Pa.'s one-finger solution

BRADLEY C BOWER / ASSOCIATED PRESS Gov. Corbett points to his signature after signing the state budget document last week.
BRADLEY C BOWER / ASSOCIATED PRESS Gov. Corbett points to his signature after signing the state budget document last week.
Posted: July 15, 2014

LET'S TALK about Gov. Corbett's semiballsy declaration of war on the Legislature.

First, though, let's acknowledge that picture of the guv giving a one-finger salute to the Legislature after signing a budget that cuts some of its funding.

The photo, which I'm calling "Fund You," is an instant classic, certain to be reprised.

The action - cutting lawmakers' cash and special projects while essentially calling them lazy, greedy and worthless - is merely political theater.

If you were down the Shore last week or otherwise doing things better than tracking the squirrely world of Pennsylvania politics, here's a quick recap.

The Republican-controlled Legislature gave the Republican governor a no-new-tax, on-time budget that he belatedly signed into law.

But because there was no pension reform (to go along with no liquor reform), he cut out $65 million, or about 20 percent, of the Legislature's funding, and $7.2 million of its pet projects.

He also said that lawmakers (on vacation until mid-September) must return to the Capitol and act on pensions, our "most important fiscal challenge."

Lawmakers from both parties issued statements essentially asking, "Whaddya, nuts?"

So, now you're up to date.

I'd just add a few observations.

Corbett's decided he can't win re-election running against Tom Wolf, so now he's running against the Legislature.

Not a bad idea. Worked the first time. Plus, Corbett having one idea is the best Corbett we've seen to date.

Also, since our Legislature's already among the worst, most wasteful, inefficient deliberative bodies on Earth, it's not hard to run against.

As one Corbett insider puts it, "This means he doesn't have to pretend to like them anymore."

Which raises the questions: Why was he pretending at all? And what took him so long to stop?

But public pensions cost a lot and, Corbett's right, change is needed. Expect to see him in every media market pushing the case while trashing lawmakers.

It's just that the plan's like most political TV ads: aimed at low-information voters.

The fact is this "war," like almost everything about Harrisburg, is half-assed.

The pension problem isn't new and isn't going away soon.

If Corbett wanted war, he'd blue-line all legislative expenses and draw public attention to the vast waste of tax dollars they represent.

As is, the Legislature can ignore Corbett. It has a $150 million "reserve" fund (your money gaining them interest) and nothing to gain politically by aligning with an embattled incumbent.

Its members are re-elected at rates above 90 percent - a third of Senate candidates, more than half for the House, have no opponents.

Why do anything? Ever.

And if Corbett calls a "special session" on pensions, lawmakers can yawn or hire counsel (for you to pay) to fight him. The state constitution says that governors "may" call special sessions. Doesn't say lawmakers must attend.

In addition, Corbett's rep came from putting lawmakers in prison and promising, back in 2010, to reform the Legislature, cut its perks and drain its slush funds starting "Day One," if elected.

He got elected, but reform never happened. Nothing close to it happened. Not "Day One." Not ever.

So, this new stuff sounds like election-year noise - just like last time.

It offers evidence of action but is really performance art in limbo. Or, as in 2010, bluster ignoring separation of powers and the fact that governors have little real leverage over legislators.

The upshot?

There's a reason that 12 Franklin & Marshall polls since 2011 show an average of just 31 percent of voters seeing the state headed in the right direction.

There's a reason that a Gallup poll in April shows only three other states (Illinois, Rhode Island and Maine) where residents have less trust in state government.

And the reason is, there are more one-finger salutes in Harrisburg than anything approaching effective leadership.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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