"What's black and white and read all over?"

Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Posted 9:59 AM by

Good, bad and ugly of Pa. primary '06

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader David 'Chip' Brightbill (left) and Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Jubelirer became the first Pennsylvania legislative leaders ousted since 1964.THE GOOD: Obviously, the election day losses of Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Jubelirer and Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill were good things.

Their ouster marked the first time since 1964 a state legislative leader has been thrown out by voters. It sent the clear message Tuesday that business as usual in Harrisburg will not be tolerated.

No more last-minute-before-adjournment pay raises, or anything else for that matter.

No more hiding important bills in other legislation and forcing them to a floor vote without debate late at night.

No more ignoring the state Constitution to get what legislative leaders want.

No more backroom deals with Supreme Court justices to trade high court approval for something the men in black want.

No more.

Of course, that's after Jubelirer and Brightbill vacate the Capitol in January. Until then, everybody better keep a sharp eye on those two, who could do some real damage on their way out the door.

And speaking of keeping a watchful eye, Philadelphians did almost the unthinkable by giving the city's Ethics Board, its banished-to-the-backyard watchdog, some actual teeth.

By a 4-1 margin, city voters agreed to amend the City Charter to make the board financially independent, to give authority to launch investigations, convene hearings, and issue steep fines to any elected official in Philly.

That's not saying the board might not eventually be corrupted, or at the very least, coopted by politics. It just may take a while.

THE BAD: While Republican voters in Pennsylvania largely held up their end of reform, Democrats mostly turned a blind eye Tuesday to the shennanigans of their party's legislative leaders.

Why did Democratic Party voters fail to unseat House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese (left) and Minority Whip Mike Veon?How else can you explain favorable results for House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese and Minority Whip Mike Veon, albeit by far slimmer margins against relatively unknown challengers than either veteran lawmaker is used to?

Both DeWeese and Veon were heavily involved in designing the pay raise, both voted for it, took the raise early in "unvouchered expenses" and each fought and voted against the repeal.

DeWeese later chickened out on the second vote, leaving Veon hanging in the wind.

Veon, who champions gambling expansion to include table games and riverboat gambling, has also set up his own non-profit company which accepts state grant money.

Republicans did make one mistake, though.

Sixty-one incumbents in the 253-member legislature faced primary challenges Tuesday, the most since 1980. Unfortunately, one of them was not House Speaker John Perzel, who skated unchallenged.

Perzel made the time last year to call rank-and-file House members into his office to issue not-so-veiled threats about cutting off state grants to their areas in order to coerce the lawmakers to vote for the pay raise, State Rep. Matthew Good told the Erie Times-News last week.

Recalling his first and only private meeting with Perzel, Good said, "It wasn't necessarily a threat, in a sense, but, definitely, 'Hey, we're going to help those who made this vote a little bit more than the others. Grants and certain things you've got for sewer projects and water lines, you're going to have to think about if your constituents want to live without those things.'"

Yet two weeks ago, when a floor vote on tax reform was about to be called in the House, Perzel was in Florida collecting thousands of dollars from his part-time job as a board member of a prison management firm.

He also has barred any attempts at lobbyist reform, insisting he can do it better. Instead, Perzel's unnamed "research staff" is now writing a weak lobbyist disclosure bill behind closed doors.

House Speaker John Perzel went unchallenged in the primary but spent $200,000 anyway, largely to play kingmaker in other races.Freed of the need to campaign, Perzel still spent nearly $200,000 this election cycle - $85,000 went to the House Republican Campaign Committee, $9,036 went to pay for his annual speakers ball on Jan. 4 (from which he raised $5,250 in cash gifts) and the rest as contributions to other candidates. His campaign committee still has more than $240,000.

Here's hoping that despite their large cash advantages and the power of inscumbency, all three get sent packing in the November general election.

THE UGLY: We have seen the future of tax reform in the state and it is this: When given a choice on whether to raise their own property taxes to support their school district's budget, Pennsylvanians will likely vote against it - overwhelmingly.

Voters in the Bristol Township School District became the first in the state to reject a portion of a property tax increase by referendum.That's what folks in the Bristol Township School District did, turning down a small portion - the only part they had a say in - of a much larger tax increase the district proposed, by a 7-1 margin.

Only 111 of the 501 school districts in the state opted in to Act 72, the Homeowner Tax Relief Act. It was the last failed attempt at statewide tax reform in 2004 which passed at the same time as slot machines were legalized.

And of those 111 districts, Bristol's was the only school district to press its luck with an angry electorate by hiking taxes beyond the maximum allowed by law, forcing a referendum.

Taxes will still rise by about $152 for someone owning a home assessed at $16,000, the district's average, to about $2,712. But they won't jump by the $200 that the school district was asking for.

The whole thing was so complex that state officials had to crunch the numbers before they could be printed on the ballot.

Philly will likely join other large cities by installing surveillance cameras all over the pass after a nonbinding resolution passed overwhelmingly Tuesday.Finally, Philadelphia, the cradle of our nation's liberty, overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding referendum 4-1 in favor of installing video surveillance cameras throughout the city.

Oh well, at least it might give the ethics board some videotape to look at.

I hope the city eventually recoops its investment in the cameras and its lawyers fees for fighting the ACLU by selling a best of Philly bloopers tape of its residents.

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