At the city's most recent Government Study Commission meeting, former City Councilman Bruce Kelley lamented the wildly inefficient local government system in Pennsylvania, which has 2,562 municipalities.
During an interview with the Mirror Sunday in Hollidaysburg on his newly launched re-election-campaign tour of the state, Gov. Tom Corbett agreed.
But we shouldn't expect the system to change any time soon, he said.
"The redundancy of government administration drives me crazy," said Corbett, who spent about 30 minutes with a reporter. "We're in the 21st century."
The current setup means "putting a lot of money in administration that could be getting to the street," he said.
Still, "that's what people want" - for now, he said.
There's no real political drive for larger, more efficient governmental units, as found in states to the south, including Maryland, where county governments have much more responsibility, he said.
People don't want municipal mergers.
The current setup is also part of our part of Pennsylvania's colonial history, "part of our makeup," he said.
It came out of a time when people traveled by horse, and the administrative reach of government was much more limited geographically, according to a Corbett aide who sat in on the interview.
Moreover, "we don't embrace change real easily in Pennsylvania," he said.
The municipal structure is not likely to change until rising taxes bring people "to the breaking point," he said.
Is that in the foreseeable future?
"If the foreseeable future is 25, 30, 40 years, yes," Corbett said.
Meanwhile, the General Assembly isn't going to force municipal mergers or even municipal cooperation, due to the makeup of the legislature and the risk of not getting re-elected, he said.
But there are lesser consolidations that are within reach, he said.
Regional policing is one, according to Corbett.
Ten years ago, it wasn't, he said, placing his index fingers in a cross to illustrate the aversion that existed then.
But now the time is ripe, especially in areas like Allegheny County, where there are more than 120 police agencies, he said.
Larger departments can provide coverage by contract to municipalities that have smaller, less efficient departments, he said.
They could also provide coverage to municipalities that now rely on state police, including wealthy ones, he said.
That would help rectify the unfairness of rich townships taking advantage of state coverage while poor neighbors eschew it by paying for their own, he acknowledged.
It would achieve voluntarily what former Gov. Tom Ridge tried to do by legislation, with a proposal that municipalities with populations greater than 10,000 and no municipal force should pay for state police coverage.
"That got no traction," Corbett said. "It flatlined."
Asked whether his so-far-unsuccessful effort to privatize the state's liquor sales system is an example of Pennsylvania's resistance to change, Corbett demurred.
"I think people want to change [that]," he said.
But the two liquor store unions are fighting it, he said.
Nevertheless, he predicted that "we will get there eventually."
The current rules are befuddling to outsiders, he said.
He recalled a sign in a state store across from the Philadelphia Convention Center giving directions for those who wanted beer to the nearest distributor three blocks away or to any local bar - where customers could buy six-packs.
Convention-goers from other states could hardly believe it, he said.
It's a system that in southeast Pennsylvania leads to the loss of $60 to $80 million in taxes to "border bleed" from people buying booze in nearby Delaware or New Jersey, Corbett said.
As for the separate issue of changing the rules so beer would be freely available in supermarkets and convenience stores, as Sheetz Inc. has lobbied to make happen, "they ought to be able to do it," he said.
Asked about his low approval ratings - one recent poll said it was below 20 percent - he said, "I have never governed by what the polls say."
He held his finger up - as if to the wind - to illustrate.
He's made tough decisions, produced the smallest budget in 50 years and forced state government to "live within our means," he said.
By election time next year, "people will understand," he predicted.
People complained about education funding, but failed to acknowledge that school districts had gorged on stimulus money that was gone by the time he took office, he said.
Blair County Democratic Chairman Frank Rosenhoover thinks his party's opportunity to take back the governor's mansion in 2014 "is as good as they ever have been."
"[Corbett] has been a total failure," Rosenhoover said.
His party controls the executive office and both houses of the General Assembly, yet he still hasn't managed to install his priority programs, Rosenhoover said.
State highways and bridges remain in "horrible shape," while Corbett's education policies have forced parents to shell out for "pencils and pens and textbooks," Rosenhoover said.
His attempts to privatize liquor sales are misguided because the stores are making money for the state, and turning liquor sales over to the private sector would mean the system wouldn't be run in the interest of the public, but "to make a buck" - resulting in higher prices and the laying off "good people," he said.
But Corbett's "biggest boondoggle" is his refusal to accept federal funding for expansion of Medicaid, which is sheer "intransigence" - in opposition to the Affordable Care Act, according to Rosenhoover.
Even "rock-hard" Republican states have accepted the Medicaid largess, he said.
It has resulted in suffering for poor people, he said.
Contradicting Rosenhoover, Blair County Republican Chairman A.C Stickel said Corbett's re-election chances are "very good," despite the low approval ratings.
He inherited a state deeply in debt, with a "mess" of a pension system, roads and bridges that are crumbling and high taxes, according to Stickel.
The pension system is still a mess, and employees are upset about it, but he's "addressed a number of those issues," including transportation, Stickel said.
He got a "bad rap" for cutting education funding, Stickel said.
Corbett made promises and kept them, Stickel said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.