email from Democracy Rising Pennsylvania, 3/26/12
Four F’s, one D, four C’s, three B’s, and two A’s. Overall grade: C-.
No, that’s not the report card for our public schools, which perform much better than that. It’s the report card for Pennsylvania’s commitment to public integrity.
The year-long study that produced the State Integrity Investigation report card was issued in mid-March. You can find it at www.stateintegrity.org.
Our F’s come as no surprise:
Judicial Accountability. The ‘kids-for-cash” scandal, the worst abuse of judicial power in American history, did nothing to open the secretive process by which complaints about judges are received and reviewed. The court system continues to insist that it cannot be bound by such things as the Right-to-Know Law, and nothing is in the works to change that.
Political Financing. The Democracy Rising PA Public Integrity Poll found that 87% of PA voters want to change how political campaigns are financed, with 74% specifically wanting to limit the amount individuals and groups can contribute to candidates. Gov. Tom Corbett and legislative leaders frankly don’t care what the voters want.
State Budget Processes. Our state budget is crafted almost entirely in secret. Citizens are not allowed to see anything that goes into creating the governor’s proposal, nor does the legislature allow any meaningful citizen input once the budget document is ready for legislative passage.
Redistricting. PA’s process is a classic conflict of interests in which legislative leaders, rather than an independent commission, create districts. PA still does not have a map for the 2014 elections, but not because it can’t be done. It can be done in a day. Rather, capitol reporters say that leaders are stalling so that they can extort votes for things such as education vouchers that PA voters consistently have said they do not want. Lawmakers who don’t toe the party line are threatened with districts that could be hostile to their re-election, sources say.
All of this occurs when PA has the most criminally prosecuted legislature in America. Yet the response by Gov. Corbett and legislative leaders has been a collective shrug. Even worse, it has been a quiet campaign to eviscerate the few state agencies whose job is to investigate, prosecute, and prevent public corruption.
Over the four years including Gov. Corbett’s proposed budget for 2012-13, the three leading agencies are taking huge cuts.
The Department of State, responsible for laws that govern elections, campaign finance, and lobbying – cut 28.9%.
The State Ethics Commission, responsible for enforcing other aspects of public integrity – cut 23.5%.
The Office of Open Records, responsible for enforcing the public’s right to know – cut 6.1%.
We’re not talking about big savings. Under the governor’s proposal, the combined budget for these agencies amounts to just four-hundredths of one percent of the total budget. Our House and Senate will spend 62% more on printing next year ($18,975,000) than the budgets of the three agencies combined ($11,713,000). The budget for work on the Capitol building ($1,720,000) will be greater than the budget for the State Ethics Commission ($1,680,000). In other words, we will spend more to repair the building than for an agency that could repair what goes on in it.
Meanwhile the legislature continues to sit on an unconscionable surplus – somewhere north of $150 million, most likely – that it is now three months behind schedule in disclosing. It must be hard to slash budgets for public integrity and services for people with disabilities when voters know how much money lawmakers are hoarding for nothing in particular.
A crowning irony of this is that one of the A’s we received in the State Integrity Investigation was for internal auditing. But that’s small comfort when voters are not allowed to know what an audit reveals.
What can we do about this? Call your lawmakers and tell them to get serious about public integrity. Tell them to read and heed the State Integrity Investigation. Tell them to give enforcement agencies the money, staff, and authority they need to make PA a leader in something other than corruption.
In tight budget times, remind them that corruption costs and integrity saves. Then see how serious they are about saving money.