EDITORIAL: Short-term fix is too shortsighted

York Dispatch
  • Department of Labor and Industry is the focus of a political funding battle.
  • As a result, 500 workers and many unemployed Pa. residents are hurt.
  • Politicians should work to fix an ailing department rather than use it as a political football.

A good deal of upheaval has plagued the state’s unemployment compensation system over the past several months, largely because of the unexpected end to funding for call centers.

Demonstrators, from left, Tara Mueller of York City; Colleen Burkett of Spring Garden Township; Julie Falsetti of York Township and Salome Johnson of Hallam, gather outside Senator Scott Wagner's York office Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Protesters gathered to act on Wagner's comment regarding the election of Democrats to state judicial seats. He said before the election that if Democrats were seated, which they were, Pennsylvanians should pack their bags and move. The group brought a moving van suggesting Wagner should move. Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Bill Kalina - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com

And although a bill authorizing up to $15 million in funding to the state Department of Labor and Industry is wending its way through the state Legislature, it’s not the optimum solution for funding the department.

That’s because it would allow the Labor Department to limp along through November, when once again its fate could be uncertain, as it was in November 2016.

It feels like a shortsighted, short-term fix to a problem with myriad causes, not the least of which seems to be grandstanding for political gain.

Why does it seem that more often than not, our politicians at the state and national levels are more adept at playing politics for personal gain than doing the nuanced work of seeing that government works for the people?

Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, led the charge against holding a vote on a funding bill for the state labor department last session because he said there was a lack of accountability by the department for funding they had already received.

Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland County, introduced Senate Bill 250, saying the temporary funding will allow the state Legislature time to consider the results of an audit currently being conducted by the state Auditor General’s office.

House committee OKs unemployment compensation bill — with strings

The Legislature had allocated about $178 million in additional funding from 2013 to 2016 for the unemployment compensation system, and nearly $170 million was spent before then to modernize the department's technology, which remains out-of-date.

Gov. Tom Wolf said in recent weeks that his administration plans to sue IBM over its failure to fully modernize the department’s technology systems.

Meanwhile, 500 labor department employees were furloughed and three offices were closed. The unemployment compensation centers that remain open have experienced increased call-wait times, meaning unemployed residents are experiencing increased difficulty as they attempt to navigate the state’s unemployment system.

The irony, of course, is that these workers have been deposited into the state system for unemployed residents, as well. And that politicians who tout their business acumen seem to have trouble with oversight of state departments and the ability to turn them around when they are not running as well as they should.

This seems to be a preventable scenario on a number of levels. And it has felt as if politics and partisanship drove grandstanding this past year, when Wagner, who has announced he is running for governor, seemed happy to take the credit for the failed vote and subsequent lack of funding.

We wonder why he then didn’t roll up his sleeves and work with the good people of government to collaborate on ways to fix the situation, being the successful business man he is.

Even if the funding wasn’t being used properly, it’s Wagner’s job to go in there and work to change that. Enlist the governor and work together, since you are both businessmen. Instead, Wagner grandstands in what appears to be a very transparent attempt at mud-slinging.

Oped: Call center layoffs hurt all unemployed residents

Whatever happened to finding the problems  and working together to find viable solutions? That is what the taxpayers pay politicians for.

It seems that throwing mud and creating hardship for the people of the state is a strategy — not unlike the political strategy at the federal level — that bypasses the hard work of policy making and compromise.

Are these politicians so insecure about their ability to legitimately build consensus and solve problems that they believe the only way they can win is to set a department aflame and then blame the opposition?

It’s time our leaders were more worried about the good people they serve and what’s best for them, instead of how to incite — and potentially harm — voters for political gain.