Monday, December 22, 2014

State budget includes funds for projects honoring Arlen Specter, Jack Murtha ... and for projects that haven't been identified yet

Last week, we criticized the state budget for restoring funding for a controversial grants program that many reformers allege is a piggy bank for elected officials. Now, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that the budget also includes millions of dollars for projects to honor outgoing Senator Arlen Specter and late Congressman Jack Murtha.

State budget includes funds for projects honoring Arlen Specter, Jack Murtha ... and for projects that haven't been identified yet

Last week, we criticized the state budget for restoring funding for a controversial grants program that many reformers allege is a piggy bank for elected officials. Now, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that the budget also includes millions of dollars for projects to honor outgoing Senator Arlen Specter and late Congressman Jack Murtha.

One project to be funded by Rendell is the "Arlen Specter Library Project Center" at Philadelphia University. The library will be named after Sen. Arlen Specter, who was defeated in the May primary. And a Johnstown project -- the "John P. Murtha Center for Public Policy" -- will be named after the late Rep. John Murtha. Each project calls for $10 million in state money.

Where is all this money coming from? The state will borrow the funds as part of a $600 million package for economic development. According to the article in the Tribune, taxpayers will pay about $48 million in debt service to finance these projects.

We've always been uncomfortable with naming publicly-funded projects after elected officials, but these two items are particularly troubling. This year's state budget includes deep spending cuts to important services, such as job training and environmental protection. It simply sends the wrong message for state officials to be cutting vital programs while finding funding for these types of endeavors.

Still, as problematic as we find these two projects, there is something even stranger buried in the broader plan to borrow money for economic development. According to the Tribune, most of the funding is for projects that haven't been specified yet. That means lawmakers passed a bill to allow the state to go deeper into debt without being clear how the money will actually be spent. Again, that makes it difficult to believe that lawmakers are really pinching every penny.

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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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