The budget deal in Harrisburg will cut funding for libraries, social services, and education, but legislators plan to keep plenty of taxpayers' money for their own special "needs."

Budget negotiators have set aside at least $100 million for what's known as "walking-around money." WAMs are discretionary grants that individual lawmakers hand out to favored groups in their home districts with little justification and no accountability.

WAMs are also a great way for incumbents to help ensure their reelection. It's no coincidence that legislative leaders have made this honeypot available now - all 203 House seats and half of the 50 Senate seats are up for election next fall.

This legislature does not excel at much, but it is superb at looking out for itself. Legislators know there will be plenty of anti-incumbent sentiment at the polls next year.

There's anger over the budget impasse, criminal trials will begin this winter over alleged illegal bonuses to legislative staffers, and electric rates will soar when rate caps expire next year. It's just the kind of environment in which millions in WAMs could buy an endangered incumbent some goodwill back home.

The final details of the budget have yet to be worked out. There's still a chance that the money set aside for WAMs could be used to restore some of the cuts made to worthwhile programs. That would be a far more preferable and transparent course.

But don't hold your breath. This is Harrisburg we're talking about.

Then there is the matter of the legislative leaders' "slush fund." The leaders of both parties in the House and Senate have been squirreling taxpayer dollars in these murky accounts for years.

No one will know how much money is in the slush fund until a new accounting is finished in December. In June 2008, the balance was about $200 million.

Rep. Josh Shapiro (D., Montgomery), chairman of the Legislative Audit Committee, said there is "presumably substantially less" money in the accounts now because leaders used some of it to pay aides' salaries during the budget impasse. But whatever is left should be returned to the state's general fund to ease the impact of budget cuts.

Republican leaders defended the slush fund previously by saying they needed it to keep their operations running in the event of a budget stalemate with Gov. Rendell beyond the June 30 deadline. In fact, having such a slush fund discourages compromise in a budget standoff.

The results of the gridlock this year were hardly worth the extra wait. In the end, Rendell agreed to cut spending, the Senate GOP agreed to a few tax increases, and the public was left wondering why Harrisburg couldn't have reached just such a deal months ago.