Pa. state workers face cruel political twist

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JUST IN TIME for the holidays, 521 state employees, mostly union members, are scheduled for layoffs Dec. 19 because Harrisburg, as only it can, screwed up a funding issue.

It won't surprise you to know Democratic Gov. Wolf blames Republicans, and Republicans blame Gov. Wolf.

And it might not surprise you that it pits Wolf against his burgeoning nemesis, brash, conservative, Trump-like Republican Sen. Scott Wagner.

Pick your Grinch.

There are two sad ironies: Almost all those facing a jobless Christmas work on unemployment compensation (UC) claims, which they'll now potentially be forced to seek, and the whole mess could have been avoided, and maybe still can be.

In a nutshell, the Wolf administration sought to extend funding for a long-controversial and expensive plan to improve UC services.

The GOP-run House agreed in October and, with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 175-13, approved up to $57.5 million to move the effort forward.

But the Senate, on Nov. 16, its last voting day of the legislative session, balked and walked.

Although the measure had been approved by Senate committees and was in position for a full vote, no vote took place.

The official reason was unanswered questions about the money, its use, its timeline and such, and claims the Wolfman wasn't forthcoming with info.

The administration basically called B.S. on the Senate, then announced layoffs and closures of UC call centers in Altoona, Lancaster and Allentown.

Republicans quickly noted the three centers chosen (there are seven across the state and an "overflow" center in Harrisburg) are in areas represented by GOP senators, including Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne.

Sounds slightly Grinchy, huh?

The Wolf administration (of course) says the centers were selected on the basis of "variables" such as performance and efficiency, not retaliatory politics.

And Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan says the Senate was provided info on the issue throughout the year; Republicans "are not telling the truth . . . this is about them not governing"; and all about the aforementioned Wagner's wanting to kill the bill.

This gets us to Wagner, who's planning to run against Wolf in 2018.

He takes credit for killing the bill because, he says, "it's time we should have some fiscal responsibility."

He argues the Legislature approved UC system upgrades costing $60 million a year for four years - funding set to sunset at the end of this December.

A self-made multimillionaire (trash and trucking), Wagner says that in the private sector, people would lose their jobs if $240 million was spent for system upgrades that four years later weren't completed.

Ah, but, senator, layoffs for hundreds presumably not at fault? Won't you be labeled the Grinch?

"You know me," he says, "I don't care." He says dues-paying union members should urge their leadership to seek legal action to forestall layoffs.

And Wagner says Wolf "knows where to find the money" but he's "probably somewhere reading Shakespeare."

(Perhaps Comedy of Errors? Or All's Well That Ends Well?)

These types of politically manufactured crises are unnecessary and cruel to those most directly impacted and, in this case, those seeking UC benefits during and immediately after the holiday season.

Politicians always find money when it's in their interest. For their annual raises - which, for lawmakers, kick in this week - for their perks, pensions, pet projects.

The Legislature, for example, this year found $37 million in new money for its own care and feeding, a 13.4 percent increase over the prior year, to restore some cuts and blue-lined trimming during recent budget spats.

So powers that be in the Legislature, in the administration, should find ways to fix this UC mess, with both accountability for system costs and amnesty for the 521 slated for punishment.

baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls