Friday, February 5, 2021
The U.S. economy added an anemic 49,000 new jobs in January, proof positive that this pandemic is still kicking the dirt out of our job creators. This is why the White House and Congress are speeding toward the passage of COVID Stimulus number four. Or is it five? Do we care about the deficit now, or nah?
True to his word, President Joe Biden met with a group of 10 Senate Republicans to see if he could come to some sort of compromise on his relief plan. Biden’s proposal clocks in at $1.9 trillion while the Gang of 10 opened with a $600 billion offer. We are not mathematicians, but even we know those two numbers aren’t exactly close. Both sides exchanged pleasantries and parted ways so they could all go on Twitter and forego the pleasantries.
Speaking of unpleasantries, the U.S. House voted to strip a Georgia lawmaker from all her committee assignments for a stream of rather offensive social media posts of days past (we are still looking for the Jewish Space Laser.) Having sat through numerous congressional committee meetings, this sounds like being punished with a bowl of ice cream and a cold beer. Hey, you get to be in Congress without going to class! Poor thing!
Over in the Senate, former President Trump’s lawyers filed their briefs ahead of his next impeachment. His legal team argued that Trump had nothing to do with the folks who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, a bunch of Capitol stormers who have since been tracked down by the FBI and criminally charged are arguing in court that they are innocent because they were following President Trump’s orders. None of this is expected to result in anything other than Trump being acquitted, but it is fascinating to watch how quickly the “revolutionaries” turned around and blamed someone else.
Back here in snow covered Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf gave his annual budget address (virtually), in which he called for a major league tax increase/tax cut for the poor that would net the state $3 billion, much of which he would invest in public schools. The $38 billion plan is easily the most controversial Wolf has ever laid out, as he called for not only the personal income tax change, but also a severance tax on gas drillers and legalization of weed.
On a related note, since the governor was giving his budget address virtually due to the pandemic, why did it get delayed due to a snowstorm? Aren’t snowstorms one of the reasons people did things virtually before we met the coronavirus?
The GOP-led legislature rejected the plan outright before Wolf even finished his speech, with dozens of members noting that “during a pandemic” is the worst time to raise taxes. Forgive us for questioning the semantics, but we are willing to bet, uh, EVERYTHING WE OWN that the GOP-led legislature wouldn’t be embracing this plan if COVID 19 never existed. Ever. In any year.
Wolf also announced that the state workforce, which has been stagnant for a while, will grow by 54 people this year. We assume all of them will be working in unemployment compensation call centers until further notice.
On that note, there has been quite a bit of… um, dissatisfaction… with pandemic unemployment insurance, with lawmakers knocking the Department of Labor and Industry around on a daily basis. L&I, for its part, blames slow federal guidance as part of the holdup, in addition to 70,000 weekly calls and the fact that staff is dealing with a system that was established when Lyndon Baines Johnson was in office. A word of caution to policymakers: needed upgrades to UC systems across the country were ignored for a looooooong time, since the country had essentially 10 straight years of job growth. Make hay while the sun shines next time.
The dissatisfaction does not stop at the UC office doors, mind you. There is QUITE a bit of grumbling about the state’s vaccine rollout, which has been slower than Wolf wanted. As a new health secretary tries to right the ship, we will remind everyone that there is no way, ever, that all people will be satisfied with the rollout of a miracle shot that is all that stands between a pandemic and normal life. If we could vaccinate everyone in three days, those scheduled for day three would complain that they got shafted.
The Wolf administration this week made what can only be described as one the worst mistakes of the last six years when it uncovered that it had not properly advertised a constitutional amendment that would have, if passed in May, opened up a two-year window for sexual assault survivors to seek redress. Unless the legislature passes a new law to do so (unlikely to pass) or tries an emergency constitutional amendment (shaky legally), victims of the Catholic Church scandal may have to wait until 2023 to get justice. If you were waiting for a joke or some of our trademark snark here, move along.
The state’s casino industry posted a staggering $800 million loss last year. Casinos, which pay a tax rate that would make most businesses executives pass the hell out, while employing thousands of Pennsylvanians had a very tough year, indeed. So, it is only natural that some elected officials would like to throw them an anchor and expand gaming to every corner bar, bodega, restaurant, convenience store, Arby’s, you name it.
The varmint from Punxsutawney saw his virtual shadow this week, which means six more weeks of virtual winter, and really, we still listen to the ground pig? Billions of dollars have been invested in meteorological technology and we rely on a rodent? Just making sure we have that right.
Apparently, a toxic mix of farm runoff, legacy coal mine drainage and old sewage infrastructure have contributed to the fact that our own Mighty Susquehanna River (which you can see nicely from our Triad HQ rooftop deck) is positively MURDERING the Chesapeake Bay. Doesn’t look that lethal from the window, but we get it. We should all take a moment to study up on this or your blue crabs, oysters, mussels, bay scallops and shrimp might be very expensive, very soon. Oh, and the entire ecosystem will collapse, so that’s pretty bad too. But mostly, save the oysters.
Speaking of rivers, apparently the state’s Fish and Boat Commission did not release the trout-stocking schedule last year in an attempt to try and cut down on crowd sizes during the pandemic. If you’ve ever seen the banks of a high-quality stream on the first day of trout season, you know what we are talking about. Fear not, anglers, your schedule is here again. Just try not to stand on top of each other, OK? COVID-19 is still here and that trophy rainbow trout is probably not worth dying over, even though it is pretty damned delicious.
In our We Can’t Make This Up segment, we go to New Hampshire, where legislative leaders are perhaps the grumpiest bunch of killjoys in the nation. The leadership announced that lawmakers’ pets are now banned from remote meetings. Seriously, seeing people’s cats and dogs during a WebEx or Zoom meeting is sometimes the most interesting thing (and only thing of value) that happens. Lighten up, New Hampshire.
That’s what passes for news around here as the legislature starts to kick the tires on the governor’s budget plan. Should be a fairly short exercise, but we will be there for it! From all of us at Team Triad, have a great weekend!