RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 03.15.13

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul sit down with Governor Tom Corbett to discuss his slumping poll numbers and the state of the economy.

This week’s show also features an explanation of the “Pay-to-Play” scandal at the Turnpike that’s resulted in criminal charges, and we’ll hear Harrisburg Bishop Joseph McFadden’s thoughts on Pope Francis. 

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Is it Time for a Name Change at the DPW?

A broad-based coalition is forming in the push to change the name of Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare.  A letter of support delivered to the General Assembly last week was signed by five former governors: George Leader, Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge, Mark Schweiker and Ed Rendell.  It begins by stating, “Words matter. Names matter. Stigma lasts.”

State Senator Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery) is joining forces with Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) to introduce legislation that would change the name of the DPW to Department of Human Services.  “Everyone assumes when you see the Department of Public Welfare that that is all they do.  In honesty they do a lot more than just welfare,” Mensch explains.  “It’s a department that doesn’t deserve a name that creates bias.” 

None of the 67-counties uses the term “welfare” for its human services agency, and Mensch believes Pennsylvania is the only state government that still refers to a Department of Public Welfare. 

“It really has a huge presence in our state and I think it would be appropriate to have a meaningful discussion around what that department does – calling it by its rightful name, which I believe should be Department of Human Services.” 

The Mensch/Costa bill already has 20-cosponsors in the Senate and it hasn’t even been introduced yet.  An identical bill being introduced in the House has 82-cosponsors.  To save taxpayer money, Mensch suggests a graduate changeover whereby all existing supplies are exhausted before new ones are ordered with the new name.     

The Campaign for What Works has also sponsored an online petition to help garner public support for the name change.

Charges Reveal Pay-to-Play History at Turnpike

A years-long grand jury investigation finds that in order to get big Pennsylvania Turnpike contracts… you had to pay-to-play.  Eight men now face criminal charges: one former lawmaker, five former Turnpike Commission officials and two businessmen.  The biggest name in the bunch is former state Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow, who’s already serving a federal prison term on corruption charges.  Others charged include former Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier and former Turnpike Commissioner Mitchell Rubin. 

The charges include: bribery, bid-rigging, corruption and theft.

The charges include: bribery, bid-rigging, corruption and theft.

“According to the charges, those who pay-to-play have sought and been rewarded with multi-million dollar Turnpike contracts and the public has lost untold millions of dollars,” says Attorney General Kathleen Kane who announced the grand jury’s findings on Wednesday. 

Kane says the Turnpike created its own fiefdom, whereby officials forced vendors to make hefty contributions to the political campaigns of their choosing.

Joining Kane in the Capitol Media Center was State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, who encourages the public not to paint all state employees & officials with the same brush of corruption.  “There were numerous state employees who tried to stand up for the right things to do,” Noonan says.  “They were terminated.  They received poor evaluations and they were isolated.  They knew something was wrong but they couldn’t do anything about it.” 

‘The right thing’ is what the new CEO says the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is doing today.  In a statement, Mark Compton says he’s troubled by today’s news:

“If charges against former Turnpike employees are indeed proven, we certainly cannot – and will not – defend that.  But I can say these actions definitely don’t represent the hard-working men and women who keep our road open and safe for customers….”  Compton’s statement goes on to point to a number of accountability reforms enacted at the Turnpike in recent years. 

All eight defendants will be prosecuted in Dauphin County; the investigation is ongoing.

Poll Suggests Gov. Corbett Vulnerable in 2014

Just 39% of voters approve of the job Governor Tom Corbett is doing, according to Wednesday’s Quinnipiac Poll, while 49% disapprove.  The governor’s Quinnipiac Poll numbers have been worse – 35% approval in June 2013 – but not by much. 

Pollster Tim Malloy also took an early look at potential General Election matchups for Corbett in 2014.  “If the election were held today, six of the possible Democratic contenders, their races with the governor would be too close to call,” Malloy explains, “and he would in fact lose convincingly to Representative Joe Sestak and he would lose as well to Allyson Schwartz.”

Former US Congressman Joe Sestak is currently leading Corbett 47 – 38, while current US Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz leads Corbett 42 – 39.  Neither has officially entered the race.   

However Corbett can at least hang his hat on the fact that he’s polling better than the General Assembly.  The legislature’s approval numbers stand at 28 – 58.  Malloy says, “It’s a tough time to be a politician.”

Homes, Homeowners, Properties, Neighborhood

“Property Tax Independence Act” Updated for New Session

The push to eliminate school property taxes in Pennsylvania isn’t going away; supporters say it’s growing stronger.  A bipartisan group of state lawmakers gathered in the Capitol Media Center, Tuesday, to unveil the latest version of the Property Tax Independence Act, and state Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks) is leading the charge for the second consecutive session. 

“This is what it would take to fully replace school property taxes once and for all,” Cox said while clenching a penny between his thumb and index finger.  “This is what stands between Pennsylvanians and the ability to completely eliminate school property taxes, and the ability to own their own homes.” 

What’s being proposed is actually a dollar-for-dollar replacement of school property taxes.  Here’s what it would take:

A one penny increase in the state sales tax (from 6 to 7% in most counties)

A broadening of the sales tax base  

A 1.27-percentage point increase in the state personal income tax (from 3.07 – 4.34%)

"How can you let a penny stand in the way of getting the job done?" - Rep. Cox at Tuesday's news conference.

“How can you let a penny stand in the way of getting the job done?” – Rep. Cox at Tuesday’s news conference.

Rep. Cox believes this shift in taxation will spread out the school funding burden much more fairly, and result in more disposable income in Pennsylvanians’ pockets. 

The biggest difference from last year’s plan is in the personal income tax rate.  The earlier version would have only raised it to 4.01%, but it was adjusted after an analysis from the Independent Fiscal Office determined last year’s version of the bill would have resulted in a revenue shortfall. 

“We now have an independent verification that the numbers simply do add up.  This is revenue neutral legislation.  We have the facts to prove it.  A dollar-for-dollar match to fund our public schools,” explains Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill) who’s sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate. 

Adjusting for the IFO analysis has taken one of the key complaints off-the-table: fear that it would raise insufficient revenues.  However, past concerns have also focused on the free pass the tax shift would give large businesses and whether sales & income taxes are as stable as property tax revenues. 

The House and Senate bills are expected to be referred to their respective Finance Committees.

Jerry Sandusky is currently locked up in the Centre County Correctional Facility. He will appeal the conviction.

Court Document Provides Glimpse into Jerry Sandusky’s Appeal

Jerry Sandusky’s lawyer has filed a new document at the Centre County Courthouse, which outlines the arguments to be made on appeal.  Topping the seven-item list, Philadelphia attorney Norris Gelman writes that the former assistant football coach’s 6th amendment right to counsel was violated when defense motions for a continuance were denied. 

Specially Presiding Judge John Cleland denied a long list of post-sentence motions on January 30th of this year.  Last year, Jerry Sandusky was convicted on 45-counts of child sex abuse and sentenced to 30 – 60-years behind bars.  He remains locked up at SCI Greene in the southwestern corner of the state.

State System Faculty Say “Yes” to New Contract

Faculty members at the 14 state owned universities have given their approval to a new contract with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.  Membership of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties voted overwhelmingly to ratify the agreement.

The state system Board of Governors must give final approval to the deal.  A special meeting is scheduled for March 20th to consider the APSCUF contract as well as a separate agreement with athletic coaches. The bargaining unit for the coaches voted earlier to approve a four year contract.

Faculty members have been working without a new agreement for over a year.