As we rush into June toward another state budget due by July 1, prospects for an on-time resolution that actually addresses the many needs of our commonwealth remain, at least to me, dim.
Not saying an on-time budget’s impossible.
Just last week, House Speaker Mike Turzai said, “I think we’re going to have an on-time budget.” And Gov. Wolf’s spokesman, J.J. Abbott, says the governor “believes there is no reason for a budget to be unnecessarily delayed.”
So there’s that.
But I’m betting anything that passes anywhere near the annual due date is a maintenance document ignoring recurring, systemic ills: mounting deficits, ballooning pension debt, school-funding inequities, and a festering political culture that makes all progress problematic.
I would love to be proven wrong.
I’d also love to see our leaders begin to peel Pennsylvania off the lists of “most-corrupt” or “worst-run” states that we routinely populate.
And I’ve got ideas on how to start.
While sitting around all June waiting for the inevitable pretend-all-is-well budget, let’s push for passage of three reform bills designed to suggest at least some interest in promoting better policies and more expansive democracy.
It, of course, would take dozens. I’d settle for starting with three.
Senate Bill 22, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Boscola (D., Lehigh), seeks to end gerrymandering, one of the state’s seven deadly sins against representative government.
(The other six, by the way, are: unlimited campaign contributions; no term limits; no recall elections; no early or no-excuse absentee voting; electing statewide judges; and prohibiting registered independents from voting for candidates in a primary election, which in this state because of gerrymandering are, in most cases, the election.)
As I’ve written before, this requires amending the state constitution. But, as I’ve also written before, a 2016 international study, the Electoral Integrity Project, ranks Pennsylvania the third-worst gerrymandered state, behind Maryland and Wisconsin — so maybe, just maybe an amendment’s in order.
Yet Boscola’s bill’s been sitting idle since February.
House Bill 39, sponsored by Rep. Rick Saccone (R., Allegheny), is a gift ban to tighten what’s arguably the nation’s most open gift policy for public officials, one that our lawmakers take free advantage of.
In a memo to colleagues, Saccone argued passing the bill would help “restore the faith that people should have in their government.” A noble goal.
His bill’s been sitting idle since January.
H.B. 153, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Knowles (R., Schuylkill), would amend the constitution to reduce the size of our legislature, the largest full-time legislature in America. It would cut House seats from 203 to 153.
Hey, it’s a start.
And, believe it or not, this actually passed the House and Senate last session, so if it passes this session, it can go to the voters as a ballot question, a question I’m pretty sure I know the answer to.
None of these three measures fixes the state’s sad financial shape. Or ends its reputation for corruption. Or magically makes it better run. Not yet.
But there’s a connection between good politics and good policy.
And without moving closer to good politics – where elected officials don’t get to draw their own district lines, or can accept whatever gifts they want from whoever’s offering, or inhabit an institution too large and inefficient to effectively do the people's business – the chances of moving closer to good policies are bleak.
Problem is, I doubt our legislative leaders want to give up determining their own districts or getting gifts or hiding in the warrens of our overgrown General Assembly.
I just wish I’d be proven wrong.