Budget talks blooming early in Hbg

Published by Laura Olson on .


An early state budget is looking increasingly possible, with top GOP lawmakers saying this morning that they plan to meet with Gov. Tom Corbett next week to present a spending plan that has support from House and Senate Republicans.

From Michael Macagnone, our Harrisburg intern:

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said that the plan he continued negotiating this morning with House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, would keep them on the road to a finished budget by the middle of the month.

"It is an optimistic time frame but an achievable one," Mr. Pileggi said Wednesday of the mid-June goal.

Mr. Turzai said that the eventual legislative budget deal would use the $27.6 billion plan the Senate passed as a ceiling, but did not rule out spending below that total.

... Mr. Pileggi said that the two Republican caucuses were "not apart in concept, and we are working through the details" on primary education funding and other issues. Neither House nor Senate Democratic leaders were invited to today's negotiations.

Photo: Michael Macagnone


Roddey: GOP's Kumbaya with Fitz

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Allegheny County GOP chair Jim Roddey remains at odds with (most) of his fellow Republicans on county council, who he says are singing "Kumbaya" with Rich Fitzgerald and other county Democrats.Jim Roddey

Last year Roddey openly criticized a three-member voting bloc of council Republicans, saying they were kowtowing to Democrats on tax and transit funding matters, and made a rare endorsement in a local race, pushing attorney Heather Heidelbaugh for council's open GOP at-large seat. The other Republicans on the body (Matt Drozd, Vince Gastgeb and Jan Rea) supported her opponent Ed Kress, who was serving as interim member after Chuck McCullough resigned to run for executive.

When Roddey was county exec the council was split 8-7 in favor of Democrats but it has since swelled to 11-4 in favor of the  opposing party. He wrote a letter to the Republican-friendly editorial page of the Tribune-Review Sunday calling the three GOP members other than Heidelbaugh "a rubber stamp" for Fitzgerald:

In recent years, the Democrats have taken control of the council by a margin of 11-4. The result has been for the council to become a rubber stamp for the agenda of the county executive, rather than being a check on the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of county government. We have also witnessed a disappointing lack of leadership from the Republican members of the council. Their modus operandi of "go along, get along" has effectively silenced the much-needed voice of opposition required to halt or at least modify some of the council's ill-advised and often foolish legislative actions, i.e., the reassessment debacle, the raising of taxes and the failure of any meaningful progress on city-county functional consolidation.

Hopefully, Heather will be able to change the debate surrounding such issues. At the very least, her grasp of the details, her desire to do what is right for a majority of county citizens and her intelligent and articulate voice of opposition will be a welcome change from the other Republican members' chorus of "Kumbaya."

While Heather will not win a popularity contest among the members of our lackluster council, she will give us a voice not only to cheer but to respect.

Asked in an interview today why he sent the letter, Roddey said Heidelbaugh's fellow Republicans "have not treated her very well" and not invited her to private GOP caucus meetings. "It's been disappointing. I'm fed up," said the party leader.


Election 2012: Find your political soul mate

Published by Emily Dobler on .

Indecision 2012 logo

With the 2012 presidential election season in full swing, websites that compile and organize information on candidates are cropping up everywhere.

These sites are increasingly mirroring dating sites’ format, like or eHarmony.

You answer a series of questions about your political views and are shown which politician you’re most compatible with. Considering the back-and-forth attack ads between candidates, this “political soul mate” test seems to have some value.

Voter research organization Project Vote Smart created their own compatibility app which measures voters’ compatibility across every presidential candidate and congressional candidate. Profiles, voting records, and speeches are compiled for each politician too – like picking a significant other, voters should know all the facts before settling down with any of the candidates.

However, these surveys are only useful if politicians concretely state their views. Moving beyond surveys, Project Vote Smart also created the Political Courage Test. With the purpose of spreading information, the test asks candidates to concretely describe their respective stances on a variety of popular issues. This information is then made available to voters on the organization’s website.

The test, aptly named, has not been a favorite among candidates. According to the website, a majority of politicians – including Barack Obama and Ron Paul – have refused to take the test. Even though these politicians’ views can easily be inferred, a definite yes/no on tough issues seems to be out of the question.

Until more transparency is reached, voters will have to continue relying on organizations like Project Vote Smart to find their political partner.

Photo: Comedian Jon Stewart's Indecision 2012 logo.


The overhyped blue collar vote

Published by Tim McNulty on .


National perspectives on Pennsylvania presidential politics -- especially around Pittsburgh -- always come back to discussions over white working class voters, even though readers of Early Returns surely know better than that by now.

The voter bloc is important but it's not the only factor, especially in the changing landscape of Western Pa. The voters have become reliably Republican in recent cycles (voting against Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama) and the challenge for Democrats this year is to make sure they don't get absolutely trounced by the demographic, and for Republicans to repeat their 2010 success with it. John McCain had a comfy 15-point edge with white working class voters in 2008, but that margin doubled for the GOP during the midterms.

Reuters released a major new rust belt poll today surveying working class voters in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and parts of New York and Pennsylvania. It finds that Mitt Romney has a nice 44-30 edge over Obama with the demographic, which is OK (and tracks McCain's edge) but nowhere near the 2010 spread. If Romney's margin stays in that range -- with voters feeling blah about both candidates, and perhaps their enthusiasm damped by the Obama camp's attack ads -- that's a win for Democrats.

The news org datelined the poll story from an old mill outside Cleveland that is hiring again, in part due steel orders from the bailed-out auto industry:

Two years ago the midterm elections marked a landslide. Hammered by the recession and revved up by the Tea Party, white working-class voters - men and women without college degrees who earn middle-income wages - swung Republican by a stunning 30 points across the country.

For many, change hasn't come fast enough, dampening hope. They remain impatient for prosperity.

In Ohio, these voters, who make up more than half of the electorate, are showing little enthusiasm for either the president or Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee.

. . . Amid these conflicting scenarios, a swath of blue-collar voters remains angry, anxious and undecided. Many supported former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, the grandson of a coal miner, in Ohio's Republican primary, which Romney won by less than a percentage point.

In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, fewer than a fifth of manufacturing workers approve of Obama's overall job performance, with almost 40 percent expressing "mixed feelings."

The full results have a lot more, and show the GOP may have a path to reaching blue collars via illegal immigration and gun issues, where the voters are markedly more conservative than other voters.


Ads target Corbett

Published by Tim McNulty on .

It's an interesting time for Gov. Tom Corbett.

A Democratic-tied SuperPAC non-profit will begin televising the ad above in Pittsburgh and other markets this week, assailing the second-year governor for what it says are damaging cuts to the middle class.

The non profit (a 501c4 social welfare organization much like a SuperPAC*) is called the American Working Families Action Fund and is chaired by Democratic ad-maker Bud Jackson of Alexandria, Va. "Tom Corbett chose tax-breaks for gas drillers over health care for children and chose to take taxpayer-funded SUVs and give-out pay-raises for his staff while slashing Pennsylvania schools by more than $1 billion," Jackson said in a statement. "Corbett has already inflicted serious damage to the middle-class for generations to come. Our messaging will draw attention to his record."

UPDATE: The governor's spokesman Kevin Harley dismissed the attack, calling it a "hit-and-run job" from "the political left":

"This is just another hit-and-run job by a political front group for the political left. Tom Corbett has been bringing Pennsylvania out of a recession by attracting new business while reining in spending. American Working Families, the sponsor of these attack ads, is run by a political consultant with a history of pushing tax-and-spend candidates into office."

Today is also the day the governor is set to meet with high-level supporters and staff to discuss his messaging. On Sunday Robert Vickers at the Patriot-News did a big roundup on the challenges facing the guv.

* An explainer from the Action Fund release:

Funding for the ad campaign was generated entirely from Pennsylvania. American Working Families Action Fund is a 501c4 organization dedicated to educating citizens about public policy, and the people who influence public policy, on issues important to working families and the middle-class.

Jackson is a Democratic strategist who consulted for Roland Burris, Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate, before having a public break with him in the wake of the Rod Blagojevich scandal in Illinois.

The script and backup links for the SuperPAC ad are after the jump: