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The Treachery of Special Interest Interference
An example of how lobbyists attempt to corrupt the legislative process for their own interests and deny citizens the laws they deserve
Several weeks ago I published a post about a meeting in Harrisburg on April 13, 2016, that was arranged by several special interest groups. Since I wasn’t able to attend I wanted to be certain that I had all the facts before writing anything more. After speaking with three attendees I now have sufficient information to give you an accurate summary.
This meeting included a number of Senators who are SB 76 co-sponsors along with Gene Barr, President and CEO of the PA Chamber of Business and Industry (firstname.lastname@example.org), Kevin Shivers, PA Executive State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) (kevin.Shivers@NFIB.org), Carl Marrara, Vice President, Government Relations, of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association (email@example.com), a new opponent on the scene who has been silent on this issue in the past, and several others who oppose SB 76. It is worth noting that this was the second meeting on this subject with many of these same people in less than a month.
(As a brief aside about the first meeting, these special interest representatives were invited to that meeting by the Senators so they could express their concerns about HB/SB 76 and to voice their suggestions on how the legislation could be amended to address those issues. Even though they were given the opportunity to add their ideas and to work toward a compromise they squandered it by offering NOTHING of value and instead used the time to again disparage 76 with their fraudulent, well-used talking points. Their actions seem to prove that they have no legitimate concerns with HB/SB 76 but, instead, oppose the legislation for other, more self-serving, reasons.)
Also present at the April 13 meeting was our own Ron Boltz; this was interesting because the special interests were not expecting him to be there and reportedly weren’t particularly pleased at his presence. I suppose they were disturbed that a backroom deal with the Senators wasn’t going to happen with Ron in attendance, although they’re likely too arrogant to understand that any such deal would not have happened anyway.
The meeting began inauspiciously with Mr. Marrara forcibly throwing more than a dozen sheets of paper onto the conference table - all printouts from Facebook - in a display of defiant hubris. It appears that these people seem to think that questioning their lies and distortions on social media is somehow a personal attack on them and the Facebook comments were the proof.
The apparent purpose of this meeting was to attempt to get the Senators to muzzle us, which would effectively deny us our First Amendment right of free speech. That was so very wrong in two ways. First, the Senators are in this fight with us and there is no way they would ever pressure us to shut up. Second, even if the Senators did request it, what makes the special interests believe that they would EVER be able to quiet us? The extreme arrogance demonstrated in this outrageous attempt to silence good citizens who have a legitimate grievance is simply beyond contempt. They need to become accustomed to our criticism because we WILL NOT be silenced until they admit to their falsehoods and distortions about HB/SB 76 and do what is right for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania!
The meeting progressed as you would expect. The lobbyists continued spouting their usual baseless disinformation about HB/SB 76 but with Ron in attendance they were quickly embarrassed by the truth and the exposure of their misrepresentations. In one instance, one of the principals complained that education costs need to be brought under control. Ron explained that HB/SB 76 does that by limiting annual increases to the schools to the rate of inflation. Silence from the individual. A short time later the same person stated that HB/SB 76 underfunds the schools. Really? This person first claimed that the schools need cost controls then in the next breath claimed that they need more money. So which is it? They spew deceptions so effortlessly and without reason that they don’t even realize when they contradict themselves. All they’re capable of doing is parroting fabricated, untrue talking points without having any concern for, or knowledge of, the facts.
One other objection that was voiced during the meeting was the alleged “abuse” to which Senator Kim Ward was subjected by grassroots activists after her turncoat vote on SB 76 last November. Because of the way two formerly staunch supporters and co-sponsors of SB 76 - Senators Ward and McGarrigle - suddenly turned against the bill at the last moment before the vote and caused its defeat, there was always the suspicion that some extreme special interest influence caused them to abandon their promises and betray their constituents. We do not know for certain who the special interests might have been but we find it curious that those at the meeting made a point of vigorously defending Senator Ward against the big, bad grassroots supporters of HB/SB 76. Why? What was their concern for the Senator?
Further, they essentially admitted during the meeting that they have no interest in pursuing a solution to the property tax problem and they will continue to defend the status quo. They do not care in the least about our pain and the possibility of losing our homes to this unfair and inequitable tax.
Pennsylvania homeowners are tremendously fearful of their homes being seized and of losing their life’s investment to relentlessly increasing school property taxes. They are afraid of the choices they will be forced to make between food, medicine, and other life necessities or paying their property tax. What these well-financed, powerful, and very influential lobbyists don’t understand and cannot defend against is the volatile combination of tens of thousands of families who are terrified about their future and an infuriated populace that is knowledgeable about the legislation. HB/SB 76 proponents are smart and well-informed on this issue more than any other and immediately recognize when these special interests spew their despicable disinformation and distortions. This dishonesty enrages these supporters even further and spurs them to action. The supporters also understand that HB/SB 76 is THEIR legislation. They are proud of a grassroots law that was crafted by the people and not by the special interests and they will passionately defend it because it is theirs and it is under attack by those uncaring, self-serving individuals who have no concern whatsoever about their welfare or their pain but instead are focused only on their own wealth and power.
The special interests are futilely attempting to cope with this new and unique phenomenon that they have helped to create but have never before experienced: a true grassroots uprising of infuriated, vocal, activist citizens. This is far outside of their usual paradigm of influencing and coercing lawmakers to get whatever they want with little to no pushback. The special interests know that many lawmakers are not familiar with the details of certain bills and they use this knowledge to manipulate them by feeding the lawmakers their fictitious talking points. These lawmakers simply accept these lies as fact and then vote the way they are told so they don’t offend their special interest benefactors.
But this time it is different. For a change, WE have the power and we will leverage it for the benefit of ALL Pennsylvanians rather than using it as the special interests do to enrich a few select people or to make personally beneficial and lucrative political deals. We employ nothing but the truth in our efforts to pass HB/SB 76 and have earned the moral high ground while the special interests wallow in the mud of deception and untruth. They do not know how to deal with us because we cannot be bought or coerced into doing their bidding.
Besides these special interests’ war on homeowners and taxpayers, they also are working against their own constituencies. They claim that HB/SB 76 will hurt businesses in Pennsylvania because some of their members will have to pay additional income tax and then use this deception to encourage their members to fight against the bill. But the truth is far different. The PA Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) had this to say about businesses in their analysis of HB/SB 76 (comments in parentheses are mine):
“The elimination of property taxes would significantly reduce the property tax share and would clearly increase the attractiveness of the Commonwealth for business location and expansion.” (Page 25) (Expansion of existing businesses and attracting new businesses to the Commonwealth will generate jobs for Pennsylvanians.)
Does that sound like the Property Tax Independence Act will harm businesses?
Besides having zero concern for the ordinary taxpayers of Pennsylvania these special interests don’t even care about the people and businesses that they claim to represent. According to the IFO analysis, HB/SB 76 would be an immense stimulus for Pennsylvania’s economy that would greatly benefit ALL businesses. And besides the overwhelming economic benefits, businesses would be relieved of their business property tax and the individual businesspeople would see their residential property taxes eliminated as well. In working to achieve their self-serving ends these lobbyists are not only harming ordinary homeowners but are actually betraying the very people who pay them for their representation.
In a final insult to their members the Chamber completely ignores the members’ concerns as voiced in the Chamber’s own 2015 business survey. As you can see from the graphic on the left that was captured from the survey on their website (click the chart to open in a larger window), the response “Lowering Business Taxes Including Tax Reform” was the second most prominent problem for businesses and property taxes SPECIFICALLY were the NUMBER ONE issue that all business owners surveyed feel “most hinders job creation and economic growth.” In their relentless opposition to HB/SB 76 and their fight to maintain the status quo the Chamber is totally ignoring their members’ greatest concern and the solution to the single most pressing taxation problem facing businesses. Why? What is their agenda?
This begs the question of why member businesses continue to pay hundreds of dollars annually for the supposed benefits of membership in these organizations that are actively working against businesses’ best interests and using their own members’ dues against them to do so.
We should all - homeowners and businesspeople alike - be sick and tired of having our lives manipulated and controlled by these special interests and others like them that are concerned only with increasing their power and wealth regardless of the pain it causes and the damage it does to good, decent, ordinary citizens. They and their corrupt, bought-and-paid-for lapdog puppet politicians must be exposed and neutered if we are to win this battle for true homeownership and, with enough effort, possibly generate sufficient public outrage to end the influence of self-serving lobbyists forever.
Perhaps it is time for businesspeople across Pennsylvania to reevaluate their membership in these organizations. Are you a businessperson who is dissatisfied with the benefits that you supposedly receive for your membership and are they worth the cost? Are you unhappy that these organizations are working against your best interests in both your business and personal lives? Are you displeased that they are likely using your dues to lobby politicians in a way that could somehow benefit them personally or politically without regard for your needs? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions it might be time for you to stop feeding the beast. Many Pennsylvania business owners who have learned the truth of these organizations have resigned their membership in protest and have told the organizations exactly why they have done so. Maybe it is time for you to consider doing likewise.
If you are not a businessperson you can still help. Print copies of this message and visit business owners in your area to explain the benefits of HB/SB 76 and to tell them how this grassroots legislation is under attack by the very people who are supposed to represent them. Please help to spread the word.
Finally, the email addresses of the opposition leaders are listed in the second paragraph of this message. Feel free to write to them to tell them of the anguish and fear you are experiencing because of the school property tax and how it is affecting your life. They need to hear firsthand about the pain they are inflicting on good, decent citizens with their uncaring opposition to the Property Tax Independence Act.
We, the grassroots activists for property tax independence, can and WILL make a difference!