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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, May 13, 2016

What Good Government Reforms Would You Make?

No one has seriously challenged my assertion, made Wednesday, that the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is engulfed in a culture of corruption. It's everywhere. Nazareth (Mayor charged with felony theft), Allentown (Mayor named in political corruption investigation), and the state (Treasurer charged with extortion) are just a few of an increasing number of examples. A few local governments have adopted reforms, but they are pretty much meaningless unless the state government steps in with new laws that have a statewide impact.

On Wednesday, Lower Macungie Commissioner Ron Beitler offered a few ideas. I'll repeat them here, and add a few of my own. Please feel free to offer your own suggestions:

1. Term limits now and tweak the terms. Three four-year terms for State Reps. Two six-year terms for State Senators. A two-year term for State Reps is too short, They have to start campaigning for the next election virtually the day after they win.

2. Reduce the size of PA government so state rep districts to have 85,000 people within. This is small enough to maintain constituent services at the current level, but large enough to eliminate 52 positions entirely.

3. Eliminate pensions for elected officials. Salaries for a full-time state legislator should be adjusted to be the median for the district represented. It is a full time job, but not a career. Pensions are for career positions.

4. Enact Resign-to-run rules that would apply to any full time elected position that draws a taxpayer funded salary.

5. End gerrymandering by establishing independent commissions to do the redistricting.

6. Require all candidates for statewide office to file campaign finance reports electronically so the people know immediately how the campaign is being funded.

7. Ban the use of campaign funds for criminal defense.

8. Increase penalties for noncompliance with state campaign finance laws, and continue the requirement that a candidate pay for violations out of his own personal funds.

9. All local governments should be required to provide an Internet broadcast of every meeting. If it is too expensive, the government should be dissolved.

10. Enact State Rep. Bob Freeman's Bill Freeman's bill (H.B. 1745) to require candidates for the General Assembly to follow the same expense report requirements as candidates for statewide office. Currently, both General Assembly and statewide office candidates are required to file a report on the second Friday before an election, but only candidates for statewide office are required to report on or before the sixth Tuesday before the election.

11. Ban gifts of any kind, on a state and local level.

12. Require receipts for per diem payments.

13. Allow independent voters to participate in Primary Elections.

14. Ban local governments and school districts from attaching risky derivatives/"swaps" to their debt.

15. Ban candidates or elected officials from using campaign funds to make contributions to any other PAC or candidate committee to prevent the money laundering. .

67 comments:

Anonymous said...

Everything both you and Ron have come up with here is very good, enumerating more seems somewhat redundant when the average citizen does not know how to get any of it done.

If there was a step-by-step procedure the average citizen could follow to get this list done I think you would have a great deal of support. Short of that many just see their energy being grounded out into a dead political system.

Some have seen into the abyss and felt the retribution first hand for speaking out and just feel absolutely impotent in light of the hidden hand that seems to large and dodges every reform.

And then there those who deep down think this is as good as it gets, and are just trying to hold on to what little they have left, pinning what's left of hope to an imperfect, but seemingly fearless bottom feeding blogger.




Anonymous said...

Both parties are run to promote their own best interests.

Anonymous said...

Limit campaign expenses to year of election requiring forfeiture of unspent monies. Eliminate rolling campaign accounts and expenditures in non election years. I believe district magistrates must spend it or lose it and cannot accumulate funds when they are unopposed. Similar rules for everybody.

Anonymous said...

Don't let Political executives sign triple net leases for buildings. That is a lease that will cost the taxpayers more money and is essentially a gift to the contractor.

Anonymous said...

Two related suggestions-

1. REDUCE the ability to vote straight party.

Not every Democrat, nor every Republican, is the best pick for each office. Citizens must take time to know more about the candidate than just the letter after his/her name.

2. LIST candidates on the ballot (per office) in random order with no party affiliation attached.

Everyone who votes deserves our praise, but if a voter is willing to reduce their future to just D or R, they insult every candidate who had the courage to step up and try to make positive change.


Fred Windish

Anonymous said...

Eliminate electronic voting, return to the voting machine process of the 1990s. Or as an even better alternative, use punch ballots.

Enact positive photo identification prior to the voter receiving a ballot. Showing a photo identification card in commonplace in our society, voting is no exception.

Ray Nemeth Sr said...

I agree reform is needed, It would be more likely to happen if this list would be trimmed to 6 priority items and then proposed to everyone. If this could be accomplished then see what would be needed on a later round.

Anonymous said...

Definitely term limits. Definitely ban pensions for elected officials. That alone would be incentive to serve and leave! All campaign donations online every week.
No campaign funds to ever allow for criminal or any kind of defense. No campaign funds allowed to be given to another candidate. Who dares to do this. Outrageous.
I give to Candidate Joe and he, behind my back, gives to Candidate Susan. Really!
All council meetings from any government entity should be forbidden to set public comment time limits. No government official should have loved ones also hired by same government in any department. No government official should ever be allowed to vote on a bond issue or community improvement that benefits his or her own property.

Anonymous said...

The biggest step toward reform will be to get rid of the gerrymandering of the districts in this state. If the representatives were able to have a district that is easily understood, more people might be inclined to run for office, and that would take care of the term limits.

Scott Armstrong said...

Get rid of all taxpayer funded pensions for elect officials, local all the way up to federal. Political office should not be a career. However the real reform can only come when the citizens decide to take an interest in civics. We are supposed to be the watchdogs, we are supposed to insure good government with our vote! We need only look in the mirror to see who is to blame for what is unfolding now.

Anonymous said...

Why is everyone so concerned, so negative? Relax. Wonder boy Justin Simmons already told everyone in 2010 he was going to take care of all of these things. Don't you have faith? Remember, he's a reformist, and a TRUE conservative.

Anonymous said...

On the local level, consolidate school districts and fire departments. Nationally, no exemptions for Congress. If I have to abide by a law, so should they..Obamacare..

Anonymous said...

Eliminate all government unions. They are a cancer on both our government and our society.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I agree reform is needed, It would be more likely to happen if this list would be trimmed to 6 priority items and then proposed to everyone. If this could be accomplished then see what would be needed on a later round."

You are correct that this would have to be pursued incrementally.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Eliminate electronic voting, return to the voting machine process of the 1990s. Or as an even better alternative, use punch ballots."

This is not a reform. This is the regressive thinking of an authoritarian. I could see giving a paper receipt to indicate that the vote counted.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"2. LIST candidates on the ballot (per office) in random order with no party affiliation attached.

I like this one. There are states that have nonpartisan elections. I need to research whether corruption is less prevailant in those states.

The Central Scrutinizer said...

All of those things would be a dream come true. I believe that most of our issues in PA result from the State legislature and we need more turnover. I was apprehensive about the pension thing but the more I think about it, I absolutely agree. These people make a handsome salary and can fund their own IRA on short term basis. The only problem is that the legislature would have to pass these rules and they never will. Never. Ever ever.

Add to the list VOTER REFERENDUM. We could demand these things via referendum and settle things like liquor store privatization and marijuana legalization. For the latter, we left medical marijuana up to the legislature and it resulted in a ridiculous law where only pharmaceutical companies can sell processed marijuana in pill and liquid form. Stupid.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Limit campaign expenses to year of election requiring forfeiture of unspent monies. Eliminate rolling campaign accounts and expenditures in non election years. I believe district magistrates must spend it or lose it and cannot accumulate funds when they are unopposed. Similar rules for everybody. "

I love this one, too. That would also help take away the advantage of incumbency.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Add to the list VOTER REFERENDUM. We could demand these things via referendum and settle things like liquor store privatization and marijuana legalization. For the latter, we left medical marijuana up to the legislature and it resulted in a ridiculous law where only pharmaceutical companies can sell processed marijuana in pill and liquid form. Stupid."

More power to the people.

Anonymous said...

4:02AM - love those ideas!

Redistrict reform is first and foremost, without it you just have politicians looking to protect their own turf.

I'm good with term limits, and to a degree some pension reform. My worry is that we would be asking our government representatives to potentially give up 12 years of their lives and time building a career with a company or general work experience to lead us in Harrisburg or Washington. Like it or not, it would be a sacrifice for the "best & brightest" to give those years up where they could be climbing the corporate ladder and increasing salary. Just like any business that wants to attract talent, you need to have a benefit package to help bring them in.

Scott

The Central Scrutinizer said...

5:01 - While I understand your point, I feel you are taking away the freedom for people to vote straight ticket if they want to. Political parties have clear platforms that many people either agree with or they don't. I'd have trouble voting for any Republican given what the party itself stands for. You really seem to be advocating the elimination of political parties.

The Central Scrutinizer said...

7:10 - We need voter referendum. Sure, the voters can do stupid things sometimes but Harrisburg will NEVER pass these laws on their own.

Bernie O'Hare said...

When done hearing these ideas, I am going to put them all together and forward them to CommonCausePa, the Committee of 70, the LWV and state legislators. I agree with only a little at one time, but I think many of these ideas are excellent. So keep 'em coming.

The Central Scrutinizer said...

8:55 - I'd tend to agree with you on the "best and brightest" but they make $86,000 per year with per diem benefits and excellent healthcare. Perhaps we don't need the "best and brightest" but need more average citizens running the state house.

Anonymous said...

Add a "none of the above" as a stanbard option.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you let independents vote either party. There's too many shenanigans that can happen if a large block of voters decided to get together and vote for one candidate just to slight the other.

I don't want to be a naysayer, I think some reforms are good, but the real shame here goes on the voter. There's never been a time in our history when the "average voter" has such great access to information as he/she does today. The sad part is, apart from Bernie's bloggers and the "party leaders", no one really cares. They want to be left alone.

That being said, if I had a reform to make, it would be to make running for office as simple and easy as possible. Signing petitions, notarizing forms, campaign finance documents, etc., really aren't very friendly to the first time office-seeker. There are hoops to be jumped through which can be daunting to someone without any experience, and those people that are affiliated with their respective parties have a clear advantage. The more power you can remove from the parties, the better off the public would be.



Anonymous said...

Term limits for EVERY elected office on the local, state and federal level.

Age limits for EVERY elected office on the local, state and federal level.

A big step is eliminating the career politician cancer.

If judges can't serve past 70, I don't see why elected officials should not be held to the same restriction.

Nazerath's defender Zoid said...

Make corruption a capital offense with the execution done in public (Getter's Island) and broadcast on PBS, RCN, WFMZ etc.

Also no lethal injection, gassing or e-chair, back to firing squads, hanging, beheading and maybe for real scumbags like the morbidly obese heart attack faker out in Reading live burial.

China has a lot of issues but they are putting on a clinic in the world of capital punishment , our "wussified" nation would not be able to stomach the thought of such a demise everyone wants to die with a morphine drip or peaceful in their sleep but that can't be an option for trough slopping miscreants like Styre Jr aka Dinklepussy

Anonymous said...

I am not sure the resign to run would be a good thing. You would have incumbent Legislators who may not have challengers because lower level office holders would not be willing to take a chance to make a challenge. Also, I would not want to limit the pool of qualified candidates to retirees or independent wealthy. I simply would want a diverse pool of qualified candidates. Next we will have employers passing policies that discourage people from running for office. If folks on the national level campaign, it should be on their own time or leave without pay.

Anonymous said...

ELIMINATE political junk sent out by Legislators 4 or 6 months leading up to a primary or general. It seems like sending out birthday cards on the taxpayer nickel is more of a campaign activity than constituent outreach. Maybe there is more to this than I envision. I once visited a Legislators office and the assistants desk was filled with birthday card. I would rather see this as a school project.

Anonymous said...

Publicly funded campaigns would end the corruption of pay to play and create a level playing field.

Anonymous said...

Do away with primary elections.

Also, remove ballot access restrictions for third parties.

Anonymous said...

Automatic removal from office (any elected position) with 'no' pay if brought up on any sort of criminal charges!

Yea that's right, guilty until you prove your innocence... I have confidence in our district attorney offices!

Anonymous said...

-No pensions for new state, local, school employees or elected officials. 401k style plan with decent employer match instead.
-No health insurance for elected county or municipal officials (hey Bethlehem...)
-Reduce the size of state legislature.
-Get rid of the entire delegate system. Citizens vote directly for the candidate.
-Force consolidation of municipalities and their associated police departments, though it seems impossible.

Anonymous said...

I forgot one from my 10:09 list above. Cut this transgender bathroom bullshit. You have man parts, use the men's room, you have woman parts, use the women's room, nobody cares what you "feel" you are.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That is not a good government reform.

Charlie Sch said...

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20160512_Visit_Philadelphia_ex-CFO_pleads_guilty_to_theft__fraud.html

Woman gets probation for stealing $200,000 of tax money from Phila. tourism agency.
---
Also, yesterday, a district justice was charged with stealing $100,000 from his office and from a fire company in Berks County.

Charlie Sch said...

Pass a binding state law or state constitutional amendment to stop gerrmandering of US House and State legislative districts. That will result in more fair competition for races, and will make it easier to defeat an imcumbent and to elect moderates. It would reduce the gridlock at the federal and state level.

We cannot allow our legislators to keep picking their own voters. Few have credible opponents in the November elections.

Charlie Sch said...

Typo - gerrymandering named after Governor Gerry.

Here's a bill before the legislature that never is allowed to come to a vote:

http://www.senatorleach.com/issues/redistricting

Charlie Sch said...

Some people also believe that if we allow independents to vote in a party primary that it would help to nominate moderates. It is allowed in many states, but I haven't researched the matter to find out how well it works.

Jeff Fox said...

Great discussion! We certainly need many reforms. I agree with and love many of the ideas and have been thinking about many for quite a while. Refreshing. I certainly don't agree with all of them, but most. I would not be in favor of the public execution thing, Mr. Zoid. I do agree it would get good TV ratings though. Great and much needed discussion.

Anonymous said...

Or, anyonelse but those listed above?!
That is exactly what I wrote on my vote this time even though I changed from independent to republican?! This I did just to have a vote in all voting time polls because like many others I have a thought process outside any conventional box??
Re:publican redd

Anonymous said...

Put a spending cap and time limit on the use of campaign funds based on the type of election (primary or general) and position being sought (local/district, state wide or national). I believe that the courts might find that this violates the First Amendment but the perceived need to raise unlimited campaign money is at least correlated with the desire and ability of a candidate to spend an unlimited amount of money over an extended period of time.

Anonymous said...

Ok...so pick six,

2. Reduce the size of PA government so state rep districts to have 85,000 people within. This is small enough to maintain constituent services at the current level, but large enough to eliminate 52 positions entirely.

5. End gerrymandering by establishing independent commissions to do the redistricting.

6. Require all candidates for statewide office to file campaign finance reports electronically so the people know immediately how the campaign is being funded.

9. All local governments should be required to provide an Internet broadcast of every meeting. If it is too expensive, the government should be dissolved.

11. Ban gifts of any kind, on a state and local level.

13. Allow independent voters to participate in Primary Elections.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at Nebraska elections and especially their unicameral legislature

Robert Trotner said...

First abd foremost, as state representative candidate Ben Long advocates, campaign finance limits. Pennsylvania is the poster child fir corruption because it has NO campaign finance limits whatsoever.

Second, a fair and impartial apportionment system to prevent gerrymandering. Apportionment shouldn't benefit either party, snd it certainly shouldn't protect incumbents.

Anonymous said...

Publically FLOG ALL bottom feeding bloggers?

Anonymous said...

All of this mental masturbation about reform is comical. All of the reforms would have to be introduced, debated, voted and passed by the very people you are looking to reform. You know, the people you voted into office in the first place bacause they told you what you wanted to hear like "I'm a TRUE conservative" or "I'm pro-life and will uphold the Second Amendment" or "I believe in the Constitution" (but have never even read it, and neither have you) or "I will stop waste, fraud and abuse and stop illegal immigration" (of any brownish people we real 'muricans don't like). Keep amusing youselves though, if it makes you feel better, because you have the gubmint you voted for and deserve.

Anonymous said...

I am generally skeptical of term limits because re-election is what is supposed to keep elected officials accountable to voters, but I would definitely support consecutive term limits that would not limit the number of terms able to be served, but would limit the number able to be served in a row.

I would also like to see an independent redistricting commission, but with additional geometric constraints on the shapes of districts, for example, limiting them to 8 manmade boundaries and 2 natural boundaries, and making them no narrower at any point than 1/3 of their width at the widest point. That would prevent a lot of the ridiculous district shapes we see that can't reasonably expect to be well-represented by a single assemblyperson.

Resign-to-run rules and eliminating pensions might have fewer low- and middle-income people are able to run for office, which would be bad in terms of creating a more representative legislature.

Bernie O'Hare said...

2:56, I understand the cynicism. A state rep like Emrick, who is being faced by Mattei, will be much more receptive about some of these measures than he would be if he had no opponent. In this climate of corruption and anger at incumbents, this is a perfect time to pitch for reform.

Anonymous said...

How about bringing back powdered wigs?

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Publically FLOG ALL bottom feeding bloggers? "

I would like that, especially if I can wear a powdered wig while the punishment is being administered.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Resign-to-run rules and eliminating pensions might have fewer low- and middle-income people are able to run for office, which would be bad in terms of creating a more representative legislature."

Disagree. It would in fact deter people in any income bracket from making politics a career.

Anonymous said...

A Rep candidate like Emrick will make all the right noises during an election but won't get s**t done once elected. The reason is because other electeds won't support "reforms" that take something from them. And he, and others just like him, will get elected and re-elected because most of their constituents aren't interested in reform. They just want someone who validates their base prejudices and beliefs about those "others". So, real reform will never happen. Ask Freeman. He has been jousting these windmills his whole life. Sorry, grumpy today.

Anonymous said...

I never agreed with term limits in the past. However, since people have proven that they hate all public officials but their own and the power of money, I now agree.

Term limits on all public offices.

Anonymous said...

Reduction of size of legislature makes the most sense but will likely be ignored by the oxen who chose not to thin their herds.

Atown Assassin said...

How about passing an IQ test before running for a givermint seat.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I am not interested in igratuitous insults.

Anonymous said...

"Disagree. It would in fact deter people in any income bracket from making politics a career.
3:14 PM"


Well, yes, but it would disproportionately discourage people who are not wealthy from running for office. If you had a low income and not a lot of savings, and you had to resign from a full-time state job to run for office, how would you support yourself and your family through the election? And what if you lost? You would just be stuck without a job, likely without a whole lot of prospects to find a new job. Discouraging people from spending a career in politics may or may not be a worthwhile goal (there is a real argument to be made that an experienced government is better than a government made up of mostly inexperienced people), but I think we can agree that discouraging people from entering public service at all would be really bad.

And if the idea is to discourage people from becoming career politicians, then both of these reforms would be redundant anyway, if term limits or consecutive term limits were in place.

–3:00

Bernie O'Hare said...

I still disagree.If a person is low-income, as you say, or even middle income, the salary paid by the state house does not exactly ask that person to make a sacrifice. The whole point is to discourage people from making politics a career. It should be regarded as public service, not a career path.

Anonymous said...

some people find public service rewarding and not as a career path of a pension. Some actually do it to help good people. Not every elected or appointed official is in it for a buck. Yes there are scum bags like the Joe Emrick of the world from being a public trough licking teach to a house seat but not everyone is a douche low life like Emrick.

Anonymous said...

Ok, either way, you might want to check out this paper from MIT about the effectiveness of term limits in the North Carolina state house. It may work here because our legislatures are so different, but the other reforms on your list may be better to focus on.

http://economics.mit.edu/files/1222

There are also similar results out of California, and I imagine there are plenty more studies of the experiences of governments who have enacted these reforms.

http://www.ppic.org/main/pressrelease.asp?i=522
(this is just a press release about the California study, but a PDF of the paper is available via the link at the right under "publication")


–3:00

Local said...

Term limits need to be SHORT - enough to discourage long standing alliances with contractors, vendors etc. Some body should be vetting each expense, every time, to ensure that we the public are getting the best possible result from our money.
How are people living locally entitled to any per diem?
Elections shouldn't necessarily be a matter of the wealthiest wins.
Elected officials should be entitled to the same health insurance as the rest of us.
Some great thoughts in this conversation..

Anonymous said...

11. Ban gifts of any kind, on a state and local level.

Although this is in my top six, it does not address the revolving door of gifting though a lucrative job after serving. Nor does it address gifting by being able to purchase properties at inflated prices from politicians or their families.

Although sweet hearting a job for a family member or directly to an ex politician or buying a property at an inflated price, from same, is not technically a gift it is a pay-off of a kind.

I have no idea how this can be addressed.

Both Obama and Rubio did a funky real estate deal. This demonstrates it happens on both sides and probably happens with other tangible assets on the state and local level as well.

Anonymous said...

Term limits will insure that a person will be more concerned with what they will do afterwards with no pension or chance of being re-elected. Selling out more readily to ensure a good paying job after office.

I believe therefore that Term limits to be the least effective in the way of reform, may make it worse, and should be left to the voters at the polls.

I also believe number 5 is non-negotiable a must.

5. End gerrymandering by establishing independent commissions to do the redistricting.

Doc Rock said...

Rather than term limits, place "None of the Above" on the ballot for every elective office. If "None of the Above" wins a majority or plurality of the votes, the other candidates are disqualified and a new slate of candidates (including "None of the Above") must be drawn for a new election. Lather, rinse and repeat until someone other than "None of the Above" receives a majority of the votes.

bhdiamond said...

You are right Bernie that PA is a state in need of reform. As you probably know, the Center for Public Integrity published a data driven report in 2015 in which it rated state governments on various measures of integrity and gave PA an F characterizing it as "an entrenched culture of malfeasance." An attorney in our state ethics commission agreed that we have a very weak ethics statute. My proposal for reform is to focus on the local level and establish a robust ethics program for municipalities. This is more that just a code of ethics passed as a resolution such as Bethlehem has currently. An ethics program includes ongoing education of elected and administrative officials to raise their awareness of conflicts of interest, a procedure for them to seek clarification and guidance about conflicts, investigation of conflicts, etc. The gold standard for local ethics programs is to have an autonomous board of ethics independent of political influence with a budget for investigation and legal counsel. Easton has such a board (though not entirely independent since the mayor appoints the members). Addressing ethics at the local level is important. See an opensource document, "Local Government Ethics Programs in a Nutshell" by Robert Wechsler, "local government is where the individuals who become state & federal representatives too often experience their first poor ethics environment, learn the wrong rules, misplace their loyalty, and begin to feel a special entitlement." Instituting good government practices at the local level may be more doable in the short run with long run benefits than some of the other suggestions.