All Politics are Local

Kristi Pronovost The Merit Shop Advocacy Blog, The Merit Shop Spokesman Blog

By Brent Sailhamer, Director of Government Affairs, ABC Keystone

If even-numbered years where the Office of the President isn’t on the ballot are known as “off-year” elections, then elections in odd-numbered years are the off-off-year elections. Normal turnout in a Presidential election nationwide, while inherently lackluster, usually exceeds 50% of the registered electorate. Oddnumbered years? 20% is considered good. And while most people usually can’t tell you who their school directors are, or even their county commissioners, odd-year elections are, for many reasons, the most impactful.

With a primary election just weeks away, most people are focused on anything but that. However, these elections not only are the most directly impactful on the general public, they also have ripples into future elections that help explain how we get the elected officials we have at every level.

Nearly everyone will have a slate of county commissioners, township or borough officials, and school directors on the ballot on May 21. And, if you’re like a majority of the few people who actually will vote, you’ll probably randomly select names that might sound familiar or are at the top of the list. But consider this:

  • County government accounts for the distribution of more social services per capita than any other level of government except the federal level. County commissioners approve budgets for nursing homes, bus and mass transit systems, road and bridge repairs, homeless and temporary assistance programs, health services, and more. Chances are, if you’ve ever needed help with a government form or approval of an application, you’ve had to go to your county courthouse.z
  • Townships, boroughs, and cities are directly responsible for your trip to work, the grocery store, home, and vacation. While the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is responsible for 41,000 road miles across the Commonwealth, the more than 2,500 local municipalities in Pennsylvania are responsible for a staggering 70,000 miles of roads – nearly twice what the Commonwealth manages. Crumbling bridges, potholed roads, and paved access to new housing developments in your neighborhood all are paid for by supervisors you elect.
  • With 500 school districts, Pennsylvania has one of the most complex public education systems in the nation. And each district elects a slate of school board directors who have no education or experience requirement, but are charged with the collection and expenditure of millions of dollars. In fact, nearly $30 billion annually is spent in Pennsylvania each year by elected officials that few people know. By far, the largest portion of the property taxes you pay each year goes to programs under the control of elected school board members.

So while most people don’t “have” or take the time to familiarize themselves with candidates for local elections, these choices could end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars. Not convincing enough? Also consider that local elected officials are generally considered the “farm team” for higher level elected offices. Prior to his service in Congress, Rep. Lloyd Smucker served as a West Lampeter Township Supervisor. In 1989, former Governor Tom Corbett began his political career as a township commissioner for Shaler Township. And Josh Shapiro, who currently serves as Pennsylvania’s Attorney General and is widely rumored to be a strong candidate for Governor in 2022, is a former Montgomery County Commissioner.

So it might seem like a lot of work to research your candidates for the May 21 election, but rest assured that the people you help put into office – either by voting or not voting – will affect your wallet and your future.

May 7, 2019