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Abuse in Harrisburg: The per-diem party

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Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or cmcnickle@tribweb.com).

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Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 5:30 p.m.
 

Bolstering the case for reforming state government is the $52,900 profit a former House member stands to make if he receives the asking price for a Harrisburg house purchased with per-diem money.

WHP-TV in Harrisburg reports that Democrat James Wansacz, who represented the Scranton area for a decade ending in 2010, bought the house for $72,000 in 2003. He used money from $162,904 in per diems to pay the mortgage, a practice he defended before leaving the Legislature.

Mr. Wansacz was eligible for per diems — supposed to cover lawmakers' in-session costs — because his first home was more than 50 miles from the capital. Second homes, however, are exempt from the rules, making his mortgage use of that money legal. But a public servant shouldn't be allowed to profit from money designed for one purpose then applied to another. Wansacz now is selling the house for $124,900.

Other lawmakers could do the same — state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, and state Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins, for example, co-own a Harrisburg row home. And the lack of accountability encourages other abuses, too, such as the $1.3 million in per diems lawmakers took for non-session days in 2011 and 2012, according to a Trib investigation.

Wansacz's case cries out for closing the “second home” loophole, stricter accountability and stiff penalties for exploiting taxpayer dollars for personal profit.

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