Can change bring results to Pa. government?
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. TomWolf 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 ses- sion 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 mechanismfor 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.