Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Yet Another Late Scranton Audit

The Scranton Times reports that the forensic audit of Scranton’s books will be even later than expected. The subject of the audit is the Scranton Single Tax Office and the roughly $12 million dollars they were holding instead of giving it to the proper taxing bodies.

Democrat Ken McDowell, current Lackawanna County Controller, was the Scranton Tax Collector during the creation of this boondoggle. The current tax collector is Democrat Marilyn Vitali-Flynn and will be facing her first election in 2009.

During his previous campaign, McDowell blamed a new computer system for late returns and the perception of general malfeasance in the office. Apparently, that same new computer system is the cause of the current problem.

The Philadelphia-based accounting firm that is performing the audit seems unable to extract necessary information from the system to complete the audit. They are currently working out the problem but figure it will take until January of 2009 to complete the audit.

Democratic Mayor Chris Doherty and the Democratic Council passed a 2009 budget that included $5.5 million in revenue from this surplus in the tax office. The city is counting on tax anticipation notes (TANs) or loans against future tax revenue to feed the 2009 budget until the money arrives.

Many have questioned the ability of the city to predict the amount of money Scranton will receive since the audit is not complete. Maybe the administration knows more about the millions the tax office was holding that allowed them to predict the amount they were entitled to. Time will tell.

DA Contest in Wyoming County

The Wyoming County Press Examiner reports that current Republican District Attorney George Skumanick will have opposition from fellow Republican and Public Defender Deborah Albert-Heise.

Albert-Heise has run against Skumanick unsuccessfully in both 1993 and 1997.

Skumanick has been District Attorney since 1989.

Real Change in Luzerne County

Fellow blogger Gort42 has a great post about the Luzerne County Home Rule Petition Process. 2009 is the year to change the structure of Luzerne County Government. 4790 signatures are required to get the ballot measure placed on the May ballot.

You can visit the Luzerne County Home Rule website or click here to download a petition. This is a PDF file that has a duplex petition. If you do not have a machine that prints on both sides, print one side, flip the paper, and print on the other side.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Governor 2010

KYW Newsradio is breaking a story on the 2010 PA Governor’s race. Currently, the two major Republicans likely to seek the office are former US Attorney Pat Meehan and current PA Attorney General Tom Corbett. Corbett seems to be making some serious moves. KYW reports that Corbett has reached out to former Attorney General opponent Bruce Castor. Castor is the former Montgomery County DA and currently serves as Montgomery County Commissioner. Corbett has also reached out to Philadelphia City Council Member Frank Rizzo.

According to the article, Meehan is perceived as a South East moderate.

While political leanings certainly will play into the 2010 Primary Election, you cannot discount electability.

Corbett won statewide in the 2008 Elections for Pennsylvania Attorney General. This victory came to Corbett in the same year that Obama smoked John McCain in Pennsylvania. Obama defeated McCain by a 55% to 44% margin. Corbett bested Morganelli by 52% to 46%.

2008 was yet another bad year for Republicans. Many house seats were lost and all of the row office positions were lost with the exception of AG. The only state-wide win was Tom Corbett’s race.

In that race, Corbett proved that against the best Democratic operation Pennsylvania has seen in a very long time, he can still carry the day. Conversely, Corbett won with a poor operation on the part of John McCain driving Republican turnout. Odds are, the Obama operation will be resurrected for 2010. If any lessons were learned from 2008, the Republican operation will not be worse than it was in 2008.

That being said, it will be difficult to replicate the level of urgency that the Democrats created in the 2008 election. Turnout is never as high as it is in a presidential election year. If Corbett could beat that operation with Obama on the ticket, he should be able to do the same against the Democratic nominee (today, the most talked about Democrats for the position are PA Auditor General Jack Wagner and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato.) Republicans would be foolish to dismiss that kind of victory for a political newcomer.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2010 Census

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pennsylvania is likely to lose a Congressional seat. This has the implication of costing us an electoral vote (currently 21) in Presidential Elections.

Congressional representation is determined by the census. Constitutionally, we conduct a census every 10 years and reapportion representation according to population shifts. Basically, the tally is made and divided by the 435 seats in Congress. Pennsylvania also uses the census data to derive its State House and Senate districts.

In crafting a district’s lines, the State Senate must create a district that each has an equal number of residents and that the land be contiguous. Outside of that, the legislature can pretty much do as they please.

The 2000 census and subsequent district lines were cause for much debate and litigation. The new districts took several years to be implemented because of that.

When you look at the map of Congressional Districts, you will find that Pennsylvania’s 5th District is the largest by geography. This is a sparsely populated, mostly rural, mostly Republican district.

The Congressman representing the fifth district is also a freshman, first elected in 2008. No Congressman ever wants their district moved around much and will use their influence to try and keep things as usual. If any change is sought, it is usually to add members of their party to their district.

Beyond added opposition party members to their district, the biggest fear is likely an incumbent vs. incumbent matchup. This occurred with the last census between Republican Gerlach and Democrat Holden. Holden was successful.

Based on the fifth’s lack of seniority and geography that could be most easily split into other districts, my guess is that the fifth will be sacrificed to the 2010 census figures. The 3rd, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, and 17th districts could be lightly retooled to absorb the fifth. Every other district might have to be tweaked a little, but it would probably be relatively minor.

Because the party that controls the Senate in Pennsylvania will ultimately derive the plan, the redistricting normally favors that party. While the fifth is a Republican district, they could conceivably add Republicans to the aforementioned districts by combining through absorption of the fifth.

The only really significant pocket of Democrats in the fifth is found in State College. Republican Shuster (9th) would probably prefer Democrats be added to Democrat Murtha (12th) than his own district.

The variations of any redistricting plan are enormous. With Republican control of the Senate, I would wager that the plan will include increasing Republicans into districts that were casualties of the 2006 and 2008 Elections. This effort can be an end-run to try and recapture the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jack-Booted Animal Cops?

The Pocono Record ran a story detailing how the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Pennsylvania is running roughshod over the rights of everyday Pennsylvanians.

To be honest, I felt like I was reading the script to a mob movie when I read an account of horse owner Linda Jones-Newman’s dealings with the PSPCA. Apparently, an overzealous vet called the animal cops when he thought a horse should be put down and the owners refused to acquiesce. The PSPCA officer showed at their property, issued a warrant, and told them “This can end right now. If you give me all of your animals, this can end,” according to Newman. Apparently, the officer ordered the animal taken from its stable and assassinated in front of its owners. They then proceeded to seize all of the animals the Newman’s had as evidence. Some of that “evidence” was destroyed. For example, a miniature cow was killed by the PSPCA because it was dehydrated. I guess killing the animal was cheaper than some water and an IV to rehydrate the animal. After reading another article, about botched attempts to euthanize pets at PSPCA facilities, a bullet might have been more humane.

Worse, some of this intimidation is standard operating procedure. According to the story, PSPCA officers are trained to “intimidate people into giving up their animals.” There may also be a quota involved with animal seizures. According to PSPCA officer Tammy Kerr, her Christmas bonus was based on the number of animals she took from their owners.

According to another story in the Pocono Record, these same officers trained to intimidate people into surrendering animals will be armed in January. Personally, I have no problem with someone being armed. What should be cause for concern is the legislation sought by Democrat House Member James Siptroth of Pennsylvania’s 189th Legislative District. Representative Siptroth introduced a bill to grant these same officers civil immunity. In effect, this would free the officers from civil liability in cases involving damages brought by a person involved in an investigation. This would allow them to also enter private property without fear of civil litigation and allow them to “break down doors” according to the article. While it didn’t make the cut in 2008, Democrat Siptroth intends to reintroduce the legislation in 2009. When asked about fear that the law gives PSPCA officers carte blanche over the rights of private citizens, Siptroth is quoted as saying “If they are treating their animals properly, they have nothing to fear.” Siptroth predicts passage in 2009.

The charges against the Newman’s were dismissed after paying a $75 fine for a dirty living area for four of their dogs. The judge ordered their animals returned to them, that is, those that the PSPCA didn’t already kill. According to the Newman family, the animals were returned in worse condition than they left. The animals suffered from fleas, ear mites, and matted hair. One dog was returned in a urine soaked cage. Incidentally, had the Newman’s had their animals the condition that the PSPCA returned them in, they probably would have received additional charges.

The Newman’s might have been lucky. According to the article, 50% of the cats in a Venengo County case died while in the PSCPA’s “care” as “evidence.”

The Pocono Record received this answer from the PSCPA regarding their criticism. The Pocono Record also has a chart that lists the number of animals put to sleep versus adopted by the PSPCA.

Nanticoke To Increase Taxes?

According to the Times Leader, Congressman Paul Kanjorski’s hometown is in financial trouble. Nanticoke is facing a tax increase and more borrowing. The Democrat dominated Nanticoke City Council is facing major economic troubles as many other municipalities are. To cover their city until taxes begin rolling in, Council approved a $300,000 tax anticipation note loan at 3.51% interest. Council failed to pass a budget instead planning to meet again on December 29th to discuss the 2009 budget. State law requires budget passage by December 31st.

GOP Set for March 3rd

The Times Leader is reporting that the Republican State Committee has selected their nominee to fill the vacancy in the 29th Senatorial District. The selected nominee will be Republican State Representative David Argall.

The Democratic State Committee has still not announced their selection.

The Special Election will be held March 3rd, 2009. The district covers all of Schuylkill County and parts of Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, and Northampton Counties.

Luzerne Job Cuts

The Times Leader has confirmed that 18 full-time AFSCME member jobs will face the axe on January 1st. Another 17 jobs have received a stay of execution because they are court system jobs.

The employees were not identified because the county will not notify them until Monday, 72 hours before Christmas.

The non-union and management positions to be dismissed have still not been revealed.

Lackawanna Row Office Elections 2009

The Scranton Times is talking about the 2009 Judge race in Lackawanna County. The candidates, are not. But, in their defense, the law prohibits them from talking about it until the year of the election.

The Democratic candidates mentioned are former School Director Mark Walsh (who ran in 2001 and lost), Assistant District Attorney Margaret Bisignani Moyle, P. Timothy Kelly, James Tierney, and Magistrate John Pesota. The Republicans mentioned are Assistant District Attorney Frank Castellano and Brian Cali.

The article also mentions the retention of Republican Judge Michael Barresse and Democrat Judge Terrence Nealon.

No word on a challenge to Republican District Attorney Andy Jarbola, Democrat Sheriff John Szymanski, Democrat Recorder of Deeds Evie Rafalko McNulty, and Democrat Register of Wills Linda Munley.

Outside of the retention election which should go fine for both Judges, Jarbola is the lone Republican incumbent on the ballot. Lackawanna County successfully defeated the incumbent Republican commissioners in 2007. In 2008, Lackawanna County was a very high performer for Barack Hussein Obama’s Presidential campaign. These facts could embolden the local Democratic Party to target Jarbola’s race.

Speaking of the Commissioner’s race of 2007, Evie Rafalko McNulty could be the only Democrat race to target in 2009. In 2007, McNulty’s dirty laundry was aired during the divisive Democratic Primary. At issue were defaulted debt and unpaid taxes. Beyond the primary battle, this situation also created the opening for numerous lawsuits in the campaign. Ultimately, McNulty failed to win the Primary Election.

Scranton Mayor's Race 2009

The Scranton Times ran a political analysis of the candidates considering a run for Mayor in Scranton. The candidates listed, all Democrats, are Scranton School Director Chris Phillips, Scranton City Council Member Janet Evans, former Scranton City Council Member Gary Dibileo, and Current Mayor Chris Doherty. As one should expect of the Republican Party in Lackawanna County and their Chairman “Free Pass” Paul Catalano, there is no mention of a Republican candidate nor will there likely be one.

Doherty has done much tertiary-goodness in the City of Scranton. The article touches on that, but then draws the focus to the signature issue that could prove difficult for Doherty, the economy. The article mentions, nearly in passing, Doherty’s proclivities to constantly borrow money to pay the city’s current expenses. It fails to mention that, as a councilman, Doherty frequently railed against the administration and their debt.

It also mention’s Doherty’s infamous 25% tax increase. What it fails to mention is that Doherty promised a tax cut. (even if he did forget.) As a councilman, Doherty also raised taxes. At the time he said he had no choice.

Another criticism that didn’t make the cut was aired during the 2005 campaign. Gary Dibileo stated in a debate that there was a crime problem in Scranton. Mayor Doherty essentially denied a crime problem in Scranton. His staff has also denied increases in crime. This issue is tied with one of the issues that did garner ink, the Doherty’s inability to find common ground with the City’s municipal unions (Fire & Police.) As a Councilman, Doherty voted against the previous pact with the City’s unions.

At the end of the day, quality of life issues are what get people elected. As stated, Doherty has made surface-level changes in the City of Scranton that will be noticed. He has opened a new park or two and improved Nay Aug. Voters don’t seem to care much about borrowing, but they do care about taxes. Doherty raised them, but he did so long ago enough that most might have forgotten. His opponent will likely attempt to remind them.

As far as labor contracts are concerned, those intimately involved in the labor movement will care. The majority is not involved in labor and thus, will not. They will care about crime. If Doherty’s opponent is able to link the crime problem with an understaffed, unhappy police department, they might be able to make it stick.

The final issue that wasn’t addressed that could be an issue is how long Doherty will remain in office. The Scranton Times has advanced the idea that Doherty has future aspirations. If his aim is to become the 11th District Congressman, that would mean he could run during his first year in his newly re-elected office and then leave after just one year. Typically, the President of Council would become Mayor, Council would select a replacement, and a special election would be held to both fill the mayor and appointed council positions. The question needs to be asked of the Mayor if he will pledge to serve his full term.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama, Brady, and Firearms in PA

Gun owners in Pennsylvania are stocking up on new firearms in anticipation of the coronation of President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama.

If you believe Obama’s rhetoric, he has no intention of taking away the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Perhaps they are reacting out of unfounded fear. Or, perhaps they have actually checked Obama’s record on firearms.

The NRA’s take on Obama’s gun record can be found here.

Adding fuel to the fire, Obama was endorsed by the Brady Center, former known as Handgun Control Inc. Obviously, the Brady Center doesn’t exactly have a sterling record on the issue. In fact, as part of their endorsement, the Brady Center touted a renewal of the “assault weapon ban.”

The Brady Center drew local attention in Pennsylvania as they offered aid in a local suit involving a Lebanon County Mom’s revocation of her Concealed Carry Permit. The local Sheriff, Michael DeLeo, revoked the permit. Lebanon County Judge Robert Eby reinstated the permit by reversing the Sheriff’s decision.

The Brady Center offers legal assistance in cases involving firearms. That assistance has historically been to strip rights away from individuals, not defend the rights of lawful gun owners.

Time will tell if Obama will keep his word on the Second Amendment. The man hasn’t been sworn into office yet but if you look at one of his appointments, there seems to be cause for alarm.

Obama’s nomination of Eric Holder for Attorney General raised some eyebrows. Holder, as Attorney General, oversaw the pardons of both Marc Rich and FALN terrorists by the Clinton Administration. Rich is a billionaire that was running from 65 counts of tax evasion when he was pardoned. The 16 FALN terrorists that had their felony sentences commuted also occurred under Holder’s watch.

As far as Second Amendment concerns, Holder signed onto a brief reaffirming his belief that the Second Amendment confirmed no individual rights to firearm ownership and possession and that the Supreme Court should have upheld DC’s ban on firearm ownership.

With the probable retirement of at least a few Supreme Court Justices, let’s hope this nomination is not indicative of the selection process that will be used for the Supreme Court.

You can read more about Holder here.

Barletta's Budget

The Times Leader is reporting that Republican Mayor of Hazleton Lou Barletta will cancel raises for his administration, chase delinquent taxpayers, and institute health insurance co-pays for city workers to reduce Hazleton’s spending.

Barletta is also meeting with department heads to ask them to find the means to institute a 10% cut in their department budgets.

Monroe Democrats Hike Taxes 24%

According to the Pocono Record, the newly elected Democrat majority commissioners will usher in the first tax increase since 2002. The proposed budget not only includes the 24% tax hike but also creates new government jobs in the county.

Democrat Commissioners Suzanne McCool and Theresa Merli voted in favor of raising taxes increasing the size of Monroe County’s government. Republican Donna Asure voted against it. Asure cited unstable economic times and a lack of real effort on the part of the majority to work out a solution as reasons for the increase.

Dustup in the 29th

The Hazleton Standard Speaker is reporting that Dennis Baylor filed a suit on behalf of the “No-Party” political party so that they can avoid gathering signatures for the Special Election to fill the State Senate position vacated by the death of Senator Rhoads.

Baylor’s suit seeks a formal decision by the Department of State on the status of his political party and a stay to be placed on the Election if need be until the matter is decided.

By the most recent read of the law, Baylor would need signatures in the amount of 5% of the total vote cast in the last Senate Election for the seat in each of the counties it represents. For statewide office, he would need 2% of the votes cast in the last General Election top vote getter or 66,724 based on Auditor General Jack Wagner’s totals.

To make it on the ballot, Baylor would need 1,364 signatures by the January 13th deadline.

Christmas Presents from Luzerne County

The Times Leader is reporting that the Luzerne County Commissioners will have their 2009 budget finalized in the coming days.

Some highlights of the $130 million budget are predicted to include approximately 100 layoffs for January 1, about $19 million in new borrowing, and a tax increase.

Since the list of employees to lose their jobs will not be released until around the Christmas Holiday, many will only have an approximate week’s notice as to their employments standing.

Also predicted in the story is a lawsuit from the Luzerne County Courts. Some of the proposed cuts involved the court system. Judge Mark Ciavarella has basically stated in the past that if cuts are enacted, the judicial system will not be able to function. Judge Ciavarella had previously promised to file suit against the county if they sought the reduction in staffing. The TL seems to have been correct in their prediction.

You can read the full text of a preliminary injunction filed by the courts against Luzerne County here.

As we look forward to the 2009 Luzerne County Elections, Gort has a great archive worth checking out.

Meuser on Rebuilding GOP

Former PA-10 Congressional District Candidate Dan Meuser was interviewed by The Bulletin for a story on rebuilding the Republican Party in Pennsylvania.

Meuser talked about the need for the Republican Party to reach out to younger people and revamping the communication of their message without changing their core principles.

Meuser also addressed the McCain/Palin loss to Obama/Biden. Faulting McCain’s inability to convey Obama’s record to the electorate, Meuser said Obama was able to better communicate from a centrist perspective and win coveted votes.

Kanjorski Defends Gifts

The Citizen's Voice ran a story detailing lobbying activities and Congressman Paul Kanjorski. The question was raised as to whether or not it was inappropriate for Kanjorski to accept baseball tickets from Freddie Mac and not disclose that he received them.

In attendance at the game in question were Kanjorski, Jack Abramoff’s pal and disgraced former Congressman Robert Ney, Freddie Mac’s CEO, and four lobbyists.

Kanjorski defended the use of the tickets claiming that they fell below the $50 threshold for reporting.

Scranton Circumvents Audit Law

According to the Scranton Times, the 2007 Scranton City Audit will hopefully be completed before 2009. Originally, it was reported that the 2007 audit was the latest to be completed in recent history. The Scranton Times had to run a correction to clarify the tardiness of the audit.

The 2007 audit was not actually the latest audit in recent history. Scranton’s 2006 audit was as it was not actually received by the city until 2008. This continues Scranton’s trend of late audits and disregard for Scranton’s laws. The 2005 audit didn’t arrive until October of 2006.

The law in question is Section 313 of Scranton’s Home Rule Charter. The Charter requires the audit to be completed, submitted to council, and published in the newspaper no later than May 31 of the following year.

Scranton School District Increases Taxes Again

According to the Scranton Times, the Democrat-dominated Scranton School Board will raise taxes by nearly 6% for 2009. This comes on the heels of the School Board passing a $109+ million budget for 2009. The vote was unanimous.

On the brighter side, some will see a reduction in taxes. $4.3 million in gaming revenue will be used to provide some measure of property tax relief.

According to a district official, some 13,050 Scranton properties are eligible for the state’s homestead property relief tax exclusion.

According to another article in the Scranton Times, the 5.6% tax increase is a fraction under the 6.4% top rate allowed by state law.

The School District places much of the blame on the need for the increase on the new contract reached with the teachers’ union.

This marks the fourth tax increase in a row for the Scranton School District. (2008, 2007, 2006)

In 2005, while conducting candidate interviews with the Scranton Times, Director Frank Brazill ran with the priority of keeping taxes “as low as possible.” Director Todd Hartman stated that he ran to get “the best education for our children that money can buy” and to “watch over wasteful spending” and for “fairness for our taxpayers.” Director Brian Jeffers said his top priority as a school director would be the “implementation of the state’s tax relief program.” Director Robert Lesh ran to “continue fiscal responsibility.” All four School Directors are up for re-election in 2009. All are also Democrats.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Get a Life!

Fox News is covering a hot mic incident with Governor Ed Rendell. When talking about newly appointed Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano he said she was perfect for the position because she has no life.

The exact quote by Rendell was that Napolitano is “perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it."

He also went on to priase Governor Sarah Palin saying she has great political insticts.

Area School Districts Failing SATs

According to the Scranton Times, only two of our area 37 area schools have surpassed national averages on SAT scores and only seven of our area schools have beat the state average.

The State Average is 494 verbal, 501 math for a total average score of 995.
The National Average is 502 verbal, 515 math for a total average score of 1017.

The 2008 NEPA SAT Scores by School District, verbal average, math average, total score:

1. Wayne Highlands – 505-525-1029
2. Tunkhannock Area – 510-516-1026
3. Crestwood – 508-506-1014
4. Dallas – 500-509-1009
5. Abington Heights – 504-503-1007
6. Lake Lehman – 500-503-1007
7. Delaware Valley – 5-2-498-1000
8. Susquehanna Community – 497-497-994
9. Wallenpaupack Area – 489-504-993
10. North Pocono – 489-503-992
11. Elk Lake – 490-495-985
12. Montrose Area – 493-491-984
13. Riverside – 486-488-974
14. Stroudsburg Area – 493-479-972
15. Pittston Area – 469-595-963
16. Pleasant Valley – 476-487-962
17. Wyoming Valley West – 478-484-962
18. Wyoming Area – 476-582-958
19. Greater Nanticoke Area – 476-480-957
20. Northwest Area – 478-478-956
21. Lakeland – 481-473-954
22. Wilkes-Barre Area – 466-484-950
23. Mountain View – 490-460-950
24. Carbondale Area – 467-483-950
25. Dunmore – 474-473-947
26. Blue Ridge – 469-478-946
27. Scranton – 469-471-940
28. Valley View – 466-473-939
29. Forest City Regional – 469-468-937
30. Hazleton Area – 457-475-932
31. Hanover Area – 463-461-925
32. Lackawanna Trail – 482- 442-924
33. Pocono Mountain – 461-461-922
34. Old Forge – 455-465-920
35. East Stroudsburg Area – 461-458-919
36. Mid Valley – 457-457-914
37. Western Wayne – 455-454-909

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Scranton Group Blasts Boscov Bailout

According to the Times Leader, the Scranton-Lackawanna County Taxpayers’ Association is questioning aid Scranton has promised to Boscov’s Department Store and its owners.

Ozzie Quinn, president of the association, framed the loan as a bailout and suggested there may be some quid pro quo involved in the loan. He raises this because Al Boscov has made contributions to both Democrat Governor Ed Rendell and Democrat Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty.

Quinn also questioned the ethics of using taxpayer money to bailout a private business.

Election 2009, Luzerne Row Offices

According to Gort42, the Controller, Prothonotary, Register of Wills, and Jury Commissioners will be on the 2009 Luzerne County Ballot.