Not your government at work

(323) Sunday, June 18, 2017 — In Washington, DC, a committee of 13 wealthy white male US Senators — all Republican — could decide what women can do with their reproductive organs and if you could go bankrupt when your cancer re-occurs.

The GOP and President Trump need to come up with legislation that repeals and replaces Obamacare.  This is how it is being accomplished.

In Harrisburg, state Republicans, for the third year in a row, intend to defy Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf with a budget that keeps the state from paying a larger share of public education, will cause your children to incur greater debt for college and short several public programs for the poor.

Gov. Wolf did not even request increases in personal income or sales taxes this year.  These tax hikes are the only way Gov. Wolf can achieve these improvements.  The GOP resisted his attempts during the last two years.  Many school districts increased local property taxes to keep their public education programs afloat.

Thanks to clever gerrymandering of state and federal legislative districts, Republicans control processes in both towns.  Democrats claim they are powerless to block Republicans.  At times, Dems appear to be comfortable in this role because they share less blame.

In both towns, these events are conducted in absolute secrecy.  Republicans bypass normal steps of drafting a bill, submitting it to a committee for vetting and public hearings, then to the floor for a final vote.

Republicans in the US House of Representatives rushed through their version of health coverage in April, going for further tax cuts for the rich than quality, inexpensive care for us.

GOP was successful by the slimmest of majorities.  Leadership allowed their members who face tough re-election campaigns next year to vote against the measure.  Not a single Democrat voted with them.

Now that version of legislation that is supposed to repeal and replace Obamacare is in the Senate.  According to the New York Times, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pressing this “Gang of 13″ to transform major sections of the American health care system.  They are expected to screw citizens less, but still provide tax cuts for the rich.  He does not plan to hold a single hearing on their bill.

That legislation will come direct to the floor and McConnell will rush a vote.

GOP Senators keep Republican leaders in the US House of Representatives in the loop because of certainty that their version will have to go back to the House for further compromise.

Republican skullduggery is also afoot in Harrisburg as the party’s leadership gets its pound of flesh in budget cuts.  Any shortages will be made up with expanded gambling.

Even with a Democrat Governor (Tom Wolf), the GOP hopes to get more of its flavor into the state’s fiscal plan.

Twice in prior years, a lopsided Republican state legislature defeated the Governor’s budget where he included large tax increases.  Republicans balanced “their” budget with increases in sin taxes, borrowings, higher projections of revenues and other budget chicanery.

No surprise, revenue projections have not been reached in the 2016-17 budget.   The state may borrow to meet all expenses from the current fiscal plan.

This time, Gov. Wolf did not even try to impose sufficient taxes to restore support to public schools.  Preparing to run for a second term next year in a state that Trump carried in 2016, Gov. Wolf’s budget appears more like one to attract Republican votes.

Republican leadership from both the state House and Senate are meeting behind closed doors to work out their budget version.

Gambling expansion continues to be a key component of the budget.  House Bill 271 would permit fantasy sports, lotteries and other online gaming and slots in airports and taverns.

HB 271 apparently is also the platform legislative leadership is using to bring back “WAMs.”  That stands for “walking around money.”

Until a quarter century ago, lawmakers of both parties figuratively and literally walked around with grants to give out. Not always did these grants meet every legal requirement.  Sometimes the grants served limited or serve public purpose.  The amount of each legislator’s WAMs was determined by loyalty to their leaders and/or necessary to get re-elected.

WAMs may have nothing to do with gambling expansion, but there are as many as 200 included in HB 271, swelling the bill to 675 pages.  The Department of Community and Economic will manage these grants and — in some cases — take the blame for notoriety.

Revenue carve-outs are written for specific amounts for specific purposes.  Skirting the Constitution, existing laws and regulations and public purpose, the grants will be awarded to specific recipients.

Most funding comes from casino profits.

Here is an example of modern “WAM” language. This text appears on Page 454 of HB 271.

“30,000 of the gross terminal revenue annually to a township of the second class with a population of between 2,000 and 2,500 as of the 2010 decennial census that is contiguous to a township in a county of the fifth class that receives a portion of the licensed facility’s slot machine operation fee.”

The largest WAM appears to be $2 million a year to a certain county of the first class to be distributed as political patronage there.

Democrat lawmakers get a share of WAMs in case their votes are needed to override a veto by Gov. Wolf.  Or to encourage Wolf to not veto HB 271.

When HB 271 was voted by the House in April to go over to the Senate for concurrence, legislators were given copies about six hours before a floor vote was called.

Bottom Line: Focused coverage of state government by community newspapers is not the norm.  Mainstream media today contributes to keeping voters ignorant.

These sentences were included in the “Bottom Line” of last week’s column on how pension reform benefited everyone but taxpayers.

The sentences also fit this week.