Yes. You read that correctly. Long-time readers know what I’m about to say. Everyone else gets an explanation after the break.
There’s been a lot of impasse-related outrage directed at Governor Rendell lately. From petitions calling for his impeachment to talk radio hosts all but calling for his execution, it seems everyone is holding Rendell’s feet to the fire over the impasse.
And it needs to ease up.
Rendell does, in fact, deserve partial blame for the impasse. As the highest ranking member of the Pennsylvania Democratic party, he has the power to beat the legislators into shape (at least on the Democratic side of the aisle). And love him or hate him, you have to admit he has considerable political clout. Even his harshest critic would have to acknowledge that the man is a political powerhouse (his critics don’t call him “Teflon Ed” for no reason).
But we can not forget about the legislature’s role in this. Each and every legislator shares blame equal to that of Rendell in this disgrace. As teams, they failed to present a working budget. As individuals, they failed to work together as a team. And on the whole, as our elected officials, they failed to represent our interests.
An ultra-quick primer on our state government is in order. In case you’ve somehow made it this far without understanding how our state government works, don’t be embarrassed. It’s been a long time since high school, and most people probably couldn’t tell you how senatorial & representative districts are established. For that matter, given the events of this year, I doubt most legislators could explain that, but now we’re just going off on a whole other tangent.
There’s a very good crash course on state government at the legislature’s official website. Everyone should at least have a basic working knowledge of how our government works, and this site will give you plenty of information to get started. Put very simply, there are three branches to Pennsylvania’s state government: the Executive branch (Governor Rendell), the General Assembly (aka the legislature), and the Judicial branch (our court system).
Only two are immediately relevant to the budget process. The General Assembly (the legislature) is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Representatives are elected every two years. Half of the senators are elected every two years. And of course, the governor is elected every four years with an eight-year term limit. So every two years, voters have the power to make massive, sweeping changes within the state government. And in a four-year period, voters can put their collective feet down and throw out every single elected official.
I’m going from memory here, and I’m sure someone will pounce on me if I’m wrong. But to pass the budget, the House of Representatives must first draft and approve one on their own. It then gets passed to the Senate for approval, before going to the governor for final approval. Footnote: The Senate can send a budget proposal to the House as a “suggestion” on how things should be done. In a cordial world, this would be the Senate saying “Hey, here’s our thoughts, what do you folks think?” But in the cynical, political, real world, this really says “Hey you bastards, this is what we’re gonna approve. Dick around with it and we’ll have us a showdown!” And thus begins the process of pleadings, committees, speeches, stumps, stunts, and general jackassery that seems to comprise our state government as of late.
In a perfect world, our elected officials would remember that they serve us. They would remember that prior to being elected, they were just Joe Schmoe From Down The Street Who Promised To Do A Good Job For Us. They’d have somber meetings over the impasse and all agree to belt-tightening and reasonable compromise in order to get things done. The Senate would relent somewhat because the House would relent somewhat. A little snip here, a little tug there, and life goes on.
In the real world, our legislature puts in two-hour days and collects $150 daily per diems while telling us they’re “working as hard as they can” and “they feel our pain”.
The point of all this? Our legislative and executive branches have failed us. Governor Rendell does deserve blame — and so does the legislature. But there’s a twist:
Rendell is not up for re-election.
He has hit his term limit. He can’t run again. He’s essentially invincible. He’s finished with Pennsylvania — he doesn’t care if people love him or hate him. So he’ll do as he pleases, and — I know this hurts to hear — he will get away with it. But the legislators are a different story. They CAN be punished. They DO have a lot to lose. They can be voted out of office.
By focusing all the blame on Rendell, a lot of people will forget that we have a few hundred other people — our legislators — who are equally responsible. Their jobs are on the line, and they would love nothing more than for all of us to blame this entirely on Rendell.
Don’t let this happen. Tell your friends, your neighbors, your newspaper, your talk radio programs, your mailing list buddies, your family, your coworkers, and everyone you know: The legislature shares the blame.
Do not let them get away scot-free.
Blame the Senate, the House, the Republicans, the Democrats, and the Governor. There’s not a single one among them who does not share blame.