HERE'S SOMETHING I never thought I'd write. Mike Stack has a good idea.
Not that it's new or original. But give him credit, he's publicly pushing it.
The Northeast Philly ward leader from an old-school political family, former 14-year state senator and current second-ranking state official as lieutenant governor, is advocating a fix for Pennsylvania's horrible, no-good budget process.
Wait, what? Pennsylvania has a lieutenant governor? And he's from Philly?
Oh yeah. More than that, Stack's a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild. If you have a high-tolerance for bad theater, you can watch him emote as he presides over the Senate, a duty of his office - the presiding part, not the emoting part.
Just don't bother bringing popcorn. You won't want to watch too long.
But back to his good idea, the focus and timing of which is more than slightly suspect (more on that in a bit).
Last week, outside his Harrisburg office overlooking the Capitol Rotunda, Stack stood with a few senators from both parties to call for a two-year budget.
Under Gov. Wolf and the current (ugh) Legislature that's effectively what we've got. But Stack's talking about switching the process from budgeting for one year to budgeting for two.
There's a sound case.
Twenty other states do it: larger states such as Texas and Ohio; smaller states such as Maine and Connecticut.
It'd save a ton of tax dollars now spent each year on weeks of budget hearings, largely worthless and mostly used by lawmakers to get their faces on PCN and fill their pockets with per diems.
Also, as Stack noted, a two-year cycle gives schools and human service groups greater fiscal predictably since they now form their budgets without knowing what the state's so-often-late budget looks like.
There's at least some chance a two-year plan reduces the amount, if not the intensity, of tiresome partisan bickering.
And, since the budget's the only thing lawmakers must do, it could strengthen the argument for (ta-da!) a part-time legislature.
Think that's a stretch?
Here's what Senate GOP Leader Jake Corman, of Centre County, said 13 years ago when another Centre County Republican lawmaker, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, proposed two-year planning.
"If we had a two-year budget we could go to a part-time legislature because the budget is the main thing we do," Corman said.
Of course then he wasn't in leadership.
Yeah, two-year planning isn't perfect but how you enjoying what we have now?
Bad news is the bill Stack's pushing, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster County), calls for a constitutional amendment to mandate a two-year cycle. Aument tells me that's the purest, surest way. But it takes years to finalize.
Why do I find Stack suspect? He's a political animal and I'm a political cynic.
His push comes as we enter another budget season and as Wolf's poll numbers sag. Stack and Wolf are not, well, close. Ever see them together?
So is Stack offering himself as an enterprising pol stepping up in a bipartisan way to fix the thing that's caused Wolf trouble? That's what his press conference looked like. And it clearly was for show.
The reality is no leader in either chamber is actively looking at two-year plans. And Wolf's office declined to even comment.
It comes amid buzz about Wolf's growing frustrations with the Legislature, few signs of things getting better and the possibility, however remote, Wolf won't seek re-election two years from now.
Makes one wonder if that's Stack's real two-year plan.