping.  I like legislators that can show they have a mind of their own, stand on their principles and then defend their decisions.  We need more of them.

Thinking back, I remember tweeting in favor of increased transportation funding, but without tax increases, by “earning” the funds by doing the hard work, the Bloom prioritization, plus promoting legislation likely to save money and bolster revenues.  I urged tying in pension reform, right to work, and prevailing wage reform, but shouldn’t have stopped there.  It could have been used as an opportunity, a very useful exercise, for legislators to challenge each other to find waste that could be cut throughout the entire state budget.  Everything on the table.  Get serious time.  Stop with the business as usual.  Dreaming!

My thoughts returned to the transportation issue last Thursday evening at a West Shore SD school board meeting.  The topic was repairs to structural failure on an 87 year old middle school building.  The entrance side of the building is brick.  The necessary repair work is on the right side of the entrance, and will require repointing the brickwork as part of the much larger project.  The architect provided a base estimate, with repointing the unaffected left side of the entrance as a $58,800 add on.  The total base estimate is around $700,000.  Of several potential add on items, the additional repointing was the one most highly suggested by the architect, but with no mention of particular urgency.

It was then mentioned that due to tough economic times, the possibility of getting bids well below estimates was a distinct possibility.  Hearing that, one member of the board immediately suggested that would be an opportunity to seriously look at the additional repointing.  Yikes!  What about the opportunity to save the taxpayer some money?  Must they look for ways to spend potential savings simply because it had been budgeted?  There had even been earlier discussion of having in house maintenance employees do repointing work. What about that?

It exposed a pet peeve.  So many times I’ve encountered politicians, claiming staunch fiscal conservatism, who identify waste only to immediately suggest other uses they deem more important rather than suggesting returning the savings to the taxpayer.  Even they, once they’ve got it, are often inclined to want to keep it.

It was that school board meeting experience and the pet peeve that drove my thinking back to the transportation issue.  Remember, the state had fallen woefully, and some argued dangerously, behind on road and bridge repair and upkeep.  So they needed significant catch up money on top of that required to satisfy today’s ongoing needs.  That’s fine and quite understandable, except a day will come when the backlog is caught up.  Will anyone then think of returning those unneeded funds to the taxpayer?  Was it ever suggested to write such a provision into the bill?  Or will projects that would otherwise never have been considered, with little notice, fill the void in spending to the new budget?  Yep, once they’ve got it!

Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania 1/21/2014