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IS "BONUSGATE," last week's indictments of 12 Harrisburg politicos by Attorney General Tom Corbett the second-worst thing that's happened to taxpayers in recent memory . . . or the second-best?

After all, last week's tawdry tale of out-of-control expense accounts, financial rewards for state employees who worked on partisan political campaigns, and a no-show job for the mistress of a powerful legislative staffer (and whose wife, bizarrely enough, was also caught up in a separate strain of the scandal) - was enough to outrage even the most blase taxpayer, especially since it followed not long on the heels of the great pay-raise debacle of 2005, after which fed-up voters gave the boot to 17 lawmakers for giving themselves big raises.

The details of Corbett's allegations are pretty stomach-turning: a vast conspiracy in which political work by state employees was rewarded with bonuses, and paid for with nearly $2 million of our tax dollars. According to the grand jury, former Rep. Mike Veon was the ringleader of an operation that used our money to help himself and other House Democrats get re-elected.

At a time when some taxpayers have to choose between food and gas, millions of our dollars were redirected away from worthy social needs, like health care and public education, and used to fund partisan political operations. State workers were rewarded, not for serving citizens, but for campaigning on behalf of their political masters. Legislators and top staffers used state dollars for personal errands, campaign fundraising and, in one case, a slush fund for an extramarital affair.

Corbett has promised that these indictments are only the beginning and that he plans to continue investigating the other caucuses.

It is possible that the outrage this provokes could lead to some fundamental change in Harrisburg - and thus become the second-best thing that's happened to Pennsylvania taxpayers. Still, we're not optimistic.

After all, "Bonusgate" has come just two years after the chastening housecleaning that followed the pay- raise scandal. Which means whatever lessons were learned by lawmakers in the first scandal had the life span of a fruit fly.

For far too long, lawmakers in Harrisburg have used public dollars as their own personal piggy bank. A culture of arrogance, secrecy and back- room dealing dominates state government.

And while lawmakers and politicos have created this culture, it's we, the stooges who bankroll these shenanigans and don't demand more accountability, who are equally to blame for letting it continue.

So how do we make it stop?

One start would be a special legislative session on ethics and reform. At least one lawmaker, state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, has called on Gov. Rendell to designate all or a portion of the fall session on ethics. Legislators would no doubt take up existing bills calling for limits on campaign contributions, budget reform and redistricting. We support this call and hope that some immediate progress can be made.

Lawmakers will not act unless a wave of public discontent threatens to, or succeeds in, ousting them from office. So we urge taxpayers to reach out to their lawmakers and let them know enough is enough.

For a list of proposed reforms, including changes to the process that produces the $23 billion state budget, check out "It's Our Money" at, a joint project by the Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation. *