Recently I mentioned here that Pennsylvania is chock full of government. From feedback so far, I gather that there is some agreement with that assessment. And some of it supports the idea that we need all the government we can get, and it needs to be very small and close to home.

A phone caller who declined to tell me his name and whose number did not show up on my phone said, “We have a lot of little governments because that is the kind that we can keep track of better. The people live here. We know who we are voting for. They know what the problems are.”

I asked him what he thinks about the size of the Pennsylvania legislature, He said he thinks it is about right, even if we are more heavily represented than people in most states.

“Having a lot of districts means our representatives are closer to us and we know them better,” he said.

“Do you think our state government costs too much?” I asked.

“Well, it does cost a lot. Yes, I guess I would say it costs too much. I don’t really think they all have to be full-time, and I don’t think they need so much staff,” the caller said. “Some of them have a lot of offices and a lot of people working in their offices.” But he wouldn’t say which ones.

In a conversation in the Court House an area resident explained what he thinks is wrong with government. “They keep inventing more boards and councils. There was a letter to the editor about that.” I believe he was speaking about a letter from Annin Township government watcher Jim Gotshall. “And they have all these COGs; they are always having COG meetings.”

In Gotshall’s lettitor I believe there had been mention of PSATS, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. A Council of Governments (COG) is somewhat different.

COGs are authorized under the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act, first adopted in 1943 and first amended in 1972. Already the Pennsylvania Constitution had allowed for intergovernmental cooperation, but the ICA states,  “A municipality…may…cooperate...or agree in the exercise of any function, power or responsibility with… one or more municipalities…”

COGs are a mechanism for cooperation among municipalities in a particular area. Municipalities can be “mixed”: boroughs, townships, cities.

And, would you believe, there is an association of COGS? Of course! It’s PACOG.

The ICA was amended again in 1986, to authorize COGs to apply for state aid or grants.

In 1996 there was another revision, fleshing out the ICA to provide definitions and detail various functions such as joint purchases. The 1996 amendment package was Act 177, and that is a common way of referring to the ICA of today.

Then in 2001 Section 2316 was added, making COGS legal entities.

 “All Commonwealth departments and agencies in the performance of their administrative duties shall deem a council of governments, consortiums or other similar entities, established by two or more municipalities under this sub-chapter as a legal entity.”

PACOG is the central organization representing all the COGs in the state. COGs can join PACOG and send voting delegates to PACOG meetings. Like COGs, PACOG is not a government agency but an organization.

PACOG has a strategic plan. It explains the need thus:  “With the changing economy impacting the revenues, expenditures and services of counties and municipal governments, achieving efficiencies and effectiveness is more important than ever. The most direct way to achieve this is through active, committed, productive intergovernmental cooperation.”

As the goals are listed, the strategic plan begins to sound like something of a marketing plan.

1. Position PACOG as the overall ‘Go to Resource’ for intergovernmental issues, opportunities, and questions in Pennsylvania.

“2. Make PACOG the central, visible, active, and effective organization and program serving COGs and the full range of intergovernmental organization needs and processes throughout Pennsylvania;

“3. Significantly elevate and improve PACOG’s visibility, standing, and programs supporting COGs and intergovernmental organizations across Pennsylvania.

“4. Set PACOG apart from, yet in full partnership with, the other municipal associations through the active support of cross-jurisdictional, intergovernmental collaboration and coordination.

Of course all that requires staff, and funding, presumably from the dues paid by member COGs. (There are also dues-paying associate members—vendors and service providers. Of course! But they are not voting members.)

Those member COGs have staff and funding, and get money from dues paid by member municipalities.

It seems to me COGs can provide some worthwhile services, and even save the member municipalities, and their taxpayers, some money.

If COGs expedite group purchasing and bidding, that could effect savings. Intermediate Units and other consortia have helped member school districts that way for many years.

What do you think about the size of government in our fair commonwealth? Does the existence of COGs sound like quasi-consolidation, or just collaboration?