State Rep. Mario J. Civera Jr.

is a Republican

from Delaware County

My colleagues and I know and respect that Pennsylvanians want to be represented in an atmosphere that is free of secrecy and back-room deals.

While many lawmakers have continued to fight hard for openness and transparency in Harrisburg, there are still some trying to shut the door on this year's state budget process - the one place where openness and transparency should be most welcomed.

For more than two months, the state budget bill has remained dormant in the Democrat-controlled House Appropriations Committee. Despite calls from lawmakers to get the process moving and debate the bill, Democratic Appropriations Chairman Rep. Dwight Evans continues to hold the budget at bay.

As it stands now, Evans is effectively silencing every member of the state House - both Republican and Democrat - and preventing them from offering any input on the budget.

What he is doing is absolutely wrong, and he knows it.

In 1995, the Commonwealth Court ruled that the process in which the state budget had been passed was unconstitutional. The ruling led to a more open and public process, ensuring that all legislators have a chance to amend and debate the budget bill before its adoption.

In fact, it was Evans who made the call in December 1995 to promote an "open" and "accountable" budget process in a column he wrote to The Inquirer. The column decried the "behind-closed-doors" tactics that had been associated with the budget prior to the court ruling.

Ironically, now he is the one trying to close the doors and silence the members of the House.

Evans' current actions clearly contradict his previous calls for openness, not to mention his more recently touted efforts relating to legislative reform and bipartisanship.

Why is openness in the budget process no longer part of his agenda? Why is shutting out the members OK today, when he deemed it so unacceptable in 1995? More important, why are House Democrats allowing this to happen?

It seems unimaginable that members of the House Democratic Caucus would allow themselves to be shut out without even the slightest bit of contention. But thus far, they have been silent on the issue.

Similar to the chairman, this silence certainly contradicts the champions-of-reform status the House Democrats have attempted to connect to their caucus. In this case, it appears their failure to speak is actually speaking volumes as to where they really stand on reform.

While Evans continues to stall the process, the legislature is losing precious time in its effort to adopt a state budget by the June 30 deadline.

Following last year's budget impasse and the furlough of 25,000 state employees, most would imagine he would want to avoid another headline-generating embarrassment. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.

In a May 27 letter to legislative leaders, even Gov. Rendell indicated that he too would like to see more progress on the budget to avoid a repeat of last year.

This was the first notice from the governor on this matter since I submitted a letter to his office in February, urging that we adopt a budget before June 30.

House Republicans want to get this process moving. We want to meet the deadline. We want to allow all members the opportunity to offer input on their priorities for the budget.

Most of all, we want to do what is right for the people of Pennsylvania.

These should be common goals for us all. So, why do House Democrats and Evans continue to stand in the way?

Rep. Civera, Republican chair of the House Appropriations Committee, can be reached at mcivera@pahousegop.com

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