Note: This is part of a series of posts detailing the 2009 Pennsylvania budget impasse. To see all posts in this series, click here.
There was a very enlightening story in today’s Patriot-News. In it, Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo is quoted as saying:
“The Pennsylvania Constitution outranks federal law, and that constitution bars us from spending any money without an enacted budget”
This is 100% completely and totally wrong. As I have pointed out time and time and time again, the Court did not say that the Pennsylvania Constitution outranks federal law. Don’t take my word for it — read the Court’s decision for yourself. The Court very clearly said that because no conflict exists between the FLSA and the Pennsylvania Constitution, the answer to the question “Does the FLSA overrule the Constitution” is “no”. To infer, then, that “because the FLSA does not overrule the constitution, the constitution must overrule the FLSA” is a logical fallacy. One does not imply the other; non sequitur is in full effect here.
To put this another way, let’s change the context. Let’s imagine that your township has, as many do, a law on the books that bans outdoor leaf burning. You file a lawsuit asking the court to clarify whether Pennsylvania’s 65MPH speed limit overrules your township’s leaf-burning law. The court’s answer would be “no, because the two laws address two completely different concerns”. What the Rendell administration is saying is “Look, the court said that state law does not overrule the township law; therefore, we’re going to have a huge leaf-burning fire on the capitol lawn and it’s perfectly legal!”
The actual circumstance is that neither of the two laws overrules the other. The FLSA does not care where the money comes from, it simply says that wages must be paid. And the cited section of the Pennsylvania Constitution does not care about the payment of wages, only where the money comes from. The two laws exist hand-in-hand without any conflict.
What’s puzzling, however, is that earlier in the story, Ardo is quoted as saying something completely contradictory to himself:
“There is certainly a possibility that the U.S. Department of Labor could intervene,” Ardo said. “But that’s far from a certainty. … There could be recovery of payment, as well as some penalties.”
Chuck is simultaneously stating that our constitution “outranks” federal law while saying that we could (will) be on the hook for damages. I suspect the legislature and governor’s office are beginning to realize the crapstorm they stirred up. Had we gone through this as recently as ten years ago, things would probably be different. Up until just a few years ago, most people did not have constant access to the Internet. Consumers and employees did not have the self-defense resources available to them today. And if you wanted to put up a blog and say “Hey, the governor is wrong and the legislature isn’t doing their job”, you wouldn’t have nearly as many viewers.
I think it is beginning to dawn on some of our elected officials that they will have to answer to angry taxpayers once the lawsuits start.
Three years ago, Pennsylvania voters showed that we’re not the ignorant, forgetful fools that our raise-voting legislature thought we were. Right now they’re banking on the notion that the 2006 flush will never happen again. Let’s show them that we haven’t forgotten anything, and in fact, have grown stronger. Call your legislator today and demand that the budget be passed. If you get a response like “we’re trying”, demand answers. This is your money; let’s make sure they’re doing the jobs we sent them there to do.