Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mahon Praises Spanier's Tan While Reaching for More Sunscreen.

This is an update of my previous post concerning Democratic State Representative Tim Mahoney's proposed open record law. The Collegian picked the story up this morning and moves the ball forward with interviews of Representative Mahoney, Penn State flack Bill Mahon, and State Representative Kerry Benninghoff. I think the article deserves some analysis.

I said in my earlier post Spanier will oppose the language in the bill which explicitly expands coverage of the open record law to Penn State, but Mahon didn't come out against the bill or the proposed language.

Bill Mahon, Penn State spokesman, said he has no problems with the proposed legislation.

"There are a number of newspapers over the years who have demanded Penn State make budget information available. This usually comes from newspapers who haven't checked our Web site," he said. "You can literally find hundreds and hundreds of pages of budget information."

Note the hostile tone. According to Mahon newspapers didn't request or ask for budget information, they "demanded budget information". His next statement is designed to give the impression that Penn State already makes the requested information available, therefore the papers were somehow being unreasonable. But the online budget is not a line item budget. So if you want to know how much Penn State spends on feeding Trustees at their bi-monthly meetings you won't find it on Penn State's Web site or anywhere else. (To learn more about Penn State's use of suncreen, I highly recommend a series of entertaining and informative columns written by Collegian columnist Renée Petrina back in 2004. You can find them here, here, here,here and here.)

Mahoney isn't buying Penn State's talking point, he said "that under his bill, institutions would have to further break down the budget information they currently make available to account for spending within certain categories."

Before anyone concludes from Mahon's remarks that I was wrong about Spanier opposing the language in the bill which would explicitly extend the open record law to Penn State, remember that we are early in the game. Mahon's position as expressed in today's Collegian is Penn State's opening gambit. There is no need for them to oppose a bill which has not even been introduced on the floor of the house. To do so would give the impression that they have something to hide, which, in turn, would would give further impetus for the language. While they take a "what me worry" public position on the bill, you can be sure they are working behind the scenes to kill the bill before it comes to the floor. Their go-to-guy on this is Kerry Benninghoff who has reassuring words for them.

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said, in general, he supports open records, but Mahoney's bill has a long way to go before it can be passed.

"It needs to be narrowed," Benninghoff said. "If it's too broadly written, it will die under its own weight. Then, there will probably be several public hearings at which time I believe the universities will have a word on it. It could include stuff the university doesn't want out there."

"It needs to be narrowed," should be read don't worry Graham I've got your back. Benninghoff is carrying water for Spanier, who will remain above the fray and keep what is left of his pristine image as a good guy. Oh and by the way, bills don't die of their own weight. Bills are killed by legislators. I am looking at you Kerry.

For those of you who despair that Penn State will succeed in squashing this bill before it has a chance to see the light of day, there is some good news today as well. According to the CDT Ed Rendell plans for his upcoming term includes a surprise.

[Rendell] broke new ground with his promise to overhaul the state's open-records law, which many right-to-know advocates regard as archaic because it limits public access to specific categories of records rather than opening all records to public scrutiny except for specific ones.

The fight is on to bring sunshine to Old Main. Contact your State Representative and Governor Rendell in support of Mahoney's bill and be sure to tell him/her that Penn State and other state-related universities must be covered by the bill.

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