Conservative think-tank identifies $61 million in earmarks in state budget

    (Keith Cooper/Flickr)

    For 14 Pennsylvania counties, the end of the state budget also meant the start of some pet projects.

    The Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative, think-tank in Harrisburg, identified at least $61 million in money hidden with the state budget, earmarked for everything from Lyme disease testing to public transit.

    You can look at the full list here.

    The foundation, which does the analysis every year, said the allocation was a 74 percent increase over last year’s $34 million.

    These allocations are made via circular language that describe unusually specific qualifications for state money, such as:

    • “At least $250,000 shall be allocated to an acute care hospital located in a city of the third class in a county of the third class for a regional breast cancer center.” This was named as St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem.
    • “$918,000  shall be distributed to a community college in a county of the fourth class  with a population of at least 175,000, but not more than 190,000, under the most recent Federal decennial census.” That’s money for Butler County Community College, according to the foundation.

    The biggest single allocation was $5 million to a Delaware County hospital. The foundation identified Delaware County as the biggest winner, getting $6.3 million. Philadelphia County was next, with $5.8 million, while Allegheny County received $3.5 million.

    According to the state constitution, allocations for charitable or educational institutions not 100 percent run by the commonwealth must be approved by a two-thirds legislative majority. That’s why, for example, the bills funding Penn State, Pitt and Temple must pass with wider margins.

    “These are worthwhile causes, but it’s the process” that bothers Nathan Benefield, vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation. “There is very little transparency.”

    The circuitous definitions are the legislature’s way of getting around the proper funding procedure, according to Benefield. It also doesn’t allow for competitive bidding to find a better recipient.

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