Oh, the political choices we make

Posted: July 01, 2014

NICE TO HAVE options, don't you think?

Consider Pennsylvania's options in serving its citizens an annual budget.

Gov. Corbett and our esteemed Legislature can either a) do something, b) pretend to do something or c) do nothing.

Show of hands, who likes "c"?

And if this year's answer is "c," then we move to the next question: Who's worse?

An incumbent governor seeking re-election who can't get a legislature of his own party to pass even modest policy goals?

Legislative leaders with majorities to pass anything who can't get enough votes to pass anything?

For better or worse, on this last day of the fiscal year, we could be facing "c."

I should note two things: That could change. And a fair chunk of state voters like government that governs least and so like option "c."

If it's selected, then lawmakers vote for nothing - which they'll call voting for "fiscal responsibility" - and go home for the summer to campaign for re-election.

No pension reform (despite a "crisis"), no liquor reform (despite consumer desire), no new taxes (which means no new cigarette tax to help Philly schools), no Marcellus Shale tax despite big shortfalls in other revenue collection.

How could they do nothing when the state has needs and wants, you ask?

Because they can. Because their re-election rates are 90 percent-plus. Because one-third of senators running have no opponents. Because more than half of House members running have no opponents. Because the system is rigged to favor incumbents. And because most voters just don't care.

Also, is it me or is the Corbett administration treating the Philly school district the way the Obama administration treats Iraq?

Yes, we went in there but we were wrong to do so.

Yes, we pumped in money and tried to run it but we're out except for some advisers.

So, you know, it's time for the Philly school district (Iraq) to take care of itself.

It'll have to do so under plan "c."

Of course, that's just one option.

Last week, virtually everyone in the Capitol said a new budget couldn't be done without new revenue, new cuts or a combo of both.

Over the weekend, that changed.

It became something along the lines of, "Yeah, see, we can't get agreement on new revenue because there are too many whack-job Republicans in the House who won't vote for taxes if you hold a gun to their head (in fact, most of them carry so that would be risky), and because loser Democrats don't have the political skills or sense to make deals to help, for example, Philly schools."

What also changed is the firm contention there's no blood in the stone of the budget so taxes or cuts are needed.

That changed to, well, if we do enough onetime transfers from other funds such as the lottery, the tobacco fund, the small-business loan fund (you'd be amazed how many funds are out there), we can maybe paste together a balanced budget and all go home.

And why not?

Leaving now also means skipping out on broader institutional reforms.

It means a measure to reduce the size of the Legislature dies. It means something as simple as banning cash gifts to lawmakers gets no action. And it maybe means keeping a $150 million-plus legislative slush fund intact. Thanks, taxpayers!

Then again, it means an on-time budget. So that's good, I guess.

And, really, what's the downside? How much worse can Harrisburg leadership or the Legislature's image look?

A nice, long summer vacation beckons.

This is why it's nice to have options.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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