Today Brad Bumstead broke a story in Lancaster Online about an investigation into Lt. Governor Mike Stack’s expenditures at taxpayers expense. You can read the full article here: Lancaster online
It turn out that, on top of a $162,000 salary; On top of paying for the home he’s living in; On top of providing for his pension and other Cadillac benefits; on top of paying for his transportation. We pay for his groceries including when he entertains lobbyists and other special interests.
Lt. Governor Stack has not been above controversy during his tenure as Lt. Governor. Gov. Tom Wolf has stripped Stack of his state police security team and drastically cut his mansion staff after allegations of abuse of staff were brought to light through more of Brad Bumstead’s journalistic efforts.
Bumstead also reported that records showed Stack’s office billing taxpayers more than $73 k in almost 2 years, including $15k on orders from Amazon.
It must be a lovely life to get a salary of $162,000 that doesn’t have to go towards transportation, housing, healthcare, pensions groceries and purchases from Amazon. We even pay for his ability to entertain lobbyists and other special interests who sometimes are working very hard against the best interest of the people in this commonwealth.
As angry as this situation with Stack makes me, I am frustrated when some have defended him citing that previous Lt. Governor’s engaged in the similar activities (except, perhaps, the abuse of staff and state police) as though this somehow justifies all this additional spending. This type of taxpayer plunder is wrong…it doesn’t matter who is doing it.
I guess Frederic Bastiat, in his essay The Law, was right when he wrote “Slavery, protection, and monopoly find defenders, not only in those who profit by them, but in those who suffer by them.”
As angry as this makes me, it also know it’s part of a larger problem. Lt. Governor Stack is little more than a poster boy for a problem that exists in Pennsylvania Government.
The median household income for working families in the commonwealth is a little more than $50,000. That means that for 1/2 of the Commonwealth working families are earning less than as their entire household income. Stack individual income is pulling in $162,000 or more than 3 times the household income of 50% of the population of the Commonwealth. The working family is also paying for their own homes. They are paying for their own retirements through 401(k) (if they have one at all), paying their own housing, utilities and groceries. Many of them are seriously struggling with healthcare costs. On top of all of this Pennsylvania is among the worst states in the nation when it comes to property taxes.
Our legislators are earning more than $80,000, far more than 1/2 of the working families entire household incomes. While they don’t benefit from the same privileges that Stack has been abusing, they have plenty of perks of their own. We have a legislative system where free haircuts are provided for legislators, we pay for a meteorologist for weather reports for them because, apparently, local news station weather just isn’t good enough for them. We have a Per Diem expense account with virtually not accountability checks.
It was reported that some legislators used the Per Diem money to purchase homes in Harrisburg that they rented to other legislators who used their Per Diem’s to pay that rent.
When they are in session they can use Per Diem money to provide for their meals. They can, and most of them do, participate in the pension system that is unlike anything available to the majority of working families in this Commonwealth. They can, and the majority of them do, participate in a Cadillac healthcare system that is unlike anything seen in the private sector.
We live in a state that is listed in the top 5 most corrupt state governments based on persons in the government who were actually caught and convicted of political fraud and corruption largely tied to campaign finance violations. We’ve had judges convicted of promoting pay to play legal games. We have a teachers union who bills taxpayers to provide for ghost teachers….paid as teachers from property tax dollars but not teaching. They are doing the work of the unions. That same teacher’s union benefits from a system that forces taxpayers to pay for the collection of their union dues. That same system protects prevailing wage laws which can add as much as 30% to the cost of new buildings and renovations.
In spite of countless attempts to reform these laws, all to little avail, we just can’t seem to see the expediency from our legislators if working for the taxpayers of this commonwealth as we do when we see the expediency in protecting their own self-interest. Can anybody remember the middle of the night pay raise?
They didn’t seem to have much trouble finding the time to push through the pensions that have created a $70 billion plus unfunded liability that becomes the financial responsibility of working families in this Commonwealth.
They don’t seem to have any trouble pushing their resolutions through the legislative body to rename roads or designate special days out of the year to recognize everything from mushrooms, to diseases, to just about anything else they can come up with. If you follow the legislative sessions, you know these are more than commonplace in the process….less known is that each of these things actually carry a cost to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth. Some of it very little, but some with very hefty price tags. At a time when the state is looking at trying to fill a $2 billion dollar plus debt hole in their budget, every dollar counts.
As Citizen’s Alliance of Pennsylvania (CAP) recently reported, the revenue package to fund the budget included millions in corporate welfare on to of the million we are already providing.
One item being pushed is more film tax credits. Not satisfied with a $60 million film tax credit to subsidize Hollywood millionaires, the Senate included a new category of a “Film Production Tax Credit District.” The Districts, up to two of them, must be at least 55 acres, on deteriorated property, contain at least one “qualified” facility and six soundstages…and the list goes on. The description of the qualifying district to receive this money is so detailed that it appears written to specifically be steered to a designated district.
The revenue bill passed in the Senate and everyone who voted yes has no problem with forcing their unqualified district who will be ineligible to receive any benefit from these earmarks and then to have their constituents send that money to other districts who will.
Let’s turn to Bastiat again “But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them and gives it to the other persons to whom it doesn’t belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”
We live in a state that, for 35 years, we have fought for the elimination of the school property tax. As 10,000 people lose their homes each year as a result of an egregious property tax largely because they can’t keep up with the pensions and other demands of those in the public sector, we see every effort by law makers and special interests to interfere and stall any attempts to enforce the protection of homes granted to us in Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The most recent effort has been going on for almost 10 years through HB/SB 76. This isn’t a bill where we are looking to be exempted from taxation or in shirking our responsibility to education funding.
We are simply asking that the property tax, which is not based in any sense of the word on ability to pay, be replace with a more fair and equitable system through a PIT and SUT tax. We aren’t asking for a free ride. We just want the funding of education to be based on ability to pay.
What we have seen is a legislative process that has a thousand excuses, few of them based on moral/ethical rights or wrongs, but largely based on protecting the governments power to take away our homes instead of protecting the right to our homes as the Constitution demands.
Oddly enough, as this article started out discussing Lt. Governor Stack, who receives a $162,000 salary and lives high at the taxpayers expense became the tie-breaking vote to kill SB 76 in 2015.
Apparently us paying for his luxuries is perfectly fine and to me, his tie-breaking no vote was the equivalent of Marie Antionette looking at the plight of the French working families and saying “Let Them Eat Cake!” As long as he can still purchase lump crab meat on the taxpayers dime to entertain his lobbyists and special interest friends, 10,000 people losing their homes is not his concern. In fact his tie-breaking vote helped assure that every year since 2015, 10,000 more people would continue to lose their homes.
In the past few months we have participated in a series of town halls that have included opposition to the legislation. These town halls came because of the pressure we placed on legislators to do so because, quite frankly, the majority of them weren’t doing it on their own.
The objective was to bring the legislators out to see the response of the people once these town halls were presented. Instead of living in their ivory palace shielded away from the voice of the public, they couldn’t possibly know the concerns of the people or the difficulties they face. After all, when you don’t even have to pay for your own haircut, how could you possible know what it’s like to live in the real world?
We also welcomes the opposition because experience has shown us that their arguments against 76 are little more than misdirection and misrepresentation. We knew that but the majority of the people in the public don’t. Those who attend these town halls quickly see through these misdirection and misrepresentation tactics. They see the complete disconnect between those who administer this egregious tax and the people who have to pay them. In the words of many who have attended and spoke to us afterwards…they see the ARROGANCE!
While it’s not easy to sit through the opposition talking points. We welcomed it and in every case, no matter how hard our opponents have tried to stack the odds against us, we have come away victorious winning the support of more and more of the public while exposing the deflection against this legislation.
Unfortunately, it would seem that the people can handle the truth far better than many of our public sector employees. When they hear some school administrator or some other agent on the public school lobbyist faction talk about stability they know that the stability argument is arrogantly stating that they want to extort our homes and they don’t care if it cause instability to you so long as it allows them to stay comfortable firmly protected by the status quo. If the economy tumbles and the people of the commonwealth struggle, tough! They want to be able to spend as much as they want when they want irregardless of the economic consequences of those who actually have to pay the bills.
“Let them eat cake!” that’s what the audience hears. And they get angry. Sometimes very angry. Only the unreasonable or those protected by the status quo would fail to understand that anger.
As angry as the news of Lt. Gov. Stack make me, I still see it as a symptom. Chastising Stack for his actions is a futile exercise if it has no consequences. I would remind everyone that he’s still Lt. Governor even after abusing staff and state police and other abusive spending practices have been exposed. I doubt that tomorrow’s hearing on his spending will yield anything more that partisan press.
Stack’s actions, to my way of thinking, are little more than an exaggeration of the common place in the political process in Harrisburg. It happens all the time, maybe to a lesser degree, but it still happens. Right or wrong to that way of thinking is irrelevant; personal gain, the preservation of partisan politics setting us against one another so we don’t unite behind a common cause, and the protection of the incumbency is what matters most.
I want everyone reading this to understand that throughout this essay I have spoken about the majority. I am truly grateful for those in the minority of our government that are working hard to advance the principle of property rights and the protection of our rights to our homes. I am grateful to those who have refused the pensions and the healthcare. There simply aren’t enough of them….yet.
Let’s keep these town halls going and then watch us add to their number.