Something Has to Give

Posted by By at 11 March, at 13 : 00 PM Print

Robert Heinlein, a science fiction writer of all people, is the author of one of my favorite descriptions of the sickness inside people like me:

“Until you’ve been in politics you’ve never really been alive. It’s rough and sometimes its dirty and its always hard work and tedious details. But – it’s the only sport for grownups – all other games are for kids.”

I want to thank everyone who commented and emailed me, flipped me off or hugged me (metaphorically). You can forget why this stuff is so intellectually stimulating and engaging when you don’t have controversy in your work.

With that in mind, I am somewhat loathe to do what I am about to do – after all, writing a column about reaction to one’s own words seems so, well, cheesy. But I feel there are engrossing tidbits worth re-examining now that I have spent 24 hours defending every possible attack.

The obvious issue most had with my first piece stems from a simple refusal to read it carefully – I NEVER advocated in favor of the proposed cuts, nor am I opposing them in a vacuum now. What I said – very specifically – was once the overall higher education budget cut level is established the most equitable way to share out that pain was not in terms of each schools appropriation but rather in light of the whole picture.

This is a crucial distinction because it is one we need to deal with: when there is not enough money in the public till we have to make choices – tough choices. NO ONE wants to cut education funding simply for the sake of cutting it; the fact is we don’t have enough money and higher education is simply a lot more discretionary than, say, medical assistance or feeding the poor.

If you want to advocate for more money for higher education, I will stand next to you and make the best argument for it. But standing next to us will be AARP. And next to them will be alternative energy and growing greener projects. And behind us will be RCAP. Shushing us all will be the libraries. And making all of us feel uncomfortable will be those causes we all know seriously need state money – research and out reach for disabled citizens, for example, but who we kinda have to edge out a little to “go get ours.”

Sound nuts? It is – but when you look at a budget you have to see it all. Yes, there is a lot of waste and the legislature needs to lean it down a whole lot too. If you want to advocate for that, again, I will stand next to you.

But we still have to deal with the elephant in the room. We don’t have the money for all the things we truly want to do. And because of that, a lot of things will have to go without taxpayer assistance.

I know that some will see spite or shock in what I was trying to say about PSU’s budget. That is ridiculous – my house is a shrine to the school and I love it with all my heart. But as a matter of policy, my love has no place in the decision.

We have less money that we want, and deep cuts are coming. I wrote my analysis with the accepted limitation that the discussion was bounded by the proposed cuts. It assumed that increasing funding was not an option.

Under those controls – accepting the cuts as a given and assessing the total range of issues, I stand by what I said. It is a painful assessment.

But for those of you unacquainted with the appropriation and budget process, it’s the type of gut wrenching calls we need to be making precisely because we refused to do so before.

For a number of years, I represented the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind. Each year this amazing organization, provided services to thousands of people – largely elderly or kids – for pennies on the dollar. Over the years, the population they served grew larger and larger yet their state dollars never increased. In order to meet their mission each year, they raised private funds and stretched dollars farther and farther.

Two years ago their modest appropriation – less than $3M – was cut by Gov. Rendell as part of an across the board cut in human services.

You know what saw an increase; education. We shed no tears and started working to get the funds back – Education was simply Ed’s priority.

That is what the job of governing is all about. At its essence, it is a matter of setting priorities and making choices among limited resources. Once the parameters of the discussion are established emotion should have little to do with it – it should be a calculation of utility that best serves the public’s interest. After all, it’s their money.

So please, if you want to disagree with me about how we define what is equitable, feel free. But don’t come back with “everyone gets more” unless you tell me who gets less. Because trust me – someone will have to get less. There just isn’t enough money.

And make no mistake – the blood letting over this budget is just beginning. I know that this seems like an enormous fight, what with the Higher Education posse gearing up to take the hill and make their case, but in the end, this will look like a walk in the park compared to some of the embedded looming fights contained within. The structure of some of these proposed cuts and the stakes involved for some very powerful interests all but ensure a lively first budget cycle for the Corbett Administration.

No one – including the Governor’s team – expects this budget to pass as proposed. By sending out this budget Gov. Corbett made it clear that there is a new sheriff in town, and he has very different priorities.

Will he get all or most of them? We will see. But the fact is the higher education fight will be a warm up act to the title fights building within the state’s unions as we lumber toward a summer of turmoil. Should be fun.

Be sure to keep reading all about it from me or any of my ideologically diverse, yet universally more talented, fellow contributors at Rock The Capital. Or, if you really hate what I have to say and can make a rational policy argument against it, submit your piece and we’ll run it as a guest piece.

After all, it’s your Capital too. Come join us and Rock it a little – after all, Democracy is the grown up contact sport.

(If you missed Scott’s first piece you can read it by clicking on Rock The Capital.)


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This post was written by:
- who has written 77 posts for Rock The Capital
Scott Paterno is an accomplished policy analyst and political consultant based in Hershey, PA. Mr. Paterno, never one to sit still, has practiced law, run for a house seat, and worked as lobbyist in Harrisburg and Washington. Paterno is Vice Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Fund and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Science. He is happily married with three children. - Email scottp

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