A Bridge for the Haughty

 Dr. John D McGinnis is the host of Two-Way Radio on WRTA in Altoona, PA, and former State Representative.

Politicians around the country are held in very low regard and with good reason. But isn’t it curious that a certain segment of the population adores politicians—themselves.

Case in point: Recently, the PA House unanimously voted in favor of HB 2191 to name a bridge after former State Rep. Rick Geist. According to HB 2191, Geist was born, graduated high school, got elected to the PA House, and died. (The bill does contain two factual errors—it says Geist was first elected in 1979 when 1978 is the correct year and it says he was re-elected 15 times when, in fact, he was re-elected 16 times.) It further says he served on and chaired various committees.

With such accomplishments as those, why would anyone oppose honoring such an esteemed legislator? After all, perhaps there are no military or law enforcement or just ordinary heroes to honor in the 79th, although I could name a hundred off the top of my head.

Geist’s actual legislative record was inconsequential over 34 years with a few notable exceptions.

In 2001, the state pension funds had a $15 billion surplus. That surplus clearly belonged to taxpayers and could have been used to send each taxpayer a $2,500 check or could have been saved for downturns in pension investment value. Instead, Geist co-sponsored HB 26 (2001) which became Act 9, which robbed taxpayers for the benefit of public sector workers. Geist’s own pension value increased 50% as a result of the Act and when he left office the actuarial value of his pension was more than $2 million.

The next year Geist co-sponsored HB 27 which became Act 38, granting an ad hoc COLA to retired public sector workers, robbing taxpayers further.

In 2003, Geist pushed HB 85 (2003) which became Act 40, deferring necessary pension funding so those monies could be spent to grow government further. In the criminal code that applies to the private sector, that’s called misappropriation of funds.

In 2010, Geist pushed HB 2497 (and voted for it twice) which became Act 120 continuing the state’s pension funding dereliction, which had turned that $15 billion surplus in 2001 to near $75 billion of debt by the time he left office.

Of course, back in 2005 he and others were on a mission for a pay raise for legislators. He voted for HB 1521 which became the infamous Act 44, the 2 AM pay raise of July 7, 2005. Minimum raises were 16% and some were as high as 50%, while his own was over 30%. Violating the Constitution (Article II, Section 8: “No member of either House shall during the term for which he may have been elected, receive any increase of salary, or mileage, under any law passed during such term.”), he took the pay raise as an “unvouchered expense” and never returned it, even after Act 44 was repealed BEFORE the next election. Even without this pay raise, Geist’s salary more than doubled during his 34 years of service thanks to 1995 legislation he supported for legislator COLAs in clear violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the state’s Constitution.

Can we talk about per diems? In some years, Geist collected more than $27,000 in per diems for undocumented food and lodging costs. Even if he was in Harrisburg 100 nights a year and no lobbyists were buying him meals, how do you spend $27,000 on food and lodging? It’s likely that a big chunk of that was taken by Geist as tax-free income from taxpayers.

Some will say he did outstanding work on the House Transportation Committee, but by what metric? The Reason Foundation does the most comprehensive measure of transportation effectiveness, state by state, and whereas Pennsylvania was in the 4th quintile in the 1970s and 1980s, it had fallen to the bottom quintile by the time Geist was retired.

On major policy positions, Geist consistently opposed liberty and taxpayers. He was an ardent opponent of right-to-work legislation. There is no record of him anywhere calling for a spending cut or a tax cut. The first budget (1979-80) he voted for had general fund spending of $6.3 billion and total state spending at $10.8 billion. Adjusted for inflation, these totals would be $17.2 billion and $29.5 billion, respectively, when he left office in 2012. Instead, the general fund was at $27.1 billion (nearly 60% over inflation) and the total operating budget was $63.3 billion (114% over inflation).

But wasn’t he good at bringing home the bacon? Well, it must not have been very tasty bacon because the city in his district, Altoona, lost 20% of its population during his tenure.

Naming a taxpayer asset for the poster child of self-dealing and self-serving politicians by the House is, in a way, entirely apt. In honoring one of their own, for nothing other than being one of their own, House members write large their self-adulation and their disdain for all the “little people” who don’t travel in their exalted world.