Members of the most overpaid state legislature in the country find news ways to fleece taxpayers.
The phrase "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" refers to negligent and irresponsible behavior in the midst of a crisis, according to the "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings."
What have the members of the Pennsylvania Legislature and Gov. Ed Rendell been up to while Pennsylvania burns? Here's a few examples of how Pennsylvania’s political aristocracy has been spending its time — and your money.
Bookworm of the month
Philadelphia state Rep. Mark Cohen purchased $28,000 worth of books for his personal library and billed taxpayers for the expense. Over the last two years, the state has reimbursed Cohen $28,200 on bookstore spending sprees, according to a review of expense records by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Cohen spent $1,118 in September alone, making nine trips to bookstores, the newspaper reported. This has allowed the self-described "voracious reader" to expand his personal library by more than 800 titles. That's more than one book a day, the newspaper reported.
Cohen defended the practice of forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for his private library, saying that the books make him a better legislator. "I try very hard to be informed on current events. I'm holding myself to standards of excellence," Cohen told the newspaper. "I'm interested in knowing whatever I can about national issues. National issues affect Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania is part of the nation."
Tim Potts, cofounder of Democracy Rising PA, a Harrisburg-based public integrity group, called Cohen’s book collection a blatant abuse of public dollars. "These are personal expenses. What if he was a voracious swimmer? Would taxpayers buy him a swimming pool?" Potts was quoted in the Inquirer. "If he was buying books for the sake of the commonwealth, then the books should be in the State Library."
The Inquirer also reported that Cohen has run up $3,050 in bills for magazines and newspapers over the past two years — all paid by taxpayers.
In a story headlined, "Portraits in spending," The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre reported that two high-ranking Legislators commissioned oil paintings of themselves to hang in the hallowed halls of the gilded palace known as the state Capitol. The cost to taxpayers: $10,000 for each portrait.
This would be the second pricey portrait for Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, R-Blair, because his mug already hangs in the state Capitol for his short stint as lieutenant governor, the newspaper reported.
Sen. Robert J. Mellow, D-Lackawanna, and his family gathered recently on the Senate floor to unveil a $10,000 portrait commemorating his short tenure 10 years ago as senate president pro tempore. Mellow hired a family friend to paint his portrait. A spokesman for Mellow defended the cost of the portrait. "It's a tradition to have these portraits done. And all of these costs are relatively small when compared to the overall state budget."
Matthew J. Brouillette, president of The Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg-based conservative think tank, begs to differ: "I sincerely doubt as Pennsylvanians sit down to do their taxes in the coming weeks and months, that they'd be willing to spend another dime on this kind of excessive and wasteful spending by our legislators," Brouillette told the Times Leader.
Rich man, poor man
Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell has amassed nearly $16 million in campaign contributions as of the end of March. His GOP rival, Lynn Swann, has raised $2 million and spent $500,000 already, leaving him with a campaign war chest of $1.5 million, a fraction of the loot Rendell is sitting on. Whatever happened to the notion that Republicans are the party of the rich?
Do you think Ed Rendell is getting money from working Pennsylvanians? On the contrary, much of Rendell's campaign war chest comes from fat-cat corporations, trial lawyers and casino lobbyists across the country, from Houston to Chicago to New York City. Next time Rendell shows up at a factory to make a speech, someone should ask him where his next $50,000 campaign donation is coming from and what that person is getting for his investment?
Rendell should wear a "for sale" sign on his lapel, as in "the governor's office is for sale to the highest bidder."
Circle this date
Monday, April 17, is the deadline to file your income tax returns (you get an extra two days this year because April 15 falls on a Saturday), but it's also an important date if you want to take back your state from the self-serving politicians.
April 17 is the last day for Pennsylvanians to register to vote in the May 16 primary election. It's also the last day you can change your party affiliation so you can vote against the incumbent in your district.
There's 254 of them (the legislators and Rendell) and 12 million of us. We can win this, but only registered voters will have a say in Pennsylvania’s future.
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas