$153 Million State Dollars for Sports?

Member Group : Democracy Raising PA

$153 million for sports? RACP Grants, Part II

The decision by Auditor General Jack Wagner not to approve, at least for now, $1 billion in state borrowing has created the opportunity for a discussion about priorities that has not yet occurred. See Part 1 of DR’s review of RACP grants in the October 27 edition of DR News.

In part, Wagner notes that $300 million in bond funds are available already for priority projects. He also says he wants Gov.-elect Tom Corbett to have a chance to look over the proposed projects for another $1 billion in bond money before he, Wagner, will approve it.

Here are two stories about Wagner’s decision:

Auditor General Jack Wagner tells Gov. Ed Rendell he won’t sign off on $1 billion bond for projects, Patriot-News, Dec. 1

$1 billion bond proposal for Pennsylvania draws objections, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 2.

The question of priorities is the heart of the matter. Reviewing HB 2911, the capital budget enacted in October, DR found at least $153 million authorized for 33 different projects involving sports facilities. The grants range from a low of $250,000 for a project in Pittsburgh to $20 million for a stadium in Chester, Delaware County. The authorized projects also include $14 million for "a Lehigh Valley sports facility," assuming that the $7 million allocated for Lehigh County and the $7 million allocated for Northampton County with the same description are the same project.

There is some mystery about which, if not all, of these projects are included in the $1 billion bond proposal. So far, we are unable to get a complete list of the projects proposed for funding. The Auditor General’s Office said it has only a partial list and referred us to the Department of Community and Economic Development. DCED said they don’t have the list and referred us to the Governor’s Office. We’ll let you know if we have any luck there.

Striving for transparency in government spending is worth $10 to me!
Editorial opinion about Wagner’s decision has been mixed. Some argue that Wagner was right to wait, given the deficit PA faces. Here’s an editorial from the Dec. 7 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: A bond too far?: $1 billion is too much to swallow in this economy.

The Scranton Times-Tribune, however, points out that many of the projects included in the bond authorization are worthy and necessary: AG, treasurer: Approve bond, Dec. 3. It also argues that such state spending is needed to shore up an economy that otherwise isn’t creating jobs.

This controversy points out the flaw in the process by which the governor and legislators enact the budget year after year, whether it’s the operating budget or the capital budget. Instead of documents that reflect an informed debate about priorities for limited resources, both documents reflect the secret deals of political leaders who seem to believe that resources are unlimited for their friends and cronies. Instead of focusing on statewide needs, both documents focus on local needs that they satisfy with WAMs and RACPs.

Wagner’s action enables the debate over state priorities and denies to outgoing political leaders, if only temporarily, the personal priorities they created at taxpayer expense. However, Wagner’s signature is not necessary if State Treasurer Rob McCord approves the bond issue. So far, McCord also is temporizing, in part to give Corbett a chance to review the matter, but also to see whether interest rates could be better next year.

Striving for transparency in government spending is worth $10 to me!

• Do taxpayers think $153 million for sports and athletic facilities is more important than other uses for that money, such as repairing roads, bridges, public buildings, water supplies, sewer lines and other aspects of our infrastructure?

• Assuming Wagner stands fast in refusing to approve the bond, will Gov.-elect Corbett use the opportunity to generate a public debate over priorities, or will he continue the pattern of secret deals?

• Will House and Senate leaders begin using an open budget process to engage citizens in a debate over statewide priorities? Or will they continue to raid the treasury as if it were an ATM for campaign contributors and for currying favor back home?

Follow-up to gifts for judges

The Legal Intelligencer has issued a tough editorial excoriating the practice of justices taking gifts from law firms and their clients: Justices need tougher rules on taking gifts, published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 6.

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