With 202 House members (1 vacancy) and 50 Senators, the Pennsylvania Legislature is one of the largest General Assemblies in the country. However, that’s not the only challenge organizations face when trying to get their priorities heard and addressed within the Commonwealth.
In the past, the vacillation of party control among the two main branches of State government has often created legislative uncertainty and limited or delayed opportunities for businesses, associations, and non-profits.
Ten years ago, Democrat Ed Rendell was seated in the Governor’s mansion, his fellow Democrats controlled the State House, and Republicans held the State Senate. It wasn’t the first year of divided government in Pennsylvania, but it was the first time in 13 years that Democrats were in charge of policymaking. The contentious elections of 2006 put a strain on the relationship between the two chambers, and the gap was often too wide for Gov. Rendell to bridge.
Things only became more challenging as budget negotiations heated up, and Governor Rendell’s $27.3 billion budget was hotly contested. On July 9 of that year, after a combative floor debate that ended in an impasse, State government shut down and employees were furloughed.
Many organizations that relied on State funding could do little more than watch as lawmakers navigated the difficult issues related to the budget’s revenue and spending plans. Lobbyists often were the only way to cut through the noise and get their clients’ the attention they needed from the Commonwealth.
Five years later, makeup of State government was dramatically different, though no less contentious. Republicans held firm control of State Government, with a unified House, Senate, and Governor’s Office. Gov. Tom Corbett was in the second year of his first (and ultimately only) term. The former Attorney General had wide-ranging support among his party upon entering the top State Executive office, but before long the honeymoon was over, and a host of issues and challenges converged on the Commonwealth.
A cessation of stimulus package revenue from the federal government resulted in steep cuts to education funding. An eyebrow-raising disparity between corporate profits and corporate tax revenue generated vocal calls from Democrats for new tax increases. Voter ID laws were being challenged in PA and across the country. Medicaid expansion was under review. Unfunded public pension liabilities emerged as a genuine crisis. Gaming, liquor privatization, economic development … the list went on and on.
Although a budget was passed on time that year (a full day before the July 1 deadline, in fact), Corbett was losing faith among voters, and consequently members of his own party. Even within this chaotic environment, lobbyists continued to advocate, and often helped shape public policy in ways that protected not only the Commonwealth, but their clients as well.
The current legislative climate is once again affected by a divided State Government. This time, Democrats control the governor’s office, while Republicans hold the State House and Senate. In Gov. Tom Wolf’s first budget cycle, a protracted impasse with the Legislature created a budget stalemate that loomed over the Commonwealth for months. While it didn’t result in a complete government shutdown the way it did nearly 10 years earlier (stop-gaps had been put in place to prevent such a calamity), the standoff dragged on into the following year and resulted in the suspension of many State services and the closing of several organizations and institutions.
Last year’s budget cycle appeared to be a bit brighter, but looming disagreements over revenue and spending ended with the furloughing of workers in Unemployment Office call centers due to revenue shortfalls and a continually increasing budget deficit. This year, the Governor and Legislators have struck a more conciliatory tone, but several key disagreements persist, and many of the problems facing Corbett five years ago remain unresolved for Governor Wolf today.
Regardless of the political climate in Harrisburg, the lobbyists at Pugliese Associates can help advocate for your agenda and make sure your priorities remain on the radar of the General Assembly. Pugliese Associates was helping clients then, and will continue to help clients today, relying on experience and integrity to deliver necessary results.
With offices in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Pugliese Associates is here to serve you. Give us a call today.