For various reasons I haven’t posted anything for a while.  Within that long gap, a majority of state and territory primaries and caucuses have come and gone and we now have two presumptive Presidential nominees.  The Pennsylvania primary has also winnowed down the number of candidates for various races, leaving the Senate race between Katie McGinty and Pat Toomey and the Attorney General race between Josh Shapiro and John Rafferty Jr.  The Pennsylvania Senate is also back to full strength as Republican Thomas Killion defeated Martin Molloy and will have the honor of running again this coming November.  This leaves a ratio of 31 Republicans to 19 Democrats in the Senate.

Locally, both Guy Reschenthaler and Ed Eichenlaub have defeated the perennial candidate of “Write-In” and will face each other for the 37th district seat this coming November.  There is a slight advantage in registered Democrats in the district, and though the following stats may be insignificant, Reschenthaler received more actual votes that Eichenlaub, 34,153-32,332.  This difference is smaller than the difference in Peters Township alone, meaning that Eichenlaub has to win the rest of the district by a significant margin in order to make up for the loss he, and any Democrat, is bound to see in Peters.  Matt Smith won only 38.95% of the vote there in 2012, and Heather Arnet won 29%, with both losing by over 2,000 votes.  Eichenlaub’s name recognition probably works against him as he was named on 80.59% of the Democratic ballots while Reschenthaler was named on 91.43% of the Republican ballots.  That means Eichenlaub will need to work hard to increase his name recognition and make the voters comfortable with him.

Reschenthaler seems to have gotten busier in the Senate has he is now the prime sponsor on four bills:

SB 1155, which creates special plates for active members of the armed forces

SB 1161, which sets deadlines on the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to mail tax credit award letters to businesses applying for Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC) or Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits (OSTC)

SB 1189, which increases fines related to lobbying disclosure and also adds verbiage regarding the Internet (capitalized!) and electronic receipts

and SB 1231, which requires social service employees to report suspected incidences of animal cruelty

These are in addition to his I-want-Tim-Murphy-to-like-me SR 275 urging the US Congress to pass Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.

The first is far from groundbreaking and is now under consideration in the House after being passed unanimously by the Senate.

The second is largely of the result of this year’s budget impasse, where the letters were not sent out until December, leaving the businesses who applied without enough time to actually make the contributions required by the credits.  The bill allows the businesses also to apply the credit to either the year they applied or the year they made the contribution.  I would like to think that businesses would be willing to contribute funds towards educational scholarships whether they get a tax credit or not, but I guess charity will only go so far.  I have to wonder if a contribution is truly charitable if it is made only because the contributor gets some sort of financial advantage out of it.

The third is a part of the “lobbying reform package” announced by Scott Wagner and allies on December 10th, with the bill itself being introduced on April 19th.  I also seems to make changes to the law that don’t seem terribly significant, but I could be wrong.

The fourth is as simple as the summary, requiring a social services employee to report suspected animal cruelty to a registered animal cruelty prevention society, such as the ASPCA.

Reschenthaler also endorsed Marco Rubio for President some time ago, but there is no word yet on any endorsement of the remaining Republican candidate for President.

The 2016 Election Season Begins

It is now January 20th, the Senate has been back in session for two days, and in six days the election season for 2016 will begin. The Bureau of Elections, Commissions, and Legislation has placed the year’s election schedule online, and January 26th is the first day that nomination petitions can be circulated. It remains to be seen if there will be any competitors to the current most junior Senator, but I am hopeful that there will be some measure of competition. Even in cases where the incumbent is well-entrenched, such as with Tim Murphy, it is always better to have at least some choice given to the electorate. If Reschenthaler runs unopposed, he may very well become entrenched until he sees some opportunity to move up or out. The last three senators from the 37th district have all resigned (Tim Murphy in 2003, John Pippy in 2012, and Matt Smith in 2015), so that trend may very well continue if Reschenthaler gets no competition.

Once the office of Matt Smith, now it is the office of Guy Reschenthaler, though without a name change.

Once the office of Matt Smith, this building is now the office of Guy Reschenthaler, though without a name change.

Reschenthaler’s State Senate page is available and shows two offices serving the district, one in Moon and one in Mt Lebanon. I haven’t been by the office in Moon, but a drive past his office in Mt Lebanon yesterday showed that the signage is a bit behind the times. I’m guessing that either the budget impasse has not allowed funds to be made available to replace the signage, or Reschenthaler is saving every dime he has to retain his seat against any rival in the election this year. Interestingly, Matt Smith’s personal senate page is still up, seemingly unchanged after his resignation in June. That is, everything is frozen in time except for his Twitter feed.

Lastly, Reschenthaler was one of five Senators, led by Scott Wagner, to announce a package of six bills to try to reform lobbying in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with Reschenthaler’s particular contribution being  bill to “increase penalties for violations of the lobbyist law from $2,000 to $4,000, with penalties increasing for repeat violations.” This doesn’t strike me as being particularly groundbreaking in itself, but it does indicate that Reschenthaler is initially aligning himself with Wagner, a distinctly non-establishment if not Tea Party-aligned Republican from York County whose package of bills is raising questions of his intent.

Whither Haysville?

HaysvilleAllegheny County is infamous for having the largest number of municipalities of any county in Pennsylvania, with 130 in all.  This has resulted in quite a variety of different types of communities, from large and thoroughly urban cities like Pittsburgh and McKeesport, to sparsely settled but geographically large townships like Findlay or Fawn.  You can’t get to 130 without a number of very tiny boroughs like Wall, or Chalfant, or the tiniest of them all, Pennsbury Village.  45 municipalities in all are entirely within Allegheny County and are less than one square mile large.  One of those is also the smallest municipality by population: the Borough of Haysville.  This 0.2 sq mi speck sits on the north side of the Ohio valley within the Quaker Valley school district and sports a 2010 population of 70.  This low population leads to a low number of registered voters:  56 in all in 2015.  Of these voters, only 18 cast any ballots at all, and each of these 18 voters encountered a situation unique to Haysville; not a single candidate was listed for any Haysville office.  Up for election were Mayor, Tax Collector, Constable, and what appears to be five members of council, and absolutely no one had their name on the ballot as the official candidate.   As such, every vote was a write-in candidate and not everyone who submitted  a ballot bothered to put in their suggestion for each office.  Most overlooked was Tax Collector, which received a grand total of three write-in votes.  I can only hope that they were not three different names, as I do not know what would happen if any municipal office election resulted in a three-way tie of one vote each.

Here are the final vote count for each office:

Mayor: 12 votes out of 18 ballots cast

Tax Collector: 3 votes out of 18 ballots cast

Member of Council (vote for 3): 36 total votes, 12 per slot out of 18 ballots cast

Member of Council (vote for 2): 13 total votes, 6.5 per slot out of 18 ballots cast

Constable: 10 total votes out of 18 ballots cast

With eight municipal offices and a total population of 70, fully 11% of the population of Haysville can serve in its government at one time!

My hope is that Haysville is still able to function as an independent borough without any obvious interest shown by its population to participate in its government, but the borough is very likely the first example someone can point at to argue that 130 municipalities in Allegheny County is too many, especially with the lack of interest shown in local government just about anywhere.

For the record, here is a list of municipalities in Allegheny County, 10 boroughs and 1 township, that are smaller than one square mile and have a population of less than 1,000 in 2010. Municipalities in the 37th Senate District are bolded.

Place Population Size
Chalfant 800 0.16 sq mi
Pennsbury Village 661 0.08 sq mi
Wall 580 0.48 sq mi
Glen Osborne 547 0.46 sq mi
West Elizabeth 518 0.25 sq mi
Thornburg 455 0.42 sq mi
Rosslyn Farms 427 0.47 sq mi
Ben Avon Heights 371 0.18 sq mi
South Versailles Twp 351 0.85 sq mi
Glenfield 205 0.86 sq mi
Haysville 70 0.20 sq mi

Municipal Referenda in the 2015 Election

Mt LebanonThe 2015 elections in Allegheny County featured two municipal referenda: one for Bethel Park and one for Mt. Lebanon, and both concerning changes to the Home Rule Charter for each.  As a resident of Mt. Lebanon, I was embarrassed to find that I had no clue about the context of the proposed change, which was phrased as follows:

Shall Section 321. Ordinances Authorizing Indebtedness, of the Municipality of Mt. Lebanon Home Rule Charter be amended to require that one notice be published seven (7) to thirty (30) days before debt is incurred, as more fully described in Mt. Lebanon Ordinance No. 3268?

At first glance it sounded good; it is perfectly reasonable (and in fact, required by state law) to require that a notice be published a reasonable amount of time before a new municipal debt is incurred. The trouble is that I had no idea what this was being changed from, and therefore I was not informed as to the potential effect of that this change would have.  Was this a brand-new provision? (I did not know about the state’s requirements at the time I voted.) Did this make the requirement more stringent than before?  Less stringent? I did not know, and therefore cast an uninformed vote.  This, as stated before, is embarrassing to me to admit and was one of the impetuses to start this blog.

Fortunately, after researching it after the fact (I cannot emphasize how much I recommend all voters to research issues on the ballot before an election), it turns out to be almost utterly innocuous.  I could only easily find one article on the web about it, from Mt. Lebanon Magazine, which, fortunately, seems to sum it up very well. This referendum item is the result of a review of the Home Rule Charter and is intended to make the notice requirements less stringent while still complying with state law.  Previously, the charter stipulated that a debt-related notice should be posted two times, but this was seen as more effort than was necessary.  The measure passed quite comfortably, with 6,070 votes for (84.17%) and 1,142 votes against (15.83%), so it was quite uncontroversial and is enshrined in the Mt. Lebanon Home Rule Charter.  1,475 voters (16.98%)  who submitted ballots did not cast a vote on this issue, and I wonder what percentage of voters also did not know what this measure actually meant and either skipped it or voted based upon the text alone.

One thing I took away from this is that I will try to find a way to be informed of these and other municipal notices when they are published.  The obviously will (normally) not be front headline matters in the Post-Gazette or Tribune-Review.

Bethel ParkThe Municipality of Bethel Park had its own referendum (called a “Home Rule Charter Question” on the ballot), which was much, much more contentious.  The text was as follows:

Shall Article VI, Public Safety, of the Bethel Park Home Rule Charter be amended to provide that the Chief of Police of the Municipality of Bethel Park Police Department shall be directly responsible to the Municipal Manager of the Municipality of Bethel Park, rather than to the Council of the Municipality of Bethel Park?

Unlike the Mt. Lebanon referendum, this succinctly makes it clear what the Charter will be changed from and what it will be changed to.  Once again, a quick web search only turns up one article about the referendum, but The Almanac doesn’t go into much detail as to what the practical ramifications of the change might be, only that the Bethel Park council was unanimous in voting to add it to the ballot and that the original language was said to be “a mistake”.

Apparently a large number of people in the Municipality disagreed as the change barely squeaked by with a vote of 3,357 (50.69%) in favor and 3,265 (49.31%) against, with 499 (7.00%) ballots submitted leaving the question blank, a notable difference from the number of missing votes on the Mt. Lebanon referendum. I will assume that this issue was better known within Bethel Park despite the lack of obvious reportage, and therefore more voters felt comfortable in casting a vote. However, it might also just be a case of the wording making it clearer what would change in the charter versus what the charter would change to as in the Mt. Lebanon referendum. Simply reading the text makes it relatively clear what the vote is truly for, and an otherwise uninformed voter would likely feel more comfortable making a vote based solely on what was printed on the ballot.  Either way, the 28.22% of registered voters who cast a ballot on this issue were plainly more divided than the Bethel Park Council, but the matter passed regardless.

2015 Winners by Municipality

Heather Arnet won:

Pennsbury Village 67.39% 48 votes
Mt Lebanon 57.55% 1279 votes
Leetsdale 56.98% 36 votes
Rosslyn Farms 55.30% 14 votes
Emsworth 54.19% 32 votes
Glen Osborne 53.28% 9 votes
Glenfield 52.46% 3 votes
Whitehall 50.08% 5 votes

Guy Reschenthaler won:

Sewickley Heights 74.59% 89 votes
Peters 71.00% 2017 votes
Jefferson Hills 66.22% 753 votes
Haysville 62.50% 4 votes
Aleppo 61.50% 92 votes
Ben Avon Heights 60.71% 24 votes
Sewickley Hills 60.69% 37 votes
Ohio 60.02% 178 votes
Upper St. Clair 59.92% 844 votes
Edgeworth 59.62% 70 votes
Findlay 58.24% 133 votes
Pleasant Hills 57.91% 296 votes
Moon 57.17% 622 votes
Crescent 57.09% 74 votes
North Fayette 56.00% 202 votes
Bethel Park 55.93% 822 votes
Bell Acres 55.88% 36 votes
Bridgeville 55.51% 111 votes
Collier 54.46% 117 votes
Kilbuck 54.36% 17 votes
Oakdale 54.03% 24 votes
Thornburg 53.33% 11 votes
South Park 52.88% 138 votes
Leet 52.87% 20 votes
South Fayette 52.72% 188 votes
Sewickley 52.56% 41 votes
Robinson 52.12% 112 votes
McDonald 51.06% 1 vote