Gov. Tom Wolf stripped Lt. Gov. Mike Stack and his wife, Tonya, of their security detail last week and limited their mansion staff amid allegations that the Stacks verbally abused state troopers and mansion employees. These allegations are being investigated by the Office of Inspector General. The Stacks reside in the lieutenant governor’s mansion, the State House, in Fort Indiantown Gap.
T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month,” and that’s certainly held true for Lt. Gov. Stack.
Whether the cruelties to which Stack is being subjected are a matter of karma, we cannot say. What we can say is this: Things aren’t looking good for Stack’s political future.
He hopes to be on Wolf’s ticket when their re-election comes up next year, but Wolf has — rightly — come down hard on Stack for his alleged transgressions.
In a quietly scathing letter sent Friday, Wolf notified the lieutenant governor that he and his wife no longer would have a state police detail. Further, Wolf wrote, “the Department of General Services will provide limited cleaning, groundskeeping and maintenance at the State House and only under supervision at prearranged times.”
Supervision, prearranged times: Those are the kinds of terms employed when an abusive person meets his victim under the careful watch of a social worker.
Meanwhile, news organizations have been painting a picture of Stack that is hardly campaign material.
The Caucus, an LNP Media Group watchdog publication, reported this week that Stack — who cast the tiebreaking 2015 vote in the Senate killing the potential elimination of billions of dollars in school taxes — doesn’t actually own a home or pay property taxes in Pennsylvania.
The Caucus examined records obtained under the Right-to-Know Law. Stack’s expense records for 2015 and 2016 showed that the lieutenant governor was reimbursed thousands of dollars for travel throughout North America.
Records show Stack attended a Great Lakes conference in Quebec in June 2015 to discuss undisclosed “commonwealth business” at the upscale restaurant Chez Boulay.
He billed taxpayers $1,414.22 for a trip to New York City to discuss “emergency management liaison/film tax credits.”
And when Stack had a home in Philadelphia, he billed the commonwealth for thousands of dollars’ worth of hotel stays in — wait for it — Philadelphia, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was forced to repay some of that money.
Stack also sought reimbursement for $240 for two tickets to attend a car race at Pocono Raceway. His spokesman said he there in his official capacity, representing the commonwealth. (Nice work if you can get it.)
Look, tempted as we are to tell the lieutenant governor that the writing is on the wall of that fancy mansion we’ve been paying for him to live in, there is an investigation that needs to play out. But Stack appears to have been exhibiting the kind of behavior that leads taxpayers to see politicians as self-serving.
He apologized in a press conference, but it was an apology laced with self-justification. He was stressed. Or angry. Or frustrated. He had the occasional “Stack moment.”
He did better in a statement he released in response to the governor’s letter. “I recognize, as does my wife, that certain behavior while dealing with the staff of the lieutenant governor’s residence and the Pennsylvania State Police executive detail who protects us is unacceptable and were symptoms of a larger problem.”
It’s an improvement, but it may not be enough to placate voters should Stack seek re-election next year.
Wolf and Stack were thrown together by the voters in 2014. It’s hard to see the arranged marriage lasting.
Because whatever else you think of the Democratic governor, he’s a principled guy, who promised transparency and has largely delivered. (We hope it continues with the release of the OIG report on the Stack investigation.)
It’s hard to see the measured Wolf or his unassuming wife, Frances, throwing a temper tantrum, as Tonya Stack allegedly did, according to ABC27, after state police refused to turn on the sirens and lights to beat the traffic after a Philadelphia Eagles game.
Stack earns a robust salary of $162,373. The State House, where he and his family live rent-free, has a five-car garage, swimming pool and pool house. Their housework and yardwork have been taken care of on our dime.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that provides its lieutenant governor with a residence.
It’s a perquisite of the job that we think ought to be reconsidered.
Clearly, not every lieutenant governor will exhibit Stack’s sense of entitlement. But the more lavish the perks, the greater the temptation toward entitlement.
And there are more practical considerations at stake here, too.
The governor may need a state-owned residence in Harrisburg to entertain official visitors and conduct the people’s business (though Wolf lives in his own home in York County). But the State House, located in Lebanon County, is more than 20 miles from the state Capitol. It’s a country house — a dacha, to use the Russian term.
If the lieutenant governor needs a residence provided by the commonwealth, make it a small house or apartment in Harrisburg. And if the lieutenant governor wants a housekeeping staff, he should pay for one out of his own pocket.
Given the commonwealth’s projected $3 billion structural deficit, the upkeep of the State House doesn’t account for much. But an unnecessary expense is an unnecessary expense.