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

Monday, May 19, 2008
Posted 9:20 PM by

Highway robbery

Gov. Ed Rendell is foisting a 75-year lease of the turnpike on Pennsylvania.Sorry folks. I was forced to take the last month off from blogging here to concentrate on some work projects as well as to fix some server issues.

And although I'm dead dog tired tonight, it seems fitting for me to make my return on the very day Gov. Ed Rendell flouted Pennsylvania's normal processes by accepting secret bids to lease the turnpike away for 75 years.

Fast Eddie did more shoveling during his press conference Monday to "unveil" the three bids than he would have if he was breaking ground for a new highway.

Not that the state will ever gain enough money to do that from the $12.8 billion high bid submitted by Abertis Infraestructuras, a Spanish group that operates highways in Europe, and Citigroup Inc., the biggest U.S. bank by assets.

Rendell openly admitted the state won't get anywhere near the $1.7 billion annually it needs to fix its decrepit highways and bridges - a testament to how poorly Rendell and the Legislature have run things.

Yet, Rendell said, "To me it seems like a slam dunk." Kind of like the Bush Administration's initial assessment of invading Iraq.

Only in Pennsylvania could the governor get away with bypassing the voters without a referendum, run a secret bidding process and then make legislators choose between accepting the winning lease or new tolls on Interstate 80.

Although this is the largest highway ever to be privatized, we still don't know how many unionized state workers will be laid off instead of actually fixing the turnpike.

What a bad joke. Here's hoping the lawmakers see through this scheme that only enriches the bond counsels - and the lawyers of Rendell's former law firm - while turning Pennsylvania into a banana republic.

LWV files another federal lawsuit over slots

The League of Women Voters is once again alleging that former state Supreme Court Justice Ralph Cappy cut a deal with lawmakers - if they approved judicial raises he and the supremes would rubberstamp the state's slots law.The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania sued Ralph Cappy, the former state Supreme Court chief justice on Monday, alleging that the high court upheld the state's slot-machine gambling law in exchange for approval of a judicial pay raise, according to the Associated Press.

The 17-page suit cites an allegation by an unnamed senator that Cappy told legislators of one particular caucus during a meeting that "he needed the pay raise to secure the votes of Republican justices" on cases important to them.

Cappy, who was too chicken to stand for a retention election and retired from the bench on Jan. 6, did not immediately respond to a message left at his Pittsburgh law office Monday.

This isn't the first time this allegation has been raised. The league joined with Common Cause in suing Cappy, Rendell and top lawmakers in 2006, arguing that they played tit-for-tat, exchanging pay raises for a judicial rubberstamp on a 2004 law legalizing slot machines that was illegally approved.

State lawmakers gutted an existing bill that had already been approved twice and then forced the bill to the floor for a vote without the required public comment period late at night on the eve of a July 4 holiday recess in 2004.

But U.S. Middle District Judge Yvette Kane dismissed the case without prejudice and without ruling on its merits. Instead, she said the whole matter was moot because the Legislature was forced to rescind the pay raises after a public outcry.

She was wrong.

While the lawmakers' pay raises were rescinded later in 2005, the state Supreme Court - sans Cappy who recused himself - forced the state to continue them for all judges, including themselves.

The League was dead-set against slots gambling and remains firm against further expansion. Its lawsuit comes as the House may take up a bill (H.B. 2121) next month from Majority Leader H. William DeWeese that would turn the state's 14 slots parlors into full fledged casinos.

The effort to approve table games is moving forward even though perjury charges have been filed against slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples for lying about his ties to mob bosses and political fixers.

DeNaples, a Dunmore billionaire and former federal felon, reportedly gave more than $1.1 million to the campains of top state politicians - including at least $115,000 to Rendell, at least $35,000 to state Attorney General Tom Corbett and hundreds of thousands more to key lawmakers and party groups on both sides of the aisle, including some publicly opposed to slot machines - to get slots gambling legalized in 2004 and to buy enough influence to get his own license two years later.

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