At the beginning of 2018, we reflected upon the previous year’s legislative disappointments and the political victories. We begin 2019 with a legislature that is still inclined toward the right, but with a much greater Democratic presence than the past two years.
How do we build upon our success to move the legislative and executive branches toward a more progressive government? One possible answer might be “We the People”, an initiative developed by a coalition of various labor, civil rights, and other organizations interested in good government. The cornerstone of “We the People” is comprised of these objectives:
Raise wages and improve working conditions
by increasing the minimum wage, restoring the 40-hour work week, helping people join unions, and guaranteeing everyone earned sicktime.
Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25/hr. is at least $1.00 lower than any neighboring state. To make matters worse, the State has pre-empted municipalities from enacting their own minimum wage legislation.
Although the State has granted Philadelphia a certain amount of flexibility that has allowed it to increase the minimum wage to $12.20/hr. for people who are either employed by the City, or who are doing contract work with the City, PA HD 861, introduced by Representative Seth Grove (R. York) would pre-empt this increase, as well as the legislation passed by City Council in 2018, requiring large restaurant and shopping chains from imposing abrupt scheduling changes on their employees. Our legislature’s stewardship of the Commonwealth’s economy has driven Pennsylvania into the bottom half of economic rankings among the states.
Adequately and equitably fund K-12 public education
and provide free or reduced tuition for public colleges and job training programs so that all Pennsylvanians have the opportunity to find meaningful and well-paid work.
As David Mosenkis has shown, State funding to school districts around Pennsylvania is only partially dependent upon need, with race and location having a strong correlation to funding as well. Although this lopsidedness permeates almost every area of the State, the Republican leadership in both houses of the General Assembly does not represent areas overlapping with underfunded districts. This inequity needs to end.
Protect our rights to the necessities of life
including food security, decent housing, and quality, affordable health care by expanding public health insurance programs
After only Kentucky, Louisiana, and Delaware, Pennsylvania has one of the highest cancer rates in the country. With regard to mental health services, State funding has not increased since the beginning of the Great recession. And with a ranking of 31 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, it is clear that Pennsylvania has work to do to help its residents to live healthy lives.
Invest in our infrastructure and safeguard our environment
by fixing our roads and bridges, expanding our transit systems, and protecting our air and water.
During the next two years, this agenda item willl require a heavy lift, given that Daryl Metcalfe has just been appointed as the new head of the House Environmental and Energy Committee. On being given that committee assignment, Metcalfe declared that “I will work to advance legislation that streamlines and downsizes Pennsylvania’s job-killing, regulatory environment…” John Baer quoted Metcalfe in his interview with the representative as saying that “nobody needs be concerned if they’re not ‘leftist, tree hugger types.’”
Compare such divisive language with a proposal set forth by Joe Ciresi, the newly elected House member representing Pottstown, Limeriick, Collegeville, Lower Pottsgrove, Royersford, and Trappe. Ciresi wants to extend SEPTA’s Norristown line up to Pottstown and Reading, thereby enhancing infrastructure in the area while reducing traffic congestion and pollution.
Fix our rigged tax system
by asking those with the most to do their part: increase taxes on large corporations, the wealthy, and natural gas drillers while decreasing taxes on working-class and middle-class Pennsylvania families.
Pennsylvania is unique among its neighbors since it has a completely flat tax rate – paid by rich and poor alike. A proposal set forth by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center would ease the tax burden on poor working people while bringing in more revenue.
Secure our democracy
by ending gerrymandering, making it easier to vote, limiting the effects of money on politics and eliminating all barriers of race and gender to participation in our political and economic life
One of the positive aspects of Daryl Metcalfe’s appointment to the House Environment and Energy Committee is that he is no longer the chair of the State Government Committee, where, last year, he prevented bills developed by Fair Districts PA from becoming law – bills that would have established districts that were more representative of the demographic and political makeup of the State rather than the current State political map with boundaries resembling Jackson Pollock figures.
Expect more Fair District legislation to show up in the current legislative session.
Another piece of legislation that Metcalfe refused to advance was a bill introduced by Ryan Bizzarro, (Dem, Erie), which would allow prospective voters to register to vote the day of an election. Bizzarro is re-introducing this bill, HB 101. Hopefully with the help of the “We the People”, and with supporters like you and me, this bill, and other good legislation, will find their way to the Governor’s desk this year and next.