The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Opinion

April 6, 2014

Pandering and getting paid are status quo for state House

- — A pair of stories on the front page last week demonstrate yet again the complete and utter scam that the Pennsylvania General Assembly is.

In the state House, we have the perennial debate over per diems. As we’ve explained exhaustively over the years, Pennsylvania provides lawmakers who request it money above and beyond their salaries to cover the cost of meals and lodging while they’re on legislative business. They get about $170 for an overnight and $50 for meals. They don’t have to provide receipts or any proof beyond their signatures that they’ve actually incurred the expense.

Last year per diems ended up costing taxpayers $2 million. Our own state Rep. Mark Longietti routinely shows up at or near the top of the list of biggest per diem collectors. His explanation that he collects so much -- $28,039 last year – because he’s working hard and lives so far from Harrisburg makes sense and the work ethic that keeps him on the road “150 to 200 nights a year” is admirable. The voters don’t seem to mind.

It’s all perfectly legal, but it’s also a system that’s ripe for abuse and begs for criticism of the kind we’re doling out here. At this point in our history, are voters and taxpayers comfortable with a system based on the idea that you can trust a politician?

A lot of folks, including us, think the legislature ought to ditch the per diem system and adopt the kind of expense reporting just about every private business uses: Produce the documentation and get reimbursed. Some lawmakers do that, others give the idea lip service and others say they’ll comply with whatever system is in place, but the numbers tell the real tale. Of the 203 state representatives, 150 claimed per diems last year and just 42 submitted their receipts. That’s a long way from a majority.

Meanwhile, over in the state Senate a proposal that’s been floated to freeze senior citizens’ property tax bills tells us a few things: It’s an election year and state lawmakers don’t give a fig about the problems of local government.

This is just the latest in a long line of proposals offered up to provide property tax relief to the overburdened citizens of the Commonwealth. Few ever make it to fruition and those that do rarely work out the way that taxpayers were told they would. Slots, school tax referendums and the homestead/farmstead exemption haven’t resulted in noticeably lower tax bills.

That’s because the school districts, local and county governments that levy property taxes depend on that money. Any plan legislators concoct to reduce those taxes creates a hole in those budgets that are filled by, you guessed it, increased property taxes.

But this isn’t really about addressing a problem. It’s about pandering to a reliable voting bloc. Senior citizens are the Holy Grail of voters. They’re focused on a few issues and they almost always show up on Election Day. These two stories are pretty typical of the news that comes out of the state House, and they illustrate with crystal clarity that pandering and getting paid are what most Pennsylvania politicians do best.

Legislative achievement in the Keystone State is a joke. We challenge you to look back over the last few decades and identify a major issue or problem that the General Assembly has definitively and successfully addressed on its own. Your research is more likely to turn up way too many stories about the alarming number of politicians who have been convicted of some kind of fraud or abuse of power.

1
Text Only
Opinion
Facebook
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Published Magazines