Karen Heller: Analysis rates Penna. poorly on racial attitudes

Posted: June 27, 2013

The nation's most "prejudiced states," according to a recent study, include virtually the entire South and - wait for it - Pennsylvania.

And the analysis doesn't even target state legislators.

Pennsylvania consistently ranks poorly in surveys when whites are asked their views on the intelligence, trustworthiness, and work ethic of blacks, said University of California, Davis professor Christopher Elmendorf, who relied on National Annenberg Election Survey data.

Top-10 bad, Elmendorf said. "Pennsylvania is closer to Alabama than it is to being Utah."

Which means James Carville was right after all about our state having Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on either side with the Heart of Dixie in between.

We have endured attempts to disenfranchise poor voters through ID, and now an effort to reapportion electoral votes so Democratic cities - which include a high number of registered minorities - matter less.

The Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday struck down part of the landmark legislation that puts much of the South under judicial oversight. However, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that Congress may attempt to set oversight over states where voters' rights are at risk but do so with a new model.

Elmendorf told me that given his analysis of recent voter prejudice and behavior, "I think Pennsylvania does come out, according to our study, as a state that arguably should be covered."

Prejudice is not restricted to the voting booth. It can also be seen in education. In Philadelphia and other cities with sizable populations of poor minority students, local officials are locked in a protracted budget battle with Gov. Corbett and Republican legislators, who appear largely indifferent to our problems.

It's a "let them eat paste" attitude toward our schools - though there appears to be no money for the paste.

Having lived in New York and Illinois, I've never seen a state where the capital is so at war with its most populous region. Last month, State Rep. Daryl "Insert Outrageous Quote Here" Metcalfe (R., Butler) likened SEPTA to "just more welfare." He noted, "Your buses don't do a thing for my constituents. How about we pay for your state roads and bridges, and you pay for your own buses?"

This week, House Republicans proposed doing just that, albeit with the caveat that we also pay for their state roads and bridges.

It's a less-and-more proposition: The amendments, sponsored by Dick Hess (R., Bedford County, pop. 49,739), gut SEPTA funding that the more sane Senate approved while requiring Philadelphia and other municipalities to pay more in fees and taxes.

A House amendment notes that "fixed-route public transportation services are provided to assist the transit-dependent and the poor." Which so describes the morning commuter crowd on the Chestnut Hill West Line, every one of whom appears to be a working taxpayer.

If we might indulge in some Pennsylvania math for a moment - challenging, given that Harrisburg wants to eviscerate our city schools - House Republicans have it backward. The subsidy for rural roads is much higher than for mass transit given that half of all state roads carry fewer than 2,000 vehicles daily. There's gold in them thar rural roads.

Far from being a welfare state draining state coffers, the five-county area is an economic engine. Our region is home to 31 percent of all Pennsylvanians, an Economy League study shows, yet produces 37 percent of all tax revenue.

We pay our share. And then some.

But we don't mind.

We believe in the Commonwealth, in helping all citizens. Even those prejudiced against us.

Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, Follow her at @kheller on Twitter. Read the metro columnists blog, Blinq, at www.inquirer.com/blinq.

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