Back in April, a legislative proposal designated House Bill 2431 was introduced into Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. While its sponsors claim that their goal is to improve the efficiency of local government in the state, it is actually a radical piece of legislation which would effectively outlaw local government as we know it.
What the bill proposes is to organize local government in Pennsylvania on a county basis and give the counties jurisdiction over personnel, police, land use zoning, sanitation and other responsibilities currently managed by municipalities. Cities, townships and boroughs, to the extent that they continued to exist, would have their duties dictated from the county seat.
As a practical matter, it seems unlikely that the bill will gain much traction. After all, it would require changing the state’s constitution, and that’s a very long and difficult process. And besides, there’s no groundswell of public support for it. Perhaps its greatest significance is that it highlights the tendency of some state legislators to point the finger of blame at everyone but themselves for the Commonwealth’s largely dysfunctional and disconnected state of governance.
After all, when was the last time you had the opportunity to speak before the General Assembly or the U.S. Congress on an issue that concerned you? Or even to know exactly what they were voting on? Probably never. But just about every week of the month, somewhere in Butler County, local residents are attending their local board or council meeting to speak out about a concern or interest of theirs.
Pennsylvania’s smaller municipalities, unlike its larger cities or the state government itself, are actually doing a great job of providing services, responding to residents, and balancing their budgets. The notion that bigger units of government are more efficient is laughable. Just look at Harrisburg or Washington, where there is essentially no fiscal discipline.
The average Cranberry household pays about $680 a year in Township taxes, and in return they receive 24-hour police, fire and EMS services, maintenance of over 100 miles of local roads, world-class recreational facilities, planned community development, a first-class community library, and responsive local officials. That’s less than I pay for home cable and Internet. Yet that same average resident pays the Commonwealth about $8,000 and the U.S. Government $27,000 a year. So where am I really getting my money’s worth?
We have nothing against our good friends in Butler County government, who work hard to do their best with the tasks they’ve been assigned. And frankly, they want nothing to do with taking over the Township’s duties. Perhaps what’s really needed is to turn the bill’s proposed realignment around and hand the powers of the state over to Pennsylvania’s municipalities. At least that would put the public’s welfare into the hands of its most accountable and effective units of government.