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Monday, June 22, 2009

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Still Using Tax Dollars to Buy Votes

Mark Levy of the AP has a hard hitting story of Pennsylvania lawmakers use of WAMs - i.e. "Walking Around Money" made available to us at the discretion of legislative leaders.  Levy finds, not suprisingly, that $110 million in WAMs were doled out in such a way as to benefit the districts of legislative leaders.

But the AP analysis found that tiny Greene County, 56th out of 67 Pennsylvania counties in population and home of last year's House Democratic leader, Bill DeWeese, was slated to receive more than $3 million, or about $82 per person. That made Greene County No. 1 in grant dollars per person and No. 6 in total dollars.

No. 2 in dollars per person was Carbon County - home of House Speaker Keith McCall, who was the Democratic whip last year - with an average of $50 per person in requests. Carbon County, 40th in population, also was expected to receive about $3 million - making it No. 7 in overall dollars.

On the Republican side, House GOP grant requests helped put Jefferson and Delaware counties - respectively the homes of Minority Leader Sam Smith and Mario Civera, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee - in line for more money than most counties with similar populations.

In the Senate, Democrats requested outsized portions for the home counties of last year's ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, Gerald LaValle of Beaver County, and his successor, Jay Costa of Allegheny County. Similar patterns were not as evident in the grants requested by the Senate GOP.
For those unfamiliar with WAMs and the WAM process, Levy provides an excellent summary, for those who can stomach learning how sausage is made:
Pennsylvania's budget does not specify the money that is set aside for legislators' special projects. It also does not link grants to individual legislators, or groups of legislators, who sought the money.

Pennsylvania's legislative grants - known colloquially as "WAMs," for walking-around money - have existed in one form or another for a couple of decades, built around the concept of providing the Legislature with a pot of money to spend as it sees fit.

Once the total amount available for the grants in the budget is hammered out behind closed doors, legislative leaders sift through requests from their caucus members and submit selected ones, along with their own, to the governor's office. Executive branch agencies match the requests to applications filed by the intended recipients for more than a dozen programs that are flush with money for the grants. ...

Former Sen. Vincent Fumo of Philadelphia is awaiting sentencing for his February conviction on 137 corruption counts, including the misuse of money from a nonprofit that he founded and partially financed with the grants. Former Rep. Michael Veon of Beaver County has been charged with committing similar crimes.
It is for these reasons - corruption, the process by which WAMs are doled out, and the waste of taxpayer funding, that we believe WAMs should be eliminated from the state budget. We have attempted to identify line items within the state budget that could be classified as WAMs.

It also adds fuel to the growing movement that Pennsylvania needs greater spending transparency.

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