In late May of last year, the New York Times non-fiction best sellers were Laura Bush's memoir, Spoken From the Heart and Michael Lewis' account of the 2008 stock market crash, The Big Short.
But here in Pennsylvania, the political and legal world was engrossed in a literary work known as
28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Report Number One.
You remember it. It was chock-full of staggering examples of the wasteful, spendthrift ways of the bloated state legislature. You were mesmerized by the revelation that nearly 1,300 employees work for the legislature, more than 9 for each representative and 17 staff for each senator.
Nobody was able to justify such a large number of employees for this body. On the contrary, there was a virtual consensus among those who have worked inside the legislature for many years that the number of employees could be significantly cut with no measureable decrease in the ability of each Member to perform his legislative duties and to serve his constituents. In some instances, the reason for requesting additional staff members has been to compensate for the incompetence of existing staffers. Instead of firing those incompentnt woworkers, you would just add more people. The grand jury finds that the vast overstaffing problem is linked to the patronage system within the legislature. Many staff members are hired at the request of a specific elected member, regardless of the prospective staff member's qualifications (or utter lack of qualifications)
Grand Jury Report Number One didn't stop with a simple recommendation to drastically reduce the number of legislative employees. It noted that while all legislative districts contain the same number of people, some representatives have more than one district office - purely for the purpose of providing more patronage jobs. Rank-and-file member H. William D. Weese, for example, has four district offices.
And per diems? The Grand Jury had plenty to say about per diems: Not having to submit receipts for expenses is bad enough, but the Grand Jury also found that the House Republican Caucus "schemed" for members to acquire additional per diem payments "by periodicaly adding extra 'token' days to the schedule. Any member who appears in the caucus room and does nothing more than sign the sheet will receive full per diem payment for that day."
Appalling! Remember how outraged you all were? Remember how outraged Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett was?
Duplicative print shops, information technology departments and human resource departments, extraneous "PennDOT specialists," hoarding of surplus monies, secret "slush funds" known as Special Leadership Accounts ... the list of wasteful spending went on and on.
Since there's so much excess, unnecessary spending going on in the legislature, and the state is in such financial trouble, and Corbett you'd be pretty sure our budget-cutting governor would propose a sizeable reduction in the legislature's allocation.
As exactly no one seemed to notice, Corbett proposed cutting legislative spending by approximately ZERO PERCENT.
Funding for education? Slashed. Economic development? Decimated. Biomedical research? Snip, snip, snip. He'd eliminate another 1,500 jobs from a state workforce already trimmed to the bone by Governor Rendell's recession budgets.
But the bloated, wasteful legislature, according to Corbett, should not sacrifice one thin American dime.
(By the way, we're sure there's a completely innocent explanation, but that mesmerizing report was signed by the jury foreperson on February 24th, but not released to the public until May 24th. Don't look for the signature page on the version posted on the Attorney General's website; it's not there. It's just a remarkable coincidence.)