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Pennsylvania GOP playing 'safe politics' in Harrisburg

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Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG

People on the periphery of politics often ask if Republicans control the state House and Senate with a GOP governor, why aren't they ramming through laws such as making Pennsylvania a right-to-work state?

Or banning teachers strikes. Or killing the “prevailing wage” law — where union wages are applied to some public works projects. Republicans in Harrisburg also could weaken collective bargaining by limiting contract disputes to wages for public employees as was done in Wisconsin.

When Tom Corbett became governor and Republicans recaptured the House in 2010, conservative Republicans believed at least some of these things would get done. The GOP had comfortable majorities to make sure it happened.

They did get Voter ID. Yes, it's intended to curb fraud. But requiring photo ID, some Republicans believed, also would cut Democrat voter margins in Philadelphia. Voter ID remains tied up in the courts.

Other than the voter ID law, Democrats and labor couldn't be happier watching Republicans “run” Harrisburg.

Some Dems might not believe it but “Republicans” aren't monolithic. There is no “Republican” ideology or viewpoint that fits all or most of them.

As Republican governors in other states were racking up victories on conservative causes, Corbett didn't push right to work or seek to limit collective bargaining. He did take on the union representing state store clerks, in a thus far unsuccessful effort to privatize the state stores. House Republicans pushed through an aggressive state store divestiture plan but Senate Republicans have not been supportive.

Corbett also pushed a $1.8 billion transportation revenue bill, funded by uncapping the state's tax on wholesale fuel. Senate Republicans liked it so much they upped the ante to $2.5 billion.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, suggested a $500 million “critical needs” bill.

You get the picture.

There was talk last week of a possible vote Monday on transportation. It remained unclear whether a sweetener for the House GOP conservatives — a slice of prevailing wage reform — would be enough to induce some House Republicans to vote for what some consider to be a tax hike at the pumps.

Turzai has scheduled transportation votes before and Corbett has asked him to hold off.

Portions of the House GOP Caucus, perhaps one-third, are very conservative (think Rep. Daryl Metcalfe). Yet the House also has its share of largely Southeastern Pennsylvania lawmakers sympathetic or supportive of organized labor.

Another third is in the middle between moderate (read liberal) Republicans and the right wing.

In addition to ideological differences, there are institutional rivalries between the House and Senate. Distrust underlies that problem.

Finally, safe politics for Republicans, despite their majorities, is not to mess too much with organized labor. So if they get even a piece of prevailing wage it will be pretty amazing. The fact remains there's a lot of money in that transportation bill for union jobs.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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