Musing on Friction

— State Senator Daylin Leach

I like to think of myself as a pretty worldly guy. I’ve been to the rodeo. I’ve eaten the Easter Peeps. I’ve paid full price for a muffler. But every once in a while, something so outrageous, so off-the-charts awful happens (like Celine Dion making a new album) that even I am shocked.

Such a thing happened last Tuesday in Harrisburg when our new Governor, Tom Corbett gave his budget address. I entered the Hall of the House for the joint session all prepared. I had my ankle warmers and flask of hot cocoa, because one can get cold in the capitol. The Senator sitting next to me had his flask of Jaegermeister, because one can get sober in the capitol.

I was wearing my “Tony Luke’s Makes the Best Sausage” T-Shirt (I get a small fee) and my giant foam hand with extended index finger in case Corbett mentioned Temple University and my jar of mace, in case… well… just in case.

The governor’s speech started off promisingly enough in that he didn’t trip walking up the stairs. That is no small thing. In 1822 Governor Joseph Heister fell off of the dais during his budget address and hit his head. For the rest of his term he could not be persuaded that he wasn’t a large chicken, which led to some very restrictive, yet innovative agricultural legislation.

While there was much in Mr. Corbett’s budget I disagreed with, that is for another day. After the address was over, I dragged my neighboring Senator (he finished his flask) back to his office and started lazily paging through the 1,124 page Policy Statement which accompanied the budget. In it, I found something truly shocking.

Governor Corbett included the following paragraph which set forth a new policy on how we regulate. It turns out that the Governor wants a “friction free” relationship between regulators and the industries they regulate.

Regulatory Reform: Friction-free processes for government interaction with job creators are critical to maintain economic momentum and competitiveness. State government needs to be a partner with job creators. To address the length of time agencies take to act on permits and eliminate permit backlogs, PennDOT and DEP have begun auditing and assessing all of their permit processes to make them more responsive to the needs of job creators. In addition, the DCED secretary is empowered to expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.”

This is troubling. “Friction-free” relationships are very rare in the best of circumstances. I haven’t had a friction free relationship since my imaginary friend Dodo, when I was a kid. But by the time I turned 40, even he came to loath me.

Historically, friction doesn’t arise because regulators like Woody Allen movies and Industrialists don’t. There is only one reason for “friction,” which is that industry doesn’t like to be told they can’t dump poisons in lakes or mercury in the air or have to give their workers bathroom breaks. So in other words, a “friction-free” environment sounds frightfully like a regulation free environment.

Things then go from bad to worse. Under this new policy directive, those who head our regulatory agencies (the Secretaries of Department of Environmental Protection, Labor and Industry, etc.) will lose their power to make regulatory decisions.

Now, in order “to be more responsive to the needs of job-creators” (very little is ever said about the needs of “job-doers“) the Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development is “empowered to expedite any permit or other action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.”

Ok, lets stop there. What will our actual regulators now do since they are losing their ability to regulate. One word… Yahtzee!!

Keep in mind, that this strips the departments of their control over when to issue permits, and “any…other action.” Presumably going to the rest room now requires a call to DCED.

Of course, this only applies if “creation of jobs may be impacted.” I suppose this could have been broader. It could apply “only if air is being breathed somewhere” or “only if Lindsey Lohan is getting arrested.” But this is pretty darn broad.

Any regulation could theoretically impact the creation of jobs. For example if a regulation says you have to clean up a stream you polluted, that will cost money that could have gone to hire someone to dump more pollution into that stream. Or if a regulation says you can’t beat employees with rubber tubing, the guy who beats folks is suddenly on the street.

Finally its bad enough that there is a guy whose job is to stop health, safety, worker and consumer regulations. But its even worse when you realize who that guy is. The head of DCED is a man named C. Alan Walker.

Let me start off by saying that I do not know Mr. Walker. I have never met him. He may be a perfectly delightful man. Maybe he buys flowers for his wife on her birthday. Maybe he buys flowers for my wife on her birthday. God knows someone should. That said, his public record does not instill great confidence that he will be a strict guardian of our safety.

First, he has given $184,000 to Governor Corbett over the years. That sounds like a Kool-Aid drinker to me. I don’t have many $184,000 donors (although I am open to meeting them!). But if I did, I doubt I’d have a very arms-length relationship with them.

He is also the head of one coal company and has an ownership interest in an unknown number of other coal companies. That is also strange. At any given time, I know exactly how many coal companies I own. He also has a history of polluting and refusing to clean up until a court makes him.

More after the jump.
One Senator said to me that he’s not surprised that the Corbett Administration is doing this. He’s just surprised that they are saying it out loud. (No, this was not the Senator with the empty flask). But I disagree. Nothing like this has ever been done in the United States before, ever. This looks to be a hyper-aggressive move to gut our health and safety laws for the benefit of wealthy corporations. I’m starting to miss Governor Heister.  

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