Sunday, July 08, 2007

Giles Hickory: Screwge Rendell and the Band of Thieves


There is nothing so stupid as Pennsylvania’s version of Dickens "A Christmas Carol," set in July.

One of the most egregious practices in Pennsylvania State Government is the Screwge Rendell practice of furloughing Commonwealth Employees during budget impasses in the General Assembly. This practice effectively puts the burden of a Constitutional requirement onto the backs [and out of the wallets of state employees]. State employees will lose a full week’s pay, never to regain it, and will only receive partial pay for additional weeks on furlough, never to regain the difference, while the parties, the houses, and the Governor dicker over the annual budget.

Known as a union-buster from his days as mayor of Philadelphia, Screwge has abused the Commonwealth employees with miserly, even punitive contracts over the past five years. Commonwealth employees went without raises for two years at one point, not even a cost of living increase. The following year much of the raise they did get was offset by a new deduction to cover part of their own health care plan!

Now Screwge Rendell is going to stick it to them again, this time with the full aid and comfort of the leadership in the General Assembly. Oh yes, he is definitely sticking it to a number of groups, like the casino operators, and the State Store workers, and those who run the State Parks across the Commonwealth, and of course to the tax-payers who will not be able to utilize many state services during this politically imposed budget vacation…which is little more than a ploy by Screwge Rendell to save budget money up front.

In this matter Screwge Rendell has the able assistance of the Band of Thieves we formally address as the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Thieves they are because they are abetting Screwge Rendell in the theft of income directly from the pockets of the state’s nearly 23,000 employees. They argue the merits of a bill banning smoking while 23,000 employees and their families and dependents are about to go without. This “Let them eat cake” attitude is typical of Harrisburg without true reform. So Screwge Rendell fiddles, while the Band of Thieves fiddle back. Sounds more like something a group of pubescent boys would sneak off into the woods to do in secret.

Nearly every month of his administration the department of revenue has collected tens of millions of dollars more than the state’s expenditures for that month. In some cases, it has been hundreds of millions of dollars as Federal bonuses for certain state programs have been earned [recently several million dollars were awarded to Pennsylvania for the reduction of fraud cases in the state-administered Federal Food Stamp Program.] No one seems to know where this money is going. Yet despite being up by a surplus that is likely at least 2 billion dollars in the Treasury, Screwge continues to cry poor mouth while demanding ever increasing budget items from the General Assembly.

Now there is a solution to all of this – a number of steps that can be added to the state’s Constitution that will alleviate this kind of event in the future:

First, pass a law barring the governor or any member of the administration, or of the courts, or of the General Assembly, or any member of State Government, from furloughing Commonwealth Employees during a budget-negotiation impasse, and barring them from suspending any benefits of Commonwealth Employees.

Second, have the Sergeant-at-arms of each house secure the members and staffs of the General Assembly in their respective chambers by locking all doors from the outside. Provide six porta-potties to the House of Representatives, and four to the Senate.

Third, construct a small, enclosed, air-conditioned room, with standard wooden, or metal folding chairs, and a card table, for the Governor and his selected staff to occupy during budget negotiations. Lock the Governor and his designated staff into the room at midnight of any June 30 where there exists no signed budget. Add a single porta-potty to this room, which is to be no bigger than 15’ by 15’. Cut off all communication with the outside world with the exception of a single State Police radio with one channel operation synchronized with a state police guard outside the door who is there to assure no one disturbs the Governor and his staff during the budget impasse. There will be a mail slot in the door sufficient for passing to the occupants: meals, unchilled bottled water, required prescription medication paid for in cash by the occupant requiring it, and a passed budget document submitted for signing.

Fourth, have the Commonwealth’s Attorney General lock the State Supreme Court in the chamber of the Chief Justice, including their clerks and staffs, with no access to rest rooms, but two porta-potties. Cut off all communication with the outside world with the exception of a single State Police radio with one channel operation synchronized with a state police guard outside the door who is there to assure no one disturbs their honors during the budget impasse. There will be a mail slot in the door sufficient for passing to the occupants: meals, unchilled bottled water, and required prescription medication paid for in cash by the occupant requiring it.

Leadership negotiations between the houses shall take place in a room identical to the Governor’s room as noted above, with the same provisions.

Fifth, dock the pay of every member of the Governor’s Administration, every member of the General Assembly, their staffs, and their caucus staffs, and the State Courts, pro-rated for every minute without a budget after midnight of June 30. Further, for every hour after midnight of June 30th without a signed budget, block any and all contributions to said employees’ retirement plans for one month.

Further, between midnight June 30th, and the signing of the State’s budget, no medical coverage shall exist for any of the above employees, nor for their dependents. Any medical emergencies that occur during the budget impasse will be covered by the employee’s by cash deductions from their retirement accounts.

Meals will be provided to all the above locations for cash only, consisting of powdered eggs and a slice of toast, and one cup of coffee, milk, or juice, a single sandwich of either ham, turkey or bologna on white bread with margarine, a pint of milk, coffee, or water, and supper of the same as lunch and a late night snack of graham crackers or a Pennsylvania grown apple. The charge will be $3 for each meal and $1 for each snack.

All proceedings of the General Assembly will be covered by PCN on split screen [one half for each chamber], at all times, with no periods where the sound is off from the microphones in one house or the other, and no music. Other TV networks may broadcast feeds of the proceedings from PCN at cost, to be broadcast without commercial interruption or interruption of any other kind. If another network broadcasts the proceedings, it will broadcast one house, while PCN broadcasts the others, with live microphones, 24/7.

One time through this mill should be enough to guarantee for at least a century that Pennsylvania will have on-time budgets as demanded by the State Constitution.

Cartoon courtesy of Eric Epstein at RockThe Capitol.org

Giles Hickory

“To what can we ascribe the absurd measures of Congress, in times past, and the speedy recision of those measures, but to the want of some check?” -- An Examination Into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, by “A Citizen of America”, Philadelphia, October 17, 1787

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