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Gov. Tom Corbett


By Senator John M. DiSanto


The General Assembly recently took action to maintain Pennsylvania citizens’ access to federal buildings and prevent the burden of needing a passport to fly within the U.S.


Lawmakers came together in a bipartisan fashion and approved compromise legislation to bring the Commonwealth into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. Passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this federal law established increased security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and prohibited federal agencies from accepting licenses and identification cards from states that did not meet these standards.


Concerned that that federal government sought to regulate what was previously under the domain of the states – driver’s licenses – the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in 2012 to prohibit the Commonwealth from participating in REAL ID.


In addition to the issue of states’ rights and the Tenth Amendment, concerns about Pennsylvanians’ privacy rights as part of a nationwide driver license database prompted passage of the REAL ID Nonparticipation Act of 2012.


The National Conference of State Legislators estimated that REAL ID implementation costs nationwide could be as much as $11 billion. It is estimated the initial start-up costs to fully implement REAL ID in Pennsylvania would be $141 million, with $39 million in additional, annual operational costs. The federal government provided PennDOT with just $5.4 million in grants to assist with REAL ID requirements—yet another unfunded mandate from Washington D.C.


In addition, the federal law complicates the process of obtaining and renewing a driver’s license. Pennsylvanians will be required to visit a PennDOT facility upon their first renewal after REAL ID compliance, and to produce a certified, raised-seal birth certificate and proof of social security number and principal residence. Also, REAL ID requires a person to apply in person for the re-issuance of their driver’s license if he or she has a material change in his or her personally identifiable information (not including a change in address).


While these and other concerns were valid, not meeting the federal requirements comes at a cost to citizens. By June 6 of this year, Pennsylvanians would no longer have been able to gain access to secure federal buildings using their driver’s license. And, by January 2018, Pennsylvanians would need a passport to fly on commercial airlines within the U.S. A recent study determined Pennsylvanians would need to spend nearly $1 billion on passports if the state did not comply with REAL ID.


The General Assembly needed to prevent these unacceptable burdens from being placed on our citizens. That meant complying with the federal law while maintaining options for residents.


Pennsylvania had already taken 33 of the required 38 steps to enhance ID security as required by the REAL ID Act, such as using digital photos, issuance and expiration dates and a unique identification number on driver’s licenses.  Remaining mandates to be met include having a specific federally approved symbol that is designed to make tampering and forgery more difficult, and requiring a certified birth certificate to issue a driver’s license.


Meeting the last remaining federal requirements, while protecting Pennsylvania citizens and taxpayers, was the goal of a lengthy legislative process that featured compromise in the Senate and House of Representatives as well as input from PennDOT. The result was Senate Bill 133.


The legislation brings Pennsylvania into compliance with REAL ID, with safeguards for citizens.


Senate Bill 133 allows Pennsylvania residents to choose between getting a REAL ID-compliant identification card or a non-compliant card. Holders of standard-issued driver licenses will not be asked to subsidize or cover the cost to issue REAL IDs. Instead, the cost of compliance will be borne by those opting for the federally approved ID. PennDOT will also be required to report annually to the General Assembly regarding the cost to the state of REAL ID compliance.


Pennsylvania’s approach to REAL ID prohibits state government from compelling any individual to apply for a REAL ID, and it does not allow Pennsylvania to exclusively mandate a REAL ID for any reason. These are important protections to preserve individual choice for our citizens.


Without this legislation, Pennsylvania would have soon become one of only five states to remain noncompliant with REAL ID and without an extension.


Now that Governor Wolf has signed Senate Bill 133 into law, PennDOT will begin what is expected to be an 18 to 24 month process to fully implement REAL ID. Given Pennsylvania’s new law to enact REAL ID, it is expected the Department of Homeland Security will provide further extensions that will allow Pennsylvanians, with their Pennsylvania driver’s license or photo ID card, to continue flying commercially and visiting federal facilities in the interim.


Our Commonwealth should never blindly comply with every regulation handed down by the federal government, especially those that encroach on what is rightfully a state matter, such as driver licensing. By slowing down the process and creating alternatives, Pennsylvania is implementing REAL ID on its terms, not Washington’s.




Senator John DiSanto represents most of Dauphin and all of Perry County. He was first elected in 2016.


By Chris Comisac

Well, folks, Pennsylvania is going to get some more “pension reform.”

I know, the House of Representatives has yet to vote on Senate Bill 1, the latest lacking legislation held up by lawmakers as “reform,” but this is happening.

So what does that mean?

As someone recently said to me, with us “accomplishing pension reform,” we can move on to doing pension reform.

The actuarial note analyzing the legislation indicates there will be no pension system savings, and the risk-shifting within SB1 only matters should the systems incur significant investment shortfalls a couple decades from now. Those shortfalls, should they occur two to three decades from now, will still add more debt to our debt-ridden systems, it just won’t be quite as much added debt – the “historic” savings we’re told SB1 would deliver would come at a significant cost.

It’s pretty clear passing anything with the title “pension reform” has become the goal, not passing something that’s worth passing.

I’m reminded of about two years ago, when I wrote a column in which I argued – with regard to both property taxes and public pensions – doing something isn’t always better than doing nothing.

Carefully reviewing the analysis of this session’s version of “pension reform,” it appears as though lawmakers have found a way to do both: look like they’re doing something while doing nothing.

If this is the “politics of the possible,” we have hit another new low in the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

The comparison between current law and SB1 for both the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) shows little-to-no difference regarding the impacts on employer contribution rates, pension funding ratios and the unfunded accrued liability going forward during the next three decades.

So if accomplishing that is the best we can do, then why vote SB1 in the first place?

We’re told by SB1 proponents it’s because the legislation is “transformative,” that it puts the pension systems on the path to future fiscal health because it reduces pension risk for state taxpayers.

It’s not exactly that, but the analysis of SB1 by actuarial firm Milliman notes a future shift in risk (although at least 30 percent of the state government workforce is exempted from this risk shift): “Over time, the bill also reduces future risk exposure because it transfers a portion of retirement benefits to a DC [defined contribution] plan in which the member assumes investment and longevity risks. The provisions of the bill apply only to new members, and the full reduction in risk exposure will be phased-in over several decades as new employees are hired, become vested and ultimately retire.”

But SB1 still maintains a defined benefit plan that is subject to the political and financial winds that blew up PSERS’ and SERS’ unfunded liability to a combined $76 billion. So while exposing state taxpayers to slightly less risk, there’s still plenty of risk for which current and future Pennsylvanians will be financially responsible (not to mention the $76 billion, and growing, debt already on the books).

It’s true that state taxpayers would continue to be exposed to risk even if the current defined benefit plans were closed, and even if they were fully funded today (they’re obviously not).

Because of the way defined benefit plans work (even after they’re closed), underfunding can occur if the systems’ investment returns come up short, the systems fail to meet the other assumptions built into the costs of the defined benefit plans or lawmakers decide they don’t wish to pay the contributions they need to pay. We’ve seen all three happen in Pennsylvania annually during the better part of the last two decades.

None of that occurs with a defined contribution plan.

So if the risk of a DB plan falling short is the top concern as we’re told by SB1 proponents, why choose a less-than-half-measure like Senate Bill 1 that continues the DB plan, albeit a slightly smaller DB plan?

If the upfront costs of SB1 – and there are greater costs associated with the bill’s changes (including the yet-to-be-discussed roughly $50 million cost to the pension systems to implement the incredibly complex three-tiered benefit plan proposal) – are worth the potential of only partial risk shifting in 20 to 30 years, then why not do the whole enchilada?

Pull the Band-Aid off in one quick rip, instead of what amounts to a slow, painful, centimeter-by-centimeter removal – with all of that pain borne and endured by Pennsylvania taxpayers – that doesn’t end up removing the Band-Aid; in Michigan (where their pension problems are smaller than ours), that state’s failed hybrid pension plan was recently referred to as “a Band-Aid on a bullet wound” by one of that state’s lawmakers.

Just put every new employee – no exemptions – into a standalone DC plan.

I know, I know – “We can’t get the votes for that” is the refrain from some legislative leaders who, if given their druthers, would drop SB1 in a second for something that accomplishes a real change, even if that change also comes two to three decades down the road.

In addition to making needed funding reforms – such as shorter amortization periods for both DB plans, as recommended by the actuary that produced the SB1 analysis – to reduce the risk of an underfunded DB plan, a standalone DC plan for everyone would eventually simplify the retirement systems as well as completely eliminate the risk borne by taxpayers, once the only active plan for SERS and PSERS is the DC plan (which would take several decades to occur).

That would be good public policy.

Obviously it’s important to get the votes to send legislation to a governor that’s willing to sign it, but when did that become the definition of good public policy?

If you’re willing to make no impact on employer contributions or the unfunded liability during the next two decades anyway – which describes SB1 – then why not keep pushing a few more years for legislation that puts SB1 to shame on risk transfer?

Sometimes you have to try – and, yes, fail once in a while – to accomplish your goals. Legislative Republicans would do well to remember the Fiscal Year 2015-16 state budget, if they’ve forgotten that lesson, or maybe Act 120 of 2010, the last “pension reform” which was supposed to fix the things lawmakers are once again trying to fix (and the current “fix” doesn’t look much different, actuarially speaking, than Act 120).

There’s been a lot of failure to accomplish the goal of pension reform the last several years – as evidenced by the continued growth of the pension systems’ unfunded liability – but most of those failures involved bills that were better (some only marginally so) than SB1.

Adopting SB1 would simply be another failure a future General Assembly will have to address.

Chris Comisac is Capitolwire Bureau Chief.



The power of the state attorney general to tackle public corruption would be greatly expanded under a legislative proposal stemming from a state investigation into the large public debt racked up through financing deals at Harrisburg’s trash incinerator.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers plan to introduce a bill giving the attorney general authority to investigate and prosecute county, city, and municipal officials and employees for public corruption. Under current law, the attorney general can only prosecute public corruption cases of state officials and employees under certain circumstances. This occurs when county district attorneys refer a case because they have a conflict of interest or lack adequate resources to pursue it.

A state grand jury issued a report last month wrapping up a state investigation of incinerator deals that led up to $300 million in debt during the tenure of former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed. The investigation was launched followed a referral from Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico.

The grand jury recommended no criminal charges in the incinerator case citing a statute of limitations that expired in 2015. However, the grand jury made recommendations to change state laws to help protect municipal taxpayers from excessive debt in the future. These include expanding the attorney general’s prosecuting power to include local officials and extending the statute of limitations to cover wrongdoing discovered after an official leaves office.

The referral system often causes “undesirable delay” in pursuing criminal charges, the grand jury said.

The grand jury report gave momentum to senators who have pushed to enact stronger municipal debt laws since 2013 in response to the incinerator controversy. They have now gained allies in the House who plan to introduce companion bills.

Under the powers bill, the attorney general could prosecute local officials when state laws are violated, said Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna, the sponsor. Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction to prosecute local officials for violations of federal laws in such areas as mail fraud and bribery and extortion.

The legislation to expand the attorney general’s power comes after the elective office weathered a series of controversies leading to the conviction of former Attorney General Kathleen Kane for leaking grand jury information to a reporter and lying about it to another grand jury and her resignation from office last summer.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said this week he strongly supports having the additional prosecuting authority. He also noted he’s seeking a $500,000 increase to strengthen the office’s Public Corruption Unit in the fiscal 2017-18 state budget.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, said he would take a close look at what he described as giving the attorney general “super power” to investigate local officials.

The attorney general’s office would need a larger budget if that power was granted, said Harrisburg attorney Water Cohen, a one-time acting attorney general.

“The question here is whether the General Assembly, if it expands the jurisdiction of the OAG, will give the office the necessary resources to actually conduct such additional investigations and prosecutions, which can be very complicated and time-consuming,” wrote Cohen.

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association will probably take a position on the legislation.



gov. corbett and healthy planGov. Tom Corbett has made an historic announcement that the state has secured agreement with the federal government to implement the portion of his Healthy Pennsylvania plan that will improve and bring financial stability to the state’s Medicaid program so that the state can increase access to quality, affordable health care through the private insurance market.

“From the beginning, I said we needed a plan that was created in Pennsylvania for Pennsylvania − a plan that would allow us to reform a financially unsustainable Medicaid program and increase access to health care for eligible individuals through the private market,” Corbett said Aug. 28.

There are believed to be approximately 600,000 individuals who will be newly eligible for the private option plan, 65 percent of which, said state officials, are the “working poor” – people with employment but no health insurance.

In order to make the necessary changes to the state’s health care system, the Corbett Administration requested over the past year a waiver and associated state plan amendments from the federal government, which were then modified based on a comprehensive public comment process across the state. Public input included seven public hearings and two webinars statewide with more than 1,000 attendees and 170 live testimonies. The waiver was officially submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Feb. 19.

“Health care is not a one-size-fits-all issue; the governor’s Healthy Pennsylvania plan meets the needs of Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) Secretary Beverly Mackereth said.

“Governor Corbett is the first governor to tackle much-needed Medicaid reforms since the program’s creation, with the goal of protecting Pennsylvania taxpayers and looking ahead to maintain a safety net for those who most need public assistance.”

The Healthy Pennsylvania agreement includes two parts: reforming the current Medicaid program and offering the Healthy PA Private Coverage Option (PCO) for eligible Pennsylvanians.

The Healthy Pennsylvania plan focuses on personal responsibility and healthy behaviors; aligning benefits to match health care needs; promoting financial independence through access to job training and employment resources; and increasing access to private, commercial coverage for eligible Pennsylvanians.

Medicaid costs account for 29 percent of the state’s general fund budget and have been growing at an average rate of 3 percent – more than $400 million – each year. Governor Corbett has been clear that he would not expand Medicaid because it is an unsustainable entitlement program. Instead, the Corbett Administration sought common-sense reforms to the Medicaid program.

As part of the approved waiver, the Healthy Pennsylvania PCO will be created to increase access to health care through the private, commercial market for those eligible. This will help to reduce bureaucracy by relying on commercial insurance carriers and offer more provider options to recipients.

Currently, nine insurers have applied as providers of the Healthy Pennsylvania PCO, offering a minimum of two insurer options in each region of the state. Enrollment is expected to begin Dec. 1.
The health care provider community welcomed the agreement.

“Since the very first mention of health care reform, the Pennsylvania Medical Society has supported efforts to expand access to affordable, quality health insurance,” said Bruce A. MacLeod, MD, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, in a statement. “While many have debated the method to expand healthcare at both the federal and state levels, the Pennsylvania Medical Society has focused on the end-result – getting more Pennsylvanians access to health insurance.

“Having health insurance is one thing. Accessing health care is another,” said MacLeod.

“The Pennsylvania Medical Society looks forward to working with Governor Corbett and his administration on the implementation of the Healthy PA waiver and other efforts to expand access to affordable, quality health care across the state,” MacLeod said.

The reaction by those who have advocated the state simply expand its current Medicaid program, without any of the changes sought by the Corbett administration.

Acknowledging the agreement will begin to address some of the uninsured population in Pennsylvania, Antoinette Kraus, director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network said in a statement: “While we applaud CMS for removing the most harmful aspects of Healthy PA, we still believe Medicaid Expansion would have been the best choice for Pennsylvania.

“… serious concerns remain about the affordability of premiums and new bureaucratic hurdles under Healthy PA, and the drastic cuts Pennsylvania is seeking to make in our existing Medicaid program. If approved, these cuts will jeopardize the health of people with disabilities, pregnant women and seniors.

“Unlike all of our neighboring states, which used new funding in the Affordable Care Act to cover low-income individuals and families right away, Pennsylvania took a detour to pursue the complex and controversial Healthy PA waiver.”

Healthy PA PCO and Medicaid Reform Innovations

Both components of the plan include these four innovations:
• Alignment with Private, Commercial Health Care Benefits
The current Medicaid program will change from 14 benefit plans into “low risk” and “high risk” benefit packages that include essential health benefits and meet standards for mental health and drug and alcohol coverage uniformity. This change will better tailor health care benefits to the needs of the different populations served in the program.
• Encouraging Employment
The Encouraging Employment program will assist low-income, able bodied Pennsylvanians to improve overall health and well-being and move out of poverty. Pennsylvania is the first state to advance an incentivized employment program to reduce health care cost sharing.
• Cost Sharing

To encourage personal responsibility, individuals enrolled in the Healthy PA PCO and Medicaid program will participate in cost sharing:

o Year One: Eligible individuals will pay the same Medicaid copayments that exist today.
o Year Two: Eligible individuals with incomes greater than 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), unless otherwise exempt, will be required to pay 2 percent of their income toward a monthly premium. Current copayments will be eliminated. An $8 copayment for non-emergency use of the emergency room will be introduced. Individuals who do not pay premiums for more than 90 days will be disenrolled, with limited exemptions from premiums for individuals meeting certain criteria.
• Cost-Sharing Reductions
Individuals in the Healthy PA PCO and Medicaid program will have the opportunity to reduce their cost-sharing obligations by engaging in certain healthy behaviors.
Medicaid participants and Healthy PA PCO enrollees will be able to reduce their health care cost-sharing obligations through job training and work-related activities, with each participant receiving assistance to do so from a Healthy PA Career Coach.

Paying cost-sharing amounts in a timely fashion and having an annual wellness visit in the first year of the program will allow for cost-sharing reductions in the second year. In future years, completion of approved healthy behaviors will continue the cost-sharing reduction and will be reassessed every 6 months.

“The Healthy Pennsylvania plan supports independence for all Pennsylvanians, utilizes the private health care market, and increases health care choices for consumers – all without expanding an entitlement program,” Corbett said. “This is truly a Pennsylvania solution.”

The Healthy Pennsylvania Private Coverage Option is contingent upon continued funding from the federal government.

Gov. Tom Corbett announces Healthy Pennsylvania Program



CapWatch_Feb13_e2Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council which organizes the Pittsburgh Labor Day Parade has barred Gov. Tom Corbett from marching, overruling an invitation from the Laborers District Council of Western Pennsylvania, which endorsed the Republican governor. Corbett’s Democratic opponent Tom Wolf has been invited and will march.

“I believe that I am a friend of labor. Obviously, Mr. Shea doesn’t feel that way,” Corbett said Aug. 25 at the groundbreaking of a Consol Energy well pad on Pittsburgh International Airport property. Corbett said he will speak to members of the Laborers during a private event after the parade.

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Shea said, “He’s against us 364 days a year and then one day of the year he wants to march with us? It doesn’t make sense.”

In dismissing Corbett this year, Shea has mentioned the governor’s support for privatizing state-run wine and spirit stores, which employ about 3,500 union clerks. Corbett said his support of privatized liquor stores is not anti-union but pro-consumer Corbett said to the Tribune-Review.

“What he is worried about is the public-sector unions more than the trades and the private-sector unions,” Corbett said of Shea to the Tribune-Review.

Marty Marks, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said it is tradition for the labor council to invite only politicians it has endorsed. Republican Congressman Tim Murphy of has marched in the parade with the labor council’s endorsement.

“Most people that have an anti-labor record to the extent that Tom Corbett does won’t be so presumptuous to assume that they would be invited,” Marks told the paper.


    ghost in parking lot 4The state Department of Education has released eight months of records that they say show when Ronald Tomalis, the governor’s former higher education adviser and  Education Secretary, entered and exited a state parking garage, a move that’s part of an effort to quash criticism that he was a no-show employee making $139,000 a year.

    According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, records from 2014 show Tomalis’ vehicle entering and exiting the garage 133 days during the eight-month period. Records for 2013 were not available from the Harrisburg Parking Authority, which oversees a garage some state employees use, said Tim Eller, a department spokesman.

    The release comes after Senate Education Chairman Mike Folmer said acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq showed him records that convinced him that Tomalis was not a “ghost employee.”

    Campaign for a Fresh Start Spokesman Mike Mikus described the meeting as “top secret,” adding that the meeting “raises more questions than it answers.”

    Folmer also told the Tribune-Review that he was shown approximately 700 of Tomalis’s emails.

    Mikus added if true, this means that the Corbett Administration is blatantly violating Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know laws, as they released only a meager five emails by Tomalis over a 15-month span to the paper in July after the paper filed Right-to-Know requests.

    “The stench of scandal within Tom Corbett’s Department of Education just got worse,” Mikus said. “Instead of holding secret meetings, Tom Corbett and his Education Department need to come clean and release the electronic records they showed Folmer. They need to explain why they share information with political allies and not the taxpayers. Why are they keeping public records from the public? If Ron Tomalis actually worked, where is the proof? Why, after three weeks, are there more questions than answers surrounding Ron Tomalis’s employment?” Mikus said before the records were relesed.
    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in July that there was little proof that Tomalis performed any work. Their report revealed that Tomalis made on average less than one phone call per day and had sent just five emails over more than a year and went weeks without scheduled meetings.

    Katie McGinty, Fresh Start chair added that in 160 workdays, Ron Tomalis did not show up to the office 34 times and rarely was in the office for a full day.

    “It is time for Tom Corbett to clean house in the Department of Education,” McGinty said.

    “The people of Pennsylvania deserve a transparent government that they can trust. Gov. Corbett’s Administration offers them nothing more than secret meetings and cover ups,” Mikus said. “It is far past time for Tom Corbett to stop the stonewalling. It’s been three weeks since the Tomalis scandal broke.

    “It doesn’t prove any work was done. It proves his car was parked. He’s still special adviser to the governor, and he never met with the governor.”

    Corbett’s calendar from May 2013 through mid-July of this year showed no Tomalis meeting entries.
    The Corbett campaign fired back. “Instead of trying to manufacture scandals to smear Gov. Tom Corbett, perhaps millionaire Tom Wolf should start manufacturing some details on his pathetically lacking campaign platform that demonstrates that he is in no way qualified to run a state with 12.7 million people,” said Chris Pack, communications director for Corbett’s campaign.

    Folmer, R-Lebanon County, said he resented insinuations by Fresh Start that he was part of a cover-up attempting to help Corbett, who oversees the Department of Education.

    “I’m not the bad guy in this,” Folmer said. “I told them (agency officials) to share everything they shared with me.”



    By Chris Comisac

    June 2014 Gov. Corbett May 2014 Tom WolfYou know, it seems like every newspaper and media outlet these days has some sort of fact-check, ad-watch, or other review of the campaign ads released by political candidates.

    And the reason? Because political campaigns have become less and less interested in the facts, or at least how they use factual data.

    Two recent gubernatorial campaign ads, one from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign, the other from Democrat Tom Wolf’s camp, are prime illustrations, although they aren’t the only examples.

    You knew that at some point Wolf’s millionaire status would be the focal point of a Corbett campaign ad, and it happened within the last week or so, in the context of Wolf’s still-congealing income tax plan.

    Wolf’s tax plan is far from settled, but it’s clear that most who file returns with taxable incomes greater than $75,000 have cause to worry their state income taxes could (assuming Wolf is elected and he can get what’s still likely to be a Republican-controlled Legislature, and maybe the state Supreme Court, to go along with the his idea) be going up – in some cases, for those in the higher taxable income brackets, exponentially – with significant questions unanswered about the impact of those tax hikes on small business owners.

    The Corbett camp has started running a “Wolf wants to raise your tax rates when his rate is already far below yours”-type ad, calling Wolf a “hypocrite,” and claiming he paid an effective federal tax rate of 8 percent when average Pennsylvanians paid 18.1 percent.

    Sounds pretty harsh, but they are using Wolf’s own tax returns and numbers from a Congressional Budget Office report (the most recent available from the federal government) … just, at least by my estimation, not the right ones, and not in the right way.

    As some of my other Capitol newsroom colleagues are also likely pointing out, if you take a closer look at the CBO report, the Corbett campaign appears to be stretching when making the assertions they made about Wolf’s tax rate.

    The 18.1-percent tax rate cited in the Corbett ad represents the CBO’s measurement of the major types of federal taxation (federal income taxes, social insurance taxes, corporate income taxes and excise taxes) paid in 2010 by the average American household, not just the federal income tax rate paid. But the Corbett campaign’s claim that Wolf paid only an 8-percent rate isn’t entirely based on the information the CBO report collected to develop its tax rate data.

    “Wolf’s taxes paid include more than just his personal income tax,” wrote Corbett campaign spokesman Bill Pitman in an email explaining the ad’s 8-percent tax rate claim. “Though Wolf has refused to publicly release his returns, we understand from speaking to members of the press that have seen them that he reported paying self-employment tax (which falls under social insurance), capital gains, and other taxes, as his returns are fairly complex because of the nature of his income.”

    “We further added in the payroll taxes he would have been required to pay on his wages (Medicaid and Social Security taxes),” explained Pitman. “Adding these figures in brought his 2010 tax rate to 8 percent.”

    Pitman also said they used the CBO report because it was, in their opinion, a better study than those which only included income taxes “because of his [Wolf’s] payment of taxes such as the self-employment tax, which is not included in the income tax calculation.”

    Whether that’s the case or not, the CBO does include other taxes paid – ones not considered by the Corbett campaign – when it calculated the 18.1-percent federal tax rate for the average American household, like corporate taxes and excise taxes. So, despite the attempt at an “apples to apples comparison” by the Corbett campaign, the 8-percent Wolf figure isn’t calculated the same way as the 18.1-percent CBO figure.
    And the CBO clearly defines how it determined the income tax rate data: “… by dividing federal tax liabilities by before-tax income,” or, in the case of the federal income tax rate, the household’s before-tax reported income divided by the total amount of income tax paid by the household.

    Applying that calculation to the 2010 federal personal income tax return information supplied by Wolf, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate had a federal income tax rate of 7.3 percent in 2010 (he paid $107,824 in federal income taxes on a reported total income of $1,468,996). The CBO report illustrates the federal income tax rate paid by an average American household in 2010 was 7.7 percent.

    While it’s not 18.1 percent compared to 8 percent – which makes for a very stark graphical contrast in a television ad – he still paid a rate below that of the average American household. And to drive that point home further, the average American household reported a taxable income of $92,000, not the nearly $1.5 million Wolf reported in 2010. Plus, that $92,000 household income for the average taxpayer puts that household well above the line of what Wolf’s still-sketchy state income tax plan considers “wealthy.” The Corbett camp also could have mentioned that Wolf paid far less in federal income taxes than his peers in the top 1 percent of income earners identified in the CBO report: the average 1-percenter paid a federal income tax rate of 20.1 percent in 2010.

    So I asked the Corbett campaign why they didn’t just use those numbers, instead of coming up with a far-less-reliable calculation that isn’t an “apples to apples” comparison to the 18.1-percent figure.

    Responded Pitman: “We’re comfortable with our figures. What’s uncomfortable is that Tom Wolf is running on a ‘Higher Taxes Now’ platform. He is a multi-millionaire who is advocating for higher taxes and burdens on small businesses and middle class families, while paying a much lower tax rate than the average taxpayer.”

    And the ad could have stated just that, and simply used the income tax figures without going overboard with that more-than-questionable 18.1-percent comparison … a comparison which drew a fairly quick response from the Wolf campaign.

    But a response – a campaign ad featuring Wolf himself speaking to the camera – that failed to address the income tax, state or federal, issue brought up by the Corbett campaign.

    Instead Wolf continued to characterize Corbett as a cutter of education funding – which most media outlets, including Capitolwire, have shown to be, at the very least, more “in the eye of the beholder” than a fact – forcing local property taxes higher (although Wolf fails to mention public pensions as a major contributing factor of those higher taxes).

    He also took Corbett to task for not imposing a severance tax on shale, although the existing impact fee is, in fact, a severance tax (the Corbett administration has shied away from applying the “tax” title to anything, even when it is a tax). It’s just not a tax that generates revenue in the amount Wolf would prefer, which is certainly fair game for criticism. However, the Wolf campaign has played coy about how much revenue they want to generate from such a tax.

    But the attack in the ad that just seemed to test the bounds of credulity was Wolf’s shot at Corbett for raising gas taxes by 28 cents.

    First, gas prices have not gone up 28 cents since the adoption of the gas tax (Act 89 of 2013); second, Act 89 did eliminate the 12-cent retail gas tax; and, finally, there’s no guarantee lifting the cap on the tax on wholesale gas prices will ever result in such an increase.

    The 28-cent gas-price-hike estimate is based upon the wholesale price of gas in 2018. Do you know what the wholesale price of gas will be four years from now?

    Maybe the tax increase ends up higher, maybe it ends up lower, and maybe no one notices in this era of gas costing more than $3 a gallon, with the price fluctuating by 10 to 15 cents during the course of a week or two. If you were wondering, the website GasBuddy.com indicates Pennsylvania’s average regular gas price is currently a few cents higher than the national average, just like it was a year ago – however today’s gas price is lower than last year’s price.

    But in addition to that obvious flaw in Wolf’s critique, Wolf is condemning Corbett for something Wolf, himself, has praised (and I’ll let the Corbett campaign explain in their own words, dated Aug. 12): “Wolf must be referring to the bipartisan transportation bill that Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law last fall and that eliminated the retail gas tax at the pump. Just yesterday, Wolf praised Gov. Tom Corbett’s work on the bipartisan transportation bill. In fact, even Wolf’s running mate, Mike Stack, supported the legislation.”

    Sure Corbett promised not to raise taxes, and there’s a likelihood that Act 89 could produce higher taxes on gas, so Corbett opened himself up for some criticism regarding the promise.

    But Wolf praised the work done by the governor and the Legislature regarding the gas tax – which will eventually generate about $2.4 billion annually to maintain the state’s roads and bridges – so criticizing the effort itself (and using a soft estimate of the potential tax hike) does seem, as the Corbett campaign has argued, a bit hypocritical.

    I asked the Wolf campaign about the ad, and specifically about the apparent disconnect between what Wolf said on one day and then what he says in his ad about the gas tax, as well as clarification of what the Wolf campaign considers to be a “reasonable” severance tax (meaning a ballpark idea of how much they hope to generate in revenue).

    Wolf spokesman Mark Nicastre offered the following response: “Tom Corbett is a hypocrite who continues to launch false attacks and lie about Tom Wolf. Tom Corbett raised taxes on the middle class – his failed policies have forced school districts across the state to increase property taxes and he raised the gas tax through the roof.

    “To make matters worse, Tom Corbett let his donors off the hook by refusing to support a reasonable severance tax on the oil and gas industry. Tom Wolf knows that for Pennsylvania to be a leader today and in the future, we need to expand our thinking beyond fixing the roads and bridges and start focusing on building a 21st century infrastructure.

    “The ad was not about the transportation bill. The ad is about Tom Corbett’s hypocrisy.

    Tom Corbett told Pennsylvanians that he would not increase taxes, but he did. He is also lying when he attacks Tom Wolf on the issue of taxes.”

    So, to summarize, the Wolf campaign just did a “I know you are but what am I” response to the Corbett campaign ad, when the Corbett ad could have been blunted by simply pointing out the errors of the ad (calling someone a “hypocrite” and accusing them of lying isn’t identifying errors); that Wolf during the last two years, paid federal income tax rates in excess of the CBO-estimated rates average taxpaying households paid; and, at least in 2013, Wolf paid basically the same rate that other 1 percenters paid (according to CBO estimates).

    And my attempts to better understand the apparent disconnect between what Wolf told one group of people and what he said in his own television ad about the gas tax yielded no enlightenment. A subsequent request for an answer to my actual questions received no reply from the Wolf campaign.

    Apparently, as long as lies are being spread by the Corbett campaign – according to the Wolf campaign – it’s more than fair for the Wolf campaign to be inconsistent, opaque and equally loose with the facts. Sounds like a different kind of politician … not really.

    So with these two recent ads (and other past exaggerative ads from both campaigns) as evidence, it looks like we’ve got plenty more fact-checking in our future, unless the two campaigns decide to stop operating as they have.

    With less than three months to go before the Nov. 4 General Election, I’m not holding my breath.

    Chris Comisac is Bureau Chief at Capitolwire.



    transportation funding (2)Governor Tom Corbett announced Aug. 14 that the State Transportation Commission, building on the Act 89 transportation plan, has updated Pennsylvania’s 12-Year Transportation Program with a sizeable boost in much needed transportation improvements. The new plan anticipates $63.2 billion being available over the next 12 years for improvements to roads, bridges, transit systems, airports and railroads. That compares with $41.6 billion in the last update two years ago.

    “Today’s action represents a significant step forward to addressing all transportation modes,” Gov. Corbett said. “Act 89 provides a solution to a decades old problem and the Legislature and I showed that unlike Washington, we are able to put partisan politics aside and do what’s right for Pennsylvania.”

    Championed by Corbett, Act 89 will add $2.3 billion a year in transportation investment by 2017.

    “Thanks to Governor Corbett and the Legislature, the people of Pennsylvania will see smoother roads, fewer bridges in poor condition, reliable transit services and added resources for aviation, rail freight, bicyclists and pedestrians,” said PennDOT Secretary and Commission Chairman Barry J. Schoch. “The details of those improvements are outlined in the update the State Transportation Commission adopted today.”

    The newly adopted program, which takes effect Oct. 1, anticipates $12.3 billion being available for highway and bridge projects in the first four years. Public transit is in line for $7.9 billion; aviation, $370 million; the state’s rail-freight systems are expected to receive $228 million; and the newly created multimodal fund will receive $284 million in the first four years.

    Four Rural Planning Organizations, 19 Metropolitan Planning Organizations and one Independent County partnered with PennDOT in the review and development of the update. It will now be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration for review and approval. The Federal Highway Administration coordinates with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review the plan’s conformity with air quality requirements.

    Highway funds listed in the 12-Year Program are distributed statewide using a formula that weighs population, lane miles and vehicle miles traveled. Bridge funds are distributed based on the condition of each region’s structures.

    The commission consists of 10 appointed citizens and the majority and minority chairpersons of the state House and Senate Transportation committees.

    State law requires the commission to review and update the 12-Year Program every two years. No capital project can move forward unless it is included in the 12-Year Program.

    Some of the key projects funded by Act 89 and included in the updated 12-Year Program are:

    • Continuation of the four-lane US 322 from the top of Seven Mountains to west of Potters Mills in Centre County.
    • Construction of the long-awaited expansion of the Conchester (U.S. 322) Highway between Route 1 and Interstate 95 in Delaware County.
    • The initial steps to lay the groundwork for the Interstate 83 master plan expansion through Harrisburg.
    • The initial steps leading to the widening of U.S. 22 in the Lehigh Valley.
    • Start of design work for the 13-mile long Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway in Snyder, Union and Northumberland counties.

    “These improvements will dramatically improve mobility for people across the state and are moving ahead because of our leadership and ability to build a consensus on matters that are critical to the state’s future,” Gov. Corbett said.

    Information about the 12-Year Program Update is available at this link: http://www.talkpatransportation.com/



    the hot seat 2Down in the polls and with three major scandals engulfing his administration, Governor Tom Corbett has now come up with a bizarre new excuse for holding regular campaign meetings in his state office. Corbett now says that his Campaign Manager Mike Barley – who has weekly meetings with Corbett in his official office – is no different than civic leaders who meet with Corbett to discuss legislation.

    “Last week’s excuse for why Tom Corbett is violating state ethics laws by holding campaign meetings in his state office fell flat, so now he’s come up with a new bizarre statement that doesn’t pass the smell test,” Campaign for a Fresh Start Spokesman Mike Mikus said. Fresh Start PA, a political action coalition that supports the candidacy of Democrat Tom Wolf for governor

    “Tom Corbett put people in jail for using state resources, so he should know that what he is doing is wrong. Instead of comparing his campaign advisers to civic leaders, Tom Corbett should be apologizing for hypocritically breaking the law,” said Mikus.

    In recent weeks, the Corbett Administration has been engulfed by three major scandals. In addition to reports that Corbett is illegally holding campaign meetings in his state office, his former Education Secretary Ron Tomalis has been accused of doing no work in return for his $140,000 taxpayer-funded salary, and acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq admitted that the Department of Education illegally deletes emails on a regular basis.

    Officials of Fresh Start PA have called for various state agencies to investigate whether Tomalis was a “ghost employee” who did little or no work for his $139,542 salary and to examine the email retention practices of the education department.

    Fresh Start chairwoman Katie McGinty continued to push Republican Gov. Tom Corbett for those investigations and for the firing of acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq over public statements she made claiming education department employees delete and cleanse their emails each day.

    In response, Jay Pagni, a spokesman for Gov. Corbett, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the governor “has full confidence in acting secretary Dumaresq.”
    If it’s within their jurisdiction, agencies have a right to follow up on such calls for inquiry.

    A spokeswoman for Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his office is in the midst of a special performance audit of the department of education — an audit that was started in January after complaints from school districts about the department’s performance.

    “Over the past year and up until January, the school audits revealed a lot of things that we found that the department of education wasn’t doing or wasn’t doing properly — things involving charter school reimbursements and just not providing enough assistance to school districts as they should,” spokeswoman Susan Woods told the Post-Gazette.

    Meanwhile, Dumaresq continues to reject the notion that there is a cover-up.




    amish mafiaGovernor Corbett and other  politicians put out a statement calling for the show to end.

    In part, the statement reads: “We call for an end to production and broadcast of the Amish Mafia series and respectfully ask the Discovery Channel and its sponsors to drop support for the bigoted series and other Amish themed knockoff productions. ”

    Here is the statement that several Pennsylvania officials issued this week:

    Statement of Position from:

    • Gov. Tom Corbett and Lt. Gov. James Cawley
    • U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan and Joe Pitts
    • State Sens. Mike Brubaker and Lloyd Smucker
    • State House Reps. Ryan Aument, Bryan Cutler, Gordon Denlinger, Mindy Fee, Keith Greiner, Dave Hickernell, Steve Mentzer and Mike Sturla
    • County Commissioners Scott Martin, Craig Lehman and Dennis Stuckey
    • Lancaster City Mayor Rick Gray

    Many Lancaster County residents are concerned about the negative, inaccurate and potentially damaging portrayal of Amish religion and culture in the Discovery Channel’s “Amish Mafia” TV series. These shows vilify the Amish religious way of life, suggesting that a peaceful people devoted to non-violence are vengeful, violent and criminal.

    At their core, these shows engage in religious bigotry. “Amish Mafia” is no more acceptable than “Jewish Mafia,” “Catholic Mafia or “Evangelical Mafia.” The show is an affront to all people of faith and all secular people with moral principles.

    By misrepresenting the Amish as a crime-ridden culture, the show gives, by association, the same impression of Lancaster County. It changes the image of the county from one of pastoral beauty, where people are devoted to faith, family and friends, to one of banal ugliness. It cast the Amish people of Lancaster County as motivated by greed, selfishness and violence rather than a people who believe in hard work, self-reliance and kindness to neighbors.

    Each of us has a responsibility to consider how we would feel if these shows attacked us as they are attacking the Amish. All religions observe some form of the Golden Rule – that we treat others as we would want to be treated. To stand by silently while these shows mistreat the Amish in our community would make us complicit in breaking that rule.

    As representatives and leaders of citizens of Lancaster County, we have a responsibility to voice their – and our – opposition to this bigoted portrayal of the Amish community in Lancaster County.

    We call for an end to production and broadcast of the “Amish Mafia” series and respectfully ask the Discovery Channel and its sponsors to drop support for the bigoted series and other Amish-themed knockoff productions.