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Monday, September 20, 2010

Callahan on How to Deceive the Public ... For Their Own Good

When Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan first started touting a 17% increase in sales tax last year, the NRCC slammed him pretty hard in a short video, hinting that he was telling some group how to spin his tax hike. Actually, that's exactly what he was doing. Charlie Dent's congressional campaign has uploaded six videos to its Youtube channel, showing Callahan's cynical presentation to a dubious Lehigh County Council of Governments. In this little lecture, we learn:

(1) Callahan is the Lehigh Valley Partnership's bitch, doing the bidding of a collection of rich old white dudes. I thought that was why God created Republicans.

(2) Callahan is a spinning instructor, telling COG members how to avoid calling this a tax increase. He also explains how a deal with Philly legislators would enable the LV delegation to vote against this proposal, even though they secretly support it, for political cover;

(3) CACLV bossman Alan Jennings, an advocate for the poor, endorses a regressive sales tax hike because it comes from the rich old white dudes in the Lehigh Valley Partnership. They fund him.

From John Callahan:

"Who would be in favor of a 1% tax?"

Alan Jennings raises hand. (Audience laughs).

"Uuup. Alan Jennings. That's good to know"

"Hopefully, the word 'tax' will no longer be part of your description of what this is about."

"This idea, which has now grown to be a statewide idea, was actually born here in the Lehigh Valley. It was born out of the Lehigh Valley Partnership - a group of CEOs and leaders throughout the Valley that have worked towards greater regionalization. They have done that in various forms; they're pushing the bi-county health bureau, they're pushing a lot of greater Lehigh Valley regionalization initiatives. This is one of them."

[Governor Rendell is unwilling to dip into the tax charged at liquor stores to help the cities because it would create a hole in his own budget. But he told Callahan and Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski that if they could come up with something else, he'd support them.]

"So I brought that information back to the Lehigh Valley and I met with the [Lehigh Valley] Partnership and ... I said, 'We have this thing we've been kicking around in the Lehigh Valley that would be a 1% sales tax increase for Lehigh and Northampton County ... .' Maybe we could work this in such a way that it would be - number one - an independent revenue source that the Governor said he needed, but do something that would apply statewide, and not just in the Lehigh Valley.

"When we went to the Governor initially with this proposal about the sales tax - the county optional sales tax - his initial reaction was 'I love it, but you gotta' get the counties. Get the counties on board, then we can start talking.'

"We got the Counties on board. Slowly and surely, once the counties came together, we brought the boroughs association in; we brought the township commissioners in ...

"We've been working very hard collectively - all five local government associations - trying to sell this in Harrisburg, trying to sell it to our local legislators.

"You'll see we no longer refer to it as a 1% local county optional sales tax; we refer to it as the Bill is described in its current form now as The Local Property Tax Relief Act because that's really what the outcome of this legislation will be. Now, if I had started the presentation and said, 'Who's for The Local Property Tax Relief Act?' everyone would probably raise their hands except for maybe Mr. Jennings.

"It's a 1% sales tax. It's collected on the same basis that the current tax is collected ... .

"There's something in there for everyone.

"There's politics here. We all recognize that this is, after all, perceived as a tax. And we're trying to give everybody adequate cover. ... We are trying to give everybody along this chain adequate cover, in a good way, so that everybody does, at the end of the day, the right thing.

What about a small borough or township that opposes an increased sales tax, and refuses to adopt any resolutions seeking it?

"We are asking the counties to enact the taxes, so we think it's appropriate that local governments step up and say, 'We think this is a good thing.' And that's how you become qualified. If you don't pass that, and then the County passes the tax, then you will still be taxed, but you will get none of the proceeds back to your municipality, and you'll be locked out for three years. ... I think that's fair to give the County some cover.

"This is a game changer for local government.

Who would be in favor of The Local Property Tax Relief Act as just described?

"Who would be in favor of a one percent tax?"

Apparently few hands go up except for Alan Jennings. Asked how much he could really expect to get, Callahan acknowledges he only has figures for Allentown and Bethlehem, not all 25 Lehigh County Municipalities.

"There's gonna' be some winners, and there's gonna' be some losers.

"The bottom line is the funds are going to come from somewhere to fund our operations. I think this is, while not perfect, more equitable.

"The idea is that we would potentially link ourselves to Philadelphia either formally or in a negotiated way, with a core of legislators. ... When Philadelphia went from 6 to 7, everybody outside Philly voted for it so they could say, 'I didn't vote for a tax for my constituents,' and all the Philly legislators voted against it and said, 'I didn't vote for a tax for my constituents.' So what we could do is we could get Philadelphia to vote for ours, right, everybody outside Philly could vote for theirs, ... and we get Allegheny voters to come on board with us."

Callahan Sales Tax Part 1 - 7-14-09
Callahan Sales Tax Part 2 - 7-14-2009 Callahan Sales Tax Part 3 - 7-14-2009
Callahan Sales Tax Part 4 - 7-14-2009 Callahan Sales Tax Part 5 - 7-14-2009


Anonymous said...

Callahan sounds like a slimeball.

Anonymous said...

Mann Denies Constituents Passed on to Gawlick

"After twelve years, Jennifer occupies powerful leadership positions within the state house"

This says it all. After 12 years, six terms, Mann has to go.
No one should serve more than three terms in Harrisburg. Let others have a chance.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the husslers on the street corner with the pea and shell game.

Jon Geeting said...

It's a great idea and it's too bad it never happened. It is also hilarious to me that coordinating messaging with a group of the policy's supporters is portrayed here as some kind of sinister act - as if all political coalitions don't figure out the best possible phrase to use to sell their preferred policies. Welcome to politics. The question is not whether the policy is "a tax" but whether or not it's a good idea in and of itself. In this case, the policy in question is a very good idea, also championed by Sal Panto and Bob Freeman - two of Bernie's man-crushes who he was just praising lavishly for the municipal finance ideas just a few weeks ago. It's this kind of insane anti-tax politics, practiced by Charlie Dent, that says taxes must always go down, and never go up that makes it political suicide for politicians to say they want to raise taxes, even when it's a good idea, which this is.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Jon, First, the use of the word "man-crush" is homophobic. Just because some anons do that in some of their hate comments is no justification for you to do so. Second, this was not a meeting with a group of supporters. It was the LC COG, which seemed to hae some reservations. Third, I am appalled at Callahan's wilingness to deceive the public, which is so apparent from his own words. Fourth, I do support Panto and Freeman. I might disagree wth them on a given issue, but know that neither would never knowingly deceive the public and ertainy would never conduct a spin class.

monkey momma said...

Callahan does sound like a slimeball, which probably makes him PERFECT for the House of Representatives. He's not doing anything different than any other politician - he's just not savvy enough yet to keep this kind of exchange strictly behind closed doors. Does he think this is L.A. Fitness??? When the flip phones come out, the spin class is supposed to move to a quieter, more private, environment.

Extortion of municipalities should never be done publicly! That's just bad manners, Mr. Callahan. Please be more discreet when discussing how to shakedown constituents!

Anonymous said...

Geeting is right - taxes should continuously be raised. When they get 100% of what we make, then the government should just take whatever we have left (savings, house, car, etc)

Jon Geeting said...

It is a group of supporters. The County governments supported the tax and so did the city governments. Sal Panto and Bob Freeman were both involved in it. What these videos show is that Callahan recognizes it's a good idea and is talking about helping them sell it. Does anyone deny that politics requires salesmanship and branding of ideas, and that is not, in itself, a bad thing?

Proposed tax changes, even if they are a good idea, always bring a lot of acrimony, and are easily demogogued by political opponents, as is happening here on this blog today. The fact that you have not engaged the argument over the merits of the tax itself tells me that there is no substance to your position, only politics.

As for "spin," I'll note that Charlie Dent is using rosy language to snow voters on a much larger, much more unpopular change - privatizing Social Security. Dent has denied that "personal accounts" means privatization, but everyone knows there is no difference, and Republicans uniformly started using "personal accounts" when they realized how terribly "privatization" polls. You regularly use the term "death tax" which is a political invention of Frank Luntz designed to sell a specific interpretation of the estate tax that obscures the real issue. Clearly you have no problem with politicians coordinating messages that promote a favorable interpretation of their policies.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Jonathan, Once again, you do NOT know what you are talking about. This was no group of supporters. It was the LC Congress of Governments, which ended up taking no vote on Callahan's plan bc many municipal officers had unanswered questions. Moreover, he is not just telling them how to sell it; he is giving advice on how to LIE to the public. I find that totally repugnant.

As for the merits of the proposal, I have discussed that in at least three separate blogs. It is a regressive tax that hurts middle and low income people, but the subject of this post is not the merits of the proposal. The subject of this post is Callahan's willingness to lie to the public.

If you want to slam Dent for being similarly deceptive, I'd be happy to go along. But you have one major problem. He does not act, think or talk that way.

That's why even Democrats will support him. He is, lke Sal Panto and Bob Freeman, a man of honor. Callahan, by his own words, has none.

Anonymous said...

Jon Geeting said...

Proposed tax changes, even if they are a good idea, always bring a lot of acrimony, and are easily demogogued by political opponents, as is happening here on this blog today.


OK, Geeting, I'll bite.

Just what tax was Callahan advocating to reduce or eliminate in exchange for getting his sales tax increase passed? Or was this just his attempt to have the government take more of my money?

Why couldn't Callahan just go to the voters and honestly explain the merits of the increase?

As a taxpayer, I don't need to be "sold" or lied to. I find that insulting.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The sales gimmick was that an increase in a regressive sales tax would lead to a decrease in the regressive property tax. Of course, that gimmick was used to justify gambling. How did that work out?

Anonymous said...

Bernie, using the word "man-crush" is not homophobic. As defined by the Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com):

"When a straight man has a "crush" on another man, not sexual but kind of idolizing him." or "A man having extreme admiration for another man, as though he wants to be him."

Geeting's use of the term seems correct in this case ... unless you either do not admire Panto & Freeman or you have an actual crush on either/both.

Anonymous said...

What a phony!! Trying to convince the ignorant masses that a tax hike is not a hike. Arrogant politician who has no respect for those who elected him.