In Pa., it's 6 days until change or 6 days to sameness

Posted: June 25, 2013

OK, GET READY.

This week determines the fate of the governor, Philly schools, state stores, pension reform, the state budget, SEPTA, whether Pennsylvania bridges will collapse under the weight of their own decrepitude and, by implication, life as we know it.

Maybe.

It's the rush to the annual June 30 deadline, when Harrisburg decides how and where tax dollars are spent, what policies progress and what issues go back down the ever-munching maw of the Legislature for redigestion.

It's an overhyped period of hopes.

This year, it features hopes that a state known for stasis suddenly ends its anachronistic alcohol monopoly, suddenly stops bleeding tax dollars for public pensions, suddenly invests in infrastructure long ignored and suddenly catapults a governor with sagging popularity into position for re-election.

Think all that happens in the next six days? And on the seventh day we rest?

Yeah, me too.

Let's look at some hurdles.

To get money for schools, Gov. Corbett wants the feds to forgive a $108 million state debt to the Department of Health and Human Services, the same department he's fighting on Medicaid expansion in the same administration he sued to stop ObamaCare.

You don't think this is a setup for Corbett to say, "See, I tried, but the feds won't help"?

You don't think he just released details of new sequester-related cuts to Philly schools - $9 million less in federal aid - to suggest that it's all Washington's fault?

Meanwhile, state House Republicans won't even look at more Philly funding until they see teacher-union concessions.

SEPTA?

A Senate-passed transportation bill proposes $100 surcharges on driving fines.

But the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Dick Hess, R-Bedford County, says he wants to pull that part of the bill.

Rural lawmakers have the same amount of interest in protecting fast-driving constituents as urban lawmakers have in providing for bus-riders.

Liquor?

Privatization, predictably, has devolved into a confusing mess.

The House and Senate are on separate pages, and selling off state stores any time soon is a whole separate chapter.

That $1 billion that Corbett wanted to give schools from the state-stores sale? A white whale to his Ahab.

Pension reform?

Proposals have shrunk from attacking a huge liability to enrolling only new employees and teachers, starting in 2015, into 401(k)-type retirement plans - you know, like the rest of the working world.

But the proposal includes re-elected (i.e., most) lawmakers. If they vote to reduce their own benefits, it'll be the first time.

Go ahead: Show us there's a first time for everything.

So if pensions, booze, transportation and Philly schools end up with less than reformers or advocates seek (or even with nothing at all), Pennsylvania, Philly and the governor abandon all hope, right?

You tell me.

Remember, we are "The Land of Low Expectations." Any progress on anything can be considered miraculous.

And if nothing passes but an on-time budget, well, these other issues aren't going away. How long have we debated booze, crumbling public education, infrastructure and pensions?

What legislative bodies do best is avoid action to avert crises they create.

Just think of Congress.

And Corbett?

Yeah, he's vulnerable.

But the state's unemployment rate is now below the national average; lower than New Jersey's, lower than New York's, lower than six of the 10 largest states, and the lowest since he took office.

Where will it be next year?

And, despite views that anybody beats Corbett, who knows which Democrat emerges or how he or she fares in a costly race in an off-year election likely to draw low turnout?

So, start the countdown. Six days to a new day? Six days to sameness?

I'm betting on the latter. Prove me wrong.


Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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