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I work in politics. I think about technology, feminism, parenting, and the class war.

PILOTs don't always fly planes

5 min read

As we get back into the regular stream of posting, here's an article I found interesting, and relevant to this blog: Why do fewer women than men tweet political hashtags?

Before we get into the answers to last week's question, here's the question for next week:

What do you want local elected officials to do to tame corporate power in politics?

So for this week, the question was about PILOTs (or Payments in Lieu of Taxes, for the uninitiated). As more and more of our cities have chunks of previously taxable land bought by non-profits, we wonder why we're losing revenue at the local level. Should Pennsylvania cities and counties start asking the mega-charities in their jurisdictions to start paying PILOTs?

From Kati:

Yes, absolutely. Mega charities often find that they can see their way clear to paying their executives multi-million dollar salaries, claiming that they need to be competitive with the private sector. It's not fair to allow them to claim poverty when it comes to filling the needs of citizens in their localities, when it comes time to kicking in for the public good. While I don't believe that charities should be taxed in the same way as for-profit endeavors--they and their staffs still use the city services that major for-profit employers do too--and it's fair to ask them to kick in.


From You:

Georgeanne Koehler, kickass retiree & health care activist

In November of 2014 the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh board approved the final processing of $16.5 million in state grants recently awarded by Gov. Corbett for development through out the city.

November's meeting turned into a chance for protestors to speak out against one of the funding recipients, UPMC, over a $2.5 million grant to be used  for a new neonatal intensive care unit at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville. I was one of those protestors.

We, the protesters, complained about UPMC's insurance policies and it's dispute with Highmark, the low wages paid to their workers and UPMC's non profit tax status with the city.

I was quoted in the Pittsburgh Business Times, "I think it's great that UPMC wants to build a Neonatal Intensive Care unit because it will save lives. This is about a community that has given  and millions and millions to UPMC. And in return UPMC closes the doors on those of us who want to see our longstanding Doctors. It pays workers wages that hold our entire economy back and it fires workers when they speak up about improving jobs." 

The Board approved the grants, however, I believe the grant to UPMC was going to have a letter from the Board attached to it and as they sometimes say "something is better than nothing."

A week later, the neighbor gals and I met at the little store across the street from my house. We got our cup of coffee and went outside to have our smoke. One of the gals saw one of my quotes in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, she asked, how can UPMC get away without paying taxes on all the properties they own. I know I couldn't get away with it. I said "Hospitals of today aren't like hospitals of yesterday.  Today they call themselves "Healthcare Systems", which means they are Billion Dollar Corporation and we all know Billion Dollar corporations don't need a GPS system to take them to the tax saving Loop Holes, their Lawyers do that, and that loop hole is found in one word 'charitable'. We need to elect folks that aren't afraid to ask all the Mega Charities 'SHOW ME YOUR BOOKS'.

Here's the answer to the question: When I left the coffee meeting with the girls, I knew that Mega Charities would never pay their fair share of taxes, so why not ask them to pay a fee for city services. I remember, especially on the nightshift, all the times, the popcorn being cooked in the microwave caused the Smoke Alarms to go off and a minute later we heard the sirens of the fire trucks. I don't know how many times, during a thunder storm, I would hear the fire alarm going off in the office buildings belonging to Children's Hospital and minutes later the sounds of sirens from the fire trucks. I remember with deep sadness, the shooting that took place at UPMC Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic,  Police filled the streets, SWAT teams appeared, Fire Trucks and Ambulances came to the rescue. Everything that needed to be done was done. The workers who "Protect and Serve" our city stayed for hours clearing buildings, directing traffic and investigating the incident. 

We all benefit from our City Services,  the cost for these services come from our tax dollars. If a Mega Charity insists on "no tax dollars from me"  the only thing  left to do is to charge a fee in Lieu of those tax dollars.  The way I see it, nobody knows better, than a Mega Charity, the old saying "nothing in life is free".

rebooting #womensvoicesmatter

2 min read

Hi everyone,

I hope you are enjoying the warm-ish weather, and the holiday-ish weekend. 

As we're now less than two months out from the Pennsylvania primary, I thought it would be worth rebooting , with a focus on municipal or county-level electeds. As a refresher: here are two posts that talk about why I started this blog: If you're no longer interested in receiving these emails, feel unsubscribe--I won't take it personally. 

I'll be posting a question every week, starting this week, about various political issues. Women, send in your answers--I'll put them up the following week. 

A note to male candidates: it is acceptable to have a high-ranking woman staffer or stalwart volunteer on your campaign write something on your behalf. If you don't have any high-ranking women staffers or stalwart volunteers, you might want to rethink your campaign strategy, in the future. 

And now, for the question of the week: 

In many of the state's metropolitan areas, mega-nonprofits (think UPMC, University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, etc.) have been slowly converting what was once taxable property into tax-exempt property. Should mega-charities like these be asked to pay for city services through Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS)? Why or why not?


The last (and final) answer--#1 priority for the Wolf Administration

4 min read

This will be the last episode of Question of the Week--I designed this as a way to get more women's voices into the media during the election, and I'm so happy that all of you played along and were interested. Ironically, it coincided with my own self getting quoted in the media more than basically ever. I'm counting that as coincidence, though. 

Kati's Answer:

For me, the #1 priority for the Wolf Administration is to get an education funding policy that ensures that everyone in PA pays their fair share. That includes, but doesn't limit to, creating a tax on the Marcellus Shale drillers. It also means that Comcast, Toys R Us, the Phillies, and every major non-profit institution that's converted formerly taxable property into tax-exempt property is paying to fund education. Not through private partnerships that put more computers into schools, or paint a playground once a year--but cash money that can be spent on books, and toilet paper, and the salaries of custodians, nurses, bus drivers, teachers, and even principals. 

Your answers (lots from Twitter this week--and for the first time--men! well, man):

@PreKforPA: teachers need a living wage. Kids/families benefit from stable staff/expertise

@theAngryGents: raise taxes on shale drilling in PA and funnel that money towards public schools statewide

@mcbyrne: Abolish the SRC

And of course...Georgeanne Koehler, health care activist and the most kick ass retiree to ever retire:

My #1 priority it Medicaid Expansion, so that all Pennsylvanians will have a right to the dignity and quality of care that comes with having a health insurance card in one's pocket. 

I'm planning to take our elected officials on a journey to their moral compass. That journey will being and end with these words:

    "Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bells toll; it tolls for thee."

My brother Bill Koehler, was a loving, caring and generous man to his family, friends, and those in need. He believed in the teaching of his Lord, that he was his brother's and sister's keeper. That belief could be seen in every step he took in his life's journey. He never had to guess right from wrong, because he let his moral compass guide him. 

In April of 2003, the company that he worked for closed. He lost his job and his health insurance. He hoped to find another job that came with the benefit of health insurance, but that job was nowhere to be found, especially for a man who had to wear a MedicAlert bracelet with the letters "AICD*" etched on it. 

He found work as a pizza delivery driver. He tried to find his own private insurance, but he was denied a plan due to his pre-existing heart condition. He applied for Medicaid, but he made too much money ($14,000/year) to qualify for that program. We never gave up hope that one day, he would, once again, have a health insurance card in his pocket.

My sisters and I were planning a special birthday party for March 18th. Bill was turning 58 that day. We were working on a scrapbook that was close to completed. This was going to be the birthday party he'd never forget. 

On March 7th, 2009, his heart went into V Fib, his AICD was dead, and a few seconds later, so was he. A special part of our family died that night with him, and we will always miss his presence. Without health insurance, he was denied the necessary cardiac care that would have saved his life.

I ask you to know this, Bill's death certainly diminished the lives of those who knew and loved him, so don't let Bill's death or the countless other deaths that occur because of inadequate health care be in vain. Please pass Medicaid Expansion that comes with the message that EVERYONE'S LIFE HAS MEANING.

*automatic implanted cardioverter defibrillator--the technical name for a pacemaker  (EDITOR'S NOTE: Bill was unable to replace the battery in his pacemaker, because it cost $10,000.)

Question of the Week #8

1 min read

So the dust has settled from the election--and we've got a new governor, who will be faced with an even-more-Republican-dominated legislature. 

This week's question is:

What's your #1 priority for Tom Wolf and the newly-elected legislature? And what are the things that you (either personally or organizationally) are planning to do to get them to happen? 

As ever, leave comments here or email kati (at) hacktheunion (dot) org by 5 pm on Saturday, November 15th. 

What kind of jobs should the state invest in?

5 min read

Hi everyone,

Apologies--I meant for this answer to come out last week, before the election--but a crisis communications situation of my own meant I haven't had time to write it up until now. And thanks, to those of you who reached out recently to see how I was doing. Support from my friends and allies has been invaluable. 

Kati's answer:

For years, many states and municipal governments have required that workers on construction projects that receive state funds be paid the prevailing wage. This is important, because typically construction projects cost millions of dollars--and no one wants their roads or buildings thrown together by amateurs working for $9/hour. However, construction jobs by their very nature are temp jobs--so while we are creating jobs, they aren't adding as much to the ongoing economy as the ones that are being permanently created when the building is left behind. 

Most governments haven't focused on what kind of permanent jobs are created, when they invest in the private sector. Building a stadium with public dollars, that then turns around and employs people working in the food service stands at poverty wages doesn't really help grow a local economy. Giving a giant corporation a tax break for ten years so it will build a new headquarters in a city, and then turning a blind eye to that corporation's use of temp workers to avoid union contracts isn't helping anyone either. Having the state invest in a Fortune 500 company, either through tax breaks or direct public investment, and then seeing that company use loopholes to avoid paying even more taxes--or allowing their CEO to make 500 times what the average worker makes--is not going to give us the resources that we need to thrive.

Let's move to a new way of thinking about public investment, that is much more holistic--and thinks about the whole picture of a company's behavior, not just the jobs that can be directly linked to tax dollars. 

Your answers:

Georgeanne Kohler, kick-ass retiree & healthcare activist:

The state of Pennsylvania invests a lot of money in companies that already have a lot of money, but they seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to investing in small businesses, especially and selfishly, small construction/home improvement businesses.

I think to qualify for that investment, that business owner should have to agree that a certain percentage of the work they do must be done as a public service, such as "pro bono" repairs in the homes of the elderly, the poor and the sick. The costs of those repairs need to be put in the loss column of that business's profit and loss statement. If that loss turns out to be a tax break for that business, I say good, and welcome to the big leagues.

My answer to this question stems from the memories I have of my brother and sister. In 2003, they both lost their middle class jobs when the companies they worked for closed. Those middle class jobs were replaced with working poor jobs. Billy took a job as a pizza delivery driver. Kitty took a job as a secretary in a local church. They were thankful that they found work. My sister Ann and I sent money home every month, but it never got them to where they once were, economically. 

I remember the times that my brother would say, "the day's going to come when I have some extra money to spend so we can get this done or that done, this fixed or that fixed." "The day's going to come when I have some extra money to spend on hiring a plumber to replace the broken pipes that go to the kitchen sink so we can once again wash our dishes in the sink, instead of kneeling on the bathroom floor, washing them in the bathtub." 

I barely held back my tears. I offered to pay for a plumber, but he said, "no, you're already helping us out financially, I don't want you to be as poor as I am."

Billy died in March of 2009. Kitty died in July of 2012. After Kitty's funeral, my sister Ann and I went to our family home, the home where Billy & Kitty had lived. The middle bedroom was missing its ceiling, the crack in the dining room wall was still being held together with duct tape. 

I walked into the bathroom, and there in the bathtub sat the dish drying rack, with two plates, a saucer and a cup, washed and dried, waiting to be put away. I knew the day when they would have that extra money would never come. 

A construction worker, the owner of a small construction business, the woman who helped me with the answer to this question said, "I've been poor, and that comes with some really dark days. Your sister being able to wash her dishes in the kitchen sink would have been a bright light in her dark day. No one in this country should have to live like that."

I agreed, and thanked her for helping me find the best answer to the question. And I promised her that I would be taking the answer to our new governor's office, once he moves in. 

Question of the Week #7

1 min read

This is the last question that will have its answers come out before the it's your last chance to answer one that will be policy-oriented! With that, drumroll please...

The state invests millions of dollars in an effort to create jobs for Pennsylvania residents. While some of those jobs also directly provide a public service--the job of school teacher springs to mind--others have a less public good-ish feel. We often make the choice to forsake revenue, through things like tax abatements--but who among us feels it's a public service when a billion-dollar company takes a tax abatement, and the only permanent jobs it creates are low-wage ones? 

So this week's question is--what kind of jobs do you want to see the state invest in?

As ever, leave a comment here or email kati (at) hacktheunion (dot) org with your answer by 5 pm on Saturday, November 1st. 

What economic policy will improve women's lives?

6 min read

Kati's answer:

There isn't a candidate running for election anywhere in the country in 2014 who isn't going to be asked how to improve the economy. They're all going to talk about their position on the minimum wage, some of them will talk about equal pay, or paid family or sick leave. But they are talking about those things because we're making them--by running campaigns that demand those things. The best politicians will be leaders on economic issues that help the 99%--the rest are going to need to be pushed into it. 

I've written in the past about why I think the labor movement should join the fight for universal basic income, and to be clear--that is a fight that really started with the women's movement. It's been women, all along, who've said--our caring work matters, and should be taken seriously. If everything in life has to have a price--then let's assign a value to this work, and not ignore it. Let's not have a Gross Domestic Product that completely leaves out the domestic work that most women spend most of their time doing. 

Your answers:

Michelle Boyle, RN BSN, full time union nurse in Pittsburgh, mother, wife, active citizen

Joss Whedon, in answering the question for the 47th time of "So, why do you create such strong women characters?" responded with, "Why is this even a question?" Which is pretty much the way I feel about this: in 2014, why do we still have to ask this question? Why do we still have women making the least money doing back breaking work? Speaking from my own profession, on average a nurse lifts 1.8 tons in an 8-hour shift (research by Linda H. Aiken, PhD, FAAN, FRCN, RN), so you can easily extrapolate that aides would lift as much if not more. Even sadder, is why is there an even greater wage disparity for women of color?

Georgeann Koehler, kick-ass retiree & healthcare activist:

My answer to the question is raising the minimum wage.

A friend sent me a photo of the protestors fighting for $15 and a union. I wasn't surprised that the majority of those protestors were women, as two thirds of all the women in our country are low wage earners. A photo that told me I didn't need to have a PhD in economics to know that raising the minimum wage would benefit all of us because it would grow our economy. Unlike Jesus Christ these workers don't save, they spend their money. They spend it to keep a roof over their children's heads, they spend it feeding and clothing their children. Every dollar spent creates demand, which creates supply, which creates jobs that offer a family-sustaining wage.

I'm willing to stand with these protestors. I'm willing to have my intelligence diminished when a politician, the owner of a penis, tells me "there is no economic gap in our country." He justifies his statement by saying "all of you have a color TV instead of black and white. You have cable. You have microwaves." As he tapped his fingers on the table he said, "no one uses  a manual typewriter anymore because most of you have computers."

I'm willing to stand with those protestors even when that same politician tries to humiliate me, saying, "everyone in America has the same opportunities Bill Gates had, the problem is most of you don't use your potential to get where Bill Gates got." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I thought, "this man needs to put on a pair of pantyhose and a nice pair of high heels--maybe then he would realize that the words coming out of his mouth were 'poor women's ham.' It's called Bologna."

On election day, I have choices. I can silence myself as I sit on my couch and sip from my glass of WHINE, or I can stand up with those protestors and cast my vote for a candidate who, I believe, will make the time to hear my voice and respect what I have to say. I will vote for the respect, as it will be the path to raising the minimum wage, passing Medicaid expansion, and equal pay for equal work--all economic wins for women.

Clarissa Skinner, young feminist in Philadelphia

Considering how often politicians throw women under the bus and the political energy spent merely clawing back attacks on what should be our most basic rights, the policies that I’d like to see candidates and incumbents pushing to move women forward seem almost fanciful. Wolf’s platform for women is certainly refreshing, especially in comparison to Corbett, who might as well be driving the hypothetical bus.


I am most excited about Tom Wolf incorporating Equal Pay for Equal Work into his platform for candidacy.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average woman made $24,526 compared to the average man’s $34,325 in 2011. In Pennsylvania, the average woman makes 76 cents for every dollar that a white man makes, with women of color disproportionately affected: black women make just 67 cents for every dollar that a white man makes and Latina women a mere 53 cents. This gap is absurd, cannot be corrected by exhorting the victims of gender discrimination to ‘lean in’ to systematic sexism, and cannot be fully explained by a backwards excuse that women make less because they work less due to the necessity of caring for children. Gaining the 1.7 year’s worth of food or 12 months of rent that a year of women’s lost wages could buy would certainly move women forward economically.


But speaking of childcare, the policies that I most want to see on the table in the future are high quality, universal childcare and guaranteed paternity leave. Pitting the needs of families against the needs of the economy and blaming women for disproportionately shouldering the responsibility of our future generations is bad policy. Providing high-quality universal childcare would help level the playing field for disadvantaged children while preventing tragedies like the story of Shanesha Taylor, the homeless single mother who was arrested for leaving her children in a car during a job interview. Guaranteed paternity leave would both shift society towards greater affirmation of the importance of families and decrease incentives to discriminate against job candidates who happen to be women of childbearing age.


Policies that shape social frameworks that do not pit women and families against the economy is good for women, good for society, and good for everyone. Tom Wolf and Equal Pay for Equal Work are solid steps in the right direction, but more work is needed to get us to the finish line.


Question of the Week #6

1 min read

I hate feeling self-promoting. This article tells me I (and every woman) should get over it. So if you haven't seen me in this weekend's Daily News, check it out (and hey look, Will Bunch quoted a woman! go us!). And if you're in the Pittsburgh area, and thinking about running for office, I strongly encourage you to go to this Ready to Run workshop. 

Here are the answers to last week's question. Not a lot, but I've come to the conclusion that if all I do with this project is give Georgeanne a statewide platform, that's probably a pretty good thing to do. 

And here's this week's question:

What policies are you looking for, from candidates or incumbents, that would move women forward most, economically speaking? 

As ever, reply to this email, or post in the comments section on the blog by 5 pm on Saturday, October 25th. And include how you want to be identified. 

What makes a school funding formula fair?

4 min read

Kati's answer:

I was surprised by how few answers this question generated--I thought it would be a hotly contested terrain. So I guess either everyone who cares about education is so focused on election work that they didn't have time for writing policy, or it's just a really hard question to answer. 

For me, it's not so much about a specific formula--but whether it seems to be serving the purpose of funding schools so that every kid in America has at least a fighting shot at succeeding in life. We can't fix poverty just by fixing schools--but we also can't act like kids who are fighting against poverty are on a level playing field with kids who aren't. To me, there are some important questions to answer that are, to some degree, results-based:

  • Do school districts in impoverished areas get a larger share of state resources, since they are less likely to be able to self-fund from their own communities?
  • Does everyone pay into the same system? or do corporations and the wealthy use their superior political influence to get out of paying for "other people's kids"?
  • Do kids from poor districts have a graduation rate that is commensurate with middle class or wealthy school districts? or are they dropping out of school at a higher rate?
  • Does the major funding for schools come from property taxes (which of course will produce more money, when property values are higher), or is there a mix of revenue sources?
Until we close the funding gap, we can't claim that we are funding all schools fairly.
Your answers:
Georgeanne Kohler, kickass retiree and healthcare activist

The words I am using to answer your question are the words of three young students. Students I had the privilege of meeting as I sat in the back of Port Authority Transit bus and they sat across from me. They were talking about their education. I got a sense that they were not optimistic that their education would fulfill their hopes of going to a good college. One of the teenagers said, "I'm only thirteen and I am already a failure." I asked, "Why do you think that?" He said, "I'm poor and my school can't teach me how to change that fact because it's poor too."

One of the boys said, "Miss, the quality of education depends on the amount of property tax we pay to our school district. We live in a poor community, the value of our property is little to none, the taxes we pay are little to none, which means the quality of our education will be little to none." I said, "Well, how do we fix that?"

Here's their words to the formula: "All property tax that goes into education should be collected and put on a table." 

"My mother said we need to close the Delaware loophole, so that a corporation can no longer use it to hide their profits. If it's closed, they will have to put some of their profits into education and that money should be put on the table." 

"My mother works at a hospital in Pittsburgh, they make billions in profit but they use their non-profit status to avoid paying taxes. That practice has to end. A percentage of those profits should be paid into education, and that money should be put on the table."

"Anyone drilling for gas in our state for profit, a percentage of that profit should be taxed for our education, that money should be placed on the table. At the end of the year that money should be counted and divided equally among the school districts in our state. This way, no child will be left behind."

The young man who called himself a "failure" said, "Miss, some kids have the opportunity, through their education, to hit a home run but a lot of us don't even get our time at bat."

As women, with or without children, we need to stand up and fight for a child's right to a quality education. Let's give all of them the opportunity to hit their home run, or even to strike out, the way I see it, either one is better than a lifetime of being benched.

Question of the Week #5

2 min read

Before I get to last week's answers, or this week's question--have you seen this? The Women's Donor Network released a report showing that it's not just Pennsylvania that has a problem electing women--71% of all elected officials in the US are men. Seventy-one percent. In addition, 65% of all electeds are white men, despite the fact that they are only 31% of the population. Check out the report here, and then go find a woman of color and tell her that you'll help her run for office--they are the least well-represented members of our society, politically speaking. 

Answers to last week's question on housing policy can be found here

And this week's question?

Last week, on the same day that Philadelphia's School Reform Commission decided to break the teachers' union contract, a coalition launched to fight for a new fair funding formula for schools across Pennsylvania. In your view, what makes an education funding formula fair? 

If you've got an answer for this question--send it to me, with how you'd like to be identified, by 5 pm on Saturday, October 18th. If you don't have an answer, but know another woman who might, why not send her this email and encourage her to answer?