Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Zogby's Zinger

State Budget Secretary Charles Zogby let a zinger fly during a budget hearing; maybe things are getting a tad tense for the Corbett administration.

Zogby's Zinger

Pennsylvania Budget Secretary Charles Zogby.
Pennsylvania Budget Secretary Charles Zogby.

Anyone who knows state Budget Secretary Charles Zogby knows what a stunner it was when loosed a zinger during a House budget hearing Thursday.

The usually cool and confident government veteran, known for measuring his words and seeming unflappable, referred to former Gov. Rendell's fiscal policies as "Ponzi schemes," in other words, financial criminal fraud.

One wonders whether things are getting a tad tense within the Corbett administration.

Or whether the tact `blame the preceeding administration,' used effectively and often by President Obama, is being adopted in the Keystone State.

According to Friday's Inky, Zogby said Rendell's handling of funding for education, pensions and health insurance for low-income citizens was akin to fraud committed by the notorious Charles Ponzi in the early 1920's: getting money under the pretense of no-risk profits to come then paying off investors with other funds aquired under the same pretense until the whole venture collapses.

Rendell, who's generally been pretty good (at least publicly) about not trashing Gov. Corbett, couldn't hold back this time.

"It's pathetic and laughable," he told the Inky.

It's also surprising. Zogby is no stranger to state government and politics at the highest levels. He served as education secretary under Govs. Ridge and Schweiker and as policy director under Ridge before being picked by Corbett to head the budget.

He's been the public point man on controversies ranging from efforts to push school vouchers under Ridge to slicing state spending under Corbett.

He also spent time in the bright lights of controversy related to his personal life -- an unavoidable consequence for anyone serving in a visble public post -- when his wife made news for two DUI's and two retail thefts.

So he's familiar with heat. And previously handled it well.

In fairness, he did sorta walk back his Ponzi comment. The online news service capitolwire.com reports that during the hearing, state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre County, asked Zogby if he thought Rendell should be prosecuted and Zogby replied that his wording regarding Ponzi schemes might not have been well-chosen.

Later, a Zogby spokesman told the Inky, "there was no intention of accusing anyone of nefarious actions."

Except, that's what happened, fairly or not, on point or not, and it just didn't sound like Charles Zogby.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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