Our opinion: Rehabilitating a word

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Pennsylvania General Assembly and Gov. Tom Corbett don’t share Juliet Capulet’s assessment of labels. They believe that a million dollars is money well-spent to change the name of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to something else.

When the idea was first proffered, the cost of the conversion was estimated at several times that amount. It has since been adjusted downward to minimize sticker shock.

So, with appropriate action by lawmakers, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare will soon be known to those who benefit from it, those who pay for it, and those who don’t really understand it anyway, as the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. Supporters of the change say a new name would better reflect what the agency does and remove a stigma sometimes associated with public assistance and welfare.

The Senate approved the change in the midst of dithering over the budget Tuesday night and has sent the bill back to the House, which previously passed a version of the same legislation.

Can we assume, as we all feel better about ourselves and others, that the term “welfare fraud” will undergo some makeover as well? Will this theft from taxpayers be given some Orwellian “newspeak” as well? How much will it cost our cash-strapped state, whose legislature relies on creative accounting to balance an out-of-balance ledger, to change the term to “theft of human services” or “improper collection of human services?”

So, as the legislature, with the blessing of the governor, slips about $200 million of new expenditures into the ledger of the fiscal year already ended, a technique those of us on the outside of government might label “cooking the books,” it is suddenly important to worry about labels and spend a million dollars to assuage our angst over the knowledge that some people actually receive assistance from their government.

Is Congress listening?

Isn’t it time for a Constitutional amendment to revise the preamble to the sacred blueprint of our nation to change the phrase “promote the general welfare” to something less likely to be misconstrued?