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

Saturday, July 01, 2006
Posted 9:14 PM by

The minimum they could do

All minimum wage earners in Pennsylvania , who haven't received an increase in 10 years, will see their pay go from $5.15- to $7.15-per-hour by July 1, 2008, under a bill Gov. Ed Rendell plans to sign.After giving themselves fat raises last year, which prompted a public outcry and a repeal of the pay hike, Pennsylvania legislators finally did the proper thing by giving the state's poorest workers a modest increase.

That's not to say a $2 increase in the $5.15 mimimum wage - a 38 percent jump on the surface - will do much to get anyone working for it above the poverty line.

Especially considering the minimum wage hasn't be raised in 10 years.

Show me the price of anything that has stayed stagnant in the last decade. Even state lawmakers received automatic cost-of-living adjustments that pushed their pay from $55,800 in 1996 to $72,182 this year.

The state House passed the wage increase by a 161-37 vote Friday night, and the Senate followed suit with a 38-11 vote Saturday morning. The move makes Pennsylvania the 22nd state to boost its minimum wage above the federally mandated $5.15 an hour.

But before the poorest employees foolishly squander their new found wealth on little things like rent, medical care, food and clothes, they'll have to wait a little longer.

Under the bill, S.B. 1090, the minimum wage will rise in a two-step process, going to $6.25 an hour on Jan. 1 and to $7.15 next July 1. Gov. Ed Rendell had wanted the increase to begin as early as Sept. 1.

"Why they're making people who earn $10,700 a year ... wait until January first is beyond me," the governor told the Scranton Times-Tribune. "There's no rhyme or reason for that. When we raise other revenue here, or whatever, we do it effective immediately, as you may recall."

What's worse is that wage slaves working for small businesses, with 10 or fewer full-time workers, will have even longer to wait. Their pay will increase to $5.65 an hour starting Jan. 1, $6.65 by July 1 and the full $7.15 starting July 1, 2008.

Still, the minimum Republican-controlled state Legislature could do still beats the Republican-controlled Congress.

Federal lawmakers shot down increasing the minimum wage nationwide again when a $2.10 increase was attached as an amendment to a bill funding health and education programs, but Republicans stripped it out before it went to the floor.

That didn't stop Congress from preventing themselves from receiving an automatic $3,300 raise next year, to $168,500.

Meanwhile, a person working at the $5.15 an hour would have to put in 16 weeks (at 40 hours per week) just to gross $3,300.

Heck, even labor unfriendly Wal-Mart, which pays an average of $10.11 an hour for full-time employees in the U.S., supports a nationwide minimum wage increase.


Friday, June 30, 2006
Posted 8:37 PM by

Scrambled brains or broken promise

Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident two weeks ago brought home the need to restore the state's helmet law to at least state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny County.Two weeks after the Steelers' Big Ben went boom on his bullet bike, a Pennsylvania legislator introduced a measure, House Bill 2865, Thursday that would rescind the state's repeal of a motorcycle helmet law.

State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, wants to restore the law requiring motorcycle riders over the age of 21 to wear helmets, citing a report from the nonpartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee that found serious head injuries to motorcycle riders have doubled since the repeal in 2003.

"This report and Ben Roethlisberger's accident should be all the wake-up calls we need," Frankel said.

It's unclear whether Gov. Ed Rendell, who promised to repeal the helmet law when he first ran in 2002, would sign the bill if it's approved.

After Roethlisberger's accident, Rendell said, "I know you'll be surprised hearing this from a Democrat, but I generally believe that government shouldn't get involved in things of personal choice."

Rendell's Republican opponent in November, Lynn Swann, has said he would sign a bill to restore the helmet law if he is elected and the Legislature passes it.


Thursday, June 29, 2006
Posted 10:24 PM by

Lobbyist disclosure pits Perzel against Jubelirer

The top Republican Senate and House leaders in Pennsylvania are at odds on how much must be disclosed and are taking turns rewriting competing bills.

They may both be Republicans, but state Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Jubelier and House Speaker John Perzel can't both be right when it comes to lobbyist disclosure.It may look like a simple case of one-upmanship, but I'd like to think the Pennsylvania Senate's state government committee was making a statement this week when it unanimously voted to gut a lobbyist disclosure bill the House passed overwhelmingly just last week.

If I'm reading between the lines right, that statement was to House Speaker John Perzel and the message was, "You can fool some state legislators some of the time..."

After all, the House bill that passed 190-1 was actually a watered down version of Perzel's own bill, House Bill 2753, cloaked in a competing lobbyist reform bill.

The House approved House Bill 700 once in March 2005. But Perzel refused to call for a second vote on that measure, saying he could write a better bill - but only if he could write it behind closed doors.

Perzel, who took more than $34,000 in gifts and trips from lobbyists last year, and his unnamed "research staff" started work in February.

H.B. 700 emerged from the House Appropriations Committee on June 13 - the same day Perzel finally introduced H.B. 2753 - and a full week after he held a press conference to announce the long-awaited lobbyist disclosure measure.

Perzel's bill still isn't listed among the competing lobbyists disclosure bills on the "Bill Topic Index" of the Legislature's Web site.

In reality, H.B. 700 was gutted by the committee and its wording was replaced with the bulk of Perzel's H.B. 2753.

However, a controversial portion that would have made violations of Perzel's bill possibly subject to racketeering charges was dropped from H.B. 700. Also stripped was a clause that Perzel wanted to bar each lobbyist from representing different principals if their interests conflict.

When it went to a second and third floor vote last Thursday, H.B. 700's author, state Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny County, pretended like it was still the bill he wrote.

And since the state representatives had already approved the measure once, I suspect many didn't read the revised bill and voted for it, rather than Perzel's bill, unaware that the wording in both lengthy bills was now virtually identical.

The wording of H.B. 700 was sprung on House members two hours before the vote and Perzel repeatedly cut off the microphone of its lone dissenter, state Rep. Greg Vitali, who has long been a proponent of meaningful lobbyist reform.

So it seems only fitting that the Senate's committee unanimously voted Wednesday to replace Perzel's wording in the House bill with the text of S.B. 1, which the Senate passed in April 2005 but Perzel refused to pass.

That bill was written by Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Jubelirer, who now has nothing to lose since being ousted in the May primary.

Here's the real difference: Jubelirer's S.B. 1 allows a lobbyist to give a legislator up to $650 a year in hospitality before requiring the lobbyist to publically name the lawmaker.

Perzel's version of H.B. 700 would set the bar for reporting at $650 per occurrence - so travel, gifts and dinners that total less than that would not require disclosure.

As lawmakers await a meeting of the minds between these two Republicans, Pennsylvania remains the only state in the nation without a lobbyist disclosure law.

Meanwhile, 800 registered lobbyists spent nearly $125 million last year to sway the opinion of our 253 elected lawmakers as well as high-ranking officials in Gov. Ed Rendell's administration, according to statistics the lobbyists filed with the Secretary of the Senate.

The statistics are strictly voluntary, and do not list which legislators accepted gifts, trips or dinners from lobbyists or say what specific legislation they wanted passed in return.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Posted 11:20 PM by

Weird, wet and wild day in Pa.

No, this isn't an aftermath photo from Hurricane Katrina. Two people were rescued by helicopter today from a residence encircled by floodwaters from Fishing Creek near Bloomsburg, Pa.Days and days of occasional rain - climaxed by an overnight drenching that dumped as much as eight inches in parts of Pennsylvania - prompted Gov. Ed Rendell to declare a disaster emergency in 46 of 67 counties today.

And while the sun came out to aid hard hit evacuees along the Susquehanna River in Northeastern Pennsylvania, state lawmakers downstream did some things that were both productive and constructive.

The House approved a package of bills designed to help in flood emergencies including:

  • Establishing a fund to provide low-interest loans and grants to residents suffering flooding damage not severe enough to qualify them for federal aid.

  • Asking voters in a referendum to let the state borrow $150 million to buy up land for flood mitigation.

  • Giving state and local governments permission to acquire properties in flood-prone areas.


I've received at least three e-mails in the last few days asking if I thought the state budget would be passed on time.

Truth is, I don't have a clue. I'm not close to either the workings in Harrisburg or the city itself.

But I did suspect that something would be worked out. After all, the state is ending its fiscal year on Friday about $1 billion in the black.

"When you have money, it's a lot different than when you don't have money," state Rep. Dwight Evans, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told the Associated Press after a compromise was reached. "It's not as painful in terms of making those kinds of decisions."

Although much of the final $25 billion budget is still under wraps, it calls for a 6.8 percent spending increase over this year's budget, Senate Democratic leader Robert J. Mellow said.

If the budget is signed before Friday at midnight it would mark the first time since Rendell took office.


The state Senate voted 42-7 today on a bill, H.B. 804, that would make it a crime to use a hand-held cell phone while driving in Pennsylvania.

The ban would work like the state's seatbelt law. You couldn't be pulled over for talking on the phone while steering, but you could be cited if a cop pulls you over for another reason. A violation would be a summary offense punishable by a fine of up to $250.

The measure would not, however, outlaw the use of "hands-free" cell phones while driving. Police officers, emergency responders and drivers reporting an accident or calling for help would be exempt.

The House must still reconcile the bill with a version it approved unanimously on Dec. 5, before sending it to the governor.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Posted 11:59 PM by

Rendell signs tax bill to justify slot machines

But Senate Democrats may have put the kibosh on a Republican plan to stop the payout to political friends who want to be slot machine middlemen.

Politically connected slots middlemen in Pennsylvania may still get their piece of the slots pie thanks to an amendment state Senate Democrats added to a bill to abolish the practice that passed Tuesday.Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell signed the tax "reform" bill he wanted into law today, which I'm officially redubbing the Wage Earners' Tax since it actually increases taxes on anybody working here.

As I've said previously, the new law is really an election year ploy so some legislators and Rendell can say they gave $1 billion in tax relief to Pennsylvanians while justifying jamming slot machine gambling down our throats.

In truth, the $200 tax break the average homeowner may eventually receive from the state's share of slots quarters has likely already been offset by huge increases passed this summer by their local school districts.

And as I've said, the state has nearly a $1 billion surplus this year, so why did our lawmakers feel it was necessary to give local school districts the power to tax us even more?

Once that becomes clear, be prepared for the Legislature to pass a law legalizing table games, ostensibly so they can provide even more "help" to homeowners.

At least some political friends of the lawmakers may not end up benefiting from the slots law. Maybe.

The state Senate voted 29-21 tonight to abolish a requirement that slot-machine manufacturers use in-state middlemen to sell their equipment to Pennsylvania casinos.

No other state in the nation with gambling requires it. They just let their casinos buy directly from machines manufacturers.

The measure also would end the deadlock of the politically handpicked Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on how best to divvy up the spoils.

That's assuming this bill sees the light of day in the House. A Democraticly-penned amendment increased the state's tax on slots parlor operators - from 52 percent to 56 percent - in order to pay for gambling-related law enforcement costs.

That alone might just be enough to kill the bill, S.B. 1230, as some slots hopefuls were already balking at the idea of giving the state more than half of the house's quarters and silver dollars.

At 52 percent, Pennsylvania's tax rate on slots parlors was already "more than six times higher" than those in Atlantic City or Nevada.

Meanwhile, no one has gotten around to actually killing the portion of the slots law that lets legislators own up to 1 percent of any slots parlor.

But don't worry, House Democratic Whip Michael Veon wants an amendment to the law.

Unfortunately, his amendment would just make sure the Gaming Control Board gives his district a casino - even if none of its proposed racetracks is granted a harness racing license.

As for the control board, a group of Philadelphians plan to picket it and the Capital tomorrow. That includes Neighbors Allied for the Best Riverfront ( and ( State Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks County, plans to address the group. He's the only legislator to introduce a bill to repeal the slots law.

Jethro Heiko, a member of NABR, hopes to address the control board members during a public comment portion of their meeting.

Should be slots of fun.


Monday, June 26, 2006
Posted 9:32 PM by

Carl Singley for Philly Mayor? I hope not

Carl Singley, Temple's former law school dean who likely still blames me for him getting fired, is considering a run for Philadelphia mayor.What's old may be new again, but Carl E. Singley for mayor?

Please, no.

I remember Carl from my college days at Temple University. He was the dean of the law school in 1987. I was a journalism undergrad working as a reporter/editor for the Temple News.

I got him fired, or so the folks who gave me a Hearst Award - the college equivalent of a Pulitzer - thought when they read my multi-page expose on him back then.

Actually, Carl did a pretty good job of that all by himself.

If Singley didn't like a law student, for whatever reason, he put a letter in that student's file saying he or she should not be allowed to sit for the bar exam after spending thousands to attend the school and earning their degrees.

He also feuded with several members of the faculty, famously blocking one injured professor's car with his own simply because she had the audicity to defy him and park in a handicap spot despite his order against it.

Most importantly, the law students hated him.

Singley thought it was a black-white thing.

Then-Temple President Peter Liacouras made matters worse when he had the locks on Singley's door changed, rather than fire the first black law school dean in the university's history face-to-face. Hours later, the university issued a press release announcing Singley's dismissal.

Seizing on the moment, Singley held a press conference in West Philly where he read a 14-page statement off in font of TV cameras. He claimed the university, which was founded by Russell Conwell to give poor inner city kids a college education, was actually racist.

When Singley finished his tome by saying he still had the full support of the faculty and the students, I mustered my courage and shouted out the first question.

"Mr. Singley if you still have the full support of the faculty and the students, why did they rate you with a D minus on your latest evaluation?" I asked.

"Mr. Ralis, I didn't invite you here to a debate," he replied. "I invited you here to give you the facts."

The last paragraph in the Inquirer story actually quoted our exchange verbatim. It wasn't a black-white thing, or even a gotcha moment. But it pretty much defined Singley, at least in my eyes, as someone who played the race card rather than accepting the consequences of his own actions.

I have followed his career since with passing interest. His public feud with Mayor John Street, his one-time friend. His work as a solicitor for the Philadelphia School District.

I got a chuckle in December when he called a bunch of white jurors "crackers" after they found four white men fired by the school system had been racially discriminated against and awarded the quartet $3 million. The judge made him apologize in open court.

I almost choked on a cup of water in my doctor's waiting room a couple of weeks ago when I read Larry Platt's laughable interview with him in the June edition of Philadelphia Magazine. In it, Platt, the mag's editor, commits journalistic fellatio by suggesting Singley should run for mayor.

"Seems like the times cry out for a true populist candidate, someone who would look out for the average Philadelphian. Are you thinking of being that person?" Platt asked.

The basis of Platt's opinion: Singley's small commentary in the movie "Shame of a city," in which he argued eloquently that the Street campaign risked a riot in 2003 by blaming the FBI bug in City Hall on a racist conspiracy of Washington Republicans.

Of course he was eloquent. He's a lawyer.

Singley replied, "William Tecumseh Sherman, a Civil War general from the North, stated in response to that question, 'If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.' I have never had, and do not at this time have, any mayoral aspirations."

I didn't take it seriously, though, until a friend from my Temple days e-mailed me to say Singley made the front page of Friday's Inquirer.

The article says Singley, 60, of Montgomery County, is actually considering running as a Republican for Mayor - if he can overcome a city requirement that says a candidate for mayor must live in the city for at least three years.

It also summed up his tumultuous time at Temple by saying simply, "He battled with the university administration during his tenure...."

Nearly 20 years later, I thought I'd just set the record straight - again.


I received the following e-mail from Carl Singley () at 10 p.m. on July 1:

"Some one suggested that I read you internet blog where you are taking credit for getting me 'fired' 20 years ago. You have apparently repeated that claim several times. That is as preposterous as it is sad. You must be the only person in the world who believes that. I frankly still don't remember who you are. Just think, I could have been blaming you for my professional achievements and financial prosperity over the past 20 years. Did I mention that my portrait is hanging in the law school.

"By the way, how is your 'career' going these days? Did you realize any of your dreams from 20 years ago? Surely you must be as proud of your accomplishments as I am of mine. What do you see when you look in the mirror every morning? My guess is staring back at you is a lonely little loser, with no love life and no money. Otherwise, why would you be seeking marriage proposals or stock tips on your website. Also, as far as I can tell, you haven't had a real job for several years and you have now been relegated to maintaining a website for an obscure suburban newspaper. (That should win you a Pulitzer!). Now that is really sad. I know your parents are really proud.

"What was that award that you claimed you won back then? Why isn't it listed among your sparse list of accomplishments on your website? It would appear that your so-called 'expose' 20 years ago was the highlight of an otherwise mediocre and pathetic career (you will notice that I didn't say 'journalistic' career). I am glad I could touch your life in such a meaningful way. You owe me big time for those few minutes of fame."

DAVE REPLY: Nice to know some things never change. Thanks for showing your true face before election day. And as for my 'career,' I left daily reporting on my own terms when it became clear there was no longer any emphasis on investigative reporting in most newsrooms. No regrets. As for fame, I never sought it. Doing the job right is its own reward. Gee, he didn't even mention my joke about spam.

CARL'S REPLY (11:09 a.m. July 2): "Your tepid response to my e-mail (or your failure to respond to specific questions) speaks volumes!! That you have nothing else to do at 1:21 AM but read your e-mails tells me that your life is every bit as pathetic as I imagined. Speaking of 'showing your true face' why don't you put your own picture on your website so that people can see what a prize you are? Oh I forgot, the internet provides total anonymity and virtual immunity to trolls like you who can say vile and false things about people with impunity. Did you use my picture to try to provoke responses to you blogs? Or was it a not so subtle attempt to play to the covert racism of the Neanderthal losers who have nothing better to do than read your crap?

"Even you don't believe that bullshit excuse you gave about why you left daily reporting. As to not seeking fame, why then would you create a website and blog that is named after you that brags about your readership numbers and extol your meager achievements. Face it Dave, you are a failure and trashing other people makes you feel good, at least for a brief moment. The opportunity to blog about me gives you some currency and hopefully something to do during the vast amounts of idle time in your meaningless existence. By the way, what job are you 'doing right' and who will attest to that? As to your joke about spam, I see no humor in your efforts to defame me in your rants. If they persist, you had better save some of your money to defend yourself in a court of law. We will get to test how far your internet First Amendment freedoms extend. This is not a threat, it is a promise.

"You are right, some things never change. People like me and mine continue to have to share the earth's atmosphere with haters like you."


Sunday, June 25, 2006
Posted 11:37 PM by

Is John Perzel sorry?

House Speaker John Perzel has shown no sign of changing other than keeping his mouth shut about last year's pay raise. Some people never learn.That was the rhetorical and almost ludicrous question Michael Race posed today in The Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre.

Rhetorical in that while House Speaker John Perzel called last year's legislative pay raise "indefensible" during a press conference last week, he never actually apologized for pushing it through.

Nor has he stopped the state from paying more than $1 million to private lawyers to defend lawsuits filed because of the now-repealed raises.

Perzel "never renounced his own remarks about lawmakers supposedly deserving a 16 percent boost in their base pay," Race wrote. "Instead, he expressed regret over the grief the issue - and his comments about it - has caused his colleagues."

That includes the 17 incumbent lawmakers - including the state's top two Republican senators - who were thrown out of office in last month's primary largely because of the pay raise issue.

And the lingering public resentment still being expressed in a poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University. It showed respondents were evenly split on whether they would vote against their own legislators just because they voted for the pay raise.

Of the 108 lawmakers who face opponents in the fall, 56 voted with the majority last July to increase their pay by 16 percent to 54 percent, the Associated Press reports.

Yet, Allegheny County Council tried and failed last week to pass a bill that would have banned appointments to county authorities, boards and commissions for any lawmaker who voted for the pay raise.

In an unreleated move, state Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-Allegheny County, introduced a joint resolution (H.B. 2813) in the House that would amend the state constitution by banning state senators and representatives from earning outside employment income other than the $72,182 salary they receive from their elected positions.

"No state elected official should be able to earn wages or perform work in any outside job other than what they were elected to do, and that is to serve in the General Assembly," DeLuca said. "We are chosen by the people who pay us and that job should be our primary concern."

Quinnipiac's survey showed the pay-raise vote matters more in western and central Pennsylvania, home to 14 of the 17 incumbents who lost the primary, than in the eastern third. Perzel lives in Northeastern Philadelphia, where the Republican will face Tim Kearney, a Democrat, this fall in a second attempt to unseat him.

It won't be easy.

Perzel has nearly $1.6 million set aside in two campaign committees (Friends of John Perzel and John Perzel Victory 2006).

Meanwhile, Kearney has yet to file a campaign finance report with the state Department of State. That means his campaign is fundraising illegally or he hasn't raised a dime yet.

That alone makes Race's question particularly laughable.

It's also abundantly clear from the way the a weak lobbyist disclosure bill passed the House last week that the Speaker is still up to his old tricks.

Although the measure passed the House, 190-1, some lawmakers may have been hoodwinked into approving Perzel's own bill by mistake after the bulk of its wording secretly replaced that of a stronger competing bill with a different number that the House already approved once last year.

Perzel used a similar maneuver to pass the pay raise last year and the bill legalizing slot machines in 2004.

Amendments that would have toughened up the lobbyist disclosure law were knocked out by parliamentary maneuvers. And when state Rep. Greg Vitali, a longtime proponent of reform, rose up against the bill, Perzel repeatedly cut off the Delaware County Democrat's microphone.

What newspapers and other media should be asking is: Can Perzel cut off true reform as easily as he can legitimate debate in the House?


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