In a way, the Pennsylvania General Assembly operates like the children’s game Duck, Duck, Goose.
If you’re not familiar with the game: A group of children sit in a circle. One child walks around the outside of the circle tapping each sitting child on the head and saying “duck.” At some point, the chooser (sometimes called the fox) taps a child on the head and shouts, “Goose!” Then the fox runs around the circle, chased by the goose. If the fox gets to the spot vacated by the goose before being tagged by the goose, the goose becomes the fox and proceeds, tapping each child on the head. “Duck, duck.”
Kind of fun. Kind of pointless. Periods of relative calm and inactivity followed by brief bursts of action.
Yep, that’s the Pennsylvania legislature for you. Periods of inactivity (in lawmakers’ case, fairly long periods) followed by frenzied work.
We see it every June as lawmakers come up to the deadline to pass a state budget. At that point, they’ve had months to wheel and deal and work out compromises among the House, Senate and governor.
But they always wait until the last minute.
Sometimes they miss the deadline. Sometimes they make terrible decisions in the middle of the night.
Rather than methodically do the work we (handsomely) pay them for, they procrastinate, pontificate and politicize. They act like college students pulling all-nighters before exams.
Well, here we go again with the childish games. Call this one lame duck, lame duck — goose the citizenry.
After a looooong summer break, lawmakers are back in session this week. But it’s a one-week only engagement. After this week, the ducks and the geese fly back to their districts to campaign for the biannual turkey shoot — the election.
That leaves them with a week to finish all the unfinished business they left on the table in the budget process.
Will they be able to get all that done in a week — with elections looming?
If you think they will, you quack us up with your naïveté. So how about after the election?
No, probably not then either. You see, that would amount to what’s called a lame-duck session — justly considered an ethical faux pas. It’s just not good practice to have lawmakers voting on important issues after an election — an election in which some (perhaps many) of those lawmakers are political dead ducks, having been rejected by the voters and ousted from office.
There’s one session day scheduled for after the election, and that’s basically a housekeeping meeting where new leaders are chosen for next year, reflecting the results of the election.
So either a remarkable amount of work will get done this week. Or it won’t get done until next year, as all the political ducks fly south for the winter.
Or, legislative leaders could hold a lame duck session anyway.
That would be a bad choice. But it’s maddening that lawmakers play these games and wind up leaving important business on the table.
They need to be goosed by citizens.