One hundred and eighty four million dollars is a lot of money, the sort of figure that, if you put it in a savings account at, say 4 percent interest, would yield about $7.2 million a year without compounding.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly has about $184 million in a big piggy bank.
They (the jolly folks who make - and sometimes break - the laws in Pennsylvania) say they need the dough just in case they get in a beef with whoever happens to be governor and the chief executive shuts down the government.
According to Rep. Gordon Denlinger, a Republican from Lancaster County, the funds are austensibly for rainy days when an obstinate governor tips the balance of power, and the pittance in the account is becoming worrisome. In a nod to the plight of education in the state, the lawmakers dipped out $50 million this year for a program that benefits public schools called accountability block grants, a sign of beneficence and philanthropy on the part of the legislature.
It is heartening to know that in a time of fiscal crisis, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has a cookie jar from which to draw if the government stops cutting checks. That's right, if non-emergency services are suddenly curtailed, non-essential personnel furloughed, we can all take comfort that our $300 million-a-year Pennsylvania legislature will continue to chug along doing the important work of arguing and posturing.
Well, that's what we're told the money is for, but the legislature has not passed a law or created any internal policy that caps the size of the surplus, and there are no special rules to limit the use of the money. Thus, sans the sort of catastrophe brought on by a budget impasse, the General Assembly has used the money for other things, like the mid-term pay raise they voted for themselves in 2005, which was subsequently repealed under public pressure a few months later.
So, where did all this money come from? We'll give you one guess. The money has been accumulating since the 1980s because the legislature budgeted more money for itself than it needed. Oops.
Apparently, Pennsylvania's General Assembly is fairly unique among state legislatures in its rainy day fund. It's almost unheard of elsewhere.
Aren't we lucky?