Teplitz ‘Reforms’ Won’t Work

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

State Senator Rob Teplitz has proposed a budgetary "process" and penalties, including financial penalties, for failure to reach on-time state budgets.

Teplitz hopes Pennsylvanians will overlook the political transparency of his "Judgment Day" proposal, and his disingenuous defense of it: "The June 30 budget deadline is no "artificial" deadline; it’s the law. The state constitution requires that a…budget be approved by June 30."

Teplitz misses – or ignores — that, although deadlines are fine for kids’ homework, there are no "natural" deadlines for negotiations in which all imposed, even constitutional, deadlines are "artificial." Deadlines can be and are used as "artificial" negotiating leverage, something Governor Tom Wolf has already attempted.

Teplitz’s maladroit budgetary "process" will mean exactly nothing if a wealthy governor who doesn’t need/take a state salary repeatedly says "no" beyond Teplitz’s suddenly-sacrosanct June 30 constitutional deadline, an obligation Wolf blew off in 2015 after receiving a legislature-approved on-time budget. If deadlines are overridingly consequential, why didn’t Wolf subordinate the legislature’s budget details to 2015’s deadline?

Living in Teplitz’s senate district, I get his taxpayer-funded "Good-Stuff-About-Me" mailers, but never received Teplitz’s June/July 2015 mailers hailing the legislature for doing its job and condemning the governor’s unconstitutional obstinacy – or another in 2016 demanding Wolf’s recall after stonewalling the General Assembly for more than six months.

But, Teplitz’s most recent mailer proposed that the legislative branch — which complied with constitutional law — add blackmail to the governor’s negotiating toolkit. Teplitz’s proposal to deny pay to the legislature (and other less-relevant officials) after June 30 would allow one man, not-coincidentally a wealthy governor of Teplitz’s own party, to run out the budget clock and then financially-blackmail the people’s representatives into passing budgets containing Wolf’s spending excesses and new severance, expanded sales and higher income taxes.

Last year, the governor unsuccessfully stonewalled an on-time budget without a blackmail option. Teplitz wants to give him one.

A lawyer, Senator Teplitz has a lucrative side job with registered Harrisburg lobbyist Cozen O’Connor. Officers of the court know that blackmail is illegal, but, perhaps, special-interest lobbyists’ lawyers/senators don’t care.

In a recent op-ed, Teplitz volunteered: "[A]lthough this year’s budget was passed on time…it contains tax increases, which I voted against."

Full context: Teplitz voted in favor of a 2016-17 budget everyone knew revenues wouldn’t cover, then, seeking reelection, voted against the tax package designed (theoretically) to close the gap. Non-politicians call such behavior "trying to have it both ways." Less-charitable observers call it "gutless duplicity."

If enacted, Teplitz’s "Judgment Day" will be visited, deliberately or witlessly, only upon Pennsylvania consumers and taxpayers who will lose — again — in a state already facing significant demographic problems.

My original column about Teplitz’s blackmail scheme attracted emails from current and former legislators, including this: "Never thought of this from your angle, but you are absolutely correct. This bill…could have disastrous consequences. Good thinking."

Lousy thinking is a central problem in Harrisburg. Rob Teplitz is its new poster boy.