opinion

Yo, Harrisburg, snap out of it!

John Baer, STAFF COLUMNIST

Updated: Sunday, September 17, 2017, 1:07 PM

Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa.

I have a suggestion.

Send your state House and/or Senate member a rubber band.

Tell him or her to put it on his or her wrist and snap it. And keep snapping it.

It’s worth a try. If they do it long enough, maybe they’ll snap out of it.

Don’t know your lawmakers? Google “PA General Assembly,” go to “Find My Legislator,” and type in your address.

Oh, and send Gov. Wolf one, too: Office of the Governor, 508 Main Capitol Building, Harrisburg, Pa. 17120. It might take him several snaps, but maybe it’ll wake him up. Maybe he’ll snap out of it.

The “it,” of course, is Harrisburg’s locked-in lunacy of doing the same things over and over.

For lawmakers (the same party runs both chambers), it’s their failure to meet their one responsibility — enacting an annual balanced state budget — then collect their automatic annual pay raises and run for reelection.

Snap that thing!

For Wolf, whose state now is broke, it’s overspend, borrow, create debt, overspend, borrow, create debt, and this year — as an extra special example of how not to govern — OK a $32 billion spending plan without any way to pay for it, and run for reelection.

To his credit, he doesn’t take a salary. The way things are going, rightly so.

Meanwhile, I’m running out of ways to convey how bad things are. Send me some. As in, “Things are so bad, the days of Tom Corbett, Vince Fumo, and John Perzel look good. And two of them went to prison!”

We’re stuck with big debt, no budget, little leadership, and turf-protecting factions fighting over where to get money. From the natural gas industry? From new consumer taxes? From more borrowing?

The Senate offered a semi-sensible mix of all three, rejected by the House. The House offered a messy alternative facing rejection by Wolf and the Senate.

“That’s fair to say,” a top GOP Senate aide tells me.

What’s also fair to say is the Capitol has been captured by swarms of senselessness. I saw Jack Nicholson (reprising his role from the 1997 classic As Good as It Gets) standing outside a House GOP caucus telling entering members, “Sell crazy someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.”

OK, I made that last part up.

But this is nuts. And it’s not just that our elected “leaders” aren’t moving the state forward. They’re moving it backward.

The House-passed plan raids $630 million from dozens of off-budget funds for specific programs, including environmental protection and mass transit.

For example: $70 million from the Environmental Stewardship Fund used for, among other things, clean water; $70 million from the Recycling Fund; $50 million from the Public Transportation Trust, which would cost SEPTA $32 million and Pittsburgh transit $11 million, according to House Democratic Appropriations Committee data.

“I can’t believe that in 2017, we’re debating the value of funding mass transit and environmental protection,” said one senior Democratic House aide.

Republicans say they’re taking only reserve funds with “no noticeable impacts” on programs. But lawmakers created and maintain such funds. If so much money is just lying around, why was that allowed, and why wasn’t it addressed before?

It’s hard to envision these fund raids, at levels proposed, approved by the marginally more sensible Senate or signed into law by Gov. (Wait-I-need-to-sign-an-entire-budget?) Wolf.

It’s also hard to understand, with such clear delineations of ideology, when the obvious answer is a brokered deal, that Wolf isn’t more in the mix.

Why, other than politics and one-upmanship, would the Senate pass measures unacceptable to the House, and the House pass measures unacceptable to the Senate, and the governor not provide leadership befitting the office he holds?

It’s past time for all involved to put their own agendas aside, act in the interests of all Pennsylvanians — and just snap out of it.

John Baer, STAFF COLUMNIST

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