Sunday, February 16, 2014

Terminations for the electric and gas have risen to “record high levels." Our State Representative Ed. Gainey promised during the campaign of 2012 to "do something" of but hasn't done a thing . . .

Don't confuse BLACK REPRESENTATION with BLACK LIBERATION . . . Our neighbors are struggling in this cold without utility service. Since passage of Act 201 (Chapter 14 of the Public Utility Code), electric terminations rose 78.6 percent. A recent Biennial Report issued by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission "PUC" concluded that terminations for the electric and gas have risen to “record high levels." Our State Representative Mr. Gainey promised during the campaign of 2012 to "do something" of but hasn't done a thing.

Our government is a surrogate plutocracy (a form of government in which power is lodged in the hands of wealthy special interests that arrange the continual reelection of representatives who govern as their surrogates). Special interest groups have given State Representative Ed. Gainey $143,781.00 to shake your hand, smile, and call you a "dummy" for voting for him!!!

The use of public utilities pervades the life of every individual. Each time a person walks into a heated room, eats food that has been either refrigerated or cooked, or uses a light that person is likely relying on some sort of public utility. Terminated customers may, for a time, attempt to struggle by without utility service. Eventually, families are forced to move and the properties become run down.

Utility companies are only required to give a customer one opportunity to enter an installment payment agreement to catch up on bills. The PUC and State Representative Mr. Gainey doesn't have the lives of poor people in mind. Not only do they UNLAWFULLY allow the utility companies to extort from some a cash payment for the crisis grant (without the crisis grant LIHEAP won't issue its grant), utility companies can transfer the liability of unpaid utility service to any adult living in the household. We have to get the "OUT OF DUMMY LAND!"

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Utility companies are unlawfully allowed to "EXTORT" cash from our poorest residents "up front" as an eligibility requirement for the "federal entitlement" LIHEAP grant!!!

LIHEAP and the "Energy Partnership" is just another scheme on paper "to help" but continues to reach fewer and fewer of the "most needy" families . . . Some of Pittsburgh's poorest families are NOT getting the help they need to heat their homes this winter because the program is FLAWED (DOES NOT REQUIRE THE UTILITY COMPANIES TO HELP ALL HOUSEHOLDS ON LOW INCOMES AND AT RISK OF FUEL POVERTY). Utility companies are unlawfully allowed to "EXTORT" cash from our poorest residents "up front" as an eligibility requirement for the "federal entitlement" LIHEAP grant!!! And, our "paper messiah" BLACK leaders turn a "blind eye" despite promising to "do something" when they campaigned for office (little more than a year ago) . . . . In fact, I don't recall Ed Gainey (our State Rep) saying anything "that directly addressed this issue" since the campaign. Remember Ed Gainey said "he wanted to replaced Joe Preston because he didn't do enough concerning UTILITIES . . . ."

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Jane Orie Conviction . . . Joan Orie Investigation . . . GAINEYGATE?

The media helping Ed Gainey STEAL AN ELECTION . . .

Last year Pittsburgh City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, of the Hill District, faced perjury and other charges in connection with the petition submitted to nominate Rep. Jake Wheatley in the Pennsylvania 19th House District.

In the police report, Allegheny County detectives said they spoke with several people who were listed in the 2010 petition and determined that more than 10 signatures were not genuine. County police said the matter was brought to their attention by then City Democratic Chair Tonya Payne.

Today, Ed Gainey, who replaced Tonya Payne as City Democratic Chair, presented statements from 16 people whose names appeared on Rep. Joe Preston's nomination petitions as not genuine. The Gainey campaign gave six affidavits from people who said they never signed Preston's petition to the County Elections Division who turned the Gainey materials over to the County police.

A Coincidence?

Not!

A coincidence is the occurrence of an event, or series of events, that can happen by chance or accidentally at the same time or at different times but seem to have some connection.

However, in this matter, Todd Elliott Koger has already provided County detectives documents that prove the Gainey campaign knowingly instructed individuals to sign false names on nomination petitions as an attempt to compromise his nomination petition. Mr. Koger advised the County detectives that he didn't file the petitions which included “FAKE” signatures because he knew the Gainey campaign was trying to set him up.

Mr. Koger only submitted nomination petitions that he knew were true and correct. But, Mr. Koger specifically advised the County detectives of Gainey's apparent“covert” activities.

What is interesting . . .

How did the Gainey campaign research Koger's, Preston's and Anderson's nomination petitions in just seven days?

Impossible, without the help of the County Elections Division.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Jane Orie Trial . . . Joan Orie Investigation . . . What About Ed Gainey "GAINEYGATE?"

Jane Orie is on trial for having her staff do political work.

Ed Gainey candidate for State Representative District 24 has challenged all three of his opponents "Nomination Petitions."

In "GAINEYGATE" Allegheny County Elections Department Employees have been secretly "HELPING" Ed Gainey with his challenge of his opponents' nomination petitions. His opponent Todd Elliott Koger has filed a formal complaint with the District Attorney's Office. Mr. Koger claims the Allegheny County Elections Department "TRACKED" all of his research ("WORK PRODUCT") for the past couple weeks and shared it with Ed Gainey.

That is, Mr. Koger claims that "Allegheny County employees were told to photocopy everything he printed from the Elections Department's computer system." On Friday, March 16, 2012, when the regular receptionist was absent the new receptionist didn't get the memo. She had to be called to the side by the office manager and given special instruction: "to copy Mr. Koger's "WORK PRODUCT." A County employee familar with the instructions intervened and made copies. Next, she took Mr. Koger's "WORK PRODUCT" back to the Office Manager who had copies from earlier in the week in her hand. When Mr. Koger witnessed all of his "WORK PRODUCT" being handed to an unidentified white male in the back of the office he snapped a picture.

Mr. Koger then walked back and snapped a second picture of the unidentified white male who was given the "WORK PRODUCT." Mr. Koger would soon discover that the white male was working with the Ed Gainey campaign. The white male was given Mr. Koger's "WORK PRODUCT" before any subpoena was served. And, the white male wasn't charged for the copies (Mr. Koger had been charged 25 cents a page).

As interesting... The office manager had the receptionist ask Mr. Koger for a copy of his hand-written notes.

Ed Gainey's staff (white male) had refused to meet and go "line-by-line" over the nomination petition as so ORDERED by the Court. Rather, Ed Gainey had the Allegheny County Elections Department "SECRETLY TRACKING" Mr. Koger's "WORK PRODUCT."

Mr. Koger additionally claims that he witnessed county employees doing work (each day he was there) researching signatures listed on Joe Preston's and William Anderson's nomination petitions for Ed Gainey's campaign.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Joe Preston and Ed Gainey . . . Todd Elliott Koger Says "IT USED TO BE ABOUT TRYING TO DO SOMETHING!"

Sometimes our 'so-called” leaders lose focus about what the “struggle” is all about.

Sometimes our “so-called” leaders get lost in trying to BE someone.

But, if they would only do a “check-in” with their people every once in a while, maybe they would start to do things differently and realize it is the “struggle” that is important and not the “destination!”

Our “so-called” leaders mistakenly believe the “DREAM” is to “WIN!”

But, they shouldn't aspire to just be the star . . . .

The “SOMETHING!”

And, sometimes just the little things that need to be done is the “DREAM!”

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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Where is Joe Preston and Ed Gainey (Mayor Luke Ravenstahl) When Our Kids Are Killed in Pittsburgh's BAD Neighborhoods?

It's another political year. The “gatekeepers” are back in our community “turning tricks” for votes . . . . Just more false promises to build up our hope for another let down.

They have been sitting at the establishment's table for a long time now with nothing on their plate (unless they eat some of what's being served, they're not getting dinner).

In particular , Joe Preston and Ed Gainey are back to tell us that it's going to get better because they have been working for years with the establishment and knows best how to deal with those making decisions. They make you believe they're for you and they got a “fix” for things. But, the persons making the decisions (Corbett, Fitzgerald, and Ravenstahl) are so tight against you. Those making decision never have to keep a promised because your conversations is with a “gatekeeper.”

Think about it . . . Does Corbett, Fitgerald, and Ravenstahl go days and months with zero contact with African-American neighborhoods?

The “gatekeepers are covert operatives behind enemy lines who shuttle information back and forth. But, if they continue to nourish dissatisfaction, it can only lead to one thing . . . . We have in our community now young black brothers and sisters who just doesn't intend on turning the other cheek any longer.

The world has not been fair to our young brothers and sisters mainly because they had the misfortune of being born a few miles away into a more precarious neighborhood of the city and with a skin color that makes realizing opportunities most take for granted much harder.

Many of our young brothers and sisters don't even know what opportunities exist for them. Coming from single-parent families where the mom (or in many cases the grand mom) worked two jobs to survive made such understandably difficult.

Many families in the 'hood morphed into illegal activities. You watch the older brothers first, and then the next, and the next, and now even the young women are involved. They morphed from flipping burgers to drug dealing. You may even remember them as an adolescent. The same kids may have washed your car when things were innocent as a way to make money. But, then the gear got nicer, their whips got nicer, and reality sets in – their selling drugs.

Nonetheless, whether you're educated or a “slow Joe” . . . Whether you live in East Hills, East Liberty, Homewood or Wilkinsburg you're catching hell! All of us have suffered long enough now at the hands of the establishments and their “gatekeepers.”

But, this time “TEAM US” knows how to walk the streets in the bad sections of the neighborhood and navigate their political world (comfortable with all the things happening in the streets and in the political world).

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

2012 Pennsylvania Election: “A clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing!”

On April 24, 2012, there will be a “clash between those who want justice and equality and the “gatekeepers” for the establishment/special interest groups who want to continue the current systems of political exploitation of African-Americans living in Pittsburgh.

The establishment has painted a picture of Pittsburgh to the world (it's art scene, job prospect, safety and affordability), as a city that has rebounded from both its industrial past and the current economic crisis to become a culture and intellectual hotspot.

To attract non-minorities they're telling the world that Pittsburgh isn't bogged down with the burden of taking care of blacks. That is, when examining the 2010 census data, Pittsburgh is one of the “whitest” cities of the 100 largest metro areas in the United States (87 percent of the population is non-minority). LOL!!! SMH TOO!!!

They want the world to think Pittsburgh resembles what America look like before the Civil Rights revolution.

The truth: Based on unemployment, income growth in the past 5 years, crime rates, cost of living, and the like, African-Americans haven't benefited from the turnaround. But, afraid of their own shadows, our "house niggas" leaders simply cannot defend us

So, in the coming days, when the “gatekeepers” argue there's been a lot of investment in areas with high levels of poverty and areas predominantly black (East Liberty). Remember, “big-box” stores or “mixed-used” development are focused on geographic rather than population.

That is, when the populace in question can't afford the new construction options (our people can't even afford to shop at Target), than a new populace replaces them and, ultimately, poverty just gets moved around geographically and so no real solution is attained. Look at the demographics of the people hanging around S. Highland Avenue and Penn Circle to the people a block away at S. Highland and Penn Avenue.

In short, the most dangerous people are those who have no stake in society. They expect us to be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, and co-exist in a white-black brotherhood (while our gas and electric gets shut-off during winter months, food is taken off our tables when they cut “food stamps” entitlements and/or change eligibility guidelines, and, our kids go without a proper education). But, through struggle we are always led to rediscover the lesson of the past.

We have a common oppressor.

A common discriminator.

We have to unite on the basis of what we have in common. And, the “gatekeepers,” whether placed there as a “hand-picked” leader identified by the local political party and/or the media, is just another “monkey-suit” wearing pawn in the “game” that keeps us in our situation.

There's nothing in our holy books that teaches us to suffer peacefully . . . .

As is the case in any jungle, every waking hour that we struggle we lived with both the practical and subconscious knowledge that if we relax, slow down, they won't hesitate to get us (make us their prey).

We must start listening during the “staged” community meetings and watching during “staged” protest marches. We need to better question the “gatekeepers” who called us there.

Who is really benefiting from this community meeting and protest march?

How come the “FIELD NIGGA” that the establishment has nightmares about never got a telephone call (wasn't invited to participate)?

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Friday, January 20, 2012

I'M NOT RUNNING FOR STATE REPRESENTATIVE, WE'RE RUNNING . . . “TEAM US – A DOLLAR AND A DREAM”

Our loyalty should not be “a given” for any person, political party, or just because of our blackness. As a people we need to begin to understand that we can't keep being “played!”

There should be outrage over the demands of the establishment, special interest groups, the media, and any of their “hand-picked” candidates, telling us to “stop complaining” about race inequality. The simple truth, our so-called African-American leaders, in their “monkey suits” have lost their blackness – refuse to speak out!

The political table they have been sitting at (either in Harrisburg, in the Mayor's Office, or running around behind Tim Stevens for his various staged media events) is far more elegant than the living conditions and challenges that we as a people must face daily during this economic downturn.

Do our African-American so-called leaders really believe that their membership to the elite club within the establishment actually gives them rights or privileges undeserving of the rest of us?

Our future is bleak if we take no action. African-American unemployment is at its worst level in more than three decades (we make up just 12 percent of the nation's population but account for 21 percent of the nation's unemployed). Unemployment for African-American men stands at a staggeringly high 19.1 percent and the overall unemployment rate is expected to remain well above 10 percent until at least 2014.

Firearm homicide (epidemic levels) is the leading cause of death for African-American ages 1-44 (we suffer over 26 percent of all firearm deaths and over 55 percent of all firearm homicides).

The Pennsylvania Governor, Pennsylvania State Assembly, County Executive, City of Pittsburgh Mayor (and/or any of their African-American “gatekeepers”) could have helped ameliorate some of the pain African-Americans are feeling in the job sector (and/or as a result of gun violence), but their focus on the “largely white” information (high-tech) jobs, academia (boosting universities), the “green” economy and Marcellus Shale has done little to address the concern of real “black” people!

If we wish to see the concern's of real “black” people extended beyond a relatively small number of the token few . . . “TEAM US” must now challenge the establishment, special interest groups, and their “hand-picked” candidates (that they expect you will support because our lone “in the white man's pocket” African-American newspaper told you to do so).

What's interesting: Our lone African American newspaper, a few years back, endorsed racist Rick Santorum . . . .

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Pennsylvania State Representative Joe Preston Controlled by Special Interest Money

The impact of special interest money on Pennsylvania's election process has long been a concern for the vast majority of us. Voters want to know their elected representative is serving them, not the wealthy special interest that may support the politician financially.

Special interest groups are a collection of individuals or societies with shared interests and values who aim at determining the decisions made by politicians.

Special interest groups expect a good return on their political investments. It has thus created a dysfunctional legislature. Our government ordained by the people is fast becoming a permanent ruling class, in effect a surrogate plutocracy (a form of government in which the supreme power is lodged in the hands of wealthy special interests that arrange the continual reelection of representatives who govern as their surrogates).

Some office holders have treated their campaign committee as more or less open-ended slush funds.

JOE PRESTON RECEIVED $563,937 FROM SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS:

Candidates $111,396

Utilities $ 52,525

Lawyers & Lobbyists $ 52,500

Construction $ 35,925

Public Sector Unions $ 32,822

Telecom Services $ 26,942

General Trade Unions $ 19,550

Healthcare $ 16,000

Banks $ 14,200

Political Parties $ 7,910

Oil & Gas $ 6,825

Home Builders $ 6,250

Automotive $ 5,800

Miscellaneous Energy $ 5,450

NOTEWORTHY CONTRIBUTORS:

UTILITIES
First Energy Corp $ 10,025
PPL Corp $ 9,775
PECO Energy $ 7,850
Dominion $ 4,300
UGI Utilities $ 3,000
Duquesne Light $ 2,925
National Fuel Gas $ 2,775
Morgan K. Obrien $ 2,000
James Schwing $ 2,000
Energy Association $ 2,000
NISOURCE $ 1,750
Columbia Gas $ 1,500
Exelon $ 1,500
Sunoco, Inc $ 1,500
EQT $ 1,250
CPU Energy $ 800

TELECOM SERVICES
Verizon $ 7,867
Comcast $ 6,250
AT&T $ 3,000
Sprint Nextel $ 2,500
EMBARQ $ 2,175
Broadband Cable ASSOC $ 1,650

CONSTRUCTION
Robert Agbede $ 19,000
Michael Baker Corp $ 2,500
ATS-Chester $ 2,000
Robert J. Lewis $ 1,500

LAWYERS & LOBBYISTS
PA Assoc For Justice $ 10,250
S R Wojdak $ 3,250
Ma Lady & Wooten $ 2,450
Thorp Reed Armstrong $ 2,000
Pa Bar Assoc $ 1,800
Klett Lieber Rooney $ 1,550
K&L Gates $ 1,500
Wolf Block $ 1,500
CRISCI Assoc $ 1,500
George W. Jacoby $ 1,500
Eustace Uku $ 1,000
Renardo L. Hicks $ 1,000
Ray Middleman $ 1,000
Charlene R. McAbee $ 1,000
Buchanan Ingersoil $ 800
R. Dell Ziger $ 500

PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS
National Assoc Ed $ 10,075
AFSCME Council 13 $ 6,897
PGH Federaion Teachers $ 1,950
Assoc PA Faculties $ 1,750

GENERAL TRADE UNIONS
PA AFL-CIO $ 4,000
Communication Workers $ 2,000
Greater Pgh Carpenters $ 1,700

HEALTHCARE
PA Psychological Assoc $ 2,600
Betty O. Udekwu $ 3,000
Pa Anesthesiologists $ 2,000
Astrazeneca $ 1,400
PA Ophthalmology $ 1,250
Highmark $ 800

TRANSPORTATION
PA Automotive Assoc $ 2,500
James D. Campolongo $ 2,000
PA Motor Truck Assoc $ 2,000
PA Recreational Vehicle $ 1,500
Independent Auto Dealer $ 1,500

HOME BUILDERS
PA Manufactured Housing $ 4,000

RETAIL SALES
Retailers Assoc $ 4,000
Advanced Technology $ 2,000
Pa Chamber Bus. Indust. $ 1,500
PA Financial Services $ 1,500

REAL ESTATE
PA Assoc of Realtors $ 2,550

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Current Pennsylvania Utility Law Promotes Shut-Offs and Limits Customer Options

Utility companies have given Joe Preston $52,525 to protect their special interest.

Since Joe Preston passage of Act 201 (also known as Chapter 14 of the Public Utility Code) in 2004, electric terminations rose 78.6 percent.

The latest Biennial Report issued by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission "PUC" concludes that terminations for the electric and gas industries have risen to “record high levels” since passage of Chapter 14.

In addition to increasing shut offs, Chapter 14 reduces the relief available to utility customers by severely limiting the number of payment agreements that the utility can be required to provide.

Each year more households struggle to have utilities reconnected on affordable terms because, in most circumstances, Chapter 14 only requires utility companies to give a customer one opportunity to enter an installment payment agreement to catch up on bills.

Chapter 14 is due to expire in 2014, which is no relief to the increasing number of customers who need another chance now to reconnect heat service or prevent shut off.

Todd Elliott Koger urges customers with shut-off notices to contact their utilities whose employees, “are obligated by law to fully explain all available methods for avoiding a termination.”

The use of public utilities pervades the life of every individual. Each time a person walks into a heated room, eats food that has been either refrigerated or cooked, or uses a light that person is likely relying on some sort of public utility.

It is important for low-income households to gain protections from the threatened or actual disconnection of utility service. Joe Preston has promised every election to "get rid" of "Chapter 14" but has done nothing.

Chapter 14 was not established with the lives of poor people in mind. Todd Elliott Koger questions why Joe Preston, since November 2004 hasn't yet voiced "established" legal theory to repeal the legislation.

For example, prohibiting the imputation of debts of one person to a third party is a doctrine based upon straight contract law. However, Chapter 14 appears to unlawfully allow utility companies the ability to transfer the liability of unpaid utility service to any adult living in the household.

Terminated customers may, for a time, attempt to struggle by without utility service to the detriment of the health of the household and safety of the neighborhood (household fire and possible death).

Eventually, families are forced to move to obtain service and costs are imposed as schools and neighborhoods are disrupted and properties are run down.

And, the costs of moving and re-initiating utility service will be drawn either from public assistance or from family reserves for other necessities -- again implicating health and safety costs which will ultimately be borne by society.

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Todd Elliott Koger Position Paper: Top Priorities 2010 Election -- Gun Violence Allegheny County, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania



As is always the case at rallies against violence, there will be eloquent and impassioned speeches about the need for self-esteem, the value of education and the importance of conflict resolution. What won't be in the offing are easy answers about how to deal with the plague of gun violence . . . .

The answer is simple. It starts with one man or woman, committed to a set of specific and result-oriented procedures and good faith, coming forward and requesting nothing more than the opportunity to do some good. The answer isn't as complex as local decision makers claim.

We don't need another politician who is visible only before election time, always followed by the media, meeting with the already self-disciplined and organized block watch groups or tenant councils. We need someone welcome by those normally "too hard to reach" because he or she produces tangible results and is trusted as a "homegrown" trying to do some good.

Sometimes just being there, available and willing to help a struggling individual secure a working refrigerator for his Mom, a child's bed for his kid, or curtains/mini blinds for the windows at the individual's girlfriend's apartment, will keep a troubled individual out of harm's way!

What's needed is a trusted advocate steadfast to the challenge of canvassing the most dangerous neighborhood [door-to-door, corner-to-corner, housing-project-to-housing-project] to redress those barriers that have systematically prevented inner-city residents from becoming productive participants in mainstream society.

In short, black fraternities and sororities arose from the hostility students experienced in the early 20th century and its support systems and social networks have shaped and nurtured our youth cultivating many of today's leaders. Through support suppression activities and a "bridge" to prevention, as well as neighborhood reclamation and restoration, job training and support service, one trusted black leader will offer a greater proportion of the region's most needy population opportunity to better interact with society.

Out of the 87 homicides, in 2009, in Pittsburgh, 62 (71 percent) were Black. 55 homicides, in 2009, were Black men.

Todd Elliott Koger is that trusted black leader!

Todd Elliott Koger Position Paper: Top Priorities 2010 Election -- Pennsylvania deserves a budget by June 30 . . . sooner would be even better!




After last year's debacle -- the framework was adopted 101 days late and final details weren't completed until six months past due -- Pennsylvanians are out of patience and eager to see a budget delivered on time!

Reducing the size of the Pennsylvania Legislature raises interesting questions in these difficult economic times. This year, legislators were months behind schedule on their most important job of the year -- adopting a budget. In all of their futile attempts, the main topic of conversation was cutting programs and services.
Todd Elliott Koger a 2010 candidate for the Pennsylvania House (District 24) is ready for a political tussle over: (1) allocations for basic education; (2) whether and how Pennsylvania will tax methane from the potentially lucrative Marcellus Shale formation; and (3) future shortfalls due to federal stimulus funding ending in 2011 and increasing pension demands.

Getting started well ahead of the June 30 deadline is smart. But, just punting the budget to the Senate early to pass along blame for any intransigence is not the answer.

In short, Pennsylvania should enact a severance tax identical to West Virginia's: 5 percent on the value of sale, plus 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet produced, rather than leasing additional state forest land for natural gas drilling.

The severance tax would produce $180 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 and increase to nearly $530 million after five years, including 10 percent set aside for local governments (money to shore up a state treasury that faces a projected $5.6 billion gap in 2011 and 2012 resulting from spiraling public pension costs and the expiration of federal stimulus budget aid).

In addition, Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature among the 50 states. Pennsylvania also was first in the percentage of its state budget that is spent on its legislature. But, debate about reducing the size of the legislature generates interesting conversations, i.e. no one has done anything. . . .

Todd Elliott Koger Position Paper: Top Priorities 2010 Election -- 3, 992 Pennsylvania Households Using Potentially Unsafe Heating




Since the passage of Chapter 14 in late 2004, both the rate and number of utility terminations have increased, jeopardizing the health and safety of those households without utility service, particularly in the cold winter months; and thousands of consumers have been denied payment arrangements because of restrictions placed on the PUC.

Act 201 of 2004, known as Chapter 14, went into effect on December 14, 2004, amending the Public Utility Code. Chapter 14 prohibits the PUC from establishing a payment agreement for customers who have defaulted on CAP (Customer Assistance Program) payments.

For non-CAP customers, Chapter 14 prohibits the Commission from establishing a second payment agreement if the customer has defaulted on the first.

In total, as a result of Chapter 14, the PUC has been unable to assist 71,516 customers (non-CAP and CAP customers) who were seeking payment arrangements.

Overall, the termination rate has increased by 86% from 2002 to 2007.

Chapter 14 must go! Joe Preston must go!

The poor and low-income residents of Pennsylvania should be horrified by the hypocrisy of Joe Preston. He was given lucrative campaign contributions from the utility companies in exchange for passage of Chapter 14.

5/13/09 UGI PAC (UGI Corp) $500

5/11/09 FirstEnergy Political Action Committee $1,000

4/27/09 James Michael Love (LOB) $500

4/16/08 NFG PAPAC $500

4/10/08 James Michael Love Energy Association of PA $1,000

4/4/08 N.Source Inc. PAC-PA $750

4/2/08 UGI PAC (UGI CORP) $1,000

3/3/08 FirstEnergy Political Action Committee $1,000

6/22/07 Equitable Resources, Inc. $1,000

6/22/07 NFG PAPAC $1,000

5/16/07 FirstEnergy Political Action Committee $1,000

10/27/06 NFG PAPAC $175

10/16/06 FirstEnergy Political Action Committee $175

10/6/06 Equitable Resources $250

6/15/05 Equitable Resources $250

12/31/04 UGI PAC (UGI CORP) $250

6/29/04 FirstEnergy Committee $500

Friday, March 12, 2010

February 2010 Rendell's/Joe Preston's Budget Proposal to Expand Pennsylvania Sales Tax: Notice to Lobbyists to Open Their Wallets Again!




The February 2010 budget proposal by Govenor Ed Rendell/Joe Preston to expand Pennsylvania’s sales tax base has been popping up in some form or fashion over the past several years only to fail. The 2010 February budget proposal is just further notice to lobbyists to open their wallets again.

Please Note: Comparing recent expenditures with past lobbying efforts is difficult. Pennsylvania didn't enact its disclosure law until late 2006, long after most states. And, unless they provide gifts or lodging, those who try to influence state decision makers must report little detail other than the totals spent.

In early February 2009, when it became clear that the State budget was in crisis mode Natural-Gas Drillers opened their wallets. In short, Pennsylvania is the biggest natural gas producer that does not impose some type of tax on it.

That is, in February 2009, Govenor Rendell announced that he was pushing for a new tax on the odorless, colorless gas found deep below Pennsylvania soil. Rendell said the tax would bring in about $100 million in 2010, thanks to what he called the "Gold Rush" of new drilling for natural gas in the vast underground formation known as the Marcellus Shale. But by late August 2009, the Governor (to the surprise of many) said drilling executives had convinced him that imposing the tax would stunt the growth of the industry.

Thereafter, Rendell abandoned his push for the tax.

The Natural-Gas Drillers lobbyists would also win another victory during the prolonged budget battle, persuading lawmakers to open up thousands of additional acres of state forest land to drillers despite the concern of environmentalists. The Natural-Gas industry's argument: The State could bring in more revenue by leasing the land to drillers than by taxing the gas extracted.

The idea of leasing more land doesn't sit well with many House Democrats who are pushing legislation to put a five-year moratorium until the end of 2015 on leasing any additional state forest land. A bill sponsored by Rep. Greg Vitali, D-166, Haverton, would give the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sole discretion after the moratorium ends to determine if more leasing can take place. Under D-166 the state must first evaluate the impact of drilling on the forests and water supplies before proceeding further.

The Natural-Gas Driller's lobbyists have successfully resisted the call for a severance tax in Pennsylvania - the tax the industry pays in every other state.

Under Gov. Ed Rendell’s/Joe Preston's proposed 2010-11 budget, Pennsylvania’s sales tax rate would drop from 6 percent to 4 percent, but would be applied to more categories (74 items that are currently exempt). The proposal faces an uphill battle, both in political and practical terms. To move forward with this proposal would represent a major shift in tax policy and Pennsylvania doesn’t move quickly on such major public policy initiatives.

The Question: Will Govenor Rendell/Joe Preston allow Natural-Gas Driller's lobbyists to succeed again (pressure Harrisburg to open up more of our precious forests simply because we have a budget deficit)?

Opponents say they aren’t taking the proposed shift in tax policy any less lightly despite the declaration of Joseph Scarnati, president of the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate, that it was “dead on arrival.”

The Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants reached out to its 20,000 members within days of hearing Rendell’s/Joe Preston's budget.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association President Clifford E. Haines shot off a letter to legislative leaders stating the industry’s opposition within a week.

National Federal of Independent Business members are also in the ears of state lawmakers.

Pennsylvania Newspaper Association has questioned the constitutionality of imposing a tax on one industry but not another. Under Rendell’s/Joe Preston's proposal, the state’s already struggling newspaper industry would face new taxes on not only advertising, but circulation — a double whammy.

Philadelphia, which received legislative approval in August to temporarily raise the city’s sales tax rate from 7 percent to 8 percent over the next five years to address budgetary shortfalls, would also be hurt.

In closing, Pennsylvania should enact a severance tax identical to West Virginia's: 5 percent on the value of sale, plus 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet produced. The severance tax would produce $180 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 and increase to nearly $530 million after five years, including 10 percent set aside for local governments (money to shore up a state treasury that faces a projected $5.6 billion gap in 2011 and 2012 resulting from spiraling public pension costs and the expiration of federal stimulus budget aid).

Todd Elliott Koger a 2010 candidate for the Pennsylvania House (District 24) is ready for a political tussle over whether and how Pennsylvania will tax methane from the potentially lucrative Marcellus Shale formation.

Please Note: Joe Preston received the following funds from Natural-Gas:

5/13/09 UGI PAC (UGI Corp) $500

5/11/09 FirstEnergy Political Action Committee $1,000

4/27/09 James Michael Love (LOB) $500

4/16/08 NFG PAPAC $500

4/10/08 James Michael Love Energy Association of PA $1,000

4/4/08 N.Source Inc. PAC-PA $750

4/2/08 UGI PAC (UGI CORP) $1,000

3/3/08 FirstEnergy Political Action Committee $1,000

6/22/07 Equitable Resources, Inc. $1,000

6/22/07 NFG PAPAC $1,000

5/16/07 FirstEnergy Political Action Committee $1,000

10/27/06 NFG PAPAC $175

10/16/06 FirstEnergy Political Action Committee $175

10/6/06 Equitable Resources $250

6/15/05 Equitable Resources $250

12/31/04 UGI PAC (UGI CORP) $250

6/29/04 FirstEnergy Committee $500

See also:

"Fight against state tax on gas extraction gets expensive"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

By Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the last two years, energy companies with a stake in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying and making campaign contributions to legislators, congressmen and the governor, partly in hopes of postponing a tax on the extraction of natural gas.

They also are laying the groundwork for future political battles. Range Resources Energy Independence PAC, for example, donated $5,000 each to Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett and to Democratic Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, both gubernatorial candidates, in the waning months of 2009.


Range Resources, with drilling rights to more than 1.4 million acres, is one of the biggest natural gas players in Pennsylvania, and is one of the most frequent campaign contributors as well. The company’s political arm gave to state Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods; Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery; Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson; Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre; and Auditor General Jack Wagner, among others, in 2009. In turn, the biggest donors to the Range PAC are its top executives, such as Charles Blackburn (board of directors), John Pinkerton (CEO), Rodney Waller (chief of compliance) and Roger Manny (executive vice president).

Why all the cash? Energy companies view the Marcellus shale field, much of which is in Pennsylvania, as the next big natural gas bonanza, and have spent the past two years positioning themselves for the day when natural gas prices increase, making it a more profitable enterprise.

And the enterprise will remain more profitable so long as the Legislature and the governor are unable, or unwilling, to impose a tax on the extraction of gas.

The so-called “severance tax” was in the news again last week, as Gov. Ed Rendell announced the leasing of 32,000 acres of state forest land for drilling purposes, netting the state’s general fund $128 million. Five companies — Chesapeake Energy Corp. of Oklahoma City, Exco Resources of Dallas, Seneca Resources Corp. of Houston, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. of Houston, and Penn Virginia Corp. of Radnor, Pa. — submitted the highest bids.

After announcing the lease agreement, Mr. Rendell said he’d try again, in his 2010-11 budget proposal, to impose a severance tax, something in place in 28 other states. “It’s hard for the industry to cry poor mouth. Exxon just paid a high price to buy a [natural] gas company,” he said.

He said on Friday that an extraction tax could raise $100 million a year for the state.

Energy companies want to postpone or fight off the tax, citing a glut of natural gas in storage (which depresses prices), and the fact that companies already must pay an up-front lease price, as well as continued royalties, to landowners.

But the companies’ concerns go beyond the extraction tax.

“It’s all about education,” said Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for Range Resources. “While the industry has been in Pennsylvania for 150 years, modern natural gas development is very new. … At the end of the day, we have to do all that we can to ensure that [we] maximize this opportunity for the entire commonwealth, [and] take the steps to support the responsible growth of this industry.”

The PAC for Chesapeake Energy Corp. — which is the largest gas lessee in Pennsylvania — also appears frequently in the Department of State’s campaign finances records. It has contributed to Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak; Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana; Mr. Scarnati, Mr. Corman, Mr. Onorato and Mr. Corbett, among others.

Other players:

• Anadarko, one of last week’s winning bidders, made several contributions in 2008, including a $500 contribution to Sen. John Wozniak, D-Johnstown.

• UGI PAC is the political arm of UGI Corp., an oil and gas firm out of Reading, Pa. The PAC has contributed to House Speaker Keith McCall, D-Carbon; Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong; Rep. Joe Preston, D-East Liberty; Mr. Turzai and many more.

• Exco Resources (another of last week’s winning bidders) committed $500 to Sen. Don White, R-Indiana; $500 to Mr. Corman, and $500 to Mr. Scarnati, among several others.

• Cabot Oil & Gas is the third-largest drilling lease-holder in the state, behind Range and Chesapeake. Cabot and its executives have given to Mr. Scarnati.

• Spectra Energy, a Houston company with a presence in Washington County, has given $1,500 each to the Democratic state senate campaign committee and its Republican counterpart, and the same amount to the House Democrats’ and House Republicans’ campaigns.

• Cecil Township’s CNX Gas, a division of Consol Energy, leases about 40,000 acres. Its political action group — which is combined with Consol’s, called the Consol Energy Inc. & CNX Gas Corp. PAC — has given $2,500 to Mr. White, $1,000 to Mr. Corbett, $1,000 to Mr. Rendell, $1,000 to Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon, and thousands more since 2008.

Direct campaign contributions are separate from lobbying expenses, which the state also tracks. Range, for example, reported spending $70,600 in “direct communications” with lawmakers in the third quarter of 2009, $65,000 in the second quarter, and $90,000 in the January through March quarter. (Fourth-quarter lobbying expenditures haven’t been filed yet.)

Chesapeake Appalachia spent $76,000 in the third quarter of 2009, $79,000 in the second quarter and $48,000 in the first.

Lobbying and umbrella trade groups — such as the Independent Oil & Gas Association, the National Fuel and Gas Association — also make direct campaign contributions.

Individually, none of the energy and gas companies give enough to rank among the top contributors in the state, and collectively, they are still well short of the largest donors, such as PACE, the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s political arm.

Friday, December 18, 2009

3, 992 Pennsylvania Households Using Potentially Unsafe Heating (Space Heaters and Kitchen Ovens) . . . Heating Assistance LIHEAP?




The PUC said that 3,992 households statewide are using potentially unsafe heating sources such as space heaters and kitchen ovens, compared with 3,373 last year.

That is, on the heels of the season's first cold snap, the Pennslvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has released a report predicting that the number of local households without utility service for heating their homes this winter would be nearly 19 percent higher than at the beginning of last winter.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, potentially unsafe sources of heat include kerosene heaters, kitchen stoves or ovens, electric space heaters, fireplaces and connecting extension cords to neighbors’ homes.

The PUC's Cold Weather Survey said that 17,037 households lack utility heat, compared with 14,372 this time last year. That includes 948 households served by Dominion Peoples, 931 served by Equitable Gas and 829 served by Columbia Gas. The survey also included households with electric heat, and found that 906 households served by Duquesne Light and 265 served by Allegheny Power lacked power.

PUC Reports Show Increases in Terminations and Indicate Concerns for Low-Income Customers

Three documents recently released by the Public Utility Commission point to significant areas of concern for low-income utility consumers. The documents include:

The Second Biennial Report to the General Assembly and the Governor Pursuant to Section 1415;

4-year Average, 2007 & 2008 Cold Weather Survey Results – Electric & Gas; and

Terminations and Reconnections – Year-to-Date: 2007 vs. 2008 Through December.

Second Biennial Report:

Act 201 of 2004, known as Chapter 14, went into effect on December 14, 2004, amending the Public Utility Code. The PUC is required to monitor and evaluate the implementation of Chapter 14 and report its findings to the General Assembly and the Governor every two years.

The Second Biennial Report was released December 14, 2008 and includes much that does not bode well for low-income utility customers:

That is, there appears to be a serious concern that failure of utilities to fully implement Chapter 14 leads to unlawful or erroneous terminations, which present serious issues of health and safety for both the individuals directly involved and the surrounding community.

For the electric industry, the percentage of customers in debt has increased.

The Report states: It does not appear that the electric industry’s strategy of terminating a record high number of customers since the passage of Chapter 14 has been successful.

Looking ahead, the concern remains about the collections performance of the electric industry as rate caps are lifted for PPL on Dec. 31, 2009, and for Met-Ed, Penelec and Allegheny on Dec. 31, 2010.

The early projections for rate increases are cause for concern when combined with diminishing purchasing power for customers in our current economic climate. These factors may make it more challenging and difficult for the electric industry to manage its collections performance and costs.

Chapter 14 prohibits the Commission from establishing a payment agreement for customers who have defaulted on CAP (Customer Assistance Program) payments.

Through October 10, 2008, the PUC has turned away 24,144 CAP customers who wanted to have their payment arrangements reviewed.

The Second Biennial Report specifically states that: For CAP customers who fail to meet their obligations under CAP, there is no recourse other than to pay their arrearages and current balances in order to maintain utility service. This is arguably a losing proposition for them.

These customers are at the greatest risk because they are out of options.

There are low-income households who are payment-troubled and have not yet been placed into a CAP program. This represents a still significant number of such households since the passage of Chapter 14. Consequently, there is still room for CAP programs to grow.

For non-CAP customers, Chapter 14 prohibits the Commission from establishing a second payment agreement if the customer has defaulted on the first.

Since the passage of Chapter 14, the Commission has turned away over 47,000 non-CAP customers requesting a payment arrangement.

In total, as a result of Chapter 14, the Commission has been unable to assist 71,516 customers (non-CAP and CAP customers) who were seeking payment arrangements.

Since 2004, termination numbers for the electric industry have reached record levels, increasing 60.1 % during the period from 2004 to 2007.

Terminations for the gas industry increased 21% from 2004 to 2007.

Termination rates (calculated by dividing the number of terminations by the number of customers) for the electric industry have risen to record high levels since the passage of Chapter 14, increasing from 2.06 to 3.25 from 2004 to 2007.

Overall, the termination rate has increased by 86% from 2002 to 2007.

The declining economy is creating a “new poor” as diminishing purchasing power for consumers combines with higher utility costs.

The Second Biennial Report concludes that: It is likely that additional thousands of utility customers will face unaffordable utility bills in the years ahead.

Given the continuing trend of higher levels of service terminations under Chapter 14, the economy and the prospect of higher utility prices, greater numbers of Pennsylvania households may be faced with the risk of losing essential utility services in the coming years.

Additional funding and support for safety net program is critical to ensure that all Pennsylvania households receive essential utility services.

Cold Weather Survey:

The Cold Weather Survey, mandated by PUC regulations, is undertaken each fall; it involves a survey by all PUC-regulated natural gas and electric utilities of residences where service has been terminated throughout the year and not reconnected. Utilities attempt to contact these terminated households via certified letters, phone calls, and personal visits.

A total of 14,372 households normally using electric or gas heat were without service after completion of the survey (excluding vacant residences and households using potentially unsafe heating source or other central heating sources) – an increase of 4% from 2007 to 2008.

20,037 residences that were terminated now appear to be vacant, a 16% increase from 2007 to 2008.

3,373 households are using potentially unsafe heating sources, a 9% increase from 2007 to 2008.

Terminations and Reconnections – Monthly Report:

The regulated utilities are also mandated by Chapter 56 of Title 52 of the Pennsylvania Code to report terminations and reconnections on a monthly basis.

The latest report shows that the number of terminations by electric utilities in 2008 increased 26% compared to 2007.

The number of service terminations by gas utilities increased by 10% over the same time period.

A total of 331,220 utility customers had their electric, gas or water service terminated in 2008.


Summary and Necessary Actions:

Since the passage of Chapter 14 in late 2004 (immediately following Joe Preston's re-election in November 2004), both the rate and number of utility terminations have increased, jeopardizing the health and safety of those households without utility service, particularly in the cold winter months; and thousands of consumers have been denied payment arrangements because of restrictions placed on the PUC.

Spending for CAP and other low-income utility programs, including LIURP (Low-Income Usage Reduction Program), CARES (Customer Assistance and Referral Evaluation Services) and Hardship Funds must be increased and outreach to low-income consumers must be improved in order to enroll all those who are eligible, especially as the economy worsens and rate caps on electric generation prices are lifted.


Todd Elliott Koger advocates the following essential protections for low-income consumers:

FIRST

Chapter 14 and Joe Preston must go!

The poor and low-income residents of Pennsylvania State Assembly District 24 should be horrified by the hypocrisy of Joe Preston who parlayed his leadership position within a committee into an opportunity for lucrative campaign contributions from the utility companies in exchange for passage of Chapter 14.

Since its passage, Joe Preston wants you to believe that Chapter 14 protects paying customers from higher bills.

With few, if any, humanistic considerations, he mistakenly believes the only problem associated with the poor and low-income freezing to death isn't a human problem but rather a problem of energy industry profits.

He has been dehumanizing the poor and low-income as "deadbeats" leaching off "good customers."

However, poverty isn't about people being bad or making bad choices. It is about having corrupt and decadent social systems that make people unfathomably rich at the expense of the rest of us.

To illustrate and humanize this issue, one must look at who is really hurt by Chapter 14.

Chapter 14 and Joe Preston must go!

NEXT

The PUC should make it its policy and the policy of utilities to avoid service terminations wherever possible.

CAP payments should be required to be affordable.

Because low-income consumers have certain protections from service terminations during the winter months, the Commission should obligate the utilities to ask about household income at every opportunity so that incorrect terminations do not occur.

Utilities should be required to report to the Commission anytime they become aware of a death or serious injury at a residence without utility service.

In short, thousands of our neighbors are regularly waging a battle without the use of their central-heating system because their electric or natural gas service has been terminated.


Todd Elliott Koger urges consumers without utility service to know their rights and obtain information about programs available to help them restore and maintain utility service.

For example, consumers with a seriously ill resident in the household or a protection from abuse order may have additional options for service restoration.

Winter Shut-off Protection Began December 1:

Low-income utility customers who are unable to pay their bills are protected from service terminations from December 1 through March 31. Household income must be at or below 250% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.

Customers who receive termination notices after February 1 and meet income guidelines may be eligible for a LIHEAP Crisis grant to stop the termination.

Electric Utility Education Plans To Mitigate Rate Increases:

The PUC provided final approval of the rate mitigation education plans of PPL, PECO, UGI Electric, Citizens’ Electric, Wellsboro, West Penn Power, Pike County Light & Power, Duquesne Light Co., and the FirstEnergy Companies of Met-Ed, Penelec and Penn Power.

These plans are in response to the May 17, 2007 Commission Order, at Docket No. M-00061957, which directed all electric distribution companies (EDCs) to prepare and file a consumer education plan to mitigate potential electricity price increases that could follow the expiration of generation rate caps.

The intention is to prepare Pennsylvanians for removal of electric rate caps and to enable consumers to make informed decisions regarding their levels of electric use.

The plans are required to include specific education elements which inform consumers that:

Rate caps of their electric providers have or will expire on a certain date;

When rates change there may be significant increases;

Customers may be able to take steps to control the size of their electric bills;

Customers may benefit from utilizing energy efficiency, conservation and demand side response measures;

Information about these measures is readily available;

Customers may reduce the size of their electric bills, or receive service options more suited to their needs, by purchasing generation service from an alternative electric generation supplier;

Current information that will allow customers to make informed choices about competitive generation alternatives is readily available; and

Programs exist to help low income customers maintain their utility service, and information about them is readily available.

Consumers should call their utility. If they are unable to reach an agreement with the utility, the PUC may be able to provide assistance.

In conclusion, a Dec. 11, 2007, letter sent to electric and natural gas utilities under its jurisdiction, the PUC asked the utilities to join the PUC in reaching out and educating consumers.

The Commission’s “Prepare Now” outreach campaign appeals to consumers on limited or fixed incomes to call their utility about special programs such as Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs) and Low Income Usage Reduction Programs (LIURP) to help heat their homes and pay their energy bills.

The letter also stressed the importance of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the impact the program has on helping low-income consumers restore and maintain service.

Consumers on limited or fixed incomes should call their utility about special programs such as CAPs and LIURP to help heat their homes and pay their energy bills.

Every major utility offers a CAP, under which qualifying low-income customers pay discounted bills. Qualification in the CAP program is based on household size and gross household income. LIURP helps consumers lower the amount of electricity or natural gas used each month. The company may install energy saving features in your home to help reduce bills.

Consumers should call their utility to inquire about such programs.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) may have funds available to help eligible customers have service restored.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

With a 3 percent increase on December 1, 2009, Pennsylvania legislators' annual salary may go above $80,000 . . .



Historical sites will be shuttered, the wait for government services will be longer, swimming and camping seasons at state parks will be shorter, and hundreds of state employees will be looking for new jobs.

The governor's office announced yesterday that Friday will be the last day of work for 319 employees who are being laid off. They will be put on administrative leave until Dec. 4, allowing them to collect two additional weeks of pay.

Nonetheless, in 2006, Pennsylvania legislators raised a statewide uproar when they voted themselves raises of 16 to 33 percent. The Legislature later canceled its raised, but under a 1995 law, state officials continue to get cost-of-living adjustments every December. The salary increases are based on the rise in the Consumer Price Index (the inflation rate) during the pervious 12 months in the Philadelphia area, and that usually works out to 3 or 4 percent.

Because of this COLA law, a rank-and-file lawmaker's annual salary has risen from $69,647 in 2005 to $72,187 in 2006, to $73,614 in 2007, to $76,163 in 2008, to $78,300 in 2009. With a 3 percent increase on December 1, 2009 their annual salary may go above $80,000.

It is common sense to suspend the COLA for legislators during the current tough economic times. How can a lawmaker accept a pay increase during a year when so so much have been cut from the state budget and so so many others must now do with less or with nothing at all.

The national economic conditions are so dismal that for the first time in more than three decades the federal government will not make cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security payments.

In short, if Pennsylvania's elderly citizens are expected to go without a Social Security COLA this year, than Pennsylvania lawmakers should be expected to do the same.

Some citizen protesters, including Eric Epstein (Rock the Capital) and Gene Stilp (Taxpayers and Ratepayers United) want the Legislature to cancel the December 1 cost-of-living adjustment, but that seems unlikely.

No one should be rewarded for creating a large budget deficit and holding state citizens hostage for 101 days before finally adopting the 2009-20010 budget. Repealing the COLA law is an opportunity for legislators to do the right thing and put the interests of the state ahead of their wallet.

Please note: None of the staff cuts will come in the department's oil and gas program, where the state recently raised fees to pay for 37 new hires to do permitting and inspection work on hundreds of new wells tapping into the Marcellus shale, a deep rock formation underlying three-fourths of the state and attracting widespread drilling interest. Layoffs could have been avoided had the Rendell administration backed a severance tax on Marcellus drilling as part of the state budget. The revenue the state could have raised with a severance tax or fee -- which ever other major natural-gas drilling state already has -- could have gone a long way. Twelve of the 319 being furloughed work in state offices in Allegheny County and another 28 work in surrounding areas. The layoffs will save the state $16.7 million over the next 12 months.

In closing, what Pennsylvania really needs is a constitutional convention (the first since 1968) with a goal or reducing the size of the Legislature and giving voters greater control over state government.

Ties Between Western Pennsylvania Legislators and Their Office Landlords



The following was reported by WTAE Channel 4 on November 17, 2009.

The so-called Bonusgate indictments in Harrisburg have put a spotlight on state lawmakers and their district offices.

Now, a Team 4 investigation has uncovered troubling ties between legislators and their landlords and asks the question, "With our ability now to e-mail and get things done on the Internet, why do lawmakers still have so many district offices?"

Team 4 investigator Jim Parsons found Pennsylvania's 254 legislators have more than 720 offices, an average of three offices for every lawmaker.

What follows is a transcript of Parsons' report:

Freshman state legislator Mike Reese of Westmoreland County got elected to the House last year on a platform of fiscal responsibility.

Mike Reese: "I believe that we have to reduce spending in Harrisburg. Each individual Rep has to do their part."

So, you might think Reese would close some of the district offices he inherited from predecessor Jess Stairs. Five district offices in all, tops in western Pennsylvania. Two of the offices are part-time and rent-free, but leases on the other three cost taxpayers more than $20,000 a year. In September, Reese said just 28 constituents visited this office in DryRidge. That's about one person a day. So he cut the office hours here.

Mike Reese: "So we moved it from 5 days a week down to three days a week."

Jim Parsons: "And does it even need three days a week, Mike?"

Mike Reese: "It's a great question."

Team 4 created an interactive map of 115 legislative district offices in western Pennsylvania. Take a look at the orange dots around Brownsville on the Fayette-Washington County line. Four district offices are clumped together, all within eight miles of each other. Two of them belong to Representative Peter Daley and two are offices for House Majority Whip Bill DeWeese. Both Daley and DeWeese have two other district offices apiece, besides the ones around Brownsville.

And on Brownsville Road in Pittsburgh, Representative Harry Readshaw's office is less than half a mile from Senator Jay Costa's office, where the rent is more than two dollars a square foot, the 3rd highest rent rate we found among lawmakers in our area. Costa also has other offices in West Mifflin, Homestead and Forest Hills.

Some lawmakers have four and five district offices, while others have one. And we couldn't find any who share office space with each other. So what's the policy? In the Senate, the Clerk's office allots square footage for offices based on square miles of the district. But in the House?

Jim Parsons: "Is there any formula from leadership that tells you how much office space you can have?"

Mike Reese: "Not that I know of."

Brett Marcy, Majority Leader's Spokesman: "What we found was there really wasn't a strict policy." There still isn't. First, the House Clerk told us there's no policy at all. Then, Majority Leader Todd Eachus' office claimed there's a $2,300 a month cap on leases for each lawmaker. But Representative DeWeese told Team 4 that's the first HE'S heard of such a policy.

Because legislators are allowed to make their own deals with landlords, Team 4 checked for relationships. And we found that 15 lawmakers in Western Pennsylvania have accepted campaign contributions from their district office landlords.

Barry Stout: "What a great day to be in Fayette County."

Senator Barry Stout's relationship with his district office landlord is even cozier.

It's his brother who signed the lease, as a principal of 519 Partners, owner of this building in Eighty-Four, Washington County. And when we checked to see who owns 519 Partners, we found that it's a company called TPS Partners. In his most recent annual ethics statement, Senator Stout reveals a personal financial interest in TPS, though he tells Team 4 he recently severed that financial tie.

Matt Brouillette, Commonwealth Foundation: "The fact that you have taxpayer money going to lawmakers themselves or family members, that's when you run into real problems."

State Senator Wayne Fontana handles things a bit differently. Fontana owns the building where his Beechview office is located. He charges taxpayers no rent here.

Wayne Fontana: "Yeah, they would have paid for 200 square feet. But I felt that would be a conflict if I did that so, you know, I didn't do it."

And State Representative Mark Mustio recently closed his Sewickley office, leaving only one office in Moon. Why don't more lawmakers do the same?

Mark Mustio: "We've done it a certain way for a long time. And if we change will we still be elected. Having four offices, elected official 'A' may say, 'Why do I want to mess that up?' But I think we have a responsibility to challenge ourselves."

The legislature vowed last year to post all of their contracts on the internet. The senate still hasn't put district office leases online. And the house has posted only a handful.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Reducing the size of the Pennsylvania Legislature raises interesting questions in these difficult economic times



Reducing the size of the Pennsylvania Legislature raises interesting questions in these difficult economic times. This year, legislators are more than two months behind schedule on their most important job of the year -- adopting a budget. In all of their futile attempts, the main topic of conversation has been cutting programs and services.

Are Pennsylvania's lawmakers ready to even consider an idea that could cost them their job?

Whenever changing the size of legislatures is considered, debate usually focuses on three major themes: representation, efficiency and cost. Those who like larger legislatures argue that the more members, the fewer the constituents per district. With fewer constituents a lawmaker is more likely to have face-to-face dealings with them. Proponents also argue that the oversight of administrative agencies is greater among larger legislatures and there is a more effective division of labor and specialization.

Supporters of smaller legislatures correctly argue that larger legislatures obviously cost more. They also argue that fewer legislators does not mean less responsive legislators. Using modern communications, a lawmaker can easily reach, and be reached by, many more constituents.

Nonetheless, it has long been true that Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature among the 50 states, so the results of a new report on legislative staffers is no surprise.

That is, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Pennsylvania has 2,919 legislative staffers to support the work of its 253 legislators. Just two years ago, New York was ahead but now it has 168 fewer staffers than Pennsylvania. Third-place California is behind us by 813 legislative employees, despite its significantly larger population.

The conference of legislatures, which tallied the number of staffers, is the same organization that last year reported Pennsylvania also was first in the percentage of its state budget that is spent on its legislature.

But, debate about reducing the size of legislatures, is not something that happens rarely; in some states it happens regularly. In Pennsylvania the idea generates conversations but no one has done anything.

Although some members last year proposed cutting the size of the Pennsylvania state house from 203 to 161 members and the state Senate from 50 to 40, that went the way of similar, failed efforts.

Changing the size of one or both chambers of a legislature (in other states) for reasons other than population changes last occurred in 2003.

The New York Senate increased its size from 61 to 62; the North Dakota Senate decreased its size from 49 to 47, and its House from 98 to 94.

In Rhode Island, voters passed a constitutional amendment reducing the Senate from 50 to 38 members and the House from 75 to 50, but all lawmakers' salaries increased.

In these difficult economic times the only talk of cutting Pennsylvania's $332-million-a-year Legislature is coming from frustrated citizens, some public-interest groups and Post-Gazette columnist Brian O'Neill.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Pa Lawmakers (House) Paid Themselves First (state workers must wait another week)



The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported the following on August 6, 2009.

Lawmakers pay themselves first

But state workers must wait another week to get paid

By Tracie Mauriello, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

State workers will have to wait another week to be paid for days they have worked since July 1, but House Democratic lawmakers have checks in hand.

They paid themselves first.

Their paychecks were issued Tuesday as they voted on a $27.3 billion budget, which Gov. Ed Rendell yesterday chopped to $11 billion through line-items vetoes. He left intact funding for such items as public safety, state parks and employees' pay.

Some 77,000 state workers will have to wait a week or more for their checks to be processed, while lawmakers have their money.

The money was available even before the governor signed the straw budget because the Legislature has a reserve fund to fund its operations in case of a budget impasse in which the governor cuts off funding, as Mr. Rendell did yesterday while retaining full funding for his own office.

Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, criticized the Democrats' pay move.

"They're paying themselves when we have all these valuable state services that aren't being funded [in the governor's partial budget]. I think what they're doing is even worse than the 2005 pay raise," which outraged many Pennsylvanians.

At least one House Democrat -- Matt Smith of Mt. Lebanon -- says he won't cash his check until state workers are paid, too.

Legislative leaders have always had the ability to pay members but decided not to until a budget bill was passed.

"By tradition, once we pass a budget bill that gets employees paid, members also get paid," said Brett Marcy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Luzerne.

Senate Democrats have not been paid and caucus spokesman Charlie Tocci could not say yesterday when they would get checks.

Republicans in the House and Senate, meanwhile, will wait until state workers get their checks, spokesmen for the caucuses said.

"We were not even going to consider that discussion until after state workers received their checks," said caucus spokesman Steve Miskin. "We've been at the forefront fighting for state workers and they should never have gone through this instance of not being paid."

Republican lawmakers have argued that tax dollars never stopped flowing during the impasse, so the governor could have authorized payments to workers.

Some state workers have applied for food stamps and loans to make ends meet, while others have turned to food banks.

"We agree that it's unfortunate and regrettable that state employees and their families were caught in the middle of this, and that's why we passed this bridge budget yesterday," Mr. Marcy said.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pennsylvania Legislature: Another Surcharge (Natural Gas)



It seems as though there are a ton of added charges, taxes, fees (and any other name you can think of for charging money) on your utility bills.

So first, a simple statement: PLEASE READ YOUR UTILITY BILL!

As is the case with any service provider, be they a credit card company or the local gardener, make sure you understand what you are being charged for.

There are nearly three million gas customers in PA, who are served by a variety of gas utilities. A 2005 study conducted by NEADA found that 47% of LIHEAP recipients had foregone medical care because of high energy bills and 24% resorted to the dangerous use of a stove or oven to heat their homes.

Our legislature (Joe Preston) once asked "how natural gas utilities recover cost if they cannot make a profit from commodity pricing." Natural Gas Industry Hearing, March 22, 2007.

However, utilities make money on pipes and equipment that they install. That is, they make a profit on distribution, not on what they distribute.

And, Joe Preston (D-Allegheny) and Tim Solobay (D-Washington) now have suggested that residential customers pay an additional monthly surcharge to replace natural gas utilities pipes and equipment.

Surcharges, say most consumer advocates, can lead to overcharges and excessive earnings by utilities.

The role of Joe Preston and Tim Solobay is to ensure all consumers have access to the lowest reasonably price gas.

The cost of gas line replacement projects should be included in the utility’s general rates, which would get more scrutiny from the PUC.

18 charged with stealing $500,000 in LIHEAP funds



The arrest 18 people in Philadelphia who were ripping off a public assistance program of more than half a million dollars emphasizes the need for legislation that would eliminate the potential for fraud and abuse in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, pointed to poor administration and a failure of supervision and oversight over the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides grants to help low-income residents meet their heating bills.

Grants were awarded to people who used invalid Social Security numbers and fake addresses – meaning that tax dollars were stolen by people who were not eligible for benefits.

The arrests of twelve Department of Public Welfare (DPW) employees on fraud charges was just the latest in a series of embarrassing revelations regarding lax oversight by the department leading to cases of fraud and wasted tax dollars.

Auditor General Jack Wagner has urged the Department of Public Welfare to immediately implement all of the recommendations he made two years ago to eliminate the potential for fraud and abuse in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Wagner renewed his call one day after the Philadelphia district attorney, relying in part on information uncovered by the Department of the Auditor General, charged 18 people – including 16 state and city employees – with stealing more than $500,000 of LIHEAP funds and related crimes.

The Department of Public Welfare, which administers the LIHEAP program, has refused to provide Wagner’s auditors with documentation to prove that it had implemented the Department of the Auditor General’s recommendations.

LIHEAP is a vital safety net that helps keep thousands of Pennsylvania families warm during the winter.

With the nation mired in its greatest recession in a generation, LIHEAP is more valuable than ever. DPW must prove that it has taken necessary action to fix LIHEAP, to assure needy families that funds will be available this winter, and to assure taxpayers that their hard-earned dollars are not being wasted or stolen.

LIHEAP provides financial grants and cash assistance to low-income families to help pay their winter heating bills. The federal government and Pennsylvania provided $280 million in LIHEAP funding for the 2008-09 winter heating season.

Wagner’s special performance audit, released in June 2007, made 25 recommendations after auditors found systemic weaknesses in LIHEAP programs in six counties -- Allegheny, Lancaster, Perry, Lehigh, Philadelphia and York.

Auditors determined DPW’s inadequate policies and procedures, insufficient supervision and inadequate oversight resulted in potential applicant and employee fraud and abuse. More than 1,000 cases of potential fraud and abuse were identified in the six counties, including more than 300 in Philadelphia County, 23 of which were cited specifically in the audit.

Auditors found applications containing invalid Social Security numbers or Social Security numbers of deceased people, as well as applicants filing multiple applications using different Social Security numbers or different addresses and applicants receiving excessive benefits.

Wagner referred over 900 LIHEAP applications to the Office of Inspector General for criminal investigation; OIG referred some of these cases to the Philadelphia district attorney.

At a press conference announcing the results of her investigation, Abraham said that the way LIHEAP was administered “practically assured that both fraud and theft would flourish. There was a total failure of supervision and oversight.”

The Department of the Auditor General contacted DPW in July 2008 to conduct a follow-up of the LIHEAP audit. Wagner said his auditors requested a written, detailed summary explaining the status of DPW's efforts in implementing each of the recommendations. DPW sent a letter responding to the request, but has failed to provide specific information on how it has addressed each of the 25 recommendations.

Every dollar wasted is a dollar that will not be available to families who need assistance. There are serious deficiencies in the administration of LIHEAP and the Department of Public Welfare must provide evidence that they are addressing the problems as soon as possible.

The LIHEAP special performance audit is available to the public at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.

In addition, known as the Home Energy Assistance in Time of Need, or HEAT ON Act, Senate Bill 352 suggested needed changes to maximize the benefits for eligible low-income households and ensure that funding is allocated in a timely and expedited fashion.

SB 352 suggested additional oversight that Auditor General Wagner deemed to be needed under the current system and directs the Department of Public Welfare to take appropriate actions if it discovers any false, misleading or inaccurate statements by applicants, participating energy vendors or state employees.

The legislation suggested several accountability provisions to ensure that funding goes to those most in need. Specifically, the bill provided provision:

•Expand the LIHEAP program year from October 1 through April 30 of the following year. The current plan began on November 5, 2007 and closed on March 21, 2008 for both the cash and crisis components;

•Require the Department of Public Welfare to verify a LIHEAP applicant's income with the Department of Revenue;

•Require the Department of Public Welfare to ensure all households receiving assistance are provided "budget billing" by their energy suppliers;

•Prohibit the Department of Welfare from discriminating in any aspect of the administration of the LIHEAP program on the basis of the heating fuel used; and,

•Require an annual audit of the LIHEAP program.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pa. Legislature Employees Still Getting Paid, But No Timesheets Kept . . .



The following was reported by WTAE Channel 4 on July 24, 2009.

Friday was payday for Pennsylvania's 80,000 employees -- but for the second straight week, workers only got a partial salary payment because of the state's ongoing budget impasse.

Thousands of employees in the state Legislature are still getting full paychecks because the state Legislature has built up a $200 million slush fund -- but Team 4 investigative reporter Jim Parsons has learned there's no record kept of the hours those employees work.

Pennsylvania's Legislature costs taxpayers more than $300 million a year. Most of that money pays the salaries of 3,000 legislature employees. A Team 4 investigation found that those workers fill out no time sheets for their paychecks.

"You have to have a way of documenting who is working, how much time and how you're paying it," Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato said.

Recently, Team 4 submitted a public records request to the state House of Representatives. Chief clerk Roger Nick sent a letter saying the House "does not possess time and attendance records that track an employee's daily record of attendance." Team 4 got the same answer from the clerk of the Senate.

That's not the way it works in Allegheny County. For example, Parsons got the time and attendance records for workers in the county's Department of Administrative Services. It includes the date and number of hours worked for each day of the week.

"It should be consistent across the board, no matter what department you're working in," Onorato said.

Team 4 found plenty of state workers in Pittsburgh from the executive branch who must file time sheets.


"There shouldn't be a disparity," a state employee told Parsons.

"I don't think it's a positive factor. I think everyone should be accountable," another state worker told Parsons.

Onorato -- an accountant and a potential 2010 candidate for governor -- said the state Legislature employees should have to account for their time worked.

"It is efficient, and taxpayers want efficiency right now," he said.

Team 4 requested an interview with Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner for this report. His office declined, saying Wagner has no authority to audit the Legislature.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pennsylvania Lawmakers, Relative Lobbyists Conflict Of Interest?



The following was reported by WTAE Channel 4 on July 23, 2009.

Pennsylvania has no rule barring state lawmakers from having immediate family members who are lobbyists and no rules that forbid them from talking business at home, but critics maintain that’s too cozy of a relationship when decisions are being made about how to spend tax dollars.

Team 4 investigative reporter Jim Parsons raised that question to three local legislators with lobbyist relatives and found all three voted in favor of more than $300 million in appropriations for their relatives’ lobby clients.

But the lawmakers argue no conflict of interest exists because they have their own personal set of ethics rules prohibiting their relatives from lobbying them.

The following report by Parsons first aired July 23, 2009, on WTAE Channel 4 Action News at 5 p.m.

State Rep. Randy Vulakovich, of Shaler, has a son who is a registered lobbyist in Harrisburg.

When asked by Parsons if it would be a delicate balancing act, Vulakovich replied, “No, it’s not. It’s just not a problem for me.”

The wife of Indiana County state Rep. Dave Reed is a lobbying in the state capital, and until recently, so was the wife of state Sen. John Pippy, of Moon Township.

“She wouldn’t lobby me and I wouldn’t talk about health care policies with her,” said Reed.

Pippy said “There’s no preferential treatment ever.”

Parsons reported that in October 2007, Pippy gave a $500,000 ceremonial check to officials at St. Clair Memorial Hospital.

At the time, his wife Katherine was listed as a registered lobbyist for the hospital.

Also in October 2007, Pippy secured a $250,000 grant for the Pittsburgh Zoo, another client of his wife’s lobbying firm.

In 2007 and 2008, Pippy voted in favor of a capital budget bill that included more than $300 million for some of his wife’s clients, such as UPMC, Norfolk Southern Railroad, the National Aviary, Point Park University and the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

Pippy's wife quit her lobbying job recently to take on another career.

Pippy told Parsons he never discussed business with his wife.

The following is a transcript of an interview Parsons conducted with Pippy prior to his wife’s resignation.

PIPPY: You don't want to have any appearance of that at all. You just don't want to have to deal with it.

PARSONS: Well, you don't want to have an appearance, but can you understand why some people might think there's an appearance here?

PIPPY: Well that's why it's so important to say that there is no lobbying going on.

Pippy said he and his wife previously agreed that she would not lobby him or anyone else in the state senate, but other lobbyists with his wife's firm -- representing the same clients -- could.

PARSONS: Let me ask you this, have you ever been lobbied by Randy Vulakovich's son?

PIPPY: Yeah, Randy comes in.

Lobbyist Randy Vulakovich is listed as representing the same clients as Kathy Pippy, including Saint Vincent College.

Last year, the state legislature approved a capital budget bill that included $15 million for a new science pavilion at the college.

Lobbyist Vulakovich is the son of the state representative of the same name, who voted in favor the appropriations bill.

PARSONS: Saint Vincent College got $15.6 million dollars in that bill. Why did a private Catholic university get $15 million?

VULAKOVICH: Well, they lobby for that. I know that my son lobbies for them.

Vulakovich said he doesn’t allow his son to lobby him and said he wasn’t in favor of the money for Saint Vincent, but still voted for the bill because it funded dozens of projects he did support.

“That's why when you see these things, you make your decision on if there is more good than bad, and if you weed out what you thought was all bad and leave in what was all good, it's not going to be the same good/bad for somebody else, and that's part of the compromise that you make,” said Vulakovich.

Representative Reed’s wife Heather also represents Indiana Regional Medical Center.

“We have generally had the policy that we don't talk about political issues. We have had the policy from the very beginning that I would not submit any projects on behalf of Indiana Regional Medical Center because of the possible conflict of interest between my wife and myself,” said Reed.

Heather Reed's lobbyist disclosure statement lists an affiliation with a lobbying firm from Virginia. Alan Mauk Associates lobbies for the medical center in Washington, while Reed, who is an employee of the hospital, lobbies for it in Harrisburg and Washington.

Alan Mauk also lobbies for Indiana County Development Corporation, which last year got a $750,000 state grant to buy this 30-acre property along Route 119.

PARSONS: Did you have something to do with obtaining that grant?

REED: Yes.

Reed said that it is not a conflict of interest because even though his wife works with Mauk Associates on behalf of her employer, she's not paid by that firm.

“Yeah, she had no financial gain in any way from Alan Mauk and Associates,” said Reed.

University of Pittsburgh law professor Tom Ross, an expert on ethics, believes the state has a problem.

“There's a serious conflict of interest there. I know that my spouse makes her living by trying to influence legislation that benefits her private clients? And I happen to be one of those legislators?” said Ross.

But Ross doesn’t expect lawmakers to change the lobbying rules on their own.

“Until we have sort of a larger sense of outrage about this, politicians themselves don't seem very interested in taking the initiative on their own,” said Ross.

Public outrage about the legislature pay raised issue in 2005 did bring about better public record keeping by lobbyists, but the legislature stopped short of passing new rules prohibiting a family connection between lawmakers and lobbyists.

Parsons reported that all three lobbyists he spoke with said they would support such a ban.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Full Time PA Legislators Get Conflict of Interests Income . . .



The following was reported by WTAE Channel 4 on March 25, 2009.

Pennsylvania's state Legislature continues its string of bad news that started with the midnight pay raise fiasco several years ago.

After that, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency debacle, then the indictments in Bonusgate, and last week, the conviction of Sen. Vince Fumo on corruption charges.

Now, a Team 4 (WTAE) investigation advised that many of our full-time legislators in Harrisburg get outside income from private interests -- and sometimes, those interests can conflict with the public's.

Remember, we pay our state lawmakers a minimum of almost $80,000 each to represent us full-time -- but the Team 4 (WTAE) investigation found a majority of lawmakers report income from at least one other source.

And in reading through this annual financial interest statement for each state lawmaker, we also discovered something else: More than one-third of state senators and a quarter of House members sit on legislative committees that oversee the industries from which those same lawmakers reported receiving income, owning stock or serving on a board of directors.

Critics say that's a conflict of interest. But there's no law against it.

Like many of his colleagues in Harrisburg, state Rep. Ted Harhai moonlights. He works for PFBC, which is headquartered in the same Monessen building where Harhai's district office is located.

In fact, PFBC's owner, Doug Farnham, also owns the building -- so he's not only Harhai's boss, he's also his landlord, with taxpayers picking up the rent of $19,000 a year for the district office.

In a 2007 interview with Team 4 (WTAE), Farnham praised Harhai for helping to obtain public financing to develop the building.

Parsons, from 2007: "How helpful has Ted Harhai been?"

Farnham, from 2007: "Sen. Stout, Rep. Harhai, amazing help."

And while Harhai works for a coal industry company, he also this year became chairman of the House Subcommittee on Mining.

Tim Potts, Democracy Rising PA: "Excuse me? If that isn't a conflict of interest, what is?"

But it's all legal in Pennsylvania.

Reform activist Tim Potts says Harhai may be allowed by law to serve two masters, but that doesn't make it right.

Potts: "Public officials are supposed to deal with citizens business at an arm's length. We expect that. We need that, because, otherwise, how can we trust the decisions that this man is making?"

Parsons: "Jim Parsons from Channel 4 (WTAE), let me ask you a quick question."

Harhai: "No questions."

Harhai refused to answer our questions on camera, even though we called him first to ask for an appointment.

WTAE also asked Rep. Nick Kotik for an on-camera interview about his paid position on the board of directors here at the William Penn Association. It's a fraternal organization that sells life insurance and annuities to its members, and as a member of the state House of Representatives, Kotik sits on the Insurance Committee.

When Kotik refused Team 4's (WTAE) request for an on-camera interview, They showed up at a public meeting of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, where Kotik is a board member.

Parsons (WTAE): "How can taxpayers expect you to represent their interests with the insurance industry, when the insurance industry is paying you to represent theirs?"

Kotik, D-Coraopolis: "Oh, that's not -- let's do this after. I've got to get into a meeting."

Parsons (WTAE): "Well, I've already asked you for an interview. You said no. That's why I'm here."

Kotik: "I have to go in for a meeting now."

Kotik never did answer our questions on camera.

Not every lawmaker ducked us about a potential conflict of interest. State Sen. Wayne Fontana is a licensed real estate broker and also sits on the Senate Urban and Housing Committee, which passes laws affecting the real estate industry.

Fontana, D-Brookline/Beechview: "I feel like I bring some expertise to that, when it comes to legislation and those kinds of things, and I can be an advocate for landlords or tenants or whatever the case may be because I understand."

Potts: "You can call professionals in. You can ask professionals to lend you their expertise. You don't have to have it yourself, especially when it creates that kind of opportunity for abuse."

Barry Kauffman, Common Cause: "The public has a right to -- and ought to have an interest in -- what those relationships are, and how the game is being played."

Some examples of how the game is played -- and remember, it's all perfectly legal:

Bucks County Sen. Robert Wonderling sits on the Game and Fisheries Committee and lists himself as a paid employee of a company that landed a software contract with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Uniontown Rep. Tim Mahoney opened a new district office last month in Chalk Hill, Fayette County. Rent checks are going to one of the men Mahoney lists as a business partner in his annual statement of financial interest. Mahoney tells Team 4 (WTAE) the company was recently disbanded.

For years, taxpayers have been sending rent checks for Lackawanna County Sen. Robert Mellow's district office to a company owned by his wife. But Mellow never reported that until he got a divorce and assumed 50 percent ownership in the company. He didn't have to report it under the state's ethics law.

Rep. Mark Longietti sits on the House Local Government Committee and also is solicitor for Delaware Township, Mercer County, which applied for and received a state grant last year.

Lancaster County Sen. Michael Brubaker is owner of Team AG, a company that advises agricultural firms about government regulations. Brubaker also is Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Mechanicsburg Rep. Glen Grell lists himself as an attorney of counsel with Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney, a law firm with no fewer than 35 registered lobbyists in Harrisburg. There's no law against that either, even though Rep. John Maher tried and failed last month to get it outlawed.

Rep John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair: "If I can't force the house to do the simple thing of saying that legislators should not be paid by lobbyists, how much hope is there for any further progress?"

Kauffman is hopeful. He's calling on legislative leaders in Harrisburg to schedule a special session on government integrity.

WTAE spoke by phone with Sen. Rob Wonderling. He says he didn't know his employer, Bentley Systems, landed a contract with the state.

Grell tells us he is no longer employed by Buchanan Ingersoll.

Harhai and Kotik told us by phone they don't believe they have even an appearance of a conflict of interest because of their outside income.

Fontana reported on his SFI that he owns the building in Beechview where his district office is located. Team 4 (WTAE) checked with the Senate clerk's office and learned that Fontana is not charging the state any rent for that office.