Home for Lt. Gov. is a luxury

The question of whether financially strapped Pennsylvania should continue to provide an official taxpayer-funded residence for its lieutenant governor is relevant now, but it should have been addressed a long time ago, considering the savings that could have been realized.

With state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf facing a projected

$3 billion shortfall as they try to assemble a balanced 2017-18 budget, the lieutenant governor’s mansion — called the State House — at Fort Indiantown Gap near Harrisburg shouldn’t be off-limits as a potential source of savings.

That’s also true since Pennsylvania is believed to be the only state that provides such lavish living quarters for its second-in-command.

Budget talks continue to focus on cuts to state services affecting the people of this state — to the needy as well as to the not-so-needy.

State officials, all the way up to the top, shouldn’t be exempted from cost-cutting as well.

However, it’s reasonable to assume that the lieutenant governor’s residence, despite carrying a large price tag, would have remained outside the limits of money-saving discussion if it had not been for an “attitude problem” that prompted action by Wolf.

Last month, Wolf eliminated the state police protection provided to Lt. Gov. Mike Stack and his wife after receiving reports that they had mistreated state employees assigned to them and their residence. The governor also limited state services provided to Stack and his wife at the lieutenant governor’s mansion.

Still, as an article in the April 30 Mirror reported, state taxpayers already had doled out approximately $340,000 this fiscal year to maintain what’s been described as a one-of-a-kind home. That article provided no estimated yearly taxpayer cost, but the article did give the description “one-of-a-kind price tag.”

Beyond the big expense to the taxpayers is the important question of whether a Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, whose annual salary is $162,373, really needs the kind of residence that currently is provided.

It’s true that the home has strategic significance. Because of its location at the military base, it allows the lieutenant governor quick access to air transportation, such as would be needed in an emergency.

It’s true that the home provides an alternative for meetings with visiting officials, when the governor is busy with other meetings and business.

But Eric Epstein, coordinator of the state watchdog group Rock the Capitol, has made the excellent point that the home is excessive for an official whose main official duties are serving as state Senate president and chairing the Board of Pardons and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council.

Bob Warner of Common Cause Pennsylvania, another critic, has pointed out that many cabinet officials have far more important jobs but are not provided with an official, taxpayer-financed residence.

On the opposite side of the issue are those, such as former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel of Johnstown and former lieutenant governor and later Gov. Mark Schweiker, who oppose removing the current lieutenant governor living arrangement.

“I believe it’s a treasure,” Singel said.

Stack and his wife never envisioned the unintended consequences of treating their assigned staff poorly. And, they didn’t imagine that their conduct would expose what is undeniably a questionable expenditure of state money, especially amid difficult financial circumstances.

The current budget-preparation process must not ignore that reality.