One of the high profile items in Governor Corbett’s legislative reform package unveiled the week of January 23 will also be one of the toughest to the get through the General Assembly – the elimination of WAMs, or walking around money. Hidden in agency appropriations, WAMs fund special projects in legislative districts. Lobbyists representing those projects rely on WAMs and lawmakers rely on lobbyists for campaign funds.
“If we can’t get funding for our projects then we lose clients,” one long-time lobbyist said. “If we lose clients, then we can’t make contributions to their campaigns.”
WAMs are set aside as part of each annual budget process in discretionary funds in the Departments of Community and Economic Development, Health, Public Welfare and other state agencies. The amounts are set by legislative leaders who predict requests from rank-and-file members over the upcoming year. Lobbyists and budget officials insist the projects are worthwhile, but that the secrecy of the process should probably be changed.
“The way it works now is that leadership will tap one of the agency funds depending on the nature of the project,” said one former budget official. “To the public, it’s not evident where the money is coming from. That part of it really needs to be changed because there’s an air about it that something sinister is going on, but it really isn’t.”
Many predict that a compromise between lawmakers and the governor will maintain the WAMs but at a lower level and in an open process.
“The deficit this year will put add pressure to eliminate the WAMs,” another lobbyist said. “But it will continue on some level, if it’s clear exactly where the money is coming from and where it’s going.”
Complicating matters for the lawmakers and lobbyists is the almost certain suspension of another funding source for special projects, the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). RACP is funded by borrowing through floating bonds. Governor Corbett campaigned against increasing the state’s debt level.
“Lobbyists who relied on WAMs and RACP money for their clients could be in trouble,” one House member said. “The money isn’t going to be there like it was before.”
In a related move, the governor wants a searchable website that reveals all state government spending. The House State Government Committee has already approved such a bill, HB 15, but it was held up on the floor the week of January 23, over a procedural battle between Republicans and Democrats.
Other items in the governor’s reform package:
Performance-based budgeting: Corbett and cabinet members will set performance goals for state programs, and those failing to meet their goals over several years will be reviewed.
Reducing the size and cost of state government: Corbett set a goal of reducing administrative costs by 10 percent “during his four-year term in office.”
Consolidating services: The Office of Administration and Department of General Services are directed to help state agencies consolidate information technology and administrative functions.
Sunset and audit of state boards and commissions: A task force will review current boards and commissions, and report back within one year on their findings. Any new boards will sunset after five years.