Thursday, September 12, 2013

ACBA Legislative Committee Report for September, 2013

Back in the 1980s, former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill coined the phrase, “All politics is local”.  Tip felt that those voters who tallied ballots in their local elections were not necessarily influenced by their feelings of the leaders on the federal level when deciding who would make and uphold their municipal laws.  It is a verifiable fact that local politics do not get the involvement by or scrutiny of the constituency it deserves. Overall voter turnout for the 2013 Pennsylvania Primary Elections ranged from 14-17%. Based on the data that only 62% of Pennsylvanians are registered voters, this concludes that less than 10% of the general population is involved in making the laws that 100% are obligated to obey. (1)  Such apathy for the unique right to choose those candidates who best represent our individual interests is a danger to the system our Forefathers envisioned and penned to fend off the oppression of the elite over the masses, and one that we, as responsible stewards and defenders of liberty, cannot rightly ignore.

So how do we, as elected officials, encourage these disillusioned absentees back to the polls? How do we engage them and make the issues we face every day important enough to elicit their active involvement in the decisions our municipalities must make?  One very powerful tool that we need to use is the voter referendum.  By allowing our constituents the undeniable and quantitatively direct ability to decide local matters, we break through the false notions that their individual voices cannot make a difference.  We empower them, as they empower us, and together, we find the progression of a functional government which is more representative of the true will of The People.  The passage of Senate Bill 65 (Session of 2013) will give The People confidence in the meaning of a representative government, where their leaders concede their own personal opinions and biases in deferment to the voices of the voters

One such subject open to voter referendum would be control of local funds for the growth and maintenance of the community infrastructure.  Voting on public improvement allocations, prioritizing budgetary assignments and approving large-scale community projects are just a few possible referendum topics.  Currently, House Bill 666 (Session of 2013), co-sponsored by our own Representatives Dan Moul and Will Tallman, calls for exempting school districts from the requirements of the Prevailing Wage Act.  County election officials would then be charged with placing a referendum question on the ballot in the 2015 general election, asking county voters the following:

“Do you favor any and all public works projects undertaken in (insert county name) County by any school district and any authority, agency or instrumentality established by one or more school districts be constructed in accordance with the prevailing minimum wage rates for workmen employed on those projects as set forth in Pennsylvania's Prevailing Wage Act?”

Allowing school districts to get “more for less” by exempting them from the Prevailing Wage Act saves money for the local taxpayers by reducing the overall costs, as the current market wages for skilled laborers is on average 60% of the mandated prevailing wages, for such projects. My question would be: Why stop there?  If we are going to decide how taxpayer money is to be spent on community projects, why would we not reduce the overall costs of Municipal projects as well by exempting local government projects? Why are the interests of one set of taxpayers different from those of another?  I have the utmost confidence that our local representatives have pondered these very same questions and that they are dedicated to a fiscally conservative solution to the Prevailing Wage Act debates.  However, the road that lies before them is not an easy one, as there are currently 33 separate bills before the Pennsylvania Congress referencing prevailing wages.  This demonstrates a severe stalemate at the state level with regards to this hot button topic and causes a serious bottleneck in the flow of the Committees’ effectiveness in bringing these bills to the Floor.  One possible solution: Voter Referendum.  By consolidating the debate over the 33 bills into a single referenda and letting the voters decide the fact of prevailing wages, we free up our representatives to address other matters which are currently overshadowed by the redundancy of the prevailing wage issues.

One specific bill which could use some of their attention is Senate Bill 599 (Session of 2013), which is currently co-sponsored by our own Senator Rich Alloway.  This bill is a continuance of the work our own organization addressed earlier this year in support of House Bill 290, which was again co-sponsored by Representatives Moul and Tallman.  The Senate Bill proposes a compromise between the clubs and the retail licensees where the clubs would be allowed an additional 20% of collected funds for specific expenses, while still contributing 50% to community charitable purposes. The retail licensees would be allowed certain games of chance, where 50% of revenues are used for outlined expenses, 20% to community charity and 30% is put into the State General Fund.  This helps eliminate some of the friction between the two types of licensees over the use of small games of chance, and it allows the clubs to address their budget shortfalls caused by previous changes to this Act.  Replacing the 20% lost by the community from the clubs with 20% from the retail licensees may not necessarily equate into a break-even for the community organizations which benefit from these funds, and we should continue to urge our Congress to eliminate the aggregate prize limits of the clubs. Whether our Governor personally agrees or not, we should not restrict our local community organizations that support local infrastructure, nor should we dictate at what levels of participation the local citizens should be allowed to allocate their hard-earning wages into such worthy, charitable endeavors.

When we look at our political system on the national level, we see a polarizing scheme in which Democrats and Republicans argue, twist words and sling insults at one another, only to detach the average American who has more immediate and pressing issues they feel they have more control over in their daily lives.  This reduces the number of voices represented in some of the most important matters facing our nation, and in deed, all The People living on our planet. Their apathy and disillusionment of the federal government filters down into the municipal levels; all because of the constant disagreements of 10% of the population.  Once we return their confidence in our great government, only then can we hope to move forward to a time of reconciliation, unity, peace and prosperity.  We must lead that journey with the unequivocal belief that “It’s not about the parties, it’s about The People”.

David W.S. Bolton
McSherrystown Borough Council and Citizen
Vice-President, Adams County Boroughs Association
Chairman, ACBA Legislative Committee

6,214,854 reg. voters   62%
12,763,536 pop
10,019,375 over 18
17% voted in 2013 Primaries
Majority 51%...or less than 10% of total population.

8% of population choosing who will run for/hold offices making our local decisions.