Pennsylvania faces vast challenges. Gays are marrying in Montgomery County, schools are teaching evolution, black people are voting and poor folks are squandering tax dollars on their kids’ breakfast cereal. This is reality according to the state Republican Party, led by Gov. Tom Corbett, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai and Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who believes SEPTA is “welfare” and homosexuality “open rebellion against God’s law.”
Things look different in the Pennsylvania where school budgets are cut to the bone and property taxes are on the rise. Businesses exploit tax loopholes, while the natural-gas drillers ransacking public forestland are barely asked to contribute anything. Deep cuts to social services, new barriers to accessing food stamps and the complete elimination of General Assistance cash welfare have made difficult lives worse for the state’s most vulnerable.
The state House Republican caucus (like its Washington counterpart) is dominated by right-wing ideologues and religious fundamentalists who insist on torpedoing common-sense legislation that even Corbett might have signed — like a transportation-funding package and the expansion of Medicaid. It’s not clear how their obsessions, motivated by greedy corporate prerogatives and theological commitments, fare under “God’s law,” but they’re making life hell here on Earth.
This is particularly true in Philadelphia, the impoverished laboratory for the party’s worst legislative sadism. Superintendent William Hite announced that schools, long critically underfunded, may not open on time due to a budget gap (initially $304 million) that has prompted the layoffs of thousands of teachers and staff. Austerity is harming Philly’s young people today. But it will hurt Republicans down the road: Playing to a shrinking right-wing base ensures their long-term political obscurity in an increasingly left-leaning state. More immediately, they further undermine the re-election prospects of Corbett, who faces rock-bottom approval ratings.
Corbett’s last-ditch response has been one of desperation, as he works tirelessly to mislead the public about who is responsible for the school-funding crisis. He knows that Philadelphia’s typically low turnout for mid-term elections would be his saving grace, while an angry Philadelphia dedicated to booting him out of office is his worst nightmare. But students, parents and pastors aren’t waiting for the ballot box to demand decent schools — they are now pondering a mass boycott. Philly just might show Harrisburg what an “open rebellion” looks like.
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