Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget for 2012-13 “transforms the way government works with county government in the funding of local assistance programs.” The new budget funds “a Human Services block grant pilot program that will help up to 20 counties provide more personalized services to those in need.”
Those are the Governor’s words in a release minutes after signing the new budget very late Friday night. Corbett is now two for two in signing a budget by the constitutionally mandated deadline of midnight June 30.
His predecessor, Ed Rendell, was zero for eight.
How Corbett goes about getting his budget through the legislature presents some contrast even though Republican control of both the House and Senate makes it easier. Rendell had a Democrat House for some years he was governor but always had to deal with a heavily Republican Senate
At least at the end, as Corbett’s budget neared passage over this past weekend, the Governor claimed his version was “only a draft.” And he did spend time in several sessions with Republican legislative leadership of both houses.
Corbett successively gambled that he would not need Democrat votes in either chamber to pass the budget. Not even back-door communications between the Parties appeared to be in play.
Legitimate hearings just don’t occur anymore. Rather, “dog-and-pony’s” are held by both parties.
Corbett was state Attorney General for six years and had to beg to get his budget for that department in acceptable form. He views interaction with legislators as either necessary or at least unlikely to contact a communicable disease.
Rendell had little direct contact with legislators. He had no time for people he did not like. One year when his budget may have been more stalled than others, the former Philadelphia Mayor demonstrated this relationship. At a news conference he was asked three times if he had either “met with legislators or at least set aside time to meet with them.” Every time, his answer was “my staff is ready to meet with them anytime, anywhere.”
Corbett appears to be slightly more flexible in his budget demands, spurning Rendell’s “my way or the highway” attitude.
Funding to the counties for social services is an example. Corbett originally wanted block grants amounting to a ten per cent reduction over last year’s appropriation for all 67 counties. In addition to having to work with less money, some county commissioners were not keen on taking direct responsibility for allocations to local agencies.
More decisions raise controversy and lower re-elections.
Most county boards of commissioners will opt to split the block grants remarkably similar to the ratio apportioned out by the state. Easier to defend.
That was always the flaw in the philosophy of first President Bush when he promoted an old fashioned spirit of volunteerism at the street level as a substitute for more tax money.
The spin that we can provide more services with less government money and/or interference resonates with all voters. This philosophy dovetails with another fallacy. Decisions are better made at the local level.
Both, of course, are wrong. Government programs happen because the private sector cannot or will not provide the remedy. Local decisions are only arrived at after local pressures are applied.
In the meantime, the private sector must plug the gap by increasing donations to the United Ways in each county. United Way boards are populated by members who are more concerned with the welfare of their communities than getting re-elected.
There is no guarantee this way is better, but as long as Tom Corbett is Governor these are the rules of the game.
(Full disclosure: The writer is a board member of United Way of Mercer County.)