Admittedly, there was some progress. Internal rules changes were made in both chambers of the General Assembly. The Senate performed the task rather effortlessly while the House took a few months of deliberation. Those rules can be suspended, however, and as soon as it's expedient for members to do so, they will be suspended.
An effort was made to craft a new open records law, a process that is not yet complete. The House and Senate versions differ, which means that those differences must be hammered out, likely in a conference committee. Pennsylvanians should play very close attention, as a conference committee is where good bills can be transformed into bad bills (think: pay raise). Even without any shenanigans, the proposed legislation is barely better than what we had before in some areas and falls short of giving us the most transparent government in the nation.
Nothing else has been accomplished on the reform front, though. Newspaper editors, pundits, journalists and citizens are asking: Why? The answer is quite simple: There has been no movement on serious structural reforms in Harrisburg because elected folks don't want serious structural reforms. They like things just the way they are.
We can't blame the freshman class entirely. Although some of them appear to have been sucked into the Incumbent Protection Plan and business-as-usual, most of them are still wet behind the ears and frustrated. And let's not forget that there are only 55 of them, hardly a majority among 253 members.
We can't entirely blame leadership, either. Their job is to do what the rest of the membership wants them to do. If they don't follow the will of the membership, they won't be in leadership for very long. If a majority of members were actually pushing for reform, leadership would certainly be obliging them.
In the legislature, most of the blame lies at the feet of those who have been there for a few terms but are not yet in positions of leadership. If they really wanted reform, we'd have it already. They could have bridged the gap between freshmen and the leadership to point Pennsylvania in the right direction. But they haven't.
The Governor dropped the ball as well. Although at one time he touted a reform agenda, he's been silent on the issue ever since. One would think that a governor in his second term would understand that creating a better system of government is a positive legacy that could last for decades to come.
Additionally, those legislators who promised reform as part of their electoral bid in 2006 should be asked what they have done to make it happen. How many reform bills did they introduce or co-sponsor? How many meetings did they have with colleagues on reform issues? How many phone calls did they make on behalf of reform? What will they do for reform if re-elected? Exactly which particular reforms do they support?
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Constitutional Footnote #1
Article II Section 4 of the Pennsylvania Constitution mandates that the General Assembly "shall meet at twelve o'clock noon on the first Tuesday of January each year." In 2008, the first Tuesday falls on January 1st. How many legislators do you suppose will show up? That may be our first indicator of which legislators care about constitutional rule and systemic reform.
Constitutional Footnote #2
Two and one-half years after the pay raise, many legislators are still collecting per diems just for showing up for work, receiving extra pay for service on committee, benefiting from lavish health care plans, driving taxpayer-funded cars and building comfortable pensions, despite Article II Section 8's specific language allowing only "salary and mileage for regular and special sessions as shall be fixed by law, and no other compensation whatever, whether for service upon committee or otherwise."
In addition, quite a few never returned the money received through "unvouchered expenses," despite the Supreme Court's finding of the practice as unconstitutional. Go figure.
PACleanSweep is a non-partisan effort dedicated to reforming state government in Pennsylvania. For more information, please visit
Russ Diamond is the founder of PACleanSweep and an avid believer that government should do what's best for all citizens, not just the privileged few.
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