Outrage Was Reasonable in the Case of Drag Show at Local High School

By Sen. Ryan P. Aument (R-36)

Reasonable people agree that school is not the appropriate place for a sexually charged performance by professional adult dancers. Optional or not, drag shows were never meant for children.

In a sign of the times, I honestly am shocked that this even needs to be said. Yet, the LNP Editorial Board bent over backwards in a recent editorial to defend the sexual performance put on at a local school without parental knowledge.

Contrary to LNP’s claims, opponents of what happened in Hempfield are not pushing to eliminate safe spaces for LGBTQ students. They aren’t arguing that already marginalized groups should “exist in the shadows.” And they aren’t saying that drag shows intended for an audience of consenting adults should be banned.

They’re saying that drag shows intended for an audience of school children is inappropriate and wrong. That is not unreasonable, nor is it partisan.

Reasonable people recognize that, historically and currently, not all drag performances are inherently sexual. However, the subject of this op-ed and the recent editorial by LNP’s Editorial Board (where they claimed that drag events in schools are “valuable”) is not all drag shows throughout history, but rather one specific drag show at a local high school that WAS sexual.

Reasonable people would also agree that adults dancing erotically in g-strings IS inherently sexual. So, while drag has its roots in Shakespeare and the world of vaudeville, as the Editorial Board pointed out, the show that was performed at Hempfield was wildly different than those performed by Shakespearean actors whose costumes covered every inch of their skin and whose performances were markedly less sensual than what occurred here.

Do supporters of Hempfield’s drag show really believe that the only “safe space” a school can provide to LGBTQ students is at drag show where adults perform sexual dances in “tight-fitting costumes?” Does the LNP Editorial Board really believe that the drag show performed at Hempfield High School wasn’t sexual in nature? If this performance was truly benign and age-appropriate, why not publish footage or photographs from the event in the newspaper and on LancasterOnline?

Unsurprisingly, while arguing in favor of drag shows for children in schools, LNP’s Editorial Board also wrote in opposition to a bill I sponsored (Senate Bill 1277) to allow parents to have the final say over what explicit materials their own child is exposed to in school curriculum and libraries.

It’s important to note that LNP has also not published uncensored or censored copies of the explicit images found in Lancaster County school curriculum and libraries that caused parents concern in the first place.

How could a reasonable person argue that explicit images in books and video footage from a drag show are appropriate for school-aged children when those same uncensored images / video footage cannot be published in a newspaper for adults?

Refusing to acknowledge the increase in explicit content being pushed on to children only feeds into the genuine fear of the oversexualization of children. Indeed, the main argument we heard against Senate Bill 1277 was that children are already seeing this type of content on their cell phones.  So, instead of working to protect children by limiting the content, opponents want to offer more of it and LNP appears to defend them.

The LNP editorial said, “There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding at work here — and little effort to try to understand.” I agree. But before LNP attempts to “educate” parents on why they shouldn’t be outraged over barely dressed dancers performing in a sexually suggestive manner for children, they should take their own advice to understand the real issue. Pushing sexual content on children is not just unnecessary, it’s wrong and parents are justified in their outrage.

At the end of the day, schools exist to educate children from all backgrounds and should teach students to be loving and accepting of every individual. Reasonable people can agree that this can be achieved without the use of sexually explicit materials and performances.

Politically motivated attack piece won’t help Lancaster County students

By Senators Ryan P. Aument and Scott Martin

A recent opinion editorial in LNP made several wildly false accusations about our policy positions pertaining to education. We welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.

To be clear, we have both consistently supported measures that benefit all schools, including public schools. We both have family in the public education system. We both have loved ones who are current and former school teachers.

For someone to suggest that either one of us has ever voted against the interests of Lancaster County students and schools is both deeply inaccurate and incredibly offensive.

Every vote we take in the Senate Education Committee is based on the idea of supporting a quality education not just for children in Lancaster County, but also for the rest of Pennsylvania.

That means supporting many different pathways to learning. That means supporting students, not systems. That means supporting parents to make decisions for their children and put them in the best environment to learn.

Should we deny children with socioeconomic challenges the opportunity to better themselves? Do we turn a blind eye to children who are in an unsafe learning environment and have nowhere else to turn? Are we supposed to ignore the needs of children who might learn better in an online environment? What about children with special needs who might learn better in a school specifically designed for their unique needs?

The clear reality is that our public school system is not equipped to perfectly educate every child, and no amount of state funding will change that. For that reason, we should embrace alternative pathways to learning – not falsely portray them as a drain on public schools, as the op-ed does on multiple occasions.

Instead of addressing these issues in a fair and honest way, this misguided op-ed repeats numerous talking points that have been roundly debunked. For the record:

  • Pennsylvania schools are not underfunded. They have received billions upon billions in new funding in recent years, and PA ranks among the top in the nation in terms of total spending on education.
  • The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program does not defund public education in any way, shape or form – a fact the Department of Education confirmed during this year’s budget hearings.
  • There is ample evidence that school choice improves educational outcomes, both here in PA and throughout the country.

The authors’ useless rhetoric does nothing to further discussions on how to best meet the needs of students and meaningfully engage parents. It just recites dollars-and-cents arguments without context and repeats attacks on any attempts to educate children outside of the public school system.

Imagine the arrogance of thinking dollars spent on anything other than school districts is wasteful. Imagine the ignorance of thinking traditional public education is the ONLY education worth funding. Imagine manufacturing claims of defunding schools while the whole world knows they’re receiving billions upon billions of new dollars.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating: charter schools ARE public schools. They are not an enemy to be vilified and defeated. To do so would betray their mission of educating students who need more individualized learning options that public schools can’t provide.

As for our support for scholarships to help parents decide the best educational options for their kids, evidence throughout the country shows that competition breeds success. Cutting off that option will only hurt students of a lower socioeconomic status who could not attend a different school without getting a scholarship.

It is also important to note EITC dollars support public schools as well – not just private institutions.

It is also worth noting that they criticized Lifeline Scholarships that provide a way to help disadvantaged students in historically underperforming schools – a concept with broad public support and the backing of both the Democrat and Republican candidates for Governor.

As students now begin to emerge from the learning loss of the pandemic, now would be the worst time to take away the ability of Pennsylvania families to explore educational opportunities that best suit their learning needs.

Their op-ed also begs the question: if the authors are demanding assurances that new funding for charter schools and scholarships will yield educational improvements, why are they not demanding the same from our public school system?

The answer is simple: they already know it won’t.

Since Governor Wolf has been in office, the General Assembly has increased education spending in PA by $3.7 billion, yet there has been no meaningful increase in the number of public school students scoring proficient or advanced on PSSA and Keystone Exams – even before the pandemic.

We already know that throwing more money at the problem won’t solve anything. Some are just too stubborn to admit it.

Finally, the op-ed suggests we are not listening to the voice of our constituents. This laughable assertion represents a fundamental misunderstanding (or willful ignorance) of how we do our jobs. Unlike us, the authors obviously don’t want to listen to the historic number of parents pleading for better or safer opportunities to meet their children’s needs.

We both take pride in all the ways we engage our constituents, including town halls and numerous meetings throughout the year. This legislative session, the Senate Education Committee held four hearings on educational reforms and charter schools, and three hearings on COVID impacts on schools, among others.

As a result, we have both been elected and re-elected by strong majorities of our constituents. To be criticized now by political opportunists who couldn’t be bothered to utter a single word of opposition to Governor Wolf’s school closures, mandates and lockdowns – and all the damage these decisions inflicted on kids – will not change our viewpoints one iota.

We will continue to engage in meaningful discussions on these issues with parents, teachers and students. That won’t change because of self-appointed advocates sitting behind a desk, penning poorly contrived attack letters.

To Curb Student Debt, Reduce College Costs

Sen. Ryan Aument (R-36)

Opponents of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan are missing the mark on why it’s a bad idea.

Complaining that it is unfair to those who paid their loans, or to those who didn’t attend college, while correct, merely empowers the other side to slap back with a major dose of “whataboutism.”

What about those who don’t drive but pay road taxes? What about corporations who receive tax credits? What about these kids saddled with debt?

In a prime example of whataboutism, an emboldened Biden White House tweeted the names of Republican opponents who were forgiven pandemic relief loans that allowed them to meet payrolls.

This comparison only makes sense if you forget that businesses needed those loans to stay afloat and meet payrolls after the government forced them to close. This is much different than forgiving student loans and an insulting comparison to the many businesses who closed for good under the weight of government’s heavy hand.

The real fault with the president’s decision is that it adds, however incrementally, to inflation and does nothing to rein in college costs. In fact, it could end up increasing costs by giving schools and students the notion that, when it comes to bad economics, higher education is exempt from consequences.

For years university administrators have jacked up tuition to subsidize grandiose salaries for a burgeoning payroll of middle managers and educational bureaucrats who add nothing to undergraduate education. Good luck if you think loan forgiveness will encourage them to economize.

Lost are the days when higher education focused on in-demand skills and careers without the glitz of expansive campuses and high-end housing. College seems to have jumped from a purposeful educational challenge to a social experience where young adults pay top dollar with no assured career afterward.

If Joe Biden wants to slay the student debt dragon, he shouldn’t be feeding it.

Pennsylvania has made a start in that battle by consolidating its unreasonably priced state college system. But, at the same time, we continue to write huge subsidies for state-related schools, but without the promised lowered tuitions that were part of that bargain more than 50 years ago.

The reason state dollars represent a declining percentage of education funding isn’t because we haven’t kept contributing. It’s because they keep increasing their budgets, wracking students with tuition hikes to cover administrative extravagance. All the while, blue chip private schools amass endowments the size of some national budgets, raising the top line for tuition rates.

I don’t resent a young man or woman having their college debt forgiven. What I resent is that students yet to come will be marched into the same financial minefield. The only thing different is that we have carried off some of its wounded. The system is still broken.

When we lose sight of the purpose of higher education — the idea that it will produce productive citizens in a functioning democracy — we are funding a product, not a process. To paraphrase Thoreau, we are building our castles in the air, where they ought to be, but failing to put the foundations under them.

The reform of America’s system of higher education will require more than a one-time bailout that gives schools no incentive to lower their costs. We need a systemic restructuring that will take years to create. It’s not something that will be accomplished to meet a campaign promise in time for reelection.

Though any effort to solve this problem will be met with heavy resistance from Big Academia, it will be the right thing to do because young people will again live their dreams, not their debts. College will again be an education and not a transaction.

Op Ed: Corporate tax reform will make Pa. more competitive

Luke Bernstein, president and CEO of the PA Chamber, speaks at a PA Chamber press conference Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Lancaster city to laud the recent passage of a measure to reduce the state’s corporate net income tax. Pictured with him are state Sen. Ryan Aument, left, and state House Rep. Bryan Cutler

Thanks to bipartisan collaboration in the state Capitol that produced landmark tax reform legislation in July, Pennsylvania is set to embark upon a new path.

For decades, the commonwealth has languished as our uncompetitive tax climate drove investments and opportunities to other states. Despite all of the state’s wonderful attributes — prime location, world-class educational institutions, diverse geography, natural resources and strong work ethic — an unfavorable tax climate has held us back from reaching our full economic potential. But there is change on the horizon, thanks to a strong collaboration between the private sector and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to address Pennsylvania’s competitiveness and put the state on a positive trajectory.

Pennsylvania’s employer tax laws are set to undergo a major overhaul. This monumental tax reform package — which was enacted as part of the 2022-23 state budget agreement — takes a holistic, global approach to improving the state’s tax structure. With overarching goals of simplifying the tax code and making Pennsylvania more competitive with other states, there are elements that will benefit businesses of all sizes and increase opportunities for working families in the state.

One major component of the newly implemented tax reform addresses the state’s corporate net income tax rate, which at 9.99% is the second-highest rate in the country, behind only New Jersey, and serves as a barrier to growth. The tax reform package cuts the rate in half over the course of nine years — starting with a 10% reduction in 2023 to 8.99, with a 50% reduction to 4.99 by 2031. Based on current state corporate tax rates, once the law is fully implemented, Pennsylvania will go from imposing one of the highest corporate net income tax rates to having one of the 10 lowest in the country.

The benefits of that reduction go far beyond just improving the state’s business climate. Studies have shown that a decrease in the corporate tax rate leads to higher wages, increased home values, elevated gross domestic product and the creation of family-sustaining jobs. This long-needed reduction — which is the first change in the rate since 1995 — will give Pennsylvania’s economy a vigorous boost as we recover from this pandemic. For far too long, young professionals have left the state in search of better opportunities — often to states with policies more favorable to business formation and expansion. These professionals then start a family and invest in their communities, while their hometowns here languish. Pennsylvania now has a chance to reverse this trend by increasing economic activity in the state and affording graduates the chance to stay home or move back.

Small businesses in the commonwealth will also benefit from the tax reform package. Pennsylvania’s small businesses will now have the opportunity to defer state personal income tax liabilities through “like-kind exchanges” in which property is exchanged for similar property. That will provide employers with more resources to reinvest back in their businesses, stay competitive and create jobs. Previously, Pennsylvania was the only state in the country that did not offer this type of deferral.

An additional measure makes it easier for small business owners to buy equipment and invest into their businesses by allowing them to deduct the full purchase price of qualifying equipment, consistent with federal law. These changes will bring Pennsylvania in line with other states and federal tax law, and will level the playing field for entrepreneurs looking to start a business here.

The tax reform package was enacted at a critical juncture for our commonwealth, as economic headwinds forecast a challenging time ahead with continued rising interest rates, inflation and the potential for a recession. These reforms will provide relief for job creators, allowing for greater investment back into their businesses, employees and communities.

Tax reform isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. It’s not even just a business issue. It’s a Pennsylvania issue. The competitiveness — or lack thereof — of a state’s tax climate has major ripple effects, impacting jobs, wages and opportunities within our local communities. And by working to improve the commonwealth’s overall competitiveness, we are working to build a stronger future for all Pennsylvanians — a future that embraces opportunity and growth.

The 2022 tax reform package is the first step in achieving this future. It is an example of the positive change that can happen when we work together for Pennsylvania. By putting partisan differences aside and encouraging cooperation between the private and public sectors, we are showing the world that Pennsylvania is open for business. It’s time to write a new chapter in Pennsylvania’s story.

Working together we can do just that.

State Sen. Ryan Aument is a Republican from West Hempfield Township and secretary of the state Senate Republican Caucus. State House Speaker Bryan Cutler is a Republican from Drumore Township. Luke Bernstein is president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

Op-Ed: Defunding the Police Won’t Protect Our Communities

Driven by spikes in aggravated assaults and homicides, Pennsylvania has the highest violent crime rate of any state in the Northeast, which climbed 27.1% from 2019 to 2020, according to FBI data. No other state reported a greater year-over-year increase in violence for that same period.

Local police chiefs, prosecutors, human trafficking victim advocates, and key community groups confirmed at a Senate Majority Policy Committee hearing in East Hempfield Township last week that this alarming statewide trend is happening right here in Lancaster County, too.

Gathering for the second in a series of statewide hearings on crime and public safety, testifiers from local police departments, the Lancaster District Attorney’s office, SecondChance PA, NorthStar Initiative (NSI), and more delivered testimony to the committee about the disturbing increase in criminal activity they’re seeing in their communities.

Increased juvenile crime rates, unrelenting opioid and mental health related crimes, and a disturbing concentration of incidents of human trafficking are happening in the midst of an extreme hiring crisis that’s leaving police departments understaffed and without the resources they need to keep our communities safe.

According to NSI, a local organization that supports women who are survivors of domestic sex trafficking, the major highways that run through our county coupled with a bustling tourism industry with multiple hotels along those highways make our area susceptible to this heinous crime.

Even more distressing, fifteen is the average age of a trafficking victim, and 46 percent of NSI’s survivors are trafficked by a member of their own family.

To create a proactive approach to combatting human trafficking, local leaders formed the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Human Trafficking Task Force earlier this year. The Task Force operates across jurisdictional boundaries to coordinate resources and conduct comprehensive undercover operations using a victim-centered approach. Recently, they arrested fourteen traffickers in a single sting.

While the success of the Task Force is certainly something to be celebrated, it’s important to remember that human trafficking often leads to other criminal activity such as gang violence, drug trafficking operations, organized criminal empires, and more. With local crime rates rising and a hiring crisis that’s worsening by the day, our officers need all the help they can get.

Chief Lisa Layden from the West Hempfield Township Police Department testified that the candidate pool for prospective officers has decreased by approximately 80 to 90 percent in the last 30 years.  An increasingly negative image of policing among younger generations fueled by biased media coverage and anti-police activists has made attracting exceptional officer candidates a nightmare that will only worsen as the state faces a looming wave of senior officer retirements.

And yet, at a time when heinous crimes are increasing at an alarming rate and recruitment and retention of high-quality police officers is at an all-time low, interest groups continue to call to defund the police. I think these disturbing statistics tell us that we need to be doing the exact opposite; we should be investing in programs that help to keep our communities safe, not stripping police departments of the limited resources they have now.

Testifiers at the hearing told us that the lack of support our police officers experienced in the last few years is taking a toll. Officers are hesitant and even afraid to fully engage in policing as many feel they do not have the public’s trust and respect. When forced to make split-second decisions, there is more doubt than ever before, and that can cost lives.

Make no mistake, the popularity of anti-police rhetoric is hurting victims of violent crimes by weakening the resources available to stop criminals.

Certainly, there are legislative solutions to the hiring crisis, and with input from local police chiefs and stakeholders, proposals to reverse this trend are in the works. But even the best, well-crafted piece of legislation can’t change culture. And unfortunately, the “Defund the Police” movement and the accompanying anti-police rhetoric that paints all cops as belonging to a racist, law-skirting, good-ole-boys club has become ingrained in our culture, particularly among younger generations. And it is only fanning the flames of an already diminishing officer complement.

At the end of the day, we all share the same desire to feel safe in our homes and communities; to protect our families and loved ones from becoming victims of violent crimes like assault, rape, and human trafficking. A strong police force that is well trained, compassionate, and able to respond swiftly and appropriately in high-stress situations can help us achieve that goal. I intend to continue fighting to ensure that law enforcement officers get the support and resources they need to safely protect Pennsylvanians.

Op-Ed: Politicizing the Teacher Shortage is Wrong & It Only Hurts Our Children

State Senator Ryan Aument (R-36)

Pennsylvania has a teacher shortage. If we do nothing, our children will suffer consequences like overcrowded classrooms, impersonal instruction, less access to courses and programs they’re offered now, and less time to help our most vulnerable students, resulting in more students being left behind. I have a bill that will help get more teachers into PA classrooms, but some have misinterpreted or been intentionally dishonest about the plain language of the bill and the intent behind its introduction. 

Pennsylvania is not unique in our struggle to fill vital teaching positions; around the country teachers are leaving the profession at a high rate of speed, and the pipeline to fill those retiring educators is all but drying up.

The problem can be seen close to home in Lancaster County as schools have eliminated courses and   programs due to a lack of qualified educators to teach them. Some local school districts are reporting a significant decline – 75% in the last 5 years – in the amount of applicants to fill these open positions, and others are unable to fill these vacancies at all with 10, 16, or even 24 currently vacant positions.

And this issue is not unique to public schools – private schools are also struggling to fill open positions and maintain course offerings for their students. If you are a parent of a school-aged child, you are likely already experiencing this. And if not, you soon will.

This is why I have sponsored Senate Bill 99, a proposal to help fill the vacancies at our local Lancaster County schools, as well as school across the state, with highly qualified candidates through programs that help attract more students into the teaching profession.  Any narrative that suggests this bill is anything more than that is simply not true.

Here’s what the bill does do:

  • Strengthens the Commonwealth’s dual enrollment and dual credit programs, which allows students to earn college credits for courses they take while still in high school, saving the student time and money when working towards a degree or certification.  Not all schools participate in this program so this bill would ensure that every student has the opportunity to get a jump start on their higher education goals. 
  • Establishes an optional program of study for education through our Career & Technical Education Centers, providing another opportunity for students to begin taking courses early in their education career and receive credit towards future credentials, certificates, or degrees.
  • Requires the PA Department of Education to appoint an individual who will be responsible for reviewing data to ensure programs aimed at addressing the teacher shortage are actually working. It’s important to note that this position is not new, it’s simply vacant right now, so my bill would ensure the role is always filled. The bill does NOT give any authority to the person in this role to make any mandates regarding the hiring of prospective teachers. They set goals and issue a report, period.

In fact, this bill has absolutely nothing to do with hiring. It does not create hiring policies, hiring requirements, and certainly doesn’t create hiring quotas based on qualities unrelated to merit, like gender or race. In fact, Senate Bill 99 doesn’t even speak to the process of hiring at all.

Further, it does NOT advance Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (or DEI) curriculum or Critical Race Theory. And it does NOT create a parallel education system that receives federal funds. All of these interpretations of the bill are WRONG.

But don’t take my word for it, read the language of the bill for yourself.

You’ll also see that the bill does nothing to weaken the rigorous requirements to become a teacher. Instead, it temporarily suspends an impractical standardized test that studies have shown, like many other standardized tests, is not an indicator of an effective teacher or success. In fact, this bill brings Pennsylvania in line with the majority of states that have eliminated this barrier to educator prep programs by waiving this test for 3 years so a study can be done to determine if the test is necessary.  Though the basic skills test is waived, students will still be required to pass all the teacher prep program courses, graduate, and pass the content exams in their area of study to become a teacher.   

Finally, you’ll see that that the bill does not create any new education system nor is the state receiving any new federal funding. This bill uses the existing programs to expand pathways that students currently follow to become educators.

As you see, this bill solely focuses on the front-end of the teacher shortage issue – getting more students interested in the teaching profession and into educator prep programs so the pool of available teachers is sufficient to fill the vacancies in our children’s classrooms. Again, it does not speak to hiring – schools will continue to be free to hire teaching candidates as they see fit.

I know there’s been some concerns about the use of the word “diversity” in this bill, and since I have strongly and consistently opposed diversity mandates, Senate Bill 99 does no such thing. We should attract people of all backgrounds to the teaching profession. In particular, I am concerned about the lack of male teachers in our local classrooms, but I also understand how vital recruiting more men of color to urban school districts is for their students to have access to quality male role models. Attracting, not mandating, more men and people of color into the teaching profession is a good thing – and that’s not something we should politicize.

I know reading legislation and understanding the impact of proposed language can be difficult, and I have always welcomed questions about my proposals or others.  Unfortunately, it’s clear some have chosen to intentionally mislead the public about Senate Bill 99, which only serves to distract from the very real issue I’m trying to address – Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage and the negative impacts it has on our children’s education.  This is not a partisan issue – the prime sponsor of this bill in the House is a Republican and that bill is also co-sponsored by well-respected conservatives.

Fixing our teacher shortage is necessary for the educational future of children in Lancaster County, and Senate Bill 99 will help close the gap by attracting more highly qualified candidates to the teaching profession and filling vacant positions in your child’s school.

Learn more about Senate Bill 99 and the teacher shortage here.

Op-Ed: How to Make the Budget Work for Pennsylvania

After seven years of watching the Wolf administration turn what should be an accounting task into a public spectacle, I’d like to suggest a change in how Pennsylvania puts together a budget.

Let’s make it a two-year document — again.

Nineteen states currently pass two-year budgets, with 15 of them meeting annually to review and adjust their books according to revenue shifts. At one time, 44 of the states had two-year budgeting procedures, which fell by the wayside as the postwar economy expanded and revenue projections became volatile.

So, why would Pennsylvania benefit from returning to a system it abandoned in 1959? The argument at the time was greater oversight and ability to adapt to shifting fiscal winds. That, of course, was before the process devolved into a tug-of-war between the governor and the leaders of the general assembly.

Right now, the budget starts with a fantasy document by a governor who lays out a wish list, then dissolves in the caustic reaches of partisan politics in the House and Senate where something vastly different often emerges. The rancor runs so deep that an on-time budget, passed by June 30, is rarer than leap years.

Generally, the final document is assembled by a closed circle of leaders and presented to members who might have a few hours, at most, to read a massive book accounting for nearly $40 billion in spending. To say that not everybody has a firm grasp on what they’re passing is being kind.

It is not unusual for legislators to learn the full details of the budget in news reports after it has been passed.

It’s also how one of the most notorious switcheroos in the state’s fiscal history was pulled. Coming out of the record recession of 2008-10, Democratic legislators, acting at the behest of then-Gov. Ed Rendell, pulled state funds from the general education budget and then backfilled it with one-time federal stimulus dollars.

The move created a disaster. That $1 billion in federal dollars vanished the following year, leaving a flaming hole in the education budget for schools that had hired teachers, expanded programs, and incurred other annual costs as if that money would be there for them in the next budget.

A two-year projection, forced into the minds of legislators eager to play Santa for the folks back home, would have made it clear that one-time allotments can’t be treated as forever dollars.

A two-year budget would require revenue projections well into the future, and in a volatile economy, those projections can shift. Budgeting would be a continuous process in terms of knowing where we’re going and what we need to adjust along the way. But those variables are a hidden asset in that they will let us see if a new program or project is really working. It takes more than a year to really know.

This opens the door to another improvement: A budget that takes longer to assemble and covers more ground and demands careful tending, is something that the entire general assembly can — and should — join in. As it is, the current process not only fails to allow all members to ask questions of agencies about their budget requests — it doesn’t even allow time for every agency to appear for questioning before Appropriations.

We need to stretch out the process a bit, if only so your representatives can know what they’re passing and doing so with a full understanding of all the implications. That’s not accomplished in a two-hour reading of the budget.

There is also a strong economic growth argument to be made for a two-year budget: Business hates uncertainty. When a company sets up shop, they cost things out over a period of years; they don’t all turn a profit in the first 12 months. Survival depends on accurate projections based on reliable data.

A young entrepreneur can take their best shot knowing that taxes will stay the same. A human services agency will keep workers on his payroll knowing that county departments that use their services have two years of state funding allotted.

How a state spends, and how it taxes, are something that can make or break a company, or deter them altogether from locating someplace. A two-year budget might require adjustments during the journey, but it’s not prone to the annual impasses that have made us look ridiculous.

The two-year budget is not a perfect solution, but we’ve reached the point where we have to do something to avoid the rolling catastrophe that our current process has become.

Keep in mind: during a budget impasse the state can’t pay its bills. But it keeps collecting taxes. You should pay only for something that works.

Op-Ed: How PA Courts Compromised Integrity of PA Elections

The bending of the rules that resulted in a hijacking of Act 77, the significant delays in completing a thorough investigation of the 2020 General Election, and the continued rulings that favor cheaters and obstruct election integrity reform efforts ALL lie at the feet of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This court has time and again shown its partisan stripes and their disregard for the rule of law.

This is how it happened:

The issues with Pennsylvania’s voting process began long before the 2020 election cycle with Governor Wolf’s unilateral 2018 decision to require all counties to purchase new voting machines. I was concerned about the deficiencies of this approach at the time, because the Governor’s directive lacked funding to pay for the upgrades, which were valued at $3 million in Lancaster County alone. Instead, this directive effectively pushed an unfunded mandate onto the counties and taxpayers, which likely would have resulted in an overwhelming hike in property taxes to cover the difference.

This is when the Legislature stepped in.

At the request of county commissioners from across the state, the General Assembly worked in a bipartisan fashion to enact Act 77 to update our Commonwealth’s outdated election code.  This legislation provided funding for the counties to meet the requirement to replace their voting machines and modernized the election process in Pennsylvania for the first time in more than eight decades.

Some of these reforms included:

  • Eliminating the antiquated practice of straight-party voting which historically has benefited Democrats,
  • Allocating funding for all voting machines to be equipped with paper trails for the purpose of conducting post-election audits,
  • Extending the voter registration deadline from 30 days before an election to 15 days, and
  • Expanding access to mail-in ballots.

Many other states had long enacted these reforms before Pennsylvania finally did – in fact, our state was one of the last in the nation to allow no-excuse mail-in voting. Act 77 passed the Senate by a 35-14 vote along near party lines. Every single Republican Senator voted for it, while nearly every Democrat voted against it.

Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (PASC) and the former Secretary of the Commonwealth (who has since resigned in disgrace) effectively hijacked this successful election reform package by blatantly disregarding the legislative intent of the law, overreaching in their interpretation of the statute, and issuing last-minute guidance that clearly conflicted with the plain language of Act 77.

In the few months leading up to the 2020 General Election, the PASC reached beyond their authority to legislate from the bench and make up their own rules:

  • They permitted the use of drop boxes, even though Act 77 did not.
  • They extended the deadline to receive mail-in ballots to 5pm on the Friday following the election, even though Act 77 did not.
  • They effectively ruled that mail-in ballots don’t need to go through a signature verification process, even though Act 77 required it.

NONE of these actions matched the rules laid out in Act 77 and not one elected representative in the Legislature voted for this. Instead, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took it upon themselves to use the pandemic as an excuse to create these new guidelines out of thin air and change the rules of the election in their favor.

Since then, the PASC has used every trick in the book to stop a legislative investigation into the 2020 General Election, repeatedly ruled in favor of their Democratic colleagues on election matters, and, most recently, overturned rulings of lower courts that sought to let Pennsylvania voters decide whether to use no-excuse mail-in ballots in our elections.

Simply put, this partisan court is out of control. Nearly all of the issues with the 2020 General Election can be traced back to nefarious actions of this court.

Interestingly, five of the seven current Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices (or over two-thirds) are from Allegheny or Philadelphia counties, leaving 79% of the state’s population unrepresented on our highest court.

Instead of electing judges and justices statewide, I’ve sponsored a proposal to amend the Constitution to create judicial districts to elect them regionally. This reform will empower individual voters over special interests, ensure fair and proportionate representation, recognize the value of geographic diversity, and increase election integrity and government accountability.

It will also ensure that 79% of the state’s population won’t be stuck with a slate of justices who don’t share their views, their life experiences, or their values. Fair judicial districts will level the playing field and account for the voice of each and every Pennsylvania voter.

This proposal is just one part of my ongoing efforts to improve Pennsylvania’s election system. My Republican colleagues in the Legislature and I have been fighting the Wolf Administration’s faulty implementation of Act 77 since before the 2020 General Election, including continued lawsuits, legislative proposals to increase election integrity, and a thorough investigation of Pennsylvania’s election system.

Despite the PASC’s constant interference, we will continue fighting for election integrity in this Commonwealth through any avenue possible.

Op-Ed: We’re No. 22 — and that’s bad news

State Senator Ryan Aument (R-36)

It is almost surreal to look at numbers and rankings that show Pennsylvania floundering in comparison to other states, but this freakish economic landscape that puts us behind Ohio and Indiana speaks to a rock-solid reality.

Our state’s reputation for high taxes, unfriendly regulatory climate and stagnant manufacturing growth quantifies what our guts have told us for decades. We aren’t ready to face the future because we’re locked into a cycle of doubt, conflict and cynicism.

Site Selection, a trade magazine that is the source of conventional wisdom for CEOs seeking places to expand, puts Pennsylvania 22nd on its list — behind North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Ohio and Indiana. The sunbelt outpacing the north isn’t necessarily news. But when midwestern states, with the same weather and the same location are beating us, we need to think about what has gone wrong.

Don’t think that this is a function of the pandemic, although both Pennsylvania and New York took hits from governors who closed businesses by fiat, without explaining their reasoning and in a way that rewarded big box chain stores while demolishing local and independent businesses.

Pre-pandemic figures in manufacturing show Indiana growing those jobs by more than 20,000. Ohio picked up nearly 10,000 manufacturing jobs. Florida, Michigan, and Georgia were off the charts. Pennsylvania lost 300 manufacturing jobs in that same period.

Same economy. Same challenges. But it remained for Pennsylvania to dip in precisely the kinds of jobs that sustain families and create spinoffs.

So, what’s going on?

If we are going to be the state we could be — even the one we once were — Pennsylvania must stop apologizing for its bounty of resources and treat manufacturing as the essential economic bedrock it truly is.

Pennsylvania needs a tax policy that doesn’t scare off businesses. It demands a respect for the hands-on occupations that create tangible goods. Our potential isn’t limited by a lack of talent or an absence of resources. We’re being held back by the smug self-righteousness of people who think humankind’s very presence is an intolerable imposition on the planet.

My travels around the state have increasingly brought me face to face with men and women who, a scant generation ago, would have been a reliable vote for the Democrats. They are from a class that has been abandoned by the no-growth, high-tax, government-dominant policies that abandoned core economic needs of working families and replaced them with social issues that don’t belong in politics.

These families find their traditions denigrated, their values questioned, and their very means of sustenance challenged as either environmentally unsound or unimportant for our future. Increasingly, they recognize the need for leaders that don’t simply share their values, but who celebrate them.

Much of our problem here is the political culture. An array of anti-growth groups, some claiming to speak for the environment, reflexively oppose any undertaking that threatens to turn a single shovelful of earth. The opposition to the Shell ethane “cracker” plant in Beaver County was a case study of how a state in the midst of a recession can be held in place by a system that puts up obstacles virtually every step of the way.

Ohio, for instance, is ranked as fourth most desirable location in part because of a system of pre-permitting that lets businesses get started on brick-and-mortar facilities without the endless regulatory challenges that automatically assume any new industry is a threat. It should worry us that the expected spinoff industries that will grow around the cracker plant will do their growing just over the Beaver County border in Ohio.

Our region is within a day’s drive of more than half the North American market. Location is in our favor, but it is in the favor of our near neighbors as well. But we also have something they haven’t got: uncertainty. Business weighs all factors and costs before they build, and the unknown is a deadly enemy.

For too long, we’ve provided both uncertainty and even outright hostility when it comes to manufacturing jobs. It’s time to change that culture.

Op-Ed: Balance of Power in Government Means More Power for the People

 

Op-Ed by: State Senator Ryan Aument (R-36) & Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler (R-100)

The abuse of executive power by both parties and at all levels of government must stop. The recent unprecedented increase of these executive orders not only concentrates too much power into the hands of a single person, but it also effectively silences the voice of the people and stifles freedom.

Pennsylvanians are all too familiar with the seemingly endless, heavy-handed orders pushed on us all by the Wolf Administration throughout the pandemic. Forced shutdowns and business closures, mask mandates, and capacity limits crippled our economy, set our school-aged children back in their development and learning progress, and exacerbated many pre-existing societal issues like the opioid epidemic, suicide rates, and homelessness.

At the federal level, both the Trump and Biden administrations have been widely criticized for their historically increased reliance on the use of executive orders to push through partisan policies instead of working with Congress to pass a more collaborative product.

We shouldn’t govern this way at any level of government. Regardless of party and regardless of the policies enacted, this abuse of executive power is unacceptable.

Policies of this magnitude should be passed through a more thoughtful, deliberative, and collaborative process that’s controlled by more than a single person in the executive branch. They should be debated, examined, and exposed to public scrutiny, not unilaterally imposed on residents without warning or authorization.

Unfortunately, administrations from both parties and at both the state and federal level have abused their executive power in recent years, with unprecedented increases in the number of executive orders that purport to have the force of law. The Wolf Administration alone has issued 52 executive orders to date, compared to an average of just over 16 executive orders by the prior four administrations.

The people rightfully expect their government to work efficiently, effectively, and collaboratively. The founders set up our system with checks and balances and a separation of powers to ensure that our God-given freedoms cannot by infringed upon by the government. We must fight to preserve this system and the freedoms guaranteed within it.

For that reason, we are proposing limitations to a Governor’s power to issue executive orders and regulations. These proposals would restore the balance of power by limiting an executive order that purports to have the force and effect of law to 21 days unless extended by the General Assembly and reestablishing the General Assembly’s authority to disapprove regulations.

Many have argued that these proposals are purely partisan – a Republican attack against a Democratic Governor. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

These proposals are an effort to recalibrate our government to work for the people instead of concentrating too much power into the hands of one person, whether that person be Republican or Democrat.

Further, since these proposals are Constitutional amendments, they cannot be approved without a vote by the people of Pennsylvania and wouldn’t even take effect until after the current administration is out of office.

Others have argued that the historically disproportionate increase in executive orders is appropriate considering the administration needed to quickly respond to and address the once-in-a-lifetime health crisis we’ve endured. However, only two of the Wolf Administration’s 52 orders were related to the pandemic. This increase is not about ending the pandemic at all; rather, it is a power grab by the administration and an attempt to circumvent the will of the people through unilateral, unchecked action. No administration, regardless of party, should be able to have this much power.

We believe these proposals are essential to a properly functioning government with a healthy system of checks and balances. Limiting unilateral action by any single branch of government will help to restore the voice of the people and place the power back in their hands where it rightfully belongs.

Learn more about our proposals here.