EDITORIAL: Keeping an eye on Wagner
- Wagner's next step is leading the Senate Local Government Committee.
- Wagner owns Penn Waste, a company that contracts with roughly 60 regional municipalities.
- The potential for a conflict of interest is there.
It's hard to believe that Scott Wagner has been in the state Senate for less than three years.
The Spring Garden Township Republican won the seat in a special election in March 2014, becoming the first person to win a seat in the General Assembly by write-in vote. Since then, he won again in a regular election, and he has said he plans to run for governor next year.
He's become known for being outspoken, even brash, and he has pulled a few stunts, including flying a helicopter over local schools and proclaiming that they looked fine and didn't need additional funding. In November, he took credit for stopping a Senate vote to refund unemployment call centers, leading to the closing of three of the state centers and layoffs for more than 500 state workers. In December, he sent many of those newly unemployed workers Christmas cards with $150 cash in them.
Wagner's next step is leading the Senate Local Government Committee.
The committee doesn't seem to be terribly busy — last year, under previous chair Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango, the committee held one meeting after July 1. The committee's new website shows no activity or meeting dates and only three members: Wagner, Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna, and President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, who is a member of all standing committees.
The committee looks at all legislation dealing with county and municipal governments. Last year, it held hearings on bills to limit information coroners can release, hold sanctuary cities liable for damage caused by an undocumented immigrants, pre-empt local ordinances on firearms that were inconsistent with Pennsylvania regulations and standardize residency requirements in regard to people who had been deployed in the military, among others.
There's one problem with all of this: Wagner has a second job as president and owner of Penn Waste, a trash collection and recycling company that contracts with more than 60 municipalities in southcentral Pennsylvania, many of them in York County.
And now he's going to have a major hand in any state legislation that deals with those municipalities.
We're not saying that Wagner will use his new position to aid his business, but the potential for a conflict of interest is there.
Pennsylvania Spotlight, a nonprofit dedicated to looking out for and educating middle-class Pennsylvanians about special interest groups, pointed out that Wagner will be dealing on a legislative level with the very municipalities with which Penn Waste has contracts.
"That’s precisely why we’re concerned that Wagner cannot possibly be impartial as to which bills get considered by this committee. After all, local governments throughout Pennsylvania constitute his firm’s current — and potentially future — clients," Eric Rosso, executive director of Pennsylvania Spotlight, wrote in a news release. "We sincerely hope that Sen. Wagner is not seeking to use this new power perch to further his business ventures."
We agree with that sentiment. Even if Wagner doesn't use his new post to help his business, he has to be very careful to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest.
Basically, it just looks bad. And perception is crucial when it comes to the public's trust.
Pennsylvania Spotlight has vowed to be vigilant about Wagner and his new committee. We're right there with them.
So, senator, congratulations on your new post. You're moving up quickly in the political world.
Just be aware that many eyes are on you.