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Rep. Grove: Billions in Pa. spending unaccounted for

Greg Gross
505-5433/@ggrossyd
  • Pa. spent $30.4 billion between July 1 and Oct. 1 despite the lack of a state budget
  • About $26.4 billion has not been accounted for
  • $2.7 billion in money leftover from prior fiscal years was spent

State funding for schools, local governments and nonprofit agencies continues to be stuck in Harrisburg as the state budget impasse enters its sixth month, but that hasn't stopped Gov. Tom Wolf's administration from spending billions of dollars, Republican lawmakers announced Thursday.

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And the large majority of that money, which the Legislature didn't approve spending, is unaccounted for, said Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township.

The governor's office spent more than $30.4 billion between July 1, when the impasse started, and Oct. 31, according to a report Grove and two other lawmakers — Cris Dush, R-Jefferson and Indiana counties, and Jim Christiana, R-Beaver County — authored.

Only about $4 billion in spending has been posted to the government-spending tracker website pennwatch.pa.gov, they said.

"I call on the administration to get this money online as quickly as possible," Christiana said.

The trio of representatives held a press conference at the Capitol to release their findings and were flanked by fellow lawmakers and easels holding placards displaying pie charts.

Wolf: The Wolf administration said the state has made payments during the impasse to continue operations in all areas that affect the health, safety and protection of residents, as required by federal law, court decisions or the state Constitution.

That includes payments for state police, corrections and school lunches, according to a statement from Jeff Sheridan, the spokesman for the administration who responded to emailed questions about the report.

“We are not going to be lectured by members of the Legislature who shroud themselves in secrecy to avoid the public from seeing how they spend money and conduct the people’s business," the statement says. "It is long past time to end the nonsense and partisan theatrics and pass a budget that includes historic increases to education and begins to fix the deficit.”

During the press conference, the lawmakers called on Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who once represented York City in the House, to look into the spending of the first-term Democratic governor who hails from Mount Wolf.

“We will examine the details of the report carefully and review if any additional information exists beyond what the General Assembly already possesses that might help ensure transparency of the financial processes," a statement from DePasquale's office says. “This request underscores the need to resolve the state budget process that should have been completed five months ago.”

The report: Grove and lawmakers said the report is the culmination of a two-month investigation that started after concerned state employees reached out to them.

The heart of the matter is the majority of the spent money hasn't been accounted, leaving lawmakers scratching their heads wondering how it was spent.

"All the spending could be legit and saving us billions," Grove said. "I just don't know."

Their digging uncovered that $2.7 billion in waivers, which is money left over from previous budget years, had been spent in the four months after the 2014-15 fiscal year ended at the end of June.

Waivers: Grove noted the unspent funds, which he described as "decades-old dollars sitting in state coffers somewhere," could have been used to fill the state's structural deficit with additional money left over.

About $60 million in waivers is accounted for, but Grove said it's unknown if that sum is part of the $2.7 billion in waivers or additional money that had been spent.

Grove also questioned the validity of some of the money being spent through the waiver process.

For example, the state Emergency Management Agency requested $140,000 left from 2012 to create a "statewide plan for domesticated animals," according to the report.

"I think today... almost represents a new day in Harrisburg," Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, who also attended the press conference. "If we're going to pay taxes, we want to know where the tax (dollars) are going."

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.