Pennsylvania State Lawmakers Were Paid $25 Million in Salary for 50 Days of Session
September 25, 2023
Pennsylvania state legislators’ salaries cost at least $25.3 million per year for only about 50 days of session, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
According to the Inquirer, Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature in the country with 253 members of the state House and Senate. This is substantially more than states with similar populations, like Illinois, which only has 177 legislators.
They are also some of the best-paid legislators, with all members making at least $100,000 per year. Only two other states, California and New York, pay their legislators over $100,000 per year. New York and California both have a higher cost of living.
While legislators make at least $25.3 million, the true number is higher, because some members of leadership can make up to $150,000 per year. These salaries do not include additional perks, like $181 per diem for every day they go to Harrisburg, and reimbursement for travel mileage.
Despite the hefty compensation, which the Inquirer notes is about double Pennsylvania’s average salary of $50,400, these legislators aren't putting in full-time hours for their citizens. The Inquirer found the Senate has an average of 52 work days per year, while the House averages 45 work days. This light schedule allows many legislators to legally moonlight at other jobs while they’re not in session.
While lawmakers likely do work at their elected positions when they’re not in Harrisburg, it’s still difficult to justify the $2,000 per work day. This is especially true because, as the Inquirer notes, they don’t do their jobs particularly well.
The General Assembly was expected to present a balanced budget before they left last month for recess, but were only able to pass a general spending plan with no funding increases or new initiatives.
Public servants shouldn’t make high salaries for failing to do their job, and Pennsylvanians would be right to demand an explanation from state legislators as to why they earn as much as they do.
FEMA Spent Over $1.3 Million Paying Twice for Funerals for the Same Person
September 26, 2023
The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent $24.4 million on ineligible expenses related to its Covid-19 Funeral Assistance program, according to a recent Inspector General report.
The report found that FEMA’s Covid-19 Funeral Assistance program, meant to help those who lost family members to Covid-19 pay for funeral expenses, was rife with fraud and mismanagement. The program lacked guardrails to help ensure the funds were used on necessary funeral expenses, with the program instead paying for anything listed on a funeral home’s invoice.
The program paid for $24.4 million worth of ineligible expenses from April 12 to Sept. 21, 2021. These expenses included things like obituaries, flowers, catering services, and gratuities, that the funeral home billed, but were not considered a “necessary expense” or “serious need” based on statute.
This was not the only problem with the program. In the same period, FEMA issued $1.3 million to multiple parties claiming reimbursement for the same decedent. It also paid some applicants more than the maximum award amount, resulting in overpayments of $759,026. Additionally, FEMA also gave out a “questionable award amount” of $591,805 for unallowable costs on 93 applications.
All of these mistakes were attributed to a lack of effective internal controls.
The rampant waste and abuse from this program means people that intended to use the program for critical funeral expenses couldn’t, since the money was already spent on catered lunches and flower displays. This defeats the purpose of this program, and all because the government can’t be bothered to monitor where its money is going.
Chicago Spending $3.8 Billion on Insufficient Flood Protection Systems
September 27, 2023
Chicago is spending $3.8 billion on a project meant to combat flooding by bolstering storm water drainage systems, but some experts say this massive investment isn’t going to fix the problem, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal detailed how Chicago has spent over 50 years and billions of dollars building tunnels and reservoirs to protect from flooding. Recently, however, these costly systems have been largely ineffective at their jobs.
On July 2, eight inches of rain overwhelmed the systems and caused sewage and storm water to spill into the Chicago River, forcing officials to reverse the flow to send the sewage and stormwater into Lake Michigan, the city’s source of drinking water.
Already, $3.8 billion has been spent on the tunnel and reservoir plan, but that hasn’t been enough to prevent flooding. Even a recent project to expand the McCook Reservoir may not be enough to effectively solve the issue.
Experts admit that poor planning is to blame. Rob Moore, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Journal, “A lot of times we’re designing these things for yesterday’s storms, not tomorrow’s storms.”
Chicago isn’t the only city suffering from a dearth of thoughtful urban planning. A new $31 billion dike in Galveston Bay, Texas, is being built to protect the Texas Gulf Coast from storms, but now experts are raising concerns over its ability to handle some of the storms frequently encountered today.
Throwing fistfuls of money at a problem rarely yields results. Instead, innovation and forward thinking is needed to solve our most pressing problems.
Throwback Thursday: Coast Guard Spent Millions on Unused Boat Repair Station
September 28, 2023
In 1983, the Coast Guard spent $1.1 million—worth $3.4 million in 2023 dollars—to construct a boat repair station at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina that sat empty and unused for a year after its completion.
Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, gave the Coast Guard his Golden Fleece Award for this ridiculous and costly mismanagement.
According to Proxmire, the Coast Guard decided in 1975 to build a station that could repair boats in bad weather. It was only projected to cost about $500,000, but the Commandant of the Coast Guard disapproved of this proposal, arguing it wasn’t needed.
Bureaucrats remained undeterred. They continued to demonstrate why a repair station was needed, arguing that it would not be costly, because they could transfer personnel from other stations there to do repairs more cheaply than the private contractors in the area.
The Coast Guard agreed to construct the station in 1979. After Congress appropriated $1.1 million to the effort, the station was ready for use by 1981.
Unfortunately, the brand-new station sat empty for months because the Coast Guard forgot to assign staff to work there. In the Coast Guard’s words, it “overlooked the fact that if you increase activity at a unit, you can expect additional staffing will be needed to do the work.”
This ridiculous mistake doesn’t instill confidence in the Coast Guard’s logistical capabilities, and proves just how unnecessary the project turned out to be.
National Endowment for the Humanities to Spend $150,000 on Oral History of Climate Change, Covid
September 29, 2023
The National Endowment for the Humanities will award a $150,000 grant to community organizations to catalogue peoples’ thoughts on climate change, according to a spending announcement.
The grant is part of the Climate and Community Resilience Program, whose mission is to mitigate climate change’s effects, safeguard cultural resources, and foster cultural resilience through documenting cultural heritage and community resilience.
According to the video presentation, potential project ideas include an oral history collection of reflections from firefighters and other first responders fighting wildfires and other natural disasters, documenting memories of indigenous elders during climate crises like droughts, and documenting climate change’s effects on agriculture. Projects are expected to last two years.
Grant money can also be used to document people’s feelings about Covid-19, according to the presentation, including the experience of doctors and nurses, and “the documenting of everyday community experiences” during the pandemic.
The notice stipulates that disadvantaged communities will be given special preference to receive these funds, and encourages applicants to adhere to inclusive methodologies.
This grant suggests the need to record peoples’ feelings on climate change, despite there being no lack of journalistic projects, social media posts, and academic endeavors devoted to the topic. Those records could be passed on to future generations without spending $150,000.
Government could be using these funds to fight climate change by funding renewable energy sources. Instead, the government is spending the money to document how bad climate change is and how worried people are about it—something that has been done ad nauseum.
This grant doesn’t respond to any needs in a community or address gaps in private funding. Instead, it uses taxpayer money to create a catalogue of knowledge that already exists.
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.