Since the vote on Monday evening there’s been a lot of arm-chair quarter-backing on what happened on the School Property Tax Elimination vote. Much of what I’m reading is misdirected anger with so many looking for people to blame. That’s fine so long as the right people are being nailed but some of what’s being posted isn’t doing that.
This was not a failing of parties but of individuals in both parties. It’s not exclusively the Democrats fault and its not the Republicans fault. Individuals in both parties bear blame for this. At the same time, individuals in both parties should be acknowledged for the work they did in advancing this legislation against extraordinary pressure from the campaign-funding lobbyists who fill the halls of the Capitol.
Again, it wasn’t a left or right lobbyist paradigm that was responsible for the misinformation to legislators on this bill. Both sides of the lobbying effort developed their own talking points and they hit hard. The PSEA and PA Budget and Policy Center were strong voices in opposition representing the public sector unions. While we’ve been told that Americans For Prosperity was taking a neutral stance on this but our sources inside tell us a very different story. And that’s from multiple sources, not one or two individuals. The Commonwealth Foundation also claimed a neutral position but Matt Brouilette, when appearing on radio talk shows, never even remotely attempted to reflect that neutral position.
While we are constantly told that lobbyists have no real “undue” influence you have to ask yourself why a lobbying firm like Greenlee Partners would pay $10,000 per month to lobby the Pennsylvania General Assembly on behalf of the government of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania according to the Pennsylvania Lobbyist Database from 2009 and Brad Bumstead in an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review dated November 29, 2009. Greenlee Partners has been identified as “one of the capital’s most visible lobbying firms” by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Dilanian, Ken (October 4, 1998). “Takeover Fight Grabs Spotlight.”.)
I was at the Capitol on the day of the vote to attend internal meetings regarding the legislation along with Ron Boltz and Dean Klopp. David Baldinger would have been there with us but his health prevented it.
The paid lobbyists were there as well. The Capitol Rotunda was crawling with them. It wasn’t the first time I’ve witnessed this debacle in the Capitol Complex so I was very happy that other grassroots citizens were there with Ron, Dean and I to see it as well. The influence is definitely there but its there because of the legislators who allow it to be there and fight against the necessary lobbyist reforms needed to help get Pennsylvania off the top 10 most corrupt government lists.
That influence doesn’t excuse the legislators who repeated these talking points and regardless of how ticked off this makes you, those of you who followed this closely know that many of the opposing legislators never took the time to read the bill or to understand the actual mechanics of the legislation. Their talking points may have come from the lobbyists, but legislators who parroted those points had a responsibility to read and know this legislation, especially on such an important issue.
There were legislators that we never got to come on a co-sponsors. Others had confirmed their support for the legislation telling the people contacting their offices that they would support it. One co-sponsor decided not to show up and as we work to confirm the details of why, you may find yourself even more angry at what is going on. There were 25 no votes on this legislation, 19 of them hadn’t claimed support of SB 76. It’s okay to be ticked at those 19 but you should have been just as angry before the vote….you should have been out there then.
The five names to remember in this vote are Senators Blake, Corman, McGarrigle, Fontana and Ward because they all claimed support for the legislation at some level.
The snickering antics of the Lt. Governor Stack should also be burned into your memory. If it isn’t…..here’s a reminder:
While this visual of the smirk and giggle that followed the no vote should anger us realize this….that attitude is a visual symbol of EVERY no vote made that night. People losing their homes in order to protect the perks granted to campaign funding special interests is not a laughing matter.
From what we’ve heard the opponents went viral during the caucus in both parties before this vote. I know this is hearsay but the information comes from multiple sources and I have no reason to doubt it especially since individuals who rose to speak in opposition to the legislation mirrored the things I was told took place in that room.
When we went to the vote we had every reason to believe that we had this vote. The numbers were there. The problem was that we were not told the truth. To read attacks for running the bill when we didn’t have the votes is ridiculous. Its part of that misplaced anger. What are we supposed to do, refuse to accept the acknowledgment of a yes vote unless the legislator is attached to a lie detector?
Like many of you, I didn’t trust Corman’s supposed support. Ron Boltz and I met with a member of his staff before the vote who was a bit indignant that we and others had questioned the Senator’s support support. We explained why we questioned that support and we were assured that he supported the legislation. On the day of the vote, Corman voted no. Can any of us trust his word as being reliable in the future? I don’t think so which is a sad statement considering that Corman is the Majority leader in the Senate. If you can’t trust the leadership….if leadership is willing to betray the people for whatever reasons, can you trust the party?
The Legislators were forewarned. This issue is not like others issues. The people were following this closely. They’ve watched hearings, videos of town halls, and followed the statements and votes of the legislators on this issue. They watched the night of that vote and they aren’t happy. The anger in the social media is at viral levels with promises to take this to the campaign trail. 14 of the 24 no votes have elections next year.
Regardless of all the attempts by the opposition to wear us down, of the attempts to silence us and the failure of the media to give this the attention it deserves….the grassroots kept driving this issue, the grassroots kept this issue in the forefront. It was the mobilization of the grassroots that made Property Tax the center of the budget debate. It was the mobilization of the grassroots that got this vote. Without major funding PACS and on their own dimes they organized town halls, took this out of the meeting halls and into the streets and managed to fund two billboards in Harrisburg from the small contributions of individuals. This debate on this issue is not over yet and it won’t be until we, the membership of the PTCC, says its over. There too much at stake here….we are after all, talking about the seizure of people’s homes here….something that our opposition and even some of our supporters seem to forget.
Fortunately we have fighters inside the Senate who are willing to fight alongside us. Fortunately for us we already have a base of support in the legislative body. That support is in both the Senate and the House.
This bill can come back in the Senate in this session and in speaking with Senators Argall and Folmer, we have been assured that the bill is not dead. The Senate is still our best chance with the legislation. Several avenues are being explored and as we gather more information we’ll pass that information along to you.
And her’s a little advice to the legislators as well as to those lobbying firms. Stop talking to us and start talking with us. You can’t claim to represent us if you don’t know what we think or how we feel on this issue. We honestly are smart enough to figure some of these things out on our own, we just need an open and honestly dialogue so we can make the most informed decisions. That takes more than talking points.
Consider this simple fact: the last townhall held on this issue in the Berks area brought out 400 people to sit in a room for 3 hours and listen to the details and specifics of this legislation. In fact every townhall on this issue brings out large numbers of people and the support for this effort is always overwhelmingly in the positive regardless of where its held. Show me other political meetings that overwhelming draw in hundreds regardless of where they are held.
In this torrid world of political polarities Democrats, Republicans and Independents sit together in a room and overwhelmingly support this effort. While lobbying firms that claim to represent groups oppose us, the people those firms supposedly represent disagree. We have Lawyers, Accountants, Teachers, Doctors, Retailers, Small Business, Factory workers, Established families, New families and Seniors, School Board members, County Commissioners and others in local government, Realtors, Farmers, Homeowners, Apartment owners and tenants, Stay At Home Moms, and countless others of all political persuasion among our supporters.
In spite of all the efforts to wear us down, our numbers do not diminish…we continue to grow and we vote. To be blunt we vote at the ballot box AND we vote with our wallets. We know what’s at stake here because it is something near and dear to us, the home that provides shelter to our families and that Mr. Stack is NO laughing matter.