State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Links: Check in with the Senate race, payday loans, & this week's Sisyphus

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 20, 2012 8:06 AM

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The Associated Press brings the U.S. Senate race back onto your radar with a look at ads run by sitting Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and his Republican challenger, Tom Smith.

But Casey's polling advantage—44 percent to Smith's 30 percent, according to a Muhlenberg College/Allentown Morning Call poll released Tuesday—has relegated the race to the bottom of the national parties' priority list in the wider battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, Smith, who is largely financing his campaign, faces an additional hurdle: A Libertarian Party candidate with the same surname, Rayburn Smith, is on the ballot, though Republican Party-backed challengers are trying to knock him off.

Casey has labeled Smith as "Tea Party Tom Smith," a reference to Smith's founding of a tea party group in his native Armstrong County and his embrace by tea party-aligned groups. Smith has labeled Casey "Sen. Zero" to portray Casey as a do-nothing officeholder.

The Patriot-News reports on this week’s hearing on a bill to allow payday lending. There’s a lot to ponder here – would the consumer protections keep people from entering a debt trap? Are the terms of the loans being clearly explained? But among the questions prompted by the bill is whether or not Pennsylvanians need a “short-term lending product.” Retired Army Col. William Harris testified that, among the veterans he works with, the answer is no:

"These products legalized by HB2191 are certainly unsuitable for recent returnees and our older veterans who are in a much more precarious mental and financial situation," Harris said.

He noted that those pushing for the legislation are the out-of-state payday loan companies, not Pennsylvanians who see a need for them.

"In my work with statewide groups of military veterans, no one was talking about payday loans here in the commonwealth until the companies that offer them started pushing this bill. To us, that was a huge red flag," Harris said.

We’re late to this, but don’t miss this read from the Morning Call on the ongoing Sisyphean effort to reform property taxes. It’s a familiar wicked problem that has resisted reform efforts for decades in the commonwealth – the Q & A proceedings of a recent House committee hearing feels familiar, as well:

[Lawmakers] asked concise questions that that might find their way onto campaign bumper stickers. After all, what candidate has alienated a voter by running for re-election on a platform of property tax reform?

Asked if politics was behind the committee's proceedings, the panel's chairman, Rep. Tom Quigley, R-Montgomery County, was blunt: "I know there are cynics out there who say this is a ploy. But the alternative was to throw up our hands. This is a way to keep the discussion going. Legislative action will take place next year."

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