Sara Innamorato: Our Democratic Socialist in Harrisburg Sticking Up for All of Us.
By Sara Innamorato Pittsburgh City Paper
Frb 14, 2020 – Everyone who grows up in Pittsburgh can narrate the rise and fall of the steel industry: the mills grew as immigrants arrived to take jobs in the blast furnaces, then the Great Strike occurred where industry titans ordered deadly violence upon workers calling for better wages and working conditions; later, the series of federal trade agreements were created, culminating with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), that sold out the workers and shut down the mills.
Our city’s population declined by half. Our family-sustaining union jobs crumbled, and our neighborhoods with them. But Pittsburghers are tough — we don’t like to complain, we’ve seen worse. And so we persevered and we adapted, and now Pittsburgh is widely seen as a success story. There is a sense of collective pride in our story of resiliency.
But as I knocked on doors during my 2018 bid for office, my neighbors told a more nuanced story. They told me they were working harder, but making less — getting by day-to-day was a stretch. They told me they were worried about their futures and their children’s futures.
The voters I spoke with, like so many of us in Southwestern Pennsylvania, had watched as previous trade agreements, like NAFTA, pushed local jobs overseas and drove down wages for the jobs that remained. People were fed up, and many voted for President Trump because he said he would “never sign any trade agreement that hurts our workers.”
I am no supporter of President Trump, but for the sake of the people I represent in Allegheny County, I had hoped this was a promise he would keep. Unfortunately, when he signed the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) on Wednesday, he broke that promise, betrayed those voters, and sold out Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Oct 7, 2019 – Pennsylvania is ready for a just, clean-energy future. Ever since 1859, when Edwin Drake ushered in the modern era’s addiction to fossil fuels when he struck “rock oil” in Titusville, our state has been at the front lines of the extraction industry’s booms and busts. We are way past ready for a Just Transition to renewable sources of energy and a sustainable future for us all.
For a century and a half, we’ve watched corporations pull poisons from the ground, then leave the health and safety of our communities in ruins as they move on with all the riches. From poisoned rural waterways to the nearly catastrophic explosion at a South Philadelphia oil refinery earlier this year, no part of the state has been left unscathed. But even after a century and a half, the extraction industry still thinks the people of Pennsylvania can be fooled by its false narrative. We won’t.
Rose Tennent, a longtime conservative pundit and surrogate for the Trump campaign, now leads this unholy choir in Pennsylvania. She recently penned an op-ed decrying Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to ban fracking entirely under her presidency.
Presumptuously claiming to speak for all Pennsylvanians, Tennent argues Warren’s proposal will kill the “desirable” jobs that have accumulated in the state as a result of the fracking industry, which she irresponsibly calls “responsible.”
Let’s talk jobs first – because the statistical data Tennent relies on is grossly inaccurate. She overstates the positive impact the fracking industry has had on communities.
Speaker Mike Turzai, Tennent’s extraction-loving wing man in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, doesn’t even bother to remove industry emblems from the handouts he uses to promote fracking. Like Tennent, he touts the number of jobs he says fracking has created in the state. But we need to look beyond this headline to get to the truth. Continue reading Pennsylvania Is Ready For A Just, Clean-Energy Future→
DECEMBER 2017 – Hydraulic fracking has “brought back great-paying jobs,” says Steve Miskin, spokesman for Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson, File)
If your state is the only oil and gas producer in the nation that doesn’t have a severance tax, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on you to enact one. But given the amount of money involved, it’s easier to talk about creating such a tax than actually imposing it. In Pennsylvania, that talk has blossomed into a fight over more than just money; it now involves lobbying, environmental protection and the next campaign for governor.
Pennsylvania became the first place in the world to successfully drill for oil back in the 1850s. Over the past decade, however, natural gas has overtaken oil as the big game in the state. Pennsylvania is now the nation’s second-leading producer of natural gas, after Texas. Naturally, lawmakers are wary of tampering with the golden goose. “Right now, you have an industry that’s growing and not asking for state dollars, like others,” says Steve Miskin, a spokesman for state House Speaker Mike Turzai. “It has brought back great-paying jobs.”
The industry has spent more than $60 million on lobbying and campaign donations in the state over the past decade to ward off a severance tax on its profits. Industry officials like to point out that, even in the absence of a severance tax, Pennsylvania’s general business tax rates are often higher than those in other production states — notably Texas, which doesn’t tax corporate income. What’s more, Pennsylvania five years ago imposed an impact fee on drillers, which generated $173 million last year. “The comparison with other states shouldn’t stop and start just with the severance tax,” says Kevin Sunday, chief lobbyist with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “We have to look at the whole structure.”
But no one disputes that fiscally challenged Pennsylvania could use the money a severance tax would bring in — easily as much as $100 million a year. So quite a few legislators are determined to pass one. The state Senate actually approved a severance tax earlier this year.
It’s been a tough sell in the House, though, and not only because Turzai and other Republicans are largely opposed. State Rep. Greg Vitali, a Democrat who became the first legislator to propose a severance tax nearly a decade ago, came out against the Senate package, arguing it would also loosen state control of drilling permits and weaken environmental protection. “I find myself in the odd position during these budget negotiations to suddenly be opposing it,” he says. “The passage of a severance tax now is linked to some very bad provisions that in my view would cripple the Department of Environmental Protection’s ability to do its job.”
Meanwhile, the severance tax has become a sensitive campaign issue. A leaked tape captured Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner, a likely gubernatorial candidate next year, predicting that passage of the tax would guarantee a second term for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, a leading severance tax advocate, because he’d have a big victory to tout.
The specter of handing Wolf a win has become the final and perhaps the biggest hurdle for the severance tax to overcome. “Both the Democrats and the Republicans,” Vitali says, “are viewing the severance tax through the lens of the gubernatorial election.”
Dec 18, 2017 – NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CBS) — State Sen. Daylin Leach will not step down from his seat in the legislature, but he is suspending his run for Congress in the wake of accusations of sexual harassment of staffers.
Leach says he will step back from his congressional campaign to focus on his family and to work with Senate leaders to address the allegations.
He says he will fully cooperate as the allegations are all vetted.
“While I’ve always been a gregarious person, it’s heartbreaking to me that I have put someone in a position that made them feel uncomfortable or disrespected,” Leach said in a statement Monday. “In the future, I will take more care in my words and my actions, and I will make it my top priority to protect those who to speak up to help change the culture around us.”
Leach was seeking the Democratic nomination in next fall’s congressional race for the seat currently held by Pat Meehan.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called on Leach to resign after the allegations were published and says he does not think that was premature.
“I think Daylin Leach has done a fine job as a senator, but I think we need to make a statement about what kind of society we are and what kind of a commonwealth we are,” said the governor. “I’ve had zero tolerance for this back when I was in the private sector and zero tolerance for it in the executive branch. This is not something that anybody, male or female should be forced to subject himself or herself too in the course of doing a job. It’s wrong.”
But Leach says he plans to keep his seat in the state legislature, adding, “I will continue to do all that I can to advance progressive causes in the Senate and represent my constituents with honor.”
Feb 8, 2015, Harrisburg, PA. If the vote were taken for the Democratic presidential candidate at the Harrisburg Hilton on Saturday, Feb. 7, Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, would likely have won by a landslide.
That was the spirit in the hotel ballroom as Sanders addressed the 800 people gathered for the PA Progressive Summit. The annual meeting, sponsored by Keystone Progress, brought together progressive activists—community and trade union organizers, women’s right and civil rights groups, hopeful candidates and door knockers—all of whom made up the democratic wing of the Democratic Party, from all across the Keystone State.
“I’m going to try something a little different this morning,” said Sanders to start things rolling, “I’m going to tell you the truth.” He got a wave of laughter and cheers from people who often got something else from politicians.
Sanders started off with the ‘Citizen United’ Supreme Court decision taking limits off the superrich in funding elections and candidates. “It will go down is history as one of the worse ever made in modern times” Sanders said by way of description. “By a five-to-four vote, it undermined the very foundations of democracy. I know you think the situation is bad, believe me, it’s worse than you think it is.” Billionaires are not satisfied with owning the economy, he explained. They were buying government as well.”
The Koch Brothers, with 85 billion in wealth, were taken as the case in point. Sanders explained that they alone intended to spend over 900 million dollars on the 2016 election—more than the combined total of Obama and Romney in 2012. This meant these “counter-revolutionaries with a far right agenda” would wield more power than both political parties in the recent past.
Turning to the economy, Sanders said while the economy was clearly in better shape than when Obama, first took office, it was still clearly in bad shape. He explained the different meanings of official unemployment figures, with 5.8 percent being the most common number cited, but double that, near 12%, was more accurate.
Then he broke it down further: “We talk a lot about Ferguson, as we should. But we also need to talk more about Black youth unemployment, which is 30 percent. Nobody should be satisfied with where we are today. We have 45 million people living in poverty, another word we need to talk more about today.”
For those worried about deficits, Sanders noted that they had been reduced under Obama. But he also insisted that if they were truly concerned about deficits, they would have stood up against the Iraq war. This remark got wild cheers and everyone out of their seats.
Unfair Impact of Technological Change
Sanders went on to examine ‘the explosion in technology,’ not only i-Phones and i-Pads, but robotics in factories. “All of this has led to a tremendous growth in productivity on the part of American workers.” Such changes logically might suggest workers were paid more or worked shorter hours, he added, “but all of you know, tens of millions of Americans today are working longer hours for less pay.”
This meant anger and stress among workers—impacting both men and women, even if in slightly different ways—needed discussion as a national issue. There was a time, “ancient history” said Sanders, when one worker could work 40 hours and support a family reasonably well. Now women were working along with men, sometimes at two or three jobs, at long hours and low pay, to hobble together enough to support a family. “This causes a lot of anger, and often it’s being angry at the wrong people for the wrong reasons,” he added. “The average male worker, right in the center of the economy, now makes $800 a year less in inflation adjusted dollars than he did 40 years ago. The average female worker in the center makes $1300 a year, even less. They have a lot to be angry about. They want to know why, and our job is to explain it to them.”
Dec 11, 2014 – Many school reformers today like to say that “money doesn’t matter” in making schools work and that holding students and teachers more “accountable” — largely through standardized test scores — is what is needed.
Certainly a great deal of money can be used poorly but that is not the same thing as money doesn’t matter. It is, however, a good mantra for people who want to ignore the severe and consequential funding inequities that persist in the U.S. public education system across the United States.
According to this 2013 report on school funding by the Education Law Center:
In fiscal year 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, state governments, on average, funded 43.5 percent, or $259.8 billion, of the total amount spent on public education. School districts and other local sources were responsible, on average, for almost 44 percent of all public school spending or $261.6 billion. The federal government, on average, provided almost 13 percent of the total revenue received by public schools, or $75.9 billion.
With most of the money coming from state and local sources, disparities are inevitable, especially because in most places local sources are dependent on property taxes, meaning that poor areas have less money to spend on schools. Federal money given to low-income areas doesn’t close the gap.
So how inequitable can school funding be within a single state? Let’s look at one of the most troubled in this respect, Pennsylvania.
Here’s some testimony from Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, given to a public hearing of the Basic Education Funding Commission in Pennsylvania about school funding:
Pennsylvania’s system of funding schools is a failure by every criterion: equity, adequacy, predictability, fairness. Too many students in too many schools are unable to meet state standards of what children should know and be able to do. Too few are going on to college or are prepared for well paying jobs. No one is responsible to calculate how much it will cost districts to provide the necessary instruction and support. The inequity of the system is glaring: the amount of public resources spent on preparing a child to succeed in the adult world varies from $9,000 to $27,000 a year, which is a quarter of a million dollars difference over a school career from K to 12th grade. But it is not only unfair to children, it is unfair to taxpayers where the tax burden can vary from the equivalent of 8 to 36 equalized mills of tax effort for homes with the same value. And in the ultimate insult, the districts bearing the highest tax burdens frequently have less dollars to spend on their students than districts with tax burdens half the amount.
The reasons for these multiple failures are simple:
1. Too few state dollars result in too high reliance on local dollars; 2. The system does not take into account how much it costs to educate children. 3. State dollars are distributed on a basis which does not reflect the tax effort of the district.
Senator Tartaglione Rises to Defeat ‘Paycheck Protection’ in Statehouse
HARRISBURG, Oct. 15, 2014 – State Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione today helped to quash a backdoor attempt to weaken unions by joining a bipartisan push to defeat an amendment that would have prohibited employers from automatically deducting membership dues from a worker’s paycheck.
Called “paycheck protection” by proponents, Tartaglione said the proposal, introduced by Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) as an amendment to a bill designed to help children with food allergies, was not democratic.
“The only thing Sen. Wagner’s amendment would do is eliminate unions’ abilities to choose who they want to represent them in government,” Tartaglione said. “It would eliminate the voices of the men and women who work hard day-in and day-out to put food on the table for their families, just because they belong to a union.
“Union members can already decide whether or not they want to contribute to union political spending. The law protects them if they choose not to contribute. And, she said, for every hour worked by a teacher, the money they earn for that work is no longer the state’s money; it is the employee’s.
“So, I ask you: why do we call this measure ‘paycheck protection?’” she said on the Senate floor.
Tartaglione added that voting in favor of the Wagner amendment would have handed control of the commonwealth to corporations “and their one-sided political agendas.”
Oct. 17, 2014 – It had all the trappings of an ALEC-backed attack on democracy: Push out a bill prohibiting local governments from passing workplace protections in their own communities. If all else failed, tack the measure onto some popular bill as an amendment and hope the supporters of that bill would want it badly enough to allow the hostile amendment to stand.
Only this time the strategy didn’t work, thanks to the strong stand of progressive legislators and the smart organizing of a broad coalition – particularly the leadership of anti-violence advocates.
In this case, the state was Pennsylvania. The preemption attempt was aimed at stopping future passage of a municipal paid sick days ordinance. And the popular bill held hostage was one to aid those who experience domestic violence.
First Rep. Seth Grove, a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council or “ALEC,” tried to pass a stand-alone bill that would take away the right of local units of government to pass laws ensuring workers could earn paid sick days – or even unpaid leave. Other legislators added multiple amendments to the bill that would have required every elected official to take votes that might have been unpopular with their constituents. The measure didn’t move.
So another ALEC member, John Eichelberger, decided to try a different tack: stick the preemption provision as an amendment onto a bipartisan bill to help those experiencing domestic violence. HB 1796 was written to exempt victims of domestic violence from “nuisance ordinances” that allow landlords to evict those who call 911 more than a certain number of times within a given period. The bill had passed the House with broad bipartisan support.