John Baer: Reforms in new state budget? Don't hold your breath

Corbett : "I think we'll have to wait until we see a finished product."
Corbett : "I think we'll have to wait until we see a finished product." (Associated Press)
Posted: June 27, 2011

KNOW WHO'S HAPPIEST about the no-tax, cut-spending state budget Gov. Corbett and Republican lawmakers finalize this week?

He's a bartender in central Pennsylvania with guns, grown sons but no daughters, no living parents and no real interest in any governmental reforms.

I say this because what's cooking in the Capitol is a new law extending happy hour (not making this up), a new law allowing gun owners to blast away when feeling threatened, a new law certain to make obtaining abortions more difficult and a new law likely to restrict elderly voters' access to polling places.

Plus, deep budget cuts in education and welfare won't much affect folks like him.

So working, gun-owning male barkeeps outside cities with no kids in school are happy. As is the natural-gas industry. And Grover Norquist.

Republican control means pro-life until that life gets to school or needs social services; anti-spending until you need $10 million for a voter-ID program of clearly partisan motive; and pro-gun, always.

Real government or political reforms?

Yeah, well, maybe later; meanwhile, have a drink.

Despite Corbett's pledge to clean up Harrisburg "day one" by, say, reducing fat legislative reserve funds or getting lawmakers to pay at least what other state workers pay for primo health-care coverage, any cleanup seems on hold.

When I ask the guv if the budget includes reforms, he pauses and says, "I think we'll have to wait until we see a finished product."

By "finished product," I assume he means the complete evolution of planet Earth.

Same goes for GOP House Speaker Sam Smith's proposal to reduce the size of the Legislature. Or various proposals to end lawmakers' automatic pay raises, or hold a Constitutional Convention, or enact campaign-finance reform. Or get public unions to take pay cuts or pay more for benefits.

As usual, we get far more rhetoric than results.

Kinda like the guv's promise to cut state vehicles to save money, followed by four new SUVs for himself, the first lady, lieutenant guv and second lady.

I ask a few reform-minded lawmakers what happens to reforms.

"They fall by the wayside," says Sen. Mike "Citizen Mike" Folmer, R-Lebanon County. "We didn't tackle any hard stuff."

Folmer doesn't take the Senate's health-care coverage or pension. He gives back his annual automatic raise. He takes no per-diem expenses. He doesn't use a state car or charge for mileage.

"They get tired of me talking about Article II, Section 8 of the [state] Constitution," says Folmer. The section says lawmakers' compensation shall consist of salary and mileage and "no other compensation whatever."

You can understand why they wouldn't want to talk about it.

Rep. Gene DePasquale, D-York County, pioneered putting his expenses online. He also sponsored legislation to make it easier for third-party candidates to seek office, to allow voting up to 15 days prior to elections and to make all state contractors list political contributions as part of their bids for work.

None of this moved.

"The only thing I've seen happening is cuts to education and hospitals," he says. "My sense is the governor put a higher priority on the cuts and, in an effort to get the cuts, probably canned the reforms."

So it goes. Because it's easier to cut something than it is to fix it; easier to talk reform than to make it happen. But, hey, enjoy those longer happy hours.

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