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Home » DR News » DR on the Record » DR News archives » December 15, 2009

December 15, 2009 - 3 More Reasons for a Constitution Convention

There is no such thing as the Ides of December, but if there were, today would rival the famous Ides of March as three separate events illustrate the need to reinvent our government.

1. State government as a whole has a $450 million revenue deficit this year.
2. The legislature has a $180 million surplus this year.
3. The state grand jury accused three more legislators and staff of, among other things, illegally using taxes to subsidize election campaigns and campaigners.

1. The State's Budget Deficit

This morning Gov. Ed Rendell announced the mid-year revenue estimates for this fiscal year, even as the legislature continues to seek the rest of the funds for an unbalanced, and therefore unconstitutional, budget enacted in October. Revenues for the current year are expected to be $450 million, or 1.5%, below estimates by June 30. For the first five months of the fiscal year, revenues were $217 below estimates.

Click here for a news release from Rendell's office.

2. The Legislature's Budget Surplus

Also this morning, the Legislative Audit Advisory Committee met and revealed that the legislature had a surplus of $201 million as of June 30. The draft report is expected to be released in final form in a matter of days.

During the budget impasse, which lasted 25% of the fiscal year, lawmakers spent $87 million, or 43.2%, of our surplus.

But have no fear that lawmakers will use this money to benefit someone other than themselves. Their budget for this year restores $67 million of the $87 million they spent while others were losing their jobs and taking out loans to make ends meet. Lawmakers expect to end this year with a surplus of $181 million, they said at today's meeting.

Just for the sake of perspective, which seems to be suffering its own deficit, this is enough to provide a year's worth of high-quality pre-school for more than 21,600 low-income children or put $15 back in the pockets of every man, woman and child in the Commonwealth.

Questions:

  • With a documented legislative surplus of $180 million this year and an acknowledged $100 million carryover of WAMs from the 2008-09 budget (Harrisburg Patriot, November 6), why are employees furloughed, state parks cut, museums closed, and universities held hostage to please the gambling industry?
  • Why does the legislature get preferential treatment compared to the executive and judicial branches during a budget impasse? Why should it?
  • Does anyone believe we would have had a three-month budget impasse if the legislature didn't have a surplus? If so, please email me at tim@democracyrisingpa.com. I'd love to hear your reasoning.
  • Does anyone believe that if the legislature has a $180 million surplus next June 30 it will improve the chances of avoiding an impasse for the first time in eight years? Again, email me. The logic escapes me.


3. Just Another Day in Paradise

Before today, 22 lawmakers and staff in the state House had been accused of corruption. One has been acquitted. Five will plead guilty in deals that are not yet public.

Today, the total charged grew by three:

  • Secretary of Revenue Steven Stetler, D-York, resigned this morning in advance of charges by the state grand jury. He is charged with illegally using tax-paid staff and resources for political campaigning over a period of several years, including campaigning for the mayor of York. In a former role as head of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, Stetler is accused of refusing to hire outside consultants to perform campaign work, relying instead on tax-funded staff and equipment.
  • House Democratic Whip H. William DeWeese, D-Greene, according to the grand jury, hired Kevin Sidella in 2001 using taxpayer funds primarily to raise money for DeWeese's campaign committee. Numerous staff, including Sidella under a grant of immunity, testified that he did little or nothing of value for taxpayers. DeWeese automatically loses his leadership position, requiring House Democrats to elect a new whip.
  • A member of DeWeese's district office staff, Sharon Rodavich, was charged with using her taxpayer funded position almost exclusively for personal and political activity.

Click here for the Stetler presentment.
Click here for the DeWeese and Rodavich presentment.

Question:

  • Will former Speaker DeWeese, now removed from leadership, be anointed speaker emeritus' like former speaker John Perzel, R-Phila., also now facing corruption charges, who was given that title after being deposed in 2006?


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