Harrisburg: Where little gets done, and no one looks good

Schoolchildren and members of POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild) stage a mock funeral for the future of Philadelphia public education. The procession Friday, from City Hall to Gov. Corbett's city office, was sparked by the School District's announcement of a projected deficit and cuts.
Schoolchildren and members of POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild) stage a mock funeral for the future of Philadelphia public education. The procession Friday, from City Hall to Gov. Corbett's city office, was sparked by the School District's announcement of a projected deficit and cuts. (COURTNEY MARABELLA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 03, 2014

Our illustrious Pennsylvania legislature reminds me of that 1970s National Lampoon magazine cover of a gun aimed at a dog's head that read: "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog."

In this case, the dog is Philadelphia's underfunded schools, and smaller cities with a high percentage of students in poverty. The gun is Harrisburg legislators and Gov. Corbett seeking votes in return for money.

Do they care if the pooch lives? Doesn't seem like it.

Sane people might not ask for favors facing a budget deadline. They might simply do the right thing to help the state's youngest, most vulnerable residents. But sane people don't pursue elected politics in Pennsylvania, the land progress forgot.

Which brings us to the sad, dismal state of our budget process, where Republicans, who control Harrisburg, and Philadelphia Democrats fail to play ball during a tortured operation in which little gets done and no one looks good.

This session features the bonus of election-year grandstanding. Late Monday night on the House floor, Republican Rep. Mike Turzai offered an operatic tirade blasting Ed Rendell, who, excuse me if I'm wrong, hasn't been governor for almost four years.

Over the weekend, Corbett asked for a deal on pension reform in exchange for a Philadelphia cigarette tax, which might pump millions into city schools. This is known as politics, your vote for my vote, a practice perfected over the ages, that is if legislators want to get anything accomplished.

It's not clear this remains a goal in Pennsylvania.

The recent pitch for pension reform is so anemic, it's a wonder anyone might be against it - oh, right, some unions - while the cigarette tax applies only to Philadelphia, so why would other legislators oppose such a move?

But then, I forgot whom we're dealing with.

Overnight, Philadelphia politicians transformed into Scarlett O'Hara, their delicate constitutions affronted by such a deal. Democratic Sen. Vincent Hughes said Corbett "should be ashamed" for predicating school funding on passing pension retooling. Mayor Nutter gasped that this was "political horse-trading at its worst."

Which demonstrates how little the mayor knows about politics.

If Nutter had any grasp of equine sales, he might have fared better with City Council, which tends to treat his legislative proposals with the same disdain that Harrisburg views Philadelphia. In both cases, opponents subscribe to the maxim of the noted philosopher Groucho Marx, "Whatever it is, I'm against it!"

With a gun aimed at school funding, members of the Philadelphia delegation pouted and moaned, giving Republicans - who, they should remember, run the place - zip in return.

At moments like these, I start to mourn the loss of former State Sen. Vincent Fumo and his ability to get stuff done, engaging in the very horse-trading the mayor finds so unseemly.

But then the moment passes.

Successful politicians know they often have to give something to the other side to get results. But we're not dealing with successful politicians.

There is little love anywhere, and less motivation to play well with others. Corbett's fellow Republicans have as much fondness for the governor, whom they view as having a November expiration date, as they do for our city.

Those Philadelphia legislators must be eternal optimists. They've seen the gun pointed at the dog before, yet, despite several cycles of failure, still believe in lollipops, rainbows, and that, when Tom Wolf becomes governor in January, all wishes will be granted.

After all, it's Pennsylvania, where little gets done and no one looks good. Might as well be the state motto.


kheller@phillynews.com

215-854-2586 @kheller

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