I've been working on a new daily news site for the last two months, trying to pull together the top stories from south east Pennsylvania in one place. One great byproduct of my research is that I am seeing new things virtually every day. And since I was sworn in as Mayor of my town last week, that's a good thing - seems as though I've got a lot to learn, however.
I've been hearing about earmarks for the last few years in the national scene. Mostly the Repubs making some claim or other in an election cycle that they would stand against them, etc etc. Then Saint O made his grandiose posturing last year only to cave on earmarks like all the rest. Clearly, it's an accepted piece of Washington business that the politicos aren't going to give up without blood in the streets (so to speak).
Now, I see that the Pennsylvania Legislature has been busily working to keep pace with its "big time" counterparts inside the beltway.
What I'm referred to is the infamous "table games" legislation, more properly known as Pennsylvania SB711, which passed last week after Governor "Fast Eddie" Rendell used Pennsylvania jobs as a tool to blackmail the legislature into approving the bill. What first drew my attention was a WGAL story picking out some of the "pork" in the bill. Then, this week came the story that a local Republican State Senator Jeff Piccola had voted against the bill (which I had expected of him) but had included earmarked $$ for his district.
This led me to do a little more digging. Turns out there are plenty of news stories out there about the pork being spread around within this bill - for example:
Then some names popped up in addition to Senator Piccola. The one that really grabbed my attention was that of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, however. So, like any budding political reporter I went immediately to his Facebook page. Ha? Well, right there on his page is an entry from January 6th relating the following:
The Senate approved SB 711 (gaming reforms and the authorization of table games) yesterday. It could be considered by the House today. The bill includes a provision to use Chester's local share of the table games revenue to make it more affordable for residents of the Chester-Upland School District to attend Delaware County Community College.
A "provision", eh?
Tracking further into things, I found an entire press release trumpeting Senator Pileggi's "achievement" of earmarking money for his district.
Some of the news stories I read cited popular approval of the process of using convoluted language within bills (see page 132 line 2 of the bill linked above for an example) to bypass constitutional waypoints in assigning fund dollars to specific areas and projects. Here's a quote from an article:
Proponents of the local set-aside say the idea has popular support among rank-and-file lawmakers, as well as mayors, county commissioners and other community figures.
Not from THIS Mayor...
It seems glaringly obvious that the local officials and "community figures" referred to don't realize that apportioning public monies in this fashion is at best constitutionally suspect, and at worst flat-out unethical behavior from otherwise (supposedly) respectable public stewards. I'm sure someone can give me a reasonable argument in favor of using earmarks to save an inordinate amount of dollars from flowing into Rendell's preferred locales of Philly and Pittsburgh, but it seems to me that the "spirit of 2010" is partly an intentional revisiting of integrity in public office, and using 'fire to fight fire' just reduces the Republican party in the public square. Are state representatives and senators supposed to be PROUD they siphoned off public money for their districts and pet projects? Even better, should they be applauded for voting against an appropriation bill while including earmarks, as Senator Piiccola apparently did?
As someone who views the public trust as the highest of responsibilities, I am disgusted that this is clearly viewed as conventional tactics. More so that the Republicans are actively involved. Earmarks as a concept need to go and not return, with statewide projects and organizations applying for funding publicly and proper notice given of the process.
But of course I'm not inside the Harrisburg Beltway.