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

Saturday, September 23, 2006
Posted 10:22 PM by

AP: Pa. should expect table games too

Why is a member of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board asking about table games when they are not legal in this state?Looks like the Associated Press today virtually copied my Thursday rant about Pennsylvania being primed for full fledged casinos.

The only difference is, what I wrote is called speculation. What they wrote and shipped to newspapers across the state is called "news."

In the AP report, Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board member Joseph W. Marshall III is quoted as asking various racetrack owners if their facilities could someday accommodate table games.

No problem, they replied.

Big problem, I say.

One, Marshall should never have asked that question because there is no law legalizing table games on the books.

Two, if Legislative leaders think they can ramrod a table games law through theyway they did the slots law, and later their own now-repealed pay raise, they're sadly mistaken.

The public will no longer stand for these shennanigans and will prove it again on Nov. 7 when the polls open.

Yet, that still isn't stopping the push for more and more gambling. Gambling interest lobbyists are still pumping millions into the campaign coffers of our state politicians despite a ban against such contributions.

And even the friends of our local politicians are starting to lean that way.

"If you want higher-end customers, you need higher-end retail and higher-end restaurants," said Paul Levy, who co-chaired Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street's advisory task force on gambling. "And if you want people from Kansas rather than Kensington losing money in casinos, table games (help).


Friday, September 22, 2006
Posted 9:56 PM by

Pa. judges to get COLAs and maybe more

Now bureaucrats are saying Pennsylvania judges will get increases whenever their federal counterparts get them. Isn't a decision our paid lawmakers are supposed to make?How bad is a court ruling if it takes a group of bureaucrats to explain it?

Pennsylvania may be about to find out.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts has concluded that last week's state Supreme Court decision restoring higher pay for judges also permanently linked future raises to the federal courts' pay scale.

The 100-page majority opinion, written by Justice Ron Castille, doesn't link the two specifically.

Nevertheless, AOPC spokesman Stuart Ditzen told the Associated Press on Friday, "The historic controversy and politicking that goes into judicial raises in Pennsylvania is eliminated. At least that is the hoped-for reform in creating this structure."

There is only one problem with that.

The judges are not allowed to arbitrarily link their salaries to their federal counterparts. That's the Legislature's job and it repealed the law which would have cemented that relationship.

While Castille and the other justices found that lawmakers did not have the power to repeal their raises when they repealed the Legislature's pay hikes, the high court has no right to set its own future raises too.

Meanwhile, if the AOPC's decision holds up, Pennsylvania judges could soon be getting a lot more money.

Federal judges have received cost-of-living increases in each of the past seven years but have not received a more substantial salary increase for 15 years. Federal circuit judges' pay went from $102,500 to $132,700 in 1991, and cost-of-living adjustments have since increased their salaries to $175,100.

A bill that would give federal judges a 16.5 percent pay increase is currently pending in Congress.

I've said it before, every legislator who voted for the pay raise and every Supreme Court justice should be ousted for forcing this travesty upon us. And any legislator who took "unvouchered expenses" and did not pay them back should be charged with theft.


Thursday, September 21, 2006
Posted 8:03 PM by

Slots of states near Pa. addicted to gambling

Will the extra pressure Pennsylvania's 61,000 slot machines are putting on nearby states to expand gambling, how soon will it be until Pa. follows suit just to keep up?In less than a week, Pennsylvania regulators will give six racetracks across the state licenses to run slot machine parlors.

But in the months it may take those slots parlors to open, states bordering Pennsylvania will be playing a different kind of game - one-upsmanship.

And that extra pressure - plus a secret state report predicting less than anticipated revenues from Pennsylvania's slots parlors - may hasten the call for turning the new racinos into full fledged casinos.

New Jersey lawmakers are already considering adding video lottery terminals and possibly slot machine to shore up its horse tracks, even though casinos in Atlantic City already susbsidize the industry with nearly $30 million a year, the Asbury Park Press reported today.

"It is time we get (slot machines) at the Meadowlands," said Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth. "We know purses are in jeopardy. We know breeders are moving out of state."

The racing industry in New York is even worse shape, needing a $30 million state bailout to stave off bankruptcy at its three racetracks until their video slot machines are up and running, USAToday reported this week.

In Delaware, state officials cited Harrah's development of a $500 million-plus racino in Chester, Pa., as their reason for lowering revenue estimates from lottery and slots gambling next year by $5 million.

"Anything new is going to get a lot of play," said Richard Cordrey, finance secretary the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council.

In response to the increased competition, Delaware's racinos aren't scaling back - they're expanding. Dover Downs filed plans this month with the city's planning commission to add more space for slot machines, restaurants and offices.

West Virginia is taking it a step further.

The state racing association released a poll Wednesday showing that a majority of residents support county referendums on legalizing table gambles at that state's four racetracks next year.

Moves to expand gambling among that state's part-time Legislature have failed twice in the last two years, so now supporters want to let the public decide, according to today's West Virginia Gazette.

State budget estimates are that competition will drop racetrack video lottery revenues by about 8 percent this budget year, or more than $30 million, and by 15 percent, or more than $62 million, in 2007-08.

Racing association president John Cavacini said he believes table games would generate enough new business to at least offset those losses.

When the West Virginia Legislature convenes in January, he said, three to four racetracks will have competing video slots in operation, with additional facilities, including three freestanding casinos, ready to come online.

Pennsylvania voters never got a chance to decide whether they wanted slot machine gambling. Instead, the Legislature approved a bill legalizing up to 14 slots parlors in the middle of the night during the July 4 holiday weekend in 2004.

Now, we're learning that the very purpose of legalizing them - to gain $1 billion in extra revenue with which to lower school property taxes statewide - may not generate nearly that much, according to excerpts of a private auditing report Gov. Ed Rendell and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board refuse to disclose.

So, all of this is being done to give homeowners a $200 annual tax break, even though many school districts raised their property taxes by more than that this year.

I'm already on record as predicting the Legislature - once again, not voters - will be asked to add table games to the racinos here within three years.

After all, gambling interests are spending millions of dollars lobbying our lawmakers and are still secretly contributing millions more to their political campaigns.

Yet no one has answered this basic question: If it's bad when individuals are addicted to gambling and rely on their winnings to make ends meet, why is it better for state governments to get hooked on it?


Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Posted 10:51 PM by

What Pa. is saying about the pay raise ruling

What do others around Pennsylvania think about the state Supreme Court justices reinstating their own repealed pay raises?For the better part of the last week you've read me rant about the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reclaiming illegal pay raises for themselves and 1,100 of their black robed brethren.

Apparently I'm not the only one pissed at the way the high court justices connived to get the raises in the first place, then blanketed themselves in the state constitution - an instrument they largely ignore - to justify the blackjacking of taxpayers.

Tonight, I'll look around the state at what others are saying about it.

"It's outrageous," state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, adding he plans to introduce legislation to take back the judge's pay hike in their next terms.

Unfortunately, such a salary rollback wouldn't be complete for another 10 years.

"I think (the justices) violated the trust of the people," Metcalfe was quoted as saying in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

An editorial in The York Dispatch agreed, saying the court's decision was "entirely self-serving, arrogant and contrary to the precepts of good government responsible to the people."

The ruling compounded the wink-and-a-nod way the pay raise legislation was passed in the middle of the night right before a holiday recess, the editorial said.

"It's all a bit neat, and altogether absolutist, so arrogant, in fact, that William Penn could have expected better justice from the King's Bench all those centuries ago," it reads. "Not only do we get the government we deserve, we get a state high court that's an outright embarrassment."

The Centre Daily Times said the justices could have saved themselves from such stinging criticism and declared the court's independence by "ruling that their raises were legal, but they were going to forego them until a better system were in place for determining their salaries."

The Reading Eagle took the court's ruling more philosophically.

"... In the end, though, things turned out just about the way they should have. Judges, who were underpaid, got a deserving raise, while legislators, who proved by their underhandedness that they did not deserve a pay increase, didn't get one."

I disagree.

I believe all of the raises should have all been left up to the taxpayers to decide as referendum questions on a statewide ballot. After all, it's the people of this state who will actually have to pay for them.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Posted 6:51 PM by

Pa. chief justice's defense of pay jacking lacking

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy claims judges are quitting because they aren't getting paid enough. I say good riddance.Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ralph Cappy had the audacity today to defend last week's state Supreme Court ruling restoring his and 1,000 other judges' raises by saying the extra money is needed to retain quality justices.

In a speech to The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Cappy said the $14 million the raises will cost state taxpayers "isn't a significant amount of money to try to ensure the quality of the judiciary. We are losing our best judges ... and we're not replacing them with the same quality."

Cappy's comments came one day after Jim Matthews, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, accused some in the judiciary of playing politics with their decisions based on how much money a defense attorney contributes to campaigns.

Matthews claimed the practice has been going on in Philly for 50 years.

I do think Cappy's right about one thing - new judges are not the same quality of those they're replacing, they're better.

If a few thousand dollars is the deciding factor on whether a sitting judge will stay in office, then he or she should hang up his robe immediately. They don't deserve the public trust that position entails and we don't need them.

Our founding fathers never wanted a permanent, exorbitantly paid elite governing the rest of us. They wanted volunteers, people who were willing to forgo earning a fortune in the private sector to improve the quality of life for everybody.

Money should never be the deciding factor on whether anyone does public service.

Such a concept is foreign to Cappy and his cronies, though.

Instead, the black robed robbers clearly cut a secret deal with legislative leaders and Gov. Ed Rendell last year to get the raises, then cried foul when the angry public forced the pay hike's repeal in November.

To regain the extra money, the high court - sans Cappy, who recused himself after pushing hard for the initial raises - ignored both logic and commonsense. Thursday's ruling seized on an arcane portion of the state constitution and created a lawmaking conundrum. According to the justices, the Legislature has only the power to raise judge's salaries, not lower them.

The ruling marked the first time in years, though, that the injustices paid any attention to what the state constitution says.

In decision after decision, they've bypassed its provisions and the will of the public whenever it suited their purposes - often without any explanation and leaving no recourse for appeal.

A dozen years ago, justice Rolf Larsen - the only high court judge here ever impeached (because of his drug habit) after he spent more than 30 years on the bench - publicly accused other justices of trying to run him down in a car.

Now, they're running roughshod over the rest of us.

If that's the level of jurisprudence we're losing when old judges hang up their robes, then the quality of justice in this state may actually be improving.


Monday, September 18, 2006
Posted 11:18 PM by

Pa. judges lack merit, play politics, candidate says

Campaign money, not justice, is driving judges in Philadelphia, according to Jim Matthews, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.Although this isn't directly connected to last week's pay raise ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Jim Matthews claimed today that politics are influencing judges in the state's biggest city.

To which I reply: No duh.

Ever look around this state before, Jim? Some folks still carry the black bag for their party.

The Republican candidate didn't go quite that far, but alleged that there are Philly judges who keep tabs on how active defense attorneys are in making political contributions. He claimed it was a "50- to 55-year-old problem."

Try closer to 200-years-old.

It was probably only ever interrupted when the British briefly regained control of the city during the Revolution.

"It's wrong when the people's hopes and justice are affected by who plays and who doesn't play in support of judgeships," Matthews told reporters at a state capitol news conference.

He suggested merit selection of judges may be a better way to pick them.

Alan M. Feldman, chancellor of the 13,000 member Philadelphia Bar Association, called Matthews' accusation "a crock" and said he should either present evidence or apologize.

"It is an outrageous and irresponsible statement," Feldman said. "This is the worst kind of accusation that could possibly be made about a judge."

Yeah, right.

Apparently, Feldman has stuck his head in the sand in recent years while the highest court in the Commonwealth has ignored the state constitution to suit its own purposes.

That, to me, is even worse than a judge showing party loyalty.

I think a better solution than letting politicians pick the people who will don black robes, is to free up what questions judicial candidates can be called upon to answer when queried by the public.

Republican Lt. Gov. candidate Jim Matthews advocates merit selection for judges. Is it the right way to go?Right now, state bar association and Supreme Court rules prevent would-be judges from commenting about their past rulings or how they would rule in hypothetical cases in the future.

Without knowing where they stand, how is anyone supposed to judge a judge?


Sunday, September 17, 2006
Posted 9:47 PM by

Judging the judges

The ruling of Pennsylvania's Supreme Court injustices on last year's pay raise fubar was the height of high court hypocrisy and all of them - including the lone dissenter - deserve to be ousted.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Thomas Saylor, who must stand for retention next year, did himself no favors with a dissenting opinion in the pay raise cases that backed the majority in every salient point save one.If every Supreme Court justice in this state is resoundingly refused retention and replaced over the next 10 years, they have only themselves to blame.

"Even for a court renowned for its arrogance Thursday's reinstatement of the judicial pay-jacking sets a new standard, essentially giving the finger to voters who have expressed their outrage over the past year by ousting a sitting member of that very court along with a record number of legislative incumbents," Lowman Henry of the Lincoln Institute wrote in his blog on Friday.

Henry is an esteemed conservative Republican - the majority party in this state - and was trying to be kind. I'm a progressive liberal - a minority within my own party - and feel no such need.

Basically, the justices told us all to sit and spin on that same finger, once again making up the rules to suit their own purposes and trouncing the state constitution in the process.

On the face of it, Justice Thomas Saylor, who wrote the dissenting opinion, appeared to be the lone exception.

However, Saylor wrote in five pages that he agreed with his five other colleagues in believing the raises for all state judges should be restored and that legislators cannot be forced to repay more than $11,000 each - money many lawmakers took illegally premature as "unvouchered expenses."

The only difference: Saylor thought that the judges' pay hikes could not legally be severed from the raises lawmakers gave themselves, which were subsequently repealed by the Legislature in November.

Saylor agreed in substance with everything else Justice Ron Castille wrote in his 100-page opinion. And for that false show of dissent, Saylor's head deserves to be the first to fall from the chopping block.

He was simply trying to make himself look a little better than the rest. But when you read what Saylor actually said, he managed to make himself look worse.

Meanwhile, judges across Pennsylvania will pocket raises this year of $17,906 (for a Common Pleas Court judge) to $23,156 (for Chief Justice Ralph Cappy), according to figures the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts provided the Commonwealth Foundation.

In addition, the judges are now all due back pay of between $14,739 and $19,060 from last year's raise.

I hope they all choke on that money so that their necks become an easy target for when the ax finally falls.


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