In the final days of budget-making in Harrisburg, House and Senate leaders were willing to cut just about any program except their cherished slush fund.

The kitty of taxpayer dollars that is being hoarded by Republican and Democratic leaders has grown to about $211 million, according to an audit earlier this year. Legislators say they're saving it for an emergency (i.e., to keep paying their salaries in case of a government shutdown).

The slush fund fueled the outrageous staff bonuses and other abuses alleged in an indictment last week. And the leftover money was needed at budget crunch time.

As Republicans and Democrats haggled over the total spending for fiscal 2009, the two sides were about $500 million apart. Gov. Rendell agreed to cut that amount from his original budget proposal by trimming 1.3 percent from all departments across the board.

That meant less money for human-service agencies, smaller increases for schools, less money for environmental protection. Although overall spending rose nearly 4 percent, many programs didn't receive enough to keep up with inflation, and others were cut.

But the House and Senate leaders didn't touch their stash of mad money.

"We could have done more to help mental health/mental retardation services, more for public education," said Deputy Speaker Josh Shapiro (D., Montgomery). "We could have done something to reduce the cost of health insurance."

Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnatti (R., Jefferson) said he offered to spend some of the Senate's $78 million in reserves for property-tax relief. He said neither Senate Democrats nor House leaders were interested.

House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene) tried to dodge the issue by saying the surplus is overstated, and there will be less money in the pot next year. That's hardly the point.

Let's say there is "only" $190 million available now. The leaders of the four caucuses still should agree to give back the vast majority, either as tax relief or to help pay for needed services.

The audit in March showed that the House controlled about $104 million in surpluses and the Senate held $78 million. Various legislative commissions controlled an additional $29 million.

The leaders of the House and Senate should be ashamed to sit on this pile of money while many Pennsylvanians are going without needed services and struggling with their tax bills.