Shhh!…. The Secrecy Edition

Posted on Mon 12/12/2011 by


First some fun
Where do you stand politically? Thanks to Daniel Hodorawis at NEPArtisan, a political blog in Northeastern PA, you can find out with a simple quiz on the web site of the Pew Research Center for People & the Press. The quiz asks you to choose between different statements, which turn into an evaluation of your political orientation. In keeping with the title of this edition, it’s all secret and confidential. Enjoy: Pew Research Political Typology Quiz .

This year’s once-a-decade exercise in drawing the lines of legislative districts is just about finished. Not only does the Legislative Reapportionment Commission personify the worst sort of conflict of interests, it has been hiding its cards all year. Even at this late date, the LRC has refused to release its proposal for Congressional districts, which have to be adopted before the end of the year. Citizens who want to see what the LRC has done in time to affect the outcome are effectively forced to sit down and shut up. This is definitely not about citizens.

Congressional maps to be made public Monday,  West Chester Daily Local News, Dec. 8. And here’s an op-ed by Common Cause/PA Executive Director Barry Kauffman: Pa. redistricting allows legislators to cherry-pick their voters,  Harrisburg Patriot-News. Dec. 7

Penn State
One of the side effects of the Jerry Sandusky Scandal is a renewed interest in government secrecy. In the Sandusky case, it’s the exemption of Penn State University from the state’s open records law.

In 2008, when Penn State was receiving $335 million from taxpayers, and the General Assembly was writing the new open records law, Penn State lobbied successfully for status as a private institution. It therefore is not covered by the law, not even to account for the taxpayer money it receives. This became a problem for anyone, including PA’s attorney general, seeking to find out what Penn State officials knew and when they knew it.

Even the Denver Post (as in Denver, Colorado) wrote about it: Penn State’s open-records exemption questioned as scandal investigation stymied,  Dec. 2. So did the Harrisburg Patriot-News on Dec. 6. Penn State University shows no signs of lifting veil of secrecy.

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is a state agency that helps college students with loans and grants. In 2007, PHEAA became embroiled in scandal for refusing to release records of junkets and lavish spending by and for PHEAA board members. PHEAA claimed that since its board consisted of lawmakers, who were not then covered by the open records law, it also was exempt from reporting on the expenditure of taxpayer money. Click here  for the March 4, 2007 edition of DR News.

As many pointed out at the time, having PHEAA’s records open to public inspection could have saved taxpayers millions because board members would have known they would be caught. Instead, they counted on not getting caught and wasted huge amounts of money that could and should have gone toward helping students achieve their educational goals.

Now PHEAA is paying a $12 million fine to the IRS, but both PHEAA and the IRS refuse to say why: PHEAA pays $12 million to settle IRS probe,  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Dec. 6.

PA Gaming Control Board
One of the early and persistent complaints about the agency that regulates casino gambling in PA is its secrecy. Legislation to remedy some of those problems and put more money into property tax relief is kicking around the legislature this week with the possibility of action before the end of the year.

Official: Gaming Board transparency proposals deal a good hand to PA citizens,  Delaware County Daily Times, Dec. 6.

We can be optimistic that lawmakers will address the Penn State and Gaming Control Board problems. They are at least working on them in public. But optimism can’t take the place of performance. Citizens have seen a lot of work for nothing in the past. Transportation and property tax reform are just two issues that they have been working on for years with no accomplishments to report. Don’t hesitate to add your voice to those pushing for improvements.

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