There is no way to scientifically measure the arrogance of state legislative leaders. But their use of your state tax money as their own is a good indicator.

Thursday, in the dead of the mid-holiday news cycle, the Legislative Audit Advisory Commission — a group of state lawmakers that rubber-stamps an audit of themselves and their colleagues — reported that the Legislature hoarded an additional $43 million last year that could have helped pay for actual government services. (It was nearly enough, for example, to cover the $55 million or so in state funding that the Scranton School District should have but did not receive over the last decade.)

The Legislature now sits on a total surplus of $138 million. That is an unconscionable 38 percent of its $355 million budget, exponentially more than any state agency would be allowed to hold. School districts, for example, are limited to reserves of 8 percent.

Lawmakers oblivious to problem

“I think that instead of condemning us, you should praise us for not spending all the dollars,” commission Chairman Rep. Mark Keller, a Perry County Republican, told reporters.

The report is “nothing to be ashamed of as far as I can see,” said Rep. Pat Harkins, an Erie Democrat, proving that self-congratulatory rhetoric is one of the few bipartisan pursuits at the Capitol.

Such a massive surplus just proves that the legislators appropriate too much money for themselves, at the expense of taxpayers and programs that need the money.

Legislative leaders contend that the massive slush fund is necessary to keep the Legislature running in the event of a budget impasse with the governor. But history proves the opposite. The massive surplus precipitates budget impasses between the Republican legislative majorities and the Democratic governor. It enables the lawmakers to reject budgetary compromise with no cost to themselves.

This surplus is just another aspect of Pennsylvania’s woeful governance. To Perry’s credit, he said he would prefer to see the Legislature spend down the surpluses. That is just what it should do, before following up with a law, rather than a mere rule, making it illegal for the Legislature to hoard vast sums of the people’s money for the purpose of funding political stalemates.

The above editorial was published Dec. 28 by The (Scranton) Times Tribune. Its views are its own.

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