This Process is Broken

Originally posted on pennlive.com in response to The Patriot News, Laura Vecsey article, “Commentary: There’s no need for a museum — Harrisburg government is Wild West” 5-2-11


There seems to be a rising tide that wants to sweep away all talk of real concessions or write downs by bondholders or their insurer or any others. There is an unwillingness or refusal to say aloud, “This process is broken.”

Headlines in Scranton last week are telling. They report about budget woes and structural deficits. That town has been in Act 47 for years. We are much worse off now than they ever have been. So too will be our future if we stay the present course.

There are suggestions and hints from some corners that Chapter 9 cannot provide Harrisburg what it needs. With that fear in mind, many have quietly returned their hope to an Act 47 Plan. It is good to have hope, but it should not replace plain sense about what lies before you.

The evidence to date suggests that despite the very best efforts by the folks tasked with crafting a plan to solve Harrisburg’s money woes, Act 47 is a tool ill-designed for the task. Like a rescue team at a deep mine collapse, they are trying to find a way – any way — to reach the people at risk, only they’ve been issued picks and axes, instead of more modern tools. No matter how hard and how long they dig, the team cannot hope to reach the people trapped by this disaster. They need new and better suited tools, or the job will be hopeless.

In Harrisburg, the new tools needed to save our City are changes in the laws. Governments need to recognize and act like they are those given the power to govern. If they have made laws and rules that no longer suit the season, they can change those laws to address the current needs of society.

Harrisburg and other local governments need to be able to refinance their obligations in tough times through the pooling of governmental obligations and risks. They need to be able to tell the wolves at the door that the rules can and will change, so stand down. They need to remind the well-healed who are “shocked” that these debts are somehow unable to be repaid that they too answer to governments, or more correctly, the people who have empowered their governments to act. Local governments need the ability to reorganize their affairs when the structure no longer serves the citizenry. To change boundaries, merge services, regionalize services and even disband and reestablish local municipal governmental structures when the structures are more of an impediment then a sound way to manage the needs of the people they serve.

Right now, the creditor train is coming around a curve and soon will be hitting the straightaway. Don’t be fooled. Its destination is the pocketbooks of everyone in all of Central Pennsylvania – not just those who live in the Capital.

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