Baer: Yo, Harrisburg, how about some real New Year's resolutions?

Ah, January, month of self-improvement, time to strive for betterment.

Time of hope. Time for positive change.

Take Pennsylvania's Legislature (please!). It's back to start a new two-year session; or, as I like to call it, 24 months of perfidy on parade.

And, of course, it faces another budget crisis with another big ($604 million) deficit, a $60 billion pension problem, bad bond ratings, no reserves and a national ranking from financial publication 24/7 Wall St. as one of country's worst-run states.

But, come on. It's a new year. Have some faith.

Certainly the largest full-time legislature's ready to bring brighter days to the bleakness that's politics and government.

State House GOP Majority Leader Dave Reed, for example, who may or may not run for governor or senator or something other than the job he has, wants to "restructure," as in, "Do we need every state agency?"

No! And off with their heads!

Never mind such an approach coulda, shoulda been used years ago.

But with Republicans running the House and Senate, other leaders, such as House Speaker Mike Turzai and GOP Senate Leader Jake Corman, both of whom may or may not run for governor or senator or something other than the jobs they have, surely will chip in to chip away.

Cut spending. Cut regulations. Make us great.

If you shutter just three of the 30 or so departments, commissions, etc. - say, Agriculture, Community & Economic Development, Environmental Protection - you get $433 million closer to closing that $604 million hole.

And Democratic Gov. Wolf already said no new broad-based, i.e., personal income or sales, taxes because he wants a second term more than he wants the tax hikes he used to say we need.

It's just a matter of a little belt-tightening - and maybe lots more legal gambling.

Unless lawmakers change some things that keep our state stuck in stasis and public confidence low:

    Follow the law. It'd be nice, and rare, to have a session sans indictments.

    End annual automatic pay raises taken regardless of performance (even in a year 500-plus state workers got laid off). The raises are political welfare, saying it doesn't matter if you fix anything or fail to pass a budget on time.

    Pass term limits and cut your salaries, second-highest only to California, which has term limits and half the lawmakers serving three times our population.

    Cut your size. There's a bill to slice the House from 203 to 151. Not enough but, like the joke about 1,000 lawyers chained to the ocean floor, a start.

    End gerrymandering. A new international study by the Electoral Integrity Project from Harvard and Sydney University in Australia, says just two states, Wisconsin and North Carolina, are worse.

    Reform campaign finance. We're one of just 12 states with no limits on money from individuals, parties and PACs; the only northeastern state.

Such changes would alter the Legislature's makeup and conscience, moving it closer to putting people above its own protection and perks.

Then maybe we wouldn't be nationally known for education inequities. Or the sole northeastern state cited by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy for one of the 10 most regressive tax systems; or 28th and below the national average in rankings by the United Health Foundation.

Maybe we wouldn't have the 6th highest unemployment rate, highest of any large state; or pay our working poor a lower minimum wage than any of our six neighboring states.

At some point, some leader should work to instill the will to be first in something other than mushrooms and confirmed cases of Lyme disease.

Now is a good time to start.