Category Archives: PA Politics

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

Points of Confusion in Pennsylvania School Property Tax Reform Efforts

For especially the past two years an urgency to do something about severe problems with the exploding amount of the school property tax in some Pennsylvania school districts has been a hot topic among an array of grassroots organizations and affected individuals.  Early on, intense grassroots support focused on HB76/SB76 (aka HB1776/SB1776 in the previous legislative session), a plan to totally eliminate the school property tax, and shift all school funding to the state by increasing the sales tax from 6% to 7%, covering more goods and services, and increasing the personal income tax 41% from 3.07% to 4.34%, as the only answer to the problem.  This was happening as other states are looking for ways to eliminate their income taxes to enhance their attractiveness and fortunes.  Confusion.

No matter the outcome, HB/SB76 will be remembered by the tireless efforts of primarily one citizen, Mr David Baldinger, a person with the salesmanship of PT Barnum and the lure of a pied piper of populism.  A well organized website, extensive email list, and countless visits to group meetings to sell his concept bore fruit in bicameral, bipartisan, simultaneous introduction of legislation in our state capitol for two straight sessions.  Claims are that over 80 grassroots and other organizations now stand behind the idea of total elimination of the school property tax, that is forcing some out of their homes or making it very difficult to sell properties in select areas.  “We never truly own our homes” is an often mentioned phrase as well as HB/SB76 “were not bills written in Harrisburg”, and are the “people’s legislation” are all frequently heard at rallies.

For someone like myself, perceived flaws in total school property tax elimination and the shift of all school funding to the state revealed something ugly and disturbing in the conservative grassroots movement.  Zealotry could trump discussion and debate.  Members of most tea party and 912 groups were expected to be lock step supporters.  Mr Baldinger had whipped a frenzy among the ranks that left no room for dissention.  When I challenged my own affiliated group to debate internally at a meeting, and even offered to lead the discussion, I was ignored.  Alternatives, which I’m prepared to put on the table, could not be considered. There was never room on the agenda for that.  School property tax elimination had become a religion, with David Baldinger its reverend, and most grassroots organization members his fiercely loyal congregation.

Those times I did attempt to raise objections with members of supporting groups, I found others who listened, a few who agreed with me quietly, but have also been yelled at, and stomped away from.  I’ve heard that one very conservative individual was even threatened for not toeing the school tax elimination line.  Inside the capitol legislators have described Mr Baldinger to me as a mean spirited bully.

I see objecting legislators not as agents of large special interests out to get and destroy his bill, as Baldinger would assert, but concerned elected officials who share many of my perceived flaws. Neither Baldinger nor his zealous supporters ever seem to ask or wonder why none of the preeminent conservative professional policy organizations in the state, Americans for Prosperity, the Commonwealth Foundation, or Empower PA, among others, have ever taken more than a neutral position in their support of the  school property tax elimination effort.  Confusion.

As an alternative to HB/SB 76 Rep Seth Grove introduced HB1189, that would give individual school districts more taxing options to replace or even eliminate the hated school property tax locally.  Similar bills have passed in prior years but have never proved successful.  David Baldinger offered an analysis of Rep Grove’s bill on his website, shamelessly calling it “simply another fraud being perpetrated on Pennsylvania taxpayers”, a “useless diversion” and a “worthless fraud”.  Rep Grove was a RINO enemy of the people who had to go!  Usually it’s the political right that derides the left for demonization and vilification of their opposition.  More confusion.

Constituent members of the same local 912 group that seems to not want to debate the merits of 76, as I requested, and whose meetings are held in Rep Grove’s district, attended a town hall held by him December 12.  One member attempted to ambush the legislator with statements he has made compared to what was on or had been removed from his online presence.  I heard few questions to or discussion of the merits of any particulars of his legislation, mostly emotional attacks and attempts to corner the legislator.  The focus had become personal.

Demands were presented to support 76 as the people’s bill, which I heard as an expectation of legislators to act, at least on this legislation, as proxies for direct democracy, which ordinarily the conservative grassroots condemns in favor of a representative republic.  More confusion.

Another 912 constituent member announced to Rep Grove that he would be a primary challenger in 2014.  He tried to entice Grove to come debate property tax elimination at a meeting he will be holding in January along with David Baldinger.  Grove said he would not attend what he characterized as the challenger’s campaign event.

At one point in the meeting, Rep Grove explained how HB76 was dead.  Because it had been defeated as an attempted amendment to his own HB1189 on October 1, rules of the legislature prevent it from reconsideration by the House, either as an amendment or a stand alone bill for the remainder of the session ending 2014.  Only by being substantially changed to something distinctly different could 76 be afforded further consideration, according to Rep Grove.  When I called Rep Grove’s office Dec 16, they restated this position, even if the Senate chooses to pass SB76.

Here comes the real confusion.  In spite of what happened in the House, Baldinger’s organization, with help from the Pa Association of Realtors and others, are pushing forward with efforts to have SB76 reported out of committee and have it approved by a floor vote in the state Senate.

Monday, December 16, according to citizensvoice.com, Citizens Against Property Taxes of Luzerne County (CAPTAX) held a public meeting featuring speaker Chuck Liedike, campaign manager of Real Reform 76, a pro SB76 project of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors.  A claim was made that 26, or one more than half, the magic number of senators needed, have now signed as co-sponsors of the legislation.  Victory, they say, could be right around the corner.

At this point I only know one thing.  Either those forging ahead are delusional and ignorant of rules that would prohibit House concurrence on Senate passage of  SB76 or the information put forth by Rep Seth Grove is inaccurate and misleading.  I guess we shall see.

Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania 12/23/13

Mount Vernon Assembly December 7, 2013–A Confluence of Forces for Freedom

It was the weekend of November 9-10, just two weeks ago, when I finished reading Mark R Levin’s newest book, The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, in which he argues for a first ever Article V amendments convention initiated by the states as the only means to bring America back to its intended path of limited central government that respects the sovereignty of the states and the people.  With this book, true scholar Levin reveals the depth of his connection to the essence of America’s founding principles, how they have been gradually eroded over time, and the urgency to restore them in order that our great nation remains the beacon of liberty and freedom for the world.  I was moved.  I thought of how the teaparty/912 movement should consider dropping everything to focus on making a first ever Article V convention a reality.

Then, on November 10, a brief twitter interaction, led to a two week journey of amazing discovery of information that leaves us today two weeks away from what may be one of the most significant gatherings in America since the days of our nation’s founding.  It started like this:

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That link to a story at The Times of Northwest Indiana, “Indiana Senate leader working toward U.S. constitutional convention”, suggested Levin’s book was having an immediate impact.  It told of a planned gathering at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, on December 7, with representatives from various states considering an Article V convention.  I made the assumption that it was Levin’s book that initiated this action, but also found it curious that Mark Levin or The Liberty Amendments was never mentioned in the article.

Monday morning, November 11, I called the author of the article, Dan Carden.  He explained that Indiana has a history of Article V attempts and that President of the Indiana Senate, David Long, started this process well before the August 13 release of Levin’s book.  I noted that Levin was talking about his new book well in advance of its release and still thought there may be some connection.  Carden said he didn’t know.

I then called the office of Senator David Long.  They confirmed that his efforts and Levin’s book coming together at the same time was a coincidence, but certainly not insignificant.  They said they have read The Liberty Amendments, which by the way never mentions Senator Long’s efforts, and are excited about the boost it may bring.

Curiously, Long’s office told me the main source of opposition they have encountered is coming from the very teaparty/912 groups I thought should be its most ardent supporters.  Their fear is of a runaway convention that would completely rewrite our constitution.  Senator Long, however, also recognized this threat and introduced defining and limiting bills as model legislation that has passed the Indiana legislature and been signed into law by Governor Mike Pence.  They are serious and ready to go.

Senator Long’s office also informed me that Senator Long would be on Mark Levin’s radio show Wednesday evening, November 13, in the final hour to discuss the December 7 gathering they are calling The Mount Vernon Assembly.  Of course, I listened to that show, and thanks to Levin’s making available podcasts without subscription, anyone else can too.  Here is the link to this must listen interview.  The Senator Long portion runs from 84:40 to 106:20 and is a very thorough discussion of what is taking place.  Long indicated 26 states, at that point, intend to send delegates to the meeting.

This past Tuesday, November 19, I visited the Pennsylvania state capitol to encourage our legislature, so far absent, to send a delegation to Mount Vernon. While there I discovered that, without knowledge of the December 7 gathering, our liberty loving states rights senator, Mike Folmer, has introduced a co-sponsorship memorandum declaring Pennsylvania’s support of the Liberty Amendments as outlined in Levin’s book.

Finally, I called Senator Long’s office again yesterday, November 22, for any updates.  They told me the state count is now about 30 and that I could check with Wisconsin Rep Chris Kapenga, who is handling RSVPs and keeping tabs on that.  I called Kapenga’s office and they confirmed the count is about 30 states, but they are hoping for a few more, and a room has been reserved in the library.

That room, by the way, is in the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, Washington’s estate.  As if this unlikely confluence of events is not enough to ponder, Washington wrote over 200 years ago of a need for a library to house his works.  This wish was only concluded September 27, 2013 with the library’s dedication.  How’s that for a tingle up the spine?

Would it not be almost incomprehensibly ironic then, if the renewed progressive push and centralization of power by the current administration, with its disregard for our constitution as an outdated, out of touch document of yesteryear, turns out to be a fatal overreach that contributes to a constitutionally provided Article V convention of the states that effects its restoration and solidification for generations yet to come?  Thanks to Mark R Levin, Senator David Long, and every patriot taking this effort seriously!

Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania

Open Letter to PA Insurance Commissioner Michael F Consedine

Michael F Consedine
Commissioner
Pennsylvania Insurance Dept
 

In an October 31 article I questioned whether states could cross the line and offer non qualified health insurance policies along side those conforming to the Affordable Care Act.  I argued a prohibition of this amounts to an assault on freedom to enter into contracts, protected by Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution, and Americans should not be strictly bound to accept only contract terms dictated by a strong central authority in Washington DC.  I noted a long-standing tradition of state regulation of insurance under McCarran-Ferguson 1945.

Only rarely prior to Obamacare had the federal government stuck its nose into insurance regulation, and as far as I know, that only involved health insurance, never any other form.  Insurance regulation was something understood to be handled by the states.

Then Obamacare stood everything on its head.  The federal government would now decide what proper health insurance must look like, that is until this past week when they realized they were in over their heads with an avalanche of policy cancellations and a failed exchange website, upon which they said, in effect, the states are once again good enough to take the reins, if only to bail us out for a while, attempting to shift the focus of public frustration somewhere else.  We broke it.  Now you can fix it.

Prior to realizing the magnitude of the crisis they created, the feds assured us their new policies were somehow better than those “inferior” policies being cancelled, providing more “coverage” that would cost less (after applying money taken from others).  In my mind this is just more lies on top of the big “you can keep your coverage and your doctor” lie.  Yet the biggest insurance lie may be the one we tell ourselves.

As Commissioner of a state insurance department, Mr. Consedine, you should understand the commonly held public misconceptions surrounding the purpose and use of insurance, the notion that somehow low or no deductible, low or no copay, cover everything policies are, in reality,  anything more than costly third party prepayment schemes that benefit no one more than the company that sold it.  Yes, I do mean those dressed up Yugos we call Cadillac plans, as the most extreme example.

You should know that the purpose of insurance is not “coverage” but limitation of risk, to protect assets and provide protection beyond the ability to afford otherwise, and that any attempt to “insure” the ordinary, everyday, or expected is a fool’s game that only insures the incentivized overuse of others will be in your premium.  Yet the warm and fuzzy feeling provided by the illusion of free or almost free when one gets theirs, blinds many people to the fact they are paying for everyone else’s overuse when not getting theirs. It truly is a costly false comfort based in feelings rather than facts.

Indeed, if there is blame for the insurance companies, it is their failure to disclose that what most people say they want is not in the best interest of the vast majority of those saying they want it.  This is the price of a nation poorly educated in personal finance and basic economics.  It is also the challenge of ever hoping to attain real reform.  Insurance companies will continue to maintain their silence as the low end false insurance part of their business is to them as slot machines are to casinos, providing a license to predictably print money thanks to huge numbers narrowing the range of possible outcomes.  Is not insurance, after all, a business based in statistics and probabilities?

Crazy talk?  Then check out Paul Hsieh’s op-ed, “The Only Obamacare Fix Is For Obama To Legalize Real Health Insurance”, published by Forbes this past Sunday.  It is essentially everything I’ve been trying to tell you.  Obamacare thus, rather than fixing anything, only takes a problem and makes it worse!  You should realize these facts, because, after all, you are a Commissioner of insurance.

What you may not realize is the developing movement by physicians to direct pay cash only practice models, such as AtlasMD, a pioneer three physician concierge practice in Wichita, Kansas that offers a family of four unlimited primary care for $120 per month, plus access to wholesale prices on medications and laboratory services.  With the overhead and hassle of third party payers removed, they limit their patient load and offer same or next day appointments that average half an hour and even provide home visits!  This can likely be the future, especially with the availability of low cost catastrophic “real” insurance to compliment it, so long as it can be found.

That’s where you come in, Mr. Consedine.  I know you’ve been complicit with Obamacare from the start, even favoring Pennsylvania’s setting up its own exchange.  Your attitude has been that it’s now the law and we must follow it.  I don’t agree because of the magnitude of the intrusion of Obamacare on our freedom, but respect your view.

Under that same law, though, it is perfectly legal to pay a tax and do absolutely nothing in protecting others from ourselves.  Can it make any sense then, that those same people willing to pay the tax and even forgo the subsidy, should not be able to do something significantly more than nothing in protecting their neighbors from having to pick up for them?  How can anyone argue against that?

As Insurance Commissioner along with our legislators, Pennsylvania should make a stand and tell the federal government that in our state, we will offer qualified policies as required, but also non qualified policies for those who prefer them.  How can doing nothing to protect others be legal but doing something more be illegal?  That makes no sense whatsoever.

Finally, if you don’t think you can make a stand for choice, freedom, truth, limited central government, and local control, then please resign so we can find someone who will.

Thank You

Todd Keefer

Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania

Observations on Common Core and More – Market Solutions Please

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On June 13 of this year the Pennsylvania Business Council along with Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and Team Pennsylvania Foundation hosted the Pennsylvania Education Summit, using the tag line “Building a Pathway to College and Career Success”.  For anyone interested, I created a scrolling video record of all tweets using the suggested hashtag #PaEdSummit, as a collection of observations of the many in attendance.  I thought maybe a summit would be just that, an event defining problems and seeking answers, from many ideas and points of view.  Indeed it did define problems, but then focused nearly entirely on one answer, the Common Core Academic Standards.  I was attending a Common Core love fest.

While I’ve learned more about Common Core and its origination and distribution since the summit, I knew enough at the time to know what I saw as dangerous and offensive to freedom, and had doubts that Common Core is even working on the right problems that are causing agreed failures in our schools.

First, dangerous and offensive: Putting together Common Core involved large sums of private money, reportedly $150 million alone from Education Summit sponsor Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and was written by a handful of elite authors.  The Federal Department of Education presented states “offers they could not refuse” in Race to the Top money and No Child Left Behind waivers to get almost all (45) states to agree to the new standards in short order, as few people noticed.  If only we trust in the wisdom of these changes and align as one, this new effort at central planning will solve our problems as previous efforts, going back to Outcomes Based Education have not.  Just have faith.

But isn’t this the adoption of a monopoly of ideas so heavily invested failure will not be tolerated, continuing and intensifying pressures that have resulted in test answer changing scandals that even had Michelle Rhee refusing to answer questions?  Is it not also a dangerous path where large moneyed private interests can, in effect, set public policy without the consent of the elected representatives of the people?  Isn’t education better left without the involvement of the federal government, where states can be the laboratories of innovation?  Hasn’t education , if anything declined in quality since a stand alone federal Departmant of Education?  And since when do Americans align?  Americans innovate and break molds and build new ones in searching out opportunity and success.  The summit wasn’t about consideration of any of these issues or ideas.

From time to time I injected my counter views and concerns into my tweets, but they were never acknowledged in the presentation.  Finally in the last panel, state Senator Mike Folmer raised the issue of support in the home, that no new plans at the top are as important or necessary as supportive homes.  It was the stimulus I needed and I went to the microphone for Q&A with an infusion and intrusion of counterpoints and opposition.

I acknowledged the description of problems and good intentions then challenged the panel to tell me why Common Core is the magic elixir that will bring success as previous attempts have failed.  I made the suggestion that other factors may be at work,  as time has changed many things in our society, such as the advent of poor public policy in the area of social welfare that has provided perverse incentives toward single parent households, as well as the necessity for many two worker households, where neither parent has enough rested time with their children.  Seeming to support this possibility was an admission from the President of Elizabethtown College that our failures are concentrated in our 30% worst performing schools, without which we would compare favorably with the best in the world.  For that we seek to impose expensive cumbersome changes on everyone instead of focusing on the 30%?

I acknowledged the comment of Senator Folmer and as a specific example, spoke of a young Dr Benjamin Carson and how only a caring uneducated and probably illiterate mother who demanded reading books over watching TV was the determining factor in removing him from a path to failure; how then when he felt empowered by and accepting of reading, it was in that moment that a future successful pediatric neurosurgeon was born.  These were questions and considerations not included in the agenda of this summit.

As the panel was, what I felt, mostly dancing around my concerns in their response, I readied for my finale, three words in closing: choice, vouchers, and competition as the proven market approach that would likely do the most to improve all our schools, building a floor for quality and value in its process.  As the moderator went into wrap up mode I knew I wasn’t going to get the chance.  I decided to leave before the 15 min ending “Where do we go from here?” message.

On my way out I was stopped by Mr David Patti, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Business Council.  He most graciously thanked me for attending and suggested this is one issue on which we don’t agree even as he appreciated my remarks.  I told him about the three words I had wanted to say.  When Mr Patti looked at me and said that the Business Council favors that also I was befuddled and remain so to this day.  Central planning and market solutions are at opposite ends of the Conflict of Visions described by Dr Thomas Sowell in his 1987 classic work.  Attempting to entertain both, in my opinion, is an internal conflict for those who try, and I am left puzzled when business people do not look first and foremost to the marketplace as the source of innovation and solutions that has consistently made America the envy of the world.

The experience reminded me of a similar situation, in which the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry took a position favoring Pennsylvania’s setting up a state run Obamacare exchange.  Despite phone conversations, emails and references to articles by Cato and others, I was never able to convince Chamber Chairman and CEO Gene Barr to end that support and back concepts to incentivize state employers to embrace high deductible health plans and health savings accounts, with their connection to market forces.  In talking to Mr Barr at the Education Summit he still defended state exchange support.

More than Common Core and more than healthcare I sense a disturbing trend inside the business community to not embrace and show unwavering faith in free markets over government schemes, especially central government impositions.  Yet then there are others like NFIB or the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association who are  more consistently standing up for freedom.  In these times everyone must be standing on the side of freedom.

In one final note StudentsFirst.org was also a sponsor of the Education Summit.  This is Michelle Rhee’s creation and sits firmly in the unconstrained (Sowell) vision, accepting of elitists among us capable of divining solutions for the rest.  In keeping Common Core under the radar as long as it was, it seems curious, significant and deliberate that Rhee’s February 2013 book “Radical…” does not mention Common Core even once.

Note: This post was shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania

Scandal in Harrisburg PA at 2nd and State?

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I don’t live in Harrisburg but visit our state Capitol often in my role as a citizen lobbyist.  I do this at my own expense, a significant part being parking.  On-street is much cheaper than the garage but still $1.50/hr in the immediate area can add up and there’s always the risk of a ticket.  It is from this perspective that the appearance of one parking spot just a block west of the Capitol caught my attention.

I noticed the first parking spot on 2nd St off the southeast intersection with State St had an electric vehicle (EV) charger but no parking meter.  Neither were there any signs indicating terms of use.  Also missing was the typical “No Parking Here to Corner” sign.  Information on the charger’s screen indicated a charge of $.15/kwh for electricity consumed.  For a few months prior to the end of June as I visited the Capitol more often due to the increase in legislative activity, the same black Chevy Volt was in the charging spot from about 7am until around 2:30-3:00 pm, what seemed like every day.  Knowing the owner of that Volt was eligible for a $7500 federal tax credit plus a much lesser known $3000 rebate from the Pa DEP, neither of which I support, I bristled at the thought of further perks like a whole day’s free parking!  I had to know more.

Curiosity began with a Google search that quickly found answers that posed more questions.  A story in the Central Pa Business Journal November 21, 2012 indicated the charger was sponsored by Sutliff Chevrolet with the involvement of WCI Partners and its managing partner Alex Hartzler, a Harrisburg real estate developer.  Hartzler’s firm developed the five story building outside which the EV charger was installed.  Also Hartzler has a connection to electric vehicles as the owner of an ultra high end Tesla.  The report said the charger cost $15000 to buy and install, was available to the public with no charge for parking but a two hour limit applied.  The black Volt was plugged in over 7 hrs most days.  What was meant by “sponsored”?  Was the city or Parking Authority being reimbursed for revenue forgone by having no meter? Was the city paid a fee for the right to claim sponsorship?  Why was there never a parking ticket on the black Volt for exceeding the 2hr limit?  What if I parked my non electric car there?  Who receives the payments for electricity used?  Were any public funds part of the $15000 installation cost?  Who owns and maintains the car charger?  I wanted to know a lot more.

I called WCI Partners, explained my concerns, left contact information, was told Mr Hartzler would get back to me but he did not return the call.  I visited Mr Richard Kotz, head of the Harrisburg Parking Authority.  He said he would look into the situation, being aware of no agreements with the Parking Authority concerning the spot in question.  I talked with Parking Enforcement.  They said they wondered about that spot since the charger was installed but were never told anything about it and could not enforce any rules without signs being posted.  No one seemed to know anything so I decided to ramp things up.

Before Mr Kotz at Parking Authority could get back to me I presented a Right to Know request asking for three simple things: 1) Copy of any agreements related to the situation 2) Terms of use 3) Records of charger usage and the payee.  Mr Kotz dutifully responded to my request that “none of the information requested exists at HPA”, after which he suggested trying the City of Harrisburg.

Prior to presenting a Right to Know request to the city I sent Mr Hartzler an email since his address was right there on the WCI Partners website.  I presented my questions and asked that he either respond by email or call me.  Later the same day he called.  In that conversation he confirmed that he put the charger there as something nice to do for the community.  He claimed that all payments pass through, that he makes nothing, which at $.15 per kwh is easy to accept.  He also said that the city is not losing any parking revenue since there never was a 100_0496parking meter or parking spot at that location prior to the charger’s installation.   He also informed me that signs were now placed saying “Electric Vehicle Only” and “2 Hour Limit” along with one that says “Sponsored by Sutliff Chevrolet”.  Keep in mind this is all happening in the public right of way, normally used for on-street parking under the direction of a city or its Parking Authority.  Surely arrangements must have been made with the city, if not its Parking Authority.

The next day, Tuesday July 9, I personally delivered a Right to Know request to the City of Harrisburg.  I asked what I had asked of the Parking Authority with a few additions.  This was my request:

1)      Any and all records of correspondence, meeting minutes, or any public records produced in connection with the approval of installation of Electric Vehicle (EV) charger and designation of parking space as free of charge on State St at 2nd Street, within the public right of way, normally considered on-street parking, especially agreements between the City of Harrisburg and developer J Alex Hartzler, WCI Partners, Greg Sutliff, or Sutliff Chevrolet, arrived at either in public forum by elected officials or privately by city agencies or employees.

2)      Agreement as to reimbursement to the city for forgone parking revenue in absence of parking meter.

3)      Terms of public use of above mentioned parking space and electric charger.

4)      Usage records of EV charger since Fall 2012 installation and identification of payee for electricity consumed.

5)     Owner of Electric Charger and who is responsible for upkeep and servicing.

As with the Parking Authority, the City of Harrisburg dutifully responded.  Also, as with the Authority no records could be produced related to the charger or the now suddenly signed parking space.  How is it possible that one citizen or a small group acting alone could be making public policy, installing EV chargers or hanging signs in a public right of way without permission?  Also in my phone conversation with Mr Hartzler he suggested that because I don’t live in Harrisburg, I have no standing in this issue.  But what if Hartzler, WCI Partners or Sutliff shared in grants from the state DEP that are available for electric vehicle charger installations  as did Amerigreen Energy of Lancaster, as outlined in another CPBJ article?  Then every citizen of the state would have standing, beyond the absolute right of anyone to merely be curious or ask questions.  Taking public money should, after all, also involve taking what comes with it.

A couple more mysteries remain.  Who put up the new signs in the absence of any agreements: the City, its Parking Authority, or a private citizen, and are they enforceable without official terms of use ever having been adopted?  Also what about the normal “no parking here to corner” signs that dominate the last parking spot before an intersection to protect public safety?  Did one ever exist at this location as they seem to throughout the city, including on the other side of 2nd St at State?  Could it have been removed and never replaced in the process of construction of the new building?  I’ve informed City of Harrisburg officials of the absence of such a sign.  As a non resident, having expressed my irritations, I’ll now leave these unresolved issues with the citizens of Harrisburg and their chosen officials or perhaps other curious visitors.

Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania