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AYANIAN: The Bad, the Ugly, and the Worst of the Spending Package

Congress is at it again, spending heaps of taxpayer dollars on special interests and expanding the size of government with the recently signed $1.2 trillion spending package. The package was passed just in time to avoid a partial government shutdown.

The Associated Press described the events as “long overdue,” and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer characterized passing the bill as “complet(ing) the job” and insisted that doing so was “good for the country.” Some Democrats and Republicans have been able to tout their “victories” in the bill to their bases. Spectators who view Congress’ productivity in bills passed or speed of action will similarly see this as a win.

But don’t be fooled. The package’s contents and the way in which it was passed illustrate, once again, that our governing processes are broken and that our politicians flippantly waste citizens’ money. Let’s look at the bad, the ugly, and the worst of this process.

First, the bad: the actual contents of the bill. It is always the case that people spend their own money more wisely than they spend others’, but congressional spending is the epitome of that reality. In the spending package, the federal government sent millions in taxpayer dollars to special interests — for example, $850,000 to a New Jersey housing development for LGBTQ+ seniors and $400,000 to an organization that, among other things, provides “gender-affirming” clothing to trans youth.

Regardless of how one feels about the related social issues, there is no reason Congress ought to steal taxpayer dollars for such causes. Citizens, of their own volition, can donate their money to those projects if they wish. Congress has no right to force that spending on taxpayers and add to the national debt. 

Yes, $1.25 million is not a lot, but those are only two of many special interests that will receive federal money as a result of this package. In the last two years, members of Congress known as The Squad have secured $220 million for special interest groups.

Republicans, too, are guilty of using the federal government to provide funding to favored interests in their districts. For example, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia  secured $3.8 million in federal funding for an airport expansion in Dade County, Georgia.

If you thought conservatives would fight for limiting government and cutting spending, you were wrong. Instead, in this package, the GOP was far more focused on  banning LGBTQ pride flags from being flown outside of U.S. embassies. The GOP did not stop the $200 million allocated for a new FBI headquarters in Maryland. Additionally, the Republicans supported a $27.75 billion raise for the Department of Defense above its current funding level, even though the Pentagon has failed audits six years in a row.

Now, for the ugly: the process. Not only did our nation’s politicians pass a package containing all kinds of ridiculous measures, but they passed it without even reading it. The bill, which spans more than 1,000 pages, was released in the middle of the night, and our representatives were given fewer than 36 hours to review it. In other words, they didn’t review it. We elect these individuals to be our eyes, ears and voice in Congress. Is it too much to ask that they read the bills before they vote?

There’s a big difference between “completing the job,” as Schumer said, and skipping the job altogether.

Finally, the worst: broken promises. When Mike Johnson became speaker of the House, he promised Republicans adequate time to read legislation before voting on it. However, he waived the self-imposed 72-hour rule for this massive $1.2 trillion package, sparking ire from many. Even Republicans, such as Greene and Justin Amash of Michigan, have called for the ouster of Speaker Johnson after the chaotic process through which this bill was passed.

 Thomas Massie of Kentucky went to X (formerly known as Twitter) right before the spending package was passed to lament, “As part of the debt limit deal last summer, Biden agreed to an automatic 1 percent cut to all discretionary spending if we were still on a CR on April 30, 2024. Tomorrow, our Speaker will give up that leverage and pass an omnibus that spends more than (Nancy) Pelosi spent in her highest year.”

Our politicians impetuously spend American taxpayers’ money, imprudently blowing out the national debt with no signs of slowing down. This weighs on economic growth and reduces the prosperity of Americans. In justifying the haste with which this bill was shoved through, Speaker Johnson stated, “We have to govern.” Blindly spending taxpayer dollars is not governing. It is lazy and immoral. Americans ought to demand better.

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Fiscal Watchdog Warns: Shapiro Budget Will Drain State’s Finances

While Gov. Josh Shapiro spends the next few weeks selling his $48.3 billion spending plan to Pennsylvania, a fiscal watchdog warns the budget proposal will drain the state’s recently replenished finances.

Pennsylvania’s Rainy Day Fund sits around $14 billion. That’s enough to fund the government for almost 50 days in lieu of a government shutdown. “You’re still just pushing it down the road,” Commonwealth Foundation Senior Vice President Nathan Benefield told DVJournal. “It’s unwise to be using that just to go like, ‘Hey, we could use that money this year’ and still have an unbalanced budget.

“Using the one-time reserves for ongoing spending that’s going to be year after year is not sustainable.”

Benefield points out that multiple Shapiro administration officials and the governor himself claim to support fiscal responsibility when it comes to taxpayer dollars.

Shapiro hailed Pennsylvania’s budgeting ability last September after S&P Global Ratings and Moody’s moved the Commonwealth’s outlook to ‘positive.’

“Our commonsense investments and sound fiscal management are setting the Commonwealth up for continued success,” the governor said at the time. “My administration will strive to ensure that our fiscal outlook remains strong by working with leaders in both parties to continue making commonsense investments…all while remaining fiscally responsible.”

Budget Secretary Uri Monson praised sound fiscal management last September, saying it “makes a difference in the lives of Pennsylvanians every day.”

But Benefield pointed out credit rate agencies want Pennsylvania to keep a high balance in the Rainy Day Fund balance. “The credit rate agencies all basically pointed to the fact that Pennsylvania has a reserve and would maintain it in case there is a recession.”

S&P and Moody’s highlighted Pennsylvania’s need to keep its reserve fund high in their credit rating outlook announcements. One S&P analyst said Pennsylvania could see its overall rating go up if it preserved or increased “reserve balances in its budget stabilization reserve.”

Moody’s said it was “particularly important” for Pennsylvania to maintain adequate reserves because of extremely long budget negotiations. The state’s budget wasn’t finalized last year until late December.

There’s also disagreement on whether the Pennsylvania government can use the Rainy Day Fund to fill in the budget hole.

State law says the fund can be used in “emergencies involving the health, safety or welfare of the residents of this Commonwealth or downturns in the economy resulting in significant unanticipated revenue shortfalls…”

Pennsylvania’s government is also blocked from using Rainy Day Fund money to “begin new programs.”

That’s what Shapiro wants to do, according to Benefield. “His proposal, if you look at it, is a lot of new programs,” he said. “They’re not to deal with an emergency. They’re simply to prop up spending.

“The idea that having an ongoing structural deficit year after year is not an emergency. That’s simply poor budgeting,” Benefield added.

Shapiro said during his budget address that the state needed to spend some of the reserve cash as a so-called investment into Pennsylvanians.

“We need to build a more competitive Pennsylvania that starts in our classrooms, runs through our union halls and our small businesses, through our farmlands and our high rises, our college campuses, and leads to a life of opportunity and a retirement with dignity,” he said. “We need to keep people safe, make sure they have access to the medical treatments and care they need, and build communities where they see a future of opportunity.”

Benefield doesn’t believe that Shapiro’s budgetary wishes will come to fruition. Calling the proposals “pie in the sky and even campaign-oriented,” Benefield said that he doesn’t see them getting done this year. “There isn’t a lot of appetite to have that large of a budget deficit of $3 billion-plus this year. I think there probably will still be a deficit this year, but I expect it to be a lot less than what Shapiro proposed.”

The Pennsylvania legislature remains divided, with Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats holding a small lead in the House.

Neither House nor Senate Republicans appear to desire Shapiro’s proposed spending spree.

“While I can support initiatives that invest in our workforce and help more folks to lay down roots in Pennsylvania, those initiatives cannot be coupled with an endless wish list of spending agendas that are unsustainable and eviscerate our safety nets,” said Rep. Donna Scheuren (R-Montgomery). “That is not good governance, nor is it fiscally responsible.”

“We cannot reverse years of progress with a single-year spending spree that sacrifices our future,” said Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster). “We need a responsible budget that helps grow jobs here and encourages families to put down roots here so we can reverse the negative economic and demographic trends that threaten our future stability. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make that happen.”

An email to the Shapiro administration was not answered.

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$5.4 Billion Spending Hike Plan Passed Ed Funding Commission in Party-Line Vote

The Democratic majority on an education funding commission is backing an additional $5.4 billion in new taxpayer spending on public schools in Pennsylvania. Republicans and supporters of education reform say taxpayers are already spending record amounts, and it’s time to make real changes.

“Members of the General Assembly will see the report for what it is, just another biased political sideshow rather than a constructive tool to help the General Assembly and the governor reach a rational compromise on the distribution of basic education funding,” Commonwealth Foundation Vice President Stephen Bloom told DVJournal. “The report calls for billions in new spending without accountability or incentives for student performance, ignoring the pressing need for more educational choices for Pennsylvania families.”

Last week the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC) voted 8-7 along party lines in favor of a Democratic-backed report calling for at least $200 million each year in new spending “to help school districts with rising costs and inflationary pressures.”

The commission was responding to a Commonwealth Court judge’s ruling last year declaring Pennsylvania’s current education funding system violates the state’s constitution. “Petitioners and students attending low-wealth districts are being deprived of equal protection of law,” Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer ruled.

The commission’s Democratic majority, along with the Shapiro administration, suggested that the current basic education funding mechanism needed readjusting to reduce volatility. Democrats also criticized charter school costs, arguing that taxpayers needed to pay more for them. That would be accomplished through re-establishing the state charter reimbursement – eliminated in 2011 by the state legislature.

“We consistently heard that we must reduce the financial burdens school districts face from charter schools,” wrote Sens. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia) and Nick Miller (D-Allentown). Both served as Senate representatives on the BEFC panel. “Charter school costs have exploded [since the reimbursement was repealed]. We support a significant investment in this area as school district charter school costs hover around $3 billion annually.”

No Republicans voted for the majority report. But that didn’t stop Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro from praising it as “a reflection of…the consensus across Pennsylvania, and among leaders in both parties.” He said that it provides “a real path forward to deliver a comprehensive solution on K-12 education in Pennsylvania.”

And House Democrats called the majority report a “compromise.”

Republicans disagree.

Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford) scoffed at the $5.4 billion additional demand by the majority. “We recognize the need for change in the way education is funded and, through our report, are making recommendations that address the funding formula,” he said. “What we are not willing to do is to step outside of our mission as a commission and recommend a specific monetary number. That is the purview of the entirety of the General Assembly and the administration.”

Shapiro’s administration did not answer emails from DVJournal on whether he supported tax increases to fund the recommended $5.4 billion Democrats recommend to close the gap between rich and poor districts.

Rather than increased spending, Republicans say their minority report would promote increased accountability.

“Government-run education needs to be accountable to the students and parents who depend on it and to the citizens who pay for it,” said Sen. Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland/Dauphin/Perry). “We need to create opportunities for all students, hold schools accountable for student outcomes and further empower parents in the education of their children.”

And the Commonwealth Foundation decried the majority report as “deeply disappointing.”

“History has shown that continuously pouring more money into the public school system doesn’t improve educational outcomes,” said Commonwealth Foundation Director of Legislative Strategy Kevin Kane. “But it does lead to higher taxes. In fact, the commission’s recommendation to increase government spending by nearly $6 billion would cost Pennsylvania families an additional $2,000 per year. The report is a laundry list of special interest spending proposals, rather than a serious attempt to help Pennsylvania’s students.”

And, Republicans wrote in their minority report that the state already spends $17.8 billion on education, “which represents 40 percent of the state’s General Fund.”

Commonwealth Foundation statistics say that Pennsylvania’s per-pupil spending is $21,263. In a typical classroom of 20 students, that equals $425,260. The Pennsylvania Department of Education said that classroom teachers make an average of $74,723 a year.

That means less than 18 percent of education spending goes to the teachers doing the educating, critics note.

Neither report impressed BEFC member Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny County) who voted against them both.

“I did not want the public to look at a unanimous Democratic-only report and think that it represents our shared goals for this year’s budget,” she said accusing legislators of talking in circles. “It does not. A unanimous Democratic-only report risks setting the ceiling for negotiations—and this report is closer to my floor.”

Bloom, who formerly represented Cumberland County in the Pennsylvania House, called the BEFC report a missed opportunity.

“[T]he commission had the opportunity to make a positive difference for Pennsylvania students by proposing realistic options for restoring equity to the process of distributing basic education funding…It squandered that opportunity in favor of preserving entrenched unconstitutional inequities,” Bloom said.

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WALKER: New Speaker Is Good for Energy

For the first time, the House of Representatives removed its leader by a vote instigated by one of the majority party’s own. After a few failed attempts to elect a successor, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana slid in to clinch the speaker’s post by garnering support from his party. Perhaps a lesser-known figure, Johnson has a solid record of supporting oil and gas exploration in a Gulf state with a significant fossil fuel industry.

Johnson has the backing of energy groups eager to work with him on such issues.

The Energy Workforce & Technology Council president said, “From our perspective, Speaker Johnson has been an ally to the oil and gas industry and could play a major role in changing the narrative surrounding the vilification of the industry.”

Independent Petroleum Association of America said it looks forward to working with the new speaker “on the issues that impact independent oil and natural gas producers across the country.”

Other groups were not thrilled and were quick to issue statements regarding Johnson’s perceived energy prowess. It didn’t take long for the attacks to mount.

The Sierra Club claims Johnson has “extreme views on climate change and science.” Others say he’s a “zealot,” “anti-science” or a “climate denier.” And some don’t like his stance on wind and solar because they are “inefficient sources of energy.” But receiving so much angst from those groups might make Johnson a great choice regarding good energy policy.

Whatever one’s opinion of the new speaker, it seems clear he will prioritize energy production at home. He recognizes that fossil fuels are still critical to our energy needs and the production should be ramped up rather than scaled back. As nice as the idea is of having wind and solar to power our needs, Johnson points out that those sources just aren’t adequate.

Criticizing the Inflation Reduction Act as “green energy slush funds,” Johnson’s first major legislation passed among House Republicans would cut billions of dollars in consumer rebates for energy efficiency upgrades included in President Biden’s signature climate law. It also slashes funding for the Energy Department’s energy efficiency office.

While this legislation is not likely to pass the Senate nor receive the president’s signature without some changes, it represents a starting point as Republicans negotiate spending with Democrats ahead of a mid-November government shutdown deadline and a more reasonable approach to energy. Johnson understands that such subsidies are not in the best interests of the typical American and a waste of taxpayer funds.

Regarding renewables, the speaker is not the only one to question their efficiency and reliability. There’s plenty of evidence to showcase the shortcomings of wind and solar.

The biggest examples are winter Storms Uri and Elliot that ripped through Texas and the Southeast in the last few years. Both left millions without power. And it was the use of coal that prevented the energy systems from total collapse. Weather-dependent resources failed and were insufficient to handle the substantial energy output those storms demanded.

In fact, Energy Ventures Analysis issued a report this year analyzing the energy needs and pitfalls of Storm Elliot. It states that wind “is not a reliable form of electricity generation during these weather events. … The only form of power generation that can increase output significantly to meet high electricity demand is powered by fossil fuels.”

Johnson is correct to say that wind and solar are inefficient sources of energy. More of our elected officials should take note.

Energy policy is obviously not going to change overnight with a new House speaker, especially with a thin majority and a Democratic Senate and executive branch. Much is to be done to pull us back from the disastrous policies of the last three years. But it would appear that Johnson is not about to let the safety and security of the American people be sacrificed on the altar of climate change or some political agenda. This is good news for the energy industry and for the American consumer.

TRACY: Upper Darby Stands on the Precipice of Financial Armageddon

This column first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

The phrase “perfect storm” is frequently overused, but in the case of Upper Darby Township, it’s completely accurate.

New tax increases for the municipal government and school district are imminent due to questionable spending by both authorities. When you combine these tax increases with irresponsible, unfunded spending at the county level, the already overtaxed residents of Upper Darby are about to pick up the tab for the gross negligence of their administration.

I ask that you indulge me and permit me to set the stage here with some history.

I served as chairman of Upper Darby’s township economic development organization from 2018–2020. Appointed by Mayor Thomas Miccozzie and approved by the council, my committee was charged with assessing the relative economic competitiveness of the commonwealth’s sixth-largest municipality and advising the administration on steps it could take to strengthen the local economy and the municipal government’s overall fiscal position.

My analysis in 2018 was simple: Upper Darby residents are victims of both Pennsylvania’s unfair, archaic, and balkanized system of local taxation and a completely irrational tax structure in neighboring Philadelphia that chases out private capital and exacerbates poverty in the nation’s poorest big city. Proponents of the city wage tax and its defenders in Harrisburg have, over time, created a system that punishes the vulnerable, promotes the flight of families and businesses, and widens the economic gap between the rich and poor.

These compounding forces create a dynamic where Upper Darby families and businesses are incentivized to flee to environs where real estate taxes represent a smaller percentage of the value of their homes and where real estate values are less likely to decline due to excessive tax burdens that consume the home equity of working families.

My conclusion was equally simple: Though the town faced major structural challenges, a death spiral could be avoided with the right mix of policy leadership, strong fiscal management, and community engagement. However, two things had to happen.

First, we had to grow our way out of the problem by attracting new businesses and private investment. This would create economic opportunities for residents and allow the government to shift some of the local tax burden away from working families. Developing the 69th Street commercial corridor, the Drexeline Town Center, and the township’s various local business districts were essential to success.

Second, we needed to work closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development so they would better understand the structural challenges that undermined urban, working-class municipalities like Upper Darby all across Pennsylvania. Their partnership could mean access to the sort of state subsidies, such as Keystone Opportunity Zones, that rejuvenated many struggling neighborhoods in the city.

As a result, Upper Darby became the first municipality in the commonwealth to enter the state’s Strategic Township Management program in 2019. We were provided a grant to develop an economic development strategy to not just stave off disaster but also reimagine the local economy. The work had the full support of the Micozzie Administration and a large majority of the town council, but the support was not unanimous.

Then-Councilwoman Barabrann Keffer dismissed the plan as a distraction at a public hearing and refused to support it. She would go on to be elected mayor later in 2019, and a few months into her term, she dismantled the committee entirely and the township’s engagement with the Strategic Township Management Program. The Drexeline Town Center project was stalled. In 2020’s summer of rage, riots decimated the 69th Street commercial corridor. And the new administration repeatedly demonstrated incompetence in managing its fiscal affairs, including the mishandling of federal funds that led to the resignation of Keffer’s chief administrator.

Perhaps Mayor Keffer regrets that decision today.

Four years later, on Sept. 20, 2023, Mayor Keffer called a town hall to inform the Upper Darby Township residents that the administration had entered the Department of Community and Economic Development’s Strategic Township Management Program. They had received a grant to work with a consultant to assess the township’s local economy and financial position. The consultant’s findings were dire: the administration failed to conduct the proper audits and misspent funds, diminishing its capacity to borrow. Years of poor fiscal management and declining revenues will yield structural deficits for the foreseeable future unless new, regressive taxes are thrust upon residents, many of whom are struggling to afford the current tax burden.

Go figure.

The administration’s presentation was unsettling for several reasons. First, as I have outlined above, despite the obvious challenges, this predicament was entirely avoidable. Second, close observers of Delaware County politics from both sides of the aisle quietly admit that the administration has been a disaster in every sense of the word. Third, and most importantly, it was what the presentation did not say that was most unsettling. The administration’s analysis failed to account for how the other taxing authorities were managing their affairs, which is no small matter. In short, the town is indisputably on the precipice of financial Armageddon.

The median household income in Upper Darby is $62,500 and the median value of an owner-occupied home is $207,500 (according to The owner of the house is obligated to pay real estate taxes to three government entities: the township, school district, and county. The total taxes currently levied by those three entities is 42.1414 mills. A median-priced house is taxed $8,744 annually, which is equal to fourteen percent of the median household income. Homeowners are reaching the breaking point. Add insurance, repairs, utilities, and home ownership, and it is becoming close to unaffordable for a working-class family, as it has been for seniors on fixed incomes for some time.

Things have been difficult for homeowners in Upper Darby, but they are about to get considerably worse.

The school district passed its most recent budget using $20 million in money given to the district by the federal government to help with expenses incurred because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The problem is the money was largely used to add recurring costs, such as personnel. There will be no $20 million from the federal government in next year’s budget, so the district is confronted with a $20 million structural deficit. Guess where they are most likely to go to get that money? Even with the $20 million in federal funds, the district still needed a tax increase and money from its “rainy day” fund to balance its budget this year.

In addition, the district has decided to double its current debt load and build a new school costing at least $100M. In order to build it, they will need to issue bonds; the annual cost of those bonds will be $7M. The district will no doubt have inflation adjustments of several million to the next budget in addition to the bonds and the unfunded deficit. If we add all these up, there is a likely need for more than a $30M increase in school taxes.

Of course, they could cancel the new school and lay off a significant number of employees. They could, but probably cannot or will not. If my worst case comes true, the district could find it must raise taxes by six mills or more — that’s $1,200 on the median home.

This brings us back to the township. According to its presentation, the municipal government is basically bankrupt. The township deficit will be $11M within eighteen months. The causes of the condition are complex but certainly include a large dose of mis-, mal-, and nonfeasance.

For instance, more than a million and a half dollars went to lawyers, including a Montgomery County lawyer who happens to be, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of the largest contributors to local Democrats. That number is higher than the entire county government spent on outside legal fees in 2019, the last year of GOP control.

You might ask, are the hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing parking fees the only example of official legerdemain? Further, do you feel safer in Upper Darby today than in 2019? Given that the number of homicides has more than tripled under this administration’s watch, spending a bit more on police and a bit less on lawyers seems like a good idea.

By the way, the argument that the township lost any meaningful amount of revenue during the pandemic is preposterous given its tax structure. Local real estate taxes represent the vast majority of total revenue. During the Covid lockdowns, the federal government made mortgage payments, inclusive of property taxes, for those who could not, while the township government itself operated at reduced capacity (e.g. cost). The pandemic cannot be blamed for this problem with a straight face.

If we add the $11M the township needs to the $30M the school district needs we are up to a $41M structural deficit. But WAIT! It does not end there!

Our betters in Media will also need more of Upper Darby residents’ hard-earned dollars; after all, they know so much better how to spend it. The County Council has already acknowledged publicly that they will need to seek “new revenues.” If our estimates at Broad + Liberty are correct, their forthcoming $60M structural deficit will add approximately $5M to Upper Darby’s real estate tax burden.

Let’s sum this up: $30M (Upper Darby School District) + $11M (Upper Darby Township) + $5M (Delaware County) equals a $46M structural deficit. The additional ten mills required to cover this deficit will mean Upper Darby’s relative tax burden will be 32 percent higher than Swarthmore (35 mills), 61 percent higher than Media (20 mills), 63 percent higher than Radnor (19 mills), and an eye-popping 69 percent higher than Newtown Township (16 mills). Where are the local progressives demanding the affluent pay their fair share? Well, by and large, they live in those towns. Meanwhile, in Upper Darby, the owner of the average home will pay an additional $2,000 in local taxes.

Plus, the administration has proposed levying a new earned income tax, which it intends to split with the school district. A policy that will undoubtedly drive income earners to flee to nearby Haverford, Springfield, and Marple Townships in droves. Its yield to the government is likely to be a fraction of current estimates.

I welcome those running the township, school district, and county to challenge my numbers. I hope, for the good of the town, they will prove me wrong.

I suspect they will not, because they cannot.

Whether by evil genius or complete incompetence, those responsible for being good stewards of our tax dollars have failed the residents of Upper Darby miserably and, given the state of the schools, streets, and parks, have precious little to show for it. Luckily most have yards big enough for a garden — that’s if they want to eat.

PA Pols Divided Over ‘Build Back Better’ Vote

Friday’s vote to pass the House version of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” social spending bill sparked an immediate reaction from Pennsylvania’s elected officials and politicians. Democrats like U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan called it “the largest investment in the middle class in a generation,” while GOP U.S. Senator Pat Toomey denounced it as “radical stuff.”

Details on the tax-and-spend legislation are so unclear its exact price tag is still uncertain, with estimates ranging from $1.5 to $2 trillion in new spending over the next decade. And that’s on top of the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” and the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed earlier this year. That brings the House’s one-year spending total to an additional $5.1 trillion

A might be expected, views of the House vote fell along party lines.

“I think that the Democrats in D.C. are tone deaf,” said state Sen. Pro Tempore Jake Corman, (R-Centre), a GOP candidate for governor.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Bartos, a Montgomery County businessman, called the bill the  ‘Build Back Broke’ spending package.

“Joe Biden and congressional Democrats’ ‘Build Back Broke’ legislation is devastating for America’s working families. Rather than dealing with their own self-created inflation and supply chain crises, Democrats in Washington choose to allocate more money to liberal pet projects at the expense of Pennsylvania taxpayers,” said Bartos. “This tax-and-spending legislation is not only unpaid for but will put the burden on our children and grandchildren to pay for this irresponsible governing.”

Democrats, on the other hand, were elated.

“President Biden recognizes that this plan, which includes many issues that I have prioritized throughout my administration, will make child care, home care, education, health care, and housing more affordable for hardworking families, as well as address the climate crisis,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “It will build on the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act by investing in the middle class, our economy, and our environment. It gives people the opportunities and resources they need to have a better quality of life.

“The president’s ongoing commitment to addressing climate change will benefit our environment, our economy, and even our utility bills,” Wolf added. In fact, the bill as passed by the House is likely to increase energy prices, many experts agree.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey tweeted his support. “Today, the House passed legislation to invest in American children, seniors, families, and workers. The #BuildBackBetter Act would lower costs for Americans, create jobs and strengthen our Nation’s economy.”

His GOP counterpart, Toomey, doesn’t agree.

“This is radical stuff. Let’s be honest. This is transformative by design,” Toomey said. “The Wharton School says this is $4.6 trillion of spending, and . . . it’s mostly about expanding the welfare state to the middle class. [Democrats have] got all kinds of new programs—some don’t even have any income limitation and on those that do, it is extremely high. This kind of total transformation of the relationship between middle-income Americans and the federal government is not what people were voting on in last election.”

Every Pennsylvania Democrat voted for the spending bill while every Republican — including DelVal’s U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick — voted against it.

“Regrettably, instead of coming to the table to negotiate on the social spending reconciliation package, House Democratic leadership decided to take the completely opposite approach when they hastily forced Build Back Better through the House on a totally partisan vote,” said Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks). The country would be better served by working on “skyrocketing inflation, workforce shortages, supply chain disruptions, and economic competitiveness with adversaries like Communist China,” he added.

U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester Co.) was pleased by the outcome.

“At a time when so many Pennsylvanians are feeling the economic pressures of global inflation and rising prices, this bill helps to lower the costs of a household’s biggest expenditures: health care, housing, child care, and more,” Houlahan said in a statement. “The Build Back Better Act is fiscally disciplined while also addressing the most pressing issues of our time.

“For too long, too many hardworking families in Chester and Berks counties have been struggling to stay afloat – and the pandemic further exposed the systemic issues that are shrinking the middle class. But today, we took action to make our economy work for everyone.”

Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delaware Co.) said the bill “makes the largest investment to combat the climate crisis in history. It will cut pollution, reduce energy costs, and create good-paying jobs through a transformational investment in clean energy.”

And U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean  (D-Montgomery) said, “This legislation will lower the cost of child care and family care, lower the cost of health care, and combat climate change. The passage of the Build Back Better Act follows President Biden’s signing of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law on Monday. Together, the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill will transform our nation’s infrastructure and economy and support working families. The Build Back Better Act is fully paid for through taxes to big corporations and ultra-wealthy Americans.”

Democrats like Dean insist the bill as passed is “paid for,” echoing President Biden’s claim the spending won’t add to the deficit. However, the Congressional Budget Office and nearly every independent fiscal watchdog report the House bill would add at least $100 billion in new debt.

“Democrats have completely abandoned hardworking Pennsylvanians,” said Allie Carroll, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, “which is a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and a slap in the face to Keystone staters who are already experiencing skyrocketing prices and economic hardships thanks to Biden. This reckless vote will cost Madeleine Dean, Chrissy Houlahan, Susan Wild, Matt Cartwright, and Conor Lamb their seats next November.”

She predicted it would increase inflation, taxes, and contrary to what Biden said, is not paid for.

“The CBO found that the plan would increase the deficit by $367 billion over a ten-year period. And the Penn-Wharton Budget Model found that the plan would shrink the economy by nearly 3 percent by 2050 if made permanent,” Carroll said.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. Toomey says he hopes the process will help Americans learn more about what the bill actually does.

“The American people are not on board on this, so we are continuing to drive the message about how damaging this would be, how much this would cost, how much it would add to inflation, to our deficits, the tax increase. And, this is part of the political process: Have this debate,” Toomey said.

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Democratic Lawmakers Tout Passage of Infrastructure Bill

Delaware Valley U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) called the newly-passed infrastructure bill “an economic engine” during a Democratic Zoom press conference touting the legislation.

Several Pennsylvania Democratic members of Congress joined the call Wednesday to take a victory lap over the passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The Biden administration says it will bring more than $15 billion to Pennsylvania over five years.

Asked whether the bill, coupled with the pending $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act, will add to what is already a 31-year high level of inflation—up 6.2 percent in the last year–the Democratic lawmakers insisted it would not.

Congresswoman Susan Wild (D-Lehigh/Northampton) said “responsible journalists” would not suggest these massive spending bills would “directly affect the current state of inflation.”

Dean agreed.

“I think a lot of what we’re doing here is actually going to curb inflation over the next few months…We’re going to see getting people back to work, getting our supply chains working…I hope nobody is going to tie the passage of these two bills to the current inflation rates because there is simply no relationship.”

President Joe Biden was careful to look at where the resources are coming from to pay for these bills, she said.

“I am mindful, and I want to acknowledge, my constituents asked me about their concerns about inflation, cost of goods, cost of gas, so that is real. But these two bills are not the problem. The problem is multi-faceted and it’s certainly deeply connected to COVID and an economic closure and then once you reopen an economy, how you rebound from that closure. These two bills are going to be extraordinary economic engines for our future.”

Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-Wayne/Pike/Lackawanna) said the last time there was a similar investment in American infrastructure was under President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, when the interstate highway system was built. And he added “top economists” note that when companies produce more it will bring the prices down and this bill will “grease the skids” to allow them to do that.

“These inflationary pressures that we’re seeing, they all have to do with reopening our economy after COVID,” he said. “Obviously, the demand has outstripped the supply.” He also noted that Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, has tools “at his disposal” to put the brakes on it.

“We’re not particularly worried about inflation getting out of hand. We can control that,” said Cartwright.

In her remarks on the bill, Dean said her district is “an older ring suburb of Philadelphia which is crying out for this type of investment.”

The bill will bring $11 billion to roads and bridges to Pennsylvania: $100 million to broadband, 2.8 billion for public transportation, $355 million for airports, $240 million for weatherizing, and $1.4 billion for safe drinking water.

Congressman Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) said the bill will bring money for improvements to public transportation and add more jobs.

“It is very beneficial,” said Evans. “SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) just settled a contract because of the American Rescue Act. And now the infrastructure…When you talk about SEPTA and what it means to the entire region…And all of us who are on this phone today all played key roles in making this happen, working with the president and vice president.”

“This is building on what we did before at the state level,” said Evans.

“It’s something everybody Democratic and Republican can be proud of,” said Dean.

Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks), who was one of 13 Republicans who voted for the bill, was not on the Democrats’ virtual press conference. However, he released this statement: “This is a victory for not only the people of Pennsylvania but for the entire country. The federal government has created the crisis of deteriorating roads, defunct bridges, and vulnerable dams and levees through its inaction. These types of arteries are the lifeblood of American commerce and must be improved. America’s infrastructure has reached a breaking point, and this is a challenge we can no longer ignore.

“From the start, I have insisted on the passage of a hard infrastructure bill, delinked from any other partisan, social spending package. This bipartisan, physical infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate in August with strong Republican support, is entirely separate from the partisan reconciliation bill, which I oppose.

“The bipartisan infrastructure package is completely paid for, primarily by unspent COVID-19 relief funds, and will create a dedicated funding stream for our nation’s infrastructure network. I look forward to the President signing this landmark physical infrastructure legislation into law so that we can bring America’s infrastructure network into the 21st century, create jobs, and improve the health and safety of the American people,” Fitzpatrick said.


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Controller Candidates Debate: How Much is Too Much for Delco Consultants?

A county controller’s job is to make sure local government accounts for every penny of taxpayer money it spends. And over the past 18 months, a lot of those pennies in Delaware County have been going to outside contractors to do work that critics say should be done by the employees already on the county clock.

So, how much is too much for Delco to spend on outside consultants?

The question goes back to the county council’s decision in August to hire Marianne Jackson to serve as Interim Director of Elections for $20,000 per month, part of a $2 million spending package on the 2020 election some saw as wasteful and excessive.

“Twenty thousand dollars a month, $20,000 a month for an employee,” Republican James J. Byrne, Jr. said at the time. “I defy you to find any other county employee that’s being paid $20,000 a month.”

Since then, the county council approved paying consultant Christina Perrone $100,000 for five months of work related to the May primary election. Her contract also included reviewing the medical examiner facilities and operations, the establishment of the new county health department, and other initiatives. It had previously paid her $50,000 to coordinate moving the Election Bureau and the Voter Registration Department from the Government Center in Media to the Wharf at Rivertown in Chester.

Perrone isn’t the only person getting paid on contracts related to the creation of the county’s new stand-alone health department. In May 2020, the council hired Gorenflo Consulting Inc. for up to $44,978 to create a strategic plan for launching the health department.

Over the summer, the council added consultant Cebele Rodriguez for up to $125,000 for project management services to integrate staff and facility needs. That included developing and designing contracts related to the launch of the county health department and the redevelopment of the county medical examiner’s office, while also providing support regarding the scanning of mail for contraband at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility.

And then there’s money to contractors hired to get county government more money.

In June, the council approved the $95,000 seven-month hiring of law firm Holland & Knight to lobby the federal government on the county’s behalf. That came one year after hiring the Witt O’Brien firm to maximize federal and state grant reimbursements related to costs associated with COVID-19. Officials expect Witt O’Brien’s $150,000 fee to be reimbursed by such grants.

Delaware County Controller Joanne Phillips, seeking a second term in this November’s election, has previously expressed her concerns regarding spending on consultants, especially the optics it sends to county employees. However, Phillips told DVJournal this week the county’s use of project managers and outside advisors is “appropriate in certain circumstances.”

“Given the initiatives council wanted to move forward on in 2020, the issues inherited by county council when they began in 2020 and then the almost immediate onset of the pandemic, outside help and project managers were needed,” Phillips says. “These arrangements are best used when the scope of a project is limited or there is a need for special expertise. Typically, that has been the case.”

Phillips cited building the new health department, handling vaccination efforts, managing the emergency rental assistance program, and bringing the prison back to county control as examples of properly utilizing outside help. (The council approved hiring CGL Companies for $385,000 to oversee the prison’s transition.)

“I do feel strongly that when the job entails a critical county function, a county employee should handle the job,” Phillips said. “I’ve been a strong proponent for limiting the use of consultants to address needed permanent management positions. However, owing a great deal to the pandemic, the labor market has been very tight and there are jobs that are needed only for a short time, so use of temporary staff has helped address those situations.”

Sherry Smyth, Phillips’ Republican challenger in the controller race, doesn’t agree.

“I don’t understand why there aren’t any qualified people in Delaware County to take these jobs,” Smyth says. “If elected, I will do audits and review policies and procedures to determine the duration of these contracts.”

Smyth, a certified public accountant, has served as a Newtown Township supervisor and elected auditor. She’s also vice-chair of the Newtown Square Business Association and serves on the board of Family Support Line. At the end of March, she retired after 16 years as CEO of Dunwoody Village.

The Delco Republican Party has repeatedly criticized the Democrat-controlled county government for passing over local workers and hiring consultants instead. In March, Delaware County GOP Committee Chair Tom McGarrigle complained about the hiring of James Allen as Delaware County’s Election Services Director. Allen, who previously spent 14 years as director of communications and strategic planning for the Chicago Board of Elections, was brought in for an agreed-upon salary cap of $145,000 plus benefits.

When the county hired Jackson for the elections job, McGarrigle told DV Journal: “We have 560,000 people living in Delaware County. Why not select someone from here?”

The controller serves as a fiscal watchdog, tasked with overseeing the expenditures of county funds. The office handles the county’s payroll, internal audits, retirement, accounts payable, and the accounting system. Phillips came to the role as a partner in the law firm of Ballard Spahr LLP. She also served as director of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Real Estate in the department of general services, where she oversaw leased facilities and property.

“With careful recruiting and good hiring practices, the county will be able to hire qualified people and we can build the county workforce to the right size with county residents in those jobs,” Phillips says.

Pennsylvania’s general election takes place Nov. 2.