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Notes on the state of things

| Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

Of the very few Democrats who haven't drawn, quartered, gutted, beheaded, scaled or otherwise eviscerated President Barack Obama for his outstandingly grubstreet debate performance, some are trying to invent excuses.

Former Vice President Al Gore, for one, wondered aloud to his Current TV audience if Denver's high altitude led to the president's malperformance. Such musings might be normal for Ozone Al but few are buying it.

The simple fact is that Mr. Obama relies so much on teleprompters that he has great difficulty speaking extemporaneously. It's an inelegant analogy but it's much like someone who can't go to the bathroom without a laxative.

Which, given the president's forensics constipation Wednesday last, also is an apt metaphor.

Much is being made of Royal Dutch Shell's offer to compensate Beaver County government entities for property taxes they would lose if the oil and chemical giant is granted a massive tax break for locating a petrochemical plant in Potter and Center townships along the Ohio River.

Shell proposes paying 110 percent of the taxes now paid by a zinc plant at the 300-acre site. It amounts to $300,000 annually for one school district and $44,000 annually for one of the townships.

Woohoo! Right? Well, not exactly.

“If the plant costs anything like the $2 billion or more that has been bandied about and is appraised at, say, $1 billion,” says Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, “school taxes alone could be $20 million or so depending on the millage rate” (assuming a rate of 20 mills).

Combined municipal and county taxes could be another $6 million to $8 million, Mr. Haulk adds.

“No wonder (Shell) wants a KOZ (Keystone Opportunity Zone),” he says.

“At the very least, the state should revisit the in-lieu-of-taxes provision to allow a much higher payment to the school, county and municipality (capped by law at that $300,000 level),” Haulk says. After all, “KOZs are supposed to boost the school and municipal tax bases in which they are located.”

The Pennsylvania House last week authorized more than $1.6 billion in new borrowing at a total cost to taxpayers of $2.3 billion (principal plus interest over 20 years), reports the PA Independent.

“And some of that new borrowing will be directed toward a controversial program that effectively directs tax dollars to private development,” reminds reporter Eric Boehm.

That “program” is the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), sometimes called the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program (RCAP), but what should be renamed as the Capital Redevelopment Assistance Program just so the program can be known for the more accurate acronym of CRAP.

But I digress.

Some of this CRAP invariably is funneled into, as Mr. Boehm notes, “sports stadiums, shopping malls, convention centers, hotels, the new Tastykake factory near Philadelphia and the now-infamous Arlen Specter Library at Philadelphia University.”

But the even larger problem is this — it's unconstitutional.

That's per Article VIII, Section 8, of the Pennsylvania Constitution with the subheading “Commonwealth Credit Not to be Pledged”:

The credit of the Commonwealth shall not be pledged or loaned (sic) to any individual, company, corporation or association ... .

Yet legislators of both parties continue to thumb their noses at the prohibition. And that's reprehensible.

Colin McNickle is Trib Total Media's director of editorial pages (412-320-7836) or

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