Monday, October 19, 2009

Todd Eachus- No WAM Money- Rendell And Other Legislators State Otherwise

John Cole Cartoon Scranton-Times 10-14-2009

There is a list of the losers in the Pennsylvania budget according to an article that appeared in the Times-Tribune on October 10, 2009 by Roger Dupius II and Robert Swift.

  • Teacher professional development (down 40 percent) and the Classrooms for the Future program (complete reduction).
  • The state's Human Services Development Fund takes a 17 percent hit, to $29 million. Child care assistance would drop 12 percent, to $198 million
  • Public libraries: State subsidies drop 20 percent, from $75 million to $60 million
  • Higher education: Penn State (6 percent), state-owned universities (8 percent) and community colleges (9 percent) all are facing state cuts. Federal stimulus money may help offset these cuts. The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency would drop about 3.5 percent, to $455 million.
  • Economic development: Community revitalization is being cut altogether.
  • Parks and recreation: Funding for heritage parks is completely cut, while state parks face a 19 percent cut
  • The environment: The state Department of Environmental Protection will lose 31 percent of its budget, while flood-control projects will drop by 28 percent.

However, according to this AP article by Marc Levy that appeared in the Times Leader the fate of pet projects for Pennsylvania's legislators in not so clear. Pennsylvania's so-called "Walking Around Money" (more commonly known as "WAMS") are sore spots with taxpayers since WAMS are useful incumbent tools usually pulled out of the toolbox around election time.

Lets be honest. Many projects would be funded on their own merit, but politicians like to hoodwink the public into believing the money came to their town through the politician's effort.

Both the Democratic governor and top legislators insist that the budget contains no grant money set aside for legislators’ pet projects. House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Butler Twp., said he broke the news to top municipal officials in his district in a recent meeting.

“I told them, ’Sorry, the money went into lines to help people,’ to cover the socially vulnerable populations of people that we all along said we were fighting for,” Eachus said. “These weren’t just talking points.”

However, Rendell’s top aides and top legislators have repeatedly refused to reveal how much grant money was tucked into the 2008-09 budget. That number remains the subject of much speculation.

“It’s hard for me to believe that they would go from somewhere from between $200 million to $800 million down to zero,” said Barry Kauffman, the executive director of the citizen advocacy group Common Cause Pennsylvania.

Never-before-released records obtained by the AP through requests filed under the new state Right-to-Know Law showed that legislators lodged special grant requests totaling more than $180 million since July 1, 2008 — more than $700,000 on average for each of Pennsylvania’s 253 lawmakers.

That figure is expected to rise.

A review of the legislature's own budget reveals a difference picture on the money both chambers receive to support their efforts.  Protectionism would be an appropriate label for their actions in this area.

The House and Senate's own operating budgets for fiscal 2009-10 are cut far less than many state programs.

The budget for the 203-member House is $184.6 million, down $7.3 million or nearly 4 percent. The budget for the 50-member Senate is $92 million, down $9.7 million or 9.5 percent.
By comparison, the budgets for enviromental agencies were cut by almost one-third, libraries lost 20 percent and public television lost 90 percent of funding.

To address Eachus's comment that the money went into lines to help people take a look at this article that appeared in the Scranton Times yesterday, October 18, 2009.

A last-minute flap during the budget debate focused on whether $12 million in "embedded" WAMs are in the budget. A leaked internal legislative memo titled "WAM Overview" stoked the issue by listing items in the budget.

Highlighted in the memo is a $175,000 appropriation for the John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, $3.1 million for "cultural preservation assistance" in the governor's office and $3 million for health care clinics in the Department of Public Welfare.

Mr. Rendell sought to defuse the issue by publicly releasing a letter saying he controls disbursement of state money.

Lawmakers are getting more adept at disguising WAMs, and tracking them is getting tougher, said Mr. Brouillette.
As there are more eyes on this budget and more scrutiny, it is even going to get harder," he added.

People pleasing statements are okay if they can be backed up with facts not fiction.

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