DPW chief channels James Madison in pep talk memo

Gary Alexander, the newly-named head of the Department of Public Welfare, the largest state agency, issued a pep talk to his troops in the form of a memo quoting the nation's fourth president James Madison to make his case for more limited government.

My colleague, editorial writer Russell Cooke, has this take on the memo's contents:


As inspirational messages go, it wasn’t exactly on the level of “Ask not what your country can do for you.”

But the memo that state welfare chief Gary Alexander circulated last week to thousands of Department of Public Welfare employees on the eve of the anniversary of James Madison’s birthday was noteworthy for providing some insight into how the new administration in Harrisburg will operate.

With a big slice of the state budget under his control, DPW Secretary Alexander will have to manage amid an overall budget crunch that’s exacerbated by Gov. Corbett’s refusal to impose any new taxes, including one on natural-gas drillers.

For now, spending on human services is one of the few bright areas in the Corbett budget. But Alexander seems to be laying the groundwork for leaner times ahead for Medicaid and other recipients of state aid.

Recruited from Rhode Island by Corbett, Alexander lauded Madison for being concerned “about the risks of having a federal government that could grow too large and stray from the core principle of serving its people in securing their basic rights.”

He then said DPW would use the powers afforded to states “to achieve exactly what James Madison and his fellow founding fathers envisioned: true personal independence, self-reliance, and freedom.”

It certainly appears to be the policy of the Corbett team to afford Marcellus Shale drillers as much “personal independence, self-reliance, and freedom” as possible. Operating in the only state in which natural-gas drillers are spared an extraction tax must be mighty invigorating for the drillers.

What of Alexander’s own bailiwick? While he was the Ocean State's human services agency chief, he pursued a controversial block-grant approach that critics say reduced services while achieving little savings. Given that, advocates for needy Pennsylvanians could be forgiven for wondering whether following Madison’s dictum will translate into a policy best summarized as, “You’re on your own, pal.”



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