Sunday, September 27, 2009

Special Interests Budget Winners

Editorial featured in Sunday's Standard Speaker:

Pennsylvania voters might reasonably ponder how Pennsylvania lawmakers, architects of the ongoing state budget travesty, expect to be re-elected next year.

As it turns out, the unfolding budget itself contains a partial answer: they're going to try to use your money to buy your vote.

The budget agreement struck last Friday includes $100 million for legislative initiative grants, the infamous "walking around money" by which legislators funnel public funds to their pet projects.

So, be on the lookout for a check-bearing politician in your neighborhood. Not that you shouldn't accept the money, but it would be well to remember its true purpose.

While arranging through the budget deal to fund their favorite initiatives, lawmakers also will put many important public or private nonprofit institutions in peril through this budget. They include libraries, museums, zoos and parks.

The deal calls for an end to the tax exemption on tickets for arts enterprises. According to Sen. Jake Corman of Centre County, it would be a "user fee" in that some of the revenue would be set aside for state arts funding.

Governments sometimes apply user fees to discretionary activities. They charge fees for use of publicly owned recreation fields, swimming pools, and so on, in order to mitigate the costs and focus the burden on users.

It is curious that lawmakers would apply such a tax to fine and performing arts, zoos, museums, movie theaters and parks, and not to other forms of discretionary entertainment spending. State taxpayers have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the construction of fine new stadiums and arenas in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, for example, yet lawmakers do not plan to impose the state's 6 percent sales tax on tickets for the Phillies, Pirates, Steelers, Eagles, Penguins, Flyers or 76ers.

And, while lawmakers don't seem to have any problem taxing artistic endeavors, they can't bring themselves to impose an entirely reasonable "severance" tax on the state's huge and growing natural gas industry. Instead, they will vastly expand drillers' ability to exploit public land.

Pennsylvania thus is the only gas-producing state without such a tax. It also is the only state without a tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco products.

Failing to impose fair taxes on those products will enable those industries instead to continue paying for high-priced lobbyists to press their causes in Harrisburg. The arts don't have that kind of leverage.

Every budget has priorities. This unfolding one has some good ones, especially education. But, unfortunately, lawmakers themselves and their favored, well-heeled interests continue to be among the top priorities.

Eachus PAC Contributions

McCall PAC Contributions

Mellow PAC Contributions

Rendell PAC Contributions Of course he will not be a factor next year.

AG Corbett PAC Contributions

As opposed to someone like
Phyllis Mundy or Ray Musto or Lisa Baker.

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