The Myth of Home ownership in PA (2011)   

       It was once said, “That a man’s home is his castle.”  Today a man’s home is his rental property.  Unfortunately for us the government is the landlord.  In Pennsylvania you will never truly own your own home. 

       The property tax prevents the home owner from being secure in his or her home.  Failure to pay can result in the government taking your home and putting it up for auction.  Want to invest in improving your home?  Your new assessment will have you paying for the improvement for years.  When you finally pay off your home you will need to put aside hundreds of dollars a month to pay local, school and county taxes.

       For those on a fixed income the choice may no longer be between food and medicine; it could become a choice between food, medicine, or a place to live.  Not to worry, your government cares for you. How do we know this? Because they tell us during each election cycle. In Pennsylvania we have the lottery that “Benefits older Pennsylvanians,” and the casino money that is benefiting property owners.  Perhaps the next step our leaders in Harrisburg will take is a daily lottery to see who can remain in their home. Just a $10 Daily House Lottery Ticket could keep you in your home. Proceeds benefit homeless Pennsylvanians.

       A possible solution could be the elimination of the property tax, and replace it by lower the sales tax and placing it on more items.  It is quite possible that money now being put aside to pay the property tax could be saved, invested or spent to spur the economy. The bottom line is that the decision will be made by the home owner, who will actually own their home.

Potholes (2011)

            Western Pennsylvania has much to offer a resident.  In fact, Pittsburgh is an excellent place to live, having been named the “Most Livable City” twice.  The area offers hunting and fishing, both just minutes away from downtown.  The city itself offers many different types of entertainment.  Pittsburgh has the Steelers, Pirates, Penguins and numerous colleges if you enjoy sports.  If you’re not a big sports fan, come downtown and visit the zoo, the Buhl Science Center, Heinz Hall, the Carnegie Museum or the Warhol Museum.  However if you dare to venture in to the fair city be warned, these are some of the worst roads in the country, as well as, pothole capital of the world.   There is cost effective solution that could turn Pittsburgh into the most drivable city by simply using a willow we can end the weeping.

            As the seasons change in Allegheny County the residents don’t need a calendar.  Sure there are the regular seasons; spring, summer, fall and winter, but the one that brings out the worst in the local citizens is pothole season. Unfortunately, we are famous for our potholes, some are rumored to have swallowed entire cars, there is no real proof to back that claim.  Route 51 heading south to Elizabeth had so many potholes one season that it was called the “Burma Road.”  One year there was a pothole on Route 65, in Avalon, that measured eight feet long and three feet wide.

            It has been suggested that the main cause of the pothole problem is the weather.  The snow or rain, freezes on the road, then melts and re-freezes under the road causing the nasty pothole.  However, I would argue that the problem is the clay under the road.  The clay holds moisture under the road all year and when the temperature changes, regardless of snow or rain, the road starts to bubble or break as the clay freezes.  So it really doesn’t matter what type of road surface is used or, for that matter, what type of drainage system is used under the road.  The real problem is the water being held in the clay.

            A simple, cost effective and environmentally friendly solution to the problem is Weeping Willow trees.  A Weeping Willow is a fast growing tree that absorbs gallons of water.  The tree searches for water in the surrounding area and grows well in all types of ground conditions.  I would suggest finding a two mile area along a well traveled road in the Allegheny County area and plant several Weeping Willow trees on both sides.  If the program works, the trees could be planted along sections of road throughout Pennsylvania, at about the cost of $18.45 per tree.

            The savings made by not having to continually work on the same stretches of road would free up money to make the necessary repairs to the roads in the cities.  Where possible Weeping Willows, or other similar trees, could be planted in suitable areas in the cities to see if this project could succeed in a downtown area.  Given the poor reputation of our roads and the environmental concerns of the time, the Weeping Willow project could enhance the reputation of the Pittsburgh area, as well as, put us in the forefront of creative change for road condition solutions.

Handicapped Parking (2015)

            I live in an apartment, and the stories I could tell, but today I want to address one of my pet peeves about my wonderful apartment complex, Stoney Creek. To say that parking is limited in my world would be an understatement. Often after returning home from a late night working, I’ve had to walk a quarter mile to my building.  While this is frustrating, it is not what has gotten under my skin.

            We often hear of the wonders of the Americans with Disabilities Act, better known as the ADA, and how it is helping the disabled.  I guess my landlord is still living in the 1940s; granted that’s how old my carpet is, but really, join the rest of the world.  My friend had a stroke and has difficulty walking and using her arm.

            We asked the landlord to designate a parking spot near her building, to make things a little more manageable. They did and painted the internationally recognized symbol for the disable in a parking spot. Granted it was blue, on black asphalt, and the size of a pizza pan, but what the heck. Problem solved, right? Not quite; no one could see it, and we spent much time contacting the landlord about the issue. The police were, well more about them later.

            I learned that to get a “real” handicap parking space for her, we had to buy the sign, which I did.  When it arrived, she took it to the office for them to put up.  She was informed she also needed to buy the hardware and pole to place it on. (I should mention that this is a standard at Stoney Creek if you need handicapped parking.) After purchasing that, it was grudgingly put up. Problem solved, right? Not really. You may find this hard to believe, but people are lazy and ignorant. I know, shocking!

            So you have a group of disabled apartment dwellers, each with their own purchased sign that has the parking permit number displayed for the entire world to see.  Recently, the situation has gotten worse, the allegedly normal people either can’t read or don’t care, or both, and have been parking in the disabled parking spots. There is nothing quite like watching someone with a disability struggle with a wheelchair through the snow covered lot, or a stroke victim trying to carry groceries a quarter mile to their apartment, while a healthy person hops out of their car and jogs into his apartment building. FYI-handicapped parking is not there to make your life easier, but for those who actually have a disability.

            Enter the protectors of the downtrodden, enforcers of the law, the Bethel Park Police Department. At first they would come and write a ticket for a sign violation, but after the second time down, things changed. First it was a private lot, and then it was the sign didn’t post a warning of being towed or fined, and then finally, it was the fact that the symbol on the ground wasn’t the correct size.  Basically, they couldn’t be bothered to “serve and protect.”

            As a result, if you come at the right time of the night, thanks to an ever caring landlord too cheap to put the “correct” signage up, and the less than zealous Bethel Park PD, you can watch a re-make of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, as the disabled struggle to get to their apartment buildings over a snow covered, icy, pothole filled, uneven parking lot.

            As for the police, of which I was one of years ago; if I hear I need to be understanding or sympathetic to their plight and difficulties of the job; all I’ll say is this, you’re only as good as the criminals you protect.


With Friends Like These . . . (2008)

(Not much has changed.)

          What is the problem with the Republicans of Allegheny County?  Why would Republicans challenge the validity of Republican nominating petitions?  Don’t the Democrats have their own loyalists and attorneys?  It is bad enough the Republicans can’t find a conservative candidate for president.  Do we need to try to knock off conservative candidates for local office?

            Are these “Republicans” satisfied with the quality of government we have in Harrisburg?  Obviously. It seems that the death of the Republican Party will not come from outside forces.  It will come from inside from Republicans that are happy with the status quo and don’t believe that the voters deserve a choice on Election Day. 

            It is a shame that members of a political party can not stay out of the way of the democratic process and allow a citizen, from their own party, the opportunity for run for office.  Pennsylvania politics has become a criminal enterprise thanks to the efforts of those who seek to disenfranchise the voters of this Commonwealth.  As fewer and fewer citizens step forward to jump the hurdles of the PA ballot process more and more people will leave the sinking ship that is Pennsylvania.

            In the end that is what many of the politicians and their minions want; absolute power that is corrupting absolutely.  

Let them Eat Cake

(01/30/13, What's changed?)

After reading Eric Heyl’s column Sunday (Just thought you’d like to know), I’d like to make a few suggestions to change the mess that is Harrisburg.

1) Slash the expense accounts of our elected officials. We, the great unwashed, have to live only on the paycheck we receive. It would seem that the geniuses in Harrisburg could also manage to live within their meager $83,000 (now $84,012 + $157 per day per diem) salaries. The average pay in Pennsylvania is $59,000 (now $55,000).

2) Given that the House and Senate were in session for only 67 and 59 days respectively; the legislature should become a part-time body, as in other states. Ninety days in Harrisburg would   seem to be more than adequate for our elected officials to continue their high standard of work. Of course the pay and benefits would be lowered accordingly. This change would save taxpayer’s money, inspire our elected leaders to get things done, have them return to their real jobs and live with the consequences of the laws they pass.

3) Scrap the tedious nominating petitions. The petition process is designed to keep citizens off the ballot and protect the political establishment.  Simply meeting age and residency requirements, as well as paying a reasonable fee to cover administrative costs would open the process to more people.  

Of course the royalty in Harrisburg would never make changes that might hurt them, especially when they can make cuts in education, health care, etc. The legislature’s attitude to the citizens of the Commonwealth can be heard in the words of Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake.”

Ballot Access Reform

Hoping for a Change

We often wonder why our government stinks, gets nothing done and basically takes us to the cleaners every year.   One reason is we get the government we vote for.   However this is only half the story.   As one who has slogged through the elements to gather signatures for myself and others, I can tell you that here is where the trouble starts.

If you manage to get the signatures needed in the brief window given, you then face the hurdle of having your petitions challenged by the opposing candidates, who are hiding behind the skirts of a friendly supporter.   It doesn't matter that you are qualified to run, that you have good ideas, want to serve your community or, dare I say, change the spirit of entitlement our legislative body feels is their birthright.

No! John Q. Public signed the petition John Public, so the signature goes, ditto marks were used on the petition, the date is smudged on another or perhaps someone put the wrong date.   The incumbents get their attorneys, paid for by the political party, to go line by line over every petition.   The candidate being challenged, often without the establishment's backing, is forced to decide if he, or she, wants to spend several thousands of dollars to fight the challenge.

Result, incumbents often run unopposed in primaries and general elections. Voters become disgusted and stop voting, future candidates decided not to run and voila, we get the great government now that represents the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

There has been talk in recent years to hold a Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention.   I don't favor this idea as it could open up a Pandora's Box of problems. However if it does ever come about the delegates in attendance, if they seek to reform government, need to ditch the petition process.   If Pennsylvania is to have free and fair elections we need candidates of all parties to be given the opportunity to be on the ballot. The voters need to decide elections not the entrenched party machines.

PA : Free and Fair Elections?

There was a time when men and women of great stature decided to run for elective office.  Many of these men and women would serve with distinction and return to private life. Today is not one of those times.  Studies show that fewer and fewer people are voting in elections.  Some believe it is a general apathy to the politics of the day that is turning people away from the voting booth.  Others believe that the politicians are corrupt and nothing that a voter does is going to change the government.   I believe that the problem in Pennsylvania is the difficulty candidates’ face in gaining ballot access to challenge the status quo.  The Pennsylvania Constitution states, “Elections shall be free and equal;” however the state has one of the most restrictive ballot access procedures in the country, disenfranchising voters and candidates alike.

There is nothing as frustrating as entering a voting booth on Election Day and seeing a slate of unopposed candidates.  Unless there is some general uprising, such as was the case with the Pennsylvania Legislature’s pay raise, there seems to be little motivation for the average citizen to stomp through the blustery weather in January and February to get on the ballot.  It is hard to believe that would-be candidates are required to collect signatures, as few as 10 or as many as 2000, in a four week period.  The rationale behind this system is that if a person is serious about a political run, getting signatures is a good test of a candidate’s dedication.  While it is true that incumbents must meet the same requirements; they already have a network in place to gather signatures. The reality is that for an upstart candidate, Republican or Democrat, he or she needs to have twice as many signatures as required to survive challenges to their nominating petitions.  

The petition problem is an even greater hurdle for a third party or independent candidates.  In the 2004 Presidential elections President Bush and Sen. John Kerry needed only 2,000 signatures, but Ralph Nader needed over 25,000.  Once he had collected over 50,000 signatures the Democratic Party challenged the petitions and succeeded in having Nader removed from the ballot.  Tom Barnes of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that,

“Commonwealth Court today issued its long-awaited decision on the independent presidential candidacy of Ralph Nader, ordering the consumer advocate off the ballot in Pennsylvania.  The court said it had reviewed 51,273 petition signatures submitted by Nader campaign workers and found only 18,818 were valid -- far short of the 25,697 valid names he needed to run for president in Pennsylvania.” 

Peter Jackson of the Boston Globe described one of the reasons for the ballot challenge, “Democrats have had mixed success in their effort to keep Nader off the ballot in battleground states where they fear he could siphon votes from Kerry.” Not that the Republicans are much better in supporting voter choice.  In the 2000 Presidential contest Patrick Buchanan faced similar challenges in Pennsylvania which he survived and remained on the ballot.  Of course both of the established parties argue that they are doing this for the voter’s benefit and eliminating candidates that are not serious contenders. Yet in the same breath, as noted earlier, both parties claim that collecting signatures is proof of a candidate’s seriousness.

If Pennsylvania’s election process is to be “free and fair” reform is needed.  Perhaps one of the better solutions to the ballot access problem here lies just across the border in Maryland. There, if interested citizens meet the age and residency requirements for the office they seek, all that is required is a filing fee.  According to Maryland Election Law for independent candidates,

“A candidate who seeks nomination by petition may not have the
candidate's name placed on the general election ballot unless the candidate
files with the appropriate board petitions signed by not less than 1% of the
total number of registered voters who are eligible to vote for the office for
which the nomination by petition is sought.”

With this system, the candidate’s filing fee is evidence of their intent to run for office.  If we reformed the system here, all citizens in Pennsylvania who are eligible, could simply pay the fee and start campaigning for office.  However, that is what the Democratic Party, Republican Party and career politicians’ fear.

            A system that opens the process up to the average citizen or increases competition in the primary and general election could lead to real change in the way the legislature in Harrisburg does business.  Elections should be about choices, or changes in direction and the current system fails to offer voters either.  The simple elimination of petitions, as per the Maryland system, would save countless man hours, free up the courts from signature challenges, and give candidates the opportunity to be heard.  Once a candidate is heard the voters can make an informed decision and choose the person who best represents their views. 

Groups such as The Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition are taking the battle to Harrisburg. The coalition was drafted a Voters Choice Act and is looking for sponsors in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Concerned citizens could contact this group or other like it to help open up the process. The Pennsylvania Constitution does not guarantee election victory; however, the terms “free and fair” do speak to the opportunity of the candidates to get on the ballot and the electorate to be afforded a choice in their government.

Budget Priorities 


            It is obvious that what passes for leadership in Harrisburg believes that the Commonwealth can run without a budget. In fact, the enlightened establishment considers the budget so insignificant that further discussion could wait until after the April primary. God knows that getting reelected is more important that getting the people’s work done.

            Perhaps the budget would become a priority if the cartel in Harrisburg didn’t get paid until the budget is passed. Of course, it would also be great if they would freeze their pay and benefits for a year or two until the economy improves. Funny, no matter how bad things get, they manage to come out okay.

            If we don’t perform or show up to work, we get fired. Leadership requires more than lip service, it requires action, and sometimes, sacrifice. Two things sadly lacking in Harrisburg.

            Oh Deer . . .

            What a country we live in. Have a problem kill it. From an ant on the sidewalk to a fellow human being, we are quick to end a life, to solve a problem.  We wonder why violent crime continues to rise, yet at every turn, violence seems to be the preferred answer.

            Don’t like the actions of a certain breed of dog? Exterminate it. The fact that the owner brought it up that way is never taken into consideration.  The deer are causing accidents, put them in a pen and kill them. Never mind the fact that the deer growth could be caused by poor planning, and destroying the “green space,” that state and local leaders love so much when running for office. Did I mention the possibility that the drivers of these vehicles may have been distracted by their smart phones, and may not have been giving full time and attention to the road in front of them? 

            It would seem that for $75,000 a year, Mt. Lebanon Council could have rounded up the deer and moved them to a safe location in Central Pennsylvania, heck even the Bahamas.  Chances are a “catch and repatriate” program could be done for half of that, and the other half could have just been giving to the local food bank. Well, I guess when you’re spending someone else’s money; cost and responsibility are not a concern.  Besides, killing is a much better solution to our problems; after all it seems to be the new American way.

It is not true that we get the government we vote for; we actually get the government that the government allows us to vote for.-JGP

            I have said for years, that one of the biggest problems we have in government is entitlement class that has been entrenched in Harrisburg for decades.  Good people that want to run are either discouraged by the status quo elitists, told it is not their time yet, or have to wade through the cumbersome ballot process. How can Pennsylvania have “free and fair” elections if the great majority of contests are uncontested?

            Should you get the signatures you need, making sure you have double the number needed, you are faced with various ballot challenges. After having walked through neighborhoods, stood in front of local business, attended functions, and harassed friends and family for their signatures for four weeks, you believe you’ve made it. However, chances are your petitions will be challenged not only by your opponent, but by someone representing the opposing party; the fix is in.  

            The nominating process is designed to limit competition in within the political parties, the parties themselves and our freedom to decided who governs us. It is a money maker for attorneys and government employees. By streamlining and opening the process, we might actually save money. Attorneys are elected to office, attorneys write the laws, attorneys make money off the laws they create for us to live under. This is a problem, but that discussion is for another time.

            There are many proposals out there and should seriously be considered. Mine is simple and, I believe, would open up the process to more people who want to run for elected office. The plan is as follows:

            1) As a member of a recognized political party pay a filing fee for the office you are seeking:
                        *Local Municipality, Borough, or Township $ 10
                        *City Mayor, Council, etc                                           $ 20
                        *County Executive, Sheriff, Council, etc.                   $ 50
                        *Statewide State office                                              $100
                        *Federal Office-Congress                                         $150
                        *Federal Office-Senate                                             $200
                        *President                                                                 $300

            2) For a member of a minor party, or an independent candidate:
                        *Local office .5% of the prior winners total and the appropriate filing fee
                        *All others 1% of the prior winners total and the appropriate filing fee.

Simple and fair.                      

            Everyone agrees that competition creates innovation and improves a company. Why would it not be same for government? We need to create an environment that encourages “regular” people to get engaged in the process as candidates. New people, new ideas, and a new approach to government can only improve everyone’s life.    

Early Voting (2014)

            The problem with Pennsylvania politics is not who votes, but who runs ("Legislators Plan Bills to Allow Early Voting," Dec. 13). If our friends in Harrisburg want more people to vote, then move Election Day to the second Saturday of the month and extend the time to 9 p.m. This would allow qualified voters to vote and, given the Saturday date, long lines would be avoided as there would be no pre- or post-work rush at polling locations.

            Real voter reform would be for our legislators to support the Voters Choice Act and allow third parties the opportunity to compete in elections. What real change in state government will we see if we have a 100 percent turnout for the lesser of two evils? I would argue, none. The corruption will continue, the good ol' boy and girl network will continue to rule, and real reform for the citizens of Pennsylvania will never happen.

            It would be great if more people voted. It would be better still if more people were allowed to run for office by removing the ballot access barriers imposed on third-party and independent candidates for statewide office. We want change. Give us choices and allow us to vote for it.