Friday, August 1, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Watching the straws pile high

Momentum for reform in Harrisburg is building, at least in the newspapers. We mentioned on Friday that one could respond cynically to Governor Rendell's end-of-term declaration that he wants to try to clean up the capital through redistricting, merit selection of judges and campaign finance reform. Today, John Baer shows exactly how cynical one could get:

Watching the straws pile high

TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Momentum for reform in Harrisburg is building, at least in the newspapers. We mentioned on Friday that one could respond cynically to Governor Rendell's end-of-term declaration that he wants to try to clean up the capital through redistricting, merit selection of judges and campaign finance reform. Today, John Baer shows exactly how cynical one could get:

"So [Rendell] enters his last year in an office he can't seek again and wants campaign-finance limits with no lobbyists? This after building a career soliciting and collecting roughly a bazillion dollars from any lobbyist with breath and from any sensate being with a checkbook?"

Like the DN editorial board, though, Baer tries to find the good in this situation. He says that any talk of reform is welcome, and finishes his column by challenging Rendell to take himself seriously:

"If serious about changing the political culture, Rendell should take the $2 million he still has in separate campaign accounts, use his prodigious fundraising skills to get more and mount an independent, statewide reform effort."

Meanwhile, Dave Davies expresses incredulity at another Harrisburg norm: partisan budgeting.

"Of the $276 million in the Legislature's budget, roughly two-thirds is allocated along party lines.

"There's $57 million in the state Senate budget for 'Caucus Operations (R) and (D).' In the state House, we find $10 million each allotted to Republican and Democratic 'Special Leadership Accounts,' and $19 million each for 'Legislative Management Committees.'"

Davies dubs these "slush funds," and says they "invite exactly the kind of mischief alleged by grand juries in the Bonusgate probes." Harrisburgians try to tell him that things have always been done this way. Davies thinks that's a bad reason to do something poorly.

Finally, the Inquirer ran a story yesterday about Sue Cornell, a former State Rep. from Montgomery County who says that after being booted from office by voters, she was given a well-paying no-show job by John Perzel. This is the kind of thing that people assume happens in Harrisburg (and Philly) all the time. But the details are not as often spelled out for public consumption.

The bottom line is here is that a key to reform in Harrisburg -- as pointed out by the DN and by the governor himself -- is a sufficient amount of public engagement and anger across the state about the practices of our elected leaders (man, did it take some restraint not to put scare quotes around "leaders" right there). Officials need to believe they're being watched, and feel that their jobs are threatened. We don't know where the tipping point is, but the causes for anger keep piling higher.

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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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