Is nation's only lieutenant governor mansion worth its cost?
ANNVILLE, Pa. — Nestled on a wooded hillside at Fort Indiantown Gap is a one-of-a-kind home — and it comes with a one-of-a-kind price tag to taxpayers.
The 2,400-square-foot lieutenant governor's residence off Fisher Avenue in East Hanover Township may be the only residence that any state provides to its second in command.
The typically ignored home became the center of an unusual political controversy last week when Lt. Gov. Mike Stack responded to reports that Gov. Tom Wolf had ordered an investigation into allegations that Stack verbally abused staff and asked state police to use lights and sirens while driving him in non-emergency situations.
But even in the best of times, critics insist the mansion is an extravagance taxpayers can't afford. The state has spent more than $340,000 already this year from a fund assigned to the home, which serves as the residence for an official with limited constitutional duties.
Eric Epstein, coordinator of state watchdog group Rock the Capitol, suggested the lieutenant governor should live in the governor's mansion on Front Street in Harrisburg.
"In America, we call that a duplex," Epstein said.
But former lieutenant governors and their families say the Gap home — called the State House — has strategic and historical significance that shouldn't be underestimated. It is on a military base that could allow for the lieutenant governor to get in the air via helicopter quickly in the event of an emergency.
Former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel said he often lightened the governor's load by greeting visitors from other states and countries at the State House on his behalf. He once took a phone call from President Bill Clinton while in its home office.
"I believe it's a treasure, and Pennsylvania ought to keep it," Singel said.
Three floors and a swimming pool: Current staffing at the residence includes one full-time employee who performs maintenance and landscaping work; an as-needed cook for official lieutenant governor functions; and cleaning personnel who provide housekeeping activities twice per week "as resources allow," said Pennsylvania Department of General Services Press Secretary Troy Thompson.
There are other employees assigned to the home, but they are actually working elsewhere, Thompson said. That means the actual cost of maintaining the home is less than the $340,000 Pennsylvania taxpayers officially paid for it in the 2016-17 fiscal year, he said.
Julia Hurst, director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, said she isn't aware of any state other than Pennsylvania providing a residence for its second-in-command. Kentucky used to have a lieutenant governor's residence but turned it into a museum in 2002.
While no comprehensive list of housing arrangements for lieutenant governors exists, some states do provide a housing allowance, Hurst said.
The first floor of Pennsylvania's State House includes a library, living room, formal dining room, a powder room, a primary kitchen and a prep kitchen, according to Monica Kline, daughter of former Lt. Gov. Ernie Kline. When the Klines lived there, the first floor was primarily used for the lieutenant governor's formal functions, while the second floor and third floor attic included a master bedroom and bedrooms that housed their seven children. The home comes with a swimming pool.
Still, critics such as Bob Warner of Common Cause Pennsylvania say it's an extravagance Pennsylvanians can't afford given the state's ongoing pension crisis.
"He could find an apartment for himself and pay for it," Warner said — especially given the lieutenant governor's $162,373 annual salary.
A working home: Former lieutenant governors, however, say the home has strategic significance. Located on the Gap property, it allows the lieutenant governor to get in the air quickly in the case of an emergency, former governor and lieutenant governor Mark Schweiker said.
Located in a rural area, it also helps the lieutenant governor become aware of the needs of rural life that is central to Pennsylvania, Schweiker said.
The home has been a working residence for some lieutenant governors. Because of its "park-like" setting, it was a good place to host informal receptions, Singel said. The entire Cabinet sometimes visited for picnics in the summer.
When Singel became acting governor as then-Gov. Bob Casey Sr. battled a serious illness, he stayed at the State House for symbolic reasons rather than moving to the governor's mansion.
"I wanted to send a message very clearly that while I was performing the duties of the governor, I wasn't interested in any kind of a self-aggrandizing display," he said. "I was operating on the assumption that he was going to return, and I was simply steering the ship of state until that happened."
If two houses are considered an extravagance, Monica Kline recommends getting rid of what she called the "ugly" governor's mansion in Harrisburg instead and keeping what she believes is the more attractive and historic Gap home.
A job to do? For critics like Epstein, the mansion is insult to injury for a position that is a bit of an extravagance anyway. The Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor's only official duties are serving as president of the Senate and chairing the Board of Pardons and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council.
Many Cabinet officials have far more important jobs, yet they aren't given a residence, Warner said.
Yet Singel said that even if lieutenant governors never get the top job, the position is "underrated." The lieutenant governor typically has a group of projects they are working on and a full schedule of community and speaking events. Singel served on eight boards and commissions on behalf of Casey and often greeted visitors from other states and countries on his behalf.
"I like to think I lessened his burden a bit," he said.
In recent decades, two lieutenant governors were called upon to run the state: Singel and Schweiker, who assumed the governor's duties when Tom Ridge was tapped by former president George W. Bush to be the first secretary of Homeland Security.