(Published in the Review of the Center City Concerned Citizens, Philadelphia, PA, September, 2015)
By Joseph Batory
The oversized Pennsylvania State legislature. Pennsylvania has about 13 million people. But is it also has the largest full-time legislative body in the nation with 253 members.
To put this in context, California with a population of 39 million has only 120 members in its legislature. Texas is No. 2 in size with nearly 27 million residents and has 181 lawmakers. And Florida, with 20 million people, has 140 full-time legislators.
None of this makes any sense.
Elected officials in Pennsylvania constantly pontificate about the need for more efficient and streamlined government. Maybe the first priority in Harrisburg is to take a look in the mirror.
Government for sale to the highest bidder. A review of the Pennsylvania’s Department of State database reveals that nearly 2,700 interest groups have spent $791 million lobbying in Harrisburg between 2007 and March 2015.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the industry’s trade group, is the State’s most active lobbying concern. It reports spending just under $14.1 million since 2010. Small wonder that Pennsylvania continues to be the only State unable to impose a severance tax on shale gas extraction.
In a State desperate for new sources of revenue to adequately fund Commonwealth needs, Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) has projected that the severance tax would bring in vast amounts of revenue — as much as $1.86 billion per year by 2020 — while the gas industry in Pennsylvania would continue its robust expansion. This is a direct contradiction of the “doom and gloom” projected by the Marcellus Shale lobbyists who have to date paid millions of dollars of lobby money to successfully protect Pennsylvania’s gas drilling industry. This is just one example of powerful forces and abundant money driving votes rather than the common good of Pennsylvania citizens.
What Really Matters in Education. Republican politicians in Harrisburg regularly tell constituents that public schools have plenty of money and that the real problems with public education have nothing to do with State funding. However, this flies in the face of the reality of Pennsylvania currently paying one of the lowest percentage shares of State funding (about 35%) when compared to other States nationally. Pennsylvania legislators need to read the latest Gallup Poll on education. Just released , this 47th annual PDK poll reveals that the No. 1 problem the American people said their local schools are facing is not bad teachers or unions but insufficient funding. And this finding, ignored by Pennsylvania government despite the State Constitutional mandate to “thoroughly and efficiently fund public education,” has remained consistent for many years.
Corruption of Public Officials. Just a year ago, Fortune Magazine reported on a new research study which looked at more than 25,000 convictions of public officials for violation of corruption laws as well as State spending patterns across the USA between 1976 and 2008. The goal of this study was to develop a corruption index that would indicate “the most and the least corrupt states” in our nation. In this report, Pennsylvania was rated the fifth most corrupt State in the Union.
All of this adds up to a very sad commentary on Pennsylvania government and the need for massive reform.