Beware Tom the Tax Wolf in sheep’s clothing!

2013-01-30-wolf1Had a great idea for a Tom Corbett campaign commercial that highlighted the Tax & Spend philosophy of Tom Wolf, the Democrat’s candidate in the Pennsylvania Governor’s race.  Wolf looks to unseat Corbett in this November’s election that is chock full of Republican opportunities locally, state-wide, and across the country.

The setting for the commercial is some nondescript social event … a party, fund-raiser, art exhibit, etc.  Men and women are socializing – shown on camera from the neck down – in relaxed conversation, distracted somewhat from the goings-on around them.

The female narrator describes the plans Mr. Wolf has for Pennsylvania’s fiscal and economic future under a potential Wolf administration.  As she does, a man in a business suit, haphazardly cloaked in the pelt of a woolly sheep, circulates among the distracted party-goers.

As the announcer intones …

“Tom Wolf wants to fully fund the poorly managed Philadelphia School District.”

The man in sheep’s clothing slips a hand into a woman’s pocketbook and pulls out a wad of cash.

“Tom Wolf defines the taxable rich as any individual who earns more than $90,000 per year, and he targets them for significant income tax increases!”

The sheep-Wolf adroitly slips a wallet from a male patron’s back pocket.

“Tom Wolf wants to add severance tax for natural gas job creators who already pay Impact Fees.  But guess who will really pay that tax in higher retail prices?!?”

And the Wolf extracts a money clip from a man’s jacket pocket.

Tom Wolf's economic plan for Pennsylvania

Tom Wolf’s economic plan for Pennsylvania

Then the camera pans up, to reveal a smiling sheepskin-clad Tom Wolf, gloating over a thick wad of cash.

The wolf-in-sheepskin concept is particularly apropos, given Tom Wolf’s repeated attempts to portray himself as one of us; caring about our jobs and home finances; and fretting over property taxes and pensions, when in fact, he’s more a 1%’er than even Allyson Schwartz!

Certainly you can slip a few more warnings into this milieu, such as Wolf’s plans for significant increases in personal income tax rates, or what higher taxes might mean in fewer employment opportunities (i.e. jobs), or how Wolf’s failure to acknowledge the Public Pension problem will continue to exert upward pressure on local Property Taxes.

By the time the commercial fades to ” … and I endorse this message”, you have a political crime spree to challenge the legends of Bonnie & Clyde and Henry Hill’s buddies from Goodfellas!

Unfortunately, this Wolf commercial never made it from Cranky Man-conception to Tom Corbett’s campaign, but they created several good Wolf-themed ads of their own.  Their most effective ad portrayed Pennsylvania citizens “longing” to pay more in taxes.  Effective because it focuses on working people. who scrimp to make every dollar last just a bit longer, and highlighting what a Tom Wolf-led State administration would cost them.

Getting Tom Wolf to give details on his taxing and economic plans for Pennsylvania is like trying to nail down smoke.  He claims that only after a detailed look at Pennsylvania’s financial books will he be able to tell you how high he will raise your taxes!

10600602_10152686691675862_3330359001644274492_nBut wait!  Didn’t Tom Wolf serve as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Revenue?!?  Has he not kept abreast of State financial conditions before he decided to run for Governor on a higher-taxes-are-fundamental platform?  How believable is it really that Tom Wolf has insufficient information to form a rudimentary picture of Pennsylvania’s economic health?

What exactly is Tom Wolf afraid of???

He’s afraid that Pennsylvanians will get a look at the real Tax Wolf under all that fluffy Professor Middle Class sheepskin!

To figure out the high cost of a Tom Wolf Pennsylvania start by adding up the Democrat’s Wish List:

  • Raise the Personal Income tax rate for everyone from the current 3.07% to potentially 5% since Pennsylvania’s constitution prohibits charging one group – i.e. The Rich (i.e. anyone making over just $90,000 a year) – more than anyone else.
    • This means, if your Employer withholds State Income Taxes and you fit under the anticipated $90,000 Rich Bracket, you might have the “pleasure” of watching The State earn interest on YOUR money while you wait until Tax Season to recoup what you can through the refund process!
  • Replacing $1 billion in “education cuts” the Democrats disingenuously claim Governor Corbett imposed on Pennsylvania schools.
    • You must – of course – ignore The Big Lie of the Democrat’s campaign vs. the truth of the loss of federal stimulus funding.
    • Also turn a blind eye to the fact that Governor Corbett has increased Education funding by $1 billion since taking office in 2011.
  • Accepting the Affordable Care Act “deal” to expand Medicaid, despite the fact that the federal government will only fund the added obligation to 90% of costs after 2016.
    • No doubt Tom Wolf will break a hip jumping onto the Obamacare Medicaid-expansion wagon!
    • Projected cost: $1 billion in FY15-16; climbing to $4.1 billion by 2021.
  • Fully fund the poorly managed School District of Philadelphia:  Despite the approval of a cigarette tax increase and changes (Finally!) to the financing of the teacher’s union healthcare program, the SPD still faces an $8 million deficit that remains from the 2014 fiscal year and $70 million shortfall for fiscal year 2015.
    • All this after SDP borrowed $300 million over the past 2 years.
    • What are the chances this problem goes away even if the SDP is “fully funded”?
  • State-pensionsRefusing to address the Public Pension crisis, which currently consumes 63% of all State revenues to cover EXISTING State and local pension obligations!
    • Wolf says he will make up the $50-65 Billion in pension shortfall by “rearranging budget priorities” (i.e. less money for things the State really needs, then raising taxes again in the future to cover any shortfall in services funding)
    • Cost of bridging the Pension Gap: $1300. per Pennsylvanian!

So what is Tom Wolf’s plan for paying for this Wish List?  Higher taxes, of course!  As early as 2007, Wolf – as Rendell’s Secretary of Revenue – testified about the need to raise State Income Taxes.

Tax increases seem to be a constant Tom Wolf theme.  Yet aside from raising severance taxes for the Natural Gas Industry (NGI), Wolf is actually committed to reducing Corporate Tax Rates.

Huh?

That’s right!  While Wolf is raising Income Taxes on you, he will look to reduce the tax burden of Corporations!

Consider then who will actually pay for that natural gas Severance Tax!  (Hint: It won’t be the NGI!)  The NGI will simply pass those costs on to you – the Consumer – in the prices you pay for natural gas in your home and for those products that rely on natural gas for their manufacture!

Taxes, taxes, taxes … More paid by you and less paid by most Pennsylvania corporations!

Tom Wolf as Governor?  Not exactly Pennsylvania’s Middle Class Dream now, is it?!?

TomC_000

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Golfing Myrtle Beach

Par 3  #5 at Grande Dunes Resort (Parred it too!)

Par 3 #5 at Grande Dunes Resort

Last month I took full advantage of an opportunity to enjoy four days on a golf holiday in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  For golfers, The Grand Strand is one of those must-do destinations for the number and quality of golf courses (over 100, not including 50 miniature golf locales for miniature golfers), agreeable weather, close proximity to ocean beaches, and a wide assortment of family distracting, non-golf related attractions.

This was not my first foray into the northeast corner of the Palmetto State.  Many moons ago in a land far away, Carol and I bundled the kids and six tons of provisions into and onto our Dodge Grand Caravan and drove the 11-hour trip to Golf Heaven.

Problem was my golf clubs wouldn’t fit.

Oh, they would have fit in the car just fine.  They just wouldn’t “fit” family vacation time with three kids and a spousal unit, who rode shotgun on the Shortall herd for most of the other 358 days of the year.

Bringing the Frustration Sticks?  Wouldn’t be prudent.  Not gonna do it … and I lived to golf another day.

But this time would be different.  This time would be Mike time!

So me and one of my regular golf buddies departed at Zero Dark Thirty (roughly 0330 hours EDT) for Atlantic City International Airport and a 0630 flight on Spirit Airlines.

We did this in an attempt to shave a few farthings from the trip bill.  To be honest, I’m not sure we saved all that much money; but I can say with certainty, we saved ourselves significant aggravation by departing and arriving through relatively small airports compared to Philadelphia International.  Quicker lines through check-in and security screening; shorter walks to on-site parking; and no dependency on courtesy shuttles to get where one needed to go.

A drawback to the long commute to AC was exhaustion for those (me) who are not finely tuned, frequent travelers.  The party we joined in Myrtle – our host for the weekend –  wanted to play a round as soon as we got off the plane!  Not a big fan of travel stress or of rushing right off the plane to do anything, that first round of golf was tough.  Then we added food shopping and adult beverage provisioning following the round, so I was dead by the time we reached our condo.  The beach and party time would have to wait.

Party time?

Let’s put it this way.  Take three guys well over 50; add golf, travel and a few beers, and it was a struggle to stay awake past 9 PM!  So we concerned ourselves with the Thursday Night NFL game (Giants vs. Washington … a blow out … Thanks a bunch, Redskins!), enjoying the night time ocean breezes from the downstairs bar’s dune-side courtyard, and one spectacular Italian dinner (Villa Romana … Try the Shrimps San Marzano!).

Of course after our fine Italian meal, we had to play miniature golf!  Not because we needed more golf, just that one of our party has an “adrenaline rush” dependency, insisting we play $1 skins with carry-overs.  I’m not usually a betting man with the state of my golf game, but I’m proud to say I walked out of mini-golf $17 dollars to the plus side of the ledger!

As for the golf?  Well, you can’t go wrong in Myrtle!

With over 100 courses, you can find tracks to accommodate all levels of golf competency (or lack thereof) and all price levels.  Obviously, to attract the widest range of golf talent and therefore their golf dollars, there are quite a few courses in Myrtle Beach that can result in wild golf tantrums.

We tended to play more difficult courses, which was a struggle for those of us who are challenged on our normal tracts.  If you really want to enjoy yourself, be true to your capabilities and pick courses that are appropriate for your “skill set” … or lack thereof.  Then tee it up from age and/or talent-appropriate tees.

The courses we played from 25-28 September:

Hole #5 on the Waterway Links at Arrowhead CC

Hole #5 on the Waterway Links at Arrowhead CC

Arrowhead Country Club – a 27-hole golf complex designed by PGA pro Raymond Floyd and Tom Jackson, a renown course designer.  This is the course we played right off the plane; and admittedly my LOFT (Lack Of Freaking Talent) quotient was very high.  Conditions were very wet with The Grand Strand getting a lot of rain the week before our trip.  I would love to get another crack at this beauty.  Beware though, I seem to have found an inordinately high number of sand traps; so take my warning about appropriate tee box selection seriously and enjoy.  As an added bonus the course features several holes along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Moorland @ Legends Golf & Resort – Very, very tough course that did not ease at all my high LOFT quotient.  More undulations than a herd of elephants in an earthquake … And when the elephants die, where do you bury them?  In the greens of course!  Geared more for the low handicapper, in my humble opinion.  Loved the course, the staff was excellent, the facilities top-notch!  The problem?  This place is a golf factory (with three full 18-hole courses) … and not the

Course designer P.B.Dye is a monster!

Moorland at Legends’ course designer P.B.Dye is a monster!

good kind!  Take a hint from what your $109 buys in addition to your round of golf:  Breakfast, lunch and two beers.  Not a bad deal, but it reflects an orientation towards High Volume Play.  When we arrived there at 8 AM, there must have been easily 100-150 golfers in various stages of play or prep, including enjoying that breakfast buffet in one of the largest golf clubhouses known to man.  If you like crowds, you will LOVE Legends!

Grande Dunes Resort Club – Easily my favorite and – of course – the most expensive course we played ($129).  That pays for your golf and nothing but your golf.  Good news?  It keeps the crowd down.  Other than that, this was the most easily played round of golf, with no doubt the best scenery of the three courses.  Like Arrowhead, Grande Dunes has several holes that parallel the Intracoastal Waterway; and like many of the courses in Myrtle, it is the centerpiece of an assortment of vacation homes.  The scenery, between the style and beauty of the neighboring properties and golf holes that are well-elevated above the Intracoastal, is spectacular and makes this course a Must Play.  Not as difficult as Moorland for sure; probably closer to Arrowhead in skill level needed.

So grip it and rip it!

Little red-headed Girl

208babc8bed09fe3b5b9e6ed7b733c92During one of those trips down memory lane we enjoy with the boys now that they’re grown, found us recalling an episode in Parenting of which I am not particularly proud.  Fact is, the story – told and retold numerous times over – has provided us a few good laughs over the years.

It was Spring, and although I forget the year, it had to be around 1996.  Spring, when the boys were young, brought us little league baseball at the Liberty Bell fields in the Far Northeast section of Philadelphia.

As was my fate this evening, I was coaching a team on which my eldest son was playing.  Yet I had additional company in the form of our precocious son, Brian James; all of six years old and quite popular with those in his first-grade class at St. Martha’s Roman Catholic School on Academy Road.

Having Brian around always seemed to add an unexpected twist to the day’s activities.

It was not unusual for me to have an extra child around since we had three boys to drive herd on divided by two parental units.  How I ended up with the family’s mischievous character as a “plus one” (Mistake #1) escapes my memory.  With the distractions of coaching however, it’s not hard to figure out the direction in which this story is heading.

At some point during my harried coaching activities, I may – or may not – have granted permission for Mr. Mischievous to set off for the playground, bored as he most certainly was with watching his older brother playing baseball.  This was not a huge problem – normally – since the playground was located within easy viewing distance (Mistake #2).

SuperStock_500-135222Did I mention I was coaching 9-10 year-olds in the basics of baseball with wooden bats and rock-hard baseballs?

Needless to say, one’s focus and attention to detail, like a spare non-playing child cavorting on a pleasant Spring evening, tends to suffer under such conditions.

Now, none of this was humorous in the moment.  We have been able to laugh only in hindsight, and only because it obviously turned out well and the climax of the event was … well, priceless.  You see, Brian was a character then … truly an unpredictable element in both the family and school environments, which made him very popular at school though somewhat less so within the realm of Parenting.  He was all free spirit and little in the way of cautious or with any genuine concern for the roles and responsibility of being a Parent.

Shocker, I know …

Needless to say, when it came time to pack away the bats, balls, and gloves; Brian is nowhere to be found.  I sent my eldest son, Mike, the baseball player to the playground to find our little pride and joy.  “He’s not there.”, Mike announced when he returned.

A distracted “What?” was all I said … until the consequences of this all too predictable development hit me.

imagesPanic was the first emotion.  Quickly followed by Dread … dreading, that is, the phone call home to Mama Bear.  (Trust me … You NEVER want to have to make that call!)  Let’s just say the conversation was mostly one-sided and not suitable for audiences with tiny ears.

After placing a reluctant call to Philadelphia’s finest, I got our first and only lead … an older girl who saw our pint-sized MIA accompanying a trio of like-sized females towards a nearby neighborhood.  And I set out on a widening arc of street searches by car.  Michael watching one side as I scanned the other.

These neighborhoods – for those not familiar with the streets of Northeast Philly – were a tightly packed collection of row homes and duplex apartments for block after block after block.

Trying to maintain calm in my panicked state of mind, I was certain our wayward wanderer was somewhere in the area.  Then I saw the weirdest, most welcoming sight a parent in such dire circumstances would want to see.

As we rounded a street corner I spied a familiar silhouette!

Hitchcock's famous profile

Hitchcock’s famous profile

Seriously … It was just a silhouette!  Think Alfred Hitchcock‘s famous back-lit outline that graced the telly at the beginning of each episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Just a shadow, but an amazingly well-lit shadow in a row home’s front window.  The silhouette so remarkably sharp and clear, that he was instantly recognizable.

The scene was so odd that at first it didn’t quite click.  I turned to Michael and asked him, “Doesn’t that look like Brian?!?”

What really floored me was that the silhouette was obviously singing, maybe performing would be the better term, and with a hand-held microphone at that!

That has to be him, I thought.  Who else could it be?!?

As I knocked on the door of the house to retrieve my wandering troubadour, I found him singing in front of a small female audience, spot-lighted via a strategically aimed lamp, held by one of his female accomplices, that provided the super sharp silhouette.  He was singing some popular song from the day to a rather fascinated group of fans.

51E8gRiIMKL._SL1500_It took a few seconds to shake off my fascination, even admiration for such a bold performance before Parent Mode kicked in and the fire and brimstone came raining down.  (OK … Admittedly, I was never very good at that.  Mama Bear on the other hand …)

As I dragged the thoroughly embarrassed, admonished, and totally puzzled crooner from the house, and I ask him what he was thinking; how could he do that to me; why would he simply wander off without telling anyone???

His answer was simple, “Dad, I really like that little red-headed girl!”

Sigh …

It’s always a little red-headed girl …

Jefferson Station and the thing about Healthcare Reform

20140905_jeff_1024The acquisition has become quite commonplace in recent years, from sports stadiums and entertainment venues to infrastructure basics like roadways and railway stations.  Naming rights, long reserved for notable philanthropists placing a family name on hospitals, university halls, museums and libraries, are now a convenient – though costly – method to promote brand recognition and consumer confidence.

Earlier this month SEPTA announced the naming of Market East Station to Jefferson Station in a deal between the regional transportation provider and the Jefferson Health SystemThomas Jefferson University Hospital is only two blocks south of Market East.

The naming deal follows an earlier arrangement to rename the Broad Street Subway station at Pattison Avenue “AT&T Station” and previews a future naming rights deal with their Verizon or Comcast for Suburban Station.

http-planphilly-com-sites-planphilly-com-files-dsc_0027_2-jpg.752.502.sFacility naming deals are an easy way for cash-strapped or opportunistic entities to raise funding from wealthier, healthier corporations.  In the overall scheme of things, it’s a no-brainer for a constantly short-funded regional utility, like SEPTA, to use its captive commuter audience as a way to raise needed capital.

SEPTA’s five-year deal with AT&T cost the communications company $5.4 million, although SEPTA only received $3.4 million.  It’s advertising agent made out very nicely, pocketing $2 million in the deal.

But what of a hospital spending $4 million to buy branding rights all in the name of product recognition?  To me, it speaks to several interesting questions and one Big Duh observation.

First off, the obvious question … Is it prudent, necessary or progressive for a medical provider to seek publicity of this sort at what most would consider a sizable chunk of cash?  Arguments could be made that such attempts at name recognition promote Jefferson as a top-class service provider, educational institution, and research facility.

Yet, I would think that’s a tough nut to crack since Jefferson is already a renown regional name.  Once you get outside the Philadelphia region it’s hard to figure exactly what naming a railway station adds to the Jefferson brand.   How many prospective medical students or established medical professionals would actually be swayed by a name on a subway marquee?

artmax_178They might even look at such largesse as a needless and wasteful expenditure in a research-heavy profession where funding often determines how much a dedicated research professional can accomplish.

On another level, it’s difficult to ignore what equipment, expansion of service, or community involvement could be financed with that $4 million marquee grab.

Jefferson’s argument might be that all testing, diagnostic and treatment equipment is sufficiently updated and in top-level performance condition.  Yet I would be willing to bet you can find a few areas of their network that might very well be begging for additional investment, updating, and manpower.  From that point-of-view, buying a railway station would seem like an unnecessarily extravagant expense to anyone who consumes Jefferson medical services.

Which brings me to my real reason for making so much more out of a relatively small ball approach to the Naming Rights Game …

Healthcare reform … REAL healthcare reform … The kind of healthcare reform we did not get in the Affordable Care Act.  The kind of healthcare reform that would make a difference to those who consume and those who are forced to pay big premiums, big deductibles, and large shares of those Usual, Customary, and Reasonable costs.

Affordable was supposed to be the key word ...

Affordable was supposed to be the key word …

My Big Aha Moment was in the realization that if the Jefferson Health System has $4 million to spend on a subway station, they certainly have a lot of other money available for a lot of other non-medical investments!

This is not an attack on JHS alone though.  This I’m certain is the same financial truth that can be found in any large, successful medical system, be it in Philadelphia or Dallas or Nashville.  I have never hidden my contempt of the ACA, mostly because of the way it was birthed … forced in hurried fashion through a brow-beat Congress.  And as “healthcare reform” it wasn’t real reform at all … Not even close in any way, shape, or form.

Real healthcare reform would have addressed the REAL problem with healthcare … The Cost!  All the SEPTA-JHS deal did was highlight the crux of the healthcare problem … Medical services that are so expensive that a hospital has a few million lying around to buy a subway station name.

All the ACA did was dump more people into a system that costs way too much.  Logic would dictate that if you want to provide medical coverage to more people the trade-off should be reducing the costs – if at all possible – of the services to be provided.

Can anyone imagine saying that medical costs in this country were affordable prior to the passing of the ACA?  Obviously not, since “Affordable” was the first word they thought of when they created the Affordable care Act!  Yet no significant action was taken to make healthcare more affordable prior to adding millions to the Well-Care portion of U.S. healthcare (i.e. that segment of healthcare that the uninsured COULD NOT AFFORD to use, resorting to Emergency Rooms as their sole source of healthcare once they became sick).

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to take a long, deep look into the cost structure and profit margins of American healthcare BEFORE adding a significant new market for services that would only see demand and usage skyrocket with the passage of the ACA?  Would it not have seemed a reasonable approach to restructure medical costs in a way that potential savings might have paid for many new ACA subscribers?

The SEPTA-Jefferson Health System deal suggests that it would have been on both counts.  Not that we were ever given the chance to find out …

 

Well, health and maybe a good game of railroad Monopoly ...

Well, health and maybe a good game of railroad Monopoly …

 

 

9 Circles of Ikea

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Something to do on a Sunday afternoon … Rain in the forecast … Remodeling projects in various stages of completion …

Perfect setting for the four words every red blooded male longs to hear, “Let’s go to Ikea!”, dear Carol exclaims.

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.

Ikea was founded by a 17-year-old (which explains a lot) in 1943, and is renown for it’s architectural designs of furniture and appliances and an eco-friendly approach to interior design.

This was the First Time for me, although Carol insists I had been there before.  But no, I would have remembered this experience had I lived through it before.

The store was inviting; painted in bold Blue and Yellow – the national colors of Sweden, the visuals reminding me of a favorite U.S. icon, the Blue Angels.  What could possibly be more inviting?

systembolagetYet something was gnawing at the pit of my stomach like a yellow worm with teeth (Ween).  What is wrong here?  What about this makes sense? Didn’t the Swedes also create Systembolaget, a government-controlled alcohol monopoly?

Danger, Will Robinson …

We walk into a bright but spartan lobby that invites you to ride the escalator to the retail floor.  This was an oddity in the Land of Good and Plenty.  Nothing to sell while rendering first impressions?  No impulse-buying enticements?  Primary retail space on the second floor?  Not even one store greeter … no Nordic blondes playing Abba music on nyckelharpas?

But they do have plenty of these over-sized eco-harmonizing shopping bags.  And large enough to fit a Volvo

My shopping psyche is a strange amalgam of wonderment and an anxiety of what lies beyond … I was in Limbo.

And violà!  We arrive on the retail floor!

Immediately you realize the Swedes ain’t no dummies!

We are immediately driven to Lust for the quirky, practical designs of Äpplarö, Falster, Arholma.  This is going to be an epic quest to furnish that unique space in our home.

Did I mention, I’m not a big fan of Quests?

And just then I see the store map …

Rule of Thumb:  Any store that requires a map for you to figure out where you are and to find what you want, can use the same device to make sure you can never leave!

Can you get to the cheese?

Can you get to the cheese?

I’m struck by the resemblance the Ikea store map has to those primitive maze tests used to measure the learning habits of lesser species.  This causes one to wonder, who exactly is the “lesser species” in this Nordic inspired ecosystem?

We push on with our journey, moving right into Gluttony as we peruse the quirky, imaginative shapes and functions of the Artichoke Pendant Lamp, Befintlig candles, Smörboll bedding, and Ödmjuk coffe cups.  Hours seem to have passed in minutes, I am aware of a foggy, detached feeling as though floating through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, barely tethered to the Earth.

When I am able to roust myself from this peculiar state, Carol is nowhere to be seen and the cart I am pushing is overflowing with abstract Swedish home appointments.  I must find her before we descend any further into the bowels of Scandinavian home furnishings Hades.

And then I see her!  Not Carol exactly, but that head looks familiar …

Tallemaja - seductive Scandinavian forest creature

Tallemaja – seductive Scandinavian forest creature

She appears from out of the flimsy veil of the Åderblad window treatments.  She appears to be unclothed with what looks like the tail of a cow.  When I ask her name, she replies in a foggy voice that sounds so very far away, “Tallemaja”.  She beckons me to follow.

An overwhelming sense of pressure and heaviness … When I look down I am holding three of those enormous Ikea saddle bags crammed full of sheets with artsy patterns and ingenuously designed table lamps.  I absently reach for my wallet …

The Circle of Greed!

I fight the urge and set out once again to find Carol.  I find her sorting through a clutch of Gräddig wall decorations, semi-catatonic and mumbling incoherently.  I warn her not to fall for the charms of Tallemaja.

She looks at me, her head cocked to one side.  “Who the hell’s Tallemaja?!?  I was talking to some guy named Nykkjen.  I don’t think he’s an Ikea employee; but he seemed to know a lot about this place!”

Cue the spooky music …

I urge Carol to dump her load of Riktig Ögla and Malma mirrors so we can make a hasty retreat.  I glance nervously over my shoulder half expecting her to morph into a pissed off naked forest nymph.

We need to get out of here … Now!

Heresy!”, she shouts in Anger.  I look around embarrassingly at the mumbling shoppers nearby, displaying those same blank stares, speaking gibberish …

No one here can hear you scream …

zlatan-ibrahimovic-wallpaper-586742-3-s-307x512

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Swedish futboler, shape shifting nicker

But finding an Exit in this place would be as likely as stumbling upon Zlatan Ibrahimović picking through a collection of Bild posters.

Desperate to escape this madness I prod Carol along.  We manage to move but a few steps when Carol calls over her shoulder to a figure bent in appreciative study, “Hey, Nykkjen, let’s go!  We’re outta here.”

So of course Zlatan Ibrahimović – Carol’s tricked out psyche version of Nykkjen – unfolds slowly to his feet triumphantly holding his latest acquisition … a Bild poster!  

Stunned momentarily I stumble in confusion, the Home Furnishings Department spinning dizzyingly.  I reach out and steady myself against the Norwegian soccer nicker’s shoulder, and – true to his Euro fùtbol tradition – collapses like a gunshot victim, grabbing at his ankle in fairy tale agony …         

 Wonderful …

Fraud and Violence in the blink of a referee’s eye … And stand perilously close to the boundary of the 9th – and final – Circle de Dantè!

I convince Carol that we should concentrate on the table and cabinets she wants for her craft room and leave this Den of Temptation before it’s too late.  She agrees and we race through the remainder of the retail floor, heading downstairs to the furniture warehouse.

By now I’m a nervous wreck, with my wallet shoved down the front of my pants and a terrified look on my face.  Carol – always quick to pick up on this sort of thing – asks me what’s wrong.  And I tell her we were oh so close to joining the lost souls in Hades, crossing 8 circles out of Dante’s 9.

Treachery - I tell her – was all that remained.

She rolls her eyes and glances around almost seekingly.  I swear she’s really searching for Zlatan that hunky Nykkjen.  “Well then, let’s get out of here, Mr. Treachery.”, she says, “You know you have to put all this crap together when we get home.”

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo  ……

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Why Pennsylvania needs Public Sector pension reform

Governor Corbett discusses pension reform in Dresher

Governor Corbett discusses pension reform in Dresher

Last week I had an opportunity to attend one of Governor Tom Corbett‘s mini-town hall meetings on Pennsylvania‘s precarious public pension situation.

The Governor is spending a lot of time this Summer pushing the need for public sector pension reform to improve the State’s financial health and put a lid on spiraling property taxes.  The problem he is facing is that the Pennsylvanians who pay taxes do not view Pension Reform as a problem let alone a problem-with-high-priority.

Much of this disconnect comes from the plain fact that most voters do not understand how State pensions work; how much they cost; or how they affect the other real problems with which my fellow Pennsylvanians can readily identify.

Recent polls (Quinnipiac University 2013, Franklin & Marshall 2014) found that Pennsylvanians recognized Unemployment, the Economy, Education, and Taxes as the biggest problems being faced in the Keystone State. These opinions are even more disconcerting from a taxpayer’s point-of-view, because it illustrates a very basic fact about the magnitude of the pension problem …

Few appreciate how the State’s pension mess plays into the perceived problems in Education, Taxes and the Economic Health of Pennsylvania.

For that you must look at the numbers.

  • $47,000,000,000. (billion with a capital “B”) … The current pension funding gap in Pennsylvania
  • $65,000,000,000. (also with a “B”) … The projected pension gap by 2019.
  • 63 cents of every $1 in revenue … 63% of PA State revenue currently goes to cover State pension responsibilities
    • That is, $2 Billion per year, all covered by PA tax payers
  • $13,000. … The amount each Pennsylvanian would have to pay to cover the current pension fund gap.

State-pensionsForty-one percent (41%) of the annual State budget goes to Education funding.  Another 40% goes to support Health and Human Services (and yes, that’s BEFORE you factor in the potential of accepting ObamaCare’s proposed Medicaid expansion, which will be funded by the Federal Government to only 90% of costs after 2016) …

The budget percentages for Education and HHS are equally important in understanding the overall picture.  Why?

For one, they illustrate the impact both Education and Social Services have on the State budget.  When you spend 81-82% of your budget in two specific areas, it does not leave much room for the other good things State government can do.  These huge obligations place the State in a financial straight jacket.  Pension costs make up a significant burden to school districts and public healthcare providers insofar as those costs are a subset of whatever funding is provided by the State.

As an example, when a School District receives its annual budgeted funding, they must – each and every year – immediately set aside a significant portion of that funding to be applied towards that school district’s allotment of pension coverage.  As pensions costs grow, school districts are forced to pay more and more for their pension service; meaning they will have less and less to spend on actual education.

pension-reformSo when you speak of those “real problems” facing Pennsylvania … Education, Unemployment, the Economy and Taxes … there is a genuine, behind-the-scenes connection between pension costs obligations and all those REAL problems.  And more importantly, to financing any solutions to those REAL problems.

So what’s State and local Government to do?  What tough choices do you make now?  Do you raise Property Taxes again?  Do you raise Corporate Taxes in a state which is already has the HIGHEST corporate tax rate in the country?  Or do you do something about the most easily identifiable and underlying problem?

As a taxpayer, this is a chilling reality.  If you subscribe to the theory that high taxes kill Economic Growth, raising Corporate Taxes is not the BEST alternative.  (And yes, that also goes for a Job Creator like the Natural Gas Industry.)  Neither is raising Property Taxes, which is what school districts must do to meet the growing pension budget hole.

Pension reform won’t lower current property taxes however.  Replacing pension plans does nothing to alleviate the pension obligations already facing the State and local school districts.  It’s a solution for the future, by putting a lid on rising property taxes by replacing an unsustainable pension structure with one that lessens the future burden on taxpayers!

If you are not yet convinced, take a look at recent examples in countries like Greece and Italy, where excessive pension costs drove cataclysmic threats to economic stability.  Or take a look closer to home …

CT Emanuel_Method_04.JPG

Chicago Mayor – and former White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel

When uber-Liberal Rahm Emanuel left the cozy confines of The White House as President Obama’s Chief-of-Staff to become the Mayor of Chicago, the first major initiative he undertook was to tackle Chicago’s financially threatening pension problem.  To take a peek at what could happen to cities in Pennsylvania if leaders do nothing, look at what has happened in Detroit!

The Rahm Emanuel story is critically important for one reason many people might overlook.  It illustrates that this is not a problem restricted to one political party or the other.  Pension costs with all its ramifications – from taxes to education to health services to economic vitality – is a Democrat and Republican problem.

So what is the real problem with Pennsylvania’s nightmare pension scenario?  It’s reliance upon Defined-Benefit public pensions …

This is not a new problem, not in the pubic sector, not in the private sector, not in the manufacturing sector, not in the financial industry.  Individual companies, whole industries, other States, even the Federal Government have recognized the threat to financial stability presented by growing defined-benefit pension obligations.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am employed in the Public Sector by the Federal Government since 1980.  In 1986 the federal government introduced a two-tier retirement system under the Federal Employees Retirement System Act of 1986.  The Act essentially grand-fathered all existing employees under the existing Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), while requiring all new employees – hired after the laws effective date – to participate in the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).  The reasoning behind the switch from a Defined-Benefit CSRS to a hybrid Defined-Benefit/Defined-Contribution plan was much the same in 1986 as it is now for Pennsylvania in 2014.

This is pretty solid framework for changing Pennsylvania’s Pension Problem.  Allow those already vested in current defined-benefit pensions alone.  Address a change in pension structure only towards new employees at all levels of government!

In the Federal Government, FERS provides its own two-tiered approach, consisting of a Defined-Benefit where a minimum government contribution is mandated.  Then the federal government fully matches any employee contributions up to 5% of salary (the percentage matched drops on additional employee contributions) made to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which acts essentially like a 401(k) with employees able to choose investment options of differing risk and return.

That the Federal Government is out in front of Pennsylvania on anything – by nearly three decades no less – should be more than a little troubling to Pennsylvania tax payers!  And this again is a problem whose responsibility falls squarely on BOTH political parties.

Former Gov Tom Ridge, not exactly the brightest light on pension sanity

Former Gov Tom Ridge, not exactly the brightest light on pension sanity

In 2001 it was the Tom Ridge Republican administration that cut a foggy-headed deal with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where both Democrats and Republicans agreed to significantly increase the pension benefits of Legislators, state workers, and teachers.  (Not surprisingly, those same Legislators all got fat pay increases as part of the deal!)  Then they compounded their stupidity by slashing the taxpayer contribution to service that very same pension obligation. 

It’s a case of an entire government turning a blind eye towards its very own economic future!

Changes to the way employee pensions are managed and financed have been rippling through the entire U.S. economy, most drastically of course in the private sector, where change depends not on the consensus of 250 State Legislators, who are so intimately tied to the very benefits economic reality demands must change.  It is virtually impossible – in this day and age – to find an employer who will provide an employee with a defined-benefit pension plan.

It’s a Republican-Democrat problem that will need both parties in the State Legislator to step up to the plate and get fixed.

Now, I’m not sure Governor Corbett’s approach is necessarily the best alternative for Pennsylvania’s particular pension situation. The devil is always in the details.  However, you must admire Corbett’s tenacity in pushing for pubic awareness of a problem very difficult to fully understand and always controversial … And for doing so during an election year!

That – my friends – is Leadership with all its risks and political exposures.  Like the national bi-annual conniption over Social Security insolvency, it’s always the first person who goes through the door that gets bloodied. 

Yet this is a problem to which even tax & spend liberal Tom Wolf has begun to awaken.  Oh wait a minute … That was for his furniture company, not necessarily the tax-paying citizens of Pennsylvania!

All politics aside, the message is clear.

If you live in Pennsylvania and believe that the REAL problems we face are Education, Taxes, and Economic Growth, you simply must recognize the threat that growing pension costs pose to the economic health of The Keystone State.  Tell this story to your Pennsylvania neighbors.  Let your voice be heard by demanding your State Representatives and Senators act together with Governor Corbett to address pension reform NOW!

Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14 – Beetlejuiced

Not those Beatles ...

Not those Beatles …

The Fourth of July is behind us, and if you haven’t seen them yet, you haven’t been paying attention.  The beetles are back!

Japanese beetles live very short life spans in which to fit their two favorite – and only – activities: Eating holes in your lawn and Making hundreds of little baby beetles, a.k.a. grubs.  The grubs do the lawn eating until they’re big enough to move on to lawn orgies and maintaining the eat and spawn cycle.

Life as a summer beetle ain’t all that complicated.

Neither is the solution for your lawn.

Don’t be like me last year.  At some point I decided not to do anything about the annually anticipated Dance of the Beetles.  I hadn’t noticed much beetle “dancing” is the two previous seasons, so I thought, “What the heck? What’s the worst that can happen?”  Then I decided to complicate the problem by not reacting when we observed larger-than-normal beetles frolicking in what was certainly a form of promiscuous insect shenanigans right on the front lawn!

Well, they didn’t look like your run-of-the-mill Japanese beetles.

Yes, sometimes I need to be roused with a hard swat about the head with heavy bag of You’re-Such-An-Idiot!

That hard swat came in the form of serious dead spots and chunks of lawn you could rollup like a dead body in your aunt’s heirloom Persian rug.  It was not a good September, lawn-wise or for the body.

Is it Frolic Time already???

They said, “Try the milky spore. You’ll love it!”

After a lot of work to fix what beetles had wrought, I decided to go all microbiological warfare, consisting of a tedious application of the dreaded milky spore!  Dreaded by humans for it’s pain-in-the-nether-regions application process.  Dreaded by the beetles because … well, it’s not a nice way to depart the lawn-eating, baby-beetle-making circle-of-life.

You can read about it in the linked post; but trust me I wouldn’t want to be the beetle larvae that eats from the wrong grass root.  But effective it supposedly is, offering up to ten years of grub protection as the spore grows and multiplies.  No worries to you, the kids, your dog, or that body in auntie’s Persian rug.  The milky spore is harmless to all other species!

At this point however, I’m playing a coy waiting game.  I should have years of protection, but the milky spore needs to grow and multiply through the – ahem – judicious use of fresh and living beetle larvae.  (The icky body in the Persian rug part.)

Anyways, I figure a year or two before I’m home free and no longer in need of expensive grub treatments, often the most expensive lawn treatment for which you will normally pay.  My plan was to apply the usual grub treatment, that is until struck with the thought that I need healthy grub “hosts” to make the milky spore effective.

Such a conundrum!  Forego the recommended grub treatment to allow healthy grubs to feast on my lawn so to initiate their untimely and horrific death.

Now where did I put that carpet …???

For those of you not opting for the hideous milky spore solution to control your bug issues, make sure you purchase and apply your grub treatment this weekend. Once you see beetles cavorting on your lawn, it’s probably too late.

As for my lawn beetles …

You can run; but you can’t hide!