Leg­is­la­tors on va­ca­tion: We’re safe for now

The Community Connection - - OPINION - Low­man S. Henry is chair­man & CEO of the Lin­coln In­sti­tute of Public Opin­ion Re­search.

Mark Twain once ob­served that “no man’s life, lib­erty, or prop­erty is safe when the leg­is­la­ture is in ses­sion.” He was talk­ing about the fed­eral Congress, but the say­ing can aptly be ap­plied to the leg­is­la­tures in the states as well.

And so it is with the Penn­syl­va­nia Gen­eral Assem­bly which this year gets an ex­tended sum­mer va­ca­tion af­ter hav­ing a state bud­get in place for the first time in four years by the July 1st dead­line. Law­mak­ers quickly ex­ited the state capi­tol and are not due back un­til mid-Septem­ber.

For the time be­ing our life, lib­erty and prop­erty are safe.

More im­por­tant than pas­sage of the state bud­get or any­thing else ap­proved by the leg­is­la­ture so far this ses­sion is what they did not do.

A wide range of pro­pos­als that would have in­fringed on our lib­erty and taken our prop­erty bogged down in the leg­isla­tive process.

In his bud­get ad­dress Gov. Tom Wolf again pro­posed a sev­er­ance tax on Penn­syl­va­nia’s nat­u­ral gas in­dus­try. This tax has be­come the Holy Grail of the tax, spend, tax some more crowd. Gas pro­duc­ers in the Mar­cel­lus shale re­gion al­ready pay the same taxes ev­ery other busi­ness and in­dus­try in the state pays, plus an im­pact fee.

The gover­nor has sup­port for a sev­er­ance tax from all leg­isla­tive Democrats and a hand­ful of way­ward Repub­li­cans. Even that was not enough to get his tax plan in­cluded in the bud­get that ul­ti­mately passed. Wolf yielded to po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity and signed the bud­get with­out the sev­er­ance tax.

An­other Wolf ini­tia­tive, rais­ing the state’s min­i­mum wage also failed to pass leg­isla­tive muster. Such an in­crease might tem­po­rar­ily ben­e­fit a few. But sur­veys of busi­ness own­ers and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers con­ducted by the Lin­coln In­sti­tute have found most would cut hours, elim­i­nate jobs, or even go out of busi­ness en­tirely if the min­i­mum wage were raised. The ul­ti­mate im­pact would be fewer job op­por­tu­ni­ties for those at the lower end of the jobs lad­der.

With the 2020 cen­sus ap­proach­ing and a re­draw­ing of lines set to take place in 2021 Demo­crat front groups like “Fair” Dis­tricts-PA and the League of Women Vot­ers pushed for chang­ing the decades old pro­ce­dure of redistricting via a leg­isla­tive process to hav­ing a “cit­i­zens’ com­mis­sion” draw the lines.

Repub­li­cans hold a twothirds ma­jor­ity in the state Se­nate, and a his­tor­i­cally high ma­jor­ity in the state House, mean­ing chances of Democrats gain­ing con­trol of ei­ther by 2020 is highly un­likely. Were Democrats to lose the gover­nor’s of­fice this year the GOP would again have to­tal con­trol over the process.

While pro­fess­ing to want a “cit­i­zens’ com­mis­sion” to pre­vent ger­ry­man­der­ing of the dis­tricts, the real mo­ti­va­tion be­hind the push was to en­hance Demo­cratic con­trol over the process. The im­pact would have been to re­move redistricting from law­mak­ers ac­count­able to vot­ers to “cit­i­zens” with no ac­count­abil­ity to any­body.

Leg­is­la­tion to change the process drew hun­dreds of pro­posed amend­ments. It was clear no con­sen­sus had emerged. As a re­sult so-called redistricting re­form died, at least for the time be­ing, when the House gaveled into re­cess.

Per­sonal lib­erty also came un­der at­tack in the form of sev­eral leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als de­signed to chip away the Sec­ond Amend­ment rights of Penn­syl­va­ni­ans to keep and bear arms.

There are those who be­lieve the way to curb the school shoot­ings that have taken place across the na­tion is to add fur­ther re­stric­tions on the rights of law abid­ing gun own­ers. Ef­forts to do just that perked through var­i­ous leg­isla­tive com­mit­tees, but failed to make it to the floor for a vote.

It is not un­usual for non-fis­cal is­sues to fail to get a hear­ing in the month be­fore the state bud­get dead­line. The im­por­tance of what did not hap­pen is am­pli­fied this year be­cause the cur­rent leg­isla­tive ses­sion ends on Novem­ber 30th mean­ing all leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als re­set to the start of the process when the new Gen­eral Assem­bly con­venes in Jan­uary.

Some­times what does not hap­pen is an im­por­tant as what hap­pens. And for now, we the peo­ple of Penn­syl­va­nia are safe from as­sault on our lib­er­ties and prop­erty. But the bat­tle will re­sume when the Leg­is­la­ture re­turns in Septem­ber.

Low­man S. Henry Colum­nist

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