- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
- Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind
- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
Citizen Power and the Voter Referendum
Still seething with anger about the legislative pay raise last week, Inquirer columnist John Grogan wants to take direct action. According to him, the decision by Pennsylvania lawmakers to raise their own salaries is such an outrageous abuse of power that our elected officials need to be punished. His strategy? Voter referendum.
We wouldn't ask the legislature or governor. Heck, no! We would gather signatures and get this puppy on the ballot. We would let voters decide.
Simple. Clean. Beautiful.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
As it turns out, Pennsylvania law is squarely in the politicians' corner on this front. Unlike California and 25 other states, Pennsylvania does not allow statewide voter initiatives.
Allow me to quote from the Referendum Handbook, put out by the Department of Community and Economic Development: "Unlike many other states, Pennsylvania has no general constitutional or statutory provision for voter initiative and referendum at the state or local level. Any statewide question in Pennsylvania must be authorized by a separate act of the legislature."
I have no doubt that if such a question was put on the ballot, voters would overwhelmingly reject the pay raise. However, I think there are serious issues that Grogan overlooks when offering this as a sound strategy.
Now, I'm not as fired up about the pay raise as some people, but I still regard it as a pretty big error. I don't have a problem with our elected officials making good money, but I strongly object to a pay raise when the minimum wage remains low, when Medicare is being cut, and public transit is on the edge of oblivion. If lawmakers can find the political courage to raise their own pay, they can certainly save vital public services and provide low-wage workers with a path out of poverty.
However, would regular citizens be more empowered if they had access to ballot initiative? I don't think so. In state after state, the ballot process has been manipulated by large corporations and other wealthy interests to pass bad laws that couldn't gather enough support in the normal legislative process. Many special interests have spent millions of dollars to roll back affirmative action, force school voucher programs and limit revenue collection from state governments.
I'm in favor to electoral reform and punishing legislators who raised their own pay without thinking about the least among us. However, I'm totally against ballot initiatives coming to Pennsylvania. The record shows that they rarely empower ordinary citizens and simply provide another arrow for the quiver of the privileged.