Coal Crackers

Posted by By at 5 February, at 22 : 40 PM Print

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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