Democracy Rising Pennsylvania
More Support for a Constitution Convention
Convention is overdue to remodel statehouse, column by Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 13
This brings to five the number of leading columnists in PA who believe it’s time for a Constitution convention. A dozen of the state’s leading newspapers also have editorialized in support of a referendum or a convention.
Click here to sign the petition.
Open Records? Open This.
The Bad News
Like you, we have heard glowing reports from our state senators about how wonderful PA’s new open records law is. To hear them tell it, they’ve given us the best thing since the zip drive. So we decided to take it for a test drive.
Two months ago, a DR volunteer asked the Senate to provide information about the per diems that senators have collected. We wanted to know how much money each senator has received.
On November 13, the chief clerk sent us this report. It’s 254 pages long in pdf form and lists per diems paid chronologically from January 2008 through October 2009. Don’t spend much time looking at it, just enough to see that calculating the total for each of 50 senators is a nightmare, consuming an incredible amount of time. It’s about as citizen-hostile as they can make it.
Of course, the chief clerk has this information in a much more convenient form. Most likely, it’s in an Excel spreadsheet, which would allow us to obtain the per-senator per diem totals in a matter of seconds. So our volunteer asked the chief clerk either to provide us with a report that gave the totals for each senator or to provide us with the Excel file.
The chief clerk refused. But we were still curious, so here’s the information in an Excel file on DR’s web site. Below some background about per diems, you can download the data and see three different tabs at the bottom of the page giving:
• "All Data" provided by the chief clerk.
• "Expense Totals by Payee," i.e. by senator
• "Expenses by Payee and Type," including the complete record by senator and the kind of expense paid.
Having the information in this form allows you to sort the data and learn, for example, that over the 22-month period the senator who has collected the most per diems is none other than Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, who collected $37,826. Wozniak is far ahead of his nearest competitor, Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, who collected $31,153.
At the low end of the list among those who have served in the Senate for the full period of the report (the lowest retired from the Senate last year) is Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph B. Scarnati, R-Jefferson, who collected only $8,023. The only other senator below the $10,000 threshold for the full period is Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Bucks, at $8,058. Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, collected $8,216 but that represents just his first year in the Senate. Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, who was elected to the Senate in March, has collected $9,901. At that rate he’s on track to overtake Wozniak as per diem king by the time his term ends in 2012.
Altogether, our senators have collected $774,700 in per diems over the past 22 months. That’s on top of their salary, health care and other benefits.
The Good News
The state House of Representatives last week passed legislation that could make it far easier to get this and all other financial information from the legislature. It’s House Bill 1880, whose prime sponsor is Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Lycoming.
The bill creates the Pennsylvania Government Accountability Portal (PennGAP), a searchable Internet database that will allow citizens to examine state spending in all three branches of government. It also requires that reports of state spending be "accessible on a 24-hour basis and without cost and shall be readable in plain and easily understood language."
In addition to an expansive range of expenditure information, the PennGAP web site would include:
• performance measures for state-funded programs
• information about investments
• businesses that have failed to pay sales taxes collected from their customers
• information about revoked or suspended professional and occupational licenses
The bill passed the House last week by a vote of 192-0.
• Will your senator ensure that HB 1880 passes in its current form, including the legislature?
• Will your representative, after voting for HB 1880, force House leadership to comply with its provisions for free and easily understood information even before it becomes law?
Folks, this is the kind of work your donations support. Please help us do more of it. After the past four years of legislative posturing about transparency, it’s a pretty good bet you can’t count on your lawmakers to do it.
We can be reached at: P.O. Box 618, Carlisle, PA 17013
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