Inky: Corbett chief leaving job

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Mt. Lebanon attorney Bill Ward is leaving his job as Tom Corbett's chief of staff, reports Angela Couloumbis at the Inquirer, in the midst of political kvetching among Corbett allies. From the Inquirer this morning:Bill Ward

Ward’s departure comes as the governor faces increasing pressure to address what some in top state Republican circles believe is a growing image problem. The Inquirer has reported that the governor’s top political advisers, supporters and fund-raisers have been encouraging him to shake things up in his administration.

Next week, a small circle of heavyweights in the Republican Party known as the governor’s "kitchen cabinet," plan to meet with Corbett in Harrisburg to push for changes to his top staff, according to four sources speaking on condition of anonymity.

Their quarrel is not over policy, but with what some senior state Republicans see as political clumsiness: an inability or unwillingness to sell his agenda and his successes to the public. At the same time, they say, Corbett has allowed a tense, and possibly dysfunctional relationship with the Republican-controlled legislature to fester.


Another blow to Pa battleground status

Published by Tim McNulty on .

More bad news on Pennsylvania's questionable presidential battleground state status -- it was passed over today in the release of two new Obama campaign commercials.

The president's reelection team began running two 30-second spots on Medicare and veterans issues in Ohio and other swing states (Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada and Virginia) but not Pa. It made another buy for its "Steel" attack ad too that passed over the state, but will air in across-the-border Pittsburgh-ish markets like Wheeling and Youngstown.


Corbett's drum circle

Published by Tim McNulty on .


Corbett budget protest

Fighting over Gov. Tom Corbett's budget continues today, with 11 protesters arrested this morning outside the governor's Pittsburgh office Downtown and 14 arrested on Broad Street in Philadelphia.

The governor's office continued its in-your-face responses to the education funding protests as well, not only repeating that cuts were due to lost federal stimulus funds and the state's basic education spending remains high, but now adding a shot at the media too. "Political opponents of the governor will cling to this myth of a $1 billion cut so long as the media goes along with the fiction," ends the statement sent to reporters today.

From the non-fiction stacks of the Post-Gazette library, here's a graf from Mary Niederberger's look at state budget funding two weeks ago:

[Corbett's budget] essentially holds the line on basic education funding to school districts. However, the governor has proposed the elimination of $100 million in accountability block grants, which some districts use to fund full-day kindergarten and the Pittsburgh Public Schools use to fund Pre-K programs. It also maintains the elimination of reimbursement for charter school tuition, a major reduction first enacted last year.

When the head of Pittsburgh Filmmakers Charlie Humphrey resigned last week in a matter related to the same cuts, the governor's pugnacious spokesman Kevin Harley said Humphrey has the luxury of resigning since he "pays himself a six-figure salary from his nonprofit arts organization." That in turn prompted a classic retort from Pittsburgh City Paper editor (and Corbett critic) Chris Potter in a column today:

It's true: Humphrey earns more than $130,000 a year, according to Filmmakers' records. And while quitting an unpaid board position is a luxury anyone can afford, it's a nice change of pace to see Republicans objecting to six-figure salaries. I look forward to seeing Tom Corbett at a future drum circle.


Romney: Obama cowed by teacher unions

Published by James O'Toole on .

Mitt Romney accused President Obama of being cowed by teachers' unions as he offered a package of education proposals designed to give students more opportunities to choose which school to attend.

The Republican plans to spotlight his proposals Thursday in Philadelphia, a city where school choice advocates have been particularly active.

In a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Romney assailed the administration's record on education reform while calling for measures to make it easier for students to choose where to attend schools. He said that federal funds for low income and special needs students should follow the student, rather than being sent to states of school districts, and that students should be able to use them at charter schools or schools beyond district lines. He did not propose any changes in the federal funding levels for schools.

For Romney, the subject was a shift from his general concentration on economic issues. In his speech, he gave a passing glance at the Obama campaign's continuing assault on his record as CEO of Bain Capital, accusing the president of waging "a war on job creators.''

But his chief indictment of the president focused on the nation's lagging education statistics and what he characterized as an administration response to the issue hamstrung by an unwillingness to offend the interests of teachers' unions.

"The teachers unions are the clearest example of a group that has lost its way,'' Mr. Romney said. "Whenever anyone offers a new idea, the unions protest the loudest.''

Citing the unions' support for Mr. Obama and other Democrats, he contended that, "The president has been unable to stand up to union bosses -- and unwilling to stand up for kids.''

Mr. Romney also said he would prod states to move to open enrollment polices for students receiving federal funds, and eliminate caps on charter schools and digital schools.

Mr. Romney planned to spotlight his proposals Thursday in a stop at the Universal Bluford Charter School in Philadelphia.

The Obama campaign planned a rebuttal to the Romney speech later Wednesday afternoon. We'll give you an update when we hear more.


DA seeks $2.7M from Jane Orie

Published by Tim McNulty on .

From Paula Reed Ward at the main site:

In a filing prepared for the judge who will sentence former state Sen. Jane C. Orie next month, the Allegheny County District Attorney's office said it is seeking more than $1.3 million in damages related to her conviction on ethics act violations.

That's on top of $1.2 million it has requested to be repaid that the Pennsylvania Senate spent toward defending the criminal case, as well as another $200,000 it is seeking in forfeiture from the McCandless Republican's campaign finance account and her pension.

Ms. Orie was convicted in March on 14 of 24 criminal counts against her, including five felonies. A jury found her guiltyof theft of services, forgery, tampering with evidence and ethics acts violations after deliberating for five days.

The lengthy document filed by Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus lays out in detail for Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning how much money the prosecution believes Ms. Orie is responsible to pay.

The biggest chunk of that comes from what Mr. Claus called the "pecuniary benefit" she received by using her legislative staff to run her re-election fundraising.

"Testimony at trial established that to pay professional fund raisers would have cost the defendant 10 to 15 percent of the amount raised," Mr. Claus wrote. "Defendant's misuse of her staff included directing individuals to perform fundraising work."

Campaign finance reports show she raised $1.8 million, and at a 10 percent fee, multiplied by three as the statute allows, prosecutors said, would equal $552,953.

In addition, Mr. Claus said that Ms. Orie received $260,028 in personal gain by using her staff members to do campaign work. When estimating the amount of time each staff member spent and multiplied by three, equals $780,084.

Mr. Claus also has asked the court to require Ms. Orie to pay the costs of prosecution.

"It is submitted that the assignment of costs to defendant is particularly appropriate due to forged and fraudulent documents that were used by the defendant in an attempt to influence jurors in her first criminal trial," he wrote.

One particular cost during the second trial, he noted, was "significant overtime costs" by the sheriff's office, totaling $5,173.

The DA's office also is seeking forfeiture of nearly $110,000 in a First National Bank account in the name of "Jane C. Orie for Senate Committee," as well as just under $90,000 of personal contributions in her state pension fund.

Ms. Orie's attorney, William Costopoulos, declined comment.