Pennsylvania is in its fifth month without a state budget. Schools and local governments are borrowing money to keep operating and social-service providers are cutting back programs. If Pennsylvanians want to reduce this kind of gridlock in Harrisburg, they should do what Ohio has just done. The budget impasse results from the inability of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican majority in the Legislature to agree on how to finance government. Mr. Wolf wants to increase taxes on the natural-gas industry and the Legislature refuses, even though Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax and among those with the lowest tax burden placed on the industry. This difference of opinion stems from the ideology of the two parties but is greatly exacerbated by the way those who go to Harrisburg are elected. Because of this process, partisan politics trumps the common good and intransigence has become ingrained.
Even though voter turnout in the 2014 election when Mr. Wolf was elected was the lowest in years at just under 42 percent, the governor had at least something of a mandate from a broad spectrum of Pennsylvanians. The members of the Legislature, on the other hand, are chosen by hardliners in both parties. This has been accomplished by drawing the boundaries of legislative districts to ensure the candidate of one party or the other almost always wins.
Gerrymandering has long been part of the political process. The term was first used by a Boston newspaper more than 200 years ago. Thanks to computers, number crunching and political consultants, it is now a science and the majority party in a state can ensure its political dominance.
The tactic has worked well for Republicans in Pennsylvania. While Democrats outnumber Republicans in voter registration by 50 percent to 37 percent, Republicans occupy about 60 percent of the seats in both houses of the Legislature. And it’s just as bad in Congress: Democrats won nearly half of the congressional votes in Pennsylvania last year but secured only 28 percent of the state’s seats in the U.S. House — five of 18.