With an ongoing budget impasse and no problem-solving happening in Harrisburg, state pols are starting to, well, play with their food.
Picture antsy toddlers refusing to eat their vegetables.
The state is running out of money. The state treasurer is threatening to withhold bailout loans. The legislature is not in session (not always a bad thing). The governor has vanished. So it must be political playtime.
For example, the Republican-controlled House State Government Committee scheduled a hearing for Wednesday on “recent reports regarding potentially excessive expenses for groceries” at the lieutenant governor’s mansion.
Now we’re talkin’! Forget that $32 billion hole in state finances. Let’s get to the bottom of that grocery bag.
And, look, nobody enjoys seeing and sharing details of elected officials’ abusing tax dollars more than yours truly. But timing here seems suspect.
“Recent reports” were in early May, when the Caucus, a weekly newspaper part of Lancaster’s LPN Media Group, broke a story about Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Stack’s billing taxpayers for $34,000 worth of groceries, some with no receipts.
This was over a two-year period and, says Stack’s office, included spending for events at the LG’s residence, was audited by the Office of the Budget and not found to be inappropriate, and was equal or lower to food costs for previous LGs.
Ah, but among the foods? Jumbo shrimp, lobster, lump crab meat, New York strip steaks, shiitake mushrooms, and “vast amounts” of snacks and protein bars.
This is, you should pardon the expression, red meat for most taxpayers and anyone concerned with excessive, or even “potentially” excessive, expenses.
Rightly so, especially because we’re talking about a guy who got into office with a governor who didn’t pick him and doesn’t like him, and a guy who knocks back $162,373 per year, lives in a $2.5 million stone mansion (with pool) and serves in an office budgeted at $1 million-plus-a-year in a job many think shouldn’t exist.
Plus, this is Stack of the “Stack moment,” slapped hard by Gov. Wolf, who took away his ride, security and domestics after fielding complaints that Stack and bride verbally abused staff and state police.
There was even an investigation launched by the Office of Inspector General that either fell through the cracks or is being withheld because Stack’s wife, Tonya, sought treatment for what is described as a mental-health issue.
So it’s maybe understandable, given the year Stack is having, that the LG declined to take part in Wednesday’s hearing, suggesting that committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, (R., Butler) go pound salt.
Stack didn’t actually say that. But he wrote Metcalfe a nasty letter tying Metcalfe to white supremacists (in 2015, Metcalfe invited a white nationalist to testify at a hearing on making English the state’s official language) and tagging Metcalfe for not moving legislation in his committee to extend anti-discrimination protection to the LGBT community, and to address gerrymandering.
Whew. Talk about tossing a mixed salad.
Metcalfe responded in kind with a statement referring to Stack’s “libelous” assertion about white supremacist ties, “leftists” exploiting violence in Charlottesville, and the Wolf-ordered investigation of Stack, and ending with a long list of Philly Democratic “CONVICTS,” adding “no would should be surprised that… [Philly Democrat Stack] would also lie and have no integrity.”
Better make that a chopped salad. With nuts.
Other invitees to Metcalfe’s hearing – the governor’s budget office and the Department of General Services, both of which handle LG spending – opted out.
As did the committee’s Democratic chairman, Rep. Matt Bradford (D., Montgomery), who told me, “This doesn’t seem to fit the description of legitimate oversight.”
But a representative of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is scheduled, so maybe there’ll be tough talk about government spending.
In which case, perhaps the 27-member committee (however many show up) can discuss how last year, lawmakers spent $2.4 million on food and lodging, no receipts required.
Or the size and cost of the legislature. Or their annual automatic pay raises. Or pensions. Or whether they’re taking no-receipts-required per diems to attend a hearing on “potentially excessive expenses.”