Even with the deadline less than a week away, it's impossible to predict when a state budget agreement will be reached, or what it will look like.

Easier to predict, however, is the flurry of editorials and letters denouncing the governor and the General Assembly for the brinksmanship and blown deadlines.

It has become a rote exercise in simplistic criticism, and it often produces suggestions that would serve to undermine the nature of our democracy and tilt the balance of power that is both the beauty and the frustration of this form of government we choose.

Hard is it may be to believe, the gridlock of Pennsylvania's budget process is a sign that the democracy is healthy, and that power is spread evenly among the state's 12 million very different people. While it may appear there is no justification for legislative gridlock, neither is there blame.

Politicians and philosophers from Plato to Churchill understood that giving every person the same say in public policy produces the least efficient and most maddening form of government.

Plato said "Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder." And 23 centuries later, Winston Churchill concurred: "No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried."

While drafting the principles of this representative democracy, the Founders labored under no illusions that it would be the most efficient and agreeable form of government.


We declared independence in 1776, didn't finish the Constitution until 1789, and the Bill of Rights took another four years. Talk about blowing a deadline. (And that was only after a compromise on slavery that kept people in chains for another four score and seven years.)

When democracy works, representatives fight for the people who elect them. The tougher the choices are, the tougher the fights become. That produces standoffs.

Legislators are elected to serve constituents. The priorities and concerns of those constituents are very different across the state. Every lawmaker has that same diversity within his or her district. Lawmakers must fight for the priorities of the people in their districts, and that usually means fighting a lawmaker from another district. While I disagree with many of my colleagues, I respect that they fight for their constituents. No one wants to give in. The trick is to find compromise short of surrender.

How many unionized newspapers in Pennsylvania ratify new labor agreements before the old one expires. Would a newspaper editorial writer suggest that the paper's management go unpaid until a union contract is ratified?

Frustrating as the process may be, simplistic solutions that could perhaps produce on-time budgets, would do so by tilting power in a way that would betray the principles of equality. Withhold the pay of lawmakers and the governor? Advantage then goes to the relatively wealthy governor. The "regular folks" we say we want to see in the legislature would have to choose between standing up for their constituents and feeding their families.

Since Gov. Ed Rendell took office in 2003, we have not passed a budget by the deadline. The reason is not a dysfunctional legislature. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. In 2006, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians went to the polls and voted for a governor and a legislator from different parties, with different views on key issues. Republican senators won easy re-election in districts that gave Rendell 70 percent of the vote. Democratic Senators were re-elected in districts that Rendell lost badly.

It means that the people of Pennsylvania are choosing the difficulties and frustrations of balanced power over the efficiency of one-party rule.

Jefferson and Adams would have understood.

Sen. Wozniak, a Democrat from Johnstown, represents the 35th Senatorial District.