Qualifications top list of issues for auditor general candidates

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Two lawmakers vying to become the state's fiscal watchdog are trading barbs over their qualifications for the job and the 2001 pension increase for state employees.

Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, a legislator since 1997, contends Democratic Rep. Eugene DePasquale, of York County, is a career politician without the necessary experience to be auditor general. They face Betsy Summers, a Libertarian from Wilkes-Barre, in the Nov. 6 election.

“I'm the only candidate who, out in the real world, created jobs. My opponent has been a career politician. He was a patronage employee at the state and local level,” said Maher, who founded a private-sector auditing firm.

DePasquale said the ideal candidate needs “tenaciousness and independence.”

“I have both of those,” said DePasquale, whose Western Pennsylvania roots include graduating from Central Catholic High School in Oakland. “I'm proud of everything I've accomplished in public service and would not change a thing.”

He worked as economic development director for the City of York and later as a deputy secretary at the Department of Environmental Protection under former Gov. Ed Rendell.

DePasquale called Maher's vote for the pension increase “a huge, huge mistake.” The law increased pensions 50 percent for most legislators and 25 percent for public school and other state employees. The pension system faces multibillion-dollar shortfalls.

“In 2001, the state pension systems were overfunded,” Maher said. No one could have foreseen the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or the recession that triggered the shortfalls, he said. The 2001 law required increased member contributions.

“I voted to increase my contribution by 50 percent to 7.5 percent,” Maher said. “If I had perfect knowledge, I would have made a different decision.”

Maher wants to become the first auditor elected to the post. “I believe Pennsylvania deserves to have an auditor as auditor general. I'm a CPA. Since 1980, I've been auditing, writing about auditing and teaching auditing.”

DePasquale, an attorney, said Auditor General Jack Wagner and previous people in the post — Sen. Bob Casey, Barbara Hafer, and the late Gov. Robert P. Casey — are acclaimed as good auditors general and none was a Certified Public Accountant.

Summers said Maher would supervise, not audit. “It's a management position,” she said.

Summers, a businesswoman, said she is the candidate without major party ties who can be truly independent. “I'll be a hard-hearted and heavy-handed auditor general,” she said at a debate last month.

In a lower profile race, Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan, a Republican, is trying to unseat incumbent Treasurer Rob McCord, a Democrat. Patricia Fryman, of Venango County, is on the ballot as a Libertarian candidate.

“I'm running for treasurer to bring a more disciplined approach to Pennsylvania's investments,” Vaughan said.

McCord said decades of business experience make the office a perfect fit for him. “Our team's successful track record in this important office illustrates that.”

Vaughan said she hasn't heard McCord “sounding the alarm” about the state's pension problems.

Spokesman Mark Nevins countered that McCord is “aggressive in his role as fiscal watchdog, calling out proposals that prioritize political expediency over long-term solutions. “

Fryman said she is beholden to no one. “I am running ... because I have a strong sense of duty to my state and my community. ...You cannot expect good government without making a personal effort.”

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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