Pennsylvania’S Parallel Governments: A Journey to the Outer Limits

Posted by By at 3 July, at 07 : 02 AM Print


For decades, science fiction has been telling of parallel universes. I was introduced to the idea in my youth by “The Twilight Zone,” a weekly television show that ran 1959 – 1964 and featured people in strange situations – often in places they thought they recognized, but were not where they thought they were – their home town, but with no people, for instance.

Or “imagine, if you will, “as show host Rod Serling would say, finding yourself on the street where you lived. You walk up to your home and are met by – yourself. It’s you, your wife, your child, your dog – and none of them know who you are.

Sometimes the evening news resembles reruns of those old shows. We recognize the we voters sent to Harrisburg to oversee the state’s operations, but they do not recognize us. It’s as though we live under parallel governments.

“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. … For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear.” (from the intro to “The Outer Limits” 1963-1965.)

The Public Government, in charge of the safety and security of its citizens, promises, as best it can, to assure the education, social health and physical security of its citizens. It raises an army to protect our borders and passes laws requiring hospitals to care for the sick, whether or not they can pay for the service.

Private Government assures itself, as best it can, a financial profit, promising to share some of its wealth with citizens outside its walls. With 15 minutes left in Fiscal Year 2012, Gov. Tom Corbett Saturday night signed the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s 2013 spending plan. It includes education funding equal to the previous year, though costs have not remained level, and it promises nearly $2 billion over 25 years to Shell Oil, if only the company will create a few jobs in the Keystone State instead of someplace else – or not at all.

Maybe Shell will not build anywhere. The bottom has fallen out of the natural gas market, and maybe there will not be sufficient profit in build a plant to extract ethane from gas drillers are tapping from far below the state’s surface. That’s good news because if Shell does not build, Pa. taxpayers will have a couple billion more to put into education, ensuring future generations of energy developers.

Among the cuts to health and human service programs, Public Government cut a general assistance program that offered a whopping $205 a month to about 70,000 of the state’s poorest citizens – saving about $150 million on the state’s bottom line.

In place of social service cuts, a new system of block grants – which Corbett says will allow local governments, which he said are better able than the state to know the needs of their residents, to control who gets the money.

Unfortunately, as anyone who follows county government can attest, the state still controls block grant funding. Whether they are to help the poor, build roads, or preserve agricultural resources, there is a constant battle to keep state block grant funding from dropping to zero.

In more than 35 years as a journalist, I have become quite used to the Private Government operating in secret, pretending accidents don’t happen, all processes are safe, and that to reveal such things as chemical recipes is to endanger industrial security (which it may, but the justification does not encourage public confidence).

And so it was with Pennsylvania’s Private Government, which, for the past month of legislative negotiations with the governor, virtually eliminated Public Government from budget discussions.

Corbett has promised a “new culture” in Harrisburg, illustrated by an 82,000-job increase in private sector employment and a 19,000-job decrease in public sector workers.

The new culture appears to be one that benefits Private Government, over which there is a growing umbrella of freedom to obscure, at the expense of Public Government, over which the umbrella of protection increasingly resembles Swiss cheese.

Photo by eTombotron
This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at - Email jmesseder

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