This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
Finally the argument ignored the saving that might come from centralized administration of the service. If the state had taken over the relief of these dependents it could have assembled them in institutions of the most desirable size. Supplies could have been purchased at reduced rates and other economies not available to private institutions could have been introduced. It has never been proved that the state saved a dollar by aiding private institutions that also received donations from individuals.
Having presented the positive arguments in favor of the subventions, the agent then proceeded to the current objection that the relief of destitute children was a local service and should be supported by local taxation. In the first place, he correctly observed that many of the private institutions were not strictly local in the scope of their services since they received children from relatively wide areas. *169 Secondly, he observed that although the poor law required each locality to assume the responsibility for its orphans, that legal principle should not be allowed to obscure the fact that such children were the wards of the state, and the state was responsible for their proper care and education. *170 Here, of course, the word "state" was used in two senses and the argument is question-begging. In the third place, the care of destitute children and the reformation of wayward children was clearly not a matter of purely local interest. Children that grew up in ignorance and immorality in one county were, he argued, very likely to migrate to other counties and there become criminals or paupers. The neglect of one county would thus impose burdens upon other communities. *171
A fourth argument for the subvention to local charities was derived from the analogy of the grant in aid to common schools. The latter was justified on the ground that the schools were necessary for the protection of republican institutions, and, in the same way, the subvetion to charities might be justified. *172 Finally, the agent pointed out, the common objection that the institutions receiving subsidies were located in large cities and that the effect of the subvention was to favor these cities and that the effect of the subvention was to favor these cities at the expense of the country districts, was not a valid one. In the first place, the denser population of the cities caused a large number of cases necessitating relief to occur in those cities; and, in the second place, many of the people who received aid within the cities had but recently come from the smaller towns and the rural parts of the state. *173
169 Board of Public Charities, Report (1872), p. 6.
170 Idem, pp. 6-7.
171 Idem, pp. 7-8.
173 Idem, p. 8.
It is evident that all the arguments advanced by the general agent in favor of subventions to privately owned and managed institutions are beside the point, saving only the fallacious argument that the state should care for the wards of the state. Everyone would probably concede that wherever private benevolence fails properly to care for orphaned children, the public authorities should come to their assistance. The next question is whether the commonwealth or one of the local governmental agencies should undertake the work. This the agent failed to discuss in any adequate manner. He merely assumed that the localities could not be induced properly to perform the service.
It may be granted, for the sake of the argument, that the commonwealth should assume responsibility for the service. But it by no means follows that if it does assume this responsibility, the best method of administration of the service is to turn it over to self-appointed individuals and voluntary organizations, whose expenses are in part defrayed out of the public treasury. Two other methods of administration were open: The state might have maintained its own institutions or it might have aided those established by the counties or towns. By passing quickly over the question of the method of administration and by laying much stress upon the obligation of the state to protect and educate needy children, the agent made it appear that the state was under high moral obligation to assist private orphanages. The influence of the board at this time was decidedly in favor of augmenting the subventions to private charitable institutions.
Although the legislature had failed to limit and to systematize the appropriations to private institutions, and although the board of charities became the advocate of more liberal subventions, opposition to the state's policy in this regard continued to grow. Precisely what was the source of this opposition has not been determined, but it was represented by a group of vigorous and able men in the convention that met in 1872 to revise the constitution of the state. Among the reforms expected of this convention was the limitation of the power of the General Assembly. The limitations expected were of two sorts: limitation of the power to pass special legislation relative to local government, and limitation of the power to spend money.
Art. III, Sec. 15. See Thorpe's Federal and State Constitutions, V., p. 3128.