Rohrer: Taxpayer Dollars May Be Used to ‘Buy’ Budget Votes

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September 24, 2009

Local lawmaker has introduced bill to prevent this from happening

HARRISBURG — Legislative leaders and Gov. Ed Rendell should not use taxpayer dollars to "buy" rank-and-file lawmakers’ votes for a tax increase. That’s the sentiment expressed by Rep. Sam Rohrer (R-Berks), who is concerned recent media reports may show that is exactly what could take place as Pennsylvania moves toward enacting a state budget.

"Harrisburg political leaders should not use your tax dollars to bribe their colleagues into voting to take more of your tax dollars," Rohrer said.

While details about the $28 billion budget deal struck by legislative leaders and Gov. Ed Rendell are murky at best, several media reports suggest possibly $100 million or more in legislative earmarks – known as "walking around money" grants (WAMs) – could make it into the final budget framework.

Rohrer’s concern surrounds a longstanding process where legislative leaders use WAMs to "buy" votes from rank-and-file lawmakers. In exchange for their votes on a controversial issue, rank-and-file lawmakers receive pork-barrel funding for projects in their district. The strategy is used by legislative leaders to ram rod unpopular legislation – including tax hike proposals – through the General Assembly.

"If this is allowed to happen, it would be double trouble for taxpayers," Rohrer said. "First, they’d have to pay for a pork-barrel project and then they’d have to turn around and pay for the tax increase."

Rohrer said he anticipated political leaders may try to use this strategy when the governor began talking about a Personal Income Tax (PIT) increase several months ago. That is why Rohrer introduced on June 22 a measure – House Bill 1751 – to prevent "vote buying" in the General Assembly.

"This is exactly why I introduced my bill in June," Rohrer said. "When a proposal like a tax increase cannot pass on its merits, legislative leaders attempt to buy the votes using tax dollars. Eliminating state earmarks would be the most significant change we could make in the budget process. Not only would it save millions of dollars by eliminating wasteful pork-barrel projects, but it would also save taxpayers billions of dollars through the avoidance of tax increases now and in the future."

Rohrer’s bill is currently in the House State Government Committee, where it was referred after being introduced in the House more than three months ago.