ShareThis Page
Home

Few lawmakers open about spending

| Sunday, Aug. 12, 2001

HARRISBURG - State Rep. Tom Tangretti's office door is open.

While most House members from western Pennsylvania say they cannot - or will not - provide receipts for how they spend state tax money, a handful of legislators have done so.

Topping the list is Tangretti, a Democrat from Hempfield Township, Westmoreland County. Tangretti provided copies of his vouchers, receipts and backup documentation for last year, except for itemized lists of phone charges.

Tangretti said his constituents deserve to see how he's spending their money.

Hot Topic
What do you think about the amount of access the public has to information about legislators' spending habits• What is your opinion on how they are spending tax dollars• Sound off in PittsburghLIVE's State Politics Discussion Board .
'I would voluntarily release (reports) every month if your newspaper or any other wants to review them,' Tangretti said.

Some may disagree with how he spent money. But Tangretti said it should be public record.

A reporter spent time in his office recently reviewing receipts for lodging, gasoline, turnpike tolls, meals, flowers and other expenses - from staplers and pens to doughnuts to office insurance.

Every per diem - a payment of $124 for each day spent on state business - was documented with a memorandum stating the reason.

What's available
House expense records are available in four forms, only two of which are available to the public - but in limited fashion and only in response to written requests.

Available for public inspection are:

  • A printout of chronological expenses for each member with little detail.

  • Review of selected vouchers, which might include more detail or may lump several expenditures together.

    Kept from public review are:

  • Receipts turned in to the House comptroller. These show how and where the money was spent.

  • Monthly and annual summary reports from the House database, breaking expenses down by category and type of fund for all 203 members.

    In the Senate, 'what we make available to the public are vouchers,' said Chief Clerk Russell Faber. Receipts may be reviewed upon written request. But Senate receipts cannot be copied.
  • Mileage was backed up with a log and odometer readings.

    A dinner for three at Catalano's - a Harrisburg-area restaurant frequented by legislators and lobbyists - was $91.24. A charge of $8.50 for alcoholic drinks was deducted from the total charged to the state.

    The records included Tangretti's taxpayer-funded trip to Germany to assess maglev train technology.

    'I think representative Tangretti is a perfect example of a lawmaker with a laudable commitment to public service,' said Corinna Vecsey Wilson, an attorney for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association in Harrisburg. 'He keeps records routinely because he knows it's not his money. He makes them available because he knows it is the right thing to do and because he has nothing to hide.'

    But Wilson said the public should not conclude that a legislator has something to hide if he or she does not make receipts available.

    Rep. Larry Roberts, a Fayette County Democrat hit hard by newspapers for refusing to release itemized cellular phone bills, is setting the standard for disclosure.

    Roberts' refusal to release cell phone records resulted in litigation by Uniontown Newspapers. Commonwealth Court ruled May 31 that Roberts was not required to make his cell phone records public.

    The court 'clearly established the right of legislators to protect those records from inspection and copying by the media,' House Minority Leader Bill DeWeese told fellow Democratic members in a memo that day.

    But Roberts now posts a summary of his expense account reports on his Web page ( www.pahouse.net/roberts ). He posts the monthly and annual summaries from the House comptroller.

    Those records are not made public by the House clerk when requests are made for lawmakers' expenses.

    'I think I'm the only one that does that,' Roberts said.

    Roberts said the Legislature should be included under the state's open records law.

    State Rep. Pete Daley, a Democrat from California, Washington County, also provided receipts for review in his office. Vouchers were organized by month. The appropriate receipts were attached to each.

    State Rep. David Mayernik, a Ross Township Democrat, sent copies of his receipts to a reporter upon request.

    So did Rep. Jess Stairs, a Westmoreland County Republican. He provided copies of receipts - including hotel bills - for out-of-state trips he took last year.

    House members are required to turn in receipts to the comptroller for review, but they are not required to keep separate copies. As a matter of policy, the House clerk does not provide receipts for public review. The Senate provides receipts for review upon written request.

    TribLIVE commenting policy

    You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

    We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

    While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

    We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

    We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

    We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

    We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

    We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

    click me