Friday, August 13, 2010

Controversial Legislative Office Downsized

A special report issued in May by the Grand Jury investigating public corruption in the state legislature detailed how 34 legislative staffers and 35 PennDOT workers spend all their time processing vehicle registration, license renewals and other paperwork for constituents. The jurors argued lawmakers only filed the paperwork to score points with voters. The report prompted Governor Rendell to launch an effort to shut down the PennDOT office. However, the practice remained open, after House Speaker Keith McCall defended it as a valuable constituent service. This week a compromise was reached to scale back the office but leave it otherwise intact. PennDOT will continue to accept individual constituents’ paperwork from lawmakers’ offices, but as McCall’s Chief of Staff Paul Parsells says things are different in rural counties compared to more urban settings and this is a service that makes sense, “If you live in Harrisburg you can get in your car, go right downtown to the riverfront office center, process your paperwork. You can take a publicly funded transit bus down there if you want. In rural Pennsylvania you can’t do that. And many of our members really serve as the front door to state government.” Under the new agreement legislators will not pass along documents from car dealerships or other businesses that already charge fees to their customers. “They estimated it to be approximately 60 percent of the work. And after we evaluated the work we think that might be in the right ballpark. It was a significant amount of work, and it’s work we really didn’t need to be doing,” says Parsells. The PennDOT workers will be reassigned to other departments, but Parcells says the legislative processing offices will stay open. He notes that the office does more than just handle PennDOT work. “This is just one example of the work our legislators do every day. We serve as intermediaries with the Department of Welfare, with the Attorney General, Office of Consumer Advocate, with Treasury. With any agency of the state.” Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler says the change will save a million dollars a year.

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