Forum

Reorganize and Streamline:

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Pennsylvania has as relatively new constitution, but its government still runs on 1870s principles. New Jersey, in a similar situation, is considering a constitutional convention to make some major changes to its state government, such as the addition of a lieutenant governor. Currently, New Jersey is presided over by Acting Governor Richard Codey, who is simultaneously the president of the state senate, making New Jersey the only state that allows a person to work for multiple branches of government at the same time. They cite their need for a lieutenant governor as threefold: as a replacement for the governor, an assistant to the governor, and an additional statewide office for advancement.
Though New Jersey should disallow serving in both capacities, their inclusion of a lieutenant governor is wholly unnecessary. Pennsylvania should take a cue from our neighbor across the Delaware, however, and examine our state?s overarching structure. Pennsylvania?s current constitution was approved in 1968, as the fifth such document in the state?s history, and is supposed to provide only the most basic forms of governmental structure. But while the biggest changes in the constitution of 1968 were changes in the judiciary of the state, most of the changes were limited to minutiae such as local government and tax structures.
The 1968 constitution kept the executive structure of the state intact. Pennsylvania elects five statewide officers: governor and lieutenant governor (slated), attorney general, auditor general, and treasurer.
There is room for creativity in governmental structure. Eight states have no lieutenant governor position. Five have legislators as their lieutenant; three, an elected secretary of state. One of these is New Hampshire, a state which has the second largest legislature in the United States: second only to the U.S. Congress, with 400 members in their house of representatives alone, where they?re all volunteers. New Hampshire pays only $40,000 per annum to all of them combined. Nebraska dropped the lower house from their government 70 years ago after determining that overlapping jurisdictions only complicated the legislative process.
Pennsylvania?s inclusion of the lieutenant governor is a curious one: the position is basically used as an assistant to the governor. It?s proven in other states: A chain of command can exist in the absence of a lieutenant governor. The position?s use as a statewide catapult to recognition goes mostly unnoticed. Only one lieutenant governor in the history of the commonwealth has been elected governor: Raymond Shafer, one of the main architects of the current state government. Pennsylvania assigns only ceremonial duties to the position.
The lieutenant governor and governor do not have to see eye to eye, or even like each other; the two are slated by the voters without either?s consent. Among the state?s principals is our secretary of the commonwealth, a primarily administrative position currently appointed by the governor. There is no practical reason that an elected secretary of the commonwealth could not succeed the governor.
On the other side of the issue is the Pennsylvania legislature, a body of 253 citizens of the commonwealth. It?s a caricature of a legislative body, though: members who go golfing but still get to vote, members who use state funds to lease cars, members who spend numerous session days at home. Merely from a statistical standpoint, more representatives are better, and when a state can ensure a quality body as New Hampshire can in its General Court, smaller constituencies are benefit citizens.
An example of how Pennsylvania?s state senators feel they can best serve is Vince Fumo (D?Philadelphia), who clearly feels that Pennsylanians owe him a Cadillac and a yacht. At the same time, the House of Representatives passed internal rules that let them file votes without attending the day?s proceedings, so-called ?ghost voting,? meaning they could install ? or block ? laws without ever reviewing the final version. When politicians are as belligerent or corrupt as Pennsylvania?s are, a smaller legislature gets more accomplished.
Pennsylvania has one of the largest full-time state legislatures, but it gets voters no better representation in the state capitol. According to Nebraska?s argument in creating a unicameral legislature, two bodies that are elected the same way with similar duties and restrictions aren?t necessary. Pennsylvania?s House of Representatives does nothing the Senate can?t do by itself.
If Pennsylvania?s government cared enough even to show up every day, we as citizens might expect efficiency and cooperation that would serve our best interests; at present the best we can hope for is an occasional compromise across party lines. Creative solutions exist to engage representatives through restructuring. The commonwealth should consider its own constitutional convention and eliminate from the document those rules which could better serve us as regular statutes.