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Dear Neighbor,

This is my blog for news and information on my hometown Lower Macungie Township! In January 2014 I was sworn in for a 4 year term as township Commissioner. I am humbled and grateful for the support of Lower Macungie Residents. We prevailed in the 2013 election running a grassroots campaign that focused on quality of life and fiscal sustainability through smart growth. The election was another referendum on the unpopular development decisions and “dumb growth” policies of 2009-2013.

As a lifelong resident of Lower Macungie and a local business owner I am proud to serve as Lower Macungie Township Commissioner. This is my blog. It serves as a record of 2 years of advocating for A Better Way to Grow. Here you can find information on local concerns, letters and op-eds I’ve written outlining my thoughts on various issues that affect our community.

Please browse the site. Use the search bar to find my thoughts on the issues facing Lower Macungie and the surrounding community. I welcome questions and comments always. Dialogue is so important and what I hope to bring to the table as a Commissioner.

Ron Beitler
Lower Macungie Commissioner serving a 4 year term

Want to keep taxes low? Preserve Open Space.

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Large contiguous tract of farmland in Lower Macungie Township

(Submitted as LTE to LMT Patch and an abbreviated version to EPP)

Preserving open space with a smart growth plan reduces costs for infrastructure and services, therefore over the long term reducing the need for tax increases. Farmland and open space generate no traffic, create no crime, needs little fire protection and places no new students into our school system.

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Lower Mac’s Stroads.

Link to vision document – By Kairos Design Group

Strongtowns highlighted that Lower Macungie introduced the term Stroad into our Rt. 222 corridor study. Thanks to our consultant Craig Bachik. Craig and I had Stroad conversations starting at stakeholder meetings about a year ago.

This post is largely for my Strongtowns friends and fellow supporters. I wanted to post some pictures of our local Stroads for context to demonstrate what we are dealing with.

When I ran for office I really did try to as clearly as possible campaign on a Strongtowns influenced platform highlighting how land use decisions relate to long term fiscal resiliency. The simple message resonated with voters.

Lower Mac’s side by side Stroads: Dangerous. Low value. Expensive.

LMT's side by side STROADS

LMT’s side by side STROADS

The Rt. 222 “Bypass” Jaindl “Highway”

  • 2 lane divided Stroad – Built with highway geometry.
  • Posted 45 Mph – Local “speed trap”.
  • Sequence of traffic signals including one of the most dangerous intersections in the region. 
  • Fails to move cars any quicker or more efficiently than adjacent roads.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 1.03.15 PM

Our local speed trap. 2 lane divided highway posted with an artificially low 45 mph speed limit

One of the most dangerous intersections in the region.

One of the most dangerous intersections in the region

 

The Rt. 222 Boulevard – Lower Macs target for de-Stroadification triage.

Current conditions:

  • 3 lane Stroad (2 overly wide travel 1 suicide lane)
  • In stretches very abrasive place for pedestrians. In most cases ped and bike facilities totally non-existent.
  • Portions of the corridor have suffered from disinvestment and some traditionally commercial areas now experience high rates of vacancy.
  • Today the corridor contains: 2,233,000 +/- SF of Retail/Office • 2,487,600 +/- SF Warehouse/Office • 130 +/- Residential Units • 13,150+ Parking Spaces
  • There are currently little or no residential uses in the corridor.
  • Large areas of impervious coverage exacerbate existing storm water and flooding issues.
  • Parks and open space are not well connected to residential neighborhoods; many recreation areas are only accessible by automobile.

3 lane Stroad. What should be the townships "bread basket" in terms of a resilient taxbase, today is filled with low value, low density development despite massive infrastructure investments in the corridor.

3 lane Stroad. What should be the townships “bread basket” in terms of a resilient taxbase, today is filled with low value, low density development despite massive infrastructure investments in the corridor.

The bones are here for repair. The sycamore trees planted by General Trexler are protected and form the foundation of a multi-modal high value Boulevard.

The bones are here for repair. The sycamore trees planted by General Trexler are protected and form the foundation of a multi-modal high value Boulevard.

TRIAGE/De-Stroadification GOALS: (outlined in the study)
1. Foster distinctive, attractive settings with a strong sense of place. The corridor is already home to many of the region’s destinations. Strengthening the connections between these destinations will enhance the identity of the corridor and will create a greater sense of place.

2. Preserve and enhance cultural and historic resources. Celebrating the corridor’s  history requires more than preservation. New development should respect the traditional character found in much of the study area. For example the historic sycamore trees. 

3. Promote municipal cooperation. The future of Hamilton Boulevard depends on the ability of both Lower and Upper Macungie Townships to work together to solve interrelated land use and transportation issues.

4. Road Diet – Creating complete streets that accommodate vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists will lessen auto dependence and lead to a more balanced transportation system.

6. Enhance access to public transit. The corridor already contains the region’s transit network (LANTA). Existing investments can be maximized by improving the accessibility and effectiveness of public transit. 

7. Encourage higher value/higher return land use and development patterns.  Mixing land uses, and providing a range of housing options can reinforce the corridor’s sense of place and improve quality of life.

8. Seeking low cost but high return incremental opportunities for placemaking.

Capture Value. The Boulevard is the key to the townships long term fiscal resiliency.

Capture Value. The Boulevard is the key to the townships long term fiscal resiliency.

BOC Agenda Preview 8/20

TONIGHTS AGENDA WITH DETAIL
Last weeks meeting video

Announcements & Presentations:
Donation Presentation from Lutron to Emergency Services – Presented by Andy Hines.

Communication:
Of note 3 letters concerning opposition to the second request (the first one was rejected a couple months ago) to rezone a property from Semi Rural to Commercial off Rt. 100. Information on the last attempt here. I voted no. It was a 3-2 vote to kill the request. (Conrad, Brown and Beitler against. Lancsek and Higgins in favor)

Here is the letter we got from the Borough of Alburtis. The last time this was considered I agreed with this sentiment. Nothing has changed that I am aware of since the last request.
Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 4.09.16 PM

Donation of 15,000 dollar outfield fence from St. Lukes! St. Lukes is willing to pay entirely for a 15,000 dollar fence and installation on the backstop of “quarry #1” baseball diamond. In exchange they want the very reasonable concession of “sign rights for any healthcare company for 10 years”. The new outfield fence is being necessitated by running a new water/sewer line through the outfield area to serve the Jaindl Spring Creek property warehouse project. . .

Thank you to St. Lukes Hospital!

Resident Petition Opposing the Proposed Verizon Wireless Cell Tower
Approximately 180 residents have signed a petition urging commissioners to reconsider moving forward a proposed cell phone tower on the Kratzter farm. To date (we have been considering for many months) I’ve been generally receptive to the idea as long as the 20,000 dollar a year lease money went directly into the Kratzer farm and adjacent neighborhoods.

However, I am interested in what residents had to say. One of the reasons I was inclined to support was that until this petition I heard very little opposition to the project. In fact most I talked to liked the idea of using the lease money to upgrade the Kratzer farm.

Since I don’t have a particularly strong opinion I am very interested in what residents have to say on this issue. 

Update on Schoeneck re-alignment.
An exceedingly frustrating issue. I am no longer “ok” with just updates on progress.
First, past updates haven’t been accurate and second completion is an issue between the Jaindl Land Company and the East Penn School District at this point. There isn’t anything we can do to influence expediting the project. At this point the township needs to consider (quickly) restricting the road to truck traffic. I intend to pursue this further tonight. 

Resolution 2015-25 – Adoption of Hamilton Boulevard Corridor Study

I support this resolution. I think it’s a critical visioning exercise to ensure one of our most valuable commercial corridors maintains a high quality tone. A sentiment I hear often from residents is that they do not want to see commercial corridors in our township devolve into “Macarther Rd.” This vision document is the roadmap to achieving that.

At it’s core the plan develops solutions that will improve multi modal safety, (de-STROADification), reduce traffic delays, enhance economic development acitivites, create linkages, rationalize land use, and manage stormwater.

The document is the result of a two-year planning process that began in fall 2012. During this time, Lower Macungie Township facilitated multiple public participation opportunities and worked extensively with a variety of stakeholders.

This outlines many of the key concepts.

Link to the plan here

BOC meeting review. Big conversations about long term liabilities.

I didn’t do a preview of the last BOC meeting so I will do an overview focusing on one of the biggest conversations we had. We had two related topics and related discussions that in my opinion were of great “big picture” importance. 

They both deal with township ownership of long term public liabilities related to new development.

Backgrounder: In the past the township didn’t seem to be interested in looking at new development in terms of new revenue (beyond the windfall) vs. long term liabilities. Like many communities stuck in feedback loop mode of the growth ponzi scheme we only saw the short term but shortsighted windfall and rewards of sprawl.

Slowly but surely we’re starting to have the right conversations. We’ve always had a basic understanding that too much residential development creates a revenue shortfall. We’ve known that taking on new roads and storm water infrastructure costs us. So over the years we even demanded escrows from developers to help defray the cost. Again, not a permanent solution. Just a bigger band-aid to delay the inevitable. We’ve sought more commercial development to balance our residential. Unfortunately instead of high value corridor development and neighborhood commercial we’ve induced (at high public cost) low value warehouses. Another low revenue high liability land use.

So today we really still haven’t addressed underlying issues. But with at least one conversation last week took a definitive stand. In my opinion, at it’s core smart growth is ensuring that development pays the true costs of doing business in the township so those costs aren’t passed on to or subsidized by taxpayers.

This is: Smart Growth for Conservatives.

Two items related to development and public vs. private infrastructure.
The first conversation last meeting related to residential development. With this issue a developer was able to talk 3 commissioners into paying for perpetual long term stormwater maintenance exclusively associated with a new development. Developer used some convoluted argument that the water was coming from a public roadway. Nonetheless, any increase in runoff volume is a direct result of the new development therefore long term cost should not be shouldered by the taxpayers. So I chalk that one up as a loss as far as common sense is concerned. But grand scheme its small potatoes.

While that decision was disappointing on the other hand a big victory for taxpayers was in relation to over 55 private (in some cases gated) developments and new private cluster developments. One of the major reasons Lower Mac has been able to keep taxes so low and for so long is that in addition to temporary windfalls associated growth Lower Macungie has been lucky to secure a very large amount of private developments.

When a new development maintains it’s interior roads and storm-water facilities as private the inherent budget shortfalls of residential development are somewhat negated. Last week the township solidified an informal policy that it desires private roads and stormwater in new residential development. I believe we should go further and incentivize it.

If you recall one of the biggest victories for taxpayers to come out of the Jaindl settlement a result of resident attempts to overturn the rezoning was that the developer took on a major access road serving exclusively the new warehouse zone as a private facility. Turns out taxpayers are still paying for/subsidizing a huge chunk of the costs. But at least locally we’re not on the hook for long term maintenance. (Although we are for many of the stormwater facilities)

Bottom line is this. In our quest for more balanced growth we need to continue to get more strategic. Chasing ratables for the sake of chasing ratables with no reconcilation of the long term costs will leave us with deficiencies when the gravy train leaves town. The township needs to balance the books. And we have to start now.

Mazzioti and Eichenwald push anti pay to play legislation.

I attended a rare but refreshing bi-partisan press conference today by Allentown City Council-woman Jeannette Eichenwald (D) and Lehigh County Commissioner Vic Mazzioti (R). Eichenwald has long been one of the only independent voices in Allentown city government.

Councilwoman Jeanette Eichenwald and County Commissioner Vic Mazziotti outline pay to play abuse prevention proposals in front of the Lehigh County Government Center.

Councilwoman Jeanette Eichenwald and County Commissioner Vic Mazziotti outline pay to play abuse prevention proposals in front of the Lehigh County Government Center.

After learning about the event, I wanted to learn more about the proposals. Because state laws are weak in this area (and campaign finance in general) local governments have to step up.

I’m now curious what a similar proposal would look like in Lower Mac. We currently have an internal policy regarding “entertainment and gifts” but to my knowledge don’t have a formal anti pay to play policy similar to ones made by Mazziotti/Eichenwald.

To be clear, I don’t think we have an immediate issue in Lower Mac. Or in the County.  But the point is this is good proactive policy to prevent issues. Especially in light of recent high profile allegations. And in the case of Reading admissions. Lower Macungie in the past had little chance of pay to play abuse because frankly, up until recently not many candidates spent much money on township races. BUT, as we continue to grow that is changing. Candidates are now raising and spending money. Inevitably people and special interests will likely start throwing more and more money at township races in an effort to curry favor.

In my primary when I ran opponents raised and spent thousands of dollars. With that kind of fundraising could come the potential for abuse. And I prefer a proactive preventative approach to being put in a situation like Allentown is in now having to react allegations.

As Mazziotti pointed out today, recently down in Reading an elected official was bribed to overturn the cities pay to play law. That’s how you know the laws aren’t just deterrents but serve to stop moral lapses. If they didn’t work no one would be bribing people to stop them.”

Pay to play in politics

Reading Council President admits role in Pay to Play scandal

DC lobbyist: Pennsylvania ‘really needs a pay to play law’

Rail never really in play to move freight in Lower Mac….

Why isn’t rail used more to transport freight form Lower Mac warehouses?

Excellent question. One I get frequently. Most recent by an old friend on facebook. I thought I’d post the answer here since it’s a pretty common (and good) question. Every rail car takes a half dozen or more tractor trailers off the road.

Rail transportation is safer, more efficient and better for the environment than trucks. Reality though is, trains were never in play to service warehouses in Lower Mac. To ever say they were was misleading.

Rail transportation is safer, more efficient and better for the environment than trucks. Reality though is, trains were never in play to service warehouses in Lower Mac. To ever say they were was misleading.

Why isn’t rail utilized more to transport freight in Lower Macungie? Afterall, this was one of the flawed reasons used by both the developer and then parroted by certain Commissioners in 2010 to justify the 700 acre negotiated rezoning from agriculture protection to largely industrial warehouses.

Here is the problem:

From the LVPC: (Lehigh Valley Planning Commission) – The freight and freight-related business growth in the region has been significantly e-commerce and quicker turn around type companies (Amazon, Trader Joe’s for example). Since customers buying products from these companies expect 2-day or less delivery or the business deals in highly perishable goods, the longer time transfer rail lines are not viable to these companies.”

 

Basically, certain types of freight have a high percentage likelihood of being transported by rail. Others don’t. So, had Lower Macungie been serious about inducing rail usage leaders in 2010 could have negotiated assurances into the rezoning agreement guaranteeing it.

Most who opposed the 2010 rezoning understood rail was unlikely and that using it as justification for the re-zoning was lip service. (This was mentioned many times in public comments by those opposed, unfortunately as most followed closely understood the decision was already made.) Bottom line is pressure for these warehouses locally was always e-commerce and other types that exclusively use tractor trailers.  So justification that properties had rail access made no sense and was in my opinion very much misleading.

To date there are ZERO rail sidings that will be built on “Jaindl” warehouses off Spring Creek Rd. In fact there isn’t a warehouse with current rail access in the entire township. There is one siding “ghosted” onto one new plan. But, there is a low likelihood it’s ever built. 

Lastly, and ironically a material distributed at a very high percentage by rail is quarry rip rap. So essentially, Commissioners in 2010 took a proposed use (a quarry) where a significant portion of the output (rocks and materials) would generate a high likelihood of rail usage and they negotiated a different land use with literally zero likelihood of using rail.

Yes, a quarry has a numbers of negatives obviously. But traffic standpoint only, Commissioners in 2010 actually negotiated a far more traffic intense outcome.

 

Avoid statistically inevitable outcomes…

We cannot ethically continue to design roads in a way we do not give pedestrians and drivers a fighting chance to avoid tragedies.

Current speed limits in many Lehigh Valley town centers simply do not give folks a fighting chance. That was the case was in Emmaus in May. The 11 year old who lost her life wasn’t the only victim. The elderly driver who has to live with this is also a victim. An investigation ruled correctly the driver was not at fault. The driver was obeying the posted speed limit.

Statistical reality caught up with us in the Borough that day. The same will happen in Macungie as it’s inevitable with the current design of Main St.

In Emmaus, the 11 year girl was an unforeseen variable. Problem is 11 year olds tend to do that. No matter how well raised. So do elderly, the disabled, pets, someone who leaves a restaurant and had a glass of wine with dinner. I can go on and on but you get the point.

By nature and by design town centers are full of unpredictable variables. (that comes with density) They are complex environments. It’s what makes them special places. Within them not everyone behaves in a predictable manner. This is a baseline. It is. You cannot change it. We have to accept it.

What can we change?

We can change the speed limit. We can change the road design to match the speed limit. The “inconvenience” factor relating drivers is negligible to non-existent.  Let’s quantify.

IF Chestnut St. was a straight shot with no stops, driveways, crosswalks etc. and considering the “business district” is 1 mile in length.

1 mile travel time: (roughly the length of Emmaus business district)
35 MPH – 1:45 seconds mile
25 MPH – 2:24 seconds to go 1 mile

Under the best (unlikely) scenario the difference is 39 seconds of travel time. Of course the route isn’t a straight shot. The road has traffic signals, crosswalks and driveways. Statistical reality is that your almost never going to have that “straight shot” through town. Therefore, accelerating to 35 mph for brief periods of time to get from one obstacle to the next won’t get you somewhere 39 seconds faster. Reality is  it’s just a few SECONDS quicker if anything at all. Not to mention the incredibly inefficient waste of gas/wear and tear on your automobile that comes with rapid accelerations/decelerations. And just the plain stupidity of accelerating from red light to the next.

On the flip slide there is an irrefutable and direct correlation between a 10 mph speed reduction and a reduction of both the frequency and severity of accidents. From 25 to 35 mph the death rate DOUBLES. (Triple A foundation for traffic studies) Full stop. Again, from 25 to 35 mph the death rate DOUBLES.
Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.06.59 AMGive everyone a fighting chance.
First, it’s my opinion you take the “convenience” of drivers where in measurable terms equals mere seconds of drive time completely out of the equation. It is an asinine argument. It’s also an inflated argument where perception isn’t reality. But let’s say it was. To think seconds of your time is worth putting yourself and everyone around you at higher risk is incredibly selfish and tragic.

Visual perception at different speeds.

Visual perception at different speeds.

Reducing the speed limit on Main St. Macungie (35 to 25) Chestnut street in Emmaus (35 to 25) and Hamilton Boulevard in Lower Macungie (from 40-45 to a consistent 35mph) needs to happen now. Followed by aggressive traffic calming strategies so the physical design matches the posted speeds.

I know for a fact Macungie Borough, Emmaus Borough and Lower Macungie Township have all requested over the years lower speed limits on Chestnut, Main St. and the Boulevard. The problem each time from what I understand is Penndot. Somewhere there is a disconnect. Penndots own smart transpiration guidebook outlines a 25 mph desired operating speed on a “Main Street“. In Lower Mac the catalyst for a request was actually Hamilton Crossings shopping center. Clearly,the developers understand slower speeds are good for business and the economy of the upstart Boulevard.

Common sense dictates lowering the speed limits. Standards reinforce it. Local municipalities who know the roads best have requested it. Residents have demanded it. So what is the issue here? When we set operating speed too high we have a statistical inevitable outcome of tragedy. 

What we know:

  • Slower speeds are safer for everyone
  • The loss of travel time is negligible to non-existent
  • Slower speeds in town centers actually ease congestion
  • Slower speed is better for downtown businesses

You can also sum up this entire argument here. ELIMINATE STROADS! As deadly as a STRAOD designed too fast through a Borough is, a STROAD designed with highway geometry seemingly for 55+ mph but posted artificially at 45mph or containing traffic signals is just as dangerous.

Very few roads should be posted between 35mph and 55mph. That is the tragedy zone. Design it as a road (get people from A-B) or make it a street (multi modal value capture) But please, STOP BUILDING STROADS.

STROADS: Dangerous Expensive Low return on investment

STROADS:
Dangerous
Expensive
Low return on investment

Top down regulations create ramps to nowhere.

In this article Charles Marohn outlines the problem with the otherwise well intentioned Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The requirements when regulated and applied in a clumsy top down fashion leave little wiggle room for smarter more cost effective approaches. This “orderly but dumb” approach often results in forcing ADA compliant facilities literally in the middle of nowhere but leaves downtowns, town centers and other multi modal corridors neglected.

A local example? Throwing money away on walking facilities on the Rt. 222 bypass. I am a big supporter of multi-modal streets and sidewalk facilities as a long term value play for communities. Problem is obviously, the bypass is a place no sane person whether disabled or otherwise would (or should) ever walk. It’s fundamentally designed as an un-safe place for pedestrians. And it should be as a road designed (albeit poorly) to get cars through an area from point A-B quickly and efficiently.

Rt. 222 Corridor – streets, stroads and roads.

But here we have the expensive pedestrian facilities to cross a 4-lane divided highway. The result of clumsy top down policy leaving no room for nuance or interpretation in line with local land use goals.

Sidewalks to nowhere on the bypass, a place no one should be walking.

Sidewalks to nowhere on the bypass, a place no one should be walking.

The problem:

“Like any top-down regulation, a lot of times [the ADA] gets boiled down to checklists and bureaucratic regulation,” Marohn told me. “There are a lot of times when MnDOT has standards about how a signal will go in. It will detail all the ADA elements, the lowered curb, the rumble strip, the different things for people with vision impairments. It’ll have all this stuff and they’ll go out and build it, but it’s out in the middle of a cornfield where there’s nobody walking anywhere.”

 

And the logical advice:

“While it’s easy to find places where ADA improvements seem silly, figuring out what to do about them can be difficult. One of Marohn’s key pieces of advice is that transportation engineers should spend more time listening to people with disabilities about what they want, and where they want it, instead of blindly following a top-down checklist. ”

 

25 years after the ADA, sidewalks still speak louder than words

First if ADA is going to mandate the curb cuts etc it should also require and make sure they go somewhere. And second roads need to be defined by contextual purpose. Let’s NOT put walking facilities on 4 lane divided highways. Let’s focus the money where we get the most bang for the buck. Where walkers are in danger today. Lastly, not building #dangerous by design roadways from the get-go is a much cheaper strategy then applying lipstick on a pig.

More information:

STRONGTOWNS: Chuck talks to Heidi Johnson-Wright, an ADA coordinator in Miami Dade County, about the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Education. Comparing PA to other states.

I’m probably nuts for writing about education cause it’s a hyper-partisan mine-field littered with special interests and an ingrained “team mentality”. As a township commissioner I have no influence on these conversations. I have no team and I’m not interested in joining one. I just want to step outside the echo chambers for a minute.

But here goes nothing. I try hard to remain agnostic. Step away from the partisanship and just look at the big picture. To that end, you can somewhat do so since in our American education system we have 49 relatively independent systems to compare. I always go back to how are we doing vs. other states as a baseline. In the US we have 50 laboratories to study.

I also understand that the broke system we have today has in the past affected the township. This is because as we scramble to apply band-aids to a system overly reliant on local taxing bodies to sustain the unsustainable by chasing ratables we’ve made some awful land use decisions “for the school district”.  As I often say it’s a rob Peter to pay Paul mentality. Low value development gives the district a band-aid windfall but hurts the township financially long term. But that’s what we get when we are constantly playing catch up. You can’t even blame the district for what is a rational response to a broken system.

So how do we fix it? First some things I know based on comparing our system to other states: (determining baselines) Often we look at PA in a vacuum. To me that is an irrelevant exercise that only serves the status quo. To do so when we have the ability to benchmark against 49 other states makes no sense.

1. Pennsylvania is among the tops in total education spending. Meaning we have one of the most expensive systems in the nation. (29 Billion dollars)

Full stop.

Again, we have one of the most expensive systems in the nation. Pennsylvania today also has some of the highest paid teachers in the nation. Not saying good or bad. I’m just saying what is.

2. Pennsylvania has one of the highest per pupil spends. (Around 15k per child)

3. But, we have one of the worse ratios of local to state contributions. Less than 40% of our ed funds come from the state. Meaning the rest comes from local taxing bodies. This is a huge issue that band-aids will not fix.

4. We also have an incredibly inequitable system. With our current broken funding formula poorest districts are hurt the most.

5. Based on education efficiency ratings, Pennsylvania is middle of the pack. Efficiency ratings measure outcomes compared to dollars spent per pupil. In other words, we spend among the most as a state but with middling results.

Based on these five items what is clear to me is Pennsylvania does not have a revenue problem. Therefore the solution should not involve the nations highest net tax increase which is the Wolf proposal. That is a solution unrelated to a problem.

More and more revenue? A solution unrelated to the problem.

Gov. Wolfs proposal represents the highest net tax increase in the nation. More and more revenue? A solution unrelated to the problem.

Other things I know: While we do not have a revenue problem, we definitely have a funding equality problem. Both state to local ratio but also district to district. We might also have a “bang for our buck” problem meaning a correlation problem. Higher spending does not necessarily mean better outcomes. There are other states that spend far less money and have far better outcomes. The Wolf budget ignores the structural problems that lead to our overly expensive (based on efficiency) system and doubles down on revenue. More and more and more money always.

There are literally a half dozen priorities that are more important than revenue. Revenue relating to total spend is NOT the problem in Pennsylvania. But there are also items Democrats are demanding that I haven’t heard Republicans willing to address. Cyber Charter reform is one example. I support school choice, but on equal funding footing.

As I’ve said in other posts I dip my toes into this topic from a viewpoint that both parties seem to have masters they are unwilling to upset. That’s a political problem we have to overcome. As I’ve also said I would support a severance tax on extraction of a state natural resource in line with other states. (a resource that we have a PA constitutional obligation to protect) But, only if it directly relates to property tax reduction on a revenue neutral dollar to dollar basis. Meaning shifting burden away from homeowners. What we have on the table today in the Governors budget is very simply the nations most extreme tax grab with some extra smoke and mirrors shell game property tax reduction.

Bottom line is structural reform means changes to the system. Not band-aids, not stop gaps, not windfalls but fundamental changes. Looking at things that are broken and fixing them. They can be transformative but also can be subtle.

Let’s get out of the echo chamber and find the middle ground. SB1 is critical reform. In some circles it already represents a compromise bill. But we must start somewhere. And we have to do it now. No signature on that bill is a non-starter since it is the structural reform we need. If that means Republicans need to cave on severance tax, so long as it’s tied to REAL property tax reduction and not a revenue grab I think it’s a deal that needs to be made.

Resources:
Teacher Salaries by state
Quality rankings of education in 50 states
Public Education finances: US Census

Lehigh Valley Legislators talk budget

Collection of social media posts. Tried to get one from every west Valley official. If I missed anyone send me a link and I’ll include. Did this quick.

Everything is hyper political now of course.. but you can glean useful information from most of these. Posted video where available. (thanks to all local officials who actively maintain social media!)

I think the Republican proposal hits alot of the most critical points. But neither is perfect. Here is what I think is most important.

In no particular order..

Rep. Ryan Mackenzue. 134th (Includes Lower Macungie)

Senator Pat Browne – 16th District (includes Lower Macungie)
Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 8.42.05 PM

Rep. Justin Simmons floor comments. 131st

Rep. Michael Schlossberg. 132nd

Rep. Gary Day 187th

Sen. Bob Mensch
https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/wk1et90ulk

Rep. Peter Schweyer


Budget letter to elected officials

I’ve been trying to follow the budget process closely this year. It’s a bear of an issue and takes alot of time to process. Lots of moving parts and lots of hyper partisanship.

The budget is obviously very complicated. As much as time allowed over a busy week I came to the following conclusions and I wrote my elected officials accordingly. I think both proposals are flawed. But I do think the Republican proposal is a better starting point since it contains no tax increases or reshuffling of tax burdens. 

Dear Sir/Madame,

Neither the legislature or Governors proposed budgets do all the items below. Although one is closer than another both are flawed in some fashion. All of these items I believe (backed by polling) most Pennsylvanians agree on. Compromise is needed. Here are the key items I think are most important:

1. No tax increases. (including sales tax) Real Reduction of property tax burden – Not tax reshuffling gimmick resulting in increased burdens elsewhere.  I am open however to closing most sales tax loopholes.

 

2. Structural education reform is critical starting with pensions. Passing SB1 is essential.

 

3. More equitable funding formula. 
3a. Cyber Charter reform. I support school choice but with equitable funding.

 

4. Get PA out of the liquor business

 

5. Institute a Severance tax in line with other states and directly tied to property tax relief. Gas is a natural resource. It’s extraction should be taxed in line with other states. When it’s gone it’s gone. It’s a natural state commodity. Look at it that way.

 

Fundamentally, additional education funding not from more taxes but rather from structural reforms. This includes item 2 and 3 on this list but others as well.Again, neither budget does ALL these things. The final one should. Elected officials: Get it done.Ron Beitler