Shhh… State’s Fiscal Code Hides Earmark Secrets
Budget Companion Bill Picks Winners at Lobbyists’ Behest
January 14, 2016, HARRISBURG, Pa.—On Tuesday, the Pa. House passed a “fiscal code” which implements parts of the new state budget. While the fiscal code includes many important reforms that benefit taxpayers, it has also become a political vehicle to satisfy lobbyists’ appetites for earmarks.
“Many Pennsylvanians don’t realize the budget bill is only one part of the state spending plan,” commented Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation. “The fiscal code often slips through the legislative process largely unnoticed. As a result, lobbyists have used the code as the bill of choice for hiding earmarks, bypassing accountability measures in the competitive grant process.”
The Commonwealth Foundation has found 45 earmarks in this year’s fiscal code, amounting to more than $40 million funneled to lobbyists’ priorities, which may or may not represents taxpayers’ best interests.
“Lawmakers and the governor should be examining every possible option to cut wasteful spending,” continued Brouillette, “not allowing well-connected lobbyists to slip their hands in the cookie jar when no one is looking.”
The fiscal code—a companion bill to the state budget—gives lawmakers direction on spending the revenue approved in the budget. The code’s deliberately vague language, however, often hides earmarks for specific projects, ensuring they receive funding without going through the competitive grant process.
For example, one $450,000 earmark is allocated “to a multimunicipal revitalization organization in a county of the sixth class with a population, based on the most recent Federal decennial census, of at least 68,000 but not more than 70,000 for sidewalks and repairs associated with downtown revitalization.”
Another $1,500,000 earmark is set aside for “a physician practice plan serving a health system located in a city of the first class and a contiguous county of the second class A which did receive funding during fiscal year 2014-2015.”
“Clearly these earmarks are carefully targeted, but they’re written to make it difficult to discover who is benefitting,” Brouillette continued. “Solving codes may be fun when you’re playing games, but not when you’re spending taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers are left wondering what they’re truly paying for and how much it will cost.
“While some codes are meant to keep secrets, our fiscal code should set the example of transparency. Pennsylvanians shouldn’t need a reference key to understand how the state is spending their hard-earned money.
“The fiscal code is an important piece of legislation that contains many taxpayer-friendly reforms. It’s unfortunate that it’s become tainted by lobbyists’ projects. The governor and lawmakers should end the practice of hiding earmarks in the fiscal code and commit to bringing true transparency and accountability to the legislative process.”
Matthew Brouillette and other Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Gina Diorio at 862-703-6670 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an interview.
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