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Pa. ought to dump mansion for No. 2

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Put up the "For Sale" sign immediately.

Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor doesn't need a mansion.

I know that's not the debate at the moment. The debate is over whether the governor's mansion should be featured on the Howard Hanna Sunday Showcase of Homes.

Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver County, introduced legislation that would put the governor's cozy 33-room dwelling on the market.

Christiana harbors no illusions that a sale would make a meaningful dent in the state's $1.3 billion deficit. But there's no denying the symbolic gesture of austerity probably would resonate greatly among taxpayers.

Still, the measure likely faces strong opposition. No way Ed Rendell wants to spend his final evenings as governor channel-surfing in the cramped confines of his room at the Harrisburg Comfort Inn -- no matter how good its continental breakfasts might be.

Then there's the matter of the historical significance of the, uh, 42-year-old building. In 1968, Gov. Raymond Shafer sealed within the mansion a time capsule whose items included the latest edition of the Pennsylvania Manual -- a stupefyingly dull guide to state government.

Preservationists no doubt will raise the possibility of that priceless tome being inadvertently and irreparably damaged should any new owner of the mansion ever decide to install a wet bar.

For those reasons, it would be much easier for the state to peddle the lieutenant governor's mansion.

You didn't realize the state's second-in-command gets swell digs on the taxpayer's dime• Don't feel bad. Most people can't even name the state's second-in-command.

You can't do it, either?

OK, it's Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, who became lieutenant governor in November 2008 when Catherine Baker Knoll died. His office did not return calls Thursday regarding the cost and quality of his complimentary lodging.

But a little research revealed taxpayers spend nearly $300,000 annually on staff and maintenance for the 2,500-square-foot stone house that comes with a swimming pool, a pool house and five-car garage.

That's not right. Here's why:

• The lieutenant governor's responsibilities don't merit a mansion.

Sure, lieutenant governors occasionally ascend to the governor's office if the governor steps aside or steps off a cliff. But most of the time, a lieutenant governor's only real duties are to preside over the Senate and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Those tasks are so time-consuming that Scarnati still functions as a senator 19 months after becoming lieutenant governor.

• The mansion isn't even in Harrisburg.

It's in Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County, nearly 25 miles from where the lieutenant governor performs -- for lack of a better term -- the office's nominal duties.

• Lieutenant governors can afford their own accommodations.

C'mon -- free lodging and a $161,000 annual salary• Isn't that being a bit on the piggish side?

Selling the governor's mansion probably is a nonstarter, but legislators should make every attempt to market the lieutenant governor's estate.

I bet it would be a hit on the Sunday Showcase of Homes -- even without that state-paid maintenance staff.

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