In the movie "Dave," Kevin Kline plays a presidential lookalike who finds himself running the country after the real president falls into a coma.
Convening his Cabinet, he uses common sense to expose the ludicrous mentality of the business-as-usual crowd.
Kline asks the Commerce secretary about an ad campaign his department has implemented to boost consumer confidence in the auto industry. “It’s designed to bolster individual confidence in a previous domestic automotive purchase,” the secretary proudly explained.
Speechless at first, Kline fires back, “We're spending millions for somebody to feel good about a car they already bought? I don't want to tell an 8-year-old kid he's gotta sleep in the street because we want people to feel better about their car. Do you want to tell him that?” The shocked secretary sees the light, and the program is eliminated.
Incredibly, that mentality isn’t limited to Hollywood scripts. Look at what Pennsylvania’s Ed Rendell is trying to pull off before he vacates the governor’s mansion.
Rendell authorized $42 million in taxpayer money to be sent to the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) to bail out the sinking Aker Shipyard. Taxpayers, both state and national, have already subsidized the Shipyard to the tune of $400 million.
That funding, we are told, would prevent Aker from going under, since it would be building two new ships.
One small problem. There are no buyers for the ships. And the prospect of that changing course anytime soon is nonexistent.
Thousands of ships worldwide are lying at anchor because of the global recession, idled indefinitely. That glut of vessels will depress ship prices for the foreseeable future.
So let’s be Dave for a second.
Rendell wants taxpayer money to build ships that no one is going to buy so 1,000 workers can keep receiving a subsidized paycheck. And since the ships wouldn’t be built-to-order, their eventual purchase will be all the more difficult.
Rendell may not care, but I wouldn’t want to tell a mother that her child died in a bridge collapse that resulted from a lack of maintenance because $42 million was spent on ghost ships instead of bridge repairs.
But what type of Rendell move would it be if he didn’t take care of his political pals and fundraisers?
The chairman of the PRPA is John Estey, former Rendell chief of staff and a longtime partner at Ballard Spahr, the gov’s old firm which has received millions in no-bid contracts from the state. And who was PRPA’s outside counsel? Ballard Spahr.
Estey is also chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), which is intricately linked to the PRPA, sending millions their way.
The DRPA couldn’t dole out legal contracts fast enough to Ballard when it served as its outside counsel — over $3.2 million since Rendell was elected in 2002, up from $480 the year prior. And when Chairman Estey voted to approve those legal bills, he was, in fact, approving funds that went directly to Ballard — his own firm.
Ballard and its associated entities, by the way, have contributed $1.5 million to Rendell.
The Philadelphia Port Authority is nothing if not politically-connected, too: Two of its board members have donated over $350,000 to the governor’s campaigns. It must be nice to represent both authorities when “other people’s money” is flying around.
Making the matter more suspect, the nonprofit Philadelphia Shipyard Development Corporation is the entity ultimately receiving the $42 million so it can buy Aker assets and lease them back to the company. Some might call that a shell game.
“If they don't build these next two ships, this yard is shutting down," its chairman said. Well let’s not mess around. Make it $420 million and employ 10,000 workers, or $4.2 billion so Aker can build 200 ships. No one will buy them, but so what? The political elite will be happy.
Hope is not lost though. Attorney General Tom Corbett must still approve the contract.
The lobbying on Corbett to let this contract sail through before his Jan. 18 gubernatorial inauguration has been intense. Given Rendell’s track record, that is red flag enough to stop this deal until all questions are answered. And questions abound.
The Rendell legacy has been one of abject failure for all those not linked at the hip to the governor, and the attempted Aker bailout is a perfect illustration of how he achieved that dubious status.
Like two ships passing in the night, Corbett and Rendell could not be more different in their direction. Here’s hoping Corbett drops anchor on Rendell’s last hurrah and charts a course for safer harbors.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, FreindlyFireZone.com He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com
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