Now that the 2013 election is over…

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Is the past prologue for the 2013 county-wide elections? Sadly, it appears so

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
CoupDeVilleWell, that was a short campaign season.

For all intents and purposes — maybe with one exception in the judicial races — your Chester County elections were pretty much settled this week.

The Democrats endorsed their candidates, the Republicans endorsed theirs. Math will tell the rest of the story in November, but it goes something like this: Republicans can expect about 59 or 60% of the vote, while Democrats will get 39 or 40%.

Both county party chairs will tell you how great their candidates are and how they’re going to win, but history and stubborn math reveals only one of them is correct: GOP chair Val DiGiorgio. Run the numbers for a decade’s worth of elections in odd-year elections and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where things are headed in November — despite seeming momentum for the Democrats in terms of voter registration.

The national Republicans might be on a course of impressive and spectacular self-destruction, but down home in Chester County, the GOP sure seems to have its mojo back.

Yes, I’m mean. I obviously have an axe to grind, run nice Prius-drivers off the road in my bright-red carbon-footprint nightmare muscle car and probably club baby seals in my spare time, but you could look the numbers up yourself and draw the same conclusion.

Add in the fact the GOP pretty much hit for the cycle in 2012, winning the county for Mitt Romney (whose campaign put virtually no useful assets into the county) while hanging on to three very vulnerable state legislative seats and there’s no reason to think that the Republicans won’t dominate in 2013. Again.

And that’s kind of a shame — something, privately, that even a number of Republicans privately concede. Not because they want to lose elections — no, not even slightly. But, they note, a more competitive Democratic Party would tamp down the extreme elements of the Republican Party, as it would need to attract independent and Democratic vote to win.

Right now, that’s not the case. Some estimates suggest as many as 25% of the current Republican Committee embraces the Tea Party — and as one insider put it “all that stupid stuff that scares normal people away from us and keeps us from talking about important issues.” Eventually, they say, that could lead to a big, fat disaster down the road for Chester County Republicans.

The important stuff are budgets, taxes and growing the economy and jobs, as these insiders see it, not “fringe” issues such as gay marriage, abortion, opposition to immigration reform, Benghazi and the various topics that eat up hours on talk radio. While the former appeal to moderates and conservative Democrats, the latter only seem to get the blood boiling for the extremes of the party — instead of focusing on issues such as entitlement reform and fixing the tax code, vast amounts of time and energy are eaten up by topics such as “transvaginal ultrasounds” and “legitimate rape.”

Despite this, the Chester County Republicans keep on winning. Why?

Tradecraft. Put simply, the GOP is better at the nuts and bolts of politics than the Democrats are. They’re better organized, more disciplined and better managed. Sure, they tend to have more money, but that seems like a byproduct of donors feeling their money will be spent more effectively.

Could that change? Obviously, as it has happened in a neighboring county, Montgomery County — but that took a decade of concerted effort at getting better at the game, getting better organized and more disciplined before there was any real change on election day.

Until it does, though, don’t expect much in the way of different outcomes on Election Day, which is a shame, as an even split of party power keeps elected officials on their toes and prevents the worst abuses that one-party government leads to.

And selfishly, close elections mean more page views, more ad dollars and frankly, close races are more fun to write about.

I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

* * *

Well, you have to give Gov. Tom Corbett credit for being an optimist.

His proposed state budget assumes a lot of things as being possible — especially in the area of pensions — that, at this point, seem just slightly unlikely. Maybe not slightly unlikely. Maybe really unlikely.

While his proposal to switch out new hires as of 2015 to a 401K-like (it’s not technically a 401K, but rather a 401A — but broadly the same idea), probably has enough support in the legislature, proposed changes to vesting for current employees, seemingly precluded by the state constitution would seem to cast a lot of doubt on the plan.

Another concern, by pulling new employees out of the pension system, there are worries that a lack of income for the system could worsen the pension fund’s shortfall down the road. Many analysts have suggested that it may take some sort of hybrid transition and an infusion of cash over decades to ween employees from defined-benefit pension plans without causing a massive shortfall for the existing pension holders.

Of course, should Corbett’s budget be adopted somewhat closely to how it was presented, it would reduce the short-term pension burden — in the case of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District it would mean about $700,000 for the 2013-14 budget year.

Corbett’s plan — in part because of the constitutional issues, in part because the math seems dubious to a lot of his Republican colleagues in the state legislature — seems like a non-starter. It is hard to fault the UCF Board of Education for playing it down the middle, keeping all options open and adapting appropriately.

Still, some seem to be shredding them for wanting to have as many options while waiting to see what pops out of the Harrisburg clown car next — someone threw around the word “appeaser” as if, somehow former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s ghost were lurking at school board meetings.

A less charitable person might, as form of a retort, might throw around the word “deadbeat.”

Not me, of course, as I’m nice except when clubbing baby seals (as above).

I hear a lot about those whose children have graduated, and thus, should have little obligation to pay for the education of the children of others. Well, here’s a fun fact: it costs (give or take) about $15,000 to educate a child. Multiply that by 13 years and you get $195,000. If you pay $5,000 a year in school taxes, it would take you about 39 years to repay the community for your child’s education.

If you have more than one kid, well, do the math. But it seems my wife and I are going to need to be paying taxes until somewhere past the year 2150 before we’re square with the community.

I’m not for one second suggesting that the school board have carte blanche to raise taxes as much as it sees fit, but to suggest that potentially raising taxes at a rate below inflation — especially at a time when the tax base has shrunk — is similar to the sort of policy that wiped out Czechoslovakia in 1938 is beyond silly.

To date, this board has acted in a largely grown-up, responsible fashion. While I haven’t agreed with each and every decision, each has been handled with due deliberation, thoughtful consideration and an open process.

* * *

One last bit on Gov. Tom: his plan to increase taxes at the wholesale level on fuels is, well, a tax increase. No, really. If approved, each of us will pay more for a gallon of gas. The denials by his governorship and his staff are such bizarre twists of logic so as to be laughable.

If the denials are silly, the plan is sensible (which tells you a lot about how messed up things are in Harrisburg these days).

And to be honest, I’m willing to pay a few extra pennies (keeping in mind my “bright-red carbon-footprint nightmare muscle car” which drinks gasoline like a football player downs Gatorade), if it means said muscle car doesn’t plunge into the Brandywine stopped at a red light on Route 926.

Yes, I know “officially” the bridge is safe. But, I’ve sat on top of it during rush hour and felt how much it sways and have had more than one person tell me “if you got under that bridge and looked at it, you’d never drive over it.”

The state’s bridges and highways are in similarly terrible shape and it makes a lot of sense to raise a tax that hasn’t been touched in nearly two decades to pay for such repairs.

I keep hearing that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is pretty cash-strapped and there’s no guarantee that, under current funding, much in the way of any infrastructure repair is going to happen in 2014 or the years to follow.

Poor infrastructure hurts the economy and in the long run, costs us more. It’s a little bit like that old Fram Oil Filer commercial: “You can pay me a little now, or a lot later.”

I support the former and not finding out how my convertible fares as a kayak.

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