Stealth Lawmaking Lives: House Suspends Rules, Commits $1.65 Billion
This week the PA House proved why changing the rules doesn’t solve the basic problem of the highest-cost, lowest quality legislature in America.
Capitolwire’s Pete DeCoursey documented an instance of what lobbyists are saying is happening more and more often: Members of the House are suspending their own rules to pass major legislation without public hearings or public knowledge.
This was supposed to stop when the House adopted rules to require at least 24 hours between final amendment and final vote. Yet when it came time to consider House Bill 1631 , the capital budget for the Gaming and Tourism Fund, 172 House members voted to suspend the 24-hour rule so that they could amend the bill and pass it in a matter of minutes.
What did the amendment do? Among other things, it committed state taxpayers to pay:
- $880 million in operating funds for the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.
- $495 million for “the construction and development of a cargo airport” in Luzerne County.
- $240 million for a hockey rink in Pittsburgh.
Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny, noted that the money for these projects comes from the fund that was supposed to provide property tax relief.
That’s a total of $1,615,000,000 (more than $500 for every family of four) for just these three projects without the opportunity for any family of four to express their opinion about it.
You won’t believe this part. As bad as this is, consider that the amendment also confesses that it isn’t exactly accurate. On page 39 of the amendment t! hat 171 House members voted for, it says:
“Section 7. Editorial changes.
In editing and preparing this act for printing following the final enactment, the Legislative Reference Bureau shall insert or revise letters or numbers for projects where the letters or numbers are missing or require revision. The Bureau shall also revise the total monetary amounts for the total authorization, debt authorization, appropriations and departmental totals as necessary to agree with the total monetary amounts of the projects.”
In other words, parts of the bill don’t mean what they say and the numbers don’t add up.
But that didn’t stop 171 Representatives from voting for the amendment and 121 Representatives from passing it to the Senate.
- Will the Senate do any better at giving citizens the chance to be heard?
- Why did 50 more Representatives vote to suspend the rules and adopt the amendment than were willing to vote for it on final passage? [Hint: The unwritten rule is that rank-and-file Representatives vote with their leaders on “procedural” issues such as suspending the rules. As leadership knows, the more times the rank and file vote with leadership on the little things, the more likely they become to vote with leadership on the big things.]
- Who voted for it before they voted against it?
- Are Representatives counting on the Senate to do their jobs for them and produce a clean bill?
It’s worth pointing out that the House couldn’t suspend the rules and make stealth changes to important legislation without the unanimous and express written consent of the state Supreme Court.! See the slots gambling decision, the pay raise decision, and many other decisions going back years.
This kind of stealth lawmaking will continue until the justices on our Supreme Court change their minds, or until the citizens change the minds that serve on our Supreme Court.