Who Is To Blame?

Note: This is part two of a series about the current opposition to the school property tax elimination bill HB/SB 76.   See this link for part one!

I previously published a post framed around the public educational complex and the depths they will go to hold on to their power.

As unfortunate as that is, the responsibility for this legislation rests on the shoulders of our legislators.

We can get as angry as we want as the special interest’s self-serving opposition to this legislation but the blame rest solely on those we elect to represent us.

The thing about lobbyists and other special interest power is that their power is only enabled by legislators who are willing to cave to their demands.

From the day we started this fight we’ve had very little legislative effort to take this issue to the public.  All of that has happened through the grassroots efforts.  From the door-to-door canvassing efforts to the town halls, to advertising….it has all happened because the grassroots advocacy to make it happen.

We’ve taken time away from our jobs and our families to fight for this issue.  The town halls and every effort to advance this legislation has come from the pockets of those fighting to make it happen.   There is no corporate funding, no special interest funding, it’s been us all the way.

Recently we were told that we aren’t doing enough to fight for this issue at this critical time and while there may be more each of us can do, the fact remains that this issue has not been driven by our legislators the way it should have been.  If there is a change in the strategy, it must the legislators who change.

We’ve seen the countless articles from the educational complex attacking this legislation and we’ve seen letters from citizen advocates trying to set the record straight but what we aren’t seeing is the legislators fighting back.

We’re told that the legislators are getting beaten up by these self-serving special interests but I’d like to know why the misrepresentation of this legislation by these self-serving campaign-funding groups isn’t being challenged by our legislators.

Are they so afraid to take a principled stand to do the right thing? Do they really not care about what is happening to homeowners?

I know there are a few out there who are standing up and fighting back but the reality is that they are so few in number because the illusion of power is what rules and for too many legislators, everything they do is measured by how it will impact their chance at re-election.  Doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do is, sadly, not an option for them.

That, of course, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold them to that standard.  It just means that the reality of the situation is that most legislators won’t.  They don’t have the political will.

Too many of these issues become little more than campaign rhetoric.   They hold these issues out in front of us when they run for office but when it comes time to deliver on their promises they run and hide.

During the 2016 vote on the bill Kim Ward complained because she was told that, while she ran on the issue, while she used it to get re-elected, she was told that she’d never have to vote on it.  In other words, she misrepresented her actual position on this legislation in order to help win the election but she had no intention of supporting it when push came to shove.

Think about that.  How many other issues that face this commonwealth are little more than campaign re-election tools; how many other issues are just campaign rhetoric?

At the state level, the two most pressing issues in poll after poll across the commonwealth continues to be the property tax and the pension issue.   Other regular issues that are stated by constituents include paycheck protection and prevailing wage.

Those issues have been in the forefront of campaign rhetoric for more than a decade and nothing has happened.   When legislation does advance it always fails to deliver on the promise to working families while always leveraging out special advantages to campaign-funding special interests that only make the situation worse for working families in the Commonwealth.

Just look at the much heralded Privatization Bill that passed.   Look at the Small Games of Chance bill that were supposed to help small clubs in the Commonwealth.

When it comes to the property tax we need look no further than the Gambling push in Pennsylvania that was supposed to bring about major reductions in the property tax.   It is just another in a very long series of promises that never happened.

The Pension Debacle exists because our legislators caved to the public sector to give them extended benefits to their Pensions that far exceeded pensions in the private sector.  At a time when most business were abandoning the defined benefit plans for defined contributions and working families in Pennsylvania saw their pensions stripped from them, our legislators greased the wheels of the political machine to go in the opposite direction leaving the rest of the state with an unsustainable pension debt that is still expected to be funded on the backs of home-owners.

When the private sector complains we are always told the same thing.  There is a contract clause in our Constitution that can’t be broken.   We ignore that we changed that contract to give them more and while that contract exists, we are obligated to meet that obligation, however that contract can be changed in the future.  Changes to that contract should only be ignored when they public sector benefits at the expense of the private sector.

The Contract Clause is found in Article 1

  • 17. Ex post facto laws; impairment of contracts.

No ex post facto law, nor any law impairing the obligation of contracts, or making irrevocable any grant of special privileges or immunities, shall be passed.

In fact, the current contract did exactly that.  It provided special privileges to the public sector that are not available to the private sector.

That should come as no surprise to us.  Most of Title 22 of the Pennsylvania Code and the Public School Code of 1949 is about granting special privileges to the public sector that are not available to the private sector.

Since our politicians and the Courts who would rule on this are a part of that public sector, we have little hope of seeing this resolved until the people of this Commonwealth actually begin to realize what they are doing to us.

That’s always been the problem.  The people are too busy in their normal lives to get involved enough to make the difference that is needed to bring about real reform.  As Thomas Jefferson explained “accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The ugly underbelly of lobbyist/special interest Power that resides in Harrisburg exists because our legislators allow it to exists because they benefit from it.   The legislators can then hide behind this because we allow them to do so.   So it becomes this long train of abuses that produces little more than a blame game.  Legislators blame the special interest powers while caving in and enabling that power and the lobbyists special interests use their non-profit fronts to blame the legislators all the while creating an image of them fighting against one another for all of us when in reality they are all fighting against the rest of us.

It is a situation where we are just the collateral damage of a political system that has been perverted to extend their power over us in a spirit of subjugation.

It doesn’t matter where you turn, from school districts to local government to the national level, government is more concerned about regulating us and keeping us under their thumb than they are with allowing actual principles of liberty to prevail.  At the same times these institutions will fight against any self-regulating efforts to create actual accountability or responsibility to the people they are supposed to be serving.

If they want to spend more, they do.  We don’t measure the cost while promoting the alleged benefits.

You can’t have a sustainable society working like this.  There is no cost benefit if it costs more to implement than it returns no matter how they spin it.  The KOZ and LERTA programs are perfect examples.  We simply don’t measure the cost of implementation.  We only measure the return.

By not measuring the cost, we never really know how much we are losing, we just live under the delusional falsehood of some return.  If you win $100 at the casino but it cost you $500 to do so, you lost $400.   Unfortunately, that’s how government is working.  We read about the winning but not about how much is cost….about how much we lost.

We watched in Pennsylvania as a fee was attached to gas that made Pennsylvania the most expensive place in the Commonwealth to buy gas.  We were told that it would have no impact at the pumps and they were wrong.  We were told that this money was going to pay for much needed infrastructure repair but we then discover that much of the money is going to pay for State Police overtime.

We watched as Pennsylvania levied a retroactive tax on the vaping industry and we were promised a return through that tax to help balance the budget.  What we saw was vaping shops closing at that revenue disappearing.

We continue to watch as unemployment numbers are manipulated to make it look like things are okay in Pennsylvania when in reality the Census bureau says that only 64% of those between the ages of 18 and 65 who are eligible to work are actually in the workforce.

We continue to watch as Pennsylvania population dwindles.  Last year we saw a population loss of more than 7,000 people which, if the trend continues, will impact the number of congressman Pennsylvania has in Washington to represent us.   It will also impact the number of house reps we have in Harrisburg.

That loss of population impacts a loss in PIT and Sales Tax revenue to the state and a loss of revenue to our school districts through the property tax that will have to be replaced by those who remain.

We see, in study after study, where Pennsylvania ranks at the bottom of the lists regarding business climate, tax burdens, job creation and just about anything where we could and should be doing far better.  At the same time, we are in the top percentage of state where political corruption is a pattern and natural outcome of a commonwealth bent on perpetuating a system of tyranny.

The time for depending on campaign promises as a measure for politicians is rapidly coming to an end.  They might still be able to wallow in that delusion for a while but eventually the piper expects his due and the piper they’ve hired is playing the sound of an unsustainable future.

We can continue to ignore that or we can face it.  It doesn’t have to be bad news if we are willing to do what we must to change the direction of the state and that’s going to require all of us to stand up and do something about it.

Since this change must happen legislatively, and it’s not happening under our current legislators than we have to strategically weed out those who are prone to cave to the special interests or like to make campaign promises they aren’t willing to fight for with the passion these issues deserve.

When it comes to HB/SB 76, we’ve been allowing legislators to get away with lip service for far too long.  We trusted them when they told us they supported the issue but when they didn’t fight for it through their own town halls or in taking it to the media, we turned the other way.

I’ll go so far as to say the following.  This issue is where it is because of the hard work of the citizen advocates who have made it so.  We got it there with damned little help from the majority of the supporting legislators.

While we’ve been out there taking this issue to the public; while we’ve been out there sacrificing our time, energy and resources, at times even reinforcing that we had our legislators backs on this issues, where were the majority of them.  Instead of fighting for the issue they maintained their photo-ops and public image while doing damned little to get this done.

To those legislators who have stood up I give a thankful nod but I repeat, the issue is where it is because we put it there and now we face the potential of losing it all because legislators will not stand up to the educational complex which has resorted to misrepresentation of the bill in their attempts to stop it.

In survey after survey we see that when it comes to the court of public opinion, while the misrepresentations from the education complex has been hard, the public support for the passage of this bill has not wavered.   Instead of looking at those surveys, legislators are willing to cave to the pressures of the special interests who can’t tell the truth about this bill either out of ignorance or by intentional misrepresentation.  There is no excuse for legislators who once supported and now cave other than mere political cowardice to stand up to the campaign funding special interests and their campaign based on deceitful misrepresentation.

If this bill does not move this year, we can be angry at the special interest opposition and we should be, but the failure of the bill to move will rest solely on the shoulders of our legislators.

This bill has been in front of them with very little changes for the past 7 years and if they don’t know the bill well enough by now to defend it, that’s not our fault….that’s their fault.   The fact remains that there are more people in this Commonwealth who can defend this bill better than the majority of the legislators who have claimed to support it.

The question for us is simple, what will we do about it?

The Educational Complex: Is It Really All About The Power?

Pennsylvania is in serious trouble.

A hard fought effort by grassroots advocates across Pennsylvania is now under attack by an educational complex that has one clear message to communicate even when that message is veiled in Chicken Little rhetoric.  That message is clear:  “We don’t care what it costs and we intend to make homeowners pay for it!”

School Board officials love to talk about the unfunded mandates and there was a time that I felt they were truly concerned about the costs but the reality is that they do little to nothing to fight against the unfunded mandates, their argument is only about funding.  It’s simple, it’s not about cost, it’s about funding.

The same is true with the pension problem.  In spite of the fact that the pension system is unsustainable, it’s not the cost, schools just want more funding for it.

In a recent letter from West Chester School Superintendent, he talks about cost and puts it in context:

(HB/SB 76) would cap increases at that rate, except for cost of living. Cost of living increases simply do NOT cover the mandated expenses that our public school system faces.

This new funding system would leave public schools dramatically under-funded and would force them to cut programs and staff.

You see, they have every intent of continuing to spend above the inflationary rates.  If their spending exceeds the cost of living so be it.  What that means to the rest of us is that the cost of education will increase beyond our ability to keep up with it.

While their wages and benefits keep getting better, exceeding far above the rate of inflation, working families across the Commonwealth are expected to do without so they can do with more.

Like the school district, I have an issue with the unfunded mandates.  Unlike the school districts, I despise the fact that our homes are expected to be the funding source to pay for them.  The school districts know very well that as long as the school property tax remains in place, our legislators will not tackle the problems with the unfunded mandates.  They have no incentive to do so.  That’s always been the problem.  An unfunded mandate, whether from the state or the federal level is another assault on homeownership.  It’s a way for the legislature to appease the special interests of the educational complex without raising taxes at the state or federal level.  Instead the taxes get increased locally.

The problem is actually much more complex.  The education industry talks about unfunded mandates as though it’s the single driving reason for property tax increases and that’s simply not the case.  Today’s school budgets see 70% to 80% of their funding going to wages and benefits.   Every time the Unions fight for higher wages, the cost of the unfunded liability to Pensions goes up.

But it’s all about the children isn’t it?

National Education Association’s retiring top lawyer, Bob Chanin, speaking at the NEA’s annual meeting in July, 2009:

“Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.”

“And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.”

The Union believes that it is their right to tax people out of their homes.  They believe it is their right because they have the power to do so.  The belief in that right is not founded on any basic principle of rights.  It is founded on one thing….POWER!

And it’s that power they are exerting right now to stop HB/SB 76.   Once again, they are resorting to using tax-payer funded resources to make that happen.  Your taxes are helping to pay for their meetings to stop HB/SB 76.  Your taxes are being used as some of these school districts use their tax-payer funded web pages to fight against HB/SB 76.  Your tax dollars are being used to send home prepared letters that include misleading information about HB/SB 76 to families across the commonwealth.

I say once again because our tax dollars are used to collect the dues of the Union members. While they claim that this costs us very little, it still costs us.  It is an additional expense that we have to pay for through our homes.  They tell us this amounts to very little money but if it’s so little why do they fight so hard every time a paycheck protection bill advances in the legislature.

It’s just another one of those things where they don’t care about the cost to us; they just care about maintaining their power.

The fact is that many of these superintendents and school board officials who are passing resolutions and sending these letters homes to our kids haven’t even read the bill.  That’s just too inconvenient for them.  They are told that it is a threat to their power and so they repeat what they are told, true or not.

It really makes me wonder how many other decisions are made because of the internal powers that be in the education complex that become repeated mantra when advancing the agenda’s being put forth by the educational complex.

We are told that school districts are being advised to increase their debt in case HB/SB 76 passes.  We are told that school districts are being advised to increase property taxes in case HB/SB 76 passes.   In both cases it’s not about addressing an educational need, it’s about spending and the lack of control to limit that spending on the schools.  No matter how much they get, they always need more.

It doesn’t matter if that additional spending actually produces results in the classroom because if it did they would have done some serious reanalysis of what they are doing.  It all seems to keep coming back to the same thing: maintaining their power!

That power includes being able to use the tax-payer funded collection of dues to fund re-election campaigns of legislators and then using that funding to help to convince legislators that they can’t win or keep their seats if they lose the Educational Complex Union Funding and support.

The powerful unions built that power by tipping the scales.  They grow their member numbers to increase their power even when student population doesn’t warrant such growth.  They do so through legislative measures that protect these jobs even when a teacher in the classroom may be underperforming.

Now I know that teachers will get offended by that but I’m offended by the fact that more teachers, administrators and school board officials are unwilling to stand up to the unions in dealing with bad teachers and bad policy.  That’s not to say that all teachers are bad…they aren’t but quality education needs good teachers who aren’t hiding behind excuses when the children in their classroom continually under-perform.

No matter how uncomfortable the truth, we must face the facts if we really want to fix the problem and this is a fact that the educational complex will do everything in their power to ignore.   They will constantly frame debates away from this hard hitting issue because it simply doesn’t fit into their narrative.

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We are sold a narrative that smaller classrooms and more teachers results in better education.  The actual results tells us something very different.  After 40 years of pursuing this rhetoric, we see no official results demonstrating that the rhetoric is true.

The public educational complex has done everything in their power to remove competition.  They do so because it’s about the power, not because it’s in the best interest of the children.  The despise school choice almost as much as they despise losing their power over our homes

The latest attack by the public educational complex against alternate funding sources for education is about one thing…Power.   It is a power they will cling to and if they have to use misinformation to hold on to that power; if they have to misdirect tax-payer resources away from the children to spread that misinformation, they will.   They will do all that they can to hold on to their power in the protection of a system of taxation that is regressive and uniformly unfair.   It’s like a very bad game of king of the hill and they will use any means possible to make sure that when it comes to controlling our lives through our homes to advance that agenda of power.

Evidence of the misinformation can be found in the rhetoric from the West Chester School Superintendent when he states:

The new plan would allow school districts to go to voter referendum for capital improvements but not for operating expenses. Within a few short years, we will simply not be able to operate at our current levels, and the quality of our educational system will dramatically suffer.

The statement is completely untrue.  HB/SB 76 allows for local referendum for normal operating costs.  Section 306 of the bill explains the referendum but this school superintendent has apparently chosen to disregard the actual facts in the language of the bill to assist in spreading the misinformation about the legislation.

We’ve seen a great deal of this type of misinformation.  The problem here is that this misinformation is coming from people who have a position of trust in their community who will take the superintendent at his word without checking the facts.   Why would he misrepresent the truth?

We’re told that about $14 billion a year is collected through the property tax.  Another $15 billion is collected through state taxes to further provide for education.   That’s almost equivalent to the entire budget to run the entire state and yet our school districts are telling us that isn’t enough.

At the current rate of growth, school funding will soon exceed the budget for the entire state and the number of people at risk of losing their homes through sheriff auctions, bankruptcy and foreclosure will only continue to grow.   Apparently our school districts are fine with that.  If it helps them maintain their power, why wouldn’t they if all you really care about is holding on to that power.

After all it’s not the school board who shows up at your house to through you out, it’s not the Administrators.  No, they have the local sheriff to do their dirty work.  They can just look the other way and pretend it’s not their fault or, even worse, that’s it’s not happening.

In the public education complex’s rhetoric, they talk about losing their ability to collect previous delinquent taxes if this passes.  Those delinquent taxes will still fall due.  They will still have to be paid.  It’s just more misinformation and misdirection to try a kill a bill that will benefit many in the Commonwealth.  Again, it’s about power.  It’s about their mistaken belief in a right to take away our homes.

While the public educational complex may be responsible for education maybe they should go back and look at the founding principles of our nation which included a strong protection of our individual right to property.   At every step, the property tax remains the greatest violator of those inherent rights and as our Declaration of Independence explains, such violations are how we determine the difference between a just and an unjust government.    As it stands now, the public school system is supporting a system of tyranny in the advocacy of an unjust form of government.

Note: A second article on this topic will follow tomorrow.  As angry as I am at the educational complex for their misinformation and their continual assaults on home-ownership in the protections of their power over us and our homes, the ultimate blame rests on the shoulders of legislators who fear the power of the educational complex more than they are concerned about doing what is right!