Maybe it's the heat, but I'm still fuming about the state of affairs in Pennsylvania. So I'm going to continue the rant I began a few days ago.
The Associated Press reports that a number of high-profile Pennsylvania politicians have received more than $760,000 in campaign contributions from law firms and lobbyists representing the 22 applicants for slot-machine parlor licenses in the state. (That figure is for Jan. 1 to June 5 of this year, the most recent reporting period.) I know we forced the state legislature and Gov. Ed Rendell give back the money they lavished on themselves with the infamous July 2005 pay raise, but how appropriate is it for politicians to be accepting so much money from casino interests? At the very top of the list of recipients is Republican state Sen. Robert Jubelirer, who received $62,500 in casino money. He is followed closely by Gov. Rendell, who pocketed $60,000 from the friends of the casinos. Coming in third is Republican Speaker of the House John Perzel, who got $46,000. These three men also were the driving force behind the legislative pay grab of 2005. Pennsylvania would be so much better off without this trio in charge. Jubelirer was knocked out in the primary. Do yourself a favor and help get rid of Rendell and Perzel. Don't shed a tear for any of them. With all the money the gambling industry has invested in Rendell, Perzel and Jubelirer, I'm sure each has a lucrative casino job waiting for them.
Four lesser-known politicos are also on the list of top recipients of casino money. Sen. Vince Fumo received $29,500. Fumo was in the news recently when it was revealed that he spent more than $1.2 million in taxpayer and campaign funds to pay lawyers to defend him against a corruption probe by the FBI. You see Fumo is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and he decided the best way to spend $1,031,700 or your tax dollars was on lawyers to help keep Fumo out of the clutches of the FBI. Your tax dollars at work. Isn't it nice when you can use other people's money to defend yourself against charges that you’ve betrayed the public trust? Only in Pennsylvania.
Rep. Sam Smith, the No. 2 Republican in the House, received $29,000 from the casinos. Rep. Mike Veon, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, received $26,500. Smith thinks he's going to fill Perzel's shows when Perzel is sent to the back of the room by his fellow Republicans, but Smith has been Perzel's errand boy way too long. There's going to be a new batch of legislators going to Harrisburg in January 2007 and their first duty is to fumigate the place. Veon, in addition to providing comedy relief as the sidekick of Rep. Bill DeWeese, the top Democrat in the House, also has the distinction of being the only member of the House to vote against the repeal of the 2005 pay grab. What do all these politicians have in common? They love money. Our money. They love to spend it. They love to waste it. They like to lavish it on themselves. They like to raise our taxes so they can have more of our money to spend. Every incumbent who accepted money from the casinos should return it. If they refuse, vote them out.
If you've been wondering how the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board could spend between $50 million and $100 million (nobody knows the exact amount) in less than a year, you might want to take a look at the board's payroll. That's what Michael Race, the Harrisburg bureau chief for the Times-Shamrock newspaper group in the Scranton area, did recently, compiling a detailed list of how much our newest "public servants" are earning. It's costing taxpayers $11.5 million a year to cover the salaries of the Gaming Board. In a story headline, "Gaming board ranking in fat paychecks," Race found that 25 appointed officials and top staffers at the Gaming Board each earn more than $100,000 a year. Nearly one-third of the agency's 170 employees pocket more than the $72,187-a-year base pay for state lawmakers, who felt voters' wrath after they briefly boosted their salaries last year, Race says. The average annual salary for a gaming board employee is $67,400 — about double Pennsylvania's per capita income of $33,257, according to state census data. Here's some more gems from Race's investigation: Anne LeCour Neeb, the board's executive director, makes $180,011. She is followed in the pay rankings by board chairman Thomas "Tad" Decker, who makes $150,006. The board's six other voting members earn $145,018 each. Your tax dollars in action, folks.
Even before the first casino license has been issued, we know who's already made out like one-arm bandits: Politicians and their cronies.
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