by Eric Epstein
Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia), the quintessential insider, declared during last year’s budget’s impasse that the budget, “Is a process. It’s a process.”
The problem is that all budgets are the result of a bad process. The budget process is annual exercise of reassembling Frankenstein’s wallet. Even an entrenched bureaucrat like Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson conceded, “…our budget process is clearly dysfunctional and needs to be improved.”
However, reforming the process is at the bottom of the legislative priority list. All the post-budget whining, crying and opining failed to address the collapse of reform safeguards enacted to protect the process.
Back in March 2007, House members moved to “allow complete examination of legislation,” and mandated a 24-hour waiting period after a bill is amended before a final vote is taken. Then Speaker pro forma, Dennis O’Brien (R-Philadelphia), gushed, “The populace in Pennsylvania has demanded that we make change. There are significant changes here.”
Rick Fellinger of the Evening Sun reported, “After two days of feisty debate, House members approved a reform package Tuesday that will change the way they vote on bills and put new limits on how they spend taxpayer money.” (March 14, 2007)
This year’s $28 billion budget version of pain and suffering was released around 10:00 pm on June 28. In reality, the deal was cut by the Governor and Caucus leaders earlier in the day. Rank and file – as well as the media and general public – were locked out of the process and given hours to decipher and review the details of a complex budget document.
Here comes the best part, one of the rules instituted to protect the public and curb budget shenanigans was a mandatory time out prior to voting on the budget.
Bam. The Senate voted unanimously to lift its six hour waiting period on the budget
The House appears to have waived its 24 hour rule prior to voting on HB 1186 creating the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs and changing the PHEAA board. The bill passed the Senate in the afternoon of July 2 and passed the House before noon on the 3rd. That’s less than 24 hours, so either the House suspended the rules with an unrecorded vote or the motion to proceed is the same as a motion to suspend the rules.
Taken together, the votes were sharp and unmistakable shots across the reform bough.
Where was Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-Montgomery) and the vaunted Speakers Commission on Legislative Reform? What happened to the Senate GOP leadership’s request for House Democrats to act on reform legislation? Where was Sam Smith (R-Punxsutawney) and his party’s PATH to reform? What happened to Sen. Jeffrey Piccola’s (R-Dauphin) call for Pennsylvania first special session on ethics and government reform?
The truth of this matter is that reform has come to mean nothing. We need a new moral vocabulary.
This year’s budget process was a rushed and hushed process.
Almost five years to the date of the late-night, pay raise scam, legislators waived off the rules that were temporarily erected to protect the public and taxpayers from back room deals.
The Governor and legislature stuck a collective middle finger in the public’s reform eye. The rules have not changed to protect the innocent, and they are not going to change until we have a constitutional convention or a sustained, broad based insurrection against the political lard gumming up the works.
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