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Karen Heller: Such a bonanza of wacky tales

Philadelphia can be a terrible town for a citizen, an editor once quipped, but a wonderful place for a reporter.

Philadelphia can be a terrible town for a citizen, an editor once quipped, but a wonderful place for a reporter.

Pennsylvania, too!

If Ed Rendell is slutty for slots - he's the Shove Gov - House Majority Whip Bill DeWeese is batty for blackjack and other table games.

Last week, former State Rep. Mike Veon alleged in a court filing that DeWeese engaged in "exactly the same activities" (using taxpayer money secretly to underwrite political campaigns) described in the Bonusgate indictment. On that very day, DeWeese was pushing table games in House Bill 21 (clever, no?) to help the commonwealth reap millions and reduce the budget shortfall.

Talk about Lady Luck. Then again, indictments and gambling - like Vegas and the Five Families - have a beautiful history of complementing each other.

Where others see grannies squeezing Social Security quarters into one-armed bandits, DeWeese dreams of Bethlehem's becoming Monte Carlo on the Lehigh. The difference between slots and table games reminds me of the two ways Hemingway wrote that you can go bankrupt: "Gradually and then suddenly."

DeWeese seems confident in his renewed support for green-felt lucre. "I really feel I have more wind behind my back," DeWeese said.

It was unclear whether he was referring to Attorney General Tom Corbett.

These days, DeWeese is "Dead Man Hiding," Harrisburg watchdog Eric Epstein says of the former House majority leader. People wait for the next set of wingtips to drop among "all these puddles of grand juries all over the city."

Meanwhile, in Washington, Pennsylvania continues to distinguish itself through the personage of Rep. John Murtha, the grand pooh-bah of earmarks. He's "now associated with so many pay-to-play allegations," the National Journal reports, "that it's getting hard to keep up."

Two convicted major drug dealers are in his enriched friends-and-family network, the Washington Post revealed last week, benefiting from $50 million in defense contracts while taxpayers subsidized renovations to one of the men's homes, located conveniently in Murtha's district.

The king of pork's political legerdemain has prompted various watch groups to ask for a congressional ethics investigation. A veritable political muse, Murtha has inspired the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's Web site to launch You Don't Know Jack, complete with an interactive graphic honoring the man "treating our tax dollars like his own personal piggy bank."

Closer to home, City Council President Anna C. Verna applied pretzel logic to defend the recent proposal to raise the city sales tax to 8 percent. The 1-point increase must be approved by the great minds in Harrisburg now arguing their way through the state budget.

Verna thinks legislators from the suburbs, where the sales tax is 6 percent, will support Philadelphia's increased burden, according to this brilliant reasoning:

"The surrounding counties would be the beneficiary of the sales-tax" increase, Verna argued, "because if you live in Philadelphia and have to buy a large item and it is taxable, you're going to go to another county where you may not have to pay that tax."

Hearing this on the radio, Verna's voice suggestive of Marge Simpson's lost third sister, I almost drove off the road on my way to shop in Delaware.

This is genius, pure Philadelphia genius. Raise taxes, as it will force residents to go elsewhere and enrich their coffers, while depriving every remaining city large-item merchant of future sales.

How about lowering taxes and getting people in the surrounding counties to shop here? As the state collects six cents on every dollar and the city gets only a penny - lousy math, if you ask me - a tax reduction might result in increased sales, a win-win-win for the counties, the state and the city.

But, no. Instead of Tax and Spend, it's Tax and Flee, thinking that has gotten us the vexing budget issues we so richly deserve.