Even for corruption-rich Pennsylvania state government, it was a busy week on the criminal court calendar. A former House speaker was sentenced to prison. A former Senate Democratic leader had a date set to enter a guilty plea in federal court. And the trial of a sitting state senator neared conclusion.
Despite the flurry of criminal prosecutions of state lawmakers and their staffers, past and present, in recent years, Pennsylvania managed to eke out a passing grade in the first State Integrity Investigation released last week. The nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity led the yearlong assessment of government conduct in all 50 states.
Pennsylvania received a C-minus on its Corruption Risk Report Card, which was based on grades in 14 categories aimed at assessing transparency and accountability.
The breakdown included "F'' grades in judicial accountability, political financing, state budget processes and redistricting. Little surprise there. Shortcomings in the judicial system's responsiveness to complaints were exposed in Luzerne County's Kids for Cash scandal, campaign contributions have no limits, too few lawmakers decide budgets, and the latest state redistricting concocted by legislative leaders was thrown out by the state Supreme Court for being blatantly gerrymandered.
The state won "A" grades in internal auditing and procurement. A B-minus in public access to information is the result of the 2009 open records law. But that effort has met resistance from state and local agencies, and the drive for transparency has lost ground with some court rulings.
C-minus is a dismal grade but it was good enough to rank Pennsylvania 18th among the 50 states. New Jersey, not known as a bastion of open government, placed first with a B-plus. That ranking was attributed to reforms brought on by scandals.
Pennsylvania has made slight progress with reforms spurred by the exposure of government corruption in the past half dozen years. As the assessment indicates, much work remains to restore faith in state government.
- Pottsville Republican Herald