by Barry Shutt

You see them everywhere.  At Panera, mom carries one while towing a toddler by the hand as the toddler looks around in wonder at the strange people staring at her.

There’s a child not yet born, filling out the dress of the soon-to-be mother who sits uncomfortably in a chair, watching with angst the mother carrying the little one with the toddler navigate the store’s double doors and wondering what the future holds for her and her unborn child.

Visit any McDonald’s and you see others peer over the counter at the picture menus under the eyes of Grandma and Grandpa, who are on child care duty for the day. “I want a Happy Meal Grandma, please!”  And in comes another one, riding in a stroller with an older sibling holding on as mom tries to guide the stroller to the order line.

Drive by a pre-school or nursery school on any workday and you’ll see mom or dad dropping off one or two kids for a day of play, naps and the inevitable sharing of cold germs under the supervision of staff, who, nine hours later, pray that mom or dad will come early to retrieve their little ones left on consignment before sun up.

And there are more.  They stand on street corners at sunrise, or sit in a warm car at those street corners waiting for one of those orange buses to carry them off to school for the next seven hours.

Who are they?  They are the “Dead-End Kids of Pennsylvania.  Over 2.5 million Dead-End Kids being raised in Pennsylvania, without a future in Pennsylvania.    They are the next generations of Pennsylvanians who, in spite of their own best efforts and through no fault of their own, have no future in a Commonwealth on the cusp of insolvency.  Ironically, the future of those Dead-End Kids has been mortgaged by the same people who today say they want for them only the brightest of futures.

The Dead-End Kids of Pennsylvania are a product of four Governors and nine versions of the General Assembly who have created, and several times over, exacerbated a fiscal crisis by failing to address the Commonwealth’s $75 billion unfunded pension liability.  And sadly, mom and dad and even Grandma and Grandpa share the blame, as do the rest of us because collectively we, by our apathy and too often by our own greed, have allowed it to happen for over 16 years.

We rightly blame politicians for setting in motion Pennsylvania’s fiscal collapse in 2001; and for their inability to take corrective action in the 16 years since.  However, in a democracy, we, the voters, share the blame.

We insist through lobbyists, known or unknown, that those we elect shower us with more of Caesar’s largesse for our indulgences.   And without shame, we too often scream in protest if any of their proposals to fix the state’s fiscal crisis might hurt us…even a little, while too many of us indulge ourselves in things we want now, but really don’t need.

We yell “don’t raise my taxes” and conveniently ignore the reality that our generation’s failure to start paying the debt allowed to accumulate on our watch, becomes a tax on the kids and grandkids we say we love.  But our self-indulgences of today condemn Pennsylvania to generations of Dead-End Kids…kids without a future in the Commonwealth we’ve enjoyed.  We are stealing their tomorrows!  And it’s shameful.

The facts are clear.   Since 2001, Pennsylvania has accumulated a $75 billion unfunded pension liability.  If that were not enough, our shameless leaders recently borrowed another $1.5 billion to fix a shortfall in last year’s state budget, effectively taking out a home equity loan to pay last year’s indulgences.  Amazingly stupid!  And we stood by without protest.

To be sure, the budget shortfall and the borrowing to fill the hole were caused by the actions of the current Legislature and Governor.   However, as in the past with previous legislatures and Governors, foolish actions of our elected officials are always done with a wink and a nod from the rest of us who are old enough to know better; and who know what happens when you don’t pay your debts.

We stay silent while Pennsylvania collapses because we don’t want our indulgences reduced or our taxes raised.    And yes, all of the moms and dads, Grandmas and Grandpas, aunts and uncles of the Dead-End Kids of Pennsylvania stand silent as well.  It is done with our approval!  We allow it to happen! We stand silent as we continue to indulge ourselves in the present.

Collectively, we say to our leaders: “Don’t raise our taxes.” And sadly, they hear us…they do our will!  But in doing so, those leaders, and all of us, are saying to the Dead-End Kids of Pennsylvania, “Your future be damned!”   With more Dead-End Kids born every day, we should be ashamed of the debt we are piling onto their future.

Will we do better in 2018?   Not likely!   It’s an election year.