Archive: November, 2009
Money talks louder than ever in Harrisburg, but at least citizens have a better idea now of whose cash gets the most attention.
Three powerful industries — gambling, natural-gas drillers, and tobacco — spent more than $4.5 million this year on lobbying in Harrisburg, The Inquirer reported. They were largely successful, despite a recession that had state officials scrambling to find new sources of tax revenue.
Tobacco interests spent a combined $1.5 million through Sept. 30. Reynolds American Inc., whose subsidiary is the nation’s second-largest producer of smokeless tobacco products, spent $670,658 on lobbying.
Lo and behold, the legislature dropped proposals to tax smokeless tobacco and cigars. Pennsylvania remains the only state without a tax on smokeless products; new taxes were imposed on cigarillos and cigarettes.
The Democratic-controlled House took an historic step in passing a health care bill over the weekend, yet the measure — unless it’s modified — could mean the death knell for health reform this year.
It’s not that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders made any fatal legislative moves. Indeed, Pelosi had good reason to liken the landmark legislation to the passage of Medicare, if not Social Security.
Millions of Americans now without health insurance would receive coverage under the $1.2 trillion plan, and those with workplace-based insurance would be more assured they could keep their coverage.
Unfair insurance industry practices such as denying or dropping coverage due to medical condition finally would be banned.
A year ago, the Editorial Board highlighted the inspiring work of Lynda Commale of Downingtown who, along with her daughter Katherine, has raised thousands of dollars for a program that buys bed-nets to protect families from mosquitoes in tropical nations, mostly in sub-Sahara Africa.
Here’s a brief update:
The mother-daughter team has raised more than $115,000 in their three-year campaign and Commale recently was able to distribute nets to families when she traveled to Uganda with the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign.
Why should taxpayers in Philadelphia pay top dollar to carry out routine government functions like running sheriff's sales, conducting elections and filing deeds and other court papers?
The price tags for these functions are inflated, in part, because they're handled by four independent row offices headed by six elected officials.
So these row offices - Sheriff, City Commissioners, Clerk of Quarter Sessions and Register of Wills - are a vestige of City Hall days gone-by that Philadelphia can afford no longer.
That's the compelling conclusion of a report from the city's fiscal oversight agency. The study by the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA) bolsters the case for getting rid of the offices - a move that could save taxpayers wasted millions now spent propping up political and patronage fiefdoms.
In March, the government watchdog group, Committee of Seventy, issued its own call for eliminating the six elected posts and consolidating the functions under the city's mayor.
The bonanza that state officials expect from drilling natural gas out of the Marcellus Shale region may come with more costs than expected.
This comes as Pennsylvanians still try to fathom Gov. Rendell's retreat from his decision to do what every other state does with shale gas - tax it.
Getting gas from shale involves a process called "fracturing" that uses highly pressurized and chemically treated water. Some environmentalists believe fracturing leaves local streams polluted.
Now comes reports out of the Barnett Shale region in Texas that this industry also might be the source of toxic air pollution. That's after the town of Dish, Texas, paid for its own air quality study because so many residents complained about bad odors.
New Jersey voters may have faith that governor-elect Christopher J. Christie can deliver on his campaign pledge to root out corruption, but Christie's job will be that much easier if the state's press corps continues to fulfill its watchdog role.
So a congressional measure primed for Senate consideration - one that's of greatest interest to journalists - could wind up helping Christie and other reform-minded leaders.
Under a compromise worked out with the Obama administration, journalists and their confidential sources finally could see new federal protections needed to assure that the press can keep the public informed about the workings of government, business, and civic affairs.
Most states have such shield laws, including strong ones in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. But without a national shield law, federal lawsuits over news leaks have undermined the state statutes and threaten to chill newsgathering efforts critical to a free society.
A chief cosponsor of the federal measure, Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.), contends that if investigative journalists "can't protect sources, there is a lot of public corruption and private malfeasance that will go undetected and unpunished."