Posts Tagged public
Governor Tom Wolf has been in office for just over a year, but already we know historians will put the words “budget crisis” in their lead paragraph. But a far more ominous phrase may get top billing: “constitutional crisis.”
Like his authoritarian counterpart in Washington, D.C., Governor Wolf is willing, in fact may prefer, to shred the constitutional separation of powers and enact by executive fiat that which the legislative branch is unwilling to do. The commonwealth has entered its ninth month without a completed state budget and that has spawned a growing debate over the limits of gubernatorial power.
Days before Christmas the legislature again passed a state budget. This time Governor Wolf signed off on most of the spending plan but “blue lined” or line item vetoed about a third of the items thus extending the budget crisis. Three months later, there is no resolution, but the administration is spending money anyway. This, many lawmakers argue, is a clear violation of the state constitution.
The Governor, and his appointed State Treasurer Timothy Reese argue there is a competing requirement for the state to keep certain agencies operating – especially those involved with ensuring public safety. But Treasurer Reese has gone far beyond that even authorizing a “loan” from the state treasury to House Democrats to pay their staff during the ongoing budget crisis.
The public safety argument is nothing more than a distraction from the main issue which is can a governor spend taxpayer dollars without explicit authorization from the General Assembly? It is a clear violation of the state constitution and one which will explode into a full blown crisis, especially if the governor’s illicit spending extends outside the realm of public safety.
The budget, however, is not the only area in which Governor Wolf is willing to trample on legislative powers. He is trying to shutter the Public Employees Retirement Commission (PERC), an obscure state agency that earned his ire when it disagreed with his view of the pension crisis. The agency was created by an act of the General Assembly and signed into law by a previous governor. Lawmakers have sued in court to block executive dissolution of PERC pointing out it would take legislative action to do so.
This week Governor Wolf again by-passed the General Assembly on the issue of the state’s minimum wage. The governor has called for an increase in the state minimum wage, but the legislature has refused to go along. So, he signed an executive order unilaterally raising the minimum wage paid to state employees to $10.15 per hour. The action applies only to state workers, but will be extended to those companies doing business with the state. The minimum wage hike does not extend to private business.
However, the impact on small businesses will be significant. Neal Lesher, legislative director for the National Federation of Independent Business-Pennsylvania, points out that the governor’s executive order effectively prevents many small businesses from entering the bidding process for state contracts. “Some small businesses simply cannot afford to pay inexperienced, entry level workers that much more per hour,” Lesher explained. “This creates an unfair playing field that favors larger companies.”
Having fully bought into the Obama “pen and phone” style of governing there is no indication Governor Wolf plans to return to a constitutional model any time soon. His “budget address” to the legislature last month was hostile and confrontational and had the effect of solidifying Republican opposition which at times had shown signs of wavering.
It is clear crisis government is now the new normal in Harrisburg. With no resolution to the current budget impasse in sight, and the deadline for adopting a budget for the next fiscal year less than four months away, the governor is content to act as if the legislative branch of government does not exist. But legislators will not sit idly by and be consigned to irrelevance. If the governor continues on his current course the constitutional crisis will explode into the courts, and possibly even lead to impeachment proceedings.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is email@example.com.)
Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.
Democrats, legislatively decimated but flush with executive power, have decided to make increased spending on public education the centerpiece of their domestic agenda for 2015. The issue feeds a key political base – the entrenched education establishment, primarily public sector labor unions – and has a mom and apple pie appeal to voters, especially independent voters.
President Barack Obama recently unveiled a plan to provide every American who wants one a “free” two-year community college degree. Free, in this instance, comes with a $60 billion price tag for taxpayers. At the state level, incoming Governor Tom Wolf has pledged to restore non-existent public education spending cuts to sate the financial appetites of the state teachers’ union which backed him in the last election.
The problem is this policy push is focusing on the wrong aspect of public education. Rather than debating spending increases, we should be asking: what are we getting for the money we already spend?
The answer: not enough.
Despite the fact spending on K-12 public education has increased at more than double the rate of inflation for decades, test scores uniformly reveal no corresponding improvement in student performance. Here in Penn’s Woods, a failure to address what everybody but the labor unions understand is a public pension crisis has resulted in any new revenue being sucked up to fulfill pension obligations leaving virtually no new money available to actually benefit students.
Taxpayers, still struggling to shake off the effects of the Great Recession, are understandably demanding more accountability for the substantial chunk of their income already forcibly taken from them so they can continue to own their own homes. There is reluctance, if not an inability, for many working families and senior citizen households to pay more, especially when outcomes are not improving.
Worse, public education today has become so disconnected from the real world it is failing to educate students for the openings that await them in the job market. This “skills gap” is striking. According to a 2014 report by Byron Pitts on the CBS program 60 Minutes, more than three million jobs in this nation are unfilled because employers cannot find employees with the needed skills. Over 500,000 of those jobs are family sustaining, well-paid manufacturing jobs with benefits. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found one in three manufacturers in its region faced a labor shortage because of what it termed a “mismatch of skills.”
Who is to blame for this “mismatch of skills” and public education’s collective failure to educate to opportunity? The short answer is everyone. That is because the focus has been almost exclusively on funding rather than on the core reason why we have public education in the first place, which is to equip students to successfully earn a living.
Among those who are focused on the problem is Dr. Vince Bertram. A former teacher, principal and school superintendent he today heads a nonprofit organization called Project Lead the Way. During a recent interview on American Radio Journal Dr. Bertram advocated for a renewed emphasis in our public schools on the so-called STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. These are the skills students lack coming out of both high school – and all too often the nation’s colleges and universities – with the core skills needed to be hired and trained for today’s more highly technical jobs.
Unfortunately, both President Obama and Governor-elect Wolf remain mired in the politics of the past. Simply advocating more spending will not solve the problem. Instead of fighting to feed entrenched political interests effective leadership would engage all the stake-holders in the education process, from taxpayers to labor unions to educators, in reinventing public education to meet the needs of both students and employers.
Nothing less than the future health of our nation’s economy and the well-being of the next generation of Americans are at stake.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.