Can change bring re­sults to Pa. gov­ern­ment?

The Community Connection - - OPINION -

The spot­light was clearly on Congress this mid-term elec­tion cy­cle, but changes in the state Leg­is­la­ture should not be over­looked.

Elected law­mak­ers in Harrisburg vote on the pro­grams and is­sues that have the great­est ef­fects on our lives — prop­erty taxes, schools fund­ing, col­lege tu­ition, lo­cal jobs — and thus the bal­ance of power on the state level has lo­cal im­por­tance.

As in Wash­ing­ton, the changes from the Nov. 6 elec­tion tilted power to­ward the Demo­crat col­umn, but not in over­whelm­ing ways.

In­cum­bent Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf stays in of­fice for a sec­ond term, and Re­pub­li­cans re­main firmly in con­trol in the state Leg­is­la­ture.

Democrats made in­roads, pick­ing up seats and re­duc­ing the spread in both houses of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly. Democrats gained 11 seats, shrink­ing the pre­vi­ous 121-82 Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity to about 110-93.

In the Se­nate, Re­pub­li­cans’ 34-16 ma­jor­ity was re­duced to 29-21. (Those num­bers are still pro­jec­tions with sev­eral races await­ing of­fi­cial re­sults.)

Power shifts aren’t just about the num­bers: Ge­og­ra­phy plays a big role in which is­sues and ac­tions get at­ten­tion.

In this elec­tion, for ex­am­ple, the Demo­crat gains were in Philadel­phia and sub­ur­ban coun­ties, where women are among the more vo­cal new­com­ers.

Lead­er­ship po­si­tions also play a key role, de­ter­min­ing what bills get the at­ten­tion of com­mit­tees and what makes it to the floor for a vote.

Sev­eral area leg­is­la­tors were elected to Demo­cratic lead­er­ship posts last week, in­clud­ing Rep. Joanna McClin­ton of Delaware County as cau­cus chair and Rep. Matt Brad­ford of Mont­gomery County as the rank­ing Demo­crat on the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee.

On the Repub­li­can side in the House, Rep. Marcy Toe­pel of Mont­gomery County was re-elected cau­cus chair. Rep. Bryan Cut­ler of Lan­caster was elected House ma­jor­ity leader.

In the state Se­nate, the lead­er­ship posts were largely un­changed after votes on Wed­nes­day. State Sen. Bob Men­sch of Mont­gomery County was re-elected Repub­li­can cau­cus chair.

What’s at stake? A good place to start would be leg­is­la­tion from the 2017-18 ses­sion that made some progress but didn’t get to the fin­ish line. Ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing and prop­erty tax re­form are near the top of that list.

Adopt­ing a fair fund­ing for­mula for schools ad­dressed a small part of the school fund­ing is­sue. The for­mula cor­rects al­lo­ca­tions of school funds so that dis­tricts with greater needs get a larger share of the state fund­ing pie. What re­mains unfinished busi­ness is com­ing up with the money to honor that for­mula for dis­tricts that have been left be­hind.

In the poorer dis­tricts, many of which are in the older towns of the south­east suburbs shad­owed by their “newer” wealthy sub­di­vi­sion com­mu­ni­ties, the fund­ing gap has got­ten larger in­stead of smaller.

This leg­is­la­ture needs to ad­dress those schools that are fall­ing be­hind in fund­ing and de­vote re­sources to mak­ing them whole.

Fair fund­ing is more than a for­mula; it needs ac­tual dol­lars for it to work.

De­vis­ing an eq­ui­table fund­ing mech­a­nism for schools both rich and poor goes hand in hand with prop­erty tax re­form.

When schools do not get a fair share of state fund­ing, the dif­fer­ences are made up in the lo­cal prop­erty tax, cre­at­ing a heav­ier tax bur­den in the same dis­tricts where schools are strug­gling.

Think Pottstown, Nor­ris­town, Up­per Darby, Wil­liam Penn.

And then there is the unfinished busi­ness of a grand jury rec­om­men­da­tion to pro­vide a two-year win­dow for vic­tims to file law­suits in cases that have gone be­yond the statute of lim­i­ta­tions.

The House ap­proved a bill but the Se­nate has stonewalled on it.

The out­rage and pain through­out Penn­syl­va­nia sur­round­ing the grand jury re­port into Catholic clergy sex abuse de­mands leg­isla­tive ac­tion to sup­port these vic­tims.

This should not re­main unfinished busi­ness.

The list goes on. Penn­syl­va­nia is each year at the bot­tom of lists for col­lege af­ford­abil­ity, jobs cre­ation and ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing eq­uity.

It’s time to fix those things. Wel­come to new leg­is­la­tors; con­grat­u­la­tions to the lead­ers. Now let’s get to work.

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