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Ridership Sags, Costs Soar, but Shapiro Still Wants More Money for SEPTA

Despite exploding costs and plunging ridership, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) appears in line for another infusion of nearly $300 million in taxpayer cash.

Earlier this week, Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro vowed to increase public transportation funding by $282.8 million.

“Ever since I was a state representative and county commissioner in Montgomery County, I have supported SEPTA and the critical services it offers to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians every day,” the governor said. “SEPTA has presented plans to address safety and cleanliness throughout their system, and county officials have entertained a willingness to step up to the plate and increase their support. As a result, my administration is prepared to make a major investment in SEPTA.”

It’s yet to be determined how much local funding, if any, Delaware Valley governments will kick in.

SEPTA CEO and General Manager Leslie S. Richards praised Shapiro’s decision. She said it would help SEPTA “address our more pressing needs and…continue [to serve] our communities.” Richards previously said SEPTA might cut services by 20 percent and raise fares by 30 percent. That would raise a Quick Trip Ticket from $2.50 to $3.25 and SEPTA Key and contactless payments from $2 to $2.60.

SEPTA funding and budget issues became a major focus for Democratic politicians after the transit agency revealed that it faced a looming fiscal cliff. It burned through $1.8 billion in federal COVID money between Fiscal Years 2020 and 2023 while generating just $1.18 billion in revenue.

That’s not counting the $2 billion in annual funding from Pennsylvania taxpayers, something independent auditors said was “the largest single source of subsidy revenue.”

An additional $295 million in taxpayer funding was not included in last year’s state budget.

And still ridership numbers continue to fall short of pre-COVID levels. In October 2023, average ridership was just 67 percent of the October 2019 number. On Regional Rail, ridership was just 56 percent of the pre-COVID average.

SEPTA’s cash crunch caused Democratic  U.S. Reps. Madelaine Dean, Chrissy Houlahan, and Mary Gay Scanlon to send a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last month asking for a bailout from federal taxpayers. Democratic Sens. Bob Casey Jr. and John Fetterman signed the letter, as did Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia). “Without strong, sustained federal support, Pennsylvanians risk losing transit access entirely,” the lawmakers wrote. “As the Department of Transportation continues its critical work, we urge you to prioritize SEPTA and Pennsylvania’s transit systems.”

Now, there’s a chance that SEPTA may get a partial state bailout, if not a federal one.

That’s music to the ears of Democrats representing Delaware Valley in Harrisburg.

“From the ‘burbs to the city, SEPTA connects us to jobs, doctors’ appointments, recreation, shopping, and so much more,” state Sen. Maria Collett (D-Montgomery) posted on social media after learning of the federal lawmakers’ letter. She expressed gratitude for their “fighting for more federal dollars to keep this critical system afloat.”

State Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia) hoped Shapiro would go further. She said SEPTA needed even more cash to make sure more seniors and workers take mass transportation. “SEPTA alone moves over half a million people every day to their jobs, families, school, medical appointments, and more…”

The reasons for the declining ridership vary. Numerous complaints from riders to the Better Business Bureau focus on late buses or trains. Others complained that drivers focused more on beating red lights instead of serving customers.

Crime remains a big problem for SEPTA as well. Statistics show the number of disorderly conduct and public urination and defecation cases since 2019 have increased far higher than ridership, from 213 to more than 1,300 in 2022.

Robberies jumped from 118 in 2019 to 217 in 2021, while aggravated assaults almost doubled from 46 to 86 in the same period.

That meant significant increases in SEPTA expenses. Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics show SEPTA spent $1.44 per passenger miles traveled on commuter rail in 2022 compared to 49 cents per passenger mile in 2013. For bus passengers, it was $2.66 in 2022 versus $1.09 in 2013. Streetcar rail was $2.87 in 2022 and only .94 cents in 2013.

Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-41) said SEPTA gets enough money.

“Supporting SEPTA’s request for increased state subsidy is a challenging argument to make, especially in light of Philadelphia District Attorney (Larry) Krasner’s inability to maintain law and order throughout America’s sixth largest city,” he said. “No amount of increased subsidy can restore customer confidence in making use of the network given the raging crime crisis Krasner perpetuates.”

The Commonwealth Foundation said the state government needs to take a new look at how it funds mass transit.

“Several years ago, state mass transit funding was moved offline into a special fund, taking a portion of sales tax revenue and Turnpike tolls to fund transit systems,” said Nathan Benefield, the Commonwealth Foundation’s senior vice president. “Unlike the General Fund, lawmakers don’t vote on this spending every single year.

“Should lawmakers examine how much state funding goes into those programs? We think they should.”

On Feb. 6, Josh Shapiro will hold his annual budget address.

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Three GOP Holdouts Fail to Stop Shapiro Ed Secretary’s Confirmation

Three contrarian votes from Republican senators—including one from the Delaware Valley—failed to halt the confirmation of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s pick for education secretary this week.

On Monday, the Republican-controlled Senate’s education committee approved Acting Education Secretary Khalid Mumin. He was formerly superintendent of the Lower Merion and Reading School Districts. The full Senate subsequently affirmed the pick, voting 46-3 to confirm Mumin.

The three holdouts were all Republicans: Jarrett Coleman (Bucks and Lehigh), Doug Mastriano (Adams and Franklin), and John DiSanto (Dauphin County).

Coleman and Mastriano did not respond to requests for comment on their votes. DiSanto, meanwhile, said Mumin is too firmly embedded in an education system needing change.

“Pennsylvania ranks 8th nationally in per-student education spending, yet we lag in student achievement,” DiSanto told DVJournal. “The emphasis is always on more money when we need fundamental changes in the system.”

“The secretary has been part of that system for 25 years, and I don’t believe he’s capable of or interested in making the reforms needed,” he added.

Mumin began teaching in 1997. Shapiro tapped him for the acting secretary post in January, shortly before the governor’s inauguration.

The secretary won praise during his tenure as Reading superintendent. The district had been amid financial turmoil at the time of his arrival and had seen multiple superintendents in a short period. The prior director, Carlinda Purcell, had been relieved of her position after just 17 months on the job.

In 2021, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrations selected Mumin as its Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year, describing the significant challenges the administrator faced when he began the job.

“In 2014, when Dr. Mumin began his tenure as superintendent, he was confronted with 19 buildings of failing infrastructures, eight bargaining units without contracts for five years, and a district having little to no transparency with either staff or constituents,” the PASA said, claiming that Reading was “a district facing a financial crisis – along with a looming state takeover.”

Mumin “demonstrated visionary leadership right from the start to get the district back on a positive track and focused on academic growth and support,” the group said.

Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Dave Argall said in a press release that the committee “performed [its] constitutional duty” in voting Mumin through.

“I look forward to working with him to improve our education system,” Argall said.

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As Dems Push PA Into RGGI Cap and Trade Program, Virginia Pulls Out

Supporters of efforts to push Pennsylvania into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) suffered a blow Wednesday when Virginia began the process of backing out.

The Old Dominion’s state Air Pollution Control Board voted to repeal the RGGI regulation, a first step toward Virginia withdrawing its planned entry into the compact.

“Today’s commonsense decision by the Air Board to repeal RGGI protects Virginians from the failed program that is not only a regressive tax on families and businesses across the commonwealth but also does nothing to reduce pollution,” said Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R). He also noted that “prior to RGGI, electricity generation increased while CO2 per MWh was almost cut in half in Virginia over the last 10 years.”

And, his administration argued, because electricity producers simply pass the cost of buying carbon credits onto customers, “The imposition of the RGGI’ carbon tax’ fails to offer any incentive to change behavior. Current law allows power generators…to pass on all their costs, essentially bearing no cost for the carbon credits.”

The debate must sound familiar to Pennsylvania voters. Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) declined to support Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to put Pennsylvania into the cap-and-trade plan during his campaign for governor last year but now supports the move. Shapiro’s office denied he had reversed his stance, but his proposed budget assumes $663 million in RGGI revenue.

Virginia’s story is similar to Pennsylvania’s in some ways. In Richmond, lawmakers authorized — but didn’t mandate — Virginia’s participation. When Youngkin won his upset victory in 2021, he issued an executive order beginning the process of reversing the state’s path toward entering the compact.

In Pennsylvania, then-Gov. Wolf (D) overrode the GOP-controlled state legislature in 2019 and ordered the Pennsylvania Department of Protection (DEP) to join the RGGI. The issue has been tied up in court since.

“Today’s decision by Virginia’s Air Board to repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a glaring example of yet another state to recognize that RGGI is nothing but an oppressive carbon tax,” said Pennsylvania state Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Bradford). Residents across RGGI’s eleven states are being deceived into paying for their economic demise, all under the guise of lowered emissions.”

At a Pennsylvania Senate hearing on RGGI in March 2022, RGGI opponents like Sen. John Yudichak (I-Luzerne/Carbon) cited a report from the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) that RGGI carbon-credit auction prices at the time were nearly 400 percent higher than forecast. RGGI “will devastate the Pennsylvania energy industry, dramatically increase energy costs and fan inflation and overwhelm family budgets,” Yudichak said.

A more recent IFO review found RGGI would cost taxpayers billions of dollars in the coming years.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said RGGI is “the first [agreement] in the United States to place a cap on power sector CO2 emissions.”

The RGGI member states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

New Jersey withdrew from the program in 2012 but rejoined in 2020.

RGGI Will Cost PA Billions, Nonpartisan Review Says

One year, $663 million.

That is the price tag Pennsylvania’s nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office said will likely result if and when the state joins the controversial Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative as Gov. Josh Shapiro has indicated it will.

Shapiro’s administration “estimates that proceeds from this initiative will total $663 million for fiscal year 2023-24,” the IFO said in its state Senate Appropriations Committee report last month.

The IFO noted that a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection estimate put the number tens of millions of dollars higher, at $688 million. Either way, the green-energy plan will increase energy costs by billions over the next decade.

At last month’s appropriations hearing, Montgomery County state Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-Bucks/Montgomery) quizzed Independent Fiscal Office Director Matthew Knittel on RGGI’s potential effects on job development in the state.

“We are a net producer of energy, which is great,” Pennycuick said. “But if we were to enter into RGGI, how would that affect our ability to attract new businesses to Pennsylvania?”

Knittel did not answer the question directly. “Like other levies on energy, I would assume that those costs would be passed forward to the ultimate consumers of the energy,” he said.

Asked by Sen. Elder Vogel “how [the money] would be collected,” Knittel said, “The RGGI entity runs the auction process, they would collect the revenues, and then redistribute them out to the states.”

Knittel said the money would be funneled into the Pennsylvania Clean Air Fund, after which it would be distributed throughout the state.

Vogel told the Delaware Valley Journal the state’s adoption of RGGI “will certainly raise energy prices, which I believe will burden both current Pennsylvania businesses and prospective businesses interested in establishing roots here, as well as vastly increase the number of jobs lost across our state.”

Vogel admitted that “it is unclear at this time if these increased energy costs would indeed be a reasonable trade-off because we don’t truly know what the impact on the environment will actually be.”

At the hearing, Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) told DEP Acting Executive Deputy Secretary Jessica Shirley the state has been “fighting this battle over RGGI for a very long time.” 

“There’s a lot of ideas out there,” Martin said. “We want to be part of that conversation with you. It’s really important now more than ever. People are facing inflationary costs now.”

As a gubernatorial candidate, Shapiro originally indicated he opposed the implementation of RGGI in the state. Since taking office, he has moved to consider enacting it.

Former Gov. Tom Wolf had previously tried to implement RGGI via executive directives. The state Commonwealth Court blocked the move last summer, with the program’s adoption in the state still tied up in litigation as of this month.

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) told DVJournal the Shapiro administration planned on “going it alone” on RGGI.

“This is something they’re trying to enter us into without the consent of the General Assembly,” she said. “Every other state has done it expressly through their legislatures. From a process point of view, I’m really concerned.”

Phillips said the state assembly tried to litigate the potential unilateral implementation of RGGI. “We were not successful,” she said.

Sen. Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland/Dauphin/Perry) echoed Phillips-Hill’s criticism of potential unilateral RGGI implementation.

“I do not [support it],” he told DVJournal. “And even if I did, it should be joined with legislature’s consent or by legislation.”

“Obligating the citizens of Pennsylvania to pay higher energy costs without accountability is undemocratic,” he added.

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Shapiro Taps Montco’s Arkoosh for Human Services Secretary

Governor-elect Josh Shapiro nominated political ally Dr. Val Arkoosh to be the state’s secretary of human services.

Arkoosh, a Democrat who ran for the U.S. Senate last year, was first appointed a commissioner to fill a vacancy in 2015. She also made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2013.

Arkoosh said she was “extremely honored to accept the nomination.”

“As a physician and public health advocate, I spent my career fighting for health care access and affordability for families, and I am deeply honored to be able to continue this fight alongside my friend, Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro,” said Arkoosh. “Working together as Montgomery County commissioners, I saw Gov.-elect Shapiro’s commitment to enhancing the health and well-being of his constituents firsthand. I look forward to advancing the governor-elect’s agenda to ensure vulnerable populations across the commonwealth have the support they need and every Pennsylvanian has equitable, affordable access to health care in their community.”

She added, “I thank Gov.-elect Shapiro for his support and trust in me to continue my track record of delivering equitable, efficient, and data-driven programs and services to the people of Pennsylvania.”

“DHS provides services to care and support Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable individuals and families. As secretary, I will continue the department’s critical work to help Pennsylvanians lead safe, healthy, and productive lives through trauma-informed services. As a physician of more than two decades in Philadelphia teaching hospitals, an advocate for the Affordable Care Act, and the head of Pennsylvania’s third-largest county for nearly eight years, I am fully prepared to lead the commonwealth’s largest government agency.”

“My experience as both a physician and public health professional continues to inform my work. It was front and center as I shepherded Montgomery County’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic through a data and science-driven response, focusing on clear communication and transparency,” said Arkoosh.

Arkoosh leaves behind a big pay hike in commissioners’ salaries she helped push through late last year. In December, Arkoosh and Democrat Commissioner Kenneth Lawrence voted to increase county taxes by 8 percent while giving raises to themselves and other county row officers.

On January 1 commissioners’ salaries jumped from $87,600 to $98,200. The board chair’s salary went from $90,900 to $101,800.

Arkoosh’s handling of COVID wasn’t universally popular. Minority Republican Commissioner Joe Gale called her a hypocrite for criticizing him over handing out flags to put on veteran’s graves at a Conshohocken cemetery before Memorial Day in 2020. He accused her of “mask shaming.”

“You don’t need a mask to put American flags at a cemetery outdoors,” he said. “What you just said was ridiculous…I have been very clear. People should use their own judgment.”

Parent activist Megan Brock tweeted about the Arkoosh nomination, “I think there are few people in the country who worked harder to keep schools closed than Val Arkoosh. She demoralized parents and students. And now she’s going to be the secretary of human services. Many of us predicted this would happen.  Democrats fail up.”

Arkoosh has voted for five tax increases during her eight years as county commissioner. When she was appointed in 2015, the county millage rate was 3.152. It is now 4.627 (including the .39 millage rate for the community college, which was added under her leadership). Taxes have increased 46.8 percent since she took office.

Shapiro and Arkoosh voted to raise Montgomery County property taxes in 2015 and 2016 by 21 percent.

The court wasted no time in announcing the vacancy.

“President Judge Carolyn Tornetta Carluccio, having been formally advised that Commissioner Chair Dr. Valerie A. Arkoosh has resigned her position as Montgomery County Commissioner effective January 17, 2023, hereby directs that anyone interested in filling said vacancy shall deliver a resume and cover letter, including contact information, to the following address on or before January 23, 2023: Michael R. Kehs, Esq., Court Administrator, P.O. Box 311, Courthouse, Norristown, PA [email protected].

Candidates will be expected to be available for interviews at a time to be designated by the court.”

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Will DelVal Benefit From Josh Shapiro’s Governorship?

With Abington native Josh Shapiro ascending to the governor’s office in January, will his governorship bring more jobs, appointments, political power, and fewer potholes to the Delaware Valley?

The Delaware Valley Journal asked local leaders and pundits to weigh in.

Democratic consultant PJ Rooney said it is human nature to care the most about the area you’re from and want to do well by it. So, he thinks the Delaware Valley could benefit from Shapiro’s tenure as governor.

Previous governors looked out for their home bases, he said.

“Gov. (Bob) Casey took good care of Scranton,” he said. “Gov. (Tom) Ridge took good care of Erie.”

Meanwhile, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh “aren’t bashful.”  The state’s two biggest cities will press their cases for state aid. But perhaps Norristown may get some more help than it otherwise might have.

“It’s the nature of the beast,” said Rooney. “It’s human nature. To the winner goes the spoils.”

Others took a more diplomatic approach.

“The diverse regions of Pennsylvania are part of what makes our commonwealth such a wonderful place to live and grow. Josh Shapiro, being from Southeastern Pennsylvania, knows our area very well, but he also understands the value of each region of Pennsylvania, as well as the challenges they face, which is why I think he will make an excellent governor,” said Bucks County Commissioners Chair Bob Harvie.

And Monica Taylor, Ph.D., Delaware County Council chair, said, “Josh Shapiro’s strong background in local government, his knowledge of the needs of Pennsylvania communities, and his dedication towards advocacy will benefit all Pennsylvania residents, including those in the Delaware Valley region.”

“Having a governor who is not only familiar with the Delaware Valley region but who obviously cares for it is certainly a plus for us, but I know that as governor, Josh cares about the entire commonwealth and will serve the residents of Pennsylvania with dignity, respect, and compassion,” said Marian Moskowitz, Chester County Commissioners’ chair.

Laura Manion, MPA president and CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry, said Shapiro “understands the Delaware Valley region, and I’m sure his time in county and state government has led him to recognize how important the Southeast region is as an economic driver for the commonwealth.”

“The Chamber was excited to see Gov. Shapiro’s comments on the campaign trail to further decrease the Corporate Net Income Tax (CNIT), and we look forward to continuing to advocate for a further decrease to attract and retain companies who will invest in Pennsylvania.

“Shapiro’s experience and focus on economic development as a (Montgomery) County commissioner here in the Southeast seemingly led him to call for the reduction of bureaucratic red tape and more investment in economic development to attract and retain businesses.

Charlie O’Neill, a Republican political consultant, said, “Gov.-elect Shapiro has taken notable steps to reach out to all corners of Pennsylvania, from a Western Pennsylvania running mate to his campaign announcement in Pittsburgh and his inaugural committee makeup. He might be more visible in the Southeast than (Gov. Tom) Wolf was, but I don’t anticipate he’ll forget the rest of 62 counties outside his home base.”

Manion added, “We look forward to working with Gov. Shapiro, the state Legislature, and our CCCBI members on bipartisan solutions to make the commonwealth more business friendly. I welcome any opportunity to work with Gov.-elect Shapiro on further changes to the state tax structure to foster competitiveness, fairness, and simplicity towards a goal of stimulating economic growth and other items in Harrisburg, such as the need to address the unfunded liability in state pension systems, streamlined regulatory system and permitting process and increasing energy production.”

Shapiro’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

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Obama, Biden Rally DelVal Dems to Back Fetterman, Shapiro

If anyone doubted Pennsylvania is Ground Zero for the 2022 election, the events on the final Saturday before the midterm elections left no doubt. The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and two previous tenants came to the state to campaign for their favored candidates for governor and senator.

Former President Trump was in Latrobe to rally with Republican senatorial candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama came to the Liacouras Center at Temple University to rally for Democrats John Fetterman and Josh Shapiro before a largely young crowd.

President Joe Biden

Like a clean-up hitter, Obama spoke last.

He urged the crowd to vote, lashed out at the Republicans, and bemoaned the 2014 midterms when Democrats lost the Senate.

“Midterms are always hard for which every party is in the White House, and typically midterms are tougher on Democrats. A lot of folks don’t pay attention to politics the way they do in a presidential year. In fact, maybe they don’t know Congress matters…Young people, especially, are less likely to vote in midterms, and that hurts Democrats. Young people tend to be more progressive. I can tell you from experience that midterms matter a lot. Some of you are too young (to know).

“When I was president, I was elected in the midst of a financial crisis. We did the right thing to get the economy back on track, but it was hard, and people were frustrated just like they are now. Sometimes it takes a while for things to settle down, so in 2010 we lost the House. And then, in 2014, even though now the economy was improving, we saw the lowest voting rate in modern history, and because of it, we lost the Senate.”

So, his agenda on guns, climate change, and immigration reform stalled, he said.

Former President Barack Obama

“Sometimes I like to imagine what it would have been like if enough people had turned out to vote in those elections,” said Obama. “If we had maintained control of the House and maintained control of the Senate.”

It was clear from the loud and sustained applause he garnered Obama is still a Democratic Party rock star.

Biden mentioned his childhood in Scranton and that First Lady Jill Biden is from Philadelphia.

He told the audience of several thousand they have the power to make “John Fetterman your next United States Senator and Josh Shapiro your next governor in three days.”

“Your right to choose is on the ballot, your right to vote is on the ballot, Social Security and Medicare are on the ballot. And something else is on the ballot. Character. Character is on the ballot. When I think of character, I think of John Fetterman…John Fetterman is Pennsylvania.”

“I lived in Pennsylvania longer than Oz has lived in Pennsylvania, and I moved away when I was 10 years old,” said Biden.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman

“Courage is also on the ballot,” he said. “When I think of courage, I think of Josh Shapiro…He stood up for the people of this state, and he’s going to be a fantastic governor.”

Fetterman mentioned that he is recovering from a stroke and gave his standard stump speech, taking shots at Oz, eliciting boos from the crowd.

Oz “likes to pander,” said Fetterman.  “I want to get this off my chest. Wawa is so much better than Sheetz.”

He said Oz would be on a stage with Trump and Mastriano, but “we are 100 percent sedition free,” an allusion to the Jan. 6 riots. Earlier in the day, when Fetterman made that same statement in Pittsburgh, the wind blew down the American flags behind him.

Fetterman said that he would vote to “codify Roe v. Wade” and to be the 51st vote to end the filibuster and “fundamentally change America.”

He also promised to ban “assault weapons.”

Shapiro said if elected, he would increase spending on public school education and teachers’ pay, start an apprentice program for high school students and remove the requirement of a college degree for thousands of state government jobs.

He said he “dedicated himself to public service” for his four children. He worries about their climate, their safety, and that they have “fewer opportunities than the world I was blessed to be born into.”

He also cited his Jewish faith where no one is required to complete the task of improving the world but “neither are we free to refrain from it.”

Shapiro promised to make sure that every child “has a safe community to live in.”

Attorney General Josh Shapiro

Shapiro also spoke about abortion, saying Mastriano would take that freedom from women, while he promised to veto any bill that would restrict it. Mastriano has said that while he opposes abortion, as governor he does not have the power to ban it. That would be up to the legislature.

Shapiro called his opponent extreme. However, during the primary Shapiro funded commercials that boosted Mastriano’s primary campaign, a move made by Democratic candidates across the country to pick the opponents they believed were easiest to beat.

Shapiro also mentioned Mastriano went to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 and “he plans to decertify voting machines…Probably the ones here in Philadelphia. Are we going to let him get away with that? That is not how our democracy works.”

“It’s not freedom to tell women what to do with their bodies,” said Shapiro. “It’s not freedom to tell children what books they’re allowed to read.”

Delaware Valley parents have been objecting to obscene books in public school libraries, such as “Gender Queer.” Mastriano has sided with those parents.

Earlier in the rally, lieutenant governor candidate state Rep. Austin Davis (D-McKeesport) spoke about being the son of a bus driver and hairdresser, the first in his family to go to college.

“I’m going to be the first Black lieutenant governor,” Davis said.

Gov. Tom Wolf also spoke about abortion and touted the state surplus that he will leave the next governor.

And Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) accused Republicans of being about “fear, smear, and divide.”  He urged the crowd to vote for Democrats.

“Let’s win in 2022,” Casey said.

Rising Crime is Theme Running Through PA 2022 Campaigns

A man was shot in Collingdale Sunday evening in what police say may have been an attempted carjacking. It happened in Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon’s congressional district, herself a victim of a Philadelphia carjacking last December.

In Philadelphia, carjackings have doubled this year from the previous year, with more than 1,000 so far. Delaware County does not keep statistics on that crime, said a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

Crime is an issue in many political races this year, as it has spiked in cities helmed by progressive prosecutors like Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. Krasner has been under investigation by a state House bipartisan committee for his prosecution or lack of prosecution of repeat offenders.  The committee, which may or may not ultimately recommend the House impeach Krasner, issued a report this week.

The pro-law enforcement mantle has been claimed by all four candidates at the top of the ticket. U.S. Senate candidates Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz and Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman both claim to support the police. They are currently airing dueling commercials with Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny supporting Fetterman and Bucks County Sheriff Fred Harran backing Oz. Oz has also garnered endorsements from many other law enforcement organizations, including the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association and the state FOP, as well as the Philadelphia FOP.

Oz even received the endorsement of the FOP that represents the Braddock police, the town where Fetterman served as mayor and where he claimed to be tough on crime.

Fetterman, the lieutenant governor, has also drawn fire for his role as chairman of the state Board of Pardons, where he voted to release a record number of prisoners, even when other members of the board voted no. For example, he was the one yes vote to pardon a man who killed his girlfriend’s mother with a pair of scissors. 

In the governor’s race, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who was endorsed by the Philadelphia FOP, is claiming to be a crime fighter, running ads that say he has taken guns and drugs off the streets. But he did not implement a law passed by the legislature to allow him to step in and handle gun cases in Philadelphia. And like Fetterman, he favors the end of mandatory sentences and ending life sentences for felony murder.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, takes a tough-on-crime stance, saying he will keep violent criminals behind bars and make sure that municipal police departments receive adequate funding.

Scanlon declined to comment about crime in her district. Her Republican opponent, David Galluch, has been outspoken.

“Congresswoman Scanlon has marched with Defund the Police. She has endorsed out-of-the-mainstream policies like the elimination of cash bail. She has stood alongside and refused to condemn Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner for his approach on the non-prosecution of repeat and violent offenders. It should come as no surprise that as a result, crime is on the rise in PA-05. In fact, every year since Mary Gay Scanlon has been in office, Philadelphia and Delaware County’s largest municipality, Upper Darby, have set murder records,” Galluch said.

“I’m committed to doing what Congressman Scanlon hasn’t done — delivering on enhancements to public safety through supporting and funding our police, investing in technology to help us catch offenders and get them off the street — but perhaps most importantly — using my office as a bully pulpit to demand that commonsense laws are enforced and that there is accountability for lawbreakers.”


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West Chester Elementary School Trains Kindergarten Teachers in Gender Curriculum

A ‘woke’ curriculum complete with transgenderism, Critical Race Theory, and an emphasis on drag queen performances rather than reading, writing, and arithmetic has permeated some Delaware Valley public school districts.

It has also become a hot-button issue in the governor’s race.

“Schools should be teaching children how to think, not what to think,” said state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican running for governor. “Sadly, classrooms across Pennsylvania have turned into indoctrination facilities that are pushing radicalism on young kids.

“As governor, I will place an immediate ban on Critical Race and Gender Theory Studies in Pennsylvania schools on my first day in office. Unlike my opponent — who has been endorsed by groups who support irreversible medical transitioning of kids — I will protect young girls by ensuring that biological males are not allowed to use girls’ locker rooms. As your governor, I will put an end to the era of radical indoctrination of children once and for all,” Mastriano said.

Democrat gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro declined to comment for this article.

Part of the gender awareness curriculum

However, as attorney general, he signed an amicus brief in support of “transgender rights” to allow biological boys to use girls’ restrooms and locker rooms in Virginia. He also opposed a Pennsylvania bill, vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf (D), which would have prevented biological males from competing in girls’ sports.

And while Mastriano opposes obscene books in school libraries, Shapiro said, “I don’t want the politicians in Harrisburg telling my kids what books they’re allowed to read.”

But even as education becomes a cudgel in Pennsylvania politics, another program for kids as young as 5 years old has come to light.

Documents released through a right-to-know request and first reported by the Daily Caller show teachers at Fern Hill Elementary in the West Chester Area School District went to a training session about how to talk to children as young as kindergarteners about being transgender.

The materials also include a warning to keep children’s gender secret if they prefer: “Also, remember student privacy—it can jeopardize a student’s safety and well-being if they are outed by their peers or non-affirming adults.”

Some of the bullet points in the presentation were: “Moving beyond boys and girls, explaining what gay means, using picture books to challenge gender limits,” and “responding to concerned parents.”

Other topics included “gender inclusive classrooms” and “tackling bullying.”

The discussion included several books for kindergarten and up, including “Jacob’s New Dress,” and discussed with the children what pronouns the character Jacob uses.

The training includes, “Let your students know that there are lots of different ways that children can dress. There are lots of ways to be a boy or a girl or both or neither. Also, “home and school can be different. Here at school, students can wear whatever makes them happy.”

Another book, “Red: A Crayon’s Story,” talks about a crayon labeled “red” but is blue.

According to the materials, the teachers were also taught to use children’s preferred pronouns and teach children to use preferred pronouns.

Yael Levin, a spokesperson for No Left Turn in Education, a nonprofit that opposes student indoctrination, called the curriculum “disturbing.”

“Elementary schools serve children ages 5 -11. Elementary education should consist of reading, writing, arithmetic, science, history, and as much play time as possible. Children in that age range do not need to learn about sexuality and gender identity or expression. We should not be having these discussions at all as a society with children. If parents want to discuss these topics with their children, then they can do that. Generally, children in that age range are not even thinking of life and their friends in those terms.

“Why are we bringing such topics to the forefront of elementary school education? Especially considering how behind our children are due to the unnecessary COVID school shutdowns. We must get back to basics. Parents in West Chester and across Pennsylvania and the nation must demand that their public schools focus on academics. We have to be competitive in this global market. The USA is now ranked 30th in math out of 79 countries, while our spending per student is among the highest in the world and increases every year,” she said.

“It’s time for parents to demand a top-notch education for their children. On top of the poor performance and the learning loss, this particular training (and we have seen this in other trainings as well) mentions evaluating students based on their use of the term gender expression and their understanding of the meaning of the word,” said Levin. “It also references assessing students on their behavior around gender expression – if they are behaving like allies or not. This is reminiscent of a social credit system such as is used in China. This is not compatible with a constitutional republic.”

However, the school district defended the teacher training.

“The West Chester Area School District is continuously looking to improve our ability to provide supportive, welcoming environments for our students and families,” said Molly Schwemler, manager of district communication. “The training at Fern Hill Elementary School focused on developing staff awareness and understanding of gender-based information. The training was not focused on sharing the many elements of transgenderism with students, rather it shared additional ways that our staff can create an environment where all students can achieve their best and where all families feel welcome, valued, and respected.”

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Mastriano’s New ‘Hard to Watch” Ad Targets Parents

Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano is hoping a groundswell of angry parents will sweep him over the finish line.

Mastriano has seized on the issue of the sexualization of public school children and centered a new digital ad “Hard to Watch” on it, using events in schools in Montgomery and Chester Counties to illustrate the problem. He said it is a disturbing trend that his Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro supports.

The Mastriano video includes a Delaware Valley Journal article about obscene books in school libraries. And it mentions a lawsuit filed in court by Malvern mother Fenicia Redman to get those books removed from the Great Valley High School library. Her son is a student at that school.

Asked to comment about the ad, Redman told Delaware Valley Journal, “Sen. Mastriano and Pennsylvania parents see the extremist government actors who’ve held our children hostage and robbed them of their innocence. We’re coming to free our children!”

The ad also mentions a Montgomery County kindergarten class where children were required to read books about transsexuals because one student identified as their non-biological gender. That incident came from an anonymous tip to the senator’s office.


Republican political consultant Charlie O’Neill said, “The issues Mastriano is talking about in this ad are definitely issues he can win. But this ad is way too long to have an impact. Across the nation, parental rights have had a major impact on elections. If Mastriano is able to harness that energy in places like the Philadelphia suburbs it could be the boost he needs. However, the election is rapidly approaching, so his campaign better hope it’s not too late.”

For example, the parental rights issue was a big reason Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia after the Democrat famously said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

The Shapiro campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

However, in a television interview Shapiro said that when Mastriano calls for restricting classroom content it contradicts his campaign pitch of freedom. “Walk as free people,” is one of Mastriano’s slogans.

“It’s not freedom when they tell our children what books they can read,” Shapiro said.

As Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Shapiro filed an amicus brief opposing Virginia’s moves to ban biological boys from using girls’ restrooms in schools.

Another parent who is a Mastriano supporter, Jamie Cohen Walker, said she supports him because he will keep the schools open. Children have been harmed by mandatory school closures, losing out on learning and becoming lonely and isolated.

“We knew that keeping kids out of school would harm them, so we fought, and we fought extremely hard because the Democratic politicians and their allies, the teachers union, made us their enemy,” Walker said.

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