Pennsylvania Piglet Book Reaps Savings | Citizens Against Government Waste

Pennsylvania Piglet Book Reaps Savings

The WasteWatcher

Pennsylvania is a study in contrasts.  The state boasts some of the most scenic highways and byways in the nation yet the roads are punctured with countless potholes.  At one end of the state there is Pittsburgh, with a winning football tradition that includes five Super Bowl titles, while at the other end is Philadelphia, which has a football team with a monkey the size of King Kong on its back.  The latest shenanigans in Harrisburg, the state capital, show that even a state budget can epitomize the best and worst of Pennsylvania.

One day after furloughing 25,000 “non-essential” state workers, Gov. Ed Rendell (D) sent them back to work after reaching a handshake agreement on the state budget.  The budget negotiations had been held up as Governor Rendell attempted to use the June 30 budget deadline as leverage to negotiate some of his other legislative wishes—new funding for mass transit, a smoking ban, multiple healthcare-related issues, and a new electricity tax and “Energy Independence Fund.”

The tentative budget would increase spending by 5.3 percent—far above the rate of inflation and population growth, the threshold set forth in spending limit legislation endorsed by 30 of the 50 state senators.  But there are some small victories for wastewatchers.

While not all of the budget details have been worked out as of press time, it appears that several of the most egregious pork programs identified by Citizens Against Government Waste and the Commonwealth Foundation in the Pennsylvania Piglet Book 2006 will be eliminated or cut back. 

One of the most notorious of these programs is the “Walking Around Money” (WAMs) contained in several line items in the budget.  These are accounts used at the discretion of legislative leaders and the Governor to dole out pork throughout the year.  Individual members have used the WAMs to “bring home the bacon,” often grandstanding with oversized cardboard checks as they announce grants to organizations and businesses in their district.  By awarding or withholding WAM funding, legislative leaders have also been able to influence rank-and-file members’ votes.

Another pork program targeted by the Pennsylvania Piglet Book was the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP).  This program works like many pork programs—except it is entirely funded by issuing bonds.  The absurdity of going further into debt to issue grants year after year was noticed by some lawmakers, and a proposal to lift the debt ceiling on RACP was not included in the budget deal.

Finally, negotiation of the Governor’s proposed “Energy Independence Fund” (along with a number of other proposals) was tabled until the fall.  While the Governor billed his plan as a way to make Pennsylvania “energy independent” and save consumers through greater efficiency, this proposal was termed by one seasoned reporter “a hedge fund for politicians.”  The Governor’s strategy was to issue $850 in new bonds (to be paid off by a new electricity tax) to fund handouts to politically selected alternative energy corporations. 

Nathan Benefield