It’s that time of year again – time to research the candidates, step into the voting booth, and cast a vote and hopefully change Pennsylvania for the better.
Pennsylvania’s biggest race is for governor. From the major parties we’ve got Democrat Ed Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, and Republican Mike Fisher the state’s attorney general. The Libertarian candidate is Ken Krawchuk. I don’t know – and don’t care – who the Green candidate is.
At the start of the campaign, I didn’t have any particular strong feelings against Ed Rendell, aside from my typically moderate, knee-jerk dislike of Democratic policies. Since then I’ve had the chance to read up on Rendell’s history in Philadelphia, which isn’t quite as momentous as the Democratic party would like to be believe. He did some good work down there, but his refusal to deal with the public education crisis in the city and his failure to significantly cut taxes will insure that no matter how much time he bought the city, eventually the flight of the middle class from Philly to the suburbs will continue.
My biggest source of concern with Rendell is plan for “reforming” education funding in Pennsylvania. Right now, school districts are heavily funded by local real estate taxes. This is a condition that the state’s elderly population – which is second only to Flordia in numbers – despises. They can’t stand paying property taxes to support public schools that they haven’t sent their kids to in decades, and in all honesty, in some cases they can’t afford to pay their bills.
Rendell’s solution? Get the state involved, and get it involved in a big way. He wants to shift the funding of public education away from the local school boards and to the state with a “massive” increase in state spending on education. This would involve a corresponding reduction in local real estate taxes.
How does he intend to pay for this massive shift? Three ways: taxes on slot machines at Pennsylvania’s race tracks, doubling the cigarette “sin” tax, and eliminating a few billion dollars in government waste. No increase in state income tax will be needed. Or at least, that’s what Rendell thinks.
Coupled with this move is a desire to “equalize” education spending around the state, which is undoubtedly driven by a liberal egalitarian desire to make sure that the kids in rich areas of the state get the same education as those in the poorer sections.
Ultimately, I think this is Rendell’s real desire – not to lower the tax burden on the middle class, but to play Robin Hood to Philadelphia and the middle of the state, stealing from the suburbs to give to the urban and rural school districts. What Rendell is really saying here is that you – as an individual, and as a community – do not have a right to say how your hard-earned money is spent. The state does. In fact, Rendell’s plan is nothing more than one big-government program after another, designed to reduce Pennsylvania’s education system to a uniform level of mediocrity.
His education proposal references charter and cyberschools only long enough to damn them as being unfunded, unaccountable state mandates. He is not interested in insuring that parents and their children have a choice in education – either in how their money is spent, or in where they go to school. No sir – the choice is his. And his alone.
As fundamentally flawed as his education plan is, damning individual choices and promoting state-sponsored uniformity, his funding proposals are worse. While I’m all in favor of eliminating government waste, and seeing slot machines at the tracks (hey, in a free country people should be able to lose money however they like), modern Democrats (and to be honest, a hell of a lot of Republicans as well) have never met a tax increase they didn’t like. Rendell and the Democrats are obsessed with the idea that money is soley responsible for deciding the quality of a student’s education. Sadly, this is not true, but it won’t stop them from eventually raising taxes to allow the state to assume complete control of education funding, especially if Rendell gets his constitutional amendment declaring that every student in the state is entitled to a “quality” education.
Disgusted by Rendell, I looked at Mike Fisher’s Web site and read up on his education proposals. He at least recognizes the importance of choice in education, backing charter schools, cyber schools, and vouchers. He’s wishy-washy on the real estate tax thing, merely stating that he’d force the legislature to have a special session to resolve the issue with “all solutions on the table”. He doesn’t, however, offer any proposals of his own, and that makes me nervous. As high as our real estate taxes can be, converting to an income tax would be far, far worse. I’d like to know that Fisher’s against that, but unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have taken a stand on it.
My biggest problem with Fisher is that he’s not presenting a coherent, passionate vision for the state. By this I don’t mean I’m looking for him to present a whole slate of new programs for the state like Rendell – instead, I’m looking for him to articulate what it is he wants to do – what he really and truly believes in. From the commercials I’ve seen and the text I’ve read, he’s not doing that. He’s offering himself as an alternative to Rendell, one who espouses “traditional” Pennsylvania values, but he’s not – for example – pounding home a vision choice in education.
Disappointed by Fisher, I surfed over to the Web site forKen Krawchuk, the Libertarian candidate for governor. Now while I have obvious libertarian biases, I’ve been disappointed by the Libertarian Party’s offerings for state offices before. Most seem to be going through the motions of running, but get caught up in a sort of third-party malaise that prevents them from tackling all of the major issues confronting the state. At the same time, some Libertarians are so intent on launching the next American Revolution that they forget that we got into our current dire straits one step at a time, and that we need to get out of them one step at a time.
Krawchuk recognizes this. While presenting a consistently pro-freedom, pro-individual agenda, he also does something that the other candidates hardly ever even mention: following the rule of law. For example, as a Libertarian, he’s not thrilled with the state of public education. But since state law demand public education, he realizes that his proposals must work within that context.
He proposes allowing parents to send their kids to any government school, not just their local school district (something that’s actually punishable by jail time right now), reducing the influence of the unelected Board of Education in Harrisburg, and rejecting unfunded mandates. I’d like to see some more specific proposals – exactly which mandates is he talking about? Would he push to eliminate the Board? – but he’s arguing exactly the points I argue when I discuss the issue with friends.
I also love the fact that he’s proposing something that none of the other candidates for governor are doing – encouraging school districts to teach the Pennsylvania constitution! Imagine that – an actual education in civics! His common sense approach to drugs and guns was also refreshing.
Ultimately though, it is his commitment to empowering parents to choose their children’s education that ultimately inspired me to endorse him for Governor, and to proudly vote for Ken Krawchuk on November 5.