Baer: Are there no heroes to stop state layoffs?

Pennsylvania Budget
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre), second from right, and other top state lawmakers on a six-member conference committee on Wednesday, July 13, 2016, in Harrisburg, Pa.

Because I harbor shreds of hope that even Pennsylvania can sometimes do the right thing, I expected a pre-holiday layoff of 500-plus state workers to be forestalled.

Because I know pols love to play hero whether they are or not (Donald Trump and Carrier a recent example), I expected intervention before a Dec. 19 deadline.

Yet here we are just days from 500-plus at the Department of Labor & Industry losing income and health coverage right before Christmas because the politically-driven process of funding government failed them.

Are there really no heroes?

It's Gov. Wolf's state, his employees. But his folks say there's no money, no way. Meanwhile, his campaign emails season's greetings: "Get the holiday card from Tom and Frances Wolf," really just a grab for your home address to solicit you later for campaign funds.

Or worse: sorry about the job, how about a card?

Labor & Industry Secretary Kathy Manderino says, "I'm doing everything I can" to avert layoffs. At least that's what she told the Harrisburg Patriot News while at a cocktail reception in New York City during last weekend's Pennsylvania Society.

Yet when I ask what exactly she's doing an aide said the quote "was taken out of context," that layoffs are happening but Manderino's working to find those affected new jobs, benefits and other services.

And before you say, well, government's bloated; we should make cuts, reduce spending, stop wasting tax dollars, let me just make a point or two.

The senseless, needless damage done to these workers and their families, especially at this time of year, has ripples.

These folks mostly work in Unemployment Compensation call centers designed to process benefits for those who become jobless.

Getting pushed out with the closing of three of the state's seven centers means longer waits for others (and themselves) in a system often criticized for delays.

And why, exactly, are they being canned? Not because benefit needs declined.

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate grew throughout the year. At 5.8 percent, it is the highest among northeastern states; and across the nation only five states have higher rates.

So it's not for lack of work.

See, a dedicated funding stream expired and the GOP Senate declined - on Nov. 16, its last voting day - to approve a $57 million extension requested by the Democratic Wolf administration.

Ideology then? Conservative cost-containing views opposing liberal spending?

Well, no.

The even-more-conservative GOP House approved the extension by a wide bipartisan margin in October.

So what's left? The usual: politics and ineptness.

The Senate has at least two members, Majority Leader Jake Corman and (Wolf bane) Scott Wagner, potentially opposing Wolf's reelection in 2018.

Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan calls the whole mess "the Senate deciding to play politics with peoples' jobs."

But since the administration orders layoffs and Wolf's the face of the administration who takes the political hit, a nameless, faceless legislative body or the governor of the state?

To help you decide, Wagner issued a statement: "The Wolf that Stole Christmas."

Meanwhile, the Senate wants more details before approving more money. But the current expiration of funds was set four years ago. Renewal was discussed for much of this year. After the fact, the Senate requested an audit of the funding. And state Auditor General Gene DePasquale says he'll announce a decision on the request in January – just after the nick of time.

There might well be legitimate questions about funds at issue. They could have, should have been resolved long before Nov. 16.

But our Legislature's notorious for last-minute screw-ups, for kicking the can, for its own annual raises, for being America's largest "full-time" Legislature, for boosting its own budget last year 13 percent to a whopping $313 million - and for rarely producing heroes.


baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer