Inquirer Editorial: Lesson in politics

Gov. Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley hold a news conference to address the state budget in the governor's office in Harrisburg this week.
Gov. Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley hold a news conference to address the state budget in the governor's office in Harrisburg this week. (BRADLEY C. BOWER / Associated Press)
Posted: July 03, 2014

Oh, the games people play now,

Every night and every day now,

Never meaning what they say now,

Never saying what they mean.

- Joe South

For weeks, city officials held out the possibility of brokering a deal with Gov. Corbett to increase state funding for the city's destitute schools. But when Corbett put a proposal on the table - school cash for pension reform - Philadelphia's legislative delegation turned up its nose.

That doesn't mean Corbett is the good guy. There are no good guys in the shark pond that serves as state government in Harrisburg. It means it should have been clear that in the end, raw politics, not heartfelt pleas, would determine whether public schools get the resources they need to give children a decent education.

Corbett delayed signing a $29.1 billion budget passed by the legislature Monday because it didn't include pension reform. He turned to the city's Democrats for support of his pension proposal because he could not get enough fellow Republicans to vote for it.

The measure would reduce future costs by putting new state employees in a 401(k)-style pension plan. That's a step in the right direction, even though it would not address Pennsylvania's $47 billion in unfunded pension obligations. Still, although the plan is inadequate, it isn't odious - except to those who see it as antiunion, which is a curse word among Philadelphia politicians.

Rather than endorse Corbett's proposal, which they said had other flaws, city Democrats got behind a Senate move to add a Philadelphia-only cigarette tax for schools to a hotel-tax reauthorization. Because the hotel tax funds tourism in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, the bill and the accompanying cigarette tax were thought to have enough Republican and Democratic votes to pass. But the politicians spent most of Tuesday in negotiations.

Amid the uncertainty, Philadelphia education officials had no choice but to assume the funding needed to open schools in the fall would be available. The School Reform Commission passed a $2.6 billion budget Monday night knowing that if the legislature doesn't come through, more layoffs and larger class sizes are inevitable.

Although Philadelphia's situation may be the most acute, it's not the only district under financial duress. The solution is a new statewide education funding formula. But there has been little talk of that. Instead, politicians wheel and deal over the fate of schoolchildren.

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