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NY Times: States getting creative in hard times

This morning, the New York Times has a fascinating front-page article about the sweeping changes being considered by states around the country. According to the piece, the fiscal crisis is forcing many lawmakers to suggest radical overhauls to the structure of government.

One common refrain throughout the article is that there are simply too many layers of bureaucracy. That has led some officials to make bold recommendations for new ways of doing things.

A lawmaker in Nebraska this year proposed the unthinkable: Cut by half, or more, the 93 counties that have made up the state for generations. Senators in Indiana, aiming to thin the tangled layers there, want to eliminate the system of more than 1,000 township boards.

Over and over, different elected officials quoted in the article say that government simply operates in a way that is behind the times. That's certainly true in Pennsylvania, where the last major overhaul of the constitution happened in the 1960s. However, despite the need for reform, many proponents are finding resistance.

"Anytime you start changing things, you are playing with people's hearts," said Rich Pahls, the Nebraska senator who proposed reducing the number of counties — a thought that startled those long accustomed to having their own courthouse and board of supervisors. That arrangement was designed in the days of the horse and buggy, Mr. Pahls said, not a time when, in rural Nebraska, "people will drive 100 miles to the grocery store."

We can think of several outdated models within Pennsylvania state government that might be ripe for revisiting: Is it time to consider privatizing our state liquor store system, for instance? Or, given the expansion of natural gas drilling in the state, should we entirely rethink our Department of Environmental Protection? These are just two example of major questions that probably won't be tackled by the state legislature in the coming months.

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