A common sentiment among our followers on social media is that Pennsylvania would be much better off if everyone just voted “red” or elected more Republicans. We can certainly appreciate the sentiment, but it ignores two critical facts from recent history. First, when the General Assembly increased their own pensions by 50 percent, and other government employees by 25 percent in 2001, it was a bipartisan effort. The Governor who signed the bill into law was a Republican, Tom Ridge. Second, when the proposal to increase Pennsylvania’s gasoline tax to the highest in the nation was floated in 2013, it was Republicans who were behind the wheel. Governor Corbett, along with Republican leadership in the House and Senate twisted the arms of other Republicans to make this regressive tax increase a reality.
Not every example of profligate spending has such widespread effects. Consider the $1 million price tag for renovations recently completed at the Capitol in Harrisburg. From an article in The Caucus (subscription required):
“The chief clerk of the Pennsylvania Senate has new office digs — at a cost of more than $1 million in taxpayer money, including $30,000 for draperies and a set of fancy $800 chairs. The spending on the office’s relocation from near the Capitol cafeteria to formerly vacant space on the first floor of the North Office Building included furnishings, renovations and consultants, records show …
“The spending included:
- More than $30,000 on draperies from Decorating Den Interiors, a Harrisburg-based interior-design company. The cost of outfitting one room with draperies was more than $3,700.
- $2,300 for a desk of ‘heritage oak on cherry.’
- $6,000 for eight “exec swivel” chairs, or $750 per chair.
- $10,000 for 34 other chairs, or about $294 apiece.”
Every budget season, taxpayers are told that spending has been “cut to the bone” and every year taxpayers are forced to pay an exorbitant cost for pet projects and non-essential programs. In 2017, the General Assembly was sitting on a $95 million slush fund. The money comes from over-allocating funds to themselves, and not returning the surplus to the general fund; making matters worse, the General Assembly’s accounts are not subject to independent audit. Instead, they select the auditing firm and pay them directly. While this is no guarantee of mismanagement, it does set up the possibility of a conflict of interest for the auditing firm.
Further compounding the problem, the General Assembly has no legal obligation to make the changes recommended by their auditor. Therefore, we see many of the same reforms suggested and then ignored year after year. The legislature’s unwillingness to reform its financial process is one of the reasons that CAP supports a limited state constitutional convention. If the legislature is incapable of correcting its own deficiencies, then it is up to taxpayers to impose those reforms ourselves.