Are state parks and pigeons facing peril?

vote 10202011 cdb
Pennsylvania Senator Jake Corman.

LET'S TAKE a moment to think about what lies ahead if the Legislature decides to hold a voting session in early January.

You heard about this, right?

Emboldened by picking up stronger Republican majorities in the House and Senate, some GOPers are considering exercising those majorities to, you know, get what they want and stick it to the incoming Democratic governor.

Hey, that's what people with power do.

It's misnamed a "lame-duck" session. But newly elected and re-elected lawmakers get sworn in Jan. 6; the only lame anything is Gov. Corbett.

He remains in office with authority to sign bills into law until Jan. 20, when Gov.-elect Tom Wolf gets inaugurated.

So, new GOP leaders could get two weeks of ideological Mardi Gras in Harrisburg: Pass anything you want and let the lame duck sign it before waddling away.

I'm thinking of stuff like giving 60 of our 120 state parks to the natural-gas industry for further fracking, then ceding the other 60 to the National Rifle Association for expanded pigeon shoots.

OK, that might be an exaggeration.

What is being discussed is possible action on liquor privatization or pension reform in ways that the Wolfman wouldn't like.

And possible action on what Republicans call "paycheck protection," what lots of Democrats call "election protection."

It's a measure to stop automatic deductions for union political-action committees (an ever-reliable feeder of Democratic campaigns) from the pay of unionized teachers and government workers.

Now those are meaty subjects that certainly would send a message about who's in charge and would lead to laws that wouldn't be laws under a Gov. Wolf.

Republicans have the numbers and the opportunity to make them happen.

And the cast-out-but-still-in Corbett?

An aide tells the Harrisburg Patriot-News that if lawmakers send him bills he supports, "he will very enthusiastically sign them."

So there's that.

But there's also practicality and reality.

The reality is that pensions and booze have been on the table for years. If reforms didn't get done under GOP management over four years, how do they get done under GOP management over two weeks?

And, yeah, the new mix of legislators is slightly different from the old one. But, come on, this is the Pennsylvania Legislature. When does it do anything without a gun to its head? (Unless, of course, it's expanding gun rights.)

Remember, when the question is, "Do you think the Legislature might pass that major measure on (fill in the blank)?" the automatic default answer is, "No."

So, what about the paycheck issue?

Well, Republicans really like it. It slaps both Democrats and unions. And Wolf, who won with substantial union support, would probably never sign it.

(All the Wolf camp says is that Wolf "looks forward to working with legislative leaders" to tackle difficult issues, blah, blah, blah.)

But passing "paycheck protections" requires a quickly drawn, single-minded alliance of Republicans in both chambers.

And it takes new leaders willing to live with what will be billed as a cheap shot enabled by a governor viewed, fairly or not, as vengeful after defeat.

Both the Senate and House have new leaders - Sen. Jake Corman, of Centre County; Rep. Dave Reed, of Indiana County - with reputations as pragmatists.

Do they start their jobs painted as hard-core partisans at odds with a new governor, with whom they need to work to fix a nearly $2 billion budget shortfall?

State voters last month sent a message about changing leadership at the top. Legislators just voted to change leadership. Why not give new leaders time and leeway to see what's possible?

The stage is set for give and take. There's no need for a divisive opening act.