Political Hay

Giveaway Governance

More on the Pennsylvania spending spree.

By 8.9.05

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PITTSBURGH -- It was Christmas in July! Like Santa with an overflowing bag of goodies, Gov. Ed Rendell recently dashed around the state with his super-sized, photo-op checks, handing out $51 million in taxpayers' money, mainly to private businesses that have good schmoozing and grant-writing skills.

And Fast Eddie was not alone. Never to be outdone in the lavish spending department, Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, with $8 million in tax credits in hand and harboring what he called "deep emotional" feelings for the project, says the city's Oak Hill neighborhood should be rebuilt according to his vision with taxpayer subsidies, rather than have the University of Pittsburgh buy the land and deposit several much-needed millions in the city's impoverished coffers.

At the riverside Station Square retail complex in Pittsburgh, to make it easier for boaters to get drinks, more than $1 million in taxpayers' money was spent for a new dock. And out by Pittsburgh's airport, adding to the more than $7 million in taxpayers' money that's already been spent on an industrial park development, Rep. Tim Murphy stopped by to deliver another $150,000 freebie grant from Harrisburg to the Clinton Industrial Park.

Last but not least, Pittsburgh's planning director announced that $700,000 in taxpayers' money will go to 23 neighborhood groups, including Breachmenders Ministries, a group that does good work in the city's roughest neighborhoods "as a demonstration of Christ's reconciling love." The name, explains Breachmenders, comes from Isaiah 58, which calls those who help the oppressed and afflicted "Menders of the Breach."

All those above-mentioned giveaways were in one morning's newspaper -- in addition to the news that last month's legislative pay grab in Harrisburg is being challenged by a lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court, where President Judge James Gardner Colins has just received a $20,000 raise, to $167,000, under the same pay package that the "impartial" court will be judging to be legal or illegitimate.

If the case loses at that level, the decision about the legality of the July 7 pay hike may well end up in the hands of Ralph Cappy, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, who was included in the pay raise himself with a salary jump of more than $20,000, to $171,800.

Acknowledging that he was an active advocate of the pay grab that made the Legislature in Pennsylvania the most costly in the nation, Cappy labeled the public outcry against the pay grab a "knee-jerk" reaction. "I have yet to hear an argument made by anyone -- by a commentator, by a citizen who's approaching me privately -- that this is wrong on the merit," Justice Cappy said.

Well, judge, you just haven't been listening.

Is there merit in the idea that lawmakers can violate Article II, Section 8, of the state constitution -- which specifically forbids legislators from collecting new pay raises until they've been re-elected -- by immediately pocketing their pay raises in the form of "unvouchered expenses"?

Is there merit in the idea that Pennsylvania's legislators should be at the top of the national pay scale when they've had a direct role in pushing Pennsylvania to the bottom of the pile over the past decade in population growth, job creation and income growth?

The Pacific Research Institute ranks Pennsylvania 45th among of the 50 states in its 2004 Economic Freedom Index. A 2004 Cato Institute study shows that Pennsylvania's primary business tax rates remain the third and second highest in the nation. The Cato study also shows Pennsylvania's politicians receiving an "F" grade for controlling spending.

Bottom line, if the Legislature did its job in creating a robust business climate, we wouldn't need a governor running around with $51 million in giveaways, bribing companies to stay in Pennsylvania. And the good folks at Breachmenders wouldn't have such a tough job picking up the pieces.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.