by Eric Epstein
Most Pennsylvanians realized after the passage of slots legislation, the late night pay raise, and persistent corruption, that our government is AWOL. Simply put, parts of our constitution are not being implemented and enforced. Folks have voiced a desire to harness state government through term limits, competitive redistricting, reducing the size of the legislature, eliminating lame duck sessions, and scaling back public officials’ compensation and pension packages.
Back on May 25, 2006 a diverse coalition of organizations seeking to reform government announced a series of measures to repair our broken system. The “Roadmap for Reform” was created by organizations including Common Cause Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Foundation, Democracy Rising, the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, and RocktheCapital.org.
The Roadmap focused on transparency, competition, and a constitutional convention. The coalition achieved modest success in lobbying control, limiting lame ducks sessions, accessing legislative records, and passing Open Records legislation.
But Pennsylvanians remain disconnected from their government, and seek more permanent changes. Rank and file citizens are disgusted with excess, largesse, and empty rhetoric, and 72% of voters support a constitutional convention. Last summer’s budget fiasco reenergized the push for a constitutional tune-up.
Voters want their representatives to provide regular online accounting detailing the cost of salary, benefits, and expenses. Most Pennsylvanians support per diems for actual expenses, but only as documented by detailed vouchers that are open to public inspection. And voters still want a prohibition on all forms of unvouchered expenses.
Additionally, assuming health care expenses and pensions are “constitutional,” Pennsylvanians want them to be aligned with current private sector practices for ordinary workers.
The biggest bone of contention remains the incumbency protection program dominated by a two-party monopoly that virtually reassures reelection for sitting legislators.
Voters want choice and real competition.
Political competition can only be achieved through reapportionment and ballot access. Election laws need to be amended so that they level the playing field for all citizens who want to run for public office regardless of party affiliation.
The coalition even devised mechanisms for campaign finance without prescribing funding limits. We proposed the prohibition of fundraisers while the legislature was in session, and a requirement for public reporting of campaign donations one week prior to the primary and general election.
But we have met consistent and formidable institutional resistance at every bend of the reform road. In my opinion, the only way to implement the Roadmap is through a limited constitutional convention where sections of the Constitution are available for amendment.
SB 340 and HB 1929 ensure “hot button” divisive issues are off the table by excluding Article I from a limited constitutional convention. This legislation also prohibits public officials and registered lobbyists from serving as delegates. The convention would be financed by tapping $20 million in excess reserves from bloated legislative accounts.
We don’t have to endure, indulge or support bad government. Article I, Section II clearly states we “have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper.”
The choice is simple: We can either preserve past bad practices or protect the future. But we can’t do both.
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