Deja Vu All Over Again in Pennsylvania.

Some of you may remember Pennsylvania as the state where the battle to save muni broadband began when, around Thanksgiving 2004, the PA Legislature passed a law preventing local government from“competing with the private sector” by prohibiting state or local government from offering broadband services unless the local government solicited service from the private sector and got turned down. While that sucked from the perspective of the citizens of PA, it did help kick off the massive fight that blocked anti-muni broadband legislation in other states, such as Indiana and Texas.

Now, those whacky worshipers of the Gods of the Marketplace in the PA Legislature are at it again! As reported by Craig Settles, the Hon. Patrick Browne (R-Senate District 16), Chairman of the PA Senate Finance Committee, and several lesser acolytes of the Absolutist Free Market Faith have introduced SB 530. This bill would prevent the State of PA or any local government therein from taking any stimulus money for purposes that would “compete with the private sector.” Indeed, if I read it correctly, it would prevent PA or local government from ever engaging in any activity that “competes with the private sector” unless it was (a) related to higher education, (b) maintaining public parks, (c) “necessary services” defined as “those services that are critical for human safety and health, including fire departments, emergency services and medical services;” and (d) any current activity, but that activity may not be expanded.

More below . . . .

All I can say is that I’m glad I don’t live in Pennsylvania, if this is an example of the work of its state legislature. I mean, I could at least understand this sort of unadulterated Ubermarket cheerleading in the past. But finding a bunch of state legislators willing to sponsor a bill that tries to stop government from doing anything other than purposes approved by the ghost of Ayn Rand these days feels like running into some lost forgotten tribe trying to ensure bountiful harvests by human sacrifice. Craig describes this as the work of telco incumbents, but I don’t think so. It looks more like this cadre of legislators thought something this ridiculous up on their own (although I don’t doubt you will find incumbents of various stripes applauding from the sidelines).

Why would any state legislature want to shut down government services and spurn money for public projects at a time like this? As the proposed “Free Enterprise and Tax Payer Protection Act” explains:

The General Assembly finds and declares as follows:
(1) Private enterprise is necessary to the health, welfare and prosperity of this Commonwealth.
(2) Government competes with private enterprise when it provides goods and services to the public beyond its government function.
(3) This act is intended to protect economic opportunities for private enterprise against unfair competition by government agencies and to enhance the efficient provision of goods and services to the public.

To protect the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its taxpayers from this threat to the private sector, Section 4 of SB 503 states:

Section 4. Government competition prohibited.

Government, government agencies, State-owned and State related universities, community colleges, school districts and
public authorities are prohibited from competing against private enterprise, including by intergovernmental or interagency
agreement, and are prohibited from funding, capitalizing, securing the indebtedness of, or leasing the obligations of, or
subsidizing, any charitable or not-for-profit institution which would use such support to compete against private enterprise.

As the act defines the “private sector” as “two or more competing privately owned companies,” I’m not sure why Mr. Browne thinks non-profits, even non-governmental non-profits, are scum. Does he not go to church, or temple, or wherever it is that worshipers of the Gods of the Marketplace gather for their devotionals? Still, I suppose it would destroy the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania if public money went to support homeless shelters and soup kitchens that potentially compete with hotels and restaurants. Now will the good taxpayers need to worry that their local libraries might expand services in these times of economic crisis to compete with bookstores, tax preparers, or research companies.

Mind you, Senator Browne and his buddies are not utterly heartless fanatics when it comes to their vision of the proper goal of government. It is apparently always appropriate to pump money into the private sector. To ensure that Pennsylvanians receive “vital services,” defined as: “Those services that are vital to the public, including water and electric supply, sewers, garbage and trash removal, recycling, streets and roads, public transportation and public transportation infrastructure, State and local correctional facilities, child care, elder care, telecommunication services which include radio, telegraph, telefax, telephoto, television cable and satellite transmission, computer, Internet and other electronic services,” Senator Browne and his buddies would permit government to pay someone in the private sector (but not a shudder nasty little non-profit) the Commonwealth or local governments may provide such services “to the extent such services are not available from private enterprise” but only after “government shall make good faith efforts for private enterprise to furnish such services.”

Well, all I can do is shake my head. If you folks in PA don’t like it, I suggest you call up your state legislator and tell them so — else they might pass this on accelerated schedule with no one looking as they have done in the past. Along the way, you might ask Senator Browne what he has against non-profits like churches and homeless shelters providing services. Perhaps Catholics should stop all that subsidized education? Apparently for Mr. Browne, there is no god but Mammon and his pleasure is our profits.

Stay tuned . . . .


  1. Never, ever vote to relect any US (federal), state, city or other local lawmakers. Give them only 1 elected term followed by a successor. Until at least 2020 never vote for a current or former member of the Republican or the Democrat corporate sponsored monopoly political parties. Only vote for independent persons or those from independent political parties.
    Lawmakers will be more likely to do right by us when they know they only have 1 term to enhance their resume and not decades to misuse our tax $$$ giving favors to get favors and retire wealthy at our expense.

  2. This can be carried to ridiculous lengths, beyond your example of non-profits.

    You note above two exceptions to the anti-competitive rule (among others): a) higher education, and b) any current activity, but that activity may not be expanded.

    If that were honestly applied, it would mean no new school construction, or hiring of more teachers above current levels, in any district where there was an available private or parochial school. Because elementary and secondary education are NOT higher education, and current activities may not be expanded. Nor are they “vital services”.

    But internet connectivity IS a “vital service”? If so, shouldn’t a basic level be provided gratis by the government? If it’s as vital as sewers, why must it be left to private enterprise?

    The law of unintended consequences points up the stupidity of this legislation.

  3. Geez, aren’t I lucky to be living in the Common*wealth* of PA . . .


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