PublicK NuisancE

Posted by By at 29 September, at 18 : 33 PM Print


Forget special sessions and shale taxes — if our state Senators and their junior partners in the House would pass laws about partying at Bricco, they’d have some work product to show us every year.

Nothing elaborate, or controversial, — just something easy — like, An Act for the Preservation of Chef Jason’s Sicilian Calamari as a Permanent Menu Item. Simple, elegant, tasteful, it could be a showpiece for the leadership, to trot out after saying, “Uh, no, we couldn’t pass a real budget this year either. That structural deficit thing is so … confusing. Four billion dollars?”

Then they could say, “On the brighter side, we’re liking all the appetizers at Bricco, especially the calamari. We had ‘em at a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser during the Marcellus Shale thing. They were killer!”

Absent such culinary advice, it’s hard to guess what the 253 senators and representatives and their 2,800 legislative staff people give us every year for our $460 million.

Which is why, in lieu of honest debate, or effective governance — Pennsylvania simply alternates between Democratic and Republican administrations every eight years. No governor can figure out how to make the Legislature work. Not even a smart guy like Honorable Ed Rendell.

Oh sure, a hefty pay raise or a sexier form of gambling gets their attention. Legalizing prostitution might do it. Usually, it takes a catastrophe to lead them to the edge of the verge of thinking about doing something like, oh, fixing the infrastructure.

We the People have to face it: State government is for the benefit of the people running the state government. Maybe it’s the same in every state, but we don’t live in every state. Hence my friend Darney’s t-shirt that says, “Pennsylvania – Somebody Has to Live Here.”

Apparently that’s us.

So several years ago, RocktheCapital and Democracy Rising offered a plan to save our state from its government. Chief among the proposals was a call for a new Constitutional Convention that could reduce the size of the Legislature and possibly return it to part-time status.

That idea was kicked around so much that it became a plea for a Limited Constitutional Convention. Or possibly a call for drinks at McGraths with breakout sessions on How to Pitch Property Tax Reform.

Then in the spring of 2010 … BAM!

An investigative grand jury report two years in the making said the Pennsylvania Legislature is in a “time warp of public corruption.” It recommended a Constitutional Convention and urged reforms like cutting staff, possibly going part-time and imposing term limits on senator and reps. What a brilliant idea.

Legislative staff responded with jeering outrage, calling the report a picture of the Legislature “in the past.” If we could pull up a sound bite here, it would be, “Yeah, we did bad stuff, but now we’re okay. You can trust us, its time to Party on.”

don’t think so. So we start again, with smaller thoughts about reform.

As a public service, for instance, we offer at no cost this idea: While the Senate or House of Representatives is in session in Harrisburg, no member shall run a fund-raiser. Back at home, in Frackville, or Monessen, great, go for it. While you’re scooping up free cheese steak at Pat’s? Great.

Just don’t have your hand in the lobbyists’ pockets while you are here in the Capitol making public policy. It’s freaking disgusting.

Gentle Reader, if you’re walking down Chestnut Street in Harrisburg on a dark winter evening, and you see a bunch of guys in suits and ties draining bottles of Barbaresco in the party room at Bricco — and you wonder who they are — you might stick your head in the door and ask the bartender, Larry.

He’ll say, “It’s the Legislature, Stupid.”

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This post was written by:
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Pat Carroll has worked as a writer and editor for newspapers and television for three decades. His checkered career path also included gigs as a personal chef, iron pourer, dishwasher and commercial real estate appraiser. He writes now only to finance his golf addiction. - Email Patt Carroll

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