Leader Blues

Monday, March 21, 2005

EDITORIAL>> Biggest scandal at the Legislature

Scandals do not have to originate in secrecy.

They can be open and aboveboard from the first.

That is the case with the biggest scandal in state government in recent memory, the wholesale theft of $50 million or more from the state’s general improvement fund to bolster the re-election prospects of sitting legislators.

Calling it theft for political ends does not put too sharp a point on it, we believe. The state has monumental needs, starting with a court-ordered modernization of public schools.

Yet a band of lawmakers — the number ultimately will embrace about all of them — wants to carve away a large part of the $200 million or so available for this vital work for political largesse.

Legislators get chunks of the money, up to $1.5 million each to settle on little projects in their districts to curry favor with local groups: money for rural volunteer fire departments, clubhouse roofs, swimming pools, you name it. Legislators often get their pictures taken handing out the checks.

The practice began in 1997 and it has gotten more brazen each year because public outrage has been absent. It ought to be called what it is, public corruption, and people should let their lawmakers know about it.

Unless you’d just rather pay higher taxes to pay for the real business of the state.