June was a month of historic court decisions – and not just in Washington. Overshadowed by the annual Harrisburg ritual of approving a state budget, another of the governor’s landmark policies was determined by the Commonwealth Court to violate the state Constitution. This time it was the Human Services Block Grant program.
The 2012 pilot program, described by GOP leaders as giving counties “flexibility” to spend human services money where they believe it is most needed (with the added bonus of having their budgets slashed 10 percent), evidently was so flexible in its interpretation of state law that it went outside the bounds of the constitution.
Court reviews of laws backed by Gov. Corbett and House Republican leaders have become commonplace over the past two and half years. In addition to the block grant program: Voter ID; Act 13, which stripped municipalities of the ability to establish their own zoning regulations; the elimination of adultBasic, the health care program for working Pennsylvanians and partially paid for from tobacco settlement funds; and the GOP’s first attempt at legislative reapportionment were all found unconstitutional by the courts.
But there’s more. The governor’s lawsuit against the NCAA was dismissed by a federal judge, as well as his plan to privatize the state Lottery being rejected by the attorney general.
The truth is these unconstitutional and illegal measures are consuming taxpayer resources to defend. The governor’s office is spending unspecified millions, reported to be at least $2.85 million, on Baltimore and New York law and consulting firms to work on the Lottery issue alone. All of this at a time when our schools, communities and taxpayers are being shortchanged in consecutive state budgets.
The time and legal costs could be avoided if the House Republicans would allow a fair debate in the House chamber. During both the Act 13 and Voter ID debates, Democrats brought up the issue of constitutionality but were ignored and systematically shut down.
If Gov. Corbett and the House Republican leader manage to convince enough lawmakers to go along with their liquor privatization and pension schemes to get them to the governor’s desk, I predict they’ll end up in the courts as well with similar consequences. Perhaps a better use of the governor’s time and our state’s resources would be a refresher constitutional law class.
Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) is chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee.