Op-Ed: Zero Accountability is Status-Quo in Harrisburg

Every day presents another example of the status-quo culture that continues to consume Harrisburg – a culture that embraces a mindset involving no commonsense and no care in the world about how your hard earned tax dollars are spent. 

This week I learned from a York County municipality that because of state bureaucratic red tape, a $2000 road construction project is going to cost the township $10,000 in engineering and permit fees. 

Also this week Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a report of his office’s audit of the Department of Labor & Industry’s (L&I) Unemployment Compensation Service and Infrastructure Improvement Fund (SIIF). The Auditor General found an utter lack of accounting of how $178.4 million was spent by the department over a four year period from 2013 to 2016 – money that was supposed to be used to upgrade and improve the unemployment compensation benefits delivery system. 

Secretary of Labor and Industry (L&I), Kathy Manderino, issued a written statement in response to the audit, in which she claims all of the funds were spent appropriately.  Secretary Manderino has completely ignored the Auditor General’s findings.

Auditor General DePasquale acknowledged that some upgrades were made, but he drove the point home of just how outdated the system is when he stated, “To say it is held together with bubble gum would be an insult to bubble gum.”

Quite frankly, if L&I would be a publicly traded stock company, the government would be investigating them, fining them, and shipping people off to prison.  But because Harrisburg is a government entity there are no legal repercussions. 

One “prominent” (I use that term lightly) reporter out of Philadelphia is already back to pointing the finger at the legislature and particularly me with regard to the unemployment call center layoffs.  He thinks we should have given L&I the additional $57 million they requested to avoid the layoffs.  As the audit showed, the department did not use the $178.4 million correctly – what we suspected all of the time and why many of my colleagues, not just me, did not support giving them more money without accountability. 

So even reporters have embraced the Harrisburg mindset – give state departments more money with zero accountability. 

It is time for zero-based budgeting in Harrisburg.  We need to stop thinking that money grows on trees.  Just because a department was appropriated a certain amount of money one year, does not mean they should not be held accountable and potentially receive less the following year.

As we get into the thick of budget season, I am averaging 5-8 meetings a day with advocacy groups requesting funding for their particular special interest.  Generally speaking, each line item these individuals speak of is a valid expenditure for our Commonwealth.  However, they are the first to be cut when trying to address the $3 billion budget shortfall we have. 

Governor Wolf zeroed out plenty of line items in his budget proposal, and the House recently followed suit with passage of their budget bill, House Bill 218, which is before the Senate Appropriations Committee currently. 

Yet, while valid line items are being zeroed out, we witnessed $178.4 million that was spent with zero accountability.  Add this to the $170 million that was wasted on the original contract with IBM to upgrade the unemployment compensation benefits delivery system. It was Governor Corbett that cancelled that contract, so what has the new administration been doing all of this time with the money we have been sending their way? Auditor General DePasquale has confirmed by his audit that we do not know where the money went. 

Enough is enough.  I am sick of the current status-quo culture in Harrisburg. I will not turn the other way when I witness wasteful spending and zero accountability.

Sometime in June – or whenever the Senate votes on a budget bill – you may see me vote against the budget.  A no vote does not mean I oppose particular line items or the level of spending for each. 

Some may think I am all about cutting funding, but the truth is, I am focused on bringing accountability to the money that we are already spending and ensuring that we are living within our means.  I will not support a budget that increases funding and especially one that increases taxes.  I voted against the 2016-2017 fiscal year’s budget, and I will do the same for the 2017-2018 budget if it increases spending and taxes.

In early April I completed the end of my third year serving in the Pennsylvania State Senate. I have witnessed firsthand the lack of any type of accountability when it comes to spending of taxpayer dollars.

I was sent to Harrisburg by the voters of my Senate district to do the right thing and ask a lot of questions, which I will continue to do.

CONTACT: Erin Marsicano, 717-787-3817, emarsicano@pasen.gov