Audit shows Pennsylvania lawmakers' surplus grew again, up to $161M

The Pennsylvania Legislature's pool of reserve cash grew for a second straight year, according to an audit released Monday.

An outside audit of the Legislature's finances showed that the surplus grew to $161 million, as of last June 30. Last year's audit showed the legislative reserve had swelled to $154 million from $140 million the previous year, reversing a downward trend that began in 2006.

The Legislative Audit Advisory Commission's chairman, Rep. Mark Keller, R-Perry, said the numbers in the audit are out of date by seven months and that the reserve is shrinking, largely because of former Gov. Tom Corbett's targeted spending vetoes last summer.

At the time, Corbett struck $65 million from the Legislature's own appropriations and an additional $7.2 million in earmarks and other spending items picked by lawmakers.

In any case, such a large and unfettered surplus is nearly unheard of in other states.

For years, auditors hired to report on the Legislature's financial practices have recommended that lawmakers consider adopting a policy that establishes and monitors the appropriate amount of surplus — recommendations the Legislature has ignored.

The Legislature has not passed a law or even created an internal policy that caps the size of the surplus. The surplus has been accumulating since at least the early 1980s. In many years, the Legislature budgeted more taxpayer money than it spent and directed unspent money to remain in its accounts.

The reserve is justified by lawmakers as an emergency fund to protect the balance of power should the governor cut off legislative funding in a budget fight.

However, the Legislature has created no special rules to limit the use of the surplus. Money from it has been used in ways over the years that have nothing to do with a budget impasse.

In 2005, lawmakers underwrote a generous midterm pay raise for themselves. A public outcry prompted them to repeal it four months later. The Legislature also has used the money several times to help fund executive-branch programs that are favored by its members.