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This article is shared with LebTown by content partner Spotlight PA.
By Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA, and Brad Bumsted, Sam Janesch and Mike Wereschagin of The Caucus
HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania legislature spent $203 million from 2017 through 2020 just to feed, house, transport, and provide rental offices and other perks for lawmakers and their staffs. About one in 10 of those dollars — $20 million in all over the four years — went into lawmakers’ pockets in the form of reimbursements for meals, mileage subsidies, per diems, and other expenses.
That’s according to The Hidden Tab, a new, year-long, and ongoing investigation by Spotlight PA and The Caucus revealing how the legislature spends tax dollars on itself, and then obscures that spending to make it difficult for the public to keep track.
Spending records legally belong to the people who ultimately foot the bill: the taxpayers. But in practice, citizens who want to see what lawmakers are buying with their money face an array of barriers, delays, and even pushback from lawyers hired by the General Assembly with yet more taxpayer money, the news organizations found.
More than a decade ago, a grand jury investigating state lawmakers’ misuse of public money recommended the General Assembly make dramatic changes to how it conducted its business — including making changes to its spending practices.
In a highly unusual report that became public, the grand jurors called on the legislature to move to a part-time work schedule and impose term limits. The grand jurors also recommended eliminating taxpayer-funded partisan caucuses, requiring receipts for reimbursement for lodging and food, and reducing the number of district offices to one per legislator.
It also recommended that the legislature’s budget itemize spending, rather than lumping expenditures under broad categories that mean little to the general public.
None of those changes was implemented. While some legislators started posting expenses online, the vast majority don’t do it today, and those that do post outdated or incorrect information, Spotlight PA and The Caucus found.
Search our interactive chart below to see the lawmakers that tallied more than $100,000 in expenses from 2017 through 2020. (Can’t see the chart? Click here.)
WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.