Are WAMs Back in the Budget?

Bad news for good government: After reforms a few years ago eliminated “WAMs” in the state budget, these discretionary funds seem to have been resurrected.

On Monday, the state Senate passed a $30.8 billion budget, which would increase spending by 5.4 percent over the prior year's budget. This increase would greatly exceed the rate of inflation and population growth (and the Taxpayer Protection Act index), and would require a reported $1.2 billion broad-based tax increase.

Yet while raising taxes on working families, this budget includes a $100 million increase in Community and Economic Development spending for corporate welfare and WAMs.

More than $85 million of the Senate’s budget is devoted to nine line-items associated with WAMs, or “walking around money.” WAMs are discretionary funds used by lawmakers to fund projects in their districts. Inviting corruption, WAMs have been criticized as “slush funds” and deservedly so.

Former lawmakers Mike Veon and Vince Fumo both used WAMs to enrich themselves at the expense of taxpayers—and went to prison as a result. Frankly, there is no compelling reason to put taxpayers at risk for similar abuses. No Pennsylvanian should be forced to pay more to fund pork-barrel projects.

But unfortunately, the Senate budget increased spending and added new spending for programs notorious for funding WAMs.

Select WAMs in Senate Budget
  2014-15 2015-16 Increase Percent Increase
Pennsylvania First $20,000 $34,000 $14,000 70%
Keystone Communities $6,150 $25,240 $19,090 310%
Infrastructure and Facilities Improvement Grants $19,000 $30,000 $11,000 58%
Industrial Resource Centers $0 $11,000 $11,000  
Community and Business Assistance * $0 $3,600 $3,600  
Community and Municipal Facilities Assistance * $0 $7,700 $7,700  
Economic Growth and Development Assistance * $0 $9,107 $9,107  
Reclamation and Revitalization Assistance $0 $3,750 $3,750  
Cultural Activities * $0 $5,935 $5,935  
Total $45,150 $130,332 $85,182 189%
* Program existed in prior years, but they were eliminated in an effort to get WAMs out of the budget.

In the past, these programs have funded a number of questionable projects, including:

  • A $200,000 Pennsylvania First grant to a Kraft plant, which is now planning to close its doors after merging with Heinz
  • A $3 million grant to the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, which used the money to help open an American Eagle Outfitters headquarters, only to have the distribution center close this past July
  • A $200,000 grant to upgrade administrative infrastructure at the Philadelphia Dance Company
  • $10,000 in assistance to the City of Aliquippa for “holiday lighting”
  • $5,000 in boxing equipment for the Pittsburgh Boxing Club
  • $50,000 to the Lycoming County Fair Association for rabbit barn construction and painting
  • $45,000 for contemporary ballet funding

Regardless of the merits of each individual project, the government should not be in the business of subsidizing corporations, purchasing boxing equipment, or paying for rabbit barn construction. With the state in financial distress, and working people already overtaxed, government should be tightening its belt, not opening the floodgates to more spending for wasteful and shadowy pork projects.