A res­o­lu­tion for Penn­syl­va­nia vot­ers in 2018

The Hamburg Area Item - - Opinion -

The end of 2017 marks the close of a tu­mul­tuous year in na­tional pol­i­tics, in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, racial ten­sion and sex ha­rass­ment scan­dals.

But here in the fair state of Penn­syl­va­nia, it was a year of busi­ness as usual — a bud­get cri­sis, gam­bling ex­pan­sion, school fund­ing in­equities, prop­erty tax de­bates and leg­isla­tive in­ac­tion.

That li­tany of same old prob­lems was capped off with news that tax­payer dol­lars were used for sex ha­rass­ment set­tle­ments and more news that mem­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture and all state of­fi­cials were get­ting a raise.

If we can re­solve one thing for 2018, it is that we work to im­prove state gov­ern­ment in Penn­syl­va­nia.

Top to bot­tom, in ex­ec­u­tive, leg­isla­tive and ju­di­cial branches, our hope is that vot­ers hold of­fi­cials ac­count­able and that elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives act on be­half of their con­stituents to­ward more bi­par­ti­san, com­mon- sense so­lu­tions to the bud­getary and school fund­ing prob­lems faced.

It’s a tall or­der but one that is long over­due.

The head­lines of the past two weeks prove that point.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported last week that Penn­syl­va­nia House Democrats and a state agency au­tho­rized pay­ment of about a quar­ter- mil­lion in tax­payer dol­lars two years ago to set­tle a sex ha­rass­ment claim against Rep. Thomas Cal­t­a­girone of Berks County, a mem­ber of the Leg­is­la­ture for 40 years.

The pay­ments were re­vealed in re­ports in The Philadel­phia In­quirer and Pitts­burgh Post- Gazette, cit­ing a doc­u­ment pre­pared by the state’s Bureau of Risk and In­sur­ance Man­age­ment that said House Democrats au­tho­rized pay­ing $ 165,500 to a woman who worked for Cal­t­a­girone and $ 82,500 to her lawyer.

The House’s top- rank­ing Demo­crat, Mi­nor­ity Leader Frank Der­mody, is­sued a state­ment say­ing his cau­cus agreed to pay out $ 514,000 since 2007 to set­tle claims by em­ploy­ees. Two in­volved sex­ual ha­rass­ment claims against two mem­bers, and five were other types of em­ploy­ment mat­ters.

Cal­t­a­girone, 75, has de­nied all ac­cu­sa­tions; Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf has urged the long­time leg­is­la­tor to re­sign.

The state’s elected fis­cal watch­dog, Demo­cratic Au­di­tor Gen­eral Eu­gene DePasquale, said he was out­raged that the to­tal amount dis­closed by Der­mody was just be­ing made pub­lic, AP re­ported.

“Tax­payer money should never be used to set­tle sex­ual ha­rass­ment claims against an elected of­fi­cial,” said DePasquale. “As a for­mer leg­is­la­tor, I know that many mem­bers, in­clud­ing my­self, were un­aware that these pay­ments were made. We need to put a stop to it.” Then, there is gam­bling. Af­ter yet an­other em­bar­rass­ing bud­get stand­off last sum­mer, law­mak­ers turned again to ex­pan­sion of gam­bling as a bet to gen­er­ate rev­enue. Al­ready the na­tion’s sec­ond- largest com­mer­cial casino state, leg­is­la­tion signed by Wolf gave Penn­syl­va­nia the added dis­tinc­tion as the fourth state to al­low on­line gam­bling.

The ex­pan­sion will bring casino games to air­ports and truck stops, and the state’s 10 ex­ist­ing larger casi­nos will be able to bid for the right to build smaller satel­lite casi­nos.

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have un­til Dec. 31 to pass res­o­lu­tions if they opt to ban these mini- casi­nos from their bor­ders.

Some say the mini- casi­nos will cre­ate more prob­lems than they solve in lo­cal towns; oth­ers say it’s just morally wrong.

In the midst of these is­sues comes good news — for leg­is­la­tors and other state of­fi­cials. Their salaries will rise 0.8 per­cent in 2018 thanks to an au­to­matic cost of liv­ing ad­just­ment ( COLA), ac­cord­ing to Watch­dog. org.

Penn­syl­va­nia’s law­mak­ers are the sec­ond- high­est paid in the na­tion, with an an­nual base salary set to climb about $ 700, to $ 87,200 for 2018.

“Penn­syl­va­nia has one of the most ex­pen­sive, and ex­ten­sive, leg­is­la­tures in the U. S.,” Leo Knep­per, CEO of the non- profit Cit­i­zens Al­liance of Penn­syl­va­nia, said, ac­cord­ing to Watch­dog. org. “The an­nual bud­get for the Gen­eral As­sem­bly is some­where in the neigh­bor­hood of $ 325 mil­lion. In­clud­ing the 253 state leg­is­la­tors, there are over 3,000 em­ploy­ees work­ing for the Gen­eral As­sem­bly.”

The re­cent news out of Har­ris­burg is enough to make us re­solve to de­mand ac­count­abil­ity and bet­ter re­sults from our elected state of­fi­cials.

Happy New Year with hopes that by Feb. 2, it’s not Ground­hog Day all over again.

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