Lawmakers Delay Trip, Prematurely, It Seems

Talk about being dealt a bad hand: For the second time now, debate over the 2009-10 state budget has led to the postponement of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition's legislative mission to Israel.

And this time, as it turns out, the group folded too soon. They actually didn't need to cancel.

On Jan. 6, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed legislation legalizing poker, roulette and blackjack in state casinos in the hopes of raising $250 million of usable state revenue.

But back on Dec. 24, several lawmakers decided that they couldn't take the chance that the table-games sessions would run past Jan. 9, when a group of four politicians was slated to leave for the Jewish state.

The cancellation wasn't announced publicly until last week.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell had set Jan. 8 as the deadline for passage; he had threatened to lay off state workers if talks continued past then.

Robin Schatz, director of government affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said that the lawmakers just couldn't risk the chance that state workers would be laid off while they were abroad.

"They did the right thing," she added.

The educational trip for state legislators is partially subsidized. While the PJC organizes the trip, Federation is the primary funder.

The bipartisan delegation was originally slated to travel to Israel last August, but had to be put off when it was clear that a budget agreement wouldn't be reached by departure time. PJC last took a group of legislators there in August 2008.

The current trip hasn't yet been rescheduled: March and July were both put forward as possibilities.

"It's never happened — the fact that we are six months past a budget deadline, and still discussing budget issues," said Hank Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition.

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-District 17), a Jewish politician who has never been to Israel, said that he was heartbroken when he learned the trip had been delayed. He added that in no way would he have thought that the legislature would still be in session the week of the scheduled trip.

"I'm really hopeful they will reschedule it soon," said Leach. "I desperately want to go."

Others planning to go on the mission included State Sen. Mike Stack (D-District 5); State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-District 6); and State Sen. Bob Mellow (D-District 22).



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