DR Funding Update: The Lighter Side

Member Group : Democracy Raising PA

From time to time, we at DR are accused of being a bit too serious and sober. OK. More than "a bit." Luckily, some of our members knock off the edge with their notes of encouragement and support. Like one donor who sent this note with his contribution: "Keep undressing them in public!" And then there was this advice heading into a Constitution convention: "All public officials should be limited to two terms – one in office and the other in prison!"

We’ll have a bit more sardonic humor below, but it’s time to be serious again. Folks, we need your support to do this work. It makes a difference when we can meet with political leaders and they know that citizens are behind us, both with their opinions and with their contributions.

Showing political leaders that DR means business is worth $10 to me!
Just $10 from each of our more than 6,000 members will send that message loud and clear. Of course some won’t contribute $10, and some can’t. So if you can contribute to our work, please make as generous a contribution as you can. In return, we plan a very active 2011 – and you can play a part.

• There are more than 100 county fairs, grange fairs and other community events in PA each year. We plan to be present at as many of them as possible, taking the petition drive for a referendum next November to more citizens. If you can visit us at a fair near you – or even staff our table for a few hours – we’d love to see you.

• We also hope to begin a series of small meetings with DR fans throughout PA. Some call it "Pizza with Potts." Others call it a "Potts-luck Dinner" or "Pasta with Potts." Whatever it’s called, the goals are to meet more people, to learn directly what their hopes are for a Constitution convention, to answer their questions, and to expand the ranks of citizens who are ready to push the "reset" button on their government.

Can you hold such an event in your home for your friends and neighbors? Could a group of neighbors hold such an event at a convenient place in your community? We’ll be grateful to meet with you. Just email us at [email protected] .

The Legislature’s Surplus at $188 Million

The Legislative Audit Advisory Committee yesterday released what passes for an "audit." It shows that the surplus in legislative accounts dropped from $201 million on July 1, 2009 to $188 million on July 1, 2010.

Legislative ‘slush fund’ decreases by 6 percent, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 15
Legislative surplus draws debate, Scranton Times-Tribune, Dec. 15

The Bonus Scandal Grand Jury’s report recognized that yesterday’s report is less than a normal audit. It recommended, "…a full, independent audit, not the ‘does the income column match the outflow column’ performed currently." (p. 25) In other words, the legislature’s review does not examine whether money was spent for legitimate legislative business. If it did, the Bonus Scandal either wouldn’t have happened in the first place or it would have been discovered immediately.

This is a prime example of how lawmakers make sure they don’t have to live with the laws they enact for everyone else. With rare exceptions, executive and judicial agencies are not allowed to have a surplus. At the end of the year, any unspent funds lapse to the Treasury. The Grand Jury also recommended that legislative hoarding stop. "At the end of a budget year, all unused budget money must be returned to the state treasury. Any such unused budget money could then be used for the next budget cycle or for emergency public works projects." (p. 22) In fact, the legislature’s surplus could have avoided all cuts in major environmental, state parks, agriculture, public library, drug and alcohol, State Police and State Health Center cuts this year with $140 million to spare.

There is no good reason during a budget impasse why the General Assembly should have a stash of cash while the other branches are bankrupt.

To put this in context, $188 million represents 60% of the General Assembly’s budget for 2010-11. Few school districts are allowed to have more than 8% of their budget in unrestricted reserves. So when the General Assembly decides not to pass a budget on time, they and their staff can hold out for seven months before they run out of money. Schools can hold out for less than one month before they’re in trouble. Of course, some schools don’t have even that much of a cushion, and state workers have endured payless paydays while legislators and their staff conduct business as usual.

The Grand Jury recommended that the surplus for each caucus "…should be eliminated or, at a minimum, be reduced to an amount not to exceed one week of caucus operations." (p.22)

A Funny "Cliff’s Notes" Version of Court Troubles

Bill Whitefrom the Allentown Morning Call has summarized our court system’s many scandals and ethical lapses in a column everyone, except perhaps Chief Justice Ron Castille, can enjoy: I wish this actually happened, Dec. 8.

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