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Commonwealth Foundation


$65 Million in Earmarks Hidden in State Budget

by Policy Brief
 

$65 Million in Earmarks Hidden in State’s Fiscal Code
Bill Sends Tax Dollars to Dozens of Targeted Projects

August 16, 2017, Harrisburg, Pa.�"Pennsylvanians shouldn’t need a decoder ring to know how their tax dollars are being spent. But lawmakers have hidden more than $65 million in vaguely worded earmarks in the Senate-passed fiscal code, according to an analysis released today by the Commonwealth Foundation.

The fiscal code (HB 453), which awaits consideration in the House, is a companion bill to the state budget, detailing how state funds will be spent. It’s also become a clearinghouse for lobbyist-backed earmarks that bypass accountability measures built into the normal legislative process.
“These backroom deals for targeted projects are just another example of state government’s spending addiction,” commented Nathan Benefield, vice president and COO for the Commonwealth Foundation. “Earmarks disguised in arcane language side-step the important legislative vetting process that exists to protect Pennsylvanians.”

Click here for an interactive version of the map below showing the number and dollar amount of earmarks by county and a searchable/sortable database of 70+ earmarks.

(Map: Number of Earmarks by County)

According to one earmark, “At least $5,000,000 shall be distributed to a hospital in a city of the third class in a home rule county that was formerly a county of the second class A.” This obscurely-worded funding is likely meant for Crozer-Keystone Health System in Chester City.
Another says, “$850,000 shall be allocated to a special rehabilitation facility in Peer Group Number 13 in a city of the third class with a population between 115,000 and 120,000 based upon 2010 census data.” Decoding this earmark indicates this money will go to a facility in Allentown.

This next earmark targets UPMC Hamot in Erie, but you wouldn’t know it from the description: “A qualifying academic medical center located in a county of the third class with a population between 279,000 and 282,000 under the 2010 Federal decennial census shall receive an additional $1,000,000.”
Philadelphia (12), Allegheny (5), and Delaware (5) are the counties with the most known earmarks in the fiscal code.

“Many of these programs are so loosely worded that their true costs and beneficiaries are nearly impossible to determine” continued Benefield. “Regardless of these programs’ merits, lawmakers should not spend millions of dollars with little accountability and no transparency. Pennsylvanians deserve a full vetting of these expenditures, especially when lawmakers and Gov. Wolf threaten tax hikes to pay for them.”

Nathan Benefield and other Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Gina Diorio at 862-703-6670 or gld@commonwealthfoundation.org to schedule an interview.

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