Harrisburg: finding new ways to waste time, money

ASSOCIATED PRESS Gov. Corbett gets a big round of applause from GOP pals after signing state's "on-time" budget.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Gov. Corbett gets a big round of applause from GOP pals after signing state's "on-time" budget.
Posted: July 09, 2013

FRIENDS, YOU CAN'T make this stuff up.

Just when you think your opinion of Pennsylvania politics has hit rock bottom, our "leaders" drill down to find new levels of ineptitude and wastefulness.

I'm talking about the Legislature that ended its annual budget season by doing nothing, nothing and nothing, then left until late September, now returning to Harrisburg to finish the budget we were told was done.

Why?

Oh, you missed it over the holiday break?

You were distracted by lawmakers and top-of-the-pyramid (or, to critics, bottom-of-the-barrel) state pol Tom Corbett failing to provide real rescue for Philly schools or pension reform or liquor reform or transportation funding?

Then allow me: It's because our Legislature lives by an ethos of gutless guile, and our governor apparently can't do anything.

The most recent example (of many) centers on last-minute villainy over pieces of the budget required for implementing certain spending and policy.

Without them, the budget is technically incomplete, and some funding - including some new money for Philly schools - is in limbo.

You'll love this.

The Republican-controlled Senate, by a 40-10 vote, sends the House a Welfare Code expanding Medicaid to provide health insurance for more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians who are now without it.

The Republican-controlled House, before leaving for summer, strips that out of the code but sends back a Fiscal Code with language promoting "payday lending."

Let's see: Help poor people get health coverage or help put poor people further in debt? So many choices.

You know about expanding Medicaid, right?

The feds pay. People get help. Not exactly rocket science. Supported by GOP guvs including N.J.'s Chris Christie, Ohio's John Kasich, Arizona's Jan Brewer, Florida's Rick Scott, but so far not T.C.

And you know about "payday lending," yes?

Sky-high interest rates, as in triple-digits when annualized, for short-term loans for people with bad credit; loans called "predatory" for a reason.

Pennsylvania caps rates, making sleazoid-lending less profitable; and in 2010 our Supreme Court extended the cap to online activity. One lender, Cash America Net, made $10 million a year through online payday lending here, the court said.

But language to revisit payday lending - promising a vote on the issue by the end of October - gets slipped into the Fiscal Code; on Page 55 of a 57-page bill.

Really? When you have power to use the process to get stuff done, this is what you do? Of all the things the state needs? Predatory lending?

GOP House spokesman Steve Miskin could not (or would not) say who inserted the language.

And talk about coincidence: The Inquirer reported that payday-lender lobbyists helped organize a Pebble Beach golf trip/GOP fundraiser during February budget hearings. Attendees included House Speaker Sam Smith and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman.

You don't think there could be a connection, do you?

The Senate voted a payday bill out of committee last month, but last week killed language in the Fiscal Code calling for a vote by the end of October.

(A cynic might suggest that they want to keep the issue alive as a fundraiser during 2014, a legislative-election year.)

This means that the House almost certainly is forced to return to Harrisburg this month, with taxpayers footing per-diem expenses, to vote on the newly amended Fiscal Code.

In other words, you pay more for ongoing antics.

Such is life the Capital City.

Meanwhile, "Gov. 0-fer," all full of self-congratulatory smiles signing a balanced (as required by law) and on-time (although it really wasn't) budget on the night of June 30, says stuff such as, "We are making progress, we are moving forward," and "How can I be disappointed?"

Sigh.

You can't make this stuff up.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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