This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
In this connection we shall discuss only those sections of the new constitution that dealt with appropriations to private institutions. The first restrictive section *174 provided that no appropriations except for the expenses of the legislative, executive, and judicial departments, for the common schools, and for the interest on the public debt should be included in the general appropriation bill. The object of this section was, undoubtedly, to prevent the inclusion of small appropriations of doubtful merit in the same bill with the important appropriations for the support of the state government. During the period after the Civil War small grants to charities were sometimes passed in that manner. Section 15, Article III, has effectually eliminated this evil.
Another section of the same article *175 dealt more directly with the question of subventions. It provided that "No appropriation shall be made to any charitable or educational institution not under absolute control of the Commonwealth, other than normal schools established by law for the professional training of teachers for the public schools of the state, except by a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each House." This section does not apply to the subvention to common schools since the schools were under the control of the local governments, which is equivalent as far as this provision is concerned, to state control. It is obvious that this section, which is in force at the present time, requires any appropriation bill that makes a subvention to a private charitable or educational institution to secure a vote of two-thirds of the membership of each house in the General Assembly. It was undoubtedly supposed that only the more meritorious institutions could command so large a majority, and, therefore, that the total amount of the grants would be reduced and that only institutions of state-wide importance would receive appropriations. It was also believed that to require so large a majority would prevent log-rolling and corrupt practices in the passage of these appropriation bills.
The debate on this section brings out these points very clearly. Statements of the delegates not only prove the intention of the convention, but also throw considerable light on the opinions then prevalent as to the manner in which the grants were obtained. One delegate stated very frankly that in the past the treasury had been at the mercy of combinations of local interests and that he favored the section as a means for making such combinations ineffectual. *176 Charges of corruption were frequent. One member said, " It is necessary to stop this corruption at Harrisburg in granting these appropriations to hospitals and sectarian schools. *177 Another delegate in speaking of the Marine Hospital (at Erie), which was located in his own county, said, "It was not because an institution of that kind was specially wanted there, but because we were then represented in the legislature by one who cared more for carrying out his own opinions than serving the best interests of his constituents. And in this instance it happened that a friend in Erie made some money and cheap glory out of it. . . . " *178 It was also alleged that some of these institutions were "got up only to make positions for somebody and to make a splurge in the world. " *179
175 Sec. 17, Art. III.
176 Thus Mr. H. G.Smith, Convention to Amend the Constitution (1872-73), Debates, II, p. 645, col. 1.
177 Mr. W. H. Smith, Convention to Amend the Constitution (1872-73), Debates, II, p. 681, col. 1.
178 Mr. Walker, of Erie County, idem, II, p. 647, col. 2.
179 Mr. Lilly, idem, II, p. 637, col. 2.
It is, of course, not certain what the delegate who charged that "cortuption" was used to obtain the appropriations, had in mind. But others were more specific. One member of the convention asserted that agents had been hired to go to Harrisburg to lobby for the subvention bills; *180 while another said that to his knowledge money had been used directly to "engineer" at least one appropriation bill of this sort. *181 On the other hand, Ex-Governor Curtin vehemently denied that bribery had played an important part in securing the appropriations. *182 The apparent willingness of many members to vote for all the subventions, good and bad alike, was, of course, not due to their having been corrupted by money payments. Many of the subventions were too small to be divided in this way and it is scarcely conceivable that a majority of the legislature could have been bribed to vote for so many bills. The best explanation of the support given bills of this sort was set forth by Mr. McCandless in the Senate in 1864. A bill making an appropriation to a privately owned asylum, which was located in Mr. McCandless' district, was before the Senate. In the course of debate, that gentleman declared that he would willingly vote against the measure if the Senate would adhere to a resolution not to make any more appropriations to local chartity. But on the other hand, if they would not make and adhere to such a resolution, he could not oppose an appropriation to an institution within his own district. *183 As long as the constitution permitted the subventions and the people expected their representatives to "get something" for their districts, it was well-nigh impossible to eliminate appropriations to undeserving institutions. Undoubtedly it was generally assumed by those not well versed in the ways of the politician that section 17 would make it possible for the more scrupulous majority of the legislature to put an end to improper and undeserved grants.
180 Mr Lilly, idem, II, p. 638, col. 1.
181 Mr. W. H. Smith, idem, II, p. 638, col. 2, and p. 639, col. 1.
182 Idem, II, p. 660, col. 1. For a statement in regard to the political morality of the legislature during the sixties, see A. K. McClure's account of the manner in which an appropriation of half a million dollars for the relief of persons who had suffered from the border raids of the confederates, was secured. Old Time Notes of Pennsylvania, II, p. 178.
183 Legislative Record, p. 817.