Wednesday, December 31, 2008
The city is already burdened with 25% of properties within it's limits as nonprofit ...
Yes, they may argue it brings in secondary "benefits" (a claim F&M waves in everyone's face about there own existence), but why waste valuable DOWNTOWN footage?
Send the city's brilliant leaders out into the world and find a real winner - one who will not only bring in revenues but pay it's fair share of taxes. (Bus loads of school children don't shop or dine downtown).
Granted the Bulova Building is a dog - always was, even before they bricked up the storefront windows. The city needs to be more creative in their solutions.
As for F&M and their re-utilization of the site of the albeit aged facility, that's great. Relocate the perported non-profit North Museum in a not for profit location, say the county accuired Armstrong Building across the "square" in the mostly underutilized facility. It answers the concept of clustering "musea" in a chain starting at RRTA (Art Museum) to The Heritage Museum on Penn Square.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Editor: Wachovia's stock holders aren't amused. Moreover, the people of Lancaster won't find it at all funny if the day comes that the City's guarantee of the hotel bonds is called.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
For anyone who files "Right-To-Know" requests, this site provides important information.
Monday, December 22, 2008
How about asking the opinion of one of many Lancaster taxpayers who will have to pay the salaries, benefits and pensions of the joystick operators?
How about the inequality of the installation plan? Are there more existing and phase 1 cameras in our neighborhoods of color? Of course there are!
This is not the future I want to see.
Will there be no public discussion of this matter? If no, that's a real shame, despicable in fact.
The irony is so thick ... Mayor Gray and others of such ilk, who shout about troubling aspects of the Patriot Act, seem to have no problem with a camera watching their front door!
There are many problems with the switching yard relocation plan. Most notably, the switching yard and its public health hazards (ex: chemical spills, diesel emissions) will be relocated to just 1200 feet from long-established neighborhoods (School Lane Hills, Madison at Barrcrest, Barrcrest, Windsor Court and Gentry Heights).
Also, the former dump contains Armstrong asbestos-backed vinyl sheet flooring. At a recent meeting in Manheim Township, the partners' remediation firm, ARM, denied its existence—even though local residents discovered photos of it in a 1,000+ page report funded by the project partners. Those photos led one resident to go out to the dump, pluck a sample right from the top of the dump, and send it to an environmental engineer who believes the asbestos is potentially friable (i.e.: a potential public health hazard).
A local advocacy group, The Rail Road Action and Advisory Committee (TRRAAC), formed in response to the switching yard plans. They have suggested a number of alternative locations (including one that was originally suggested by a former NS engineer at the world-renowned RL Banks and Associates). None of their suggestions have been independently evaluated. TRRAAC requested an independent evaluation from Penn Dot, but has not yet received a favorable response.
Thus far, the only studies on the affects of the switching yard relocation have been conducted by F&M and LGH co-conspirators—ARM and Gannett Fleming. The results of their studies were released at a well-orchestrated June 19 meeting. Residents were given approximately one hour to digest the results of year’s worth of studies on approximately 30 display boards. And then hundreds of residents were given approximately one hour to ask questions. It was suggested that they ask only one question each so that everyone could have an opportunity to ask a question!
All of the data and analysis used to create the display boards were released one month later. F&M and LGH claimed June 19 was our one and only public meeting. After many complaints, they agreed to appear once more in early November at a Manheim Township-sponsored meeting. F&M’s Keith Orris spoke mostly through his attorney, and refused to answer any question that wasn’t related to the remediation of the dump. We were told to submit all other questions via email and he’d be sure to get back to us. The only LGH representative, Vice President Jan Bergen, arrived late and never spoke.
At the Manheim Township meeting, retired and well-respected Dr. Albert Price announced that he recently moved out of one of the affected neighborhoods because of the switching yard plans, and expressed his disappointment in LGH. Jan Bergen never acknowledged Dr. Price or looked up from her doodle pad.
So, it seems LGH is putting a sweet land deal ahead of public health. If that is the mentality of the LGH leaders, and since, other than Dr. Price, none of the other doctors are speaking up, could that also mean that they’d put hospital profits before my personal health? They’d be easy dots to connect. LGH claims it's "by your side". If the top administrators and physicians are really on our side, then they should partner with TRRAAC and ensure that all alternative sites are properly vetted before our health is needlessly put at risk.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
My sympathies and concern are with the residents of School Lane Hills, Barrcrest and the Farmingdale Road area, in regards to the unenviable situation (the Dillerville Rail Yard that F&M wants to put in their midst) in which they find themselves... For this reason, I check the trraac.com website from time to time to learn about the latest developments. ...Today I found that new information had been posted.
I am forwarding this to you in case you have not seen it.
"On Fiday, December 5, 2008 Governor Ed Rendell publicly announced that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was awarding $10 million for the Rail Yard relocation project. This was not news. This was simply a confirmation of the fact that Lancaster General Hospital and Franklin and Marshall College acquired some funding from the State. Notwithstanding the Governor’s press release, NONE of these funds can be used to move the existing track. The only news was that it was made public in a manner that garnered a great deal of public attention.
"Does that mean that the rail yard relocation is now a “done deal”? Absolutely not! The fact that monies have been appropriated does not change the fact that TRRAAC is still working hard to speak with the project sponsors in an effort to change the proposed SITE of the relocation of the Dillerville rail yard. That has always been, and continues to be, TRRAAC’s sole mission: to find a site that meets the project’s goals without hindering the health and welfare of any residential community. We support the rail yard relocation in general terms.
"TRRAAC leadership has met with Lancaster General Hospital’s President and CEO Thomas Beeman, Jan Bergen and Bob Macina in an effort to find common ground and mutual understanding between LGH and the residential communities this site would affect. Meetings with elected officials at the local, state and federal levels are currently in the works, in an effort to make them aware of the ramifications of choosing the proposed site over other suitable sites.
"On the legal front, TRRAAC’s attorney, William Cluck, has filed a Notice of Appeal of the PA Department of Environmental Protection’s approval of the cleanup plan, for a number of reasons including inadequate opportunity for the public to review and comment on the cleanup plan, the failure to investigate the groundwater contamination on the F&M side of the rail tracks, and inadequate standards to clean up the asbestos containing materials.
"Regarding the environmental issues that arise because of the federal funds earmarked by Senators Casey and Specter, we are still awaiting notice and an opportunity to comment on noise, air quality, vibration and historic resource studies, so that we can independently evaluate the potential impact of the relocated rail yard on our families and properties. We have been filing freedom of information act requests with federal agencies to obtain information on the project and studies that the project partners refuse to release to the public.
" Thursday, December 11, 2008, PennDOT’s grant coordinator informed TRRAAC that PennDOT did not approve F&M’s request for an additional $9.2 million, because the project was neither ‘ready to go’ nor did it contribute the same level of economic development as other competing projects offered.
"We can only continue to support this cause through the work of the talented attorney and environmental engineer who have joined forces with TRRAAC. These two professionals are largely responsible for TRRAAC’s progress to date. In order to continue retaining the services of these consultants, we ask that every household affected by this site contribute generously.
"Please know that TRRAAC is comprised totally of volunteers who live in your neighborhood. We are not paid at all. We volunteer our time and contribute our own personal funds because we believe that another site exists that will fulfill the project goals without detriment to our communities.
"But we can no longer rely on a generous few to support our cause and our neighborhoods. We ask every household to contribute toward the collective welfare of our neighborhoods. Please give generously, as this may have a tremendous impact on our health, our children’s health, our quality of life and our home values for years to come."
Friday, December 19, 2008
This is only one of many examples of how the current LCCCA board was forced to deal with the incredibly negligent planning they inherited, and turned it into a workable solution.
Editor's note: "Negligent planning"? Hardly, with millions of dollars of fees for consultants. We believe "misleading" is more accurate. Scoundrels understate costs to hide losses.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
How would the other inmates know who the new inmate is, or what crime he is charged with? That information could only come from the guards at the prison.
I don't believe that going to prison is like a Tupperware party where each arrival is introduced around and gets to share a little bit about themselves! Only the guards know the crime alleged, and only they could be "passing the word".
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
This convention center of ours could not have been put in a worse location.
The talk years ago was the Bulova Building was a much better location and the Brunswick hotel could have been renovated. WELL, the business that was in there is now shut down and that building is vacant.
Hopefully Mayor Gray has a tenant.
While I have questioned the motives of some with regards to other ill conceived projects, most specifically the convention center, I honestly believe there are those who deceive with selfish/profit motives, PSP; and those who push the project because they honestly believe, based on misguided information and propaganda, that it really will help the city.
As far as I am concerned, the streetcar is nothing more than an extension of that [convention center] project.
While I have not personally heard Peter's speak on the topic, I have heard Jack Howell make his streetcar presentation and now I truly understand the phrase "cool-aid drinkers".
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Why don't you call City Hall and get the answer for us (since Lancaster Newspaper dropped the ball again on this issue)?
Editor note: Thanks. We will.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Who pays for this, taxpayers in general? And since the railroad has already said that none of the proposed alternatives are viable, what happens if the taxpayers pay for the study and the railroad reiterates this conclusion?
TRAACCC simply doesn't want to acknowledge that none of the other sites will work, something that Norfolk Southern has already said. The railroad has immense authority and isn't going to take anything less than it needs. That means the choice is already one between the current site, already zoned commercial, or no relocation at all. Is NewsLanc, and TRAACCC, really willing to kill a project that most everone involved agrees would be good for the city because NIMBY takes precedence?
Friday, December 5, 2008
"Lancaster City plans to pay for this with a bond sale paid for with funds from a Tax Incremental Finance district, 50% of all increased real estate assessments based on improvements made within that zone (including School and County taxes."
This is a huge, horrible cover-up by the prison and LNP. How about some truth to power newslanc?
Chris Hart Nibbrig did the one excellent article on the lawsuit against the prison and then the New Era began their lame "investigate series" - and newslanc said they were going to investigate but since Jack Brubaker was - they would sit on the sidelines and critique. What a joke.
This alleged suicide happened during the four days Brubaker's "series" was running! AND LNP IGNORED IT.
If this project provides all of the benefits touted by the project partners and governor, then it should have been able to withstand public scrutiny.
We know the air quality and traffic congestion arguments are dubious. 750 jobs? Does that include the cleanup contractor? Is it 750 new jobs at the railyard?
This is about political influence and payback...
Read the minutes when posted of this weeks meeting. [Susan] Hauer vowed to be present every meeting and the Commissioners sincerely have a deaf ear.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Hey! I can't believe you would slur used car salesmen like this. Comparing them to the bums running the car companies is just plain mean!
Editor's response: Our mistake. We apologize.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
The city sewers are crumbling. Klein is doing one plus house per day. The sewers in the city run left to right, not out from the house to the street, and the homeowner has full responsibility; the city has none.
Johnstown has to tear down a parking garage that is unsafe and demolition will cost $150,000 that the city does not have. They are not rebuilding it near their convention center as the convention center is not doing enough events.
Pittsburgh announced that two of their suburban strip centers in Allegheny County are being foreclosed, leaving the county short of hundreds of thousand of dollars in tax revenue.
As I returned home I realized how fortunate we are here in Lancaster County. It is a shame that the powers that be think we are not going to have the problems that other cities are experiencing. It will come, maybe not as great; we have got to stop this wasteful spending and concentrate on the infrastructure that is failing daily in the city.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The city Bureau of Fire operates two ladder trucks. Truck 1 has a 75' ladder and Truck 2 has a 95' ladder. The catenary wires that will hang above the streetcar will likely prevent either of these apparatus from deploying their ladders anywhere along the streetcar's route of travel. This will include areas such as the Convention Center itself and many of the city's larger buildings.
Additionally, any traffic congestion along the route could significantly delay the response of fire and other emergency vehicles. Are the risks worth the reward?
It was actually 30 years ago this semester that we tapped away on the electric typewriters and where I learned the home keys and use of the QWERTY keyboard that allows me to bang out words on the computer to this day. I have a hard time understanding why this vital and important skill could be falling by the wayside given the importance of typing.
It was called TYPING class.
The problem is that there is not enough consistent demand to allow any company to maintain the necessary fleet and roster of drivers to possibly meet the needs of the two or three real conventions we might have every year. Even if we had ten major conventions, it would not be enough.
Just like our air service, which will still be woefully inadequate, the only way to provide taxi service will be to subsidize it heavily...no private company could ever stay in business if they were equipped to handle even 60% of the demand that a real convention might draw 10 days per year.
In cities where there are long stretches with gentle turns, there is little issue. But our city blocks are relatively short and the planned route has four 90 degree turns in the busiest intersections.
Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I just stopped to get a ticket from Altoona back to Lancaster this Friday. The fair with my AAA discount was $36.00. That is very reasonable.
Perhaps AFTER the millions get spent to spruce up the station, which it desperately needs, convention goers will come by rail and taxi to the new Marriott!!!
We all may have been wrong. We shall see.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
"Interstate Hotels and Resorts, the company managing the center and the adjoining Marriott Lancaster at Penn Square hotel, said it has more than 90 commitments for conventions, meetings, and other functions at the new center."
[This wasn't mentioned once at recent LCCCA meetings.]
I'm wondering if this number includes the hotel, as well as the convention center. Years ago, there was a lot of talk that Interstate Hotels - which was forced upon the LCCCA by Dale High - would steer smaller events to the hotel side of the business.
I also question whether that statement is correct.
Can anyone else shed any light on that published report?
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Note the County Commissioners would NOT be raising taxes to provide extra money for the project, they would only be restoring the PDCVB's currentfunding level. I'm sure they have all the excuses figured out already.
I am waiting for the group to come to the County for all or more of the tax dollars.
Stuckey and Martin have reaffirmed that not one cent will be given to help the project and that they are not going to raise the hotel room sales tax. It is a wait and see thing.
All three Commissioners did reveal that they accepted campaign monies from High.
Because [former commissioners] Molly and Dick dropped their law suit, was it not in return for the debt to be paid back first by the Convention Center before operating expenses? Problem is if there are not enough of bookings to even cover the debt service let alone the operating expenses, then the County has to cough up money via raising the Hotel tax or whatever...
I spend very little time in my office and am always out in the field. It is amazing how many people come up to me with comments or questions, this County has no idea how into issues the average person is. This is a good thing and that is probably why the Home Rule got voted down.
I go back to Home Rule only to show how all the money people shoved into getting that thing passed went for nothing. Big Business could not jump on the Dick and Molly thing and think that the middle class was not aware of what they were trying to do.
Because of NewsLanc and the old Lancaster Post, the public is being educated, or should I say given the truth. I just hope the Post comes back as a lot of people miss it.
Lancaster City is on the hook for the hotel only. Don't be surprised if S. Dale High and/or Nevin Cooley come crying to City officials for more money, especially since Sen. Gib Armstrong refused Penn Square Partner's latest demands.
And if the hotel doesn't meet its overly optimistic projections, all bets are off as to how much City taxpayers will be stuck.
The little tax is made up of the County tax that we all in Lancaster County pay the same: 3.41 mills and it was announced at this weeks commissioners meeting there will be no increase from last year. The second part of the little tax is the municipal side. Lancaster City currently is 9.18 which according to my assessment list is the highest in the County. Lancaster Twp. Municipal that gets services from the city is only 0.60.
I will bet that the Mayor is going to try and get some money from the Township for services rendered in the future for police and fire. These two are combined and paid every Spring. The big tax which is the school tax is currently 22.47 mills; in comparison, Sadsbury Twp. is 27 and Columbia Boro is 23. Bottom Line is that the Mayor will head to the County for any shortfall if the hotel tax revenue can not hold up, crying that the city is the County Seat..
The game that was being played and was lost, thanks to the voters of Lancaster County, was that HOME RULE was going to be the key to solve all problems. With a charter and a strong manager to be appointed by five part time commissioners, Big Business would have their way and accountability would be to a deaf ear.
The Lancaster City Redevelopment Authority owns the Hotel and, if I am correct, they have no money. Wachovia is being bought out by Wells Fargo and went the s--- hits the fan (according to one of my sources from North Carolina), a lot of things are going to happen. Financially, Wells Fargo is not going to tolerate what Wachovia did and the balance sheets will have to be exposed.
The numbers will not work. The city waived all the permit fees, millions of dollars of funds that could have been used, Armstrong got as much money as he could from Harrisburg, the Hoteliers were scared off with the law suits as Stevens and Lee was absolutely NOT at arms length with the County, the Convention Center Authority and Penn Square Partners.
There was never a strong group to fight the total fraud of this whole package. The only way this house of cards is going to end is when the project goes belly up and goes for auction, just like the Sheraton and convention center in Springfield Mass. It took five years and Peter Pan Bus Line bought the whole thing for 25 cents on the dollar, just as S. Dale High will do. Springfield went into bankruptcy and still can not climb out of the hole. It is a SAHME what a group of people have done to such a historic city with character and charm.
IF Lancaster City survives, it will be by the will of the people, NOT Penn Square Partners and the Mayor. I am tired of hearing how fortunate we are to have Fulton and the Newspaper NOT leave the city, that they stayed and invested. Without the support of the County and the citizens, they could not have stayed and they did so very cheaply...
Let us give support to all the small businesses that opened and have been in the city NOT because of the CC but to provide services etc. to the public. Look at Mulberry Art Studio, they were voted #1 for wedding receptions, no stuffed ballot box, a true consensus by the readers. They do not even advertise in the publication!!
The local people are going to pay for this and have been as the state tax dollars come from all of our pocketbooks. Money is not free by any means. Drive to Pittsburgh, Philaladelphia, Erie, Johnstown, Altoons, Allentown, Scranton; Convention Centers are nothing but PORK that was sponsored to put money in the construction pockets. The taxpayers now have to maintain the empty buildings. Philadelphia is BROKE yet they will have by next year the largest convention center in the US, bigger than Vegas, Orlando. And those convention centers are in deep trouble.
WE THE PEOPLE HAVE TO CHANGE ALL OF THIS AND MORE BY STARTING ON THE LOCAL LEVEL. OUR STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMANTS HAVE DONE US ALL IN. It is no longer a Party issue, it is a Bureaucratic issue. Until the voters stop electing just anybody and we do not change to term limits and hold these people accountable for every dollars they spend, we will continue to build an economy on credit and the results will not be pretty.
Small banks are dry. Only the big 9 have the bucks. Without small banks, small businesses are not going to make it. We here in Lancaster County have been very fortunate as we are conservative in spending and healthy so to speak. ANY business that is willing to work hard and watch its money will survive.
However, we are starting to feel the crunch locally, take a look at the COMMERCIAL space for sale and rent!! Housing below $250,000 is very solvent, high end housing is stacking up.
All of the above would have generated a wonderful tax base but, even more so, foot traffic. Without foot traffic, downtown will die or only generate day time business from the people working there. We will not see little boutiques and small business open just for the CC because businesses already in place may not make it to the opening.
Parking is and will always be a problem and big spenders will not book here. The Mayor got the PA Mayors to come once; let us see if they return... The bookings that are public do not have spending power. Let us see if LCAR who is a supporter can get PAR to hold some events here or better yet move the Convention from Atlantic City to here.
The disturbing fact is that organizations that I belong to will pull their events that have been housed at the Eden and the Host and book them at the CC. I will not attend one of them as I am lazy and will not walk the streets at night now.
Even after the CC meetings, I am fearful to walk further than the front of Southern Market. One of the reasons I do not attend on a regular basis the meetings is that the last one I attended I was stopped and asked for money. I am a large woman but was scared as no one can defend themselves today without some training.
I do not show homes at night in the city for the same reason, even if it is in a GOOD section. Recently was on South Duke with a NJ client showing a 275 home on a Sat. at 11:00. The situation that occurred was not pleasant and the client decided that Old Town was not the place to buy.
We were 1/2 block from the CC and I must say that I feel sorry for the homeowners in that area now and in the future. Police are going to have to cover down to Church on a regular basis to stop what is going on as we speak. The city is looking very good if you stay within a given district and area, all at the expense of the other part of the city. As economic conditions worsen, so will crime and all that goes with it.
Sen. Gib Armstrong has made plenty of money and repaid plenty of favors. The jobs that will be created with in the CC and hotel will not exceed 100, if that, and the pay will be minimum other than management. 2009 will be here soon enough; I hope that the bookings will not all be cheerleading contests, home builder shows, card shows, etc.
...A great tragedy is that the mammoth construction prevents virtually any other use for the real estate.
I am confident that both Sen. Armstrong's support for the project represents a ... connection with the money powers. I am equally confident that Mayor Gray's apparent increased support (at the time of his election) is equally connected.
Merck Pharmaceutical has just downsized dramatically, and it was one of the companies cited for convention booking. And it is not the only company streamlining for survival.
The Convention Center [project] will never get off the ground. Cries for money for "improvements" to make the CC successful will probably hit in about two years.
November 21, 2008, regarding State Sen. Gib Armstrong and his hotel and convention center project: "It depends which taxpayers you're talking about. Lancaster City and County taxpayers aren't paying ANYTHING unless and until it fails, operationally, isn't that right? So the public burden so far is on Pennsylvania*taxpayers."
Lancaster City taxpayers are already paying for the hotel and convention center in higher taxes and reduced services, as resources like police patrols have been shifted away from other parts of the city in an attempt to "clean up" the neighborhoods near the project.
Note that neither the hotel nor convention center need to "fail" before Lancaster City or County taxpayers will need to subsidize their operation. When revenue from the "hotel tax" falls short of the operational subsidies required to keep the convention center open, Lancaster County taxpayers will be stuck with the bill. And there are many ways County taxpayers could be forced to pay additional money toward the convention center bond sale; for example, it was announced at the LCCCA Finance Committee this past Monday evening that some weeks ago, the spread between the "swaption" rate and the actual weekly interest rate paid on the bonds exceeded the agreed-upon boundaries of the "interest rate swap"; this forced the LCCCA to spend thousands of dollars more on bond payments than had been budgeted.
Don't imagine for one minute that the "hotel tax" is paid only by visitors to Lancaster County. Hotel rates are set by competition; no more can be charged than what the market will bear. A significant portion of "hotel tax" revenue comes directly out of the profits of Lancaster County businesses.
As for the hotel, Lancaster City taxpayers could be on the hook sooner rather than later. Remember that the State has turned down the Penn Square Partners' demand for an additional $2.8 million in taxpayer subsidies. Nevin Cooley of High is on the record as stating that the PSP will not spend one penny more than $11 million on the project; if PSP stands firm, where will the additional money come from to complete the project? Do you believe for one minute that Mayor Rick Gray will stand idly by while an incomplete hotel stands vacant at Penn Square?
Another risk to Lancaster City taxpayers is that the PSP will not earn enough profit from future operations of the hotel IN THEIR OWN EYES to make payments on their $24 million mortgage. PSP could very well threaten to close the hotel unless they receive additional taxpayer subsidies. And remember, the PSP's $24 million is currently in the form of a 5-year construction loan; what happens if there is a problem converting it into a mortgage?
Don't forget that the hotel will not pay any real estate taxes at all for at least 20years, in violation of one of the original promises make about the project. Lancaster City and School District of Lancaster (including Lancaster Township) property owners are already paying significantly higher real estate taxes due to S. Dale High's demand that his "private" hotel be tax-exempt.
This project has already cost Lancaster City, Lancaster Township, and Lancaster County taxpayers a significant amount of money. The only question that remains is how much more will it cost all of us to keep the hotel and convention center in operation.
Friday, November 21, 2008
The moral outrage at the 'big institutions' by people who wouldn't even be paying attention of they lived somewhere else gets very tiring. Yes, F and M and LGH are oppressing you. But you are just fine with shouting down a project that would benefit not just those institutions but the city itself.
First, if this project is so desperately needed by Norfolk-Southern, why are they only contributing $2 million to the project? That is the least amount of any of the "partners".
Second, if this project is only about the rail yard, why are F&M and LGH involved at all? Why isn't Norfolk-Southern paying the whole $42 million price tag?
Third, since F&M and LGH both will benefit and gain land from this deal, and since F&M has a sizable endowment and many benefactors and wealthy alums, and since LGH is a non-profit that annually posts profits in excess of $100 million, why are they not simply picking up the whole tab on this project? Why burden the taxpayers for any part of this project, since it is these three partners and only these three partners who will benefit from it?
Last, why have public officials and newspaper "investigative" reporters not asked these questions, but have instead simply accepted the financial formula floated by this triumvirate? (F&M and LGH each contribute $6 million, N-S contributes a mere $2 million, and the taxpayers "contribute" $28 million.)
Thursday, November 20, 2008
While I see SOME value in sports - it's my feeling that the emphasis placed on sports has created false realities and dreams for many. The result of this poor prioritization is a de-emphasis on academics and the fleeting stardom of many.
Kids should be told that they will advance in life because of education - not because they can toss a ball into a hoop.
Monday, November 17, 2008
The fact that 50% of all Latinos drop out of school before graduation is not a local problem. I graduated from McCaskey many years ago and have been teaching in New York for nearly fifteen years. My high school is 80% Latino and the dropout rate is even higher than 50%. And we have great competitive sports.
Yes, sports teams can help keep students in school -- to a minimal degree. But the real problem lies with the Latino value system -- their attitude toward education and their community.
As long as we remain politically correct by encouraging diversity to the point that groups become entrenched in a system of system of exclusion the high dropout rate will continue. What needs to be done is to teach the values of mainstream America and encourage all groups to join American society as equal and informed members.
Yes, there are standard American values which need to be taught. I've done it as an English and English as a Second Language teacher. It's very difficult to do this in New York. However, Lancaster is in a much better position to do so.
I suggest that you start by providing instruction on American values in the classroom to the students and at community centers and churches where you can help the Latino parents better understand the society they have chosen to enter.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
He twice failed in business ventures before finding his enormous success. During the height of the Depression, he built an entire community funded with the profits of his business success. And at the height of his success, he bequeathed his fortune to endow a school for the education and training of children from broken homes. The Milton Hershey School prospers and grows today from the wisdom and foresight of its founder nearly 80 years ago.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
Big business needs fuel, money. Projects can get approved and allocated much faster than the current form of government that has checks and balances in place. This has been planned since Lancaster Alliance has run into road blocks as well as special interest groups.
No matter what happens, the money is all dried up from the state and federal level. We the tax papers are going to pay dearly this if it get passed.
If Lancaster votes it in, other counties will follow. The big money will be able to be allocated more freely for at least 5 years. At that time the charter will be able to be amended.
I have a completely different perspective. Call it the ego-factor.
Ask anyone what periodicals they read, while you take notes. A good percentage will answer,The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or one of the Lancaster
Newspapers. Hardly any will tell you they regularly read The National Enquirer.
Ask what TV shows they let their children watch, and you will be told PBS shows, not the Saturday morning cartoons, and almost everyone will tell you that they watch PBS as well, even if what they really watch is WWE and reality stuff.
People tell pollsters what they think pollsters want to hear, regardless of how they really voted. It is a secret ballot for a reason. And people vote their gut, but
when asked, you may or may not get a completely truthful response. They do not want to be judged for their choice, they don't want to feel stupid, or uninformed, they do not want to have to defend their choice, so they give the easiest answer, perhaps the least controversial answer.
Polling is notoriously inaccurate. That has nothing to do with election irregularities. It has everything to do with human irregularities.
Specifically, is it legal for the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which represents the interests of business, to spend a reported $100,000 in an attempt to get people to vote in favor of replacing the charter of Lancaster County government?
If the Lancaster Chamber was spending this amount of money to promote a candidate, there would be serious questions raised. Why should this issue be treated any differently?
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Because of the serious problems with voting machines, failure to count provisional ballots or absentee ballots, spoiled ballots and other issues, it is quite possible that the exit poll is actually more accurate than the vote count! (It has been estimated that approximately 4 million votes were cast but not counted in the last election.)
The purpose of the alert below is to have the unadjusted polls saved, shared with the public and, if they are changed, having a public explanation provided as well as to have the unadjusted exit polls preserved.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
little sad. The Post was not a great paper. But then again, great papers are not built in 6 short months. It had its very interesting pieces,especially the Side by Side feature which offered both sides on a current, relevant issue of the day.
Unfortunately, The Post included more than its share of filler. Is Lancaster just burning to know how people meet and marry?
Is there really a dearth of recipes in the kitchens of our fair town? Do we need a puzzle page in an already brief number of pages?
More unfortunate was the amount of time and space devoted to the dramas involving the publishers themselves. Interesting? Sure, on a salacious level. But self-
serving stories are not enough to build a regular reader base willing to trek off to a little red box every week.
And if the focus of the publishers does not shift toward real news with broader appeal to its readers, the online version will be no more successful.
You make a great observation when you say that for the first time funds committed to the CC are hurting a key public resource in Lancaster City. [The library renovation and expansion] is just the first of a long line of worthy projects and initiatives that will not be taken on because we have mortgaged our future on a project with none.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
WOW, what a powerful message from someone who states the obvious! The Lancaster Library offers so much to the citizens of Lancaster and there was an opportunity to bring the facility up to the standards of many modern libraries. I feel strongly that once our community realizes that the Board failed to take advantage of the funds and leadership offered, many will be outraged.
I suggest it's time to consider some changes with some of the board members who are not as dedicated and knowledgeable about accomplishing what is easily achieved by experienced and accomplished individuals of our community.
Shame on the six that just didn't get it.
Have the six naysayer board members ever actually patronized the library, other than showing up for a board meeting? Do they check out books, do research, use the microfiche machines, use the restrooms - ever?
Yes, this is a tough environment in which to do fund raising. Yes, it may have been necessary to arrange a temporary loan from the endowment fund. Yes, it may have been more difficult to raise the balance of the funds post construction. But...don't these board members believe enough in their organization to make a commitment to do whatever it takes? If not, maybe they should give up their seats to community members who do.
I too feel sorry for Mrs. Field. I feel even worse for the families and kids who won't benefit from a modern facility.
Print editions are all going the way of the dinosaur sooner or later. It could happen as soon as something like OLED thin-film flexible displays come on the market, probably some time in the next five years. At that point, displays could be routinely put on any surface, or carried like a folded sheet of paper in your pocket. Internet web browsers will be literally everywhere. Paper will be superfluous, even a nuisance.
At that point, the media, how people read, and how we keep track of it all could change dramatically and very quickly.
I guess if it doesn't involve High and huge public grants it just doesn't get done. Or maybe the timing of a key go/no go decision was bad.
I feel sorry for Karen Field.
For example, consider this passage from the proposed "home rule" charter:
*Section 6.02 Subjects of Initiative.
a. Each proposed ordinance shall be germane to County government and limited to one subject which shall be clearly expressed in its title.
b. The power of initiative shall not extend to the current budget or capital program, to the appropriation of capital program, or to the salaries of those employees of the County in collective bargaining agreements.
c. An initiative seeking to limit tax increases shall be permitted only when an increase in the rate of any tax proposed by the County for the upcoming year equals or exceeds seven (7) percent of that imposed during the previous year.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The provision for referendums is very important - no more convention centers, Conestoga View real estate giveaways, or ill-conceived YICs. Also - more efficient, less political management of county government.
Power to the people!
Monday, October 27, 2008
FYI, the largest venue in the Lehigh Valley now is the Holiday Inn, so in Lancaster we already have several more venues to accommodate large groups than the megopolis of Allentown Bethlehem Easton.
The reason for the demise of the Convention Center (off I - 78) is lack of business.
Real estate sales that were brisk months back are absolutely stale. Looming in the background is the over anxious investors that want this 'child' to be born; the pregnancy is well overdue. Unfortunately the marketing team of the hotel and convention center are coming up with events and bookings that will not generate big spenders.
Out in the county the old Holiday Inn is in trouble; tourism and meetings are way down.
As the economy tightens, crime rises, seniors and event goers to the Fulton question night trips to the City.
All the money being poured into the Home Rule situation is due to the desperate special interest groups that need to keep the merry go round going. Unfortunately the money from Harrisburg is drying up; yet the Chamber as well as some of the Lancaster Alliance members need to keep the ball rolling. The tax payer is
going to get the shaft royally one way or the other.
Where has all the conservative Lancaster County people gone? Is this recession/depression going to wake them up?
Sunday, October 26, 2008
When the news first broke about these plans, I drove into the Barrcrest neighborhood to see first-hand why the rail yard relocation was opposed by many homeowners. When I saw the well-kept homes in the $500,000 market range, I could not believe that an institution like F&M that purports to be "a good neighbor" and a benefit to the community, would even consider putting a rail yard, one that may have as many as 16 tracks, into this nice residential area.
A similar idea from a Talkback correspondent, who said that he would not personally be affected by the Rail yard Relocation, recently posted the following comment on Lancaster Online: "Because of our location, it is six of one and half dozen of the other as to distance from us. But a rail yard the size of this one does not belong at this location. Norfolk Southern had no plans whatsoever for a rail yard here. This was an F&M proposal to free up their own backyard. LGH is going along for the ride with their partner on the Armstrong land deal, and Norfolk -Southern said, "What do we get out of it?" when John Fry wanted the tracks removed from behind College Row. That is evidenced by how little Norfolk-Southern is contributing to the project."
After reading this, I checked to see just how little Norfolk-Southern is paying. Out of the total $42 million dollar cost, Norfolk-Southern is paying only $2 million. F&M, who will gain the most land from the deal, is paying $6 million. LGH is matching F&M with $6 million of its own money. Taxpayers will foot the remainder of the bill, a cool sum amounting to $28 million. They will pay this even though they have had absolutely no say in the project.
But the principal reason to oppose relocating the rail yard to Barrcrest is the location. A rail yard and an upscale residential neighborhood are not a good mix.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
That changed tonight as I read your article titled "F&M's John Fry continues to hide from interviews. By the time I got to the end of the piece, I was checking the calendar -- no, it isn't April Fool's Day -- then checking which website I was on -- no, not Lancaster Post.
Did you REALLY thank them for not having the F&M security guards mug you as they did Ron Harper?
Did you really tell them you would refer to Fry as "Johnny" if they all continue to refer to you as "Bob"?
Well done. My hat is off to you.
Mr. Fry and his staff certainly did not do their PR training with Dale Carnegie, did they? It does make you wonder if the Board of Trustees have any clue the kind of face Mr. Fry and his crew are putting on the F&M brand.
Just a thought from another "suspicious" letter writer ...
Thursday, October 23, 2008
The thing that ticks me off is when I'm driving down King Street and thugs walk out in front of me thinking their [sic] bigger than my half-ton truck.
Please continue to work to ensure that this policy is taught to our children. And thank you for being a powerful voice of reason in this "War on Drugs" environment.
Editor's note: That has been our understanding but we can give no assurance. Part of the tragedy of treating illegal drugs as a criminal justice rather than a public health matter is that medical authorities are inhibited about speaking out. The result is unnecessary but all too common deaths from over doses.
To learn more about the proposed Charter and how it will impact County government, please visit our website at www.citizensforhomerule.org or visit the website the official Government Study Commission’s website at www.homeruleinfo.com.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Among his fixed benefit pension would definitely be US House pension, PA legislature pension, school teacher pension, and possibly a military payment as well as, of course, Social Security for periods when he worked under FICA. This guy has to be exposed for what he is.
Now that the lawyers are involved in the matter, the newspapers will be obligated to publish the news to the citizens.
Will Lancaster Newspapers publish the facts and questions presented by Mr. Cluck? Or will this information be obscured in a story that purports to be objective but is actually slanted toward F&M, as has happened in the past with news stories involving F&M?
Do we want to look back and wish we had not changed our county government?
Lancaster County has the lowest taxes per capita (person). Vote NO to home rule.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Early drafts of this charter clearly spelled out that the "county executive" was actually the administrative branch of Lancaster County government, and specifically used the term "checks and balances" to describe their role. If the county administrator were to have duties similar to the current county administrator, there would be nothing to complain about; however, this proposed charter greatly expands the county administrator's duties, while significantly reducing the responsibilities of the county commissioners.
This is why I oppose this proposed charter; a "county administrator" with such extensive duties must be elected, not appointed.
I also believe "county commissioners" should be chosen by district, not "at large".
And the "citizen initiative" in the current proposal is nothing more than an empty promise.
Besides, the charter's limits on "citizen initiative" render it impotent in most cases. Observe this quote from the proposed "home rule" charter, page 18:
"*Section 6.02 Subjects of Initiative.*
a. Each proposed ordinance shall be germane to County government and limited to one subject which shall be clearly expressed in its title.
b.The power of initiative shall not extend to the current budget or capital program, to the appropriation of money under the current budget or capital
program, or to the salaries of those employees of the County in collective
Had there been a "home rule" charter like this one been in place during 1999 or 2003, this passage would have prevented a "citizen initiative" from blocking either the hotel and convention center project, its financing, or the "hotel tax".
As head of the Lancaster Alliance, Tom Baldrige was the individual most responsible for pushing the hotel and convention center project. As head of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tom Baldrige has been the individual most responsible for pushing the "home rule" proposal, immediately following the County Commissioners' legitimate questioning of the financing plan behind the hotel and convention center project. And Tom Baldrige is in the center of the Lancaster Chamber's current push to pursuade people to vote in favor of the currently proposed "home rule" charter.
As county administrator, Mr. Baldrige would be in the perfect position to lubricate the wheels of Lancaster County government in favor of the interests of the big businesses that he has been promoting. Since the county administrator under the current "home rule" proposal would be appointed, not elected, an individual could conceivably serve in that position for decades. After all, who in a position of power would dare to question Mr. Baldrige's "qualifications" for the job?
That being said - the home rule charter FINALLY gives the citizens the power to modify and force issues on the ballot where the PEOPLE can make the call. Additionally - unlike now - home rule can allows the PEOPLE to alter their government. If we don't like what we get - just change it!
Now the people have to rely on the Pete Shaub's (sic) to make a change and we saw how well that worked!
These personal attacks on people are getting really old and dragging down what could be a great alternative newspaper...
Ron has made so many enemies in Lancaster that almost no one takes him seriously anymore. So thanks for hitting the nail on the head.
The weaker party will never have a say in our County if home rule gets in.
Bottom line, home rule will not extablish a government that is more responsive to the taxpayer, it will benefit the private interests.
The Chamber of Commerce is like a network group. They need each other to survive. It promotes projects to keep the companies going. The little guy is left out of that group altogether.
Friday, October 17, 2008
2) "Looks like it should be homeruleGRUMBLE.com"
3) "If 'home rule' is passed, there will be a lot more than just grumbling a few
years from now. People will wish for a return on the 'good old days' of Pete Shaub."
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Clearly Rick Gray has studied at the Jim Pickard and the Ted Darcus School of Public Policy!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Fry dismissed TRRAAC’s research with one short sentence, "This is really incompetent". Also, Fry was quoted as saying that he questions TRRAAC’s "credibility and capability". He emphasized this point by saying, "Anything in the future that TRRAAC puts out has to be met with immediate skepticism and disbelief."
Later in the story, regarding a statement by Cluck about F&M’s "cozy" relationship with DEP and PennDOT officials, Fry was quoted as saying, "That is clearly a false accusation." Fry summarized his position by saying that TRRAAC "should retract everything that was said and apologize to the neighborhood."
Orris’ statements were as "over the top" as those of Fry. Orris said, "It appears that Mr. Cluck is just making things up as he goes along." Orris dismissed Cluck’s dump site statements as being "disingenuous and again intentionally misleading". The final quote of the story was Orris’ saying that Cluck "can’t admit to his wrongdoing."
Why did Brubaker, a veteran writer for the New Era, use these overblown quotes from Fry and Orris? Could it be that Brubaker may have figured that the reader would be able to see through this hyperbolism, like the little boy in Hans Christian Anderson’s "The Emperor’s New Clothes"? As Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Editor's Reply: Without reference to this specific situation, often organization create boards of a score of local luminaries to impress and facilitate. When there are so many people on the baord, few if any take the time or effort to provide proper oversight. That is except when they or their organization will benefit from the organization's activities. Thus the scene is set for abuse.
These misconceptions are: (1) the entire area that was formerly used as a city dump will be cleaned-up and (2) F&M is paying for all of the clean-up.
The facts are: Only part of the city dump is planned for clean-up and the taxpayer – not F&M - is paying for most of it.
I wonder if the New Era will step up and acknowledge that they too panicked and foolishly endorsed a plan that brighter minds than theirs believe has
little chance of success.
Editor's note: Fortunately, likely due in part to pressure from the rebellious House Republicans (whose actions the New Era twice labeled "despicable"), the final bill allows flexibility that is permitting the redirection of funds from purchasing securities to better capitalizing banks, and in a manner that should enable the public to recoup its investment and possibly even profit.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Mayor Gray should be asked these questions: Was there a request, to whom and for what amount of rent to the city. Who put it there? Was there any city monies used to prepare or move this on? A city resident needs to ask these questions at a council meeting.
Unfortunately it is probably going to be another project like West Side with LGH and F & M, the convention center, and, of late, the Norfolk Southern relocation. All these projects have been tacitly approved and funded behind closed doors and made public after the fact.
We duped taxpayers are constantly herded into the project AFTER it has been a DONE DEAL thinking there still is a chance to have a fair an open meeting. Bull Crap!
We are absolutely not different from any other area in this country except that we do not have citizens that want to speak up, get involved and rock the boat. Those that do are considered crazy or trouble makers, while the mayor and commissioners continue to support their pet projects without any consideration to the taxpayers having to pick up the tab.
I am concerned that this streetcar is being openly displayed on a Lancaster City owned piece of property. This makes it appear that the Lancaster City government is openly supporting the streetcar project. The truth is, this issue has come before Lancaster City Council only once (at a committee meeting in 2007), and only for informational purposes.
Does the Mayor of Lancaster have the right to allow a "private" corporation like the Lancaster Streetcar Co. to put on a public display on Lancaster City owned property?
Friday, October 10, 2008
The arrogance of Keith Orris, who is second in command to John Fry, was made evident by his quote in this morning’s paper: "(TRRAAC) have so discredited themselves it is our belief that anything they do from here on out has to be met with immediate disbelief and skepticism," Orris said.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
The Rail Road Action & Advisory Committee (TRRAAC) should be commended for their efforts in dissuading this relocation. But, why am I so sure that this relocation will occur?
Because in Lancaster, there are three things that can always be counted on to happen: (1)death, (2)taxes and (3)the fact that "The Big Five" (Franklin & Marshall, Lancaster General Hospital, The High Group, The Fulton Bank and Lancaster Newspapers) always get their way.
In this case, the switching yard relocation would directly benefit Franklin & Marshall and Lancaster General Hospital (and I am sure that the three other members of "The Big Five" would eventually gain financial benefit from this transaction). The citizens of Lancaster County can gather and discuss alternative sites and plans for the relocation, but face it fellow citizens of Lancaster County, the switching yard relocation will occur as it is currently planned.
The tenet of local decision-making is always in line with the inevitable granting of the desires and wishes of "The Big Five".
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Perhaps the reason many news outlets carry more from the TRRAAC perspective is that TRRAAC holds public meetings and actually invites participation and input, and is open and honest it all their communications both with the citizens and with the
press. Since most of F&M's planning is done privately, in-house, is not open to the public, and does not include the press until all their plans are done, finished, and set in stone, it is a little unreasonable to blame the press for the silence.
I would be remiss if I failed to also mention that F&M has banned Ron Harper and the Lancaster Post from campus eliminating one of the two alternative news outlets from reporting anything about them, leaving only NewsLanc to present an alternative to
Lancaster Newspapers. TRRAAC seems to welcome all news coverage and seems to want to maintain a good relationship with all press outlets.
Did Newslanc try to call John Fry or anyone else from F&M for comment? I realize Newslanc and other self-style truth tellers think they're giving a more fair and balanced account, but your reports are as one sided as the newspaper reports, just from the other side.
Finally, the Traacc people might want to consider that all the pollution on the dump site is now seeping into their groundwater but if F&M redeveloped the site it would have to clean it up as part of the process, meaning that in the long run the Farmindale Road environment would actually be cleaner than it is now.
Editor's response: We have recently posted "F & M's response to TRRAAC's alternatives" under News & Commentary. We also provided a link to F & M's relevant web page.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Forget the grant money that trickles down from Federal to State to County to Municipality. Forget the promises from the State and the County.
We are going to see tax hikes on all levels because of all the spend and tax mentallity over the years.
You may recall that several major news organizations examined the "hanging chad" ballots in Florida and eventually concluded that the certified results were basically correct. (It may have meant that many of the voters were basically incompetent or could not deal with the ballots, but there was no election fraud.) Of course that was not a big story, so the media largely ignored it.
Pretty much the same thing happened in Ohio in '04. Lots of noise from the left, and plenty of conspiracy theories, but no facts. Plenty of wishful thinking, but no facts. Sheesh.
Then there was an ACTUAL case of apparent election fraud in Washington state 2 years ago. But since it was perpetrated by the Democrats, I guess that wasn't newsworthy either.
(Washington, D.C.) – Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) today issued the following statement in response to the New Jersey Superior Court's failure to release the report of computer security experts describing what they found in their analysis of two of the voting machines of the type used in 18 of New Jersey's 21 counties.
"It is regrettable that the report, due by court order to be released on Thursday, has been suppressed at the request of the voting system vendor. Clearly, if the report vindicated the equipment, the vendor would be eager for it to be released. The fact that the vendor requested that it not be released suggests it does not want New Jersey voters to know what it says about the equipment – equipment that failed in the Primary, resulting in the inspection order.
The Court's decision is very troubling, as it leaves voters with virtually no choice but to conclude that there is something wrong with the machines, that the vendor does not want us to know what it is, and that the court is allowing it to be kept secret."
It is clear that F&M is not budging and no amount of reason will get them off their predetermined course. The only possible avenue for alternatives is litigating to stop them. I know this is costly and a long shot but it is unfortunately your only shot.
I will be the first to acknowledge that we are on overly litigious society that is ingrained daily with the wrong messages regarding personal responsibility and liablilty; however, when dealing with an adversary that quite honestly could care less about its neighbors…litigation is the only alternative left.
My advice to F&M opposing neighbors…you better get yourseolves some high powered counsel from outside of Lancaster County or insualted replacement windows to keep the train noise out.
Monday, October 6, 2008
At the state level they are apparently saying they can send out a hash to verify software because "no one ever asked for it and we don't have a protocol." At the county level, counties are running some automated L & A tests and think they are doing serious testing.
Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) claims to run Parallel Testing but it's being done in an undisclosed location by an undisclosed "accounting firm" being paid an undisclosed amount to do so. And all these officials seem to think they know more than the national computer experts who have called these machines insecure and poorly-designed.
As they say in Star Wars, pay no attention to that nutball over there.... these voting machines are fiiiiinnnnnne...
Editor's note: A source explained to us that "L & A" and "Parallel Testing" are both methods of testing the machines. L and A is logic and accuracy testing used to test the software and hardware of computer voting machines. During the testing of the electronic voting process, testers cast ballots that mirror the current election from a pre‐determined "matrix". When they finish voting the entire matrices, the tabulations must be a perfect match in order for the equipment to pass the L & A test.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
As the only four-star property of significant size in the marketplace this "private" hotel was to be different and the other hotels were supposed to embrace it in that regard. As soon as the tax was passed, the language changed.
The reality is that there was never any intention to build (from a facilities standpoint) or operate (from a services standpoint) a four-star property...anyone with even the most basic knowledge of the business knew that this was far from economic reality.
Since this property will now have the same rating as all newly built properties within the county, they will use terms like I mentioned before in an attempt to differentiate themselves.
From what I understand: The county was losing money, as were other counties around the state, and there were lawsuits after lawsuits [over care] that the county settled for many, many years with no end in site...
There was a buyer that was willing to pay the appraised value...
The county is not [losing money over Conestoga View] any longer AND on top of that taxes are now being paid to the county/city.
The county/city and employees and residents were winners here... the winners are yet to be known with the convention center... but the design appears to be that PSP, LNP, Dale High are the winners financial.
The agreement was not a public as it should have been, but NO one did this to gain financially personally - unlike the convention center agreements.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
TO: Citizens of the 16th Congressional District of Pennsylvania
FROM: Congressman Joe Pitts
DATE: Friday, October 3, 2008
RE: H.R. 1424, The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008
Today I voted against The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act because I felt it attempted to do the right thing the wrong way. America is facing a credit crisis. It needed to be addressed quickly and well. Congress has acted quickly, but it has not acted well.
This crisis began in 1995 when the government began pressuring lenders to give mortgages to high-risk borrowers in order to increase homeownership in America . This created a new market for lenders who soon rushed to make as much money as possible by inducing people who could only afford small houses to buy large ones instead. In other words, this crisis began with the government botching an attempt to do something good. It should not have ended that way as well.
This week, Congress had an opportunity to try again to do this correctly. Instead, the Senate sent the House a bill full of tax breaks for special interests, unrelated provisions, and only minor improvements. Instead of earning more votes by improving the bill, the Senate bill bought votes by adding “sweeteners.”
The crisis we are facing is real. However, in this country I believe market problems should be addressed with market-based solutions. This bill is a big-government approach that increases the federal debt limit to $11.3 trillion, in order to create a quick fix. It gives unprecedented power to the federal bureaucracy. There are no reforms in this bill to correct the mistakes that caused this crisis. It does not address the basic problem. It does not adequately protect the taxpayer.
I and a great number of my colleagues advocated for a plan focused on market-based asset insurance, changes to the tax code, regulatory reform, and protections for homeowners and taxpayers. Unfortunately, our advice was not taken.
The bill does increase FDIC insurance limits, which should help. The Securities and Exchange Commission is reportedly also planning to alter the much-discussed “mark-to-market” accounting rules. That will also help. The bill passed today will probably have the desired effect of encouraging markets and removing “toxic” assets that are “clogging” credit markets. American workers and American businesses are the best in the world. We will make it through this crisis, and we will return to prosperity.
I do want you to know, however, what I and so many colleagues in Congress would have done if we had had the chance to offer an alternative for a vote in Congress. Following is a summary of provisions our alternative would have contained. I will continue to advocate for these actions and reforms.
Representing you in Congress is a tremendous honor. It is also many times a tremendous challenge. The economic problems we face today are complex and difficult. Two thousand of you reached out to me over the last week to let me know what you thought. While calls came in on both sides of the issue, the overwhelming majority of you opposed this legislation. Regardless of your position, I was gratified to hear from so many of you. The principled arguments you made encouraged me and reminded me of the fundamental wisdom of our system of government. Democracy works.
What the Government Should Do
1. Create an Insurance Program
Instead of buying assets, the Treasury should insure the bad assets of banks and investors by:
1. Stabilizing Financial Markets: Require that the Department of Treasury to create an insurance program to guarantee losses up to 100 percent, resulting from the failure of timely payment and interest from mortgage-backed securities (MBS) originated prior to the date of enactment. Such insurance would provide immediate value to the securities and a foundation for which they could then be sold.
2. Creating Risk-Based Premiums: Direct the Treasury Department to assess a premium on outstanding MBS to finance this insurance program. Participation in the program would be mandatory for all holders of such MBS in order to guard against adverse selection where only the holders of troubled assets participate. A risk-based premium would be assessed on those with troubled MBS to ensure those who have acted irresponsibly have to pay more than those who have acted responsibly. The premium would expire when the Treasury Secretary determines the fund has sufficient resources to meet any projected losses.
3. Currently the federal government insures approximately half of all mortgage backed securities (MBS). We can insure the rest of current outstanding MBS; however, rather than taxpayers funding insurance, the holders of these assets should pay for it. The Treasury Department can design a system to charge premiums to the holders of MBS to fully finance this insurance.
2. Create a Loan Program
Congress should work with the President, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to set up an additional loan program for failing financial institutions that would:
- Grant the Fed the authority to lend to financial institutions: The Fed currently has $400 billion in cash that they could inject into the market place. This money could be infused into the market immediately and would allow banks to free up existing capital.
- Reform FDIC Regulations: Congress should authorize the FDIC to backstop the Fed’s loans by ensuring more capital. Additional FDIC insurance would shore up confidence in banks and keep people from losing their savings.
- Keep the Federal Government out of the market: Fed loans to failing financial institutions should be backed by sell-only stock warrants. Backing government loans with sell-only stock warrants will be allow the government to recoup its investment and prevent it from controlling a private institution.
- When the government stepped in to rescue AIG, the government made a loan at an interest rate similar to what most people pay on their credit cards. The government also received sell-only stock warrants as collateral for their loan. In this arrangement, AIG is able to continue meeting the needs of the market place while the government is in a strong position to recoup its investment. Additionally, bureaucrats in will not be able to control AIG because of their sell-only stock warrant arrangement.
3. Restructure the Tax Code
Congress should act immediately to increase private capital in the marketplace by reducing taxes to critical sectors of the economy:
- Two-Year Suspension of the Capital Gains Tax: Immediately suspend the capital gains rate from 15 for percent individuals and 35 percent for corporations. By encouraging corporations to sell unwanted assets, this provision would unleash funds and materials with which to create jobs and grow the economy. After the two-year suspension, capital gains rates would return to present levels but assets would be indexed permanently for any inflationary gains.
- Net Operating Losses: Allow companies to carry-back losses arising in tax years ending in 2007, 2008, or 2009 back 5 years, generating a tax refund and immediate capital. Despite the presence of willing buyers, many firms with MBS are not willing to sell at such a huge loss. This carry-back would provide cushion for any such loss, making firms more willing sellers.
- Repatriation Infusion: Allow a repatriation window for profits earned by U.S. firms overseas. Such repatriation amounts would be taxed at 0 percent if invested in distressed debt (as defined by Treasury) for at least one year.
- Bank Losses on GSE Stock: Allow banks to treat losses on shares of preferred stock in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as ordinary losses, not as capital losses.
- Instead of injecting taxpayer capital into the market to produce liquidity, private capital can be drawn into the market by removing regulatory and tax barriers that are currently blocking private capital formation. Too much private capital is sitting on the sidelines during this crisis.
4. Reform Market Regulations
The SEC and Congress should immediately act to increase Transparency, Oversight, and Market Reform by:
1. Limiting Executive Compensation: Require the Treasury to write rules prohibiting excessive compensation or golden parachutes to executives of failed companies at the expense of taxpayers.
2. Reforming the Credit Rating Agencies: Call on the SEC to review the performance of the Credit Rating Agencies and their ability to accurately reflect the risks of these failed investment securities.
3. Modifying Fair Value Accounting (Eliminate Mark-to-Market Rule): Fair Value Accounting dictates that financial institutions holding financial instruments available for sale (such as mortgage-backed securities) must mark those assets to market. Currently, there is no meaningful market for mortgage backed securities. Asset value should not be assessed at unrealistic fire-sale prices. Regulators must evaluate the assets on the basis of their true economic value. The SEC should exercise its immediate ability to suspend fair value accounting standards as applied to mortgage backed securities. The mark-to-market rule can be suspended for six months and then replaced with a more accurate three year rolling average mark-to-market.
4. Repealing Sarbanes-Oxley: Sarbanes-Oxley failed with Freddy Mac. It failed with Fannie Mae. It failed with Bear Stearns. It failed with Lehman Brothers. It failed with AIG. It is crippling our entrepreneurial economy. Many more firms would be able to go public if the law was repealed. It is Sarbanes-Oxley’s $3 million per startup annual accounting fee that is keeping these companies private.
5. Ending “Naked” Short Selling: In recent years the SEC has lifted restraints on short sellers of stock to allow “naked selling” (when a broker does not in fact borrow shares to deliver to the buyer) and to eliminate the requirement that short sellers could sell only on an uptick in the market. The SEC has temporarily restricted short sells on financial stocks. To prevent artificial price volatility, there should be no naked short sales and short sales should only take place when there are upticks in the market.
6. Creating a Blue Ribbon Panel: A blue ribbon panel with representatives of Treasury, SEC, and the Fed should make recommendations to Congress for reforms of the financial sector by January 1, 2009. (This has in large part, already been accomplished by Treasury, which produced the “Department of Treasury Blueprint for a Modernized Financial Regulatory Structure” in the spring of 2008. We should take its suggestions seriously)
7. Reforming GSEs: Since Congress chartered Freddie Mae in 1938 and Freddie Mac in 1970, these two Government-Sponsored Enterprises have consumed a lion’s share of the market, undermining the housing market and jeopardizing the economy. Congress must learn from its mistakes by reforming these GSEs and limiting Federal exposure to high risk loans. Freddie and Fannie should never again be allowed to securitize the unsound mortgages created by the greed on and poor policies in Washington .
8. Reforming CRA: In 1993 President Clinton advocated for changes to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). These proposals were adopted by 1997, and had the disastrous effect of encouraging lending agencies to offer irresponsible mortgages that people could not afford. Congress should reform CRA and stop encouraging irresponsible lending practices.
5. Helping Homeowners
Congress should implement measures to encourage responsible homeownership and decreased mortgage foreclosures:
1. Tax Credits: Congress should provide additional tax credits for purchasing homes.
2. Assistance to Homeowners: Provide assistance to homeowners who have been caught up in the current mortgage crisis and are trying to save their homes by extending the Cancellation of Mortgage Indebtedness Forgiveness. In a foreclosure proceeding or write-down of principal on a mortgage, the forgiven debt is considered taxable income. The “Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007,” P.L. 110-142, excludes debt forgiven before the end of 2009 from taxable income. The proposal extends this treatment for 3 years, through 2012. It does not extend the relief to home equity loans.
Rep. Joseph Pitts (PA-16)