A reader called our office today, following a conversation with his local lawmakers, who denied there were any WAMs in the budget, and claimed there had not been in many years. Our reader wanted to know the truth.
There is no line item called "Walking Around Money" (WAMs), and no official definition of WAMs, which give lawmakers plausible deniability in regards to WAMs in the budget. But there is no question there is millions in funding for programs that are available to be doled out at legislators' requests for projects (and press events) in their district.
Here is the list of programs we consider WAMs, including $66 million from programs eliminated in 2009 - when lawmakers celebrated a "WAM-free budget" and put back in this year. We are not the only ones suggesting there are "WAMs" in the budget - the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center also identifies programs as WAMs.
Gov. Rendell and Sen. Corman note there are WAMs in the budget, and how they got there:
"[The inclusion of WAMs] was insisted upon by the legislature. It was part of the arrangement," said Gov. Ed Rendell in questions after signing the budget last Tuesday. "If I were king, they wouldn't be there, but I'm not." ...
"Someone in the legislative process had a desire to put those funds back in the budget and got to be part of the negotiating process," said Senate Appropriations Chair Jake Corman (R - Centre).
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review features a discussion of whether or not WAMs - or just "discretionary programs that provide community and economic assistance" - are in the budget:
"There are no WAMs in this budget," state Sen. Jay Costa of Forest Hills, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said yesterday. "These are discretionary programs that provide community and economic assistance. Given our current economic climate, funding these programs was particularly important this year. Investment in our communities is critically important and necessary to stimulate local economic activity." ...
"I don't think there's any debate they are in there," said Rep. Curt Schroder, R-Chester County. "They can be innocuous-sounding and tucked into corners of the budget. I'm told it is $100 million. That's information I've been given discreetly." ...
"Who cares how it's defined when commonwealth money went into a ridiculous project?" [Mark] Schwartz said.
And for a must-read story, the AP investigated how much money lawmakers were requesting in discretionary grants
Even as the state government staggered under a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall that crimped public services and forced layoffs, the Legislature continued to tap a hush-hush pool of grant money set aside for lawmakers' pet projects back home.
All told, legislators have requested about $210 million since the money was approved in July 2008, according to an Associated Press analysis of documents released by the governor's office under a Right-to-Know request......
But decision-making on how the grants are distributed never sees the light of day , there is no public hearing, no publicly available formula to follow.
On top of that, top legislators tend to avoid answering questions about the grants, such as where or how much grant money is tucked in the budget.
So, whether or not we use the term "WAMs," there are large pots of discretionary money for lawmakers to bring home pork to their district.