Pennsylvania is one of four states that differentiate themselves from their 46 American brethren by use of a different word. Like Kentucky, Massachusetts and Virginia, it officially goes by the lofty sounding name of “commonwealth.”
In practical use, there is no difference. It is the difference between pancakes and flapjacks — purely up to individual preference. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it was simply a term that some writers in the Revolutionary period liked to use, the way today some conservatives might favor the label of “libertarian” (with a small L) or a liberal might prefer the term “progressive.”
Identifying as a commonwealth doesn’t give Pennsylvania special powers or more prestige. It’s just a style choice.
A commonwealth also exists in another sense, as a group of countries or states that are drawn together for a purpose. One could make an argument for Pennsylvania’s 67 counties and more than 2,500 municipalities being that kind of association.
Those thousands of municipalities include many with populations under 200 people. At just over 14,000 people, Greensburg isn’t a large city, but it’s still roughly equivalent in population to the combined numbers of Pennsylvania’s three smallest counties — Cameron, Sullivan and Forest.
The people would be better served — in economy and efficiency — with more cooperation, if not more consolidation.
Gov. Josh Shapiro’s first budget has included a 266% increase in funding to the Municipal Assistance Program.
In 2021, that program helped Ambridge, Beaver Falls and Rochester in Beaver County with shared services planning. It helped Ligonier with floodplain management. It helped Brownsville in Fayette County with a multi-municipality comprehensive plan. In all, 33 communities were helped with bridging gaps that year despite a budget of just over $500,000.
The new budget would be $2 million. That could be the gateway to more intermunicipal police agencies, sharing services for sewer or water projects, pooling resources for road projects or working toward stronger economies.
Every governor’s budget is a shoot-for-the-stars dream — an arrow all but guaranteed to fall short of its target. And that is assuming the Legislature and governor can come to a consensus on spending. We all know that starting with an on-time budget in Pennsylvania is just as unrealistic as an over-the-top campaign promise.
But this is an area for both sides to come together to consider honestly and practically — and not just because it could be a way to save money and get things done at the local level.
It would also be a way to promote different arenas of government putting aside their jealousies and defenses to work toward a mutual goal. In other words, they could act for the common wealth.
— Pittsburgh Tribune-Review