Mark Twain once observed that “no man’s life, liberty, or property is safe when the legislature is in session.” He was talking about the federal congress, but the saying can aptly be applied to the legislatures in the states as well.
And so it is with the Pennsylvania General Assembly which this year gets an extended summer vacation after having a state budget in place for the first time in four years by the July 1st deadline. Lawmakers quickly exited the state capitol and are not due back until mid-September.
For the time being our life, liberty and property are safe.
More important than passage of the state budget or anything else approved by the legislature so far this session is what they did not do. A wide range of proposals that would have infringed on our liberty and taken our property bogged down in the legislative process.
In his budget address Governor Tom Wolf again proposed a severance tax on Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry. This tax has become the Holy Grail of the tax, spend, tax some more crowd. Gas producers in the Marcellus shale region already pay the same taxes every other business and industry in the state pays, plus an impact fee.
The governor has support for a severance tax from all legislative Democrats and a handful of wayward Republicans. Even that was not enough to get his tax plan included in the budget that ultimately passed. Wolf yielded to political reality and signed the budget without the severance tax.
Another Wolf initiative, raising the state’s minimum wage also failed to pass legislative muster. Such an increase might temporarily benefit a few. But surveys of business owners and chief executive officers conducted by the Lincoln Institute have found most would cut hours, eliminate jobs, or even go out of business entirely if the minimum wage were raised. The ultimate impact would be fewer job opportunities for those at the lower end of the jobs ladder.
The legislature also yielded not to a plot by national Democrats to change the process by which congressional and legislative district lines will be drawn after the 2020 census. Democrats lost thousands of state legislative seats during the Obama presidency and this resulted in Republicans gaining control of the redistricting process in most states, including Pennsylvania.
With the 2020 census approaching and a redrawing of lines set to take place in 2021 Democrat front groups like “Fair” Districts-PA and the League of Women Voters pushed for changing the decades old procedure of redistricting via a legislative process to having a mis-named “citizens’ commission” draw the lines.
Republicans hold a two-thirds majority in the state Senate, and a historically high majority in the state House, meaning chances of Democrats gaining control of either by 2020 is highly unlikely. Were Democrats to lose the governor’s office this year the GOP would again have total control over the process.
While professing to want a “citizens’ commission” to prevent gerrymandering of the districts, the real motivation behind the push was to enhance Democratic control over the process. The impact would have been to remove redistricting from lawmakers accountable to voters to “citizens” with no accountability to anybody.
Legislation to change the process drew hundreds of proposed amendments. It was clear no consensus had emerged. As a result so-called redistricting reform died, at least for the time being, when the House gaveled into recess.
Personal liberty also came under attack in the form of several legislative proposals designed to chip away the Second Amendment rights of Pennsylvanians to keep and bear arms.
There are those who believe the way to curb the school shootings that have taken place across the nation is to add further restrictions on the rights of law abiding gun owners. Efforts to do just that perked through various legislative committees, but failed to make it to the floor for a vote.
It is not unusual for non-fiscal issues to fail to get a hearing in the month before the state budget deadline. The importance of what did not happen is amplified this year because the current legislative session ends on November 30th meaning all legislative proposals reset to the start of the process when the new General Assembly convenes in January.
Sometimes what does not happen is an important as what happens. And for now, we the people of Penn’s Woods are safe from assault on our liberties and property. But the battle will resume when the legislature returns in September.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.