Past Time for A Constitutional Convention

Posted by By at 31 March, at 22 : 55 PM Print

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

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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