New Castle News

Editorials

May 21, 2014

Our Opinion: State lawmakers reach out with aid of public funds

NEW CASTLE — “You need something to entice them to come.”

That quote, from state Rep. Gary Haluska, speaks volumes about a program many lawmakers defend as a way to reach out to the public.

But events such as senior expos and veterans gatherings sponsored by members of the Pennsylvania Legislature are really about re-election.

Haluska, a Cambria County Democrat, made his comment in an article from CNHI’s Harrisburg bureau that examined these taxpayer-funded events. Perhaps because he’s retiring after 20 years in office, Haluska felt he could be a little honest about the situation.

His quote referred to what he viewed as the need to offer food as a way to get people to attend his senior expos. But if these events are so valuable and useful to citizens, why does anyone have to dole out free food?

There is no need, and there is no need for the events themselves — at least as gatherings designed to be promotional events for lawmakers. While Pennsylvania obviously provides a variety of public services to both senior citizens and veterans, there are already ample mechanisms available for getting the word out and delivering these services and programs.

Yet various lawmakers who spoke with CNHI about their support for these gatherings defended their value. To hear some of them describe senior expos, it’s as if these events are a literal lifeline for elderly citizens, with no other means available to offer information and assistance.

Nonsense.

What’s going on here is obvious: Lawmakers use expos as political outreach. It helps them to get their names — and faces — out to critical constituencies.

That’s all well and good. And all things being equal, we would applaud such efforts. But there is the unpleasant matter of using tax dollars to promote incumbent politicians.

Remember, this is the land of Bonusgate. Haven’t we seen more than enough examples of how our politicians in Harrisburg take advantage of public funds in an effort to protect their positions? This is just a legal example of that.

You would think that a legislature concerned with its image and reputation would take every opportunity to assure public confidence in its members. But Pennsylvania’s lawmakers are the same crowd that refuses to demand its members produce expense receipts, and instead allows per diem expense claims with no questions asked.

In light of the per diem situation, don’t expect any moves to do away with public funding of expos and other thinly veiled campaign events. So long as the public doesn’t demand better — or until the next wave of inevitable scandals leads to reforms — nothing will change.

But maybe, just maybe, a few people attending functions sponsored by lawmakers will ask about the origins of free food. They’re likely to learn it’s not really free at all.

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