Audit of Pa. Legislature recommends more centralized accounting

    An audit of the Pennsylvania Legislature’s expenses last year is coming with familiar recommendations about centralizing control of purse strings and keeping a tighter lid on expenses.

    The General Assembly, which last year spent $302 million on its own operations, is inherently decentralized. But auditors say that’s to the detriment of transparent accounting and appropriate expenses.

    Stephen Baloga, with the firm Mitchell and Titus, said while the Senate runs all of its expenses through a single office, the House still has a number of people with their own access to the legislative bank account.

    “There continue to be a number of checkbooks that are maintained by committees and leadership – committee chairs and leadership,” Baloga said. “And we ultimately recommend that the majority of those accounts be collapsed and pushed back to the House controller’s office.” He made his remarks during the presentation of the 2012-13 legislative audit.

    The audit also flagged purchases that weren’t itemized, or were simply inappropriate – including a $123 floral arrangement, and a $150 advance for items bought with a Starbucks rewards card.

    The annual report on the Legislature’s expenses was made public about six months late. Lawmakers attribute the delay to turnover on the Legislative Audit Advisory Commission, which is responsible for the report.

    The report found the Legislature had $154 million in reserve. Lawmakers defend maintaining some savings in case state budget negotiations require them to work beyond what their state funding appropriations would normally allow. After accepting the audit, the commission recommended the General Assembly set a policy for how much cash to keep on hand.

    “It’s up to the leaders to decide what they’re going to do with it,” said Rep. Mark Keller,  R-Perry, the commission’s chairman. “They have the jurisdiction on it.”

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