As 2011 comes to a close, we decided to take a look back at the year's best and worst uses of taxpayer money. Here's what we came up with. Be sure to give us your own list in the comments.
$6 million-$11 million: The Sheriff's Office paid $6 million-$11 million in "excess fees" to two companies owned by James Davis, the brother of a high-ranking sheriff's employee, according to Controller Alan Butkovitz. That's just the money that the controller is sure was excess money. The sheriff actually paid Davis' companies more than $206 million from 2005 to 2010. And the companies failed to distribute all the money they recovered from sheriff sales to people who lost their homes.
$1 million: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's wine kiosks cost the state $1 million to operate — and brought in only $200,000 in sales, according to an August report from state Auditor General Jack Wagner. Then, in September, the kiosk manufacturer defaulted on the $1 million bill it owed the state. That prompted Pennsylvania to finally put the kibosh on the perestroika-like experiment.
$1.5 million: Last fiscal year, it cost the city $1.5 million to pick up the litter — and that doesn't include regular trash pickup. There are trash cans everywhere! What a waste of money.
$280 million: According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, state government has missed out on $280 million in revenue (so far) by failing to impose an extraction tax or impact fee on natural gas — despite that the great majority of gas-producing states have one.
$905,000: Ah, Arlene Ackerman. Expensive to hire, extremely expensive to fire. To get the former schools superintendent out of town, the district gave her a buyout of $905,000 (she also collected $83,000 for unused personal and vacation days, and subsequently applied for unemployment).
$12 million: This summer, city workers hit the streets to fix our broken property-tax system. For years, local government has unfairly, inaccurately assessed homes. The city was wise to put $12 million into the Office of Property Assessment this fiscal year to fix this.
$810,000: In 2011, the Philadelphia Board of Ethics cracked down on campaign-finance violations and took on the daunting task of writing regulations for lobbyists in the city. It did all of this with a budget of just $810,000.
$2 million: For the first time in more than 50 years, the city is getting a new zoning code, which will help bring much new development and vibrancy to the city. Writing the code was a long, complicated process, and totally worth the $2 million it cost.
The best taxpayer money spent in 2011 probably didn't make the news — rather, it went to pay an EMT saving a life, a social worker helping a kid, a firefighter putting out a fire, a cop breaking up a fight. We here beat up the government a lot, but we're glad for much of its work, and we wish it the best in the New Year.