Thursday, July 30, 2015

How taxpayer bucks were spent in 2011

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.

How taxpayer bucks were spent in 2011

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The state should have put the kibosh on the Liquor Control Board´s wine kiosks much earlier.
The state should have put the kibosh on the Liquor Control Board's wine kiosks much earlier. Evan Trowbridge

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.

WASTED
$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).

WELL-SPENT
$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.

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About this blog
Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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