Opinion
opinion editorials, by-lined features, viewpoints

The much-hyped down-ballot problems some suggested Republican Donald Trump would cause in Pennsylvania did not appear in the races for the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s available seats in 2016.

In fact, Trump’s historic win in Pennsylvania may have helped Republicans expand their majorities in both the state House of Representatives and the Senate, with the latter chamber appearing to secure a veto-proof majority – a total of 34 seats.

All 203 seats in the state House of Representatives were up for grabs, although nearly half of the chamber’s incumbents ran unopposed, with many more in relatively safe districts. That presented a difficult scenario for Democrats hoping to slice into the Republican Party’s current 119-84 majority in the chamber. In the end, the GOP majority looks to have grown by as many as 3 seats.

If the Democrats’ path to denting the GOP’s majority in the House was difficult, their task was herculean in the Senate, where the GOP held a 31-19 majority going into the election. Twenty-five of the chamber’s 50 seats were on the ballot, but there were only a handful deemed by Republican and Democratic campaign insiders as having the ability to shift the chamber’s current political composition.

And shift it did, with Republicans winning three seats – thanks to a Trump wave in most areas of the state west of Harrisburg – and holding on to one GOP seat thought vulnerable to the Democrats.

Senate races                                                                                                                      

In a rematch of a special election earlier this year, incumbent GOP Sen. Tom Killion narrowly defeated Democrat Martin Molloy, 51.39 to 48.61 percent (a nearly 6,300-vote margin) to hold on to the 9th Senatorial District in Delaware County. The earlier special election was prompted by Sen. Dominic Pileggi’s election as a Delaware County judge.

Republicans had targeted incumbent Democratic Sen. Rob Teplitz in the 15th Senatorial District.

Teplitz’s 2012 election was in a district drawn in 2000, due to problems with the 2010 reapportionment maps. Since his election, the 15th District was redrawn to add all of heavily Republican (but not heavily populated) Perry County.

That tipped the scales for Republican challenger John DiSanto, who defeated Teplitz 51.42  to  48.58 percent (a 3,380-vote margin).

And the western Pennsylvania Trump wave crashed on incumbent Democratic Sen. Sean Wiley in his first reelection effort, following his win in 2012 with 60 percent of the vote.

Republican challenger Daniel Laughlin defeated Wiley 53.5 to46.5 percent for the Erie County seat.

Sen. John Wozniak’s decision to retire – some say due to rumors that started earlier this year that he would lose reelection – left an open seat in western Pennsylvania.

Republican Wayne Langerholc thumped Democrat Ed Cernic Jr., 62.54 to 37.46 percent, for the 35th Senatorial District, which includes Bedford, Cambria and part of Clearfield counties

House races                                                                                                                     .

Incumbent Democrat Jaret Gibbons lost his relection bid to Republican challenger Aaron Bernstine, 41.37 to 58.63 percent, in the 10th District, which includes Beaver and Lawrence counties.

Democrats look to have barely held on to the open Bucks County 31st District seat held by Rep. Steve Santarsiero, who lost his congressional bid on Nov. 8

Democrat Perry Warren defeated Republican Ryan Gallagher by 28 votes (50.04 to 49.96 percent).

Democrats did not retain the 49th District in Washington County, open due to the retirement of longtime Rep. Peter Daley, II. Republican Donald Cook defeated Democrat Alan Benyak 54.25 to 45.75 percent.

The GOP also picked up the currently Democrat-held 51st District in Fayette County, with Republican challenger Matthew Dowling besting incumbent Democrat Tim Mahoney 52.82 to 47.18 percent.

In the 58th District, open due to Democrat Ted Harhai, Republican Justin Walsh defeated  Democrat Mary Popovich, 62 to 38 percent.

In the east, the GOP thought they may have picked up another seat, but late returns appear to have given incumbent Democratic Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, from the 161st District in Delaware County, a 240-vote win (50.35 to49.65 percent) over Republican Patti Rodgers Morrisette.

Incumbent Republican Harry Lewis also appears to have survived against Democrat Joshua Maxwell in Chester County’s 74th District, 51.93 to48.07 percent (or an 880-vote margin).

However, for the 115th District, incumbent Republican David C. Parker looks to have lost to Democrat Maureen Madden, 51.94 to 48.06 percent (or by a margin of about 841 votes).

Republican incumbent Tom Quigley bested Democrat Joseph Ciresi, 51 to 49 percent (a margin of 544 votes) for Montgomery County’s 146th District.

Republican incumbent Rep. Dan Truitt, who both GOP and Democratic insiders thought might lose his reelection bid may have retained Chester County’s 156th District by a scant 78 votes ( 50.11 to 49.89 percent) over Democrat Carolyn Comitta.

And in a bit of a surprise to some, Republican incumbent Martina White appears to have won reelection to her Philadelphia-based 170th District seat. White – who was a surprise win for the GOP in Philadelphia in a 2015 special election (because then Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle was elected to Congress and vacated the seat), owing to political infighting by some of the city’s Democratic powerbrokers – defeated Democratic challenger Matthew Darragh, 54.27 to 45.73 percent.

In Montgomery County’s 150th District, Republican Michael Corr defeated Democrat Linda Weaver, 54.37 to 45.63 percent.

In Chester County’s 158th District, Republican Eric Roe defeated Democrat Susan Rzucidlo, 53.18 to 46.82 percent.

Iin Delaware County’s 165th District, Republican Alexander Charlton defeated Democrat Elaine Schaefer 56.54 to 43.46 percent.

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Josh Shapiro pulled out a clear win over opponent state Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, in their race to bring integrity back to the Office of Attorney General.

“Friends, I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me your trust and giving me this great honor,” said Shapiro, a Montgomery County Commissioner.

After an expensive run in which the candidates focused greatly on distancing themselves from their predecessor Kathleen Kane, Shapiro beat Rafferty 51.4 to 48.6 percent.

Shapiro’s Democratic comrades for row offices also had a successful election night.

For the second election cycle in a row, all three Democratic candidates for state row offices swept the race, keeping their Democratic stronghold in executive offices.

Incumbent Auditor General Eugene DePasquale held on to his seat in his race against Northampton County Executive John Brown and Joseph Torsella, a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, defeated his opponent Otto Voit, president of Keystone Dental Group, in the race for state Treasurer.

These down-ballot wins come on the heels of a presidential upset that resulted in a win for Republican Donald Trump and another term for incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey.

Pennsylvania helped push Trump to 270 electoral votes, winning 48.8 to 47.7 percent over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The GOP-led state Legislature also maintained its majority.

 

Attorney General’s race

Though he spent much of the night in a nearby room one of his interns called “the war room,” Shapiro didn’t have much to worry about throughout the course of Election Night.

He was ahead of his Republican opponent from the time results came trickling in to the Pennsylvania Department of State website around 8:30 p.m.

At the close of reporting, Shapiro claimed wins across Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia County, Allegheny County, and Montgomery County, his home county.

He surpassed Rafferty by more than 160,000 votes, according to unofficial results.

His campaign was aided with outstanding campaign fundraising efforts and endorsements from President Barack Obama and Gov. Tom Wolf.

Shapiro raked in more than $6 million over his 10-month campaign, according to state records dating up to October 24, the most of any candidate in the history of Office of Attorney General.

Rafferty raised $1.7 million in the same timeframe.

The Democratic commissioner, who also served as a state representative from 2005 to 2012, will replace Bruce Beemer, the acting Attorney General who was appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf in August after Kane resigned.

Kane, the first Democrat and woman elected to the post, resigned from the Office of Attorney General just two days after she was found guilty of perjury and obstruction related to her leaking confidential grand jury information. She was sentenced to 10 to 23 months in prison in October.

Kane won her seat in 2012 with 56 percent of the vote, beating her GOP opponent by almost 15 percentage points.

Both Shapiro and his opponent worked to distance themselves from Kane and made rooting out public corruption a crux of their campaigns.

Shapiro made a commitment to require all OAG employees sign a code of conduct and participate in mandatory ethics training, to enforce a gift ban in the office and to appoint a Chief Diversity Officer to “make sure our team reflects the people of Pennsylvania,” he told Capitolwire following his victory

Shapiro’s opponent often highlighted Shapiro’s prosecutorial inexperience throughout the campaign, but clearly, that wasn’t a concern for voters.

Rafferty served in the OAG as Deputy Attorney General from 1988 to 1991, where he led the Criminal Law Division and Grand Jury Investigations.

Throughout the course of the campaign, Rafferty also called into question Shapiro’s commitment to serving out his tenure if elected, accusing the Democrat of trying to use the Office of Attorney General as a springboard for higher office.

“I believe that he has higher aspirations. The Office of Attorney General should not be a rental space. It should not be a stepping stone,” Rafferty said during an October debate.

Though he has set the record straight in prior interviews, Shapiro reiterated at the debate that if elected, he will serve out his full term and will likely run for a second term.

In January, Shapiro will take his seat in Office of Attorney General, but until then, he said he plans to celebrate his win with his four children and wife.

Auditor General’s race

The only incumbent row office candidate also took away a victory on Nov. 8.

Incumbent Auditor General Eugene DePasquale held on to his seat in a race against Northampton County Executive John Brown, winning 50 to 45 percent, with third-party candidates John Sweeney, of the Green Party, and Libertarian Roy Minet receiving 2.71 and 2.22 percent of the vote.

With 49.7 percent of the vote, DePasquale, of York County, was first elected in 2012 by 180,798 votes, 3.3 percentage points, above his opponent.

As Auditor General, DePasquale has headed a number of audits into charter schools, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, the state’s child abuse hotline and state pension funds. He previously served as a state representative.

Treasurer’s race

In the race to be the state’s next top fiscal watchdog, the Democratic nominee Joseph Torsella also took the win.

He had a distant lead, 50.7 – 44.2 percent, over his Republican challenger Otto Voit.

In an office plagued with corruption – the last elected state Treasurer Rob McCord pled guilty to federal charges of extortion in February 2015 and former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer facing charges of making false statement to federal authorities – Torsella’s campaign emphasized the need for transparency and integrity in the office, including investing in open data records.

He also pledged to work to establish automatic college or vocational training savings accounts for Pennsylvania’s youth and address retirement security for workers.

He will replace Timothy Reese, an Independent who was appointed by Gov. Wolf following McCord’s resignation. Reese did not seek election.

Torsella’s other challengers – Green Party Kristin Combs and Libertarian James Babb – drew 2.87 and 2.28 percent of the vote.

As state Treasurer, Torsella will oversee more than $100 billion in state assets, the state’s investments and payments and he will sit on the two public employee pension agencies.

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Despite the fact that no Republican presidential candidate had carried Pennsylvania in a

generation and no other Republican had won a statewide election in five years, Donald Trump

took  the Keystone State, beating Hillary Clinton by 50,000 votes.  Mrs. Clinton managed to carry only 11 counties in the state, several by razor-thin margins.

Adding to that electoral success was the victory of U.S. Senator Pat Toomey who bested Katie McGinty by almost 90,000  The race was the most expensive and closely watched in the country.

Although they lost the three statewide “row offices,” Republicans also managed to pad their already substantial majorities in both legislative chambers.  In the Senate Republicans now have a super-majority 34 seats and in the House Republicans boosted their advantage to at least 122. And any notions about the “inevitability” of Senator Bob Casey’s re-election should be put to rest.

Change beat anything else

Many Democrats believed that a significant demographic advantage would propel Hillary

Clinton into the history books as the first woman president.  They didn’t take into account the

“mood” advantage that the Republicans had going for them.  Every survey showed that voters

were in a foul mood, angry and clamoring for change. Nearly 70 percent said they thought the country was headed in the wrong direction.   That didn’t bode well for a woman seeking to be the third term of the incumbent president.  She shopped her extensive resume at a time when voters

wanted anything but.  Trump was the outsider.  She was the “incumbent.”  He won. She lost.

Republicans came home. Democrats stayed home.

In a contest between the two least liked candidates in the era of modern polling, Donald Trump ultimately prevailed because his base turned out while Hillary’s did not.  Trump had tremendous senthusiasm going for him.  All you needed to do was drive down one of Pennsylvania’s back roads and see the handmade signs boldly proclaiming “Trump.”  Meanwhile there was a distinct aura of apathy among Clinton’s base.  They didn’t like Trump, but they weren’t so thrilled with her, either.

​            Donald Trump needed to garner 90 percentof the Republican vote, something no winning GOP candidate had ever failed to do.  For much of the campaign he languished in the 70’s, below the level Barry Goldwater received in the 1964 landslide.  By mid-October he was in the mid 80’s.  On election night he hit 90.  Meanwhile Hillary Clinton underperformed among just about every key demographic.

Television advertising doesn’t buy as much these days

Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump by nearly 4:1 in television advertising.  She hammered away at his main vulnerability–his “temperament.” Her message was ubiquitous.  It didn’t work.

It was partially because voters wanted more than simply anti-Trump rhetoric.  It was also an indication of the shifts in how Americans receive information and make decisions.  Donald

Trump’s 15 million Twitter followers were as big an advantage as Hillary Clinton’s millions of

dollars in  advertising.

“Tax and Spend” is a losing message with working families

The Trump and Toomey victories, coupled with the gains Republicans made in the General Assembly here and across America were a clear repudiation of the policies of the last eight years. Obama may be personally popular for the time being, but his policies are not.  Nor are those of his political acolytes like Tom Wolf.  Although I know they aren’t taking my advice,

another budget containing big government spending and additional high taxes on working

families is a big loser.

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No.

 

By Charlie Gerow

 

There are certainly valid arguments for reducing the number of school districts in Pennsylvania.  “A European Union for education” and a reversion to thoroughly discredited “outcomes-based education” are not among them.

 

When Governor Pinchot was in office Pennsylvania didn’t have 500 school districts.  There were more than 2,500 in those days.  The 500 we now have represents dramatic consolidations, both legislatively and judicially mandated, in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

 

There are, no doubt, some districts that may want or need to merge with adjacent districts.  The main reasons cited for such mergers is the potential cost savings and an improved educational product and student achievement.

 

Local school district choice, not mandates from the legislature or the courts, should determine whether or not there are such mergers.

 

School districts along the Mason Dixon Line have bandied about the concept of consolidation for years, looking below the border to Maryland which, like neighboring Virginia, has county-wide school districts.

 

Yet when the Independent Fiscal Office did a study of the 15 school districts in York County, they determined that merging those districts into a single county-wide district would not save the taxpayers any money.  It suggested that such a move would both result in higher taxes for middle-income earners but would also produce only minimal savings in administrative costs.

 

Administrative costs have been a growing concern for taxpayers across the state.  With superintendents and top administrators typically making deep into six figure salaries, those paying the bills have long wondered if there aren’t ways to economize.

 

However, the consolidations that have occurred have not produced the promised or hoped for savings.  There are a variety of factors not related to the consolidations that account for this, but it is safe to say that consolidation isn’t necessarily a financial panacea.

 

Ultimately, whether or not mergers produce substantial savings hinges on whether or not the consolidated districts will do what’s necessary to curtail administrative expenses and reduce per-pupil costs.

 

Mergers  and consolidations have not  always produced higher quality education or improved student performance.  Some studies suggest the opposite has been the case.

 

Additionally there have been other impacts that were not intended consequences of these mergers.  Consolidations have often produced a sense of loss of community.  This has been especially seen in sports, band and other extracurricular activities and opportunities for kids.

 

In Arkansas, where more than a third of their districts merged in the past dozen years, businesses closed and kids’ school bus rides got a lot longer.  One superintendent called it “the disenfranchisement of communities.”  He added, “I haven’t seen an increase in academic progress that I think we would have seen.”

 

Yet as communities struggle with skyrocketing pension obligations and administrative costs they’re looking for any reasonable solution.

 

They should certainly be able to merge, consolidate or merely cooperate with neighboring districts.  To require them to merge would be a public policy mistake.  Because of the impact on individual students and their local communities, local choice must be the by-word for any consideration of school district mergers.

 

Let’s not forget that we already have one county-wide school system.  It’s the School District of Philadelphia.  You can judge for yourself how that’s working for cost-saving and student achievement.

 

 

 

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Is 70 the New 65? Why Americans Are Working Longer

“Age 65 has long been considered the traditional retirement age, and not coincidentally is also the age of Medicare eligibility. According to recent statistics, the percentage of Americans 65 and older who are still in the labor force has risen to nearly 20%, the highest level since before Medicare was established in 1965.1

More than 9 million Americans aged 65 and older are working — a record number that is expected to rise in the coming decades, largely because of demographic and economic shifts.2 The first baby boomers have started to file for Medicare, and about 8,000 boomers will turn 65 each day until 2030.3

The U.S. economy is now dominated by service industries, which means there are plenty of employment opportunities that are less physically demanding. In addition, boomers enjoy better health and greater vitality than previous generations.

Even so, an aging U.S. workforce paints a mixed picture, with some positive and negative implications for the long-term financial security of American retirees and the U.S. labor force.

Economic Necessity
U.S. employers have largely replaced traditional pensions with retirement savings accounts such as 401(k) plans, which are funded primarily by employee contributions. Unfortunately, many workers have not saved enough money to retire comfortably.

In fact, nearly half of today’s retirees depend on Social Security for more than half of their income. Considering that the average benefit for retired workers is $1,341 per month in 2016, it’s apparent that some people must work as long as they can just to cover basic living expenses.4

Retirement Reality Check
It’s not only workers of little means who are delaying retirement past age 65. Americans with plenty of financial resources are making the same decision. Of course, many baby boomers continue to work because they are highly satisfied with their careers or want to stay active and socially engaged.

But others are anxious about the future and worried that their savings won’t last. Many would-be retirees see an opportunity to strengthen their financial positions before they give up a regular salary and employer-provided health and retirement benefits.5

Health Is Wealth  
Improvements in modern medicine and longer life expectancies are generally welcome developments, but they also increase the odds that retirees could outlive their assets. The life expectancy for a man who turns 65 today is 5.5 years longer than it was for a man who turned 65 in 1970. A woman’s life expectancy increased by three years over the same period.6

The expectation of high future health-care costs is also a major concern of prospective retirees. By one estimate, a typical 65-year-old married couple might spend $259,000 to cover their out-of-pocket health-care costs in retirement.7

Reasons to Work Longer
A major advantage of remaining employed is that you may be able to keep contributing to workplace retirement accounts instead of taking withdrawals. You could also take advantage of catch-up contributions to retirement plans (available to those who are age 50 and older) to help boost your savings and retirement income.

The same thinking could apply to Social Security benefits, which many people may claim as soon as they stop working. Eligibility for the full Social Security retirement benefit ranges from age 66 to 67 (depending on birth year). If you delay claiming Social Security past full retirement age, your benefit would grow by about 8% each year, up to age 70.

In theory, Social Security benefit calculations are actuarially neutral. In other words, if you live an “average” lifespan, you should receive the same lifetime Social Security income regardless of when you begin collecting benefits. However, if you are relatively healthy, you might consider the possibility that you and/or your spouse could live well beyond that “break-even” point. Delaying Social Security benefits is one way to help ensure thousands of dollars in additional income every year for the rest of your life.

Demographic Dilemma
With so many baby boomers nearing retirement age and younger generations choosing to have fewer children, some people have predicted that the aging population could result in declining labor force participation and lower economic growth.8 If so, it follows that the U.S. economy stands to benefit if a larger pool of skilled, educated, and experienced workers remain in the workforce longer than their predecessors.

Recent studies have found that working may reduce age-related declines in cognitive function and improve overall health.9 Yet it wouldn’t be wise for anyone to count on the ability to work indefinitely. About half of retirees left the workforce earlier than expected in 2015, and health problems were a commonly cited reason.10

In a perfect world, the decision to retire would always be a matter of personal choice. Because there is no way to know what the future will bring, a commitment to saving throughout your career may give you more freedom to make that decision on your own terms.”

Happy Investing

Scott C. Weaver

1, 5) Bloomberg.com, May 13, 2016
2) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
3, 8) The New York Times, May 13, 2016
4, 6) Social Security Administration, 2016
7, 10) Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2015–2016
9) usnews.com, May 13, 2016
The information in this article is not intended as tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.  Prepared by Broadridge Advisor Solutions. © 2016 Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc.

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Yes.

By Tony May

 

When Gifford Pinchot was governor back during the Great Depression it made sense to have 500 school districts.  One room school houses were still a common sight, state highways were a new idea, most people outside of the cities share phone service via “party lines” and the closest thing to Twitter were Western Union boys delivering telegrams on bicycles.

 

Today, county-wide school districts would make a lot more sense.  Getting cross-county in your car to make yourself heard at a school board meeting is easier today than riding in the family horse and buggy to a 1930s era board session,  Information technology makes it as easy to handle records for 50,000 students as  for 500. County-wide districts should allow a reduction in bureaucracy and duplication of middle management. It might even save money.

 

But, as long as people are interested in breaking the mold in the name of reform, is 67 from 500 a really good number.  If you are going county-wide, why not multi-county districts?  Allentown,,

Bethlehem and Easton see themselves as one, contiguous economic market.  Scranton and Wilkes-Barre are seen the same way.  Some counties – say Snyder and Union – are so rural and already share municipal services in other ways.  Northumberland and Columbia already share a school district – Southern Columbia – that takes students from both counties.

 

A model exists to reduce the number of districts to 29.  It’s called the state intermediate unit system. In 1970, in an earlier attempt at school reform and streamlining, the Commonwealth did away with a system of county-wide superintendents of schools and created 29 intermediate units based on geographic affinity.  There’s a lot of confusion about what IUs actually do but they are pretty much empowered to provide any services to schools within their boundaries that are authorized by their boards of directors.  The IU boards, in turn, are made up of delegates from each participating local school boards.  Sort of a European Union for education.

 

Why not just do away with local school districts and cede responsibility to the IUs?  Local control is popular even when the locals have forgotten what it is they want to control.  Historically, it revolved around who got the contracts.  Five hundred bus contracts.  Five hundred architectural firms, engineering firms, insurance companies and suppliers.  The list went on and on.

 

The point is that the idea of merger isn’t so radical.  We once had county superintendents overlaid over local school districts and now we have 29 “super districts.”

 

The reality is that if you are going to start a reform process, you ought to think big and you also should be thinking for the long run.  School districts are just a function of governing schools.

What if you thought in terms of governing educational?  What if you thought in terms of the student as the basic  unit of education?  Families are pretty mobile these days anyway.  Even in Pennsylvania, people  move from district to district in a child’s 12

year educational experience.

 

Why not take a page from an educational reform of the 1990s – outcomes based education—and build a customized educational experience for each child?  It’s already occurring more or less across the state as people shift residence and kids pick up more and more knowledge and learning outside the traditional classroom.  We have traditional Publix schools, private and parochial schools, charter schools, cyber charters and for profit :”learning centers”

and tutoring services.  Plus what kids learn today al fresco from the web.

 

Schools are critical for socialization and even for modeling good citizenship.  But maybe, in the future, they won’t be nearly so important for the purposes of classical education.  After all,

even into the mid-1900s, it was relatively common for people to become lawyers by “reading for the law” and clerking for an established lawyer rather than attending formal law school.  The key  to validating their qualifications to practice law was passing the bar exam.

 

So maybe school governance of the future won’t be built around 500 school districts or 67 or 29 but rather 12 million individual education portfolios – one for each Pennsylvanians – where each

formal and informal learning experience is registered.

 

Sixty seven is a good step in the right direction.

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By Rep. Dan Truitt

July 2016 Dan Truitt

On June 30, the PA legislature claimed victory in passing the 2016-17 budget “on-time.” Unfortunately, that’s not what really happened.

Last year, I wrote many times about the fact that a “budget” has two halves – revenues (income) and appropriations (expenditures). Our state constitution requires these to balance. We are simply not permitted to spend more money than we expect to receive under the existing tax laws. If we want to spend more, we must pass bills to raise more revenues, which usually means raising taxes.

On June 1, 2015, the House Majority Leader excoriated the Minority Appropriations Chairman for attempting to force a vote on the spending side of the Governor’s 2015-16 budget proposal without first having a vote on the revenue side of the Governor’s proposal. The motion to consider the spending plan was put on hold and a vote was called for the Governor’s revenue plan. Every member of the House of Representatives – Republican and Democrat – voted against the Governor’s revenue plan. Subsequently, the House returned to consideration of the Governor’s spending plan and the motion was ruled out of order because the plan spent more money than was available and passage would have violated the state constitution.

In my view, this established an excellent precedent that we should always insist that a revenue bill, if required, be passed BEFORE we vote on a spending bill and that was the only reason why I voted against a $30.8 billion spending plan under “second consideration” in December of 2015. To do anything different would have been a violation of my oath of office. The 2015-2016 budget dragged out because no one ever proposed a viable tax plan to raise the revenue required to spend more than $30.3 billion. The nightmare finally ended when all parties finally accepted the fact that there was no support for tax increases and that a $30.3 billion budget was the only constitutional option on the table.

This year, an awful lot of folks seemed to conveniently forget about this part of last year’s budget battle and, last week, we passed a spending bill and sent it to the Governor without a revenue bill. Now, when I say we didn’t have a revenue bill, it’s not like we knew what we were going to put into it, but just hadn’t gotten around to drafting the bill and voting on it. We literally did not know where we were going to get the money to cover the $31.6 billion spending plan. Those of you who know me can probably guess what I did. I voted NO.

For the record, this budget is the first one that I have been forced to oppose on final passage since I arrived in Harrisburg in 2011. Even last year, I supported every spending plan that was considered for final passage because they all represented the best we could get with the available funds and we needed to get the job done for the people of Pennsylvania.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon your perspective, my vote was not needed to pass the spending plan last night. However, one of my junior colleagues asked me what happens if we can’t pass a revenue plan to go with a spending plan that has been signed by the Governor. There is no good answer to this question. I sure hope we don’t find out.

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Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, believes while the iFiscal Code doesn’t directly impact the state’s 170-plus charter schools, tensions between the administration and the school choice movement haven’t subsided.

“Absolutely we are still at war,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is the unstated, but very real attack on charters and school choice in Pennsylvania.”

Fayfich cited nearly a dozen instances since Gov. Tom Wolf assumed office that he says undermine existing charter school policy and leave organizations like PCPCS playing defense — constantly. As of this month, the coalition is party to at least three pending lawsuits involving the state, two of which have hearings scheduled for June.

Former Philadelphia School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green’s announcement that he would file suit against Wolf to get his job back after being ousted in March 2015 joins this growing list of grievances, Fayfich said.

“Gov. Wolf defied the law by removing me from office for purely political purposes,” Green said. “The powerful teachers’ unions that gave $1.6 million to Gov. Wolf’s election campaign oppose charter school expansion. Our students deserve better, and they deserve options. To protect the integrity and independence of the SRC and the office of chair from political manipulation, I am suing the governor.”

Green, who stepped down from Philadelphia City Council in 2014 to join the five-member SRC, is described in legal documents as the local teachers’ union chosen “whipping boy” because of his role in the cancellation of their expired contract with the city’s school district and his public support of charter school expansion. Gov. Wolf removed him from the commission just weeks after he voted to approve applications for five new charter schools — a turn of events Green’s general counsel, David Osborne of the Fairness Center, claims is no coincidence.

“Gov. Wolf exceeded his authority in firing Bill Green,” Osborne said. “The statute clearly says an SRC member may be removed from office only because of wrongdoing and with written justification. Neither was present here. Like the Arneson case, Gov. Wolf acted arbitrarily for partisan reasons. We expect the court to reinstate Bill to his former position as chair of the School Reform Commission.”

Jeff Sheridan, an administration spokesman, said “misguided and poor decisions” in Harrisburg are the root of the School District of Philadelphia’s woes and Green’s removal offered a chance for new leadership.

“Gov. Wolf used his authority, as provided by statute, to appoint the chair of the School Reform Commission and to bring new leadership to the school district, which has been devastated by education cuts,” Sheridan said. “Even now, after the governor has fought for greater investment in education at all levels and started to restore the funding Philadelphia lost, the district is in dire financial straits and our children are at a disadvantage. Due to misguided and poor decisions made by Harrisburg politicians, the district has been forced to lay off educators, cut important programs and slash transportation, security and other vital services. Gov.  Wolf will continue fighting for more funding for education and to provide a new path forward for Philadelphia’s schools.”

Sheridan did not directly address the “war” against charters. He most recently denied that characterization  in January.

Despite the Wolf administration’s denials, Fayfich said the administration only continues its onslaught and, with a 2016-17 budget impasse likely, payment disputes between charters, districts and the state will get worse.

Last fall, as Gov. Wolf and Legislative Republicans negotiated a slew of failed budget deals, cash-strapped districts got creative when it came to paying their charter school tuition bills. Which meant, in some dire cases, not paying anything at all.

Fayfich said the Department of Education’s announcement in January that it would no longer mediate payment disputes between districts and charters for any money owed beyond the current school year means that charters have only one avenue left to collect the payments: through the courts.

“PDE saying they are no longer going to do that leaves tens of millions on the table,” he said. “They are saying they are going to renege on their legally-mandated responsibility to act in this way and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

PDE cited a 2012 Commonwealth Court decision regarding a $7 million underpayment dispute between Chester Upland School District and Chester Community Charter School that found the department should only redirect money from a school district’s state subsidy to a charter school it owes if the payment is due in the current school year.

PDE spokeswoman Nicole Reigelman said the text of the memo sent to charter schools back in January regarding the policy change reads: “In 2012, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court [Chester Community Charter School v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, 44 A. 3d 715, 722] determined that the mandatory withholding requirements of section 1725-A (a)(5) of the Charter School Law apply only to claims on current year funding. The prior administration delayed the implementation of the court’s decision. PDE cannot contravene the law, and therefore will cease the end-of-year reconciliation process. Instead, charter schools may work directly with resident school districts to reconcile each school year’s tuition payments based on the number of days that each student was enrolled in the charter school.”

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By Ann Culp

 

Most patients don’t know about certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) until they need one. Yet, when the time comes, these advanced practice nurses never leave your side. No matter the procedure, from open-heart surgery to pain management to basic outpatient treatments, CRNAs are with you every step of the way in any setting where you need anesthesia care.

CRNAs are the main hands-on provider of anesthesia care, practicing in every setting where anesthesia is administered, including hospital operating and delivery rooms; ambulatory surgical centers; the offices of dentists, podiatrists, ophthalmologists, and plastic surgeons; and pain management centers. More than 49,000 CRNAs safely administer well over 34 million anesthetics nationwide each year.

CRNAs have a well-established tradition of administering anesthesia, and that culture of care continues to this day. CRNAs were the first professional group to provide anesthesia in the United States and are the oldest recognized group of advanced practice registered nurse specialists in the country, with a history that spans back to the Civil War.

Training and education programs are rigorous.

In Pennsylvania, nurse anesthetists must obtain a bachelor’s degree, graduate with a minimum of a master’s degree from a nurse anesthesia accredited program, complete additional hours of clinical work (the average student nurse anesthetist completes almost 2,500 clinical hours) and pass a national exam in order to be able to practice.

CRNAs also must be a Registered Nurse (RN), and they must be recertified every four years. Nurse anesthetists’ recertification includes meeting advanced practice requirements and obtaining a minimum of 40 continuing education credits.

Because of this training and experience, numerous medical studies show there is no statistical difference in patient outcomes when a nurse anesthetist provides treatment. In fact, these studies by nationally recognized health-care policy and research organizations prove that CRNAs provide high-quality care, even for rare and difficult procedures.

As health-care demands continue to grow, increasing the number of CRNAs will be a key to containing costs while maintaining quality care. The Federal Trade Commission recently cautioned states against policies that restrict advanced-practice nurses’ work.

Pennsylvania is a leader in the field. Our commonwealth ranks among the top states for drawing certified registered nurse anesthetist students for education and training — there are 12 nurse anesthetist programs spread out across our state.

The General Assembly currently is considering legislation that would create an official CRNA designation in statute. Defining CRNA in Pennsylvania law not only helps with students and advanced practice nurses here, but it also would carry across borders, helping us maintain our professional leadership in educating and training CRNAs from across the country.

CRNAs are skilled practitioners who increase access to care, reduce cost and ensure quality.

CRNAs also are the primary anesthesia providers in rural America. In fact, more than two-thirds of all rural hospitals rely on CRNAs to provide anesthesia care in these medically underserved areas. Without these advanced practice nurses, some 1,500 facilities would not be unable to maintain trauma stabilization and surgical and obstetrical capabilities, forcing many rural Americans to travel long distances for such services.

In today’s changing health-care environment, patients want health care delivered with personal care, at a lower cost, with a high degree of confidence. CRNAs deliver all of these by staying with their patients throughout the entire procedure; they ensure that the whole of the patient is cared for, physically, mentally and emotionally.

The bottom line is this: CRNAs are highly-skilled advance practice nurses who ensure the highest level of care and pain management to those they serve, using all anesthetic techniques and practicing in every type of setting in which anesthesia is delivered.

Know about nurse anesthetists before you need one. Visit www.PANAforQualityCare.com.

Ann Culp, CRNA, DNP, is president of the Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists (PANA) which represents more than 3,000 CRNAs and students in the Commonwealth.

 

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Two issues face the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with respect to healthcare. Patients who require surgical or interventional procedures must have physician-led anesthesia care. In the first example, Pennsylvania’s citizens at large are directly affected. The second issue specifically affects our veterans who require anesthesia care in Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in the commonwealth.

I’ll start with the surgical issue.

House Bill 1277, sponsored by Rep. Jim Christiana (R- Beaver), has been languishing in the House Professional Licensure Committee. This bill proposes to place into statute what is already in regulation overseen by in the State Board of Medicine. By making this requirement law, rather than more easily modified regulation, the citizens of the commonwealth will be assured that a physician is in charge of anesthesia care for hospitalized patients.

The bill specifies that anesthesia care in a hospital shall be provided by a physician or “a nurse anesthetist authorized by the State Board of Nursing to provide anesthesia care and who is under the supervision of either of the following … an anesthesiologist or … the operating physician …”

HB 1277 enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support. I urge the House Professional Licensure Committee to move this bill out of committee and to the floor of the House.

The citizens of the commonwealth want the best healthcare possible. This bill will assure that each citizen will have a physician anesthesiologist overseeing their care. Some who object to this bill argue that mandatory physician supervision reduces access to anesthesia care in a hospital. The truth is that greater than 97 percent of hospitals in Pennsylvania already have physician anesthesiologists in charge of their care. Access to care is not an issue. Ninety-five percent of Pennsylvanians say it’s important to them that physicians supervise nurses administering anesthesia or responding to emergencies during surgery – that IS an issue.

The education of physician anesthesiologists and certified nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) cannot be considered equal with respect to years of training and experience.

Physician anesthesiologists complete a much longer educational process prior to going into practice. They have, at minimum, a four-year undergraduate degree, four years of medical school, a year of internship and a minimum of three years of anesthesiology residency. Many have subspecialty training in specific areas such as pediatric anesthesiology, intensive care, obstetrical anesthesiology, cardiac anesthesiology or pain medicine.

CRNAs have a four-year undergraduate degree and a combined 27-month master’s degree program that includes their clinical training, as well. Few extend their training to a new Doctorate of Nursing Practice.

There is no doubt that CRNAs play an important role on the patient care team. However, the Pennsylvania Society of Anesthesiologists believes that the citizens of Pennsylvania should get the best and most educated care. All hospitalized patients undergoing anesthesia should have a physician anesthesiologist in charge.

With regard to the VA Hospital issue: The Veteran’s Administration Nursing Handbook is currently undergoing revision. There is pressure from some quarters to have independent (meaning not supervised by a physician) care provided by certified registered nurse practitioners to fill the large gap of patient care needs with respect to primary care.

This proposal unfortunately has crossed into the realm of anesthesia care for veterans. Veterans often have complex medical issues stemming from combat injuries and older age. Their surgical and interventional procedures requiring anesthesia services must have physician-led care.

During a recent hearing on the FY 2017 VA budget held by the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, U.S. Rep. David Jolly (R-Florida) asked VA Secretary Robert McDonald and Under Secretary of Health David Shulkin M.D. about proposals for anesthesia care in the Veteran’s Administration. They answered quite simply, “We believe that the current system is serving veterans adequately and safely.” The implication of that statement is obvious; there is no access to care or safety issue that requires independent certified nurse anesthesia care.

The importance of physician-led anesthesia care within the VA system also was discussed at a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees. Written testimony prepared for the committees by the National Guard Association of the United States and the Association of the United States Navy conveyed the two groups’ concerns about patient safety if the physician-led care was abandoned.

The National Guard Association wrote: “The risks and complications associated with the administration of anesthesia during surgeries should not be reduced when serving an aging and injured veteran population.” The Association of the Navy added: “… our nation’s veterans deserve the highest level of medical attention, and this proposed shortfall in care is unacceptable.” The AMVETS organization also was supportive of physician-led anesthesia care.

What can you do about this issue for our veterans? The answer is quite simple. Go to www.SafeVAcare.org and complete the online form. Call your congressman and U.S. senators. Call your local Veterans Administration Office. Write to every news organization. Let them know that our veterans deserve the highest and most knowledgeable anesthesia care. Insist that physician-led anesthesia care be retained!

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