HARRISBURG - It's an annual event, not all that unlike those migrating swallows and monarchs.
Every year about this time, they descend on the green-domed state Capitol, attracted by mid-spring pheromones given off by the process of allocating state-budget dollars.
They are nursing-home operators and advocates for the disabled, small-business groups and educators, lab-coat-donning doctors and spandex-wearing bicyclists.
Some travel in buses, others on motorcycles. Some belt out chants, others carry signs.
All are drawn here to protect a certain slice of the dwindling state-revenue pie or to fight for or against some initiative.
For Howard Blumenthal and other executives of the state's public television stations, a Capitol rally yesterday was the ideal way to lobby against Gov. Rendell's plan to lop $8 million in funding.
"It is a hive of activity and everybody who is involved in decision making at one point or another is crossing this giant circle," said Blumenthal, CEO of MiND: Media Independence, formerly WYBE-TV (Channel 35) in Philadelphia, during a post-rally interview in the cavernous Capitol rotunda.
Moments earlier, organizers were handing out Big Bird cookies, Elmo juice boxes and yellow T-shirts that read "I want my Public TV." Curious George danced on the marble steps as a quartet played the Sesame Street song.
Theirs was one of five rallies scattered throughout the Capitol yesterday competing for the attention of lawmakers and news cameras. Among them: Dozens of cyclists from across the state roamed the corridors pushing for improved safety laws.
As a former Capitol reporter, David La Torre covered his share of rallies. Now, as a public relations executive in Harrisburg, he organizes them.
"This is really the one opportunity we have each year to put hundreds of human faces on an issue that typically can be lost as one of a thousand line items in a voluminous state budget," said La Torre, who is arranging a rally next week to push for continued funding of state charter schools.
Not everyone is sold on whether rallies actually sway opinions at the Capitol.
"Every line in the budget has got its supporters and detractors; and a demonstration, even one attended by a significant number of people, is not likely to alter the economic reality," said Chuck Ardo, Rendell's press secretary. "But when citizens come to petition their government, it's always a good thing."