Boiling Point Forum Held in Valley Forge

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Conservative members of tea parties and various other organizations got together on Tuesday night, November 1, at the Dolce Valley Forge Hotel in King of Prussia, Pa., to express their dedication to change in our state, at a forum presented by the Commonwealth Foundation—a conservative, public policy alternatives think tank headquartered in Harrisburg.

Matt Brouillette, CF President, and Chris Stigall, an early morning talk show host on Philadelphia’s radio station WPHT (1210 AM) guided the two-hour conversation, and were joined by former Pa. State Representative and current head of Americans for Prosperity in PA, Sam Rohrer and Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley for much of the evening. Subjects discussed included the proposed privatization of liquor sales, currently limited by law to Pennsylvania’s State Stores; taxation of, and environmental damage from the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom in Pa.; and the SB-1 School Choice legislation currently being considered in Harrisburg.

In attendance were the Berks County Patriots, the Valley Forge Patriots, the Coalition for Advancing Freedom, the Kitchen Table Patriots, the College Republicans, Berks Tea party, AFSCME, REACH, and Let Freedom Drink—a group dedicated to the elimination of the State Store monopoly.

Privatization of State Stores—Chris Stigall pointed out that organized labor representing State Store employees is the only group currently opposed to this change. The public is pretty nearly unanimous in their approval of privatization (HB-11). There is a well-known exodus of Pennsylvanians to neighboring states to purchase alcohol, and they take with them $180 million per year which should rightly be spent in our own state. Privatization would mean an increase in employment of Pennsylvanians in the sale of spirits from a current 3500 employees to an estimated 35,000 employees. To the claim that privatization would result in our children staggering through our streets in a drunken binge, the response was that a) far more states currently have a privatized system than the state stores we have in Pennsylvania, and this result has not been observed anywhere in those states, and b) currently, only 4% of underage drinkers actually get their spirits at the point of purchase (state stores), and there’s no reason to believe the change to privatization would change that. Finally, the point was made that Philadelphia was the birthplace of American freedom, the current monopoly system eliminates freedom of choice for all Pennsylvanians, and it is not a proper function of government. Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot, who was instrumental in creating the current system, stated that the purpose of the system was to "discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible." It is believed that this issue will come up for a vote no sooner than early in 2012.

Marcellus Shale—a video of "man-on-the-street" interviews on this subject revealed a remarkable amount of ignorance on the subject. Many Americans have been convinced by our politicians and media that the recovery of any fossil fuel resources will destroy our environment. These same people believe that "alternative energy sources" will replace fossil fuels. But the cost per kilowatt hour of solar energy today is averaging $.65, compared to $.05/Kwh for the natural gas recovered from Marcellus Shale. Rohrer stated that Americans for Prosperity will be touring institutions of higher education across our state to disabuse young people of these myths. He also mentioned that the recovery of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale vein is already saving the average family of four in Pennsylvania an average of $200 per year.

Also stated was a) the technology of energy recovery has improved so dramatically that there is little chance of seeing the environmental damage which resulted from the timber and coal industries in previous centuries; b) any environmental damage today is required to be completely remediated, and c) the method of "fracking" commonly used in the Marcellus Shale industry today takes place up to two miles below the water table Pennsylvanians use for their drinking water, and thus cannot have a negative impact on that water table.

Often overlooked by opponents of Marcellus Shale drilling is the amazing economic boom it has meant to so many of Pennsylvania’s communities, some of which have realized an economic influx of up to $8 billion. And finally, energy independence for our nation—something to which generations of politicians have given only lip service—has been advanced by the discovery and recovery of natural gas in Pennsylvania’s shale deposits.

School Choice—Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley discussed Pennsylvania’s E.I.T.C. (Educational Investment Tax Credit) which rewards with tax credits those businesses and industries which contribute to alternatives to our state’s failing public schools. Cawley said that this program has been such a success that it’s not a question of whether it will continue, but how much the program should be expanded in the current budget. Attendees watched a very compelling series of interviews with inner city parents of children who attend failing public schools. These parents feel that increased freedom of choice in education is the only hope left for their children to succeed.

Pa. State Senator Anthony Williams—a black Democrat from Philadelphia—has been leading the charge to get the currently pending school choice legislation (SB-1) passed. The statistics on our state’s current system of public school education tell a grim story. In 1995, Pennsylvanians spent $13 billion on public school education. In 2010, that figure was $26 billion. During the past ten years, 14,000 more classroom teachers were hired in Pennsylvania, while the public school enrollment dropped by 80,000 students. Our schools are sending kids on into our state prison system or our public welfare system in record numbers. Cawley stated that if we can fix our public schools, we will realize a huge savings from our prison and welfare systems. Violence and crime in our public school system is a public scandal. Has the amazing increase in spending on our public schools resulted in excellence? Most definitely not.

There was universal agreement on the dais that competition is essential if our schools are to improve. "Imagine," said Brouillette, "if the college you go to was determined by your zip code, the way it works in our public schools." No one would put up with that, he stated, nor should we accept those constraints in the schools our children attend. For those worried that a voucher system would result in the government’s denial of the right to teach religious instruction in our parochial schools, Cawley said that this would not necessarily come to pass, but that we must practice constant vigilance to prevent it from happening.

The Commonwealth Foundation forum, which broke up at 9 PM, was widely agreed to be a success by those attending.

Ed Bender
Berks County Patriots