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Reserve judgment on rainy day fund? Ha!

| Sunday, April 29, 2012, 12:32 a.m.

Looks like a misprint at first.

The Pennsylvania Legislature is sitting on a $134 million reserve?

Surely that can't be correct. That can't be the case in this era of fiscal frugality in which most state departments and agencies are subsisting on somewhat or significantly less than they once did.

Ah, but it is.

A recently completed Legislative audit revealed the General Assembly was sitting on an astounding $184 million as of last June. Lawmakers since have agreed to release $50 million for additional public school funding, bringing the cushion down to a less comfortable $134 million.

Still, that amount is nothing to sneeze at unless your allergies are acting up. Releasing the reserve could put more than $10 in the pockets of each of Pennsylvania's 12.7 million residents.

No, it wouldn't be a windfall. But it would be enough to buy everyone a couple of gallons of low-grade gasoline, or a few boxes of those tasty new peanut butter-flavored Cheerios. Tried 'em yet?

This Capitol cache is nothing new. Lawmakers long have hoarded millions of dollars that rightfully belong to you.

They claim this shameless stashing is necessary to keep the Legislature operating (and their paychecks coming) in the event of a prolonged budget showdown with the governor.

But there are equally legitimate, though less publicized, reasons for maintaining this rainy day resource. A review of the proposed 2012-13 state budget reveals the Legislature needs to make certain it has enough on hand to also cover:

Toner

More than $18 million is budgeted for printing, probably because House rules require members to file with the chief clerk seven copies of each resolution they sponsor. I'm not making that up.

This expensive regulation presumably exists to ensure that if six copies spontaneously combust, lawmakers can vote on the legislation without having to print additional copies of it. That would be wasteful.

Contingent expenses

More than $637,000 is budgeted for unanticipated but necessary purchases, such as cake and ice cream for the farewell parties of lawmakers departing for jail.

Former Democratic state Rep. Bill DeWeese of Waynesburg most recently received the Duncan Hines hasta la vista. After resigning Tuesday, he's packing his pajamas for an extended stay at a state correctional facility.

Miscellaneous expenses

More than $5.5 million is budgeted to cover the purchase of critical occupational tools such as daily planners. Without those, lawmakers would find it difficult to recall those rare occasions when they are required to be in Harrisburg.

The House, for example, has been in session just three days during April, a month astute readers will recognize ends tomorrow at midnight. With the year essentially a third of the way over, the House has been in session a mere 23 days -- an average of less than six days a month.

See now why the Legislature needs to stockpile such large sums of your money?

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