by Eric J. Epstein
The annual ritual of assigning lumps of coal and packets of candy for “economic development” projects and political initiatives is usually a dark exercise. This year is particularly forgettable given the budget morass, recession, unemployment, and dark storm clouds massing for next year. So the challenge is finding six sparkles to brighten a political year corroded by monumental ineptness.
Candy: Attorney General Tom Corbett’s public corruption investigation into the Pennsylvania Legislature resulted in the filing of criminal charges against former Speaker of the House John Perzel and former Representative Brett Feese and eight current and former aides who allegedly misused over $10 million for campaign purposes
Coal: Governor’ Rendell’s insistence on a Personal Income Tax increase during a recession.
Candy: Auditor General Jack Wagner reported in January 2009 that his Office found an error rate of 14% in a review of nearly 12,000 Medicaid applications in 53 of 67 counties. “Even if the error rate were only 4%, as the Department of Public Welfare has recently asserted, eliminating this amount of waste would save Pennsylvania taxpayers $320 million a year,” said Wagner.
Coal: The $173,820 the Liquor Control Board spent on charm school for its employees.
Candy: Conviction of former Senator Vince Fumo on all 137 counts of defrauding the state senate and two nonprofits out of millions of dollars.
Coal: U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter who reduced Fumo’s sentence from the 15 years sought by prosecutors to 55 months. Buckwalter said he gave Fumo credit for his extraordinary public service.
Candy: $1 million in projected savings if the House joined the Senate and contributed 1% of their gross pay toward the cost of their taxpayer-funded health insurance.
Coal: Governor Rendell’s payment of $100,000 for “part-time work” to Philadelphia political strategist and media consultant Ken Snyder to “publicize” federal stimulus spending, and the creation of a $95,000-a-year post for former Rep. Dan Surra four months into an administration-wide hiring freeze.
Candy: Rep. Barbara McIlvaine-Smith was the first lawmaker to sign up and support a Constitutional Convention. She was also the first to take-on legislative cost-of-living adjustments by crafting legislation that would repeal Act 51 of 1995, ending automatic COLAs for the legislature, judges and executive branch officials. McIlvaine Smith donated her COLA to five local charities. Sadly, Rep. McIlvaine Smith decided not to run for re-election next year. “When I was elected, I got to Harrisburg with 50 reformers. But the leaders pulled them in…. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, ‘We don’t want to hear any more about reform; we’re done with reform.’”
Coal: Democratic Majority Leader Todd Eachus – who never gave back his pay raise from 2005 – for hiring Chris Casey on December 2, 2008 for a 45 day contract at an undisclosed hourly rate. Casey is still conducting a “top to bottom review” of the House Dems. Mr. Eachus insists the caucus is under “new management,” but recently received a invitation to testify before a grand jury investigating whether state money and resources were misused for political purposes.
Candy: To anybody or anything that can induce Governor Rendell to leave Harrisburg a year early.
Coal: The $532,000 taxpayer bill for legislative per-diems in July and August not to get the budget done.
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