Governor Tom Wolf gave in last week and succumbed to the GOP lockout of spending for social services and education by letting the general assembly’s GOP budget pass. Wolf gave up after almost nine months of trying to trade increased spending in exchange for regressive tax hikes and a promise to look at private liquor-store options, but the Republicans were having none of it.
GOP leaders boasted of holding the line on tax increases while shaving some $800 million from the budget compromise Wolf had agreed to back in December. And they promise more of the same for the 2016-17 budget battle – at least until they get some action on pension evisceration and liquor store privatization. Just the thought of all the missed money-making opportunities for businessmen being “wasted” in the state store system makes Republican politicians crazy with anger, as does the act of paying decent pensions to lowly public school teachers and state workers.
I wonder how many of them object to the $140,000 annual pension the disgraced Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge, Michael Eakin, will get. The state’s judicial discipline court ruled that Eakin, a Republican and key player in the email scandal, “dramatically lessened public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the entire judiciary.” Most commentators describe the emails as “lewd,” “racist,” and “sexist” – just like the majority in the General Assembly.
For his efforts, Gov. Wolf got around $200 million more for education – half of what he originally wanted – but the most cash-strapped school districts borrowed a billion dollars during the budget impasse and are stuck with $40 to $50 million in interest obligations. Human service providers are likewise in the hole. The director of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership was reported in the P-G as saying that nonprofits will be paying debt service for years as a result of this one budget fiasco. And the next one is only a few months away.
Get mad or stay sad
Wolf, a political neophyte, basically got played. He came into office presenting himself as a nice, reasonable guy. But today’s conservatives eat nice guys for snacks; you’ve got to be tough and you’ve got to be serious about being tough, just to hang with them.
But the governor and his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly aren’t the only softies who’ve been exposed by this GOP offensive. School boards and superintendents, and teacher’s unions – those people in the business of “teaching” the youth various lessons about life – sure failed this civics lesson: their students watched their wannabe role models whining, complaining and pleading helplessly from the sidelines.
Nonprofit agencies, charged with administering the safety net that the GOP cares so little about, mimicked to no effect the high-sounding, empty phrases of their educated cohorts. Unions, public and private, exercised no muscle and didn’t threaten to flex any on behalf of the middle class, working class, or any other class. The poorest, most disadvantaged people – the people who count most on social and human services – were left out in the cold.
So, where do we go from here? The Republicans have promised to continue blocking anything resembling a semi-humane budget. The afore-mentioned representatives and champions of civic and civil society have shown themselves to be confused, weak, and totally incapable of countering this opposition. This is, in part, a product of their steadfast allegiance to myths about representative democracy that haven’t applied in a long time. This is the age of the Almighty Dollar, and everyone who’s anyone knows that at least 90 cents of every single one should go to those who are “smart” and “talented” enough to have rigged the game in their favor.
The people who need to be drawn into politics today are the people who aren’t “educated” enough to believe in bureaucracies, procedures, processes and lies. We need to hear from the people who don’t have anything to believe in – not even hope – and who don’t have anything to lose. Those who are charged with speaking in their behalf have been on a losing streak for some time now.