Saturday, November 28, 2015

When a lawmaker's house is not his home

A Harrisburg TV station has uncovered a loophole in PA lawmakers' expenses that allows for home-buying bonuses.

When a lawmaker's house is not his home


A former state lawmaker from the Scranton area, now a county commissioner there, used tax-free per diem expenses to buy a house in Harrisburg and sell it for a profit, according to the Capital City's CBS-affiliated TV news station.

WHP-TV 21 reports Lackawanna County Commissioner James Wansacz, who served in the Legislature from 2000 to 2010, bought a downtown three-bedroom Harrisburg house in 2003 for $72,000 and recently put it on the market for $124,900.

The station reports Wansacz collected $162,904 in per diem expenses -- money giving lawmakers who live 50 miles or more from the capitol to pay for lodging and meals during session days or while on legislative business -- and was able, due to a loophole in expense regulations, to use that money to pay the mortgage on the Harrisburg house.

Using the state's Right-to-Know law, the station also reports Wansacz collects a $72,702 pension and still gets $25,457 annually in health benefits.

The Legislature's per diem system exempts second homes, according to the station's report, which means Wansacz could live in Harrisburg during session days, collect per diems and legally beat the 50-mile rule. 

The news station also says other lawmakers have used the same loophole to buy homes in the Harrisburg area.

Confronted by the TV station at a commissioners' meeting, Wansacz labeled the story a distortion and a "bunch of nonsense." And when he left the Legislature and was asked about the house, he told the Hazleton newspaper there's no difference in using per diems to pay for hotel rooms or a mortgage.

You can read WHP's full news report here. Just scroll down.

Then you can think about how your tax dollars work for you in Harrisburg.




Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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