Here is the sixth installment of waste in the legislature, prompted by the recent grand jury report.

Walking around money

In Washington they're known as "earmarks"; in Harrisburg they're called "WAMs."

That's an acronym for "walking-around money," special grants to fund individual legislators' pet projects in their districts. Curbing WAMs must be a priority.

The process is so secretive that nobody really knows how much Harrisburg spends on WAMs. An Associated Press investigation in 2008 found at least $110 million in these grant requests. Some insiders say the total has been as high as $750 million. Governors and legislators have used this hidden pool of tax money for 20 years.

The size and validity of the grants vary wildly, from $5,000 for a volunteer fire company to $2.6 million for the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp., a nonprofit group that House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) helped to found.

Not all WAMs are wasteful. But the spending is shrouded in secrecy and controlled by legislative leaders. In the second half of 2008, sparsely populated Greene County received more WAMs per capita than any other county in the state. It's the home of powerful Democratic Rep. Bill DeWeese, now under indictment.

Cracking down on WAMs should be a part of any serious reform effort in Harrisburg.