City reps in state legislatures have only themselves to blame

Philadelphians often lament that the legislature in Harrisburg doesn’t listen to the city’s needs.

A study published this November confirms that bills designed specifically for cities fail at much higher rates than bills for small cities and towns. But the reason why might surprise you.

Gerald Gamm, a political science professor at the University of Rochester, wrote the report with Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego. Gamm said any tension between rural and urban areas is not to blame. Rather, squabbles within large urban delegations undercut their political juice.

“Big-city delegations are often fragmented and are often internally divided,” he said, “and their bills fail because they’re not agreeing on what they want the legislation to be.”

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Gamm said there is a lesson here for Philadelphia politicians.

“The lesson is sit down with the other people in Philadelphia,” he said, “hammer out your disagreements in private, and then present a united front in the legislature.”

This summer, Philadelphia legislators tried and failed to push through a bill that would have let the city tax cigarettes to raise money for the school district. Some say it died because the city’s delegation was not united behind it.

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