Thursday, December 25, 2014

Our wish list for Corbett's reform plan

Throughout the gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Tom Corbett repeatedly promised that he'd bring meaningful political reform to Harrisburg. That's a common refrain from governors -- how many times did Gov. Ed Rendell beat his desk and call fruitlessly for reform? -- but Corbett seems like the guy with the best chance of making something happen.

Our wish list for Corbett's reform plan

Gov. Corbett greets guests outside the family dining room at the governor´s residence. Will he open the mansion to reform?
Gov. Corbett greets guests outside the family dining room at the governor's residence. Will he open the mansion to reform? JASON MINICK / Associated Press

Throughout the gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Tom Corbett repeatedly promised that he'd bring meaningful political reform to Harrisburg. That's a common refrain from governors -- how many times did Gov. Ed Rendell beat his desk and call fruitlessly for reform? -- but Corbett seems like the guy with the best chance of making something happen.

Why? Well, for starters, Corbett made corruption-busting a signature of his time as Attorney General, indicting more than two dozen people in a wide-ranging investigation of the state legislature. And Corbett's party now controls every branch of state government, which means that any initiative he prioritizes has a significant chance of passage.

Tomorrow, Gov. Corbett is expected to make a major policy speech outlining his plan for reform. With that in mind, here is our wish list for what he should propose:

Campaign finance reform. Currently, Pennsylvania has absolutely no limits on campaign contributions. That means a wealthy special interest, like the companies mining for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region, can dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the political system. It's hard to argue that all that money doesn't influence the outcome of legislation, especially since lobbying firms are some of the biggest givers. Corbett should propose reasonable caps on donations, like the $2,400 individual contribution limit at the federal level.

Redistricting.
Every ten years, the Pennsylvania legislature redraws state political boundaries based on new data from the U.S. Census. That's about to happen again. Unfortunately, the process is often dominated by political insiders and leads to districts that ensure incumbents are reelected. Corbett can change this system by proposing a citizen-led redistricting commission, with the goals of redrawing boundaries that will be competitive and truly representative of Pennsylvania's diverse population. Already, some lawmakers in the legislature have begun moving in this direction. Corbett should embrace these efforts and use the bully pulpit to elevate the issue.

Get the lobbyists under control.
Pennsylvania was the last state in the nation to pass a law to regulate lobbyists. That law is still pretty weak, requiring disclosure only if a lobbyist spends more than $2,500 in a given calendar quarter. Lobbyists are still allowed to provide all kinds of perks to lawmakers, such as tickets to a sporting event, a free dinner, or some other kind of gift. That needs to change. Corbett should propose banning gifts from lobbyists to both elected officials and staffers. Also, Corbett needs to address the very real perception that lobbyists control the legislative process through campaign contributions. Some states have a complete ban on all donations from registered lobbyists. Pennsylvania should considering this option for cleaning up the system.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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