Contrarian: Let’s Join Jersey!

And get the hell out of Red State America

By the time you read this, cash-starved SEPTA may be cutting train service to weekend levels and charging $3 for a bus ride. Transit systems all over Pennsylvania have been mulling similar boneheaded cutbacks and fare increases, largely because the state legislature closed its session last year by punting on transit subsidies. Lawmakers fled Harrisburg right after Thanksgiving. It was, after all, deer hunting season.

That’s right. One of the largest transit systems in the nation sits on the brink of collapse because the yokels who hold its purse strings needed to prance around the woods in orange jumpsuits, stalking innocent animals with high-powered rifles. It’s tough getting workers to their jobs in a 21st-century economy when half the overpaid bumpkins in the legislature would rather go play Elmer Fudd than fix a transit crisis.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of this miserable accident of geography called Pennsylvania. You have an East Coast metropolis — Philadelphia and its four suburban counties — trapped in one tiny corner of a vast backwater boondock. Where the Main Line ends, the great Midwest begins. From Coatesville to the Ohio state line, it’s all Red State America.

As a practical matter, this means that whatever is most important to a comparatively rich, progressive and densely populated region like ours is all but lost on legislators who hail from sleepy little Hootervilles, ­hollowed-out mining towns and rusting factory burgs. Whether it’s transit funding, open space grants, tourism promotion or the environment, we in the Philadelphia area have to bow and scrape 100 miles away in Harrisburg for stuff that’s long been taken for granted right across the river in New Jersey.

As I see it, we have only two options. First, we can wait. This region is growing in population slightly faster than the rest of the state, so we just might get a majority in the legislature by the year 2650. Or we could do the obvious. We could join New Jersey. Take our 3.8 million people out of Pennsylvania and merge into a new New Jersey. A New Improved Jersey.

There are counties all over the U.S. with similar irreconcilable differences that have tested the divorce waters. One northern California county has made noises for years about moving to Nevada. A few western Nebraska counties are looking longingly at Wyoming. The constitutional issues are pretty simple. If counties vote to switch, any two consenting states are free to work out a deal for Congress to approve.

And there’s little doubt that New Jersey wants us. Its governors have been trying to poach pieces of Philadelphia, bit by bit, for decades. They take a run at our sports franchises almost every time some team owner complains he wants a new stadium. They’ve thrown cash at our biggest corporations, and even made a pass at the cranky crew of wholesalers who run the South Philly Food Distribution Center on Packer Avenue.