This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
During colonial times it was not unheard of for the central government to assist the local governments in almost any undertaking involving the expenditure of money. But such general grants were neither large nor common and during this period grants in aid, for purposes other than roads, are found only occasionally. In 1805, for some unexplained reason, the General Assembly presented Indiana County with so much of the proceeds of land sales as would defray the cost of the erection of county buildings. *43 In the following year Venango County received a similar grant, limited in amount to $1,000. *44 In 1811 the Inspectors of Prisons of Philadelphia were granted $5,000 with which to complete a jail. *45 But such grants were of slight fiscal importance during this period.
During the first seventeen years of this period the difficulty of collecting the direct tax and the burden of the war debt made the introduction of a subvention system on a large scale practically impossible. The occasions for making grants were, however, present. The attempts to aid colleges and academies and the report of the Committee on Common Schools (1792) show this clearly enough. But since the state treasury was already overburdened, nothing could be accomplished. On the other hand the state was rich in lands and from these it made donations in aid to academies and colleges until the futility of the policy was so clearly established that its abandonment was accepted by all.
During the latter part of the period small grants of money were made to academies and to localities for road building. All these grants were •temporary or occasional. Only in the subvention to the institution for the deaf and dumb does a permanent annual grant make its appearance. Another outstanding characteristic of the subventions at this time was the lack of control by the grantor. But this is not out of keeping with the more lax methods of conducting public business which prevailed in state and local governments during the period under consideration.
From the data presented the conclusion must be drawn that the subventions made during this period were in no sense the results of a general plan. The grants were, with one exception, exceedingly haphazard, and there is no evidence now extant to show that any of them was the result of a thorough investigation or serious consideration on the part of the legislature. Many must be regarded as successful forays upon the treasury by the representatives of certain sections of the state. As such they were supported by no theory of politics or of finance except the eminently practical one that to the victor belong the spoils. Subventions thus obtained were not always without merit nor can we condemn them simply because political manipulation was responsible for their existence unless we are prepared to subscribe unreservedly to the doctrine of tainted money.
43 Act 25 Mar., 1805, P.L. p. 121.
44 Act 26 Mar., 1806, P.L. p. 64. 45 Act 2 April, 1811, P.L. p. 266.