Op-ED: “Trust the Science” and Protect Women’s Sports

By Senator Doug Mastriano

Over the past few decades, it has been amazing to observe the growth of female participation in sports.

Once off limits for females, they are now able to gain the same benefits from athletic competition that males have always been afforded. Self-discipline and sportsmanship are just some of the skills that are developed from participation in sports activities.

Since the passage of Title IX, female participation has skyrocketed. College women’s athletic participation has increased from 15% in 1972 to 43% in 2001. High school girl’s athletic participation increased from 295,000 in 1971 to 2.8 million in 2002-2003, an increase of more than 840%.

In 2004, the average number of teams offered for females per college/university was 8.32, up from 2.50 per school in 1972 (Carpenter & Acosta, 2005). In 1981-82, women’s championships became a part of the NCAA program. Today, the NCAA sponsors 40 women’s championships, 38 men’s championships, and three combined championships in all three of its divisions.

Among the 66 medals earned by American female Olympians in the 2022 Tokyo Summer Olympics were gold-medal performances by the U.S. basketball, volleyball, water polo and beach volleyball teams. Eighteen medals were earned by the U.S. women swimmers, 15 by female track and field athletes, and the U.S. women’s softball and soccer teams won silver and bronze medals, respectively.

In the past 30 years of the Olympic Games, the United States has dominated the women’s team sports of basketball (nine golds), soccer (four golds, one silver, one bronze) and softball (three golds, two silvers)—not to mention the untold number of medals in track and field.

But imagine if those female athletes never got that chance to compete for their nation in the Olympics? What if they fell short in a qualifying trial and instead lost their slot to a biological male? Or what if they never even get a scholarship to compete in college because the final spot on the roster was given to a biological male? Sadly, what was once lunacy is now a realistic possibility.

Over the past two years, those of us who questioned the effectiveness of lockdowns and mandates were told to shut up and “follow the science.” But that empty platitude is quickly forgotten when there is a discussion about the biological differences between men and women.

Men produce 570% more testosterone than women do, leading to major differences between the sexes in muscle complexion, bone thickness, skeletal muscle mass, and red blood cell count.

Men produce more Type Two muscle fibers (which are fast-twitch muscles) than they do Type One muscle fibers (which are slow-twitch). This gives men more power than women and helps make men stronger and faster.

There is a myth perpetuated by opponents of this bill who say that transgender male athletes lose any physical advantages after female hormone injections. This is simply not true.

The Journal of Medical Ethics published a study concluding that transgender athletes born male have an “intolerable,” or overwhelming, advantage over biological women in athletic competition. The paper stated healthy male test subjects “did not lose significant muscle mass (or power)” when their testosterone levels were suppressed below the International Olympic Committee guidelines for transgender athletes. Further, it found these biological males could retain their muscle mass through training and that because of muscle memory, their mass and strength could be “rebuilt” through training. The study also found that giving opposite-sex hormones to transgender people post-puberty did not alter the athletic-enhancing effects of testosterone on the male body.

These biological facts are indisputable, and the discrepancies between the two sexes has been very apparent in athletic completion.

Of course, in our own state, we have a Penn swimmer who went from 467th competing against males to first place when competing against females in the 500-yard freestyle NCAA Championships.

Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who tied with Lia Thomas for fifth place in the 200-yard freestyle NCAA swimming championships recently stated that: “The majority of us female athletes, or females in general, really, are not okay with this, and they’re not okay with the trajectory of this and how this is going and how it could end up in a few years,” referring to the NCAA’s unwillingness to change the rules in an effort to protect female competitive sports.

There are many other female athletes who are “not okay with this.” Many are afraid to speak out because they will inevitably be targeted by a woke mob.  

Here are some other examples of the lunacy:

  • Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand powerlifter who used to compete poorly in the men’s division, took first place at the 2019 Pacific Games, beating the female Commonwealth Games champion in both categories.
  • Two biological males recently finished first and second in the 55-meter dash at the Connecticut high school girls’ indoor track championships.
  • A biological man, Craig Telfer, completely dominated the NCAA Division II Women’s Track National Championship in the 400-meter hurdles. Telfer beat the second-place runner by two seconds. The second-place runner bested third place by 0.28 seconds. The year before, Craig had been competing for Franklin Pierce University’s male track team. His ranking that year was 200th out of 390 among the men’s 400-meter hurdles.

It simply defies all logic and reason to infer that a biological male competing in female sports doesn’t have a clear and distinct athletic advantage. A strong majority of Americans understand that this is an unfair advantage.

A March 2022 Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll found that 63% of Americans were against gender-transitioning athletes competing in opposite-sex sporting events.  

As a member of the Senate Education committee, it was a no brainer for me to vote YES on the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” (Senate Bill 1191), which will prohibit male students from participating in athletic teams or sports that are designed for women or girls.

As John Adams once said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

While it may be inconvenient to acknowledge, it is a FACT that biological males have a clear unfair advantage over females in athletic competition.

Op-Ed: Reshoring Manufacturing jobs to Pennsylvania will help solve supply chain woes

By Senator Doug Mastriano

The arrival of COVID-19 brought to light several underlying issues in America. But perhaps the issue that has been most exposed is our overreliance on products made outside of our borders.

International disruptions such as pandemics, natural disasters, and political upheaval significantly impact our nation’s supply chain of goods. The result of that disruption is stunted economic growth and increased prices for American consumers.

During my travels around Pennsylvania, it has been hard to ignore the abandoned factories and hallowed out towns throughout our Commonwealth. Once vibrant communities were replaced with vacant lots and blight. Parents had to say goodbye to their children as they moved far away to find any kind of stable employment. Drugs usage and welfare replaced prosperity and family building.

It wasn’t always this way. Pennsylvania towns used to be a “keystone” to America’s ability to make products desired around the World. Our iron and steel once built the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam, and the Empire State Building.

In 1999, manufacturing jobs accounted for 865,000 jobs in PA. By 2019, that figure shrunk to 575,000.

The transition of jobs from the manufacturing sector to the service sector had a disproportional effect on men without a college degree in our Commonwealth. Their lack of a degree and unique specific skillset made it difficult to find other good paying and fulfilling jobs.   

Fatal foreign policy mistakes by the federal government and the failure of Pennsylvania’s state leaders to replicate pro-business polices implemented in other states were significant factors in the downfall of our manufacturing sector.

Many economic analysists point to the early 2000s as a consequential period that accelerated the decline.

20 years ago, the World Trade Organization made the fateful decision to admit the People’s Republic of China as member nation. The same WTO that oversees the global system of trade rules and regulations. China’s entry also granted them permanent “most favored nation” status in trade with the United States. Prior to its WTO entry, that status had to be approved on an annual basis by US Congress.

The monumental economic and political effects emanating from China’s entry into the WTO continue to reverberate today.

It opened the floodgates for foreign trade and investment into China’s markets. Most significantly, it led to China’s domination in the manufactured goods export market. China’s share of global manufacturing exports went from 4% in 2000 to 15% in 2020.

China’s advantage of an overabundant labor force, lax labor laws, and large government subsidies give them an unfair advantage when it comes to attracting companies to manufacture goods on their shores.

America’s trade deficit with China grew by over 400% from 2001-2018. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, this amounted to the loss of 3.7 million overall American jobs from 2001-2018.

While international agreements, automation, and changes in technology were factors in the decline of manufacturing in PA, our state leaders certainly didn’t do any favors to keep the jobs we had or attract new investment.

While the manufacturing sector largely contracted in northeast states like Pennsylvania, other states adapted their business policies and found ways to attract new investment opportunities.

Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic research conducts a comprehensive nationwide manufacturing industry scorecard every year dating back to 2009. The scorecard examines factors such as tax climate, regulatory environment, and human capital.

Every year, Pennsylvania has received a grade of “C” or worse when it comes to manufacturing health. Conversely, states like Michigan, Kentucky, and South Carolina receive an “A”.

Michigan, Kentucky, and South Carolina all saw an annual average manufacturing growth rate of 2% or more since 2009, according to the U.S Bureau of Economic Analysis. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s growth was anemic at less than 1%.

How do we make more Pennsylvania more attractive to prospective manufacturers? Let’s start with much needed regulatory reform.

Pennsylvania was rated at #35 in the nation for regulatory environment, according to Forbes Best Business Ratings.  With over 153,000 regulations on the books, we have one of the most burdensome regulatory codes in the country. It would take an individual about 713 hours—or just under 18 weeks—to read the entire Pennsylvania Code.

Review, modification, and rescindment of onerous regulations can be the genesis of a manufacturing resurgence. There is a cost to every regulation. That cost is exacerbated when the regulation is no longer needed. Regulations need to be reviewed on a regular basis to determine if they continue to be needed, require modification, or require termination. By creating a consistent review schedule, the General Assembly can determine whether a regulation should be continued, modified, or terminated.

Additionally, creating a “2 for 1” model (removing 2 regulations for any new regulation) is something we should adopt here in Pennsylvania. 

We also must improve our permitting process. Members of the General Assembly often hear from prospective employers who ask, why does it take so long to get a permit? Where does my permit stand? What is the holdup?

We saw this issue in practice when U.S. Steel decided to pull out of a $1.5 billion investment in the Mon Valley Works in Braddock, PA. After delays in getting approvals and permits, US Steel called it off and the region lost out an opportunity to gain hundreds of good paying, blue-collar jobs.

Passing legislation to create a tracking system for permit applications and permit and third-party review of permit decision delays will go a long way to address concerns of business owners & bring greater transparency to the permitting review process.

We need to make our state a more attractive tax climate.  Our current Corporate Net Income Tax is the second largest in the country at 9.99 percent. For comparison, Arkansas’ corporate tax rate of 5% recently helped them land the most advanced steelmaking facility in North America that is expected to produce 3 million tons of advanced steel per year.

Reducing the corporate tax burden by at least 2 percent here will help us compete with other states to attract prospective manufacturers. Thankfully, it appears that this idea is starting to gain bipartisan support.

But I also believe that a corporate tax reduction should be contingent on employers agreeing to retain or attract a certain number of jobs in the Commonwealth. We must ensure these companies are doing their part to invest in our people.

Will Pennsylvania’s manufacturing employment and output ever return to its heyday? Not likely.

But there are steps that our Commonwealth can take now that will instantly make us a more attractive location for manufacturers to grow and invest. Pennsylvania manufacturing sector once powered America into the Industrial Revolution and helped her become the “Arsenal of Democracy” through two World Wars.

We can lead the way once again in reshoring jobs to America and stabilizing our supply chains in the long run.

Op-Ed: Pennsylvania and the War in Ukraine

The Roman philosopher, Cicero, told a story of how King Dionysius answered a courtier, Damocles, who thought that ruling a realm was easy. In response to this, Dionysius switched positions with Damocles. But Dionysius ordered that a sword be suspended above Damocles’ head, held in place by a single strand of hair from a horse’s tail. It was then that Damocles realized the dangers that came with ruling a kingdom and happily remained a courtier. The moral of the story is that danger “hangs by a thread” and a miscalculation could result in catastrophe.

The bellicose rhetoric of Vladimir Putin and his horrific invasion of Ukraine has put both Europe and the world in a dangerous position.  A misstep of appeasement, or alternatively, going too far, could plunge the region into a catastrophic expanding war.  The historic case of 1938 stands in the way, where weakness from “the West” emboldened Adolf Hitler.   The cost of capitulation and appeasement was a costly world war. The lesson of this experiment with appeasement is best summed up by Winston S. Churchill, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

Putin wants “neutral (puppet) states” as a buffer around his country and has gone so far as to call for a return to a 1994 status quo.  The “status quo” was Europe before NATO expansion into Eastern and Northern Europe.  This demand harkens back to a Soviet era when Moscow dominated and controlled the countries along its border.  Yet, these nations rightly want self-determination and not to be a puppet state like Belarus, where the shots are called in Moscow.  To safeguard their future, these nations usurpingly are eager for both NATO and EU membership.  NATO provides a security umbrella while the EU offers a path to economic prosperity.

In the meantime, the war rages with Ukrainian armed forces putting up an impressive defense of their nation from Russian aggression.  Putin is only able to fund his war in Ukraine via oil and gas revenues which have gone from about $70 billion annually in 2017 to around $120 billion last year.  This is driven by increased energy costs and diminished production in the United States.

Although the war in Ukraine is largely a federal issue, there is much that can be done here in Pennsylvania.  In the short term, our state must divest from all Russian financial interests and instead seek to invest in companies here in the Commonwealth.  The idea that state revenue is used to invest in foreign adversaries such as Russia defies reason. And while we are at, we should seek to divest from the Chinese Communist Party as well.

The next step is to immediately withdraw membership from the Regional Green Gas Initiative (RGGI), a New England version of the Paris Climate Accords that will cost our state $461 million this year, according to the governor’s own budget. This misguided plan will hurt the hard-working people of our state with higher energy costs, and with little demonstrable benefit to the environment. 

For the long term, it is high time to unleash the potential of Pennsylvania’s energy sector.  We are blessed with abundant resources in the form of natural gas, coal, and oil.  Production is suppressed by numerous state and federal regulations that must be rolled back now to increase domestic production.  Pennsylvania is number two in natural gas production in the US and third in coal.  But overregulation and taxation are driving our energy sector to neighboring states with more friendly business climates. If the potential of our state’s energy sector is unleashed, we can bring prosperity back to our state, help the United States become energy independent, and become a net exporter of energy to our allies in Europe.  This will indirectly limit Putin’s expansionist wars by reducing his leverage over Europe (via Russian oil and gas exports) in addition to bringing down energy costs here in the commonwealth.    

Years of neglect and absent leadership in Pennsylvania has contributed to making our state one of the most regulated and heavily taxed in the nation.  The drain on young people leaving the state is a direct result of tax and spend policies that make it too daunting to live and prosper in our commonwealth.  A good place to start relieving some of the tax burden is to pass Senate Bill 813, a Gas Tax Holiday for Pennsylvanians.  As gas prices continue to skyrocket, reducing our absurdly high gas tax will provide at least some immediate savings for consumers at the pump.

Another measure is legislation that I will be introducing in the next week to roll back the regulations limiting the growth of our energy sector.  The “PA Energy Independence Act” will stabilize energy costs for Pennsylvanians, protect against economic and international volatility in the long term, and utilize Pennsylvania’s unique natural resources to finally cement the commonwealth as a premier energy powerhouse.

More can and should be done to stabilize our state’s economy to help our people weather the international storms and uncertainty.  Acting on commonsense legislation is where we can start to get the government off our backs and out of our wallets. 

Op-Ed: It’s time to get off Russian oil and unleash the potential of Pennsylvania energy

Energy costs are exploding across the nation, with oil costing an astounding $120 a barrel.  The crunch is felt at the pumps with gas now costing a record $4.17 a gallon in Pennsylvania.  This only adds to the economic pain and crippling inflation ushered in by the Biden Administration that has hurt the wallets of Pennsylvanians.

The situation unfolding in Ukraine has been horrifying for Americans to witness and made worse by the fact that our misinformed “leaders” have emboldened Vladimir Putin by giving him the resources he needed to build and expand his armed forces. 

In less than a year, America went from energy independence to now importing nearly 600 million barrels of oil from Putin’s Russia. The new revenue into the coffers of the Russian government allows them to spend it on weapons and other military equipment. America has indirectly poured billions into Putin’s war chest. 

A perfect example of this occurred in 2016 during a particularly long cold snap in Boston, Massachusetts.  Running out of fuel for energy and desperate for a source, Boston did not turn to Pennsylvania for its natural gas. Instead, they turned to RUSSIA! 

It didn’t have to be this way, but shortsighted policy decisions have gotten us to where we are today.

The Keystone Pipeline, unilaterally stopped in Biden’s first days in office, was to provide 800 million barrels of oil per year.  To appease the progressive “green new deal” wing of his party, Biden put an end to what would have been a gamechanger for North American energy independence. This action was taken despite the fact that pipelines are proven to be 1,200 times safer than a truck, 39 times safer than rail, and 17 times safer than barge when it comes to transporting crude oil.

Instead of commonsense actions to confront out energy woes, the Biden Administration is pleading with a dictator in Venezuela and a King in Saudi Arabia to produce more energy.  This is either a sign of madness or ignorance, as we have what we need here in the United States and in Pennsylvania to fuel our nation and many of our allies in Europe.

Sadly, state leadership in Pennsylvania has also held back the potential of our domestic energy industry.

Pennsylvania has the potential to be an energy producing powerhouse. We are blessed with abundant untapped energy resources We are second in the nation for natural gas reserves and third in the nation for coal. But what benefit do we enjoy from this? 

Tom Wolf’s oppressive and cumbersome fees, taxes, regulations, and restrictions have handicapped the potential of our energy sector.  Many companies in the energy sector simply look to invest in more energy friendly neighboring states like Ohio and West Virginia.

Tom Wolf’s parting gift to the people of Pennsylvania was his unilateral (and probably unconstitutional) decision to join the Regional Green House Gas Initiative (RGGI).  This Northeast version of the Paris Climate Accords will cost the people of Pennsylvania an estimated $461 million dollars a year with no demonstrable benefit to anyone in the state.  Wolf’s RGGI is also projected to immediately result in plant closures and job loss on a mass scale.

Short sighted energy policies have impacts well beyond the energy sector. Low- and Middle-income seniors on fixed incomes cannot afford skyrocketing energy costs to keep the heat on in their homes.

Our already deeply damaged supply chain system cannot afford rising costs to transport goods across the country.

It is time for direct action as politicians like Tom Wolf run around wringing their hands and doing nothing to help the people of our state. 

First, it is time to move SB 813 which would create a “Gas Tax Holiday” for Pennsylvanians. This bill that I introduced over the summer would slash the ridiculously high gas tax and instantly reduce costs at the pump. 

Additionally, the governor must suspend his fees and regulations that are driving up the costs on our energy sector to keep it operational.  This includes immediately withdrawing Pennsylvania from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. We are losing out on potential investment to competition from other states and even other nations.

Finally, we need to open more of our lands for fracking and drilling. The blessing of Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania is still underutilized with untapped deposits of natural gas. We need to make it enticing for companies to invest money and equipment in developing those lands.

With these basic steps, Pennsylvania can be the spark that ignites American energy independence and gets us off Russian oil and gas forever. Our future and the future of our allies depends on it.

Op-Ed: The Case for Property Tax Elimination

Since I was elected Senator in 2019, I`ve heard from constituents on issues that span the spectrum of all areas of the state government. Their feelings on one particular issue have been very clear:  The school property tax is the most hated tax in Pennsylvania (with the gas tax being a close second). 

The property tax is like paying rent to the government for land you own.  It’s easy to see why this antiquated tax is so despised in all corners of the Commonwealth. More than 10,000 homes are seized annually in Pennsylvania and auctioned off for failure to pay the tax. It is particularly troubling that most of the home seizures are from our elderly. Many of our retirees on fixed income are faced with the stark choice of paying for food, medicine, or paying the tax.  This is simply unacceptable.

Property taxes also impede homeowners who long for the autonomy to expand their homestead.  

The way the tax works is that a government entity assesses a price for each piece of property owned. As a home becomes bigger or better, that assessment increases. Not only are homeowners shackled by this, but it also impacts local businesses that would otherwise benefit from selling materials and goods for home expansion.

When presented via ballot referendum question in 2017, the people made their voice loud and clear. By a vote of 54% to 46%, voters statewide supported amending the Constitution to allow for the full elimination of property taxes for homeowners.

Property taxes rates vary depending on the locality or county where a home is located. For example, Chester County has one of the highest average annual tax rates at $4,192 while the average in Philadelphia is $1,236.

If we look at the median value of a home in Pennsylvania ($164,700) and the average rate (1.3%), the average Pennsylvania homeowner pays over $2,200 a year, according to Taxrates.org.

A property tax of a few thousand dollars in addition to a monthly mortgage payment hurts individuals looking to maintain a home especially when they are on a fixed income or living paycheck to paycheck.  Home ownership in PA has dropped from a high of 75% in 1999 to 70% in 2020.

The common defense of those wanting to keep the property tax in place is that our state “can’t afford it” without drastically affecting the quality of education.

I counter that we can make property tax elimination a reality with a little “outside the box” thinking.

For starters, we need to reimagine how we fund education. By redirecting our state funds to follow students instead of systems, not only will we expand choice on where parents can send their children to school, but we will also save money. Currently, Pennsylvania spends over $19,000 per student each school year according to Department of Education statistics for 2019-2020. We are spending more on education than ever but not seeing better results when it comes to academic performance.

Meanwhile, per pupil spending is about $15,000 for charter schools and the average cost of private school tuition is $11,800 a year.

Establishing programs like Education Opportunity Accounts (EOAs) would provide families with direct access to educational resources. Individual school districts would no longer receive the average per pupil state education subsidy for the children who participate in the EOA program. Instead, the funds would be redirected to the child’s education opportunity account administered by the state treasurer and regularly audited by the state. With better accountability and increased competition for students amongst schools, Pennsylvania can actually save money on expenditures for education while improving its quality.

Property tax elimination will lead to benefits in other sectors of our economy.

The average tax savings of property tax elimination for all homesteads would have the same effect of annual stimulus checks for a household. In April 2020, households with two adults and an income under $150,000, received a total of $2,400 on average ($500 more for each dependent child).

According to Forbes, 75% of those households spent their checks on household expenses to stimulate the economy. I think we would see a similar breakdown of spending percentage with property tax elimination and annual tax savings of over $2,000 for an average household.

Increased consumer spending in our Commonwealth grows GDP. Businesses flourish and consumer sales increase with more demand. This growth ultimately leads to more annual money into the coffers of the General Assembly’s general fund available for education spending.

We can also explore revenue alternatives that don’t hurt the wallets of everyday Pennsylvanians.

Several of our private state universities are sitting on billions in untaxed endowment funds. University endowments are comprised of money or other financial assets that are donated to academic institutions. The largest in our state, Penn, has an endowment of over $20 billion after a 41% return from investments in 2021.

Only a miniscule percentage of university endowment funds are expended per year and less than half of those small expenditures go towards tuition reduction and scholarships for students, according to the American Council on Education.

Taxing endowments on wealthy private colleges in Pennsylvania would be significant annual revenue generator for the General Assembly’s general fund.

Another untapped source for revenue is a fee on international remittances conducted by a money transfer licensee or agent.  An international remittance is a sum of money that is electronically sent out of the Pennsylvania economy and into the economies of international destinations. Remittances are primarily utilized by illegal immigrants, foreign workers, and non-US citizens to send earnings back to a foreign country. Over $70 billion dollars is transferred out of the United States and into the economies of recipient countries on an annual basis.

Considering Pennsylvania’s estimated foreign workforce, even a modest fee would generate significant annual revenue for the state.

We also must look at getting our current spending under control. I believe that a thorough review of all 33 state government agencies will reveal significant waste and redundancy. Trimming the fat off these agencies will pay dividends for Pennsylvania in the long run, reduce the cost of our state government, and slash burdensome regulations. Better stewardship of the already exorbitant spending by Harrisburg is key to how can afford property tax elimination.

As I’ve laid it out, full elimination is realistic and fiscally responsible. We just need the determination in Harrisburg to find ways to make it happen.

In late 2019, I joined as a member of the Senate Majority Policy Committee working group on Property tax elimination. Sadly, that working group ended with the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020. I’m in favor of the group starting up again and would certainly sign up as a member.

This session, I’ve gotten the ball rolling on a start to property tax elimination. My bill, SB 619, will exempt households for those who make $40,000 or less annually, are 65 or older, and have resided in Pennsylvania for at least 10 years.  This is not a resolution to the property tax issue, but a short term action to keep some of our elderly from being kicked out of their homes.

The modern model of property taxation has roots in the fourteenth and fiftieth centuries when feudal obligations were owed to British kings or landlords. British tax assessors used ownership or occupancy of property to estimate a taxpayer’s ability to pay.

We must not forget that the Lamp of Liberty was lit right here in Pennsylvania in 1776. In the spirit of our founding fathers who rejected ancient European laws and customs, we can once again embrace our role as a beacon for freedom by eliminating all property taxes on homeowners in our Commonwealth.  

Op-Ed: How Pennsylvania Democrats Hijacked Act 77

In October 2019, Senate leadership brought SB 421 (later Act 77) to the full floor for a vote. I was in my fourth month as a Senator after a career of serving 30 years in the US Army.

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.

Democrats were against the bill for several reasons. It required all voting machines to be equipped with paper trails to ensure accountability for post-election audits. It also eliminated “straight ticket” voting. Pennsylvania had been one of a handful of states for voters to press a single button that automatically selects candidates of the same party. Numerous studies over the years have shown that straight ticket voting benefits democrat candidates.  That advantage vanished when the researchers examined voter behavior in elections after straight ticket voting had been eliminated in a respective state.

When the Senate passed Act 77, critical election security safeguards were in place to prevent mass fraud. All mail-in ballots were to be signature verified and turned in by Election Day to count. “Defective” absentee mail-in ballots were not to be counted and poll watchers were expected to be permitted to observe the counting of all mail-in ballots at every location.

However, using the pretext of COVID, Pennsylvania Democrats made their move to hijack Act 77 and transform it into something NO Republican voted for.

The Democrat majority Supreme Court, Governor Wolf, and Wolf’s disgraced Secretary of State Boockvar unconstitutionally rewrote Act 77.

Let’s start with the Supreme Court. On September 17, 2020, in direct contravention of the wording of Act 77, the court extended the deadline for mailed ballots to be received from Election Day, to three days after Election Day. Then the court declared that “just for the 2020 general election”, ballots mailed without a postmark should be presumed to have been received on time.  Lastly, the court mandated that mail-in ballots lacking a verified signature were to be accepted.  This meant that any ballot, without a signature, without a postal mark would be counted, even if received three days after the election. This policy making by the court opened up Pandora’s Box for uncertainty in the outcome of the election.

Not to be outdone, Secretary of State Boockvar took it upon herself to join in on the hijacking of Act 77 in late October 2020. Boockvar issued guidance directed only to certain counties to “cure” defective ballots.  This allowed voting officials in those counties to correct ballots so that they could be counted.

Boockvar dishonestly told the Supreme Court that mail-in ballots received after the November 3 election would be set aside, pending an appeal to nullify ballots collected in the days after the election. However, the Secretary then told counties to tabulate the ballots as quickly as possible, co-mingling ballots received by Election Day with those received after. To this date, we don’t know how many late arriving ballots ended up being tabulated in the final results.

It’s worth mentioning that I was one of only FOUR Senators to vote “no” on Secretary Boockvar’s confirmation back in November 2019. During her confirmation hearing, she could not answer my basic questions on how she would secure the upcoming 2020 election from fraud.  

Would the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election in PA be different if Boockvar’s nomination had been rejected by the Senate?

In light of how the democrats successfully hijacked Act 77, I have made numerous attempts to expose and correct the irregularities of the 2020 election.  Since November 2020, I’ve been the loudest, and at times a solitary voice, for a full forensic audit of the 2020 election results. I visited the Arizona audit in June and called for a similar audit in Pennsylvania. In July, as Chair of the Intergovernmental Operations Committee, I sent letters to three counties (York, Tioga, and Philadelphia) requesting all ballots, envelopes, and voting machines pertaining to the 2020 election. I scheduled multiple meetings to move forward with the issuance of subpoenas in August before being thwarted by the Pro Tempore of the Senate and subsequently removed as chair of the committee. Regardless of this, I continue to be a tireless voice in the Senate for a full forensic audit that includes precinct canvassing to verify voters.

On the legislative front, it’s clear that Act 77 must be repealed and I have introduced legislation to do just that.  I drafted and introduced SB 884, a constitutional amendment which eliminates “no-excuse” mail in voting and mandates signature verification.

I’m also the co-author of SB 735, which would amend the Constitution to require all voters to show a form of identification when casting a ballot. That bill passed the Senate and awaits a vote in the House.

These bills cannot be vetoed by Governor Wolf and would appear on a ballot for the people to decide on.

The hijacked version of Act 77 is not what I voted for in October 2019.  It’s time we address this problem by passing legislation to secure our elections now.  The millions of voters in our Commonwealth who no longer believe in the integrity of our elections deserve nothing less.

Op-ED: Reevaluating how Pennsylvania funds education

One constant in Harrisburg is that no matter how much more money taxpayers spend on education every year, political activists will say it’s not enough.

Now this decades-old debate has been taken out of the hands of the people’s elected representatives and turned over to Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court, which is hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed over how public schools are funded.

The suit was originally filed in 2014 and dismissed at that time by Commonwealth Court. The State Supreme Court has since stepped in and told the Commonwealth Court to take up the case again. It moves forward while taxpayer-funded attorney fees unfortunately mount.

The frustrating part for taxpayers is that the case emanates from the myth that Pennsylvania schools, especially schools in low-income areas, are underfunded by the state.

Pennsylvania is seventh in the nation when it comes to education funding and spends more than $19,000 per student each year.  The national average is around $15,000.

According to Department of Education revenue numbers, state funding of public education in Pennsylvania has consistently increased for decades while enrollment continues to decline. Even accounting for inflation, education funding has gone up 68% since 1990 and 28.8% since 2012.

Plaintiffs in court argue that the system in unfair because some school districts receive more funding that others. They point to this as the sole reason for differences in academic performance. But these discrepancies in academic performance are less about the funding these schools receive and more about outside environmental factors. With the rise in broken homes in certain communities, more students are coming to school unprepared to learn. No amount of money is going to allow these schools to do what they cannot: fill in for disengaged or absent parents.

Perhaps before allocating more money into a broken system, we should take a deeper dive into how current funding is allocated.Pennsylvania’s average teacher salary of $70,000 is 11th in the nation and growing administrative staff only adds to staffing expenses. A 2012 EDChoice report revealed that from 1950 to 2009, student populations increased by 96%, while non-teaching staff increased by 702%. Over staffing and administrative bloat have become commonplace in Pennsylvania school districts.

There is also little to no state oversight over how schools spend their funds on new materials and technology. For example, a school in Lancaster was recently called out in court for purchasing Apple classroom products when Chromebook options were significantly cheaper. They couldn’t even explain in detail why the Apple products were superior to the more affordable alternatives.

An entrenched bureaucracy of growing administrative staff, powerful teacher unions and ideologically driven consultants fight reform of public schools at every turn. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s time to rethink how we fund education in Pennsylvania.

One way to bring true fairness in education, regardless of zip code, is to let families choose the best schools for their children. We can do this by strengthening Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC), which provide scholarships to lower- and middle-class K-12 students. These scholarships allow parents to have the choice of where they send their child to school.

We can pass Senate Bill 527, which would provide for an automatic escalator to these programs so arbitrary government caps on credits no longer deny thousands of children quality education each year.

The General Assembly should also pass Senate Bill 733 and SB 999. SB 733 would create the Education Opportunity Account Scholarship Program for Exceptional Students. SB 999 creates the same for Active-duty military families. EOAs allow parents to afford placing their child in the school of their choice. They cover expenses such as tuition, curriculum, tutoring, and internet access.

Recently, the Senate approved three bills that preserve school choice access for families and give more flexibility to students pursuing college degrees without incurring unnecessary debt.

Senate Bill 931 excludes pandemic stimulus payments from a household’s income when determining eligibility for the EITC and OSTC. This important legislation ensures children will not see their educational opportunities diminished because of one-time government handouts.

Senate Bill 932 revises the definition of “school-related fees” so students can use EITC and OSTC scholarships toward dual enrollment programs. This option gives Pennsylvania’s next generation of professionals the flexibility to pursue college degrees or access career training in high school while minimizing excessive student loan debt.

Increased competition will ultimately improve public schools as well. Those who innovate and adapt to meet the expectations of parents will thrive. Those who continue down the road of failed policies will lose students to non-public school alternatives.

Pennsylvania taxpayers are not dumb. They know that public schools receive more tax dollars than ever and that pouring even more into a broken system won’t help children or improve academic performance. Let’s change the system and give parents the power to choose their children’s education.

Op-ED: Biden’s failed border security policy has effects well beyond the border

Pennsylvania is over 2,000 miles away from border towns like El Paso, Texas and one may assume that an unsecure southwest border does not affect their distant community. That assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth.

It was recently discovered that the Biden Administration has been covertly chartering flights of over 100 illegal aliens into Northeast Pennsylvania. These “ghost” flights are done under the cover of darkness without a flight manifest. No information is available to show if there was vetting and medical checks before the flights. The deliberate lack of transparency is astounding.

Predictably, Governor Wolf and Attorney General Shapiro have refused to answer questions about the flights and their allies in the corporate media choose to look the other way; just as they have with this administration’s failed Covid policies, unconstitutional edicts, shut downs of businesses, and the reckless and deadly decision to send Covid positive patients back into long term care facilities.

It is only thanks to a whistleblower that we know about the flights to Scranton. Earlier this summer, there was a news report of at least one busload of illegals being dropped off in Erie. How many more flights have landed in PA towns in the middle of the night? How many buses have arrived at bus stations?  Have they been vetted?  Have they been medically screened for Covid?  Where will they live?  Where will they work?  Who will cover the added costs for the community and increases in taxes resulting from this?

President Biden promised to reverse much of President Trump’s successful border and immigration policies upon entering the White House. Sadly, this is one campaign promise that he kept.

During the first hours of his Presidency, Biden stopped construction of the southern border wall. Despite what pundits claim, walls actually work. That’s evidenced by the fact that illegal crossings have historically dropped instantly in sectors of the border where wall has been completed.

Biden also did away with perhaps the most effective tool used by the Trump Administration to curtail mass illegal crossings. Migrants know to say the magic words of “credible fear” upon being apprehended by Border Patrol. This allows them to be released into the interior of the U.S while they await court proceedings for their initial asylum claim. According to Department of Justice, almost 50% of those migrants do not even attend their final court hearing. By that time, they are already in the shadows and integrated into American society.

“Remain in Mexico” was a Trump Administration program that forced migrants to wait in Mexican border towns until their court proceedings were finalized. This program was highly effective at allowing the Border Patrol to regain operational control of the border and weeding out fraud claims of asylum. By January 2020, illegal crossings fell to a monthly historic low of 36,679.

Biden’s cancellation of successful policies had predictable results. Just this past November, there were over 173,600 illegal crossings. The Biden administration is on pace for over 2 million illegal crossings for the year.

With numbers like that, it’s no wonder that illegal aliens are being resettled in states as far north as Pennsylvania. Public resources are already stretched thin here in the Keystone State. Our public assistance programs are overburdened. Many PA residents still have not even received unemployment payments over a year after making their initial claim. Adding thousands of illegal immigrants to the rolls of social assistance programs is the last thing our state needs right now.

An unsecure border also leads to more drugs winding up in communities across Pennsylvania. Mexican cartels have shifted to fentanyl as the drug of choice to smuggle into the U.S. Mass illegal crossings divert border patrol agents and port officers from the critical duties of drug interdiction.

According to the CDC, Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18-45. How many more will die as cartels continue to take advantage of our weak southern border?

While border and immigration policy falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government, there are steps that Pennsylvania can take to ensure that we are not a magnet state for illegal immigration.

We can start by placing fees on international wire transfers. International remittances are sums of money electronically sent out of Pennsylvania and into the economies of international destinations. These are primarily utilized by illegals to send money to their home countries. A fee could deter illegals from settling in PA and would also generate new revenue to be spent to help American citizens.

Another action to take is preventing municipalities from becoming sanctuary cities. Municipalities who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials should no longer be eligible for state grants. These municipalities should also be fair game to be sued for negligence for releasing individuals with a detainer who subsequently commit another crime.

PA must also resist adopting the policy of neighboring states that allow for illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. This policy rewards bad behavior and incentivizes illegal aliens to settle in the state.

In just under a year, the Biden Administration’s handling of the border has been a catastrophic failure. Pennsylvania is not immune to the effects of this failure. Every town in America is now a “border town”. We must remain vigilant. If Governor Wolf and Attorney General Shapiro continue to allow our state to become a sanctuary, the legislature must step in to fortify the sovereignty of our Commonwealth.

Our own citizens across the state have serious needs and it is irresponsible to divert resources when so many need help now.  There are over 40,000 homeless veterans in our nation, with about 1,000 of those living on the streets in Pennsylvania.  There are 14,000 kids in the child welfare system waiting for homes and families.  Should we not help them before bringing in hundreds or thousands of illegal aliens?

Op-ed: The Grim Consequences of Soft on Crime Policy Spreads to Pennsylvania

The district attorney responsible for the release of a career violent offender charged in the deadly Christmas parade rampage in Waukesha over two weeks ago has long espoused a reckless approach to crime that is now being replicated by prosecutors across America. Here in Pennsylvania, the effects of this new approach are clearly showing an impact.

The website for Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm boasts “Progressive prosecutors in Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis, and San Francisco have followed in John’s footsteps and designed similar programs” that partner with activists to determine policies on bail and prosecution.

The man charged in the November 21st parade massacre was out on just $1,000 cash bail after he allegedly ran over the mother of his child with his vehicle on November 2nd. As a result of that absurdly low bail, six innocent parade-goers were killed and 48 injured a few weeks after his release.

What’s worse is that the district attorney knew something like this would be the result of the movement to inject left-wing ideology into the prosecution of criminals.

 “Is there going to be an individual I divert, or I put into treatment program, who’s going to go out and kill somebody?” Chisholm said in a 2007 interview. “You bet. Guaranteed. It’s guaranteed to happen. It does not invalidate the overall approach.”

The results of this “progressive” approach to prosecution have been disastrous for citizens in Pennsylvania’s largest city under District Attorney Larry Krasner.   This summer, Philadelphia’s murder rate became the highest per capita of America’s 10 largest cities. Philly is now over 500 homicides for 2021, setting a record with a month left in the year.

One of those recent victims was a 21-year-old Temple University student killed shortly after Thanksgiving. The suspect in that crime had been previously arrested and charged in connection with another armed carjacking. Incredibly, a municipal judge required unsecure bail, meaning the defendant did not have to post any money to stay out of jail. Predictably, DA Krasner did not appeal.

Records indicate his office successfully filed a motion to drop all charges after trying only twice to get a “victim/witness” to appear at a preliminary hearing. Less than two months later, the former defendant killed the Temple student while he was unloading his mother’s SUV after returning home from Thanksgiving.

The effects of Philly’s soft on crime policies will not remain within city limits. Violent crime will spread to neighboring suburban counties as well.  Delaware County saw a 127 percent increase in homicides in 2020. Are Montgomery, Bucks, and Chester (all within a short drive from Philadelphia) next?

Progressive soft on crime ideas have spread to all levels of Democratic leadership in Pennsylvania.

Senate Democrats have introduced legislation, supported by Gov. Tom Wolf, to end cash bail entirely.

Wolf has called for changing the way bail is implemented in Pennsylvania, saying, “Our cash bail system is costly, unfair and doesn’t work.”

The elimination of cash bill will almost certainly lead to an influx of violent crime from freshly released criminals.

Shielding law abiding citizens from bad ideas does not mean we shouldn’t improve the process where needed. In the last two years, the General Assembly enacted laws to:

  • Better assess the unique risks and needs of probationers to reduce incarceration and cut costs to taxpayers.
  • Streamline the placement of offenders in drug treatment programs and other intermediate punishment programs.
  • Expand Pennsylvania’s definition of institutional sexual assault to include law enforcement officers and any person in the officer’s custody.
  • Expunge an individual’s criminal history record if the individual has been acquitted or pardoned.
  • Require thorough background checks for prospective law enforcement applicants.

These are widely supported, non-ideological changes implemented to preserve public safety while reducing costs for taxpayers. They are a far cry from the radical movement to release dangerous criminals into communities in response to the demands of left-wing activists.

Governor Wolf recently blocked legislation to allow citizens in those communities to protect themselves. He vetoed a measure I co-sponsored that would have ensured those legally allowed to own a gun could carry it openly or concealed, without needing a permit. A long wait period for permit approval can be a matter of life and death for a law-abiding citizen living in a high-crime area.

As the “progressive” Milwaukee County district attorney himself noted, atrocities like the massacre at the Waukesha Christmas parade are the expected result of policies that divert violent criminals from prison and put them onto the streets.

Every elected official in Pennsylvania has a duty to speak out against the further spread of these dangerous policies.

Op-ED: The PA National Guard deserves the right to Medical Freedom

Everyone deserves the opportunity to make their own medical decisions.  This is especially true for our brave men and women who wear the uniform in service to our country.

The Pennsylvania National Guard has had a rich history serving the commonwealth with dignity. For over 270 years, our brave Guard members have dedicated their lives to protecting and supporting Pennsylvania’s citizens.

In 1747, Benjamin Franklin led approximately 600 “gentlemen and merchants” to sign the Articles of Association.  The founding “Associators” were tasked with defense against Indian raids and French privateers.  It didn’t take long until other volunteer soldiers heeded the call and formed units throughout PA.

Eight years later in 1755, the Pennsylvania Assembly passed the first Militia Act which formally authorized the volunteer militia. In 1870, the term “militia” was replaced with National Guard of Pennsylvania.

Today, the Pennsylvania National Guard is one of the largest National Guards in the United States.

Both in times of war and peace, the National Guard has stepped up to protect our citizens and to defend our nation.  Whether it’s supporting war operations or responding to natural disasters and state emergencies, the commonwealth can always count on our guard members to answer the call to duty.

PA owes a great deal of gratitude to our brave brothers and sisters for centuries of dedication and sacrifice.  It is more than troubling that our Guard members, after years of service, now must fight for their basic human rights and medical freedom.  We cannot afford to lose any of them due to an unfair, unscientific, and misguided vaccine mandate.

The Department of Defense recently ordered all service members to be vaccinated.  Pennsylvania Guardsman have until June 30th, 2022 to comply.  The same people who defend our rights, protect our citizens, and support our state are now being threatened with disciplinary action, loss of pay, and discharge. All for simply choosing to exercise their medical freedom.

The DOD mandate is all in spite of the fact that there is scant evidence that shows the unvaccinated are any more likely to spread COVID than those who are vaccinated.

Oklahoma has become the first state to reassert its state authority and take a bold stand against the forced vaccination policy. The Adjutant General of the Oklahoma National Guard declared in a policy memo that the organization will not be enforcing the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate on its troops.

This has inspired me to take action here in the Keystone State.  I am introducing legislation to ensure members of the PA National Guard will not be required to receive a Covid-19 Vaccination. The legislation will further state that no negative administrative or legal action may be taken against members of the guard who refuse COVID-19 vaccination.

Preserving the right to choose when it comes to a newly developed vaccine is the least we can do for the men and woman who answered the call to service.