Friday, May 30, 2008

Playing To The Demographics

Lou Barletta's recent statement against private accounts was surprising if for no other reason than it was a plan that he had previously endorsed. Not only did Barletta reconsider his priority to personal accounts, but it almost seemed as if he was denouncing them. In his speech on Tuesday, Barletta said:
"I don't support privatizing Social Security and anyone who says I do is lying. I want to make it absolutely clear: I am against privatizing Social Security. I am against personal savings accounts. How much clearer can I be? The public has said it is against personal accounts so lets take that idea off the table."

That's not language from a typical policy speech. It was almost as if Barletta was denying something slanderous. and addressing a possible liability. Ironically, with the campaign just beginning, it was Barletta who hit Kanjorski on the Social Security issue first.

The move by Barletta appears rooted in electoral politics.

Pennsylvania is an "older" state to begin with. It ranks 3rd in the nation in regards to percentage of the population age 65 and over with only Florida (16.8%) and West Virginia (15.3%) ahead. Pennsylvania (15.1%) has close to 2 million seniors, and is 3% above the national average. Furthermore, there is only one Congressional district within Pennsylvania below the national average.

Nominally, the 11th Congressional District--Rep. Kanjorski's district--has the second most seniors according to the 2006 American Community Survey. 4% greater than the national average.

In addition, Pennsylvania has a strong elderly voter turnout. If you look at the exit polls from 2006, this is well documented. For instance, in the governor's race and senate race, 20% of those who voted were of age 65 or older. This is 5% greater than their estimated percentage of the population, and this in a state with a larger amount of seniors.

Therefore, it would politically make sense for Barletta to distance himself from the privatizers. Those favoring private accounts would directly alter the scheme that seniors are currently taking advantage of. Hence, it wouldn't be a popular choice for Barletta to favor such drastic changes. Even though you may not agree with his decision, the logic behind it is quite apparent. To better his chances, Barletta went even further on the issue by promising not to raise the retirement age or cut benefits.

It seems that by limiting the gap between he and Kanjorski on this issue, Barletta avoids a distinction that Kanjorski could have exploited in the fall.

District Over age 65 As a % of district
1 69,546 10.9
2 82,981 14.9
3 97,005 15.0
4 110,363 17.0
5 101,383 15.9
6 92,267 13.2
7 95,059 14.2
8 89,648 13.4
9 107,825 16.3
10 107,018 16.5
11 111,475 16.4
12 113,695 18.0
13 98,588 14.6
14 96,914 16.6
15 103,121 14.7
16 93,091 13.6
17 101,168 15.3
18 114,776 17.7
19 97,311 13.9

On A Sad Note

Uni-Mart convenience stores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. If you've ever lived or visited Pennsylvania, you're probably well aware of this store. Uni-Mart is a chain that is primarily scattered throughout Pennsylvania with a few other locations in Maryland, New York, and Delaware.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

PA Budget

There's been some back and forth going on between rank-and-file representatives in the Pennsylvania House and Democratic leadership on the budget.

Representative Garth Everett (R-Muncy) charged that members were not provided with an ample opportunity to influence budgetary decisions. Specifically, Rep. Everett took aim at Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia). Rep. Evans has allowed the budget to stall in committee so that there will be less time to amend the budget and discuss changes before the June 30th deadline. Everett threatened to introduce a discharge resolution to bring the bill to the floor.

Rep. Evans fired back stating that this particular process has been more open than prior sessions and has included hearings open to all members and meetings in various locations across the state. In addition, Evans' staff stated that Everett was simply playing politics with the issue and had amply time to amend the budget since its been posted publicly.

However, Evans has previously acknowledged that there is a "public-side" and a "private-side" to the budget process. Evans referred to the private side of the debate as where the real decisions are made because, according to Evans:
"You got 253 people in that process and the reality of it is we're no different than your household if you tried to make a decision about the budget."

Last I checked, households do encourage input from all family members affected by the decisions and make it a "public" process.

Dealing in private allows Evans to bring more money back to Philadephia--not surprising. However, it's unfair then for Evans to turn around an criticize a representative for attempting to express the interest of his rural constituency.

For Rep. Evans to say that Everett is "playing politics" with the issue is somewhat ironic given the nature of Evans' own dealings as chairman.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Reading the Editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today is enough to drive someone off the deep end. The Editorial makes it seem like leasing the turnpike is a radical option which threatens our security. Furthermore, they suggest tolling I-80 as a sensible alternative:
While initial estimates suggest tolling I-80 would bring less money to state coffers each year than leasing the turnpike, Pennsylvania would be giving up a plan whose revenue to the state would grow over time with one that doesn't. In addition, the public interest in retaining the turnpike is bigger than both annual estimates.

It's not just about how much revenue the government can bring in. The tolls put on I-80 under Act 44 would be the highest in the nation. Those costs would be passed along to Pennsylvania consumers in the price they pay for goods at their marketplace as truckers are forced to pay more to deliver them. In addition, more Pennsylvania citizens would be subjected to these user fees.

To an area of the country that's already struggling economically with business, tolling I-80 would also have substantial consequences. Businesses would relocate and behavior would be changed as a result. This makes Pennsylvania all that less competitive in the marketplace.

The editorial's also attempts to pull on the heartstrings:
Governments shouldn't sell their core responsibilities to the highest bidder. Trading away assets has the potential over the long haul to hurt the public. First a turnpike, then maybe a key city road or bridge.

Get a grip. One of the main reasons Pennsylvania should lease the turnpike is to free up revenue and devote more resources to transportation. Such as the 1,100 bridges that need to be addressed.

Leasing the turnpike would actually prove to be beneficial to the public.

Long Way To Go

Rep. Paul Kanjorski is strongly opposed to any attempt to privatize Social Security. In a somewhat surprising move, challenger Lou Barletta released a statement on Social Security essentially agreeing with Kanjorski.

Kanjorski is looking to expand Social Security benefits by increasing cost-of-living-adjustments and Barletta is ruling out most approaches to fixing it: privatization, an increase in the retirement age, and any benefits reductions.

Unfortunately, Barletta's dedication to fixing Social Security may be in rhetoric only. Assuming Barletta's opposition to benefit reductions also means he's ruling out a price indexing (which is tomorrow's benefits being able to buy the same basket of goods as today's benefits--this is different from the current wage indexing) of benefits, he's limiting his options for fixing Social Security. Strictly speaking, he must be looking to fix it through the revenue side of the equation.

In 2017, Social Security will begin to run cash deficits--spending more money than it takes in. Currently, the system is running surpluses since more people are paying into the system than are taking benefits. Once the boomers begin their wave of retirement that equation changes. The excess revenue is being used to pay other government bills and an IOU is left in the Trust Fund which is reflected in the "intragovernmental debt" as money the government owes to itself.

Thus in 2017, Social Security will begin to redeem securities in the Trust Fund to pay for the extra benefits. The Social Security Trust Fund bonds will have to be "redeemed" through the government's general revenue stream. This will mean less funding to pay for other priorities and a larger deficit if nothing is changed.

Therefore, if Barletta wants to ensure Social Security's long-term solvency, he must be considering an increase in the payroll tax. Simply telling the government to keep cash in the current Social Security Trust Fund will do little to alleviate the long-term obligations or produce solvency.

It's frustrating to see Barletta take options "off the table" this early in the campaign. Other proposals like what was offered from Fred Thompson or Republican Paul Ryan have successfully incorporated some of these non-starters for Barletta without drastically changing the nature of the program.


Robert Novak discusses Rep. Chris Carney's political positioning. A few excerpts:
What is clear is that Blue Dogs [Rep. Chris Carney] are neither conservatives nor independents. They only campaign that way. They are hoping that in November they can ride through the current political ethos for at least another two years...

The Blue Dogs say remarkably little on the House floor. Representing shaky districts (except for Charlie Wilson), they don’t want to offer anything that will come back to bite them...

Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), who defeated the scandal-tainted Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.) in a Republican district, faces a tough Republican challenge from a new candidate this year. But that has not stopped him from voting with the Democrats on all of the eight issues except for the House version of the FISA bill that did not provide immunity for telephone companies.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Just How Bad Its Gotten

Governor Ed Rendell will allow those gas stations with non-digital fuel dispensers to display the prices for a 1/2 gallon of gas since their pumps cannot display prices above $3.99/gallon.

Fall Preview

Op-Ed from Chris Hackett takes aim at Rep. Chris Carney's stance on the farm bill:
There's a growing recognition among reform-minded Republicans and Democrats that the system is broken. So far, that reform position is still in the minority in Washington. This is an issue that cuts to the heart of the problems in our country today. As families in our area struggle with high gas prices, high food prices, and a shaky economy, the last thing Washington should be doing is giving new subsidies to race horse owners and sugar industry giants. Should I be fortunate enough to be sent to Congress from Pennsylvania's Tenth District, you can be sure that I will add to the ranks of reformers opposing the status quo Washington spending game while fighting for what our local farmers really need in a Farm Bill.

Stretching the Facts

A video of Rep. Paul Kanjorski recently surfaced from a town hall meeting. In the video, Kanjorski discusses the Democrats campaign promises to end the Iraq War and misleading voters into believing this could actually happen when everyone knew it wasn't possible. He stated:
"I'll tell you my impression. We really in this last election, when I say we...the democrats, I think pushed it as far as we can to the end of the fleet, didn't say it, but we implied it. That if we won the Congressional elections, we could stop the war. Now anybody was a good student of Government would know that wasn't true. But you know, the temptation to want to win back the Congress, we sort of stretched the facts...and people ate it up."

Lou Barletta took issue with Kanjorski's comments saying:
"He has indicted himself and the entire Democratic Party by admitting to purposely deceive the American people in order to take control of Congress."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Anything But That!

Two Pennsylvania state senators--Sens. Joe Scarnati and Sean Logan--have decided to buck the leasing of the Turnpike. Claiming overly optimistic financial scenarios, the two have decided not to support the lease as it currently stands.

Senator Scarnati even proposed an alternative plan. Scarnati's plan would rely on cutting $25 million worth of Turnpike "inefficienicies." The plan would also increase tolls and require local governments to pay 20 percent more on mass transit subsidies.

Essentially, Scarnati is relying on his own optimistic assumptions for cutting "inefficiencies" and the tax payers to pick up the rest of the tab at the local level. All that so the Turnpike Commission can remain in tact.

Contrast that with today's Editorial in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette:
Foes of plans to lease and privatize management of 500 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike will claim to be unimpressed by the high bid of $12.8 billion...

The bid could produce $1.1 billion in the first 10 years of the lease for roads, bridges and mass transit. That’s money that the state of Pennsylvania and its taxpayers won’t have to come up with to pay for necessary upgrades to the highway system.

Consider those prospects against the possibility of tolls on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania that are projected to generate $500 million a year....

This proposal – now in the hands of the Legislature – would help Pennsylvania catch up regarding its highway system without doing damage to the fiscal condition of the rest of the state budget and the taxpayers who pay for that budget. Anyone who can’t see that isn’t paying attention or just doesn’t want to deal honestly with the cold, hard numbers.

We call on the region’s representatives in the state House and Senate to lead the support of this proposal.

Round #1

Lou Barletta took his first shot at Rep. Paul Kanjorski. Barletta took issue with Kanjorski's failure to appropriate funds where the district truly needed them.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Predicting The Fall Congressional Elections

The "Primary Colors" blog at the Pittsburgh Times-Review posted their expectations on all of the Pennsylvania Congressional seats in the fall:

GOP Safe Seats:
  • Rep. Bill Shuster -- 9th
  • Rep. Joe Pitts -- 16th
  • Rep. Todd Platts -- 19th
Unlikely But Possible GOP Loss:
  • Rep. John Peterson -- 5th
GOP Seats That Could Potentially Be Lost Due To A Harsh Election Climate:
  • Rep. Phil English-- 3rd
  • Rep. Jim Gerlach -- 6th
  • Rep. Charlie Dent -- 15th
  • Rep. Tim Murphy -- 18th

Democratic Safe Seats:
  • Rep. Rob Brady -- 1st
  • Rep. Chaka Fattah -- 2nd
  • Rep. Joe Sestak -- 7th
  • Rep. Paul Kanjorski -- 11th
  • Rep. Jack Murtha -- 12th
  • Rep. Allyson Schwartz -- 13th
  • Rep. Mike Doyle -- 14th
  • Rep. Tim Holden -- 17th
Somewhat Safe Democratic Freshmen:
  • Rep. Jason Altmire -- 4th
  • Rep. Patrick Murphy -- 8th
Democratic At-Risk
  • Rep. Chris Carney -- 10th

Just some general thoughts on a few of these races:

I agree with most of "Primary Colors" predictions. However, I don't necessarily believe that the 4 GOP seats listed as potential losses are in too much danger. For instance, Reps. English and Gerlach are more moderate Republicans and used to tougher elections. English faces Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper in the fall, but he's squeaked by in previously tough elections. English won by a fairly comfortable 12% margin in '06 which was an election year that had repercussions for other Republican incumbents. Democrats took down 4 Pennsylvania Republican Incumbents in 2006 (Melissa Hart-4th, Curt Weldon-7th Mike Fitzpatrick-8th, Don Sherwood-10th). So unfortunately the tide did shift somewhat in during the past election cycle. Considering English's political positioning and past experience, the reelection odds are in his favor.

Gerlach on the other hand won by just 2% in 2006. He could be a little more vulnerable because of the surge of Democratic registration in his district, but he's sitting on a large reelection chest having raised over $1.5 million. He faces a new challenger in Democratic Bob Roggio, but Roggio demonstrated his first rookie mistake by criticizing Gerlach for missing votes after his mother had just passed away.

Even though Republican John Peterson isn't running again, he did enjoy wide support in '06 (winning by 20%). 9 Republican Challengers were on the ballot in April Primary. Glenn Thompson won with 19% of the vote and beat the runner up Matt Shaner by a little over a thousand votes. He will face off against Democrat Mark McCracken in the fall. The fifth district does have a solid majority of registered Republicans so Thompson should enjoy some success.

I'd also like to believe Paul Kanjorski is vulnerable to Republican Lou Barletta. Kanjorski did beat Barletta in 2002 by 14%, but Kanjorski has a little more dirt on him now from corrupt earmarking and more votes to emphasize. Barletta has also made more of a stand-alone name for himself since 2002 as the anti-immigration mayor of Hazleton. It will be a uphill battle given the dynamics of the election year, but Barletta could feasibly produce the upset.

Also, Democratic freshman Patrick Murphy could face a tougher than expected challenge in Republican Tom Manion. Murphy won by only 1,000 votes in '06 (although he did upset an incumbent which is a difficult task). One challenge Minion has to overcome is fund raising. While Murphy hasn't done much in his first term, the $1.6 million Murphy has already raised will help distinguish himself from his rival.

At the end of the day, it's still a little early to be making predictions as there are a lot of variable in play before then.

Correction: Dem. Tommy Myers was originally posted as the challenger to Phil English's seat. That has since been corrected.


As if the farm bill wasn't bad enough, Congress forgot to include an entire section when the bill was originally passed. After receiving the bill back from the President's veto, Congress stumbled upon the fact that several key elements had just simply been left out. Realizing it was an embarrassing goof, Democratic leadership is now forced to develop a plan as to deal with the bill so constitutionality questions aren't brought into the equation.

Just more proof that Congress has no idea what's actually in the bill or where the money goes.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The $16 Billion Loophole

A new provision in the farm bill could place taxpayers on the hook for an additional $16 billion.

The Average Crop Revenue Elevation (ACRE) program gives farmers aid if they lose money because of low prices or a poor crop yield. The program was added to elevate the subsidy threshold and help farmers who have a lower yield when the prices are high.

However, the triggering price for this program is tied to recent record high prices for commodities. Therefore, if prices were to stabilize and return to recent levels, it could see the baseline price for the farm bill increase beyond expectations:
"The Agriculture Department estimates that subsidy payments to corn farmers alone could reach $10 billion a year if prices -- which have been $5 to $6 a bushel -- were to drop to $3.25 a bushel, a level seen as recently as last year."

Proponents of the program and the farm bill cling to the fact that enrollment in the program will be low and commodity prices will likely remain elevated. Therefore, there is little risk of the price tag on the ACRE program increasing.

Of course, when you're gambling with the taxpayers money, who cares?

Opinions On Leasing The Turnpike

Courtesy of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, local lawmakers sound off on the leasing of the Turnpike:
  • U.S. Rep. John Peterson (PA-R-5th): “Additionally, under this proposal, an estimated $1.1 billion annually in debt free funding — $150 million more than Act 44 — will be expended to address the aging infrastructure of the commonwealth and to stabilize mass transit need for the foreseeable future.”
  • State Rep. Steve Cappelli (R-Williamsport): “We’ve wasted enough time with Act. 44. It’s time now to act. If we say no to this, what have we accomplished with respect to infrastructure?”
  • State Rep. Garth Everett (R-Muncy): “I’d like to have our transportation staff take a look at it...If it’s an alternative to tolling Interstate 80, I’m really interested.”
  • State Rep. Mike Hanna (D-Lock Haven): “I think it’s a great deal...From the start, I said leasing the turnpike was a good idea.”
Support from the Times-Tribune:

There are some significant advantages to the lease idea, the most important of which is that it would generate additional revenue to meet the transportation needs without establishing tolls on I-80. Moreover, the specifications for the bids established a guaranteed toll-increase schedule for the turnpike that the operator could not exceed. The I-80 toll plan, Act 44, includes no such cap for tolls on the turnpike or the interstate.

From an Editorial in the Patriot-News:

...several considerations lead us to the conclusion that it is the most realistic transportation-funding option available.

For starters, the Legislature is not going to resort to the usual and conventional means of meeting the state's transportation needs -- namely, higher fuel taxes and vehicle fees -- which would be our first choice.

Second, the current plan, known as Act 44, which rests to a large extent on tolling Interstate 80 to achieve its funding target, is just a bad idea.

On the finances behind leasing the Turnpike:

Under the proposal, Abertis Infraestructuras S.A. of Barcelona and Citi Infrastructure Investors of New York would pay $12.8 billion to lease the east-west turnpike and the northeast extension for 75 years. The total bid would be reduced by $2.3 billion to assume existing turnpike debt and other obligations. The remaining $10.5 billion would be invested in the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System. Rendell says this investment would generate about $1.1 billion per year for transportation needs, based on average annual returns of 12 percent over the past 20 years.

Balooning Budget

Last night, conferees from the House and Senate agreed on a budget resolution for fiscal year 2009.

If there's one good (using the term loosely) thing that's come from the Democrats controlling Congress, it's that President Bush has finally dropped the proverbial hammer on discretionary spending growth. Prior to their takeover, President Bush had let discretionary spending grow at an 8.0% annualized rate--the highest rate in the last forty years. The Democratic control of Congress has allowed Bush to set a harder line with his veto threats and not go against his own party.

The Budget Conference agreement for FY09 set discretionary spending totals $20+ billion over the President's spending request. Bush requested frozen spending levels that actually amounted to a cut when inflation was factored in.

As Ranking Member Republican Paul Ryan has pointed out, the Democrats budget does nothing to deal with the long-term growth of entitlement programs, factors in new spending, and relies on false assumptions (i.e. tax increases which Democratic candidates are already committed to finance their platform proposals).

Last year, President Bush vetoed some of the first appropriation bills that came across his desk because they spent too much, forced Congress to cut some out, and then signed them into law once they were more inline with his spending requests.

This was a political victory for the White House and demonstrated that President Bush could be fiscally conservative.

However, being an election year, Democrats in Congress will have less of an incentive to work with Bush on budgetary matters. It is likely that the Democrats will pass a continuing resolution (funding the government at previously appropriated levels), avoid a showdown with the White House, and deal with a new President on the annual appropriations. By simply waiting a couple months, Democrats could potentially work with a President--Obama--who is more inline with their priorities and spending increases.

If the Democrats choose this course of action, it could set up an election year advantage for Republicans.

By highlighting the Democrats' budget, Republicans can use the priorities contained within the budget for political fodder: the increased spending, failure to tackle the important long-term issues, and reliance upon tax increases to reach a balanced budget. This forces the point that these liberals are of the tax-and-spend variety who disregard the interest of the taxpayer. Sure, the Democrats plan would balance the budget, but they would do it by using tax increases which would hamper economic growth.

However, this will be an effective issue only if the Republicans regain their core on fiscal responsibility. In the 90s, the first priority on "The Contract With America" was fiscal responsibility and making the government more efficient. Simply painting the Democrats as irresponsible isn't going to work in this election because Republicans have been just as irresponsible in the last eight years. However, making a commitment to be the party of fiscal responsibility once again could be effective.

Pledging to reduce spending, eliminate earmarks, balance the budget, and keeping taxes low on the middle class will energize the base as well as provide a substantive difference that the GOP can work with. It will also reenfranchise those fiscal conservatives who have been without a home.

The Democrats are out of touch and this issue with help to exploit that.

More on the Farm Bill

Another article discussing the farm bill division between Hackett and Carney. Hackett properly points out that amount that rural farmers don't benefit from the current farm subsidy system.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Friendly Fire

It seems like Rep. Chris Carney is getting hit with some "friendly" fire on the FISA bill. The Blue America PAC (liberal) is going after Carney for not taking a stand. As we've noted before, Carney is being hit by Republicans for not supporting the FISA bill even though he's signaled his support. The Republicans found the support to be hallow and have been pressing him on the issue. All of this is going to soften him up in the fall as this could be a defining issue; not necessarily that he didn't take the appropriate position, but that he simply played politics and didn't take a stand.

The Turnpike

Looks like some initial support from the PA House Republicans on the Turnpike Lease:
Some House Republicans prefer the lease over Act 44, last year's transportation funding law, which is financed by turnpike revenue and new tolls on Interstate 80. Rendell said he would scrap tolls on I-80 if he could lease the turnpike.

Limited-government advocates such as the Commonwealth Foundation praised it. "We can generate more money at a lower cost to our taxpayers and toll payers, which is certainly a win-win to me," said Matt Brouillette, the foundation's president.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Fill 'Er Up For Two

It's good to know that not only are Pennsylvania taxpayers paying for the cars that our state officials drive, but we're also reimbursing them for the mileage. Pretty nice perk of being an elected official.

Modernizing The PA Turnpike

A Spanish company won the rights to the Pennsylvania Turnpike with their $12.8 billion bid for the 75-year lease.

To hear some people talk, you'd think privatizing the turnpike was the worst decision ever, but leasing the Turnpike to an outside investor is a sensible solution.

First, the lease is a great alternative to tolling I-80. It creates a competition of sorts by deregulating the state's monopoly of roads. In addition, the private company will likely provide greater efficiency and a much needed investment in the roads. The government is likely to be more constrained by budget crunches and can't continual devote resources towards improving roads. That's much of the reason why the condition of our bridges and roads has remained stagnant and failing to improve. The Turnpike was already in $3 billion worth of debt which influenced the bidding price. By freeing up the financial commitment to the Turnpike, Pennsylvania can devote more resources in more places and invest for the future. It's not going to provide an tax relief, but it does decrease the size of the government and future obligations.

Second, private control of roads has historically been a good thing in this country. While we have been ingrained to think that roads must be operated by a government bureaucrat to be effective, a private-public partnership can be a great substitute. By eliminating the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, we can also cut ties with the thousands of bureaucratic jobs and reckless money spent on the turnpike (including the taxpayer money spent on federal lobbying efforts). In the early history of this country, private turnpike companies built and operated their own roads. That seemed to work well. Furthermore, Indiana went through a similar decision process a few years back and has experienced success. It's only been couple years (not a reliable indicator), but believe it or not the roads didn't fail to exist in Indiana because of involvement of a private-foreign company. The private enterprise has instituted electronic tolling and is working to implement a third lane.

Finally, Pennsylvania's lease agreement does not give the private company carte blanche. For instance, toll increases are chained and cannot be raised higher than the inflation rate for that year.

Green Acres

With over 50,000 farms in the district, Chris Hackett is pushing Carney's vote on the farm bill as an issue.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks

An interesting article on the importance of Little League and athletics in the civic development of children:
This lesson—that hard work can lead to excellence—is one that can transform lives. Almost all of life in a capitalist society involves some form of competition. Young athletes learn the formula for success in a market-based system. And the evidence says they outperform their peers throughout their lifetimes...When citizens believe that hard work determines success, they tend to build leaner and more economically efficient governments.

Get those kiddies out on the ball field!

Well, Maybe Just This Once...

On his website, Rep. Chris Carney states: "It is vital that we restore fiscal responsibility and accountability to Washington."

With passage of the farm bill, Chris Carney must have forgotten these two issues were on his platform. It probably won't be reported, but the Democrats used tricks and gimmicks to hide the costs of the farm bill. Luckily, Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Judd Gregg have been championing the ways in which the Democrats failed to provide either accountability or fiscal responsibility.

First, the Democrats used timing shifts to make the fiscal outlook rosier for the farm bill.

Second, the Democrats waived paygo rules so they could use the previous baseline of spending. This may not sound important, but under the House rules, the latest projections must be used. However, the Democrats felt compelled to use the March 2007 estimates and were forced to waive paygo in order to accomplish this. The Congressional Budget Office demonstrates:
  • Estimated spending under the March 2007 Baseline Assumptions ('08-'12): $283.988 billion
  • Estimated spending under the March 2008 Baseline Assumptions ('08-'12): $288.997 billion
Therefore, just by using the '07 baseline, the Democrats were able to mask the actual $5 billion in additional outlays. This is pure gimmick.

The fact that Rep. Carney didn't hold his fellow Democrats accountable is ashame. This is why Americans have no trust in their representatives. Not only did Chris Carney allow a bad farm bill to be passed, but he allowed it to happen with deceptive, legislative tactics.

Maybe it wasn't "vital" to restore fiscal responsibility and accountability on this occasion.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Come and Get It

The House of Representatives and Senate passed a 5-year, $290 billion farm bill this week. In Pennsylvania, Republican challenger Chris Hackett hammered incumbent Chris Carney (D-10th-PA) on his vote in support of the bill. Claiming it had too many earmarks and not enough money for the district, Hackett decried Carney's vote in support of the bill. To which Carney responded, "Family farming is not a partisan issue."

If Carney was looking to support "family farming," then certainly he should have voted against this bill. Furthermore, if Hackett was really looking to exploit Carney, he would point to the fact that the way our government distributes farm subsidies fails prioritize the family farmer.

This, in itself, may be surprising given the way Washington debates the issue. They portray every dollar as a necessity to small farmers back home in their districts. Of course, it may make sense to get every extra dollar into the bill, that way small farmers could actually see some of it since most of it goes to corporate farmers.

The way we distribute farm subsidies in this country is extremely inefficient and defies the basic principles of a free economy. If you don't believe me, look at a Government Accountability Office report from last summer which showed:
For 1999 through 2005, USDA paid $1.1 billion in farm payments in the names of 172,801 deceased individuals (either as an individual recipient or as a member of an entity). Of this total, 40 percent went to those who had been dead for 3 or more years, and 19 percent to those dead for 7 or more years.

Glad to know the government is giving the subsidies to those who really need it!

Also consider this, 10% of all subsidy recipients from the government receive 75% of the money allocated (about $91,000 a year per farm). The rest of the recipients--small family farms--receive less than $3,000 a year.

It's not an inherently bad thing that the money is disproportionately going to corporate farmers, but if you listen to the explicit statements coming from members of Congress, it is supposed to be benefiting the smaller farms. In this regard, the policy has failed because it's not keeping farmers in the business. They are a dieing breed.

This country was built on the back of family farmers. Now, only a small percentage of the population are farmers. And of those, most of their primary income comes from sources outside farming. Farming now is only profitable is you have modern machinery, larger acres to farm, and the right commodities to get the biggest bang for your buck in subsidies. This makes the big guys bigger and pushes the little guys out.

The current system also encourages an overproduction of goods. This leads to a decrease in price for those goods--simple supply and demand. The subsidizing of these products keeps the production artificially high and the price artificially low.

In a market run system, farmers could grow what they want and set their asking price. This basically forces them to survive on their own, but allows much more potential for success and longevity. Food is a necessity; the fact that it isn't a disposable good forces the market laws to work their magic. However, the current system essentially has a farmer growing a crop directly for the government. Big Brother in turn gives them a set price for the good and goes on their way. Because of all the government regulations, guaranteed reimbursement rates, and promises of disaster aid, farmers opt-into the system.

The American government is doing the most harm to farmers and putting taxpayers on the hook for it. The farm subsidy framework establishes a system which provides for one big game of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" on the government's dime.

A much more sensible solution would be similar to that put forth by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in "FARM 21" legislation (or click here for more detail). FARM 21 would establish "risk management accounts" which act like an agricultural IRA. The accounts would be tax-free and the government would contribute to the accounts in lieu of subsidies. The cash subsidies from the government would then be phased out, and the contributed money in the "risk management accounts" would be used by the farmers for disaster relief, future investments, and planning for the future.

Anything that is more sensible than the current system we have would be a great leap in the right direction. We need to stop beefing up "fat" farm bills and remove the subsidies from those who don't need it (and stop pretending its really going to Ma & Pa down the road). Congress should work to encourage more farming, but this inefficiency at the taxpayers expense has just got to stop.

Update: Over at Greg Mankiw's blog, he's posted an e-mail from a friend at the White House with the top 5 reasons for the President to veto the bill.

The Republican Brand

Virginia Representative Tom Davis sent a memo to Republican leadership about the problems with the GOP moving forward. It's a well put together strategic memo--recommended reading.

Some of the more important points in the memo:
  • using free trade as an issue (which is something we've identified before as a required distinction)
  • that health care is the weakest issue for the GOP. I'd agree with Davis in the abstract on this, but given McCain's detailed proposal, it's certainly possible he offers a sensible alternative. It's quite possible this is one are where McCain benefits the GOP. McCain's proposal incorporates a commitment to lower costs and more market based practices which is a big selling point. It's not like previous conservatives--like President Bush in '04--who simply offered a piecemeal approach with health savings accounts, tax credits and a rhetoric to cutting costs. This didn't address the real driver behind health care costs rising. This provided a big discrepancy between the candidates and exploited a vulnerability. McCain's plan seemingly offers a proposal more worthy of a competitive debate--meaning health care won't be an out loser.
  • a restructuring of the brand. The GOP needs an energizing platform. This could mean a central platform or allowing individual candidates to brand themselves which is a particularly good idea. Instead of imposing a litmus test for Republicans seeking to run, allow them to define themselves.
Karl Rove also has an excellent Op-Ed in today's Wall Street Journal. He states: "The string of defeats should cure Republicans of the habit of simply shouting "liberal! liberal! liberal!" in hopes of winning an election."

This is exactly the same point the post yesterday highlighted. Issues will make the difference, not guilt by association.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Look to Donald Duck

I'll concede this cartoon is a little socialistic in nature, but it is great nonetheless. It's cartoon from WWII about Donald Duck being patriotic and paying his income taxes to support the war. Mainly demonstrating the sacrifices from those at home. If you have 5 minutes, it's worth a watch.

WWII is the standard upon which we often judge our nation on. Believe it or not, there was a sense of sacrifice involved with WWII that wasn't bared solely by those fighting the war. It could be found at home with the rationing coupons or the higher taxes, etc. Now during a time of war, citizens expect their tax cuts and prescription drug benefits, and they're told to go out and consume to support the economy. Is that really how we wish to define patriotism and stewardship? It's a little bit frustrating then when a great initiative like the new GI Bill comes along to support those who have harnessed the burden, but there's no initiative to even pay for it. That would involve sacrifice. Therefore, it's too politically difficult so we continue down the road of more free lunches.

...And the government gets bigger

Hard Out Here For A GOP'er

Greg Davis' (R) loss last night to Travis Childers (D) in Mississippi portends a tough fall for the Republican Party. This is the third straight special election race in which the GOP has bleed a conservative seat to a Democratic contender (the other two were in Illinois' 14th district and Louisiana's 6th district: both were held by Republicans for two decades). This particular seat up for grabs in Mississippi had been a red district since 1995. The big whigs like VP Dick Cheney, Governor Haley Barbour, and Mike Huckabee had all been brought through to campaign for Davis.

It seems like the two big reasons for defeat were a low turnout among conservatives and little difference on issue between the candidates. Thus, the Republican plan to link Childers to the liberal left-wing failed. Hopefully, rather than continue to play the guilt by association blame game, the GOP will get back to its roots of small government, fiscal conservatism, and family values. A core is desperately lacking, and developing a platform to energize the base (something possibly like a contemporary "Contract With America") will be the only successful strategy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The New G.I. Bill

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced a bill seeking to update the original G.I. Bill from World War II. Formally called "the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008," it would increase the amount of educational assistance to service members who have enrolled after September 11, 2001. Members who have served three years of cumulative active duty service will be rewarded with a full ride to any public university in the nation. It would roughly double the benefit size under current law.

Morally, the bill would be a great way to support the troops fighting abroad.

However, there are several important points of consideration to keep in mind. First, this proposed legislation would increase recruits but decrease retention. Hence, it's not an outright net gain for the military. According to the Congressional Budget Office:
Educational benefits have been shown to raise the number of military recruits. Based on an analysis of the existing literature, CBO estimates that a 10 percent increase in educational benefits would result in an increase of about 1 percent in high-quality recruits. On that basis, CBO calculates that raising the educational benefits as proposed in S. 22 would result in a 16 percent increase in recruits...Literature on the effects of educational benefits on retention suggest that every $10,000 increase in educational benefits yields a reduction in retention of slightly more than 1 percentage point. CBO estimates that S. 22 (as modified) would more than double the present value of educational benefits for servicemembers at the first reenlistment point—from about $40,000 to over $90,000—implying a 16 percent decline in the reenlistment rate, from about 42 percent to about 36 percent.

Second, it would cost $52 billion over ten years in mandatory spending. In a case such as this, the monetary value doesn't solely imply whether it should or shouldn't become law. Obviously, it's a larger financial commitment from the government, but when the money is put on auto-pilot that's a concern. This bill would be the largest entitlement increase since Medicare Part D. Mandatory spending is already projected to grow at an alarming rate in the coming decades so adding a program with no mechanism to control growth is somewhat alarming.

Finally, this is not an "emergency" and shouldn't be tabled with war supplemental spending. Administration officials thought the war in Iraq would be short and relatively inexpensive. Originally estimating $50-$60 billion for the Iraq War, the Bush Administration planned the money would be budgeted as an emergency since it wouldn't be a reoccurring requirement. However, the war has now cost over a half a trillion dollars but hasn't changed how the war is budgeted even though its costs can easily be foreseen. This is problematic in itself, but to further include an entitlement program like the new GI bill within the emergency spending to avoid paygo rules and an outright vote on the floor is wrong. These are planned expenses that should be budgeted for.

While it's difficult to argue against more benefits for our veterans (as they certainly need them), the current process for passing this bill must be reconsidered. The bills effect on our current military size, its future unchecked growth, and its attachment to a emergency spending bill make it rough to swallow.

The Sheetz Melt

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear Sheetz's appeal to sell beer (6-packs) at its stores throughout Pennsylvania. This will be an important case as it could likely affect the way Pennsylvania sells beer.

There are a lot of details that matter in this case but here's the basic gist. An Altoona Sheetz received a license from the PLCB, it expanded its dining area and kitchen and only wanted to sell the six-packs to-go rather them serve them in the restaurant portion. This didn't meet the PLCB's criteria for the license and confusion around interpretations of the liquor law pushed the dispute into court. In a similar but separate case, the Malt Beverage Distributors Association is suing Wegman's. Wegman's has received a restaurant license (as opposed to the eatery license like Sheetz wished to acquire) which allows them to sell wine and hard liquor.

Probably one of the more humorous quotes from the article:
"If Sheetz can sell beer, so can Wal-Mart and Costco and all the other big chains," she [Mary Lou Hogan, executive secretary and counsel for the Malt Beverage Distributors Association, which is battling Sheetz in the case] said. "You tell me what will happen to small businesses that try to compete with those giants."

This quote is largely based in absurdity. Amazing as it may sound, large retailers (including Wal-Mart and Costco) in other states are allowed to sell beer, and guess what...the small businesses and bars are still in business. Pretty shocking!

I opined yesterday on the PLCB's control of harder alcohol (which if it were a business--as it pretends to be--would be a monopoly). So today, I'll tackle the novelty of beer in Pennsylvania.

Not that alcohol should be free flowing, but the access to these beverages is significantly limited in Pennsylvania. Although not as tight as liquor and wine, cases of beer can be purchased only from distributors. This drastically controls supply which in turn affects the market price. Allowing more stores, chains and retailers to sell six-packs would be the best thing possible for Pennsylvania. Six packs are rare throughout the state and their costs are sufficiently marked up from their wholesale, per unit price. Therefore, you have limited options in Pennsylvania. You can either buy a smaller amount at a more convenient location (bar or eatery) for a higher price or buy it in bulk from a distributor at a price that's relatively cheaper per unit. For anyone who is reasonably economical, this portends a framework which favors overconsumption.

It's not the court's job to make this change. It's the Pennsylvania legislature that should be addressing these liquor laws and adapt them so they updated for a more modern time.

Monday, May 12, 2008


To hear the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) talk, you'd think that they were completely transforming they way they do business.
For too long, this organization has been about us and what we want to accomplish as an agency, and we have lost sight of what matters most – our customers,” said Patrick “P.J.” Stapleton III, chairman of the Liquor Control Board. “Asking Pennsylvania wine experts from outside the agency to help us improve our wine programs is unprecedented. So this is a new day – a day when we put our customers first in every way.

Pennsylvania uses the PLCB as a way to monopolize liquor and wine. The PLCB runs over 600 stores statewide and has control over just about everything. They set the price on the shelf (which includes the 18% sales tax), determine what to sell, and how much of it to have; essentially, everything on the supply side of things.

In order to redefine themselves as more consumer-oriented, they are going to be implementing a more dynamic service plan. In addition, the PLCB wants to set up wine kiosks throughout the state. The problem is only one firm bid on the plan.

The PLCB will do anything to avoid relinquishing their central control over alcohol, and this in turn damages their ability to adapt to the demands of customers. Rather than look to privatize its sales or open the market up so individuals can pick the wine they actually want, the PLCB decided the best way to deal with consumer dissatisfaction is to open up little wine vending stands and provide expert recommendations for in-store wines. This is essentially a band-aid to a much bigger problem.

According to a recent editorial on the subject from the Patriot-News, the United States is the largest retail market in the world for wine. Thus, because Pennsylvania is one of the larger states, it provides an opportune market. Consumers have a devoted following to wine, but the PLCB cripples their ability to engage in such a hobby. They don't allow direct sales to consumers and their policies keep out-of-state wineries from participating in the market with their high licensing fees. This creates an extremely displeased consumer core and results in the loss of potential revenue for the state. The government was not meant to be a business.

Not only is the PLCB failing at what they do, but the strategy they are looking to implement to please customers is only going to further reveal the already existing problems with the system.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pennsylvania Polka

A couple quick notes on Pennsylvania politics:

Recently, Representative Chris Carney endorsed Senator Clinton in the presidential race which isn't too surprising given how poorly Senator Obama performed in the district. People have jumped on the Clinton endorsement already, but given his options an Obama endorsement would have been far worse.

In addition, the heat is getting turned up on Carney as the fall election grows closer. Carney's seat has called a "toss up" so Republicans are beginning to open him up to attacks. For instance, on the FISA debate Carney has been trying to play the middle. Carney stated he supported the Senate FISA bill which isn't popular among fellow Democrats. In order to expose Carney and push the issue, Republican Whip Roy Blunt sent a letter to Carney requesting he sign the discharge petition which would send the Senate FISA bill to the House Floor. While Carney claimed he had never been asked to sign the petition, Blunt called his bluff even further:
I would also note that on March 14th, you signed a discharge petition on an immigration bill (H.R. 4088) without any request from our leadership. However, if a request from our leadership will help you make the decision to assist us in bringing
this legislation – which you have already suggested to the House Speaker is critical to protecting the country – to the floor, then I am happy to oblige.Please consider this letter to be my formal request that you sign the discharge petition to bring the Rockefeller-Bond FISA bill to the House floor.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum had an interesting column in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The piece focused on the failure of elected officials to properly address the "war on terrorism." Disagreeing over the government's communications tactics, Santorum argues that the conflict should more accurately framed as "Islamic Fascism" rather than simply terrorism. However, a recent Bush administration memo had deemed this rhetoric too harsh, and it was quickly curtailed after President Bush used it once in a public address. You'd think that John McCain's frequently use of "Islamic Fascism" would please Santorum, but Santorum has firmly stated he would vote for anyone but John McCain (even though he's seemingly reconciled).

Lastly, the Arthur Anderson-like Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus coerced an intern to shred documents requested by a grand jury. Now, the prosecution will be hard pressed to prove that state employees received bonuses payed for by the taxpayers for political work they had performed.

Just another week in Pennsylvania!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Don't Smoke That Tobacco Tax For Too Long, You Might Run Out Money

At the beginning of the week, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell urged action on "PA ABC." He stated:

The budget office did a thorough analysis that shows program costs and demonstrates to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania and their elected leaders that this is a financially responsible plan. With the additional revenues from the proposed 10-cents-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax and the first-time-ever tax on smokeless and other tobacco products, we will be able to fully fund this program. This analysis answers the argument from critics that the bill does not have adequate funding. We do. Now all we need is the political will to get this done.

"PA ABC" stands for Pennsylvania Access to Basic Care program which aims at covering those without health insurance in Pennsylvania. The actual insurance delivered from PA ABC would come from a private provider and be targeted at small businesses. Since many uninsured Pennsylvanians have a full time job, getting the small businesses and employees on board would be a step towards insuring the estimated 767,000 uninsured.

Budget Secretary Michael Masch recently confirmed that PA ABC was sustainable over a 10 year window. The House bill that was already passed directed $120 million in additional revenue to be placed into an account specifically for PA ABC. The Budget Office estimated that outlays for PA ABC would increase from $501 million in its first year to $1.1 billion in its fifth year. In that time, an additional 272,000 individuals would be covered.

There are three primary sources of revenue:
  • $.10 per-pack increase on cigarettes
  • $.36 per-unit increase on chewing tobacco and cigars
  • Redirection of a portion of the state's current Uncompensated Care payments for hospitals
The Governor has stated that the first two sources (both of the tobacco taxes) would be sufficient in providing the initial $120 million a year. However, the whole system seems like a big bait-and-switch.

Primarily, the cigarette tax in Pennsylvania has been a declining source of revenue. If you look at the final monthly revenue statements from the previous five fiscal years, the revenue contributed from the cigarette tax to the general fund has nominally declined.

2006-2007 $778,000
2005-2006 $769,900
2004-2005 $844,700
2003-2004 $837,400
2002-2003 $830,900

No one, including Secretary Masch, expects the cigarette tax to grow over time as a source of revenue, but they haven't been upfront about the reliability problems associated with the tobacco tax. Even at the federal level, tobacco tax revenue is acknowledged to be declining, yet Congress continues to try and hitch SCHIP and other new expenditures to its proverbial wagon. As these taxes at the federal and state level continue to get tacked on (both acting independent of each other), cigarette prices will increase and more smokers will quit. This will only cause the revenue to dry up in a shorter time period. A tobacco tax is a popular target, and pretending this revenue is reliable isn't an accurate assessment.

It's very deceptive to tackle this large new initiative (which is scheduled to expand drastically even during its first five years) with a "false" source of revenue . During the last four decades, per capita health care spending has grown much more rapidly than per capita GDP. In fact, health care costs present the single largest factor in our the nation's fiscal future. Therefore, sounding the financially stable bell on something like this seems premature.

There is one optimistic way to look at this approach. If more smokers quit because of the levied tax, that inherently means less state expenditures for health problems related to smoking. However, in the aggregate, it's pretty obvious: health care costs are going to rise while two of the dedicated revenue sources for PA ABC decline.

This is an extremely large commitment for Pennsylvania that will be realized down the road. While the state is running a surplus and the cigarette tax is still capable of being milked, a program like this is quite appetizing. Of any health care proposal, focusing on cost saving measures is imperative. Cost saving measures not only translate into reduced outlays for the state, but if you drive down the market price in the process, there will be more of an individual incentive to purchase insurance as it requires proportionately less disposable income. Not only does PA ABC in its current design fail to implement cost savings, it's initially dependent on a regressive and diminishing tax source.

When close to 1 million people--all representing future financial obligations for the state of Pennsylvania--are proposed being added to a new government program, one would hope it'd receive more honesty and attention than the half-hearted truths that behoove it's current status.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Every Taxpayer Visits Washington DC Sometime

Senator Tom Coburn has a great Op-Ed in the Washington Times today about Washington D.C.'s metro system. After already receiving over $1 billion in federal funding, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is seeking $1.5 billion for infrastructure improvements. The federal government is the gravy train that keeps on giving!

Coburn correctly identifies the biggest problems with D.C.'s metro system and, more importantly, notes that taxpayers who will never step foot on a D.C. metro car are the largest subsidizers of this service. One of the more striking points of the Op-Ed:

Any member of Congress who can't find a little fat in the federal budget is out of touch with the real-world budget choices families face every day. In the real world, Americans tighten their belts in tough times and spend less in some areas if they have to spend more in other areas. Dismissing an additional $1.5 billion for the Metro as a blip in the budget is precisely the mentality that has caused Congress to rack up a $600 billion annual deficit this year and a long-term debt of nearly $10 trillion. I make no apologies for opposing this reckless status quo culture of spending that puts the interests of career politicians ahead of the next generation.

While Coburn may simply be against further funding for WMATA out of principle, he at least appears to be willing to compromise on the funding so long as Congress can identify other areas of the budget to cut. However, instead of proposing spending cuts to offset the desired metro funding, Congress wants to have it both ways. In their view, the extra funding is only a little part of the federal revenue pie. After all, $1.5 billion is so small when compared with the $3 trillion budget, right? Few difficult decisions are every forced by the government. Coburn's assesment is accurate in regards to WMATA and also accurate in regards to the lack of fiscal responsibility.

A Dwindling Majority

The Times Tribune identified today that Republicans in Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional district now make up less than 50% of registered voters.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Regarding The Economy

The U.S. has seemingly avoided a recession. The technical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of declining GDP growth. The new economic numbers from the BEA show that the U.S. GDP growth stabilized at 0.6% for the first quarter of 2008. After real GDP growth dropped from 4.9% in the third quarter of 2007 to 0.6% in the final quarter of 2007, many analysts began using the word "recession" quite freely. However, the economic numbers prove that the U.S. economy was resilient and avoided technical classification as a recession.

It's As If They're Mind Readers

After yesterday's post, today's Post-Gazette editorial discusses the real air quality problem in Pittsburgh. I'm surprised they didn't work smoking in there somehow.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Get That Smoke Out Of Here

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has been on a rampage of late as it tries to push for Pennsylvania to ban indoor smoking. Two recent editorials (here and here) have been aimed at strong arming this ban into action. They even go so far as to say:

If our legislators don't get this done, Pennsylvania's new slogan will have to be "America's Ashtray."

Pittsburgh may well become "America's Ashtray," but it has won't be because of individual smoking preferences. The American Lung Associated recently released their State of the Air report and for the first time ever a city outside of California topped one of the lists: Pittsburgh earned the dubious honor.

The press release for the State of the Air report notes:

Pittsburgh moved to the top of the list of cities most polluted by short-term levels of particle pollution, a deadly cocktail of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end.

Notice that absent from this list of air pollutant factors is cigarette smoking. Although the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette might be working to ban smoking indoors, it might benefit them to step outside because that's where the real air problem lies.

Personally, I don't smoke nor do I necessarily enjoy the smoke in a restaurant or bar. However, we as individuals have the decision making capacity to not return to an establishment if we don't like the smoking. Smokers have as much of a right to smoke as us nonsmokers have to not smoke. Now, that right shouldn't necessarily guarantee them the ability to smoke inside a public venue, but if a bar or restaurant owner permits smoking then smokers should go ahead and do so.

The medical research on smoking is pretty clear in demonstrating the negatively health impacts. Even secondhand smoke is harmful. Just because smoking has these effects though does not justify banning all smoking indoors. For instance, you can go into McDonalds and buy a Big Mac and fries even though you know it contains an unhealthy amount of calories and trans fats. However, it should be your personal preference what goes into your mouth. This fried meal certainly inversely affect one's health; yet, I think few people would accept banning Big Macs. It would make more sense to go somewhere else and enjoy a healthier alternative rather than imposing an overarching ban.

Being respectful of other people's personal preferences is part of living in a democracy. The government's hand should not be invoked to remove this behavior. People like myself enjoy nonsmoking environments, and surprisingly enough the market responds to these preferences. The Post-Gazette's Editorial makes it seem as if there are no choices for nonsmokers, but nothing could be further from the truth. Smoke Free Pennsylvania already offers a comprehensive list of local nonsmoking places. As more people continue to quit smoking, more venues will cater to this preference. It's not rocket science; it's the power of the market. This may not be the answer that those seeking an indoor ban may be after, but it's at least respectful of other's lifestyle choices.