“Showing up is 80 percent of life.” – Woody Allen
Pennsylvania has the second highest paid state legislature in the nation. If we were to set the salary of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives based on Woody Allen’s infamous words, we could reduce their salaries by 80 percent because they are not showing up.
To date the House of Representatives, for the first time in decades under a razor thin Democratic majority, has been in session for just 38 days. This due to the Democrats’ prioritizing the preservation of internal power over actual legislating.
Their lack of productivity is reflected in the fact Governor Josh Shapiro has signed the fewest bills into law of any governor during his first six months in office over the past 50 years. A Commonwealth Foundation analysis found by the end of July just 15 bills had reached the governor’s desk compared to an average of 86 bills signed into law during the first six months of his predecessors’ terms.
As the current legislative session got underway in January gridlock gripped the chamber. Democrats had secured a one-seat majority in the November elections, but with one member passing away and another having resigned they temporarily found themselves without a majority.
That resulted in the awkward election to the Speaker’s chair of State Representative Mark Rozzi who promised to preside as an independent, then immediately reneged on that pledge. Rozzi’s brief speakership was notable only for his refusal to call the chamber back into session instead he embarked on a so-called “listening tour” around the state.
The House chamber remained empty until late February when special elections were held to fill the two vacant seats and the Democrats’ one-seat majority was restored. State Representative Joanna McClinton was elected speaker and the House got to work.
Or did they?
Over the ensuing months the Democratic majority acted like a group of five-year-olds let loose in a candy store. They passed a wide range of far-Left messaging bills catering to their political base almost none of which stood a chance of being voted upon let alone passed in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
As the state budget deadline of June 30th approached a deal between Governor Josh Shapiro and Senate Republicans appeared to portend a relatively smooth end to the process. That was until House Majority Leader Matt Bradford refused to bring the budget up for a floor vote because it contained a modest plan to provide scholarship opportunity for students in the state’s most underperforming school districts.
The Lifeline Scholarship Program, renamed PASS, is the top priority of Senate Republicans and called for spending just $100 million, .02% of the overall state budget, throwing an educational lifeline to students trapped in the state’s worst school districts. Senate Republicans traded almost a billion dollars in Democratic spending priorities to secure the governor’s support of the new program.
Bradford, placing the political demands of the powerful state teachers’ unions over the educational future of poor children, refused to consider the budget if that provision were included. This because he knew some members of his own caucus would vote for the plan, thus ensuring its passage.
Shapiro broke the deadlock by breaking his deal with Senate Republicans subsequently line item vetoing the PASS program which he had agreed to support. This triggered a week’s long stand-off as the Senate refused to return to session to complete the budget process. The Senate did ultimately return, sending most, but not all of the budget to the governor for signature, but that chamber continues working to move the budget toward completion. The technicality of passing the fiscal code to implement $1 billion in additional spending remains unresolved.
The “full time” legislature adjourned for a nearly three month-long summer recess. To be fair, much legislative work occurs outside of floor session. Lawmakers hold committee meetings and hearings and provide a wide range of constituent services. And House Republicans have consistently urged a return to session.
As currently planned, that long recess will be even longer for the House as former State Representative Sarah Innamorato resigned her seat supposedly to focus on her campaign for Allegheny County Executive. That drops the chamber back into a 101-101 tie so the House likely will not return to session until the results of a special election for her seat are certified at the end September.
Once again, the House chamber sits silent as Democrats cling to their slim majority. When they do return it may only be for a short while as at least one additional Democrat vacancy is likely – and that means more days with the lights turned off.
The taxpayers of Penn’s Woods are paying for a full-time functioning legislature. At this point, we deserve an 80% refund.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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