Procrastinating at public expense
America's most expensive state legislature recently passed the state budget by the constitutional deadline of June 30 - but also to be off for most of the summer.
When Pennsylvania lawmakers hustled out of Harrisburg at the beginning of July to head for the beaches and mountains, they left behind some of the state's most important business. They didn't pass a badly needed transportation bill, took a pass on the long overdue privatization of the state government's booze monopoly, and couldn't bring themselves to reform their own bloated pensions and those for every other state and public school employee - the costs of which adversely affect every taxpayer and every public school student in Pennsylvania.
While the lawmakers sun themselves, PennDOT engineers will decide whether to post weight restrictions on hundreds of bridges that legislators decided to fix later rather than sooner.
The $28.375 billion budget includes a $122 million increase in basic education funding that still leaves most school districts in the position of cutting services or increasing local taxes, or both, partially because the Legislature failed to address pension reform.
The rush to pass the budget results from deadline pressure acting as a catalyst to complete deals on each aspect of revenue and spending. But Gov. Tom Corbett introduced his budget back in February, after which the Legislature did ... nothing.
Since the Legislature works part-time anyway, lawmakers and the people of Pennsylvania should make the Legislature formally part-time and term-limited. If deadline pressure is needed to conduct business part-time status, which would mandate limited sessions, will help because lawmakers won't have the luxury of procrastination at public expense.
One aspect of the new budget should help convince state residents. It includes just over $500,000 to cover the automatic pay raises lawmakers will receive later this year - about $2,000 each not counting automatic increases in pension and health care costs - without a word of debate or justification.
For that to happen, voters need to present lawmakers with some deadlines of their own.