Pennsylvania: the state of independence

Columnist : Albert Paschall

Last week we had our annual right of passage in Pennsylvania. The tradition of recent new governors, that began back in the Thornburgh administration: borrowing a new state slogan. For years we were known as ‘the Keystone State’ but during that administration it was decided that out of state visitors, and for that matter most Pennsylvanians, had no clue what it meant. So the administration borrowed a phrase from a sappy song from the ‘70s and ‘you’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania’ got banged on to all of the state’s license plates. Governor Ridge continued that tradition but we didn’t borrow that change, we copped it directly from Ocean City New Jersey and visitors were welcomed to the state with the greeting: ‘Pennsylvania – where memories last a lifetime.’ Last week Governor Rendell belatedly rolled out the state’s new theme: ‘the state of independence.’

The new slogan was a little late because the Governor’s legal team had to wrangle an agreement with Swedish auto giant Saab. For years Saab has promoted its sleek designs with the same slogan. The auto company graciously agreed to allow their theme to be used by Pennsylvania but I seriously wonder if they really knew what they were endorsing.

Now I’ve always loved Saab’s designs. Nothing would salve my mid-life crisis more than one of their sleek silver convertibles. But I wonder if Saab executives know that the motto symbolizing expensive automotive slickness is going to be used for the economic equivalent of a rusting pick up truck. The way that Pennsylvania is pushing independence isn’t exactly a booming turbo charger of accelerated growth; in fact it looks like we’ve got only two speeds: slow and reverse.

According to the Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association more than 69,000 factory workers are now independent. Though it’s doubtful they’re enjoying it. That’s how many of them have lost their jobs, largely to foreign countries, in the last two years. We are working harder than ever with higher taxes and fees to drive manufacturers to more attractive off-shore business climates.

Independent medical practitioners aren’t faring much better. While the Senate did put forward a plan to try and give doctors some malpractice insurance relief with a constitutional amendment, it will take at least two years to pass and then face court challenges. Despite the best efforts of the state’s business advocates the legislation doesn’t give any relief to other businesses hit with skyrocketing insurance costs.

Independent business owners are stalled in their efforts to prevent the state from putting a lot of them out of business. An administration plan called ‘strategic sourcing’ will create a monopoly that will rob hundreds of small businesses of even the chance to bid on selling office furniture to Pennsylvania. The state will force local governments to buy from the monopoly. It sounds like its going to have all of the competitive pricing and market oriented service of our other state monopoly –the liquor control board.

But there are bright signs of hope for enjoying independence in this state. Independent race track owners are betting on a plan to have them buy slot machine licenses for $50 million even though in Illinois last week a similar license was auctioned off for more than $500 million. Independent, virtual monopoly, Comcast Cable has got to be happy with a state plan that will help it pay $56 billion for Disney by not paying any property taxes on a new skyscraper headquarters that it wants to build in center city Philadelphia.

But one plan that the state is considering could really help me. There’s talk of borrowing $800 million for economic development. Inspired by that idea I decided to take out a loan for 20 years so I could have my own state of independence driving a sleek silver Saab convertible. Using the state’s economics it will work. Someday when I’m gone my kids can finish paying for it.

Albert Paschall
Senior Commentator
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.
[email protected]