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Thursday, January 24, 2008
Posted 8:07 PM by

Fumo fuming over PHEAA audit

Oh Vinnie, go fight your corruption charges and leave the state auditors alone at PHEAA. You guys blew millions there.State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, D-Philadelphia, defended the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency's spending on business travel, entertainment and promotions Thursday, claiming it all helped boost the quasi-public agency's revenues.

PHEAA blew about $2.2 million over five years on promotional giveaways, such as logo-enscribed golf balls, pencils, clothing and reusable glowing ice cubes, according to a Harrisburg Patriot-News report last year.

That's the equivalent of about 553 of the $4,000 grants available to students attending state universities, or 885 of the $2,500 community college grants.

After the the promotional gifts, $7.5 million in employee bonuses since July 2004 and $108,000 spent on an amusement park outing became public knowledge last year, the head of PHEAA was forced out and state Auditor General Jack Wagner began auditing the agency.

Despite the lavish spending, members of PHEAA's lawmaker-dominated board have been unapologetic to say the least, even as they moved to reduce the number of grants given to full-time college students and financial aid to adults taking job-training classes by $44.4 million this year.

That's down from the $105.8 million they gave out to students and adults in 2007-08. Instead of taking the blame, the board cited a new federal law governing student lenders and unsettled financial markets for the funding cuts.

And on Thursday, Fumo had the balls to accuse Wagner of conducting the audit to garner political points, even though his probe won't be completed until June.

"The going out ... and entertaining and marketing brought this agency a ton of money," Fumo said during the board's monthly meeting. "I think the auditor general should be ashamed for trying to run a political campaign on the backs of the students of this commonwealth."

Wagner is seeking re-election this year and is considered a potential candidate for governor in 2010. He issued a press release through his office spokesman that said, "This is a professional audit that we undertook to make sure that PHEAA was fulfilling its mission of making college more affordable to Pennsylvania students,"

Meanwhile, Fumo is still awaiting trial on wide-ranging federal corruption charges that he used his high-ranking position in the Legislature to extort $17 million in donations from PECO (formerly the Philadelphia Electric Co.) to a non-profit agency the senator allegedly controlled.

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