Revenge of the Foot Soldiers

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

What does a big, blundering bureaucracy led by a legislature whose senior leadership has been tainted by scandals galore the last few years do to small local, generally respected governments?

In Pennsylvania crush them.

Someday that that could happen to the state’s 1455 townships and 958 boroughs if some members of the general assembly have their way.

Senate Bill 2341, the legislation that would annihilate your town hall and surrender its authority to county government, has a preamble that is deliciously ironic. "It is declared to be public policy of the Commonwealth to foster the fiscal integrity of municipalities to assure that they can provide for the health, safety and welfare of their citizens."

Since when has it been Harrisburg’s overall policy to foster fiscal integrity? This is the general assembly that counted on $472 million in highway funding from tolling I-80 after the idea had been rejected by the Federal Highway Administration. This is the government that counted on $850 million in federal Medicare funds before Congress authorized them. This is the legislature that just 60 short months ago decided in the middle of the night to increase its salaries enormously and only backed off after a state wide maelstrom the likes of which were unprecedented in Pennsylvania’s history.

Any science that says bigger governments are better governments is at least disingenuous if not downright foolhardy. When was the last time you ran into a member of congress in the supermarket aisle? How often do you meet a senator at a little league game?

But in your supermarket aisles and on little league bleachers all over this state, citizens can challenge the people that govern their neighborhoods. The people who, in most cases, supply the fundamentals of society: police protection, sanitation, parks and street maintenance. Township Supervisors and Borough Council Members, who give up countless hours of their lives, often put up with insane abuse and in turn get reimbursed a few hundred dollars a year for their time. The transparency of their governments is right in their front yards. Pity the township supervisor, living a middle class life, who suddenly turns up with a fleet of luxury cars in their driveway. Woe it is to the borough council person who moves from the town house to the mansion without an explanation in the middle of their term.

Certainly there’s no harm in encouraging consolidation of some local governments. There are boroughs surrounded by townships that might achieve a lot of efficiencies. There are hundreds of townships and boroughs that operate joint authorities to economize services, and these are the moves that our legislature ought to financially encourage.

But if Harrisburg decides to appoint an unelected bureaucracy to try and crush the state’s townships and boroughs it might find that where democracy prevails the best, local town halls, they end up crushed by their intended victims. In most cases local supervisors and council members are the grass roots of their local political parties, foot soldiers as they are called. Those in the Pennsylvania Legislature who back this power grab might find that the revenge of the foot soldiers puts them out of a job.

Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. A non-profit educational foundation with offices in Harrisburg and King Of Prussia. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio station in Pennsylvania. Visit The Lincoln Institute of