HARRISBURG (July 6) – Two groups advocating higher standards of integrity in state government today commemorated the 5th anniversary of the Pay Raise of 2005 by calling on gubernatorial candidates to become aggressive about leading the legislature toward improvements in public integrity, including a Constitution convention.
Speaking at a capitol news conference, Eric Epstein of RocktheCapital.org (RTC) and Tim Potts of Democracy Rising PA (DR) called on Democrat Dan Onorato and Republican Tom Corbett to outline how they would use the power of the governor’s office to force the hand of lawmakers unwilling to reform.
Citing a lack of meaningful progress toward an honest and accountable government, Potts said, “Citizens need a megaphone to reach our tone-deaf lawmakers, and the only one loud enough to do the job is the governor.”
Epstein also marked the occasion by releasing a 47-page report on 60 current and former lawmakers who took the unconstitutional pay raise and have refused to return it, thereby inflating their pensions.
“The rules have not changed to protect the innocent, and they are not going to change until we have a constitutional convention or a sustained, broad-based insurrection against the political lard gumming up the works,” Epstein said.
Potts agreed. “Without a Constitution convention in PA, our future as citizens is not our own. We have become a people of the government, by the government and for the government.”
In a three-part questionnaire , the groups ask a dozen questions about the reforms recommended by the 28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury; WAMs, or Walking Around Money, that fuels lawmakers’ pet projects; and the legislature’s surplus of $180 million, which is expected to grow to more than $200 million as a result of this year’s budget.
One of the questions asks the candidates whether they will call a Special Session on Public Integrity when one of them takes office next January. RTC and DR both called on Gov. Ed Rendell more than two years ago to call such a special session. Rendell refused, saying he didn’t think it was necessary. Since then, 25 current and former lawmakers and staff have been charged and convicted of various crimes of public corruption; the state Supreme Court refused to act to prevent one of the worst judicial scandals in American history; and a secretary of revenue resigned hours before being charged with corruption from his days in the General Assembly.
In May, after two years of study, the grand jury recommended dozens of ways to prevent corruption and waste in the General Assembly. It concluded that a Constitution convention was necessary to repair the legislature.
The budget partially enacted last week contains more than $120 million in traditional WAMs and hundreds of millions of dollars in pet capital projects, many or all of which appear to violate the Constitution, according to Potts and Epstein. Incumbent lawmakers use the funds to curry favor with local voters, even as they slash spending on programs, such as state parks and libraries, that serve millions of constituents.
Lawmakers ended last year with an estimated $180 million surplus from previous years. Instead of using the money to prevent cuts to programs, lawmakers have promised to implement cost cost-cutting measures that will increase their surplus by next June 30.
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