I’m worried that the outrage Pennsylvania residents expressed last summer and fall over the July 7 pay-jacking is fading.
If your memory is hazy about the betrayal of the public trust, not to mention the flagrant 2 a.m. raid on the state treasury by people who took an oath to up the state Constitution, here’s a few reminders on why voters must send a clear message to incumbents that they will no longer accept business as usual attitude in Harrisburg.
They still don’t get it
The Patriot-News in Harrisburg reported over the weekend that the state's seven Supreme Court justices billed taxpayers for more than $53,000 in food, travel and other expenses during the last six months of 2005.
Among the expenses was a $318 bill for dinner submitted by then-Justice Russell Nigro on the night before he was voted out of office, newspaper reported in its Sunday edition. On the day after the November election, Nigro dined at another upscale Philadelphia restaurant, that time running up a $124 tab. The Patriot-News reported that the justices' recent charges included 95 meals; trips to conferences in Alaska, Puerto Rico and South Carolina; $5 tips to doormen; and $6 for snacks from an honor bar. Justice J. Michael Eakin charged taxpayers $5 for tolls to attend the October funeral of the husband of Justice Sandra Schultz Newman.
"This is the result of government out of control, and we have people in there who do not relate to the average Pennsylvanian who is earning $35,000 per year," Matthew Brouillette, president of the Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation, told the newspaper. "When we have elected officials or public servants spending taxpayer money on luxurious hotel rooms or lavish dinners, it is time for a revolution in Pennsylvania."
In the previous fiscal year, Pennsylvania justices submitted $164,212 in expenses, the newspaper reported. It appears these imperial judges don’t brush their teeth in the morning without billing the taxpayers. The day will soon arrive when Pennsylvania justices will trade in their black robes for regal robes befitting the royal judiciary they’ve set up for themselves.
The Legislature repealed the pay raise after Nigro was tossed out of office by voters. Many of the larcenous legislators expressed remorse last fall, but it appears most have returned to their evil ways, figuring the voters got over their anger when they got rid of Nigro. This allowed the legislators to get back to their regular schedule of pillaging the taxpayers. The only way Gov. Ed Rendell and the GOP-controlled Legislature will get the message that taxpayers have had enough is if the majority of incumbents are voted out in 2006.
Bob Casey Jr. -- Friend or foe?
Bob Casey Jr., who gets paid to be Pennsylvania treasurer but has failed to show up for work 90 of the last 211 work days because he’s campaigning to unseat Sen. Rick Santorum, surprised many on Monday by putting out a press release stating that the Legislature violated the state Constitution in giving itself a pay raise last year.
The really odd thing is that Casey is one of the people sued by a citizen activist who wants the courts to rule that the pay raise was unconstitutional. Casey didn’t vote for the pay raise, but as state treasurer, he signs the checks our larcenous legislators have been depositing into their personal bank accounts.
When was the last time a defendant in a lawsuit sided with the people suing him? Probably never. It’s hard to judge Casey’s sincerity here because he is a professional politician who has run for five different offices in the past 10 years. But Casey’s statement is significant because he is the first state official to take the side of the citizens of Pennsylvania. Don’t forget that Gov. Rendell and a majority of Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature along with the chief justice of the state Supreme Court pushed for the 16 percent to 54 percent pay raises for themselves.
Casey is locked in a bitter struggle to unseat Santorum and some see Casey’s announcement as a Machiavellian political move to win support for his own race. Regardless of Casey’s motives, it’s good to have an elected officials stand with the people of Pennsylvania for a change.
Voters can take matters into their own hands on May 16 by voting out incumbent Legislators in the primary election.
If you can’t get enough of my views in print on the most corrupt state government in the United States, you can now listen to me complain about Pennsylvania politics. Harrisburg-area activist Bill Bostic, who has a blog called One-Man Think Tank, interviewed me for a podcast available for download at his Web site, www.billbostic.blogspot.com