Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A collective resolution for all: hold our elected officials accountable

This week's rant takes us back a couple of years to a time when Montgomery County was in turmoil... and nothing has changed. We had elected officials meeting in private to discuss public business, and nothing was done about it. Now we're attempting to get our state legislators to pass property tax reform, and I certainly don't want to be sitting here in two years writing about how nothing was done about it. So let's all make one collective resolution to hold our elected officials accountable for doing the people's business.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Property tax reform near the top of my Christmas wish list

I know it's wishful thinking, but property tax reform can become a reality of the Pennsylvania state Senate would simply listen to the people who elected them and bring House Bill 76 to the floor for a vote. I've been ranting about it for months now, and I'm calling on Montgomery County's state senators to do the right thing, considering that more than half have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Not so thankful for an unresponsive state legislature

I have a lot to be thankful for. I can name a dozen or so right off the top of my head, but an unresponsive state legislature when it comes to property tax reform, ain't one of 'em. For anyone new to the blog, you may not be aware of my ongoing crusade to have the antiquated way we fund public education in Pennsylvania addressed, but for the rest of you, here is my latest rant, with an homage to Thanksgiving thrown in.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Politically Correct should be considered a crime

Every year when the holidays start to roll around I think about the way people tense up. When did this start? I can't put my finger on it, but I know it wasn't an issue when I was growing up. Now people are afraid to say or do anything that might for a moment, possibly, maybe offend someone else. Now I don't want to offend anyone, but at some point don't we have to take a hard look at the people claiming to be offended? I trace the origins in my latest column. Political correctness actually started in a comic strip, according to the Accuracy in Academia website. How appropriate is that? Or should I say ironic? Because it’s really not a joke. Political correctness has nearly eliminated free speech, or at least it has the potential.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Will more turnout when property tax reform is on the line?

The 24 percent turnout across Montgomery County on Election Day last week was abysmal at best. Several people asked me before last week’s election who they should vote for to make sure our property taxes don’t continue their ascent through our technically rented roofs. The short answer was; school board members. But I don’t really blame our school boards for the fact that our local districts own our homes and not us. Sure, they could do a better job of holding the line on expenses, but who couldn’t? When you’re given mandates and not the funds to carry them out, you’re not left with much of a choice. When you have a district full of special needs students, or you have to hire more English as Second Language teachers than other districts, you are given little choice other than to increase your spending, which, as we’re all well aware of by now, is subsidized by our tax dollars. So the answer for whom to vote in order to make sure our property taxes don’t continue their ascent through our technically rented roofs is a little easier, and they weren’t running in last week’s election. We’ll have our chance next year. For the rest of the story, click here

Monday, November 4, 2013

What day is it? Election Day

OK, so technically it's the day before, but I'm talking about Election Day in my latest rant, so I'm asking for a little poetic license here. How many of you will actually go to the polls on Election Day? How many of you will not complain about the way things are in this world if you don't go to the polls? It's really not that hard, folks. I do it twice a year. It's actually good for your psyche, so get up, get out, and...VOTE!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Where do you draw the line?

I've been railing against our state legislators for their inability to bring any real property tax reform to Pennsylvania, but I would never even think about threatening any of them, or anyone else for that matter, with physical violence because they don't agree with my opinion. When someone sits on the other side of the fence from you, you don't threatened them just because that's where they happen to like to sit. Where do you draw the line?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Time for state Senate to step up for property tax reform

Now that the state House has made it abundantly clear they do care anything about giving us property tax reform, especially in the form of House Bill 76, we need to turn our attention to the Senate, where a companion bill, SB 76, is being debated.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

PA. Senate doing a similar property tax dance

My latest column looks at the Senate taking up SB 76, which is the mirror image of HB 76, also known as the Property Tax Independence Act. Unfortunately, it appears as if the Senate may be playing some of the same games as the House. Sen. Dominic Pileggi just introduced a bill that would provide relief for seniors. I'm not sure why our elected state legislators don't understand we want property tax elimination, not just 'relief' for some.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Property tax reform takes a shot to the gut

If you live in Pennsylvania, and you own a home, you need to read this column. It is absolutely astounding that we have state legislators who think they're in Harrisburg to please special interest groups and their party's leadership. We're going to make it very clear to all of them that we actually call the shots and that they're just there to run the plays. For Montgomery County residents, you can look to representatives Mike Vereb, Marcy Toepel and Mark Painter as three elected officials who get it. They voted in favor of the amendment that would have given us true property tax reform. All the others, especially those who signed on as co-signers of House Bill 76, made it very clear they're really no interested in doing what they were sent to Harrisburg to do.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Property owners officially snubbed by the people they put into office

For all of you who thought your state legislator was going to stand up for you because they were a cosponsor on House Bill 76, the Property Tax Independence Act, guess again. Unless you live in Rep. Toepel, Vereb or Painter's district, you were bamboozled, because they were the only three Montgomery County reps who voted yes to an amendment yesterday that would have put HB 76 on the floor for a vote, even if it was wrapped in HB 1189. Painter was the only Dem to vote in favor. I hope all you registered Democrats remember that come spring when the primary rolls around. All I can say now is, it's on!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Property tax reform finally being talked about in the PA state House

Property tax reform was supposed to be the topic of discussion in the House today. I'm not sure how far along they got, but here's my take on where we should be. In fact, I think the time for talking is done. If they're really going to strip HB 1189 and insert HB 76 is for the guts, let's get it done.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fill A Bus, or a car, or just ride a motorcycle to Harrisburg

The Fill A Bus rally is tomorrow, and I'm hoping for a huge crowd to let our state legislators know that we think property tax reform is a really bid deal. I heard last Friday that a couple of bills were going to be run out of the finance committee today, but not HB76. Here are my thoughts, again, on what we should be demanding of our state legislators.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pa House Finance Committee moving bills on Monday

So, you're not going to believe this. The House Finance Committee meets Monday and they're voting on a property tax relief package of bills, not one of them HB76. "On Monday, the House Finance Committee will discuss and vote on a four-bill property tax relief/reform package: House Bill 1189 (Rep. Seth Grove, R-York County) provides school districts with a menu of taxing options and affords those districts using these options the ability to tailor property tax relief specific to their district. Any tax shift occurring under this new authority is required to be used as a dollar-for-dollar reduction, or elimination, of property taxes." How is it a bill that's never been vetted (1189) get a vote and HB76 that's been vetted three ways to Sunday, doesn't?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fool me twice...

Do you know the saying, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me? I think I first heard Gomer Pyle utter those words when I was a lot younger than I am today, but I got it.I had two state reps telling me House Bill 76 would never work because the numbers just don't add up, the trouble is, they were using old numbers. Shame on you. Another representative, the sponsor of HB 76 told me the new numbers show a surplus, so I did a little research on my own. We hold off on the shame on me until I learn otherwise. It's time we hold our elected officials accountable. We shouldn't be feed political rhetoric when people's homes are on the line here, folks. Call your state representative and ask them, point blank, if they'll vote in favor of HB 76.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Which do you like, apples or oranges?

Property tax relief, reform or just a shuffling of the deck chairs, which would you like to see Pennsylvania? I think it's becoming pretty clear that elimination is the only way to go with the funding mechanism currently used to fund public education in the Keystone State. I took a look at two options last week, House Bill 76 and House Bill 1189. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Personally, I like apples much better. How about you?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Do these guys deserve a chance on property tax reform?

So I had PA House finance chair Kerry Benninghoff and Rep. Seth Grove in my office for a little chat last week. I was waiting for the weekend to clear before posting it up here figuring everyone was going to be busy with their Labor Day activities. I hope you had a good break from reality, because here it is again, coming at you full steam. Grove says he has an alternative to House Bill 76, the Property Tax Independence Act. Here's the interview and a video. You tell me...does he?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Taking a break from property tax reform...sort of

While I had a little fun with the idea of taking a break from writing about property tax reform in this week's column, I did manage to slip in a very serious question. I'm trying to set up an interview with Rep. Kerry Benninghoff , he's the chair of the House finance committee where HB 76 resides, and where it will remain if Benninghoff has his way. I'm also trying to get Rep. Seth Grove, who has proposed an alternate to HB 76, to come in as well. Honestly, the only point I want to make to both of them is...the public doesn't really care which bill gets to the floor for a vote as long as it works, and as long as it gets there before the end of the year. So the serious question I slipped into my non-property tax reform column is, what would you ask these two gentlemen given the chance?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Keep pounding the property tax reform drum

It will be September before you know it, as time is always fleeting and our state legislators will be back in session. Let's keep pounding the issue until they return and after they return, or more importantly, until something gets done. Now I'm hearing about a bill authored by Rep. Grove that may fix the alleged funding shortfall found in HB 76. I'll do some research and get back to you. For now, take a moment to read my latest rant on the impossible situation.

Monday, July 29, 2013

My kingdom for a formula for funding public education

Funding public education cannot be as difficult as our state legislature is making it out to be. Of course, any process can get convoluted over the years. That's why I'm suggesting we start from scratch in my latest rant on property tax relief. Start with a zero-based budgeting model. Put the whole process under a microscope and go from there.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The silence out of Harrisburg is deafening

While the conversation across the state is getting louder and louder, we're hearing nothing out of Harrisburg. Of course, they are on their summer break. So, here's where you're going to keep hearing about House Bill 76, which will eliminate the property tax as a means of funding public education. I have been writing about this issue for the past month, and some of the comments are inspiring, and some are down right sad. Here's an example of some of the many:I'm so glad to see this issue being discussed in your column. As someone who is facing the tax sale in September of my home of 24 years, I've been following all publicity for this bill. It is impossible for people who have only Social Security for income to pay $8,000 + each year for property taxes. We drained our IRA's to meet the tax bill each year until we couldn't.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Now it's your turn to rant about property taxes

I'm pretty lucky. I get to tell you what's on my mind every week. I know there are a lot of you out there who would love to have the same opportunity, so this week I'm giving it to you. The response from my columns on property tax reform has been outstanding. Unfortunately, some of it has also been sad, because I'm hearing from a lot of people who are on their last leg, financially. I don't know if we can get House Bill 76 passed into law before more people lose their homes, but I certainly believe we should give it our best shot.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mike Turzai needs to hear from you

I decided, after all of the emails, online comments and telephone calls, that I should follow up last week's column on property tax reform with another installment. I've been harping about property tax reform for several years now, but I really believe this is the time for We The People to stand up and be heard. It is unfathomable to me that we cannot get House Bill 76 out of committee and onto the floor for a vote. I've heard from people all over the state, and one of the most disturbing comments came from western PA and Mike Turzai's district. He's apparently made in clear that a vote won't happen because he doesn't want it to happen. Turzai is the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, and can apparently decide whether a bill should come up for a vote, regardless of what a majority of the population wants. Here's Mike's website. Call him and tell him what you think about that.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Property Tax Reform Now!

We've been talking about property tax relief in Pennsylvania for far too long. Now it's time to let every one of our state legislators know that if they're not willing to work for the people we'll excuse them from their positions during the next state election cycle.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Time to start fixing the broken windows

For more than a decade I've been talking about Norristown's comeback. I've been vocal about making Norristown a destination, and I've also put my time and my money where my mouth is. We've just completed a month-long four-part series "Under the gun: A time for answers," and I don't want that to be the end of it. Rather than just talk about Norristown's woes, we offered up solutions. Now it's time for the residents of Norristown, and those who make their living in Norristown, to step up to the plate. An easy place to start can be found in the very easily attainable broken window approach.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Curing Norristown's ills

So, I looked at Norristown's economy in a previous column, and I address parents, or the lack thereof, in this week's column So, which of these two elements do you think has kept Norristown from making a comeback. Or, do you have another alternative, such as subsidized housing, as one reader commented? I certainly know I don't have all the answers, but I do know it's time to seriously start searching for them.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The county seat comeback

Revitalization has been talked about in Norristown for more than two decades. What's the problem? Why can't this small town remake itself in the same way Phoenixville, West Chester, and a dozen other municipalities have? Perhaps the answer can be found in the people who live and work in Norristown.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Can you smell what's cooking in Washington D.C?

This week's rant talks about all the nonsense taking place inside the beltway in our nation's capital. Do you agree with my assessment, or am I over-reacting?

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Newseum recognizes The Times Herald

Today's front page made the Top 10 list at the Newseum in Washington D.C. Very proud of my team in the newsroom. Adrianna Hoff took the photo and Gene Walsh and Cheryl Kehoe Rodgers worked on the design. Great work, all!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cross filing needs to be crossed off the ballot

With just a day to go before the primary I thought keeping focus on what has become the forgotten election cycle would be in everyone’s best interest. But instead of harping on how low the turnout is going to be, how about we bring into view some of the things we actually need to fix on the political scene if we ever expect greater participation. Just for the record, though, and in case you missed last week’s rant, I’m predicting 21 percent turnout county wide and a paltry 13 percent for Norristown. So let’s focus on those who are going to do their civic duty and go to the polls. One of the most ridiculous, atrocious, 'oxymoronic' scenarios you can ever imagine plays out in the race for Court of Common Pleas. Judges, you know, those folks who are supposed to be the most impartial people on the planet, cross file. Cross file. Chew on that for a minute. I say we abolish cross filing once and for all. What do you say?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Is it time for a fish taco throwdown?

I want to take a couple of minutes to talk about this fairly new, at least to me, phenomenon, the fish taco. Now I’m a big fan of the taco, but I always thought of them as good when they were shoved full of meat. Not so fast, amigo. There are a lot of places offering up fish tacos these days, but I think I might have found the best. A new restaurant called Casa Bonita has opened up in Norristown. I tried their fish tacos, and not only was it a meal fit for a king, but they were absolutely excellent. A lot of places you go to serve up fairly dry fish tacos, but Casa Bonita adds a sauce across the top of theirs that not only takes the dryness away, but adds a kick that makes the dish. So, I’m throwing down a challenge to anyone out there reading this who thinks they know where the best fish taco can be found. My phone number, email address and Twitter handle are all below. Let me hear from you. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if I hear from some new place in East Norriton. You know, the new restaurant capital of Montgomery County. Stan Huskey is the editor of The Times Herald. He can be reached at 610-272-2500 ext. 215 or at shuskey@timesherald.com. Follow @StanHuskey on Twitter.

Monday, March 25, 2013

It's time for Pennsylvania to get out of the liquor business

The year is 1994. The place is somewhere in Chester County, Pa. I was in Pennsylvania for the first time, looking for a place to live. Moving all the way from Texas to the Keystone State was going to be an experience I’d never forget, and one that would shape my life in ways only now imaginable, but I’ll save that for another column. I had spent a busy day looking for an apartment in and around West Chester. There are a lot of options, and I like to be thorough, so I had probably been to about 10 different complexes that day. One place in particular caught my fancy and I decided to sign on the dotted line. Sharples Works was converted from an old dairy. There are giant wooden beams running through the apartments that give them character well beyond what you find in most of your cookie-cutter complexes. Feeling rather good about finally making my decision I decided to celebrate with a cold beer. I was traveling along 202 South headed back to my hotel when I spotted a beer store and pulled into the lot. My flight didn’t leave until the next day so a six pack of Amstel Light would do just fine, I was thinking as I walked in the door and said hello to the gentleman behind the counter. I didn’t see a cooler anywhere, other than the restaurant style walk-ins, so I told the fine fellow what I wanted, and asked where I could find it, looking around at the stacks of cases of beer. “I can’t sell you a six-pack,” he said. “What?” I said, completely taken off guard. “We don’t sell six-packs here,” he said. Thinking he was pulling my leg because of what was then a still lingering southern accent, I said something along the lines of what’s the matter, you about to run out? “No, no,” he said. “We don’t sell six packs here.” “You don’t sell six-packs in Pennsylvania?” “Not in beer stores,” he said. I kind of pride myself on having just a tad bit more common sense than your average Joe, but I was more than stumped at his reply. “Well, what do you sell?” I asked as politely as possible. “Cases only,” he responded. “Seriously,” I said. “But I only want a six-pack to take back to my hotel and relax by the pool.” Now I was really parched. “Why would I have to buy more than I want to drink?” I asked, still not getting the reasoning of the cases-only policy. Finally, after what seemed like a convoluted “Who’s on First?” routine, he informed me that I could go to the bar down the street and they would sell me a six-pack of Amstel Light. I half-heartedly thanked him for the education and headed to the bar to purchase my six-pack. When I walked up to the counter I remember mumbling something along the lines of, what are you doing here in Pennsylvania, promoting alcoholism? “What?” the young lady behind the bar asked. “Nothing, nothing,” I back-pedaled. “I just can’t believe I was just at a beer store and couldn’t buy the beer I wanted. Can I get a six-pack of Amstel Light, please?” When she rang me up, I was starting to see the light, and I’m not talking about the Amstel she was putting into a plastic bag. The price was about twice what it should have been. When I said as much she informed me that I could get it a lot cheaper at the beer store down the road if I bought it by the case. Thus began my education on the antiquated liquor laws here in the great state of Pennsylvania. While nothing has changed in the 20 years since, I have grown accustomed to making a stop at the beer store if I’m in the mood for a cold one, and the wine and spirits store if I’m in the mood for a glass of merlot. I also was careful to go during the week knowing at the time neither were open on Sundays. Thankfully, the good sense to allow them both to open up on Sundays finally prevailed. So I’ve been following the possible privatization of Pennsylvania’s liquor stores with some interest during the past few months. The state House passed a bill to do just that and it’s headed for the Senate, where hopefully, common sense will prevail once again. Convenience for a guy trying to buy a six-pack after a long day of apartment hunting is one thing, competition is another. Plain and simple, the state shouldn’t be in the liquor-selling business, and that was never more clear than when they started bottling their own wine and placing it on the shelves right next to the bottles produced by the hard-working folks at our local wineries and wineries across the country. A little common sense, and a brief lesson in capitalism, should make that point crystal clear. The year is 2013. The place is Montgomery County, Pa. I’ve been living here for nearly 20 years. I think it’s about time my now home state comes up to speed with every other state I’ve lived in. Stan Huskey is the editor of The Times Herald. He can be reached at 610-272-2500 ext. 215 or at shuskey@timesherald.com. Follow @StanHuskey on Twitter.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Getting great reception

I wrote about my foray into the rabbit ear industry for my column a couple of Mondays ago. The response has been incredible. It's amazing how many people called me to say they were tired of their cable bill as well. So, I've been doing my best to help people find rabbit ears of their own. I do have one confession to make here, though. We ended up not going completely cable free. We have scaled back tremendously though. We've been able to cut more than $60 off our monthly bill, and we do have one television in our house that is completely cable free. The reception is terrific and we're more than happy with the move. If you're not getting great reception, and I'm not just talking about the picture on the screen, I'm talking about the interaction you receive from your cable/Internet provider, then take a closer look at rabbit ears. Go ahead, they won't bite.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The state pension 'calf' is costing us

My latest rant is getting a lot of response so I thought I'd post it here, too. Enjoy! A man was driving down the road out in Lancaster County when he hit and killed a calf that had walked right out in front of his car. Devastated, the man pulled over to the side of the road and realized the calf had wandered off from a nearby farm, so he trekked up the long driveway and knocked on the door. When the farmer came to the door the man told him what had happened and offered to pay for the calf. “How much was the calf worth?” the man asked. “Oh, I’d say about $200,” the farmer said. “But, in about six years he’d be worth about $800. So $800 is what I’m out, I’d say.” Feeling like he was being taken advantage of just a bit, the man reluctantly wrote out a check for $800. He handed it to the farmer and said, “Here you go, a check for $800. You can cash it in six years.” Now that’s probably not a true story, but when I heard that joke I couldn’t help but think of our state budget and what we could have done six years ago to keep from writing the massive checks we’re writing today to get us out of multiple jams. Most notably is the state pension jam. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago after a visit to the governor’s mansion where a group of local editors were presented with what seemed eerily similar to a doomsday scenario by budget secretary Charles Zogby, who presented a chart filled with red numbers. For you non-accountant types out there, red numbers are not good. Every year since 2004 the state has been swimming deeper and deeper in red numbers related to the state’s two pension plans. And while I will quickly point out that our state budget should be a non-partisan issue, those red numbers just keep spiraling out of control while a Democrat sat in the governor’s seat. Now a Republican is doing something about it, and of course, the rancor is just getting underway. Gov. Corbett presented his budget last week before a joint session of the General Assembly. Thankfully, the $28.4 billion spending plan doesn’t include a raise in taxes. And it does so while funneling more money into education, health and welfare services as well as transportation. It has to be tough to be a Democrat and see these reforms taking place, especially when all of these problems were lingering throughout the Rendell administration. And please, please don’t come back at me with Corbett is just making up for the cuts he made to education two years ago. Corbett didn’t cut education spending when he came into office. He was simply presenting a budget that didn’t include Obama’s stimulus money, which everyone knew was going to go away. Now, the irony of this increase in education spending is that it is tied to reforms in the pension system. Corbett is calling for $90 million extra for education, including $6 million for Pre-K and Head Start programs. However, that’s not going to happen if current employees are not moved over to a 401K type of retirement plan. It needs to be made clear, though, that this can all be done without cutting any pension benefits already earned by teachers and administrators. In fact, the change in the way the state funds retirement benefits for school district employees will provide an additional $140 million in pension savings across the commonwealth. The pension debacle has been called a crisis, which it certainly has evolved into during the past decade, now sitting in a $41 billion hole. It’s been referred to by the governor as a tapeworm. Fixing it is equivalent to “building a plane while flying it,” Zogby said during our editorial meeting with the governor. The pension calf was worth a few hundred million about 10 years ago. It’s now worth $41 billion. If nothing is done, it could be worth $80 billion in six years. I don’t think anyone wants to write that check.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Journalists getting a bad rap?

Journalists rank 6th on the list of jobs with the most psychopaths. Are we getting a bad rap? I mean, I know I can be a little off from time to time, but a psychopath. I don't think so. Of course, you may have a different interpretation.