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County Hall Corner: Sow the Wind, Reap the Whirlwind

In my entire life of following political matters, I do not believe I have ever seen a period of time where federal, state, and local government entities each encountered historical events at the same time.

At the federal level, it has been in two areas: the presidential race and Supreme Court decisions. In state government, it has been the failure (again) to enact a budget. And in our own Lycoming County, there will be a new building for county government. Each of these will impact us for some time to come.

The presidential race went wackadoodle after the Presidential Debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. My surprise came from those who were surprised by President Biden’s difficulty in answering the questions. Never in American history has a semi-senile standing US President ever run for another term, nor has there ever been an attempt to remove a candidate from the running like has been done by Donald Trump with multiple criminal charges. Historians in the future will probably identify these as the Wonder Years, as in, “I wonder how all this happened?”

In the US Supreme Court, there were a number of significant decisions. The judges ruled 6-3 to throw out a lower court’s decision that had allowed a charge against Donald Trump and 1,300 defendants of corruptly obstructing an official proceeding, the congressional certification of Biden’s 2020 victory, on January 6, 2021. There still may be charges of trespassing for the defendants, but the myth that this was an organized “insurrection” instigated by Trump will hopefully be put to rest.

Another blow against the federal government was the court’s 6-3 ruling that federal officials have violated the US Constitution’s freedom of speech law by influencing social media platforms to remove posts deemed harmful as “misinformation.” These so-called fact-checkers turned out to be media bodyguards for their own agenda, and the Supreme Court deemed them unconstitutional.

There were a number of other significant cases, such as the 9-0 decision ruling against the restrictions of abortion pill access and also a 6-3 decision on Donald Trump’s immunity for all official acts, which throws a huge monkey wrench for the prosecutor’s lawfare cases against him.

But by far, I believe that the decision that will have the most impact over time was the Chevron decision. Since 1984, federal government agencies have had the power to “interpret” laws they administer. Given that they are not elected, their actions could very well be different than what the intent of the actual law stated. The 6-3 ruling overturned this precedent known as the “Chevron deference,” and the impact will deal a major blow to federal regulators. In fact, it will impact so many facets of government operations from how they operate now. One expert commented, “Washington is waking up to a new world.”

Moving on to our Commonwealth’s conundrums, our state government’s difficulty meeting the June 30 deadline for passing a budget is not surprising. In the past 20 years, only seven budgets have passed on time. However, this year was a bit different. There are around $14 billion in federal reserves as a result of federal stimulus dollars and also strong tax returns. Governor Shapiro wants to sink $3.5 billion of this surplus for transit systems, overhaul the K-12 education (which is court-mandated), and also expand the state’s economic development programs.

Given the $14 billion surplus, this seems possible, except for the fact that Pennsylvania has a structural deficit. The state’s annual costs, such as paying public servants and providing health care to people who can’t afford it, consistently exceed the state’s annual tax revenue. This is because, like the Department of Human Services, which administers the state’s social safety net, it has seen its budget increase by 70 percent in the past ten years.

Unlike the federal government, Pennsylvania cannot go into debt to cover its annual operating expenses. So, our legislators have two choices — spending less or bringing in more money, which we know as tax increases.

The Democrats are rallying around Governor Shapiro, and the Republicans in the Pennsylvania House are arguing that the interest from the $14 billion would help meet the budget without raising taxes. Whoever wins this showdown will determine the future of our state for many years ahead.

Last, and far from least, the big news in our local area is the ribbon cutting for Lycoming County’s new office space for county office departments, which will be held at the Third Street Plaza, directly across the street from the Court House, on Thursday, July 11th, at 11:30 a.m. I will be there, and hopefully, many others will as well.

As the 13th-century philosopher Meister Eckhart once said, “Suddenly, you know it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” I believe Third Street Plaza will produce some magic for Lycoming County rather soon.