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Lawmakers need a 'one-thing' rule

Not getting stuff done? Focus on one thing each year.

I'VE GOT an idea. I'm calling it "The One-Thing Rule."

It works like this: Every year, our Legislature focuses on only one thing.

It can't be an enormous thing, such as the overall economy. Too much of that is driven by national/international trends and events.

It can't be an impossible thing, such as ending poverty or promising equal-opportunity public education regardless of ZIP code.

That's like promising peace in the Middle East.

And it has to be Pennsylvania specific. Like, say, just to pick three random examples, public- pension reform; or new funding for mass transit, roads and bridges; or privatizing booze sales.

Once one thing is picked by the governor and legislative leaders, all other things - naming bridges, diseases of the month, state insects - get shelved unless or until the one thing gets done.

Imagine how different state politics, not to mention Gov. Corbett's polling numbers, would look if, in 2011, the Legislature did transportation funding, in 2012 did some liquor privatization, and today was finishing up controlling pension costs, an insatiable fiscal Pac-Man eating tax dollars at a perilous pace.

Under my rule, leaders tell interest groups and lobbyists, yes, we know your issue is important, but if you want us to address it you need to get on board and push, plead and (of course) donate to make sure this year's thing gets done.

And for lawmakers unhappy with doing the one thing, getting it done is the only shot they have to get to things they want done.

I think this is a path to progress in the state.

I say this now for two reasons.

First, Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi just last week told reporters, "Getting the budget done is going to be more difficult than I think we believed it would be in February."

The budget is due the end of June.

Do you know why doing the only thing they're annually required to do, the thing a Republican governor proposed to a Republican House and a Republican Senate, is now "more difficult"?

It's because they're also trying to get three other things done - the aforementioned trio of bristly issues.

Second, our Legislature is built to bungle.

Think about it. The nation's largest full-time Legislature routinely spits out something like 5,000 bills each two-year session.

These bills are followed by hearings, which are followed by debates, amendments, delays, missed deadlines and breaks.

Both House and Senate, for example, are gone now until June 3.

I assume it's because Memorial Day is coming, and since most of us get one day off, they feel they deserve two weeks off.

Under "The One-Thing Rule," they could have it. And more.

There's no reason to be in the Capitol once they get their one thing done.

And I have an addendum to my rule.

It would provide for a statewide referendum every five years in which voters select the one thing that the Legislature must do within the following two years.

For example, reduce the size of the Legislature, an idea I've long admired and a way to save some of the annual $300 million cost of the Legislature.

Other states, large and small, have cut their lawmakers: Illinois back in 1980; Rhode Island in 2002.

And there's a bill to do so here. There always is. But even House Speaker Sam Smith couldn't move such a bill despite the fact that Governing Magazine, in a 2011 piece on efforts to change legislatures, wrote, "Of all the proposals now on the table, Pennsylvania's may have the most traction."

It didn't. And doesn't. And won't. Until we adopt "The One-Thing Rule." And also give voters an occasional shot at picking that one thing.