Pennsylvania’s political climate troubling
Looking back at the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s 2014-15 budget-preparation exercise, it’s good that it didn’t result in any noticeable disruption in state services.
In fact, the lack of a signed budget being in place until 10 days after the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year on June 30 was a negative situation that paled in comparison with some missed deadlines and budget controversies in the distant and not-so-distant past.
However, beyond providing an important view of the issues facing the state, this year’s budget process unveiled for state residents a couple of insights into the political climate in Harrisburg about which they might not heretofore have paid much attention.
Probably the biggest is that the harmony that was assumed by many to exist between Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and the GOP-dominated House and Senate really isn’t as authentic as they had been led to believe over the past three years.
As an Associated Press analysis printed in Monday’s Mirror related, the relationship between Corbett and his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly took a turn toward the dysfunctional as they traded insults following the governor’s veto of $65 million for the Legislature under the new spending package. Corbett also vetoed about $7 million in legislative earmarks.
The Corbett veto was retribution for lawmakers’ failure to enact pension reform and revamp the commonwealth’s liquor system.
Some ill feelings always have marked Corbett’s term as governor, stemming from Corbett’s investigation of General Assembly corruption while he was the state’s attorney general. Some lawmakers also have accused the Corbett administration of an adversarial attitude throughout his three years as chief executive.
But beyond the current friction between Corbett and lawmakers was the revelation that even with the challenge of trying to find a solution to a 2014-15 budget shortfall of $1.5 billion, lawmakers continued to set aside time as part of a “me first” mindset.
As the important budget work remained undone, lawmakers continued to set aside ample time for shoring up their campaign accounts.
A June 15 Mirror article, “Budget season collides with campaign season,” provided a glimpse into the money-raising emphasis that continued despite important unfinished business.
As Barry Kauffman, executive director of good-government group Common Cause Pennsylvania was quoted as saying in that article, fundraisers “absolutely” affect the General Assembly’s work hours.
Exactly how much those money activities adversely impacted progress on pension reform and other unfinished business won’t ever be known. Some lawmakers argue that they didn’t.
But state taxpayers are justified in being fed up about lawmaker-based cocktail receptions, golf tournaments and other assorted fundraising activities when such important business as state budget preparation remains unfinished.
Although it probably will die before reaching the House floor, legislation introduced by GOP state Rep. Tom Murt of Montgomery County to prohibit lawmakers from fundraising on legislative session days has merit.
The latest budget exercise, which ended up a failure on a number of big fronts not limited to pensions and alcohol, should have taken precedence over bolstering the size of lawmakers’ war.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly needs to rethink its priorities; state residents should demand it.