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Thursday, March 30, 2006
Posted 8:34 PM by

N.J. bans WAMs, Pa. keeps 'em

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine froze all payments from a state Assembly slush fund this week that is similar to the Pennsylvania Legislature's Walking Around Money grant program.Facing a large tax hike and funding cuts to schools and social programs to offset an estimated $4 billion deficit, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine froze $25 million left in a political slush fund used by state assemblymen this week.

That's all that's left of the $128 million which once filled the Property Tax Assistance and Community Development Block Grant program lawmakers set up two years ago.

Corzine agreed to halt payments from the program earlier in the week, his spokesman said. However, the decision wasn't announced until after David Robinson, an attorney from Cranford, filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in Mercer County on Thursday.

Robinson's suit characterizes the program as "nothing more than a state-funded piggy bank for the politically connected. ... Almost all of the grants have ties to some lawmaker."

Some of the projects given one-time grants include: $200,000 for a Newark day care center; $125,000 for a New Brunswick teen center; $16,000 for equipment at a dog park in East Brunswick and $25,000 for a wrestling club in Paulsboro, according to extensive records cited in Robinson's lawsuit.

The program is identical to the Community Revitalization Program grants or WAMs (Walking-Around-Money) Pennsylvania legislators have been using for decades on their pet projects and then touting as political capital.

Legislative leaders lined up the votes for their illegally self-imposed pay raise last year by promising special WAMs to legislators who "cooperated," Robert Morris University professor Ralph R. Reiland wrote in Capitalism Magazine.

If a program is worthy, it should be able to stand public scrutiny and win grant money on its own merit. Yet, Pennsylvania legislators continue to dole out nearly $50 million worth of checks at their own discretion as a political plum.The unpopular pay raise, which caused an uproar across the state, was repealed months later, but the WAM program continues unabated.

Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed 2006-07 budget doesn't include $48 million spent this year on WAMs, but a budget proposal from House GOP leaders fully funds them.

"While cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in needed funding for essential state programs, the House Republican Leadership proposal maintains every dollar of funding for all of the legislative additions (popularly called WAMs) that the General Assembly inserted into the 2005-06 budget at the end of last year's budget process," Pennsylvania Budget Secretary Michael J. Masch said two weeks ago.

Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware County, has been railing against WAMs since 1993. He has posted lists of all WAMs awarded since 1996 on his Web site.

That information only became public in 2000 when the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review won a right-to-know lawsuit in Commonwealth Court declaring the grant applications public records.


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