Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

John Baer | A new lawmaker sheds a rare light

CALL IT A PEEK at the possible.

A freshman state lawmaker is posting his expenses on his Web site for the world and, more importantly, his constituents, to see.

This, trust me, is news.

When I ask if his colleagues are PO'd about it, he laughs and says, "Not publicly."

I ask because what he's doing is, in this state, an anomaly.

Remember, Pennsylvania's Legislature is nationally recognized for clandestine operations to protect its size, perks and gross spending - the largest, most expensive full-time legislature in America.

It's a body where costs continue to rise, up 9 percent last year, to $308 million, and fiscal stealth continues to rule. Another $215 million is hidden in reserve, a cushion of extra money held back over time by your representatives, ostensibly (and laughably) to ensure independence.

I assume from invasion from Ohio, New Jersey or Mars.

I hope you're shaking your head.

And it's a body that shamed itself with a piggish pay grab in 2005 that still echoes in Capitol hallways as a call to real reform.

Well, Rep. Eugene DePasquale, a York Democrat, last week partly answered that call by offering stunning transparency.

"When you try to hold something back, people assume the worst," he tells me. "I do believe when it comes to public money, I'm not going to have anything to hide."

So his Web site (pahouse.com/depasquale) shows he bought $700 worth of office supplies, $39 worth of stamps and $300 worth of surplus state furniture for the district office he rents (actually, you do) for $732 per month.

It also shows he spent $442 to lease a Ford Escape but plans to lease a Ford Focus starting in April for $292 per month.

(House rules, outrageously, allow vehicle leases up to $650 per month.)

It shows he so far took no per diems (members can collect $120 to $202 per day in expenses they don't have to show receipts for - in addition to their base pay of $73,613).

But it also shows he spent $593 on flags (eight PA, nine U.S.) to hand out at Boy Scout functions and whatnot, and $358 to frame legislative stuff in his office.

(The Legislature last year budgeted $48,000 so members can give away flags; and framing no doubt comes under "incidental" expenses, for which the House last year spewed out $8.2 million of your money.)

I hope other members - especially freshman not yet corrupted by the thinking of so many so long in office they forget whose dollars they're spending - follow his lead.

And I applaud it.

(Imagine the fun reading expenses of veteran Philly lawmakers; you'd need a weekend just for Mark Cohen.)

This newcomer's gesture, fulfilling a campaign pledge, sets a standard of accountability long lacking in the Keystone State.

DePasquale (pronounced Dee-pass-kwall-ee), 35, is married to a journalist-turned-schoolteacher; they have two small children. He's a Pittsburgh native (his family runs Panther Hollow Inn, a bar/restaurant near Pitt and Carnegie Mellon) and a lawyer with political bloodlines. His grandfather, Eugene "Jeep" DePasquale, is a retired Pittsburgh City Council president.

And the striking thing about what he's doing is this: No member of the Legislature's so-called leadership in either party suggested it or set an example by doing it first.

Instead - even while publicly promising reforms in operations and openness - House leadership just handed out undisclosed amounts of your money to select staff as "bonuses" and won't release the details, according to a published report in Saturday's Harrisburg Patriot-News.

This further suggests the only real chance for change in the Legislature rests with those who are new to the Legislature.

Here's hoping they don't wait for longtime "leaders" to lead. *

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/baer.

Daily News Staff
Also on Philly.com
Stay Connected