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We people need to just do what we need to do to move forward

America’s economy is now in artificial tatters, an unnecessary result of very poor public policies in reaction to the Wuhan coronavirus.

Politicians are not going to be able to solve this ridiculous virus panic. In fact, politicians are mostly making it much worse than it really is, and probably they are doing that on purpose. A lust for power, a desire to hurt a political opponent at any cost, even at the cost of hurting and inflicting huge personal losses on the citizens, seem to be the main reasons why governors in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, and elsewhere have thrown down the gauntlet and are acting like dictators.

The “orders” these governors and local governments have issued are laughably confused, full of inexplicable contradictions and clear violations of Americans’ most basic rights and freedoms. Kentucky’s governor warns churchgoers that he ordered the Kentucky State Police to take down license plates of cars parked in church parking lots on Easter Sunday and other days, so that they can be ticketed later. Michigan’s governor says power boats are not allowed, but sail boats and canoes are OK, but Michiganders may not visit their hunting cabins. In Valley County, Montana, the county health department [I originally and incorrectly wrote that it was Missoula, Montana, the ultra liberal city council there shaping the rest of the surrounding county] issued an order that coronavirus-free people wear pink arm bands in public. Another county in another state went so far as to issue an order that anyone with coronoavirus could be, and probably would be, picked up by the police and involuntarily committed to a special quarantine location. Here in Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf vetoed a bill passed by both the PA House and Senate that brought clarity and structure to his own bizarre order. Wolf now demands that everyone in public wear a mask and that people not wearing masks must not be served in the stores they are in. Local PA townships are not permitted to approve land subdivisions, even though the townships can and do meet by teleconference that pose no health risk to anyone. Home construction is stopped cold, not because Wolf has demonstrated that there is an identifiable risk of spreading a contagious disease from building homes, but simply because he says so.

These orders have nothing to do with actually serving the people of America. They are not actually helping people. The risks of the Kung Flu are obviously much higher in congested places like New York City than in flyover country. These orders are self-serving the politicians with more power and discretion over our personal lives than the political process would ever give them.

And this list of crazy, insane, tyrannical orders over the past few weeks goes on and on. Every one of these orders violates the most essential, core aspects of being an American. Again, with no measurable public benefit and yet at enormous cost to our individual finances.

One good thing that has emerged from the Chinese coronavirus panic is that we all get to see in broad daylight that there are many power-hungry Americans amongst us, who will use whatever power they have to get more power, and to crush dissent, strip us of our liberties, and use overwhelming coercive government force to throw us in jail for made-up violations. We used to laugh that such people could ever exist in our political system! Well, here they are, front and center, and they are no laughing matter!

If ever there was a need for an America with our Bill of Rights protecting individual due process rights and freedoms, this past month has demonstrated it.

So if the politicians are hell bent on screwing up our lives, and destroying America’s economy, then the only people who can fix this is us. You and me. The citizens and local officials who live here, pay taxes here, work here in America. We have to clean this mess up.

It is time for We, The People to put our foot down and show the politicians that despite their crazy power grabs and ridiculous demands upon us, we are going to do what is best for us. We can wear masks and stand apart in public, no problem. We would choose to do that anyhow. But we will open up our businesses again, we will go for walks again, we will drive on the roads for pleasure again, we will approve land subdivisions again, and you can call it civil disobedience, but we will live free again. There is no way any governor is going to enforce their nutty and unconstitutional order by rounding up everyone and putting them in jail.

And if any governor tries to do that, then there is the old tried-and-true torches, pitch forks, and a bucket of hot tar at the governor’s residence to get things straightened out again in a hurry. We are Americans, after all, not sheep.

 

Rural & Urban People Experience the Virus Differently

Rural and urban people are experiencing the covid19 CCP virus differently. And this means they each experience the various governors’ approaches to it differently, too. Chinese Flu policies impact rural and urban people differently.

In rural America, like Clinton County and Lycoming County here in Pennsylvania, life is still pretty much going on, not quite like normal, but fairly close to normal. The perceived risk from Wuhan covid19 Flu is low. This is because the rural peoples’ observations are not squaring up with what they are being told from their state capital. Rural people are not seeing up close and personal the disruptive chaos and death that is so pervasive in places like New York City and Philadelphia. So their behavior is different.

For weeks the Lowes in Mill Hall, PA, has been standing-room-only parking on the weekends, as local people shop for gardening supplies. Likewise the other nearby big box stores and small hardware stores are also full of people attending to their needs. Life is going on, albeit with some face masks and people clearly trying to steer clear of one another in shopping aisles. The Wegmans in Williamsport, PA, was full of shoppers the last time I was there, and the shelves were mostly well stocked. Notes about limits per customer are placed in all the usual places – TP, canned tuna, milk, bread. Ladies at the checkout are quite tough and firm about shoppers abiding by these limits, and everyone seems to be getting along just fine.

Elsewhere in rural PA are drive-in church services, food takeout, maybe some bonfires with chairs set apart, but still lots of chairs, nonetheless.

Actual Risk vs. Perceived Risk vs. Government Policy

At the heart of this lifestyle difference between rural and urban people is the difference they have over perceived risk, actual risk, and what the government policy says.

When rural people look around and see none of the catastrophic chaos engulfing New York City, they begin to ask simple and necessary questions about the actual risk of the China Flu to them. The actual risk, not the suggested hype or irrational fear stay-the-f#k-at-home perceived risk that is being breathlessly communicated by the cable outlets every minute. Without bodies stacked high, without lots of people becoming obviously sick from the CCP Chinese Flu, and with local health providers like hospitals and clinics operating as normal, rural people begin to question the value and necessity of the government policy that tells them their Constitutional rights must be suspended.

They then begin to question the value and purpose of their own government.

When we hear about the over-reach in places like Kentucky and Michigan, whose governors are literally demanding that people cower in their homes or else face huge overwhelming coercive force and jail time, it is natural for Americans to ask not just what is the value of these policies, but why can’t we have real policies that are tailored to the realities that each community faces. The potential risks of Wuhan Flu are just not the same everywhere.

Rural areas have more room and space between people, fewer people, less congestion, and a lot lot lot less exposure AND a lot less actual risk. Government policies need to reflect these realities. Blanket one-size-does-not-fit-all policies serve no real health purpose. Instead, no matter how well intentioned the governor may be, these blanket policies that are the same in Philadelphia as they are in Lock Haven, PA, make everyone equally miserable, damage all businesses equally, regardless of the health outcomes.

At the end of the day, government action must both balance risks with costs and benefits, while also safeguarding the citizenry’s sacred Constitutional rights. To date, very few states have done this. Instead, almost every state has treated low-risk rural areas the same as high-risk congested urban areas, and hit them all with the same heavy hammer. This makes the whole covid19 reaction thing seem awfully fishy.

This day a year ago while trapping: Cat up a tree!

Cat Up a Tree!

Text and Photos by Josh First (copyrighted)

A year ago it was a couple days before trapping season opened for bobcats and fishers, which always begins the Saturday before Christmas. Already 2018 was the wettest year on record, and rain, much less constant nonstop rain, not only crushes outdoor work like logging and construction, it also makes trapping nearly impossible.
All 2018 the rain fell, reducing good trapping time to almost zero for most of us who would normally run ourselves ragged during trapping season beginning in mid-November and ending in mid February.

I dislike trapping in rainy conditions, because it is uncomfortable, messy, and technically difficult, due to trap sets needing constant fixing up; and I really dislike processing muddy critters. Mud-covered fur is time consuming, and usually it is not worth it in my tight schedule. So from 2018’s trapping season opening day in late October, I waited six weeks, until a brief rain lull in mid-December, to put out some carefully planned traps.

Though I was aiming mostly for canids like fox and coyote, both bobcat and fisher were a reasonable hope. I have caught bobcats in and out of season in the past, but never a fisher. These are two neat animals worth working hard for, and each of which will quite willingly enter baited cubbies where foot hold traps can get some shelter from rain and snow.

So on the Wednesday afternoon before that Saturday bobcat and fisher opener, a half-dozen footholds (cubbies and flat sets) and a few large cage traps were set in strategic places near where I had seen fisher tracks or bobcats across a 100-acre area of mixed farmland and woods in Dauphin County. Bait is used in the cage traps to pull in the inevitable and limitless possums, skunks, and raccoons, so that, hopefully, only the cool critters find the footholds. And both bobcats and fishers will enter cage traps, so they do serve double duty.

One pass-through pee post set was put in a location where I have previously caught coyotes, foxes, and raccoons. It is at a corner of a dirt farm road, a woods road, a hay field, and brushy-hedged crop field where heavy woods meets an active agricultural area. Just about every local furbearer walks the brushy area, this road, and the field edges leading to it.

Coyote pee and coyote gland lure were put on top of a two-inch-thick dry pine limb sticking up 14 inches, placed at the seam where the goldenrod meets the farm road. A few pieces of goldenrod stem on the other side created the pass-through effect, so the animal’s body would line up with the hidden trap just exactly so. About eight inches away from the post an offset MB 550 attached to an eight-foot heavy chain linked to a heavy two-prong coyote drag was bedded level atop soft goldenrod tops to protect the trap from freezing to the wet dirt underneath, then covered judiciously in waxed dirt, then finished with more soft goldenrod tops and weed tips blended on top. The trap was perfectly “blended in” and hidden from sight.

The chain was stretched out away, into the reverting goldenrod field, and well covered and camouflaged with weeds, and the rusty-brown colored steel drag itself unobtrusively hooked into the dirt. With four heavy swivels well spaced between the trap and the drag, I felt confident that whatever would step on the trap pan while passing between the weeds to smell the pee post would commit its full weight, and be safely held fast, no matter where it went afterwards. I expected the animal to head directly to the nearby brushy hedges, where the grapple and chain would immediately become entangled, thereby holding the animal for the next 24-hour trap check.

Usually predators take a couple days to fully investigate my traps, and when setting this on a late Wednesday, I anticipated catching something in one of the sets on Friday night/ early Saturday morning. Though aiming for a bobcat, fox, coyote, or fisher, the truth is I had put off trapping so long that season that I would have been happy to catch just about anything.

The next day, Thursday, I did a cursory trap circuit check in my truck, looking out the window while driving past set after set. “No…No…No…footprints all around but no step on the pan…no…no…nothing” as I went by each trap location.

Pulling up to the pee post set, my eye was immediately drawn to the pee post itself lying on the ground, though the trap bed itself did not appear disturbed. Usually the post is knocked over by the chain after an animal has stepped on the trap and fled. So I got out to check, and was not surprised to see the drag gone. Following an obvious path of bent weeds and scuffed dirt leading away towards the closest brushy forest edge, my eyes naturally looked along that edge for a hung-up drag and critter.

With my hands on my hips, I stood and kept scanning the brushy woods-field edge. I was unable to locate anything, and felt mystified about how the critter could have escaped beyond such a thick, natural entanglement area. Mystery remained until a hiss to my right reached my ear, steering my eyes in that direction.

“Why is that long-legged grey fox up in that honey locust like that?” was my first thought.

Then another thought followed the first: “Why does that grey fox look like a big cat?”

And then the bobcat came into focus. It was a nice sized young male, probably 25 pounds, about six feet up in a young honey locust, a tree that has plenty of sharp thorns and very hard wood. The drag was just touching the ground, and the chain was wound about the lowest branches.

OK, I thought, I’ll have this resolved in a few minutes. Seemed like no big deal to pull down the cat, use the catch pole to hold it steady while I released the trap from its foot and let it go unharmed.

Fast forward an hour, and each time I had tried different ways to bring it down out of the tree unharmed, the cat had moved farther up. With bobcat season two days away, by law the cat had to be released, but I was unsuccessful with each solution I tried.

Fretting and scratched by the locust thorns, I left, did some work, and returned a few hours later, hoping the cat had climbed down and was entangled in the ground brush nearby. On the ground it would be easy to release using a catch pole. Easier than up that tree!

But when I got back, the bobcat was still up the tree, and climbed yet higher as I approached it.

Time for Plan B, which is where I admit that I need help. Usually takes me a long, long time to implement Plan B, and so I called the Pennsylvania Game Commission southeastern regional office. At first the dispatcher congratulated me on catching the bobcat, but then moments later expressed his sympathy for me having to release such a fine trophy, as the season was yet to begin. He forwarded my message to a local Game Warden, who then fairly quickly met me right at the honey locust. In fact, he arrived so quickly that I could not help but wonder if he had been watching me the whole time, either chuckling at my clumsy efforts, or waiting to see what else I might do, or both.

“Thank you for coming. When my kids were little, their favorite book was Cat Up a Tree! And here it is in real life. Should we call the fire department?” I said to Game Warden Scott Frederick, half-jokingly. In that colorful book, the fire department saves the day by saving the cat stuck up in the tree, and we (and how I so liked the ‘we’ part) did indeed have a daggone cat way up in a tree. But unlike the book, we had no long ladders, or hero firemen, by the honey locust tree that day.

I asked my wife to film our escapade, but under questioning I revealed that pretty much anything could happen to anybody around this, so she said something like “No, I’m not recording two idiot men playing with matches.” I think her imagination had the warden and I emerging from the dense, high brush scratched head to toe, our clothes in ragged tatters, like some cartoon involving the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil. She wanted no part of it. This is why women live longer than men.

Warden Frederick tried to the untangle the chain and reach the animal, but with each new inch of loose chain, the bobcat sensed freedom and used the slack to climb ever higher. Upon reaching a tight chain again, he would stop his ascent, alternating between hissing at us and letting fly with whatever he could rustle up in his bowels. I came to learn that bobcats have an impressive amount and array of bad smells stored inside them. Neither Warden Frederick nor I smelled peachy at that point, but I gave in and laughed at him when he really got it good from the cat.

Eventually we had tried and tried every which way to get the cat down unharmed, the day waxed late, and so we decided that if the cat would not come down, then the tree had to come down.

A honey locust is a hard, tough tree, a pioneer species with twisting grain and sharp hooked thorns. Oftimes while being sawed, they don’t fall the way you think they will. In addition to its loud scary noise, a chain saw would remove too much wood too quickly to allow us to fully control which way the tree would fall, and a hand saw was too slow. So we used an axe to drop the tree, one carefully placed chop at a time. This gave us the best control over the tree’s slow descent, but it was sweaty work, and directly beneath the bobcat. So I let Warden Frederick do it.

Meanwhile, the bobcat climbed to the very top of the tree, clinging like a lookout in a ship’s crow’s nest, and swayed to the rhythm of the chop-chop-chop below.

As the tree gave way to the axe and slowly sank to the ground, the bobcat sensed its getaway approaching. But Warden Frederick was waiting with a catch pole. While I wish I had some humorous Game News Field Note material here to describe what happened next, the truth is Warden Frederick properly and quickly looped the bobcat’s shoulder and neck, under the armpit, thereby safely pinning the animal to the ground without risk to its esophagus (cats have really weak throat areas and they must be handled carefully). I got some last quick photos, threw a blanket over the bobcat to calm him down (the bobcat, not Warden Frederick), and then easily pulled the trap off of its foot.

Both of us inspected its foot and leg for damage, and seeing none, I stepped back, pulled the blanket, and the catch pole loop came off the bobcat. As many other trappers have experienced when releasing a trapped bobcat, this one sat on its haunches and hissed at us. He thought he was still stuck. Eventually he turned and fast- walked into the brush.

“Well, that’s it, I’m now officially jinxed, or ‘lynxed’,” I said to Warden Frederick. “From here on out I will catch only possums and skunks for the rest of the season.”

And in fact, for the rest of that epic rainy trapping season, such as it was, I caught a grand total of just five possums, one skunk, and one raccoon. It was my worst trapping season, numbers-wise, in many years. But in hindsight, it was also pretty rewarding to watch the Game Warden work like that. Both hard and smart, I mean. Citizens don’t get to see our public servants perform these kinds of feats very often, and with a good nature to boot. So in that sense, I had a uniquely good season. Thank you, Warden Frederick. Now I can’t wait for mountain lions to move into Pennsylvania!

[Why do I trap? I trap to save ducklings, goslings, baby songbirds, nesting grouse, woodcock, and turkeys from an endless number of ground predators like skunks, possums, raccoons, foxes and coyotes, all of which continue to pulse out from suburban sprawl habitats in artificially high numbers. These artificially high numbers of predators do tremendous damage to ground nesting birds, and basically cars and trappers are their sole adversaries. So if you are against trapping, you must hate cute little ducklings. Foothold traps do not crush bones or kill animals, they simply hold them, and as we can and did here, animals can be released from footholds totally unhurt]

using the catch pole in the tree did not work

Look at that perfect high catch, his foot still on the pan. This is the correct way to use a foothold trap, as it results in no physical damage to the animal

If you ever want to feel like you are getting your tax money’s worth, look closely at this photo of PA Game Warden Frederick chopping at that honey locust. Except that the PA Game Commission operates on hunting license fees, timber sales, and natural gas leases! No tax money goes to the PGC, and yet they provide so many taxpayer services.

The four swivels and the long chain are visible here. The swivels prevent the chain from binding as the animal moves around, which gives the animal complete 360 degree movement. This is important so the animal does not torque its leg or hurt itself trying to get free. The long chain is needed to get hung up quickly in brush

The unharmed bobcat can be seen hissing at Scott, who has the catch pole loop around its upper body, pinning it to the ground. After taking this picture, I threw a blanket (Scott’s, not mine) over it to calm it down, inspected its leg for any damage, and when we each determined the animal was not hurt, Scott then released it. Using a catch pole on a bobcat requires getting the loop under its armpit and around the neck, so the esophagus is not damaged.

PA senate floor scrap is microcosm of GOP vs Dems nationwide

If you pay attention to politics, and why else would you be one of the three readers here on this blog than you are a political junkie, then you know that one hoax after another has been trotted out against the president since he took office, in an effort to blunt his presidency.

If one hoax doesn’t work, like the “Russia collusion” thing that the chief “investigator” himself (Mueller) torpedoed in public, then another one is tried. Latest and greatest hoax is this Ukraine thing where one political party tries to cover up their corruption in the Ukraine by accusing the president of doing something wrong when he literally calls for an investigation into the corruption.

As ridiculous as this is, there is an arrangement that has taken shape in Washington, DC, and across America. Basically one political party is at war and uses anything available to them to advance that war, at any cost, and the other political party is kind of dumbfounded like a deer in the headlights.

One political party is throwing dust up in the air and running around screaming, or allowing ANTIFA Brownshirts to attack peaceful protesters while the city police are illegally told to not protect the peaceful protesters, while the other political party stands there slack-jawed, incredulous that anyone would abuse our governmental system so badly. That the DOJ is AWOL on ANTIFA and anti-civil rights mayors who enable their violence does not help.

If you want to watch all of what is happening in Washington, DC, and Seattle and Portland and Minneapolis and Charlotte, in a nutshell, then watch a fascinating fight on the Pennsylvania senate floor (below) where the Democrats throw the law and senate rules right out the window, and in response the Republicans mill around like a bunch of confused and rattled little school girls while one of them barks repetitively for a very long time about how the Democrats WILL follow the rules and hand over that microphone right now.

Which the Democrats do not do, of course. Instead, they do exactly what they want to do, which is to take control of the senate through lawless chaos and anarchy. They have zero respect or use for the law, or the rules, because at the moment neither suits their purpose. Wait until the rules and the law finally DO suit their purpose, and then watch out! They will bring a hammer and a sickle down on anyone standing up to them.

So, like what happens in DC, the Pennsylvania senate Republicans here are basically standing there flat-footed, dazed, confused, addled, with Jake Corman barking “Point of order! Point of order!”  like a worn out old dog whose angry bark is all it has. He has no bite.

Sad thing to me is that Jake is not a small guy, physically. He should have some confidence to stand up to his political opponents. I wanted to fist fight him a few years ago, but he wouldn’t stoop to it, and now here he is facing off with a real live Democrat insurrection, and he can’t even muster the courage to storm the podium and wrestle back the microphone and control of the senate floor. What a loser!

Jake, you are a weak kneed little girl, because all your career you have had everything handed to you. When you are needed most, you don’t have the strength of character to stand up and fight.

Lawless Democrats, confused, spineless Republicans, just like across America and in DC.

By the way, this lawlessness is exactly how the Communists took control of eastern Europe, because the good guys/better guys were too proper, followed ‘the rules’ even when there were no rules, and thereby failed to assert themselves when their leadership was most needed. The good guys lost.

Here is the amazing video.

[Screen grab] Pathetic and weak career politician Jake Corman barking like an annoying little lap dog at the mean Democrats who have stolen control of his precious senate floor process. Corman is surrounded by a bunch of little school girls dressed like men, who mill about confusedly. This is a snapshot of what is happening Across America as lawless Democrats take control while mystified Republicans stand around and ineffectively say “Hey, you can’t do that, you’re not allowed to do that.”

Somebody Primary RINO US Sen. Pat Toomey

Few personality types bother guys more than weak, weasely, whiny men, and US Senator Pat Toomey is all that in spades, and much more, or less. It stinks to have an elected “leader” like Toomey demonstrate so little leadership quality, and even worse, to publicly flout his less-than-manly characteristics. Always appearing in public with some kind of fakey senatorial bearing, Toomey’s speech is similarly a fake serious tone, a kind of deeply thoughtful grasshopper. What a show. He reminds us very much of another phony RINO, congressman Charlie Dent, now thankfully gone from public life where he also did so much damage to the American people.

Pat Toomey is one of the great RINOs of today’s Republican Party. For the uninitiated, RINO means “Republican In Name Only,” which really translates into a liberal. Not a conservative. In it for the money. Not committed to freedom or liberty or the US Constitution.

Toomey exhibits weak-kneed indecision and back-stabbing liberalism traits pretty much every day on the job. He does not have the president’s back, but much like another RINO senator, Mittens Romney, Toomey seeks to falsely burnish his credentials by actually blocking, damaging, or criticizing the one person who is trying to right the American ship, President Trump. As if Toomey is so, so thoughtful and carefully considerate.

Toomey has been a real go-getter on disarming law abiding citizens, hatching one gun-grabbing scheme after another, always punishing the law-abiding and never, ever being tough on actual crime and real criminals. The other day he was one of a few US Senate RINOs to vote with the anti-America Democrats against the president’s border emergency wall, as if there is no border crisis, no illegal invasion crisis.  Toomey might as well join AOC down at the border handing out taxpayer-funded sombreros and bottled water to illegals on their way into the taxpayer funded haven of America.

And on this new Trump-Ukraine phone call fake scandal, where a rogue spy within the American defense system filed a fake “whistleblower complaint,” Toomey says the President’s phone call may have been “inappropriate,” but not impeachable. Since when was the effort by the US President to bring to justice a treasonous and corrupt American, Joe Biden, inappropriate? America and Ukraine have an anti-corruption treaty that the president was implementing, as is his job. Toomey should have pointed to admittedly corrupt Joe Biden as the subject of this scandal. Biden used his previous Vice President position to blackmail Ukraine and to enrich his family.

Is Toomey against bringing Biden to justice?

Even worse, several US senators from the Democrat Party actually visited the Ukraine and wrote a letter, directly threatening Ukraine leaders, saying they would vote to withhold promised US defense funds if the Ukraine actually DID investigate Joe Biden’s son. How is that for hypocritical and bald-faced lying irony?

And yet, where is Pat Toomey on all of this? He says nothing about his senate colleagues blackmailing Ukraine and is ho-hum about the US President just doing his duty as president.

Like just about every other Washington, DC political hack, spineless career politician Pat Toomey remains purposefully and deeply insulated from reality, and yet he has so much negative impact on the real lives the rest of us lead. If there is one solid RINO candidate for a strong primary opponent, it is Pat Toomey. The guy has no fight in him, not for us, and it would be easy for a good primary opponent to simply tick off the laundry list of assaults Toomey has led against citizen rights and needs over the years he has inhabited this seat. Someone please primary this bad guy. You will get a lot of support from real Republicans. That is, patriots and conservatives.

Chief Weasel and RINO king, Pat Toomey, begging for a primary opponent

Pennsylvanians deserve an open primary

“I don’t want some unaffiliated voter determining the nominee in my political party,” goes the overused and unpersuading assertion for why closed primaries, where voters can only vote for who is in their particular political party, and not across party lines. Independents cannot vote for Republicans or Democrats, only for Independents and so on etc.

Pennsylvania has a closed primary election.

If there is one thing that the two main political parties can agree on, it’s that they do not want to share power with anyone else; certainly not the voters! So many cozy deals between the Democrats and Republicans – dividing up the spoils of elected office – have been revealed over the years (the biggest most recent is the PA Turnpike Commission scandal) that is it any wonder why this happy and very lucrative lovefest between the two political parties is being protected at all costs…

The thing is, both the Republican and the Democrat parties are private organizations. I found this out first hand in 2009 when I ran for congress, against the wishes of the PA Republican Party. I was one of those first-in “Tea Party” candidates who declared after just six months of Obama’s treasonous communism and the GOP’s complacency. Except that neither I nor the other similar grass roots candidates knew that we were in the “Tea Party.” We were just mad as hell at both political parties, neither of which seemed interested in helping us, the working people of America, and were rather devoted to the constellations of money-sucking special interest leeches circling about each of them. Elected officials, party hacks, and party functionaries in both political parties did just fine in that scenario, even if the rest of America was falling apart.

And when we began to push our own GOP, we learned that they were accountable to no one, because they were and remain a private entity.

A couple years ago another independent-minded candidate ran in a Dauphin County Democrat primary, and learned the same lesson from his own party. Nope, no transparency for you, you little peon citizen!

Both political parties answer to absolutely no one in the public, because they are private corporations. They can play all kinds of money games, and rumor whispering games, and endorsement games, and information hiding games, because they can; and no one can do anything about it.

So why are we taxpaying voters footing the enormous annual election bills for these two private entities, so that they can hold on to power and keep us citizens at bay, fending off change and accountability?

Why do the Democrats and the Republicans alone get to determine so many important outcomes in our government, when we taxpayers are the ones who are paying for how these two political parties are elected in the first place, let alone all of the expenditures they feed to themselves and their chums? In other words, we voters pay for everything and are told no, we can get only a small portion of what we should get in return, in terms of determining the political outcomes that affect us.

If the two parties want to remain private, and also want to have closed primaries, then let them pay for all of the election expenses in Pennsylvania. We taxpaying voters owe these two private entities nothing, as they owe us nothing (they tell us).

It is well past time to open up our primaries. That flexibility is the true representation of freedom, the freedom to choose, which is the core of representative government. And in Pennsylvania’s particular case, that freedom to choose is about political parties sharing something with the taxpayers who pay for all of the elections of which the two parties are, so far, the sole beneficiaries. It is not right, it is not good, it is not fair.

Open up and let us in!

Awesome fist courtesy of Lee Vanden Brink

Trump got played by the PA GOPe this week

Pennsylvania Primary Election Day Tuesday this week was not an especially exciting time, as voting days can go, because few names and positions were on the ballot, anywhere.

Somewhere up north Mabel’s cow got more votes than the local township highway manager, which caused a brief fuss. A tie-breaker of sorts was held and the road master challenged the cow to mow the grass along the road margin faster and better than he could. The cow did eat along at a pretty good clip, but the three voters agreed that the fresh cow patties left behind were a detriment. Some Amish happened along, ate the cow, and that settled it.

One bright spot here in Central Pennsylvania is where Senator Rich Alloway retired, kind of abruptly, if you ask me, and a special election was held between a hard-bitten retired Army colonel and long time entrepreneur, and a young, sweeeet, gentle as the morning breeze airhead of a Millennial Democrat who just wants to play Santa Claus with your money, goshdarnit her intentions are just so good.

The Army colonel won.

Three cheers for Central Pennsylvania.

One truly sad aspect of the day was the outcome of the most watched and only state-wide election for Pennsylvania Superior Court judge. With three beautiful and practically identical looking Republican women running for two open seats, a lot more interest was garnered.

Of the three primary contestants, former Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren is the most qualified for that seat. Articulate, forceful, experienced, principled, poised even with a kid on her hip, Warren has a well-deserved strong state-wide following. She was no shoo-in for one of the two seats, but it appeared she had a very good chance.

Too good of a chance for the Pennsylvania GOP, which is made of people who dislike conservatives even more than Democrats. So the PA GOPe ran a team of two candidates, Ms. Peck and Miss King, against the lone conservative, Warren.

As a plausible candidate for even township road master, let alone the very high court she aimed for, Miss Meghan King is only slightly more believable than the airhead who ran against the Army colonel in Alloway’s former district, and is probably less knowledgable than the cow up north. Seriously, the highly inexperienced, young, and dumb-of-tongue King was not up to the task of running for much of any public seat, and yet here she is, buoyed up by the good ol’ boys of the PA GOPe. It’s a lot of horsepower behind a newspaper sailboat, which is intriguing almost as much as why Alloway abruptly flew the cuckoo’s nest.

Serious forces are at work here, folks, “a dark and powerful magic,” to quote my favorite magician.

Peck stands on her own merits, and I’d be proud to have her on the Superior Court. But King? For real?! She sounds and looks like a child, and her public speaking is hesitant, halting, uncertain, because, goshdarnit, she was hand-picked to be a puppet or a parrot for the good ol’ boys, and she has not one clue about what it is she is saying or doing up at the podium. King is going to get check-mated by some kookus mongus leftwing Democrat in November. It won’t take much.

So Tuesday’s election came down to the amazing Rebecca Warren vs. the GOP good ol’ boys’ puppet, Miss King, and at the last minute, President Trump was duped by the GOPe guys into tweeting his support for Miss King after his wonderful rally in Montour County, here in central PA. And sure as shootin’, next thing ya know, Miss King obtained more votes than either of the other two candidates, and the cow to boot. Sure, Warren came very close to winning a seat, but King did not earn what she got through both the party establishment support and from the president’s tweet.

What bothers people like me about this election outcome is we work for years to find and get behind solid, conservative, independent-minded, constitutionally-based grass roots candidates like Rebecca Warren, and then the GOPe comes along and snatches away the victory and replaces it with a dishrag of a human being. It’s why the Republican Party, nationwide, is full of so many lame human beings, with no gumption, no vision; they just have a desire for power and to do what they are told by party bosses. They connive their way through all of these elections.

If President Trump actually knew how much damage he just did by supporting Miss King, and how badly he was duped by the PA GOPe, he would swear off primary endorsements forever. He did the same thing in Alabama two years ago and got stung. Winning primary elections by conniving simply places unqualified losers in positions of power, which works great only for those pulling the puppet strings.  We don’t get great people, like Trump. When will Trump learn that he would never get the PA GOPe endorsement, not even for township road master, if he were in King’s shoes. The PA GOPe strongly opposes strong, independent – minded candidates.

Those of us who admire President Trump are hopeful that he will learn to ignore the same GOPe guys who have screwed him over since 2015 and who will continue to interfere with his agenda until 2025 (unless there is five bucks to be made; then they will come flocking). Otherwise he is simply shooting himself in the foot by helping zeros like King get elected over people who admire him, who share his values, and who want to fully implement his agenda, like Warren.

Dear PA GOPe: We know you guys care only about holding power, but you should know that with every stolen election like this where a grass roots Rebecca Warren loses, you chip away at the base’s commitment to the GOP and you make us dislike you ever more.

A naturally close race was artificially influenced by a well-intended tweet from our President. Under normal circumstances, in rural Tioga County Warren should have received 50% of the votes cast.

Still the chief of Celtic music: The Chieftains at 57

Local York Scots Bagpipers Brigade joined local York Chorale members and then audience members with The Chieftains and the Piltazke Brothers in a long snake dance that ended the performance

The local York, PA, bagpipers all dressed up in their Scottish tartans, participating with The Chieftains in a typical sharing of Celtic culture and music, to the audience’s delight

Last night the Princess of Patience and I ventured not too far down the road to the Appell-Strand Theater in York, Pennsylvania. It is a venue we have visited over the years for a variety of music types for the adults, and high-end children’s entertainment for the kids. It is a clean, pretty, historic place right in historic downtown York, easy to access, lots of free parking, and when you are done, it is easy to leave. Fellow patrons are easy, chatty, friendly, happy, and the lady I sat next to, a Lori Sims of Hanover, PA, cheerily shared gardening tips with me and disclosed her yearning for Spring to finally arrive so her garden could get under way. Then again, no wonder: she has a TWO-ACRE GARDEN.

What we witnessed last night is one of those rare moments where, if you have been lacking in faith in humanity for whatever reason, it would be restored immediately. We watched The Chieftains do what they do best: Play sweet Celtic music combined with amazing Irish dance, and incorporating local talent in a pub-like atmosphere of fellow music chums just kind of jamming along with each other in the spirit of the moment. It would be the best of what you would find at the Temple Bar today.

So here is Chieftains founding father, Paddy Moloney, who must easily be in his 80s, alternately playing both the chipper and then humorously gruff oldster commenter, as well as his own penny whistle and Irish pipes: “Oh sure, ya show-offs,” as the Pilatzke Brothers perform amazing amazing amazing Irish tap dance routines that leave the audience exhausted from the intensity and skill. Serious world-class talent.

Now in 2019, The Chieftains are celebrating their 57th anniversary. Think about that. Fifty-seven years as inspiring performers of not just music, per se, but keepers of traditional culture, Gaelic language, ancient musical instruments, and the music and the rural, undeveloped, natural Irish landscape that binds all that together. It is quite a gift to all of us that they provide. At 57 years of live musical-cultural performances, The Chieftains are an institution, a world heritage institution.

Despite having a stack of Chieftains CDs, I can never really get enough of them, and last night my mind drifted back to one evening in the summer of 1992, during the Celtic Festival at Wolf Trap, in Virginia. The Princess of Patience and I were about to be engaged to be married, and our long-time friend Lori encouraged us to join her at Wolf Trap for that evening. The weather was perfect, the music was perfect, the musicians and performers were perfect, our snacks and wine were perfect, the audience was rapt and enthusiastic. It was all quite perfect. And there they were, now 27 years ago, The Chieftains up on stage, looking a hell of a lot younger than now, and probably having a few more teeth then than now. But still flawlessly performing the same beautiful, inspiring music.

That was the same evening I heard the best-ever joke about the bagpipes, and it is a surprisingly unknown quip, because whenever I pass it along, people respond with great mirth, as if they have never heard it before. I will disclose it here, because I know the three people who read this blog have zero interest in Celtic anything and they will immediately forget this secret to being the star at any dinner party attended by Irish or Scots.

This joke arose as an Irish pipes player dueled with a bagpipes player on stage that evening at Wolf Trap. When played correctly, the Irish pipes are of course the most heart-tugging sound the human ear will encounter. Squared off against the blaring, loud, military-oriented bagpipes, the Irish pipes are like a gentle, sweet whisper versus an aggressive, loud shout.

So after their duel on stage, during which he had played the most mournful, beautiful, inspiring sounds, the Irish pipes player said to his Scotsman counterpart: “You do know, the Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots. And the Scots never got the joke.”

Cue uproarious audience response and a big grin from the Scotsman. Audience participation in Celtic music is expected, and it is given, as is good-natured banter among the performers.

So, on that same beautiful summer eve 27 years ago, into this good-natured banter with Celtic music and culture stepped The Chieftains, playing with humble passion on the stage at Wolf Trap. And literally over twice as many years later, The Chieftains are still chief, tops among Celtic bands. Thank you for a wonderful night of happy moment after happy moment, guys. Cheers to you, Paddy Moloney, may you see a hundred years, ’cause God knows, why not, you about look it already.

 

Your home’s property taxes: “They are called special interests for a reason”

Guest commentary from grass roots activist Ron Boltz, and first published at www.papra.org:

They’re called “special interests” for a reason. Of course I’m referring to the scores of lobby groups in Harrisburg who often fight against good ideas or good legislation, or push for bad ideas and legislation, depending upon how it affects them personally or the relatively small group which they represent. The degree to which a proposal helps or hurts others or our State is often irrelevant to special interests. Following the money is almost always the path to an explanation that might otherwise not make much logical sense, and then the true motivations become clear. It’s the same as it ever was.

While this is nothing new, it’s nonetheless very frustrating when these lobby groups unashamedly flip their talking points when it benefits them to do so, completely contradicting statements they’ve made previously. Such is the case with the PA Chamber of Commerce and the Tax Foundation’s recent proposal to overhaul Pennsylvania’s tax structure.

When lobby groups oppose ideas that are popular with the public, they often conjure up phony “reasons” to justify their opposition rather than openly stating their real objections. We’ve seen this time and time again with The Chamber and their refusal to even consider school property tax elimination. Americans for Prosperity and The Commonwealth Foundation also joined them with disappointingly weak excuses of their own.

For example, The Chamber says things like “we can’t tax diapers!” and “we have to fix the cost drivers first”. AFP had their all-encompassing “we don’t support tax shifts”, and Matt Brouillette loved his dumbed down “left pocket-right pocket” analogy in an attempt to use bumper sticker politics to demonize elimination. For those who haven’t heard it, let me explain so you can understand what we’ve been dealing with.

Matt would say something similar to “it doesn’t matter if you take money out of your left pocket or your right pocket, you’re still paying and it’s still money coming out of the economy”. This was his attempt at bashing SB 76, which is being proposed as a revenue-neutral school property tax elimination plan that would shift the burden to the income tax and the sales tax. He was trying to imply that we would be no better off under such a plan, and everybody would be paying the same regardless. This type of talking point may resonate with some, but it’s easy to blow holes in his analogy.

His own example basically says that he doesn’t believe tax policy matters. According to Matt, if it’s the same amount of money collectively, then it’s irrelevant how the money is taken from us. Of course we do know that tax policy matters, especially when we’re talking about how many “pockets” we’re taking the money from. SB 76 expands the tax base, which is extremely important. It also matters how much money we’re taking out of each pocket.

If we take $1 out of the pocket of someone who has $10, we’ve taken 10% of his or her earnings. If we take the same $1 out of someone who has $100, we’ve only taken 1% of that person’s earnings. This is the nature of the property tax. It applies different rates to everybody, is not based on our income, and it’s also very regressive.

During my travels, I met a single mother in Monroe County who is forced to “contribute” 14% of her income toward her school property taxes. Last week I spoke to a woman in Lancaster County who, since the reassessment that took place there, is now paying a full 25% of her and her husband’s income in property taxes.

This scenario plays out everywhere across the state. The only way to solve this is to completely eliminate the school property tax and replace it with a broader-based method that applies the exact same tax rates to everybody, regardless of where you live. The property tax system cannot be fixed, and it can never be “fair”. Our opposition knows this to be true, but they avoid talking about these things in their defense of the status quo.

Putting all of this aside, if Mr. Brouillette truly believes it doesn’t matter which pocket the money comes from, then why is he fighting against it? If he really believes nobody would be better off, then he also has to be believe that we would also not be any worse off. Of course, my opinion is that Mr. Brouillette doesn’t believe his own talking point. He knows tax policy matters. For the record, I like Matt, and I find some of the data C.F. puts out to be very helpful. But they are wrong on this issue. Matt is no longer with C.F., but others in the organization also oppose school tax elimination.

We’ve always known that The Chamber really doesn’t care about taxing diapers, and we know their supposed opposition to expanding the sales tax base because “it hurts the lower income folks” is just playing politics. Their true opposition to property tax elimination would not earn them many accolades if publicly stated, so they join the PSEA and the PSBA in using emotional scare tactics. But now their new plan points out their own contradictions and makes it very clear that they are willing to make exactly the same opposing arguments if it means benefiting themselves.

As I give a few examples, I want to make it clear that the purpose is to highlight their contradictions and show that they really don’t mean what they say in regards to why they oppose school property tax elimination. I will not opine as to whether or not any of their proposals would be good or bad for Pennsylvania’s economy, and I’m not trying to invoke a class warfare argument. In order to have a productive debate, it’s necessary to talk about how different people will be affected, and it’s also necessary to talk about the relative fairness of our tax systems. That isn’t class warfare. It’s simply honest discussion, which is something in which our opposition has thus far refused to engage.

Included within the Chamber’s proposal is an array of options that include rate changes, tax eliminations, and the levy of new taxes. In other words…a myriad of tax shifts. There is no mention of any type of “cost controls” among their tax shifts plans, so I suppose that critique only applies to things they oppose, and not their own ideas. For the record, SB 76 does include spending controls, and I have long held that we will never get cost controls until we get spending controls. The reason we don’t have real pension reform or prevailing wage law elimination is because the state legislature, who mandates these things, gets to punt the responsibility for paying for them down to the school boards and the homeowners.

There is no accountability in the current system, and therefore no incentive to change it. How these lobby groups, who have been around politics for as long as they have been, cannot recognize this reality is beyond me. Perhaps spending so much time inside the Capitol courting politicians has clouded their vision. Perhaps they don’t know how politics really work after all this time, or maybe they really don’t want to see these problems resolved. I’ll let you ponder that on your own, but their “cost control” philosophy is akin to continuing to hand money to the irresponsible while asking them very nicely to curtail their bad habits, with no consequences when they refuse.

Our philosophy, on the other hand, is to stop asking a group of people who have shown no willingness to control themselves, to please control themselves, and instead just cut off the money in order to force the issue. The property tax makes all of this overspending possible and is how they escape accountability. Eliminate the scapegoat, restore accountability, and watch as these things magically begin to be addressed in a meaningful way. Until then, be prepared to continue to watch the pension problem get far worse, property taxes continue to skyrocket, and the finger-pointing to resume with nothing being done.

Getting back to the Chamber’s proposal – They call for a lowering of the Corporate Net Income Tax from 9.99% to 5.99% or 6.99% (depending on the option), and the elimination of the Gross Receipts Tax on businesses. To pay for this, the plan calls for an expansion of the sales tax base, a new local income tax, and the first ever tax on retirement income. It says that the new retirement tax revenue could be used to “buy down” the PIT (Personal Income Tax) rate to 2.5%, but says that it would be “better used as a pay-for to reduce less competitive tax rates elsewhere.”

In other words, the Chamber wants retired seniors to pay a new tax in order to lower business taxes. But don’t fret, seniors…they’re generous enough to entertain the possibility of using some of the new retirement tax to expand rent and property tax rebate programs for some seniors. But seniors won’t be the only losers in the Chamber’s tax shift. They also propose a local income tax on working families as a way to eliminate the Gross Receipts Tax.

Would these organizations please tell me again their views on redistribution of wealth, tax shifts, and the creation of new “winners and losers”? Pardon me for noticing some contradictions to what they claimed were their opposition to school tax elimination. Let’s examine a few of their talking points, and how they are seemingly no longer a concern when it comes to their own proposal(s).

The creation of winners and losers

They claim school tax elimination would just create new winners and losers. Our response is that the property tax system is responsible for creating winners and losers in the first place, for far too many reasons to list here. Everyone knows this to be true. Our proposal actually fixes this scenario by expanding the tax base from mostly just homeowners to everyone in the state who has an income, and to everyone who buys things (including tourists). In other words, everyone contributes. It also treats every taxpayer exactly the same by applying the same rate to their income, and the same sales tax rate to the same items and services. No more winners and losers paying different rates with enormous disparity an inequities.

While they love to use this talking point to criticize our school tax elimination proposal, they conveniently ignore the winners (businesses) and losers (senior citizens and working families) in their plan. Of course they will tell us that when businesses win, we all win, but I could say the same. When homeowners “win” with more disposable income, then businesses and the economy will also win. Businesses also win by making the entire state a KOZ (Keystone Opportunity zone) rather than the state picking the winners and losers. The Independent Fiscal Office report agrees.

The Stability of the tax

The Chamber, and virtually all of the public school lobby organizations, love to say that property tax revenue is “stable”, while other revenue from other sources is not. Therefore, they say, we cannot eliminate it. We always ask “stable for who?” For the tax collector? I suppose when you can constantly raise the rate, and with the threat of losing one’s home, the tax collector could view the property tax as stable. But what about the taxpayer? Is it stable for them? Absolutely not.

While the Chamber praises the property tax and touts it’s supposed stability, it has contradictory views of other taxes. In one section of their plan, they write about how governments tend to favor the Gross Receipts Tax because it produces large and stable amounts of revenue. It then goes on to say:

“…this revenue stability, however, does not outweigh the tax’s economic harm”.

Why then, does the Chamber love the property for providing the government with large and stable amounts of revenue, but then overlook the harm it does to the homeowner and the economy? Why does the same critique not apply to the property tax?

From the viewpoint of the taxpayer, the sales tax and the income tax are far more stable. Consider that the income tax in Pennsylvania has only been raised one time in the past 26 years. There was a 0.17 percentage point increase in 2004. The change previous to that was actually a lowering of the rate. That sounds pretty stable to this writer.

Even more stable is the sales tax, which has been 6% since 1968, but yet each of these taxes have continued to generate more revenue through natural growth, and they do so without the need for constant rate increases. I think we can all agree that Harrisburg has had no trouble spending more of our tax dollars in nearly every annual budget, and they do so mainly using these two funding sources. The Chamber’s report even touts the stability of the sales tax with this statement :

“Between 1999 and 2017, inflation-adjusted collections only diverged from the overall period’s average by more than 3 percent three times: once, when collections dropped in 2010, and again in 2016 and 2017, when collections comfortably exceeded the average”

While state revenues may decline temporarily during economic downturns, these periods are relatively short-lived, and the time spent in the black far outweighs the time spent in the red. In an Independent Fiscal Office report to Rep. Pashinski on August 16th of this year, there is a chart comparing the income tax growth rate to the property tax growth rate. This is a chart showing growth rate increases and decreases, so when the line goes down on the chart, it doesn’t represent a revenue loss until it goes below zero. Until then it’s still growth, and history shows the overwhelming majority of time is spent above zero. Legislators either don’t understand this, or they purposely try to spin this chart by saying it shows that the income tax is “too volatile” to be used to fund public education, but the opposite is true.

The IFO chart clearly shows that from 2004 to 20018, the property tax grew at a rate of 3.5%, while the income tax revenue (not the tax rate) grew at a rate of 3.4%, virtually the same. Again, this is with no rate increases on the income tax, but literally thousands of property tax millage rate increases during those years across our 500 school districts.

If the State can run their budget using the income and sales taxes as it’s main sources, and manage to grow spending year after year, then why can’t we fund public education this way? If taxpayers and homeowners are expected to manage their money during economic downturns, while they have fixed costs like property taxes and other bills to contend with, why don’t school superintendents and business managers, who are paid six-figure salaries, have the ability to do the same? If they cannot manage money the same way homeowners do, perhaps we should reconsider leaving them in charge of multi-million dollar budgets.

Taxes should be based on Income

One of the biggest problems with the property tax is that it is not based in any way on one’s income. Inaccurate assessments and unequal distribution of state money to our schools, combined with our homes not being a reflection of our wealth, leads to the enormous disparities in what each individual taxpayer must contribute toward the burden of funding public education. We have long condemned the property tax’s gross unfairness, inequities, and regressivity. Our State Constitution reads “All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws.” The property tax falls far short of meeting this mandate.

While the Chamber doesn’t care that the property tax isn’t based on income, their report laments the fact that the Occupational Assessment tax is inequitable and not based on actual income by saying the following:

“All of which is to say that the best measure of income is income, not a tax assessor’s best guess of what that income would be assuming that a given taxpayer hewed to the median for his or her profession.”

If that’s how they feel about the Occupational Assessment tax, then how can they praise the property tax, which is not only not based on income, but it’s not even based on an assessor’s best guest of our income. Rather, it’s based on an assessor’s best guess of the value of our home, and I don’t think I even need to opine about the inaccuracy of assessments, which their own report also acknowledges.

The Pyramid effect of taxation

The Chamber wants businesses to be free of sales taxes on business-to-business transactions, and they want to eliminate the Gross Receipts Tax because this results in multiple levels of taxation that will, in turn, increase the price of the product on the end consumer. This is a valid argument. The report gives an example showing the steps a bottle of beer goes through in order to reach a consumer at a restaurant. It shows the farm, the brewery, the distributor, the restaurant, and finally the customer. Using their own example, it’s obvious that the property tax also results in multiple levels of taxation, but this is not mentioned as a concern.

Not only does the farm, the brewery, the distributor, and the restaurant pay property taxes, but so do the manufacturers and the companies who make the parts to build the farm machinery and tractor trailers, not to mention the companies who build restaurant equipment. This too is passed on to the end consumer.

The Chamber claims that property taxes have a minimal effect on economic decision making

The report reads:

“Property taxes tend to be justified on both economic and practical grounds: economically, as a generally efficient form of taxation which raises revenue with a minimal effect on economic decision-making…”

Property taxes result in sheriff sales, foreclosures, and forced relocation when the burden can no longer bet met by the occupant. Proof of this abounds in page after page of newspaper tax sale listings. It is often said that 10,000 or more homes are sold at sheriff sales annually in Pennsylvania, a statistic that’s rarely challenged.

Escalating property taxes most certainly affect spending habits for both homeowners and businesses alike. As the PA Liberty Alliance goes door to door across the State, we’ve heard hundreds of stories of forced relocation, and how rising property taxes are doing serious damage to the finances of many families. I assure you that stories of senior citizens being forced to choose between medication and paying their property taxes are real. I’ve met these folks.

We also talk to small business owners who are struggling to compete, and who cannot expand due to the inability to pass on their skyrocketing property taxes to their customers the way a large business can. The Chamber claims to represent small businesses, but in our discussions we often hear these owners refer to the organization as “The Chamber of Big Business”. This seems to be a growing consensus in the small business community. A look at where the majority of The Chamber’s funding comes from might give clues as to why they so strongly oppose property tax elimination, and why many small business owners feel left behind.

The Chamber calls the property tax “efficient” and “practical”

In the previous section, I only included part of the quote. Here is the rest of the statement:

“Property taxes tend to be justified on both economic and practical grounds: economically, as a generally efficient form of taxation which raises revenue with a minimal effect on economic decision-making and consistent with widely accepted principles of taxation, and practically, as a well-established source of funding that is both familiar and not easily replaced.”

There is so much wrong with just this one sentence that it makes me wonder if we’re both talking about the same property tax. How anyone could call the property tax “efficient” is beyond comprehension for this writer.

Having to establish assessed values for every property in the entire state alone should make it obvious that this is the most INEFFICIENT tax we have. We need to hire appraisers, county assessors, and tax collectors to administer the tax. School districts must chase down delinquent taxes, and then go through the process of seizing the property when the homeowner doesn’t pay. Then we need to burden the county sheriff’s office with the duty of evicting the occupants, and then of course we need to go through the tax sale process.

Countywide reassessments cost taxpayers multiple millions of dollars each time, and always result in years of appeals that must be heard and dealt with. Maintaining the property tax system costs taxpayers enormous amounts of money. On the other hand, the sales tax is usually collected at the point of sale, and most people have their income taxes automatically deducted from their paychecks. I’m not suggesting there is no expense for businesses and taxpayers to comply with income and sales taxes policies, but modern technology has made it much easier and more efficient.

I don’t know what the Chamber considers to be “accepted principles of taxation”, and the report doesn’t elaborate, but it’s hard to imagine any standard in which complete inequity, inefficiency, unfairness, regressivity, and skyrocketing rates would be considered good principles. How can any tax that isn’t based on income, which the Chamber itself says is the best measure of taxation, be considered a tax with good principles?

The line about the property tax being “well established” and “familiar” sounds very reminiscent of the old “this is the way we’ve always done it, so it must be right” type of thinking. Are things that are “well established” and “familiar” always good? Of course not, but what the Chamber means by this is that businesses have adopted to the property tax and can pass on the cost, unlike a homeowner who cannot. Businesses have also mastered the appeals process and can have their assessments lowered if they become less profitable. Homeowners, on the other hand, cannot have their assessments lowered when their income goes down. They either have to pay up, sell their house, or don’t pay and the government takes their home, and usually most or all of their equity as well. This is devastating, unjust, and unthinkable in America where we are supposed to value property rights.

The Chamber’s Love/Hate relationship with the Income Tax

While The Chamber wants to shift the Gross Receipts tax to working families by instituting a new local income tax in its stead, the report also speaks of how the income tax “discourages investment and labor”. They claim that local income taxes encourage out-migration, particularly if it is not necessary to move far. They cite this as a reason that property taxes are better, suggesting the property tax doesn’t force anyone to move, or that it doesn’t play a role when deciding where to purchase a home or establish a business. I know plenty of people who moved due to large property taxes, but I don’t know a single person who told me they moved because of a local income tax. I also know some entrepreneurs who would have preferred to establish themselves in certain locations but the property taxes were prohibitive.

The report then says “…local income taxes are sustainable at modest rates, but create competitive disadvantages at higher rates, particularly those seen in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh” The local income tax in the overwhelming majority of the state is 1%, while the report says Philadelphia’s rate is 3.9%. So we can conclude that the Chamber considers a 3.9% local income tax to be a problem, but the 1% tax is sustainable. Let’s compare this to the property tax, which the Chamber props up and doesn’t believe to be a problem.

Most people pay far more than 1% of their income toward their school property tax, and as mentioned earlier, I’ve met one woman who pays 14% and another who pays 25%. Unless you have a money tree in your back yard, the property tax is still paid with our income, but it’s not actually based on our income. So if the Chamber sees a 3.9% local income tax as being a problem (as do I), then how can they possibly not see the property tax as being a much bigger problem? Does it no longer matter if we’re talking about homeowners rather than businesses?

Senate Bill 76 proposes a 1.88% income tax and an expanded sales tax, which the Chamber also calls for, in order to eliminate the school property tax. This would result in an overall tax cut for the majority of homeowners, backed up by multiple Independent Fiscal Office reports.

The question remains as to why the Chamber considers it good policy to institute a local income tax to pay for the elimination of business taxes, but it’s not O.K. to use an income tax to eliminate the school property tax? At the same time, how do they call a 3.9% local income tax a problem, but not a local property tax that levies a different rate on everyone, as high as 25% or more on some? These are rhetorical questions, as I believe the answer is apparent. They are a special interest group, and the well-being of the homeowner is not of their concern.

The Chamber opposes SUT expansion for property tax elimination, but call for it in their plan

After the property tax elimination effort got some traction in 2015, the opposition groups suddenly began to take the issue more seriously. The grassroots groups they previously laughed off were now making their voices heard. Since it’s very difficult to defend a tax that’s as despised by so many people as the property tax, they needed to come up with some new talking points.

This is when the refrain became “we can’t tax diapers!” Being led by The Chamber, lobby groups and politicians alike were singing off the same sheet of music. This was the new talking point that was designed to invoke emotion, while bypassing logic. Of course, we see this all the time in politics, and in this case, The Chamber now appointed itself as the champion of single mothers and their children. Imagine how heartless the property tax elimination crowd must be to propose a diaper tax!

Thankfully, the public didn’t buy it. At a town hall in Monroe County, a single mother who was struggling with her property taxes easily recognized that she would be far better off paying a relatively small sales tax on diapers than she would be paying property taxes, especially considering the property tax burden would be there for the rest of her life, or at least as long as she “owned” a home. We constantly hear about the supposed “regressivity” of the sales tax, but by definition the flat rate sales tax is not regressive. The property tax, on the other hand, actually is regressive when viewed as a percentage of income. In this case, the single mother didn’t even earn enough money to be a financial “loser” under the SB 76 proposal. She could have spent every dime she earned on the newly taxed items and still wouldn’t even come close to paying the same in sales taxes that she currently pays in property tax, even factoring in the PIT portion.

After all of their opposition to expanding the sales tax, I find it quite the contradiction to now propose exactly that. I can only assume that The Chamber doesn’t believe it’s own rhetoric as long as business taxes are reduced and eliminated rather than the school property tax. While they don’t suggest a sales tax on diapers, they do propose options that include taxing gasoline and motor fuels, even while acknowledging that we already pay the highest fuel taxes in the country. Imagine the impact of that tax alone on working families and commuters.

But they don’t stop there. Among many other items, they list clothing, shoes, prescription and nonprescription drugs, college and vocational school tuition, health and social assistance, veterinary services and food. SB 76 still exempts clothing under $50 per item, prescription drugs, heating oil, all food items that a W.I.C. check could purchase, medical procedures and other things. Missing from the Chamber’s list are services that only wealthy people would use, like airplane services. It seems to me that the Chamber’s proposal would be more harmful to the middle and lower class than would be the expansion under SB 76. But hey, at least they don’t tax diapers…

The Chamber claims school tax elimination would harm young, low income families and renters

The President of the PA Chamber has repeatedly said that SB 76 would be bad for his young son and his family, who he says shouldn’t be paying a higher income tax to eliminate school taxes for seniors. I’ve often wondered, but never asked, if his son owns a home, or ever plans to. While these same critics talk about the new “winners and losers” after SB 76 is passed, they never acknowledge that the current system is where the “winners and losers” are created, nor do they recognize the fact that their own defense of the status quo is nothing more than them trying to pick the winners and losers themselves.

The reality is, this legislation would help new families, the lower income, and the middle class homeowners. Most of these folks are paying far more than 1.88% of their income toward their property taxes, and even the additional sales taxes will not make them financial “losers”. This is backed up by an Independent Fiscal Office report issued to Rep. Frank Ryan on November 6, 2017.

According to the IFO, the median school property tax paid on a Homestead (which does not include commercial, vacation, or rental properties) is $1,972. The average is higher at $2,291. The report says that the median PIT impact of SB 76 would be $1,008, and the sales tax impact on the median income range would be $200-$400.

The report goes on to say that even the PIT impact is over-stated, as it’s calculated on the median household income of $53,599, which includes retirement and social security income that would not be subject to the income tax under SB 76. This figure also excludes Pennsylvania’s PIT Forgiveness programs for the low income, which completely excludes from taxation income up to $51,000/year for a family with four children, $41,500 for three children, $32,000 for two children, and lower incentives for one and no children.

With this data, the math is easy. Under SB 76, the worst case scenario for a PA family earning the median (not average) household income would be a new income tax impact of $1,008 and a sales tax impact of $400 for a total of $1,408. Since the median school property tax on a home is $1,972, this means that in a worst case scenario, which won’t even happen due to the overstated situation mentioned above, the savings for a family earning the median income and paying the median school property tax would be $564. The real world savings would likely be significantly higher.

Despite their best efforts to convince us otherwise, the special interest opposition is wrong. The wealthy are the most likely to end up paying more under SB 76, not the middle and low income homeowners. They wealthy are, after all, the people who may have a high enough salary, and who may spend enough money on the newly taxed items to result in a higher tax burden. I know quite a few wealthy people who contribute much less than 1.88% if their income toward school taxes. I don’t believe any of my middle or low income friends who own homes can say the same. Most are above 3%, many far higher, and as mentioned earlier, I now know someone who pays a 25% effective rate.

Renters also pay property taxes indirectly through their rent payments, as landlords must pass this cost on to their tenants at some point. We have U.S. Census bureau data that shows rents increasing at nearly the same rates as property taxes. This is not a coincidence. During our interactions with legislators, we often hear landlords being demonized as greedy and heartless, and we’re told that landlords would never lower their rents if SB 76 were passed. I find this to be yet another attempt at politics of emotion, and not logic. SB 76 would at a minimum stabilize rent costs. Some landlords would lower their rents on their own, and others would be forced to as the market adjusts and more people purchase their first home. Does the Chamber no longer believe in free market principles?

If these legislators are truly concerned about the impact to renters, the best thing to do for those folks would be to make homeownership easier for them to achieve. This bill certainly does that by removing a large part of the property tax burden. Part of the regressivity of the property tax is that millage rates tend to be the highest in our 3rd Class cities, where incomes are often lowest. In fact, in a study done by Joel Sears, a fellow Pennsylvania Property Rights Association consultant, he shows that a $30,000 home in Upper Darby has a monthly property tax payment over TWICE that of a normal mortgage payment in this price range. No wonder so many people are trapped into a lifetime of renting and being denied the pride of owning a home of their own, and becoming a lasting part of their community.

The problem with all of their arguments are that they are only based on a snapshot in time. It’s likely that immediately following the passage of SB 76, a family who rents may not benefit. It’s also true that seniors will likely benefit the most. But we don’t live in a snapshot in time. Young families and renters will buy homes of their own, go through the decades of their working lives, and hopefully make it to retirement in their senior years, meaning today’s renters will also benefit. The alternative is to do nothing and watch property taxes and rents continue to skyrocket, further damaging our economy and sending working families and businesses out of the state.

We always hear the talking point “if we want more of something, subsidize it, and if we want less of something, tax it”. Why then, does the Chamber support the current system that taxes homeownership every year, in an ever-increasing fashion, while we subsidize non-homeownership with rent rebate programs? The only logical answer is, once again, the Chamber doesn’t view homeownership as a benefit, or perhaps not even as a necessity, especially considering they seemingly have no issue with the government seizing homes as a result of this tax.

The Chamber’s plan for the property tax problem

While The Chamber praises the property tax, they do acknowledge it’s flaws in multiple pages of their report. They even cite a study by The Council on State Taxation which compares the uniformity and efficiency of property taxes in the 50 states. It gave Pennsylvania a grade of a D, and ranked us dead last.

So what is The Chamber’s solution? More frequent countywide reassessments. That’s their big “solution”. They also call for consolidated property tax bills, so we can pay one bill to the county, who can, in turn, distribute the money to the schools and local municipalities, rather than paying separate bills. There’s not even a new reduction scheme in their plan, which would only end up being a tax increase anyway so I’m really not complaining. Their answer is actually a tax increase, and as mentioned earlier, these reassessments are very expensive and time consuming.

Thanks to Joel Sears, we have data which shows that even countywide reassessments don’t fix all of the problems inherent in the property tax. He did a real life evaluation in Lancaster County which compared actual sales prices of homes that sold in the same timeframe as their recent reassessment, and compared them to the assessed values both before and after. He found that the same level of inequities exist even after these reassessments, and in some cases, they got even worse. That’s what taxpayers get for their multiple millions of dollars spent in an effort to make the current system more uniform.

Conclusion

Proof abounds that the property tax system is broken. It cannot be fixed. It cannot be made to be fair. Any reduction scheme will just be a tax increase as the property tax continues to skyrocket. Elimination is the only answer.

This absolutely can be achieved, and we can fund public education in a way that treats all taxpayers the same, eliminating the current winners and losers scheme. The Independent Fiscal Office confirms that homeowners would have more disposable income, home values would increase by an average of 10%, and the state would be more attractive to businesses. But apparently these benefits aren’t good enough for the Chamber, Americans for Prosperity, the PSEA (teachers’ union), or the PSBA (school board association).

These folks all view themselves as “winners” under the current system, and they don’t want to lose their stranglehold on the homeowner. They’re happy with us continuing to be the “losers”, and they spend millions lobbying in Harrisburg to keep it that way.

In addition to all of the contradictions listed in these pages, The Chamber also condemns the Corporate Net Income Tax because it doesn’t allow for cyclical profitability cycles, and they speak of how some businesses are hurt during periods of low profitability. At the same time, they praise the “stability” of the property tax for the tax collector, while ignoring that the tax always increases even if the home owners’ paycheck decreases, or goes away completely. Yet another double standard on their part.

Homeowners cannot pass their property taxes on to someone else, as businesses can. The buck stops with us. At the same time, our homes do not generate income, as commercial properties do. The current system is completely upside down and backwards, especially considering our homes have absolutely nothing to do with education. We haven’t always funded education this way, as the school property tax was only instituted in the mid 1960’s. Even our State Constitution lays the responsibility at the feet of the legislature, where it belongs, and not with homeowners.

No tax should ever have the power to leave one homeless, and our fundamental right to acquire and own property needs to be restored. If all of the other problems with the property tax aren’t reason enough to abolish it, these few reasons certainly are.

They’re called “special interests” for a reason.

Ron Boltz, President – PA Liberty Alliance

Consultant – Pennsylvania Property Rights Association

 

PA deer hunters…spending 40 years in the desert

Last week, a guy in his late 50s posted a complaint on social media. He was both complaining about “not enough deer” to hunt in Pennsylvania, and also boasting about how he buys up as many doe tags as he can get, and then he tears them up, and then he uses them to file false deer harvest reports. He hopes this all will influence Pennsylvania’s science-driven deer management. One result of all this complaining by guys like this man is that the PA Game Commission is unable to get the license fee increase from the legislature that the PGC and most hunters want.

On the one hand, this self-defeating complaining and tearing up of doe tags is pretty much insane behavior, and a complete waste of one’s own precious time on Planet Earth.

On the other hand, that someone is so passionate about hunting and wildlife is a good thing. The question is, can this guy and the thousands of other unhappy hunters like him be educated about scientific deer management? Or are they so close-minded and emotional about this subject that they are immune to empirical evidence, logic and reason?

One result of our state’s scientific wildlife management is that we are now a major trophy hunting destination. Previously unthinkably enormous bucks and gigantic bears are within reach of those who are willing to hunt hard and smart. Bucks that rival and surpass those of the “best” whitetail states in the Mid-West. Black bears that are as big as Alaskan grizzlies. These are tangible signs of policy success, and that Pennsylvania is now an outdoor Promised Land after decades of hunters being happy with a pathetic forkhorn or even a spike buck.

On my westward drive along I-80 last week, and my drive south yesterday, from northwest Lycoming County down to Dauphin County, I saw dozens of dead deer littering the sides of the roads. Actually there were so many that I lost count. There may have been a hundred dead deer along the roads. Including along very rural roads in areas where many older guys complain there “ain’t no deer.” Obviously there are a lot of deer in these places, because they are not all being killed on the highway. These dead deer are the fruit of deer-car collisions, a very expensive and dangerous result of an overabundant deer population.

To be fair to the complaining hunters, the PA deer population in these places may be too high for the road system and not high enough for hunters’ desires. That is a very real possibility. It may be that the Pennsylvania road system is just too big, too widespread into rural areas, to allow many deer to survive into the Fall hunting season.

No, we are not going to shut down the public roads to stop the carnage, though it would make sense for Pennsylvania to put a moratorium brake on road building. We taxpayers cannot afford the operations and maintenance costs on the roads and bridges we have now, let along on any new roads and bridges. PennDot must re-direct its energies into safely maintaining the infrastructure we already have, like how about wildlife tunnels? And if the deer-car collisions are any indication, our public road system has been poorly planned and badly implemented; it has spiderwebbed out into the most rural areas and wildlife habitats. Thereby inviting expensive car collisions with wildlife.

I think this unhappy hunter situation is going to be like the ancient Hebrews’ 40 years in the desert. The older generation that cannot adapt to changing habitat, changing deer behavior, changing land use patterns and changing hunting methods is going to have to die off. Then the younger generation can get in the driver’s seat on deer management policy.

The younger generation understands and values science and biology in setting policy, like doe harvest tags, the crucial importance of getting buy-in and acceptance from the larger society around us (people unhappy about hitting overabundant deer; in Europe hunters are personally responsible for keeping wildlife populations at safe levels), the need to be multifaceted and flexible when hunting deer, etc. These complaining hunters represent the ex-slave mentality of those Hebrews who left Egypt and who could not learn to live as free men. Moses could not let them enter the Promised Land because they would infect everyone with foolish ideas and weakness. That would put the entire effort at risk. So he kept them wandering until that generation died out.

Sorry, old complaining guys, you are living in a broken past. You are slaves to an unproven, non-scientific, failed approach to wildlife management. If you cannot change your mindset and embrace reality, then you will be remembered as the lost generation that stood in the way of success and happiness.

And to be fair, this same broken thinking has haunted the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s approach to Sunday hunting. The older generation there has successfully blocked a 50% increase in hunting opportunity for decades, just because they think it is “wrong,” for no good, defensible reason. But that also is about to change, soon, as the fed-up younger generation of farmers, including religious Mennonites, takes this important policy issue in hand and directly bucks the older guys standing in the way of family success and happiness.

To enter the Promised Land, you must shed your slave mentality. I hope the anti-science hunters and the anti-freedom PA Farm Bureau folks will join us as we enter a glorious new period in Pennsylvania’s outdoor heritage.