The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 19, 2013

Official believes in saving: Eugene DePasquale making changes

JOHNSTOWN — Upon becoming the commonwealth’s auditor general, Eugene DePasquale decided to change the way his department’s letterhead is addressed.

The full name “Pennsylvania” was replaced with the “PA” abbreviation.

It was a small step taken to save ink. His office staff laughs at the switch.

“The joke is that in 500 years we’ll get our first dollar of savings,” said DePasquale during an interview with The Tribune-Democrat on Friday.

But there was a reason for the decision.

“Symbolically, we’re trying to show we’re trying to save every nickel possible,” he said.

Other in-house changes have been made since DePasquale, a Democrat, took office in January. Workers have started scanning and emailing documents, as opposed to paying for the cost of shipping and copying them. Printing also is now done on both sides of pages, thus saving 3.5 million sheets of paper per year or, as DePasquale explained, enough to line the length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and back again.

The department’s vehicle fleet was reduced by 60. And, earlier this year, 67 employees were laid off, as the auditor general’s office attempts to work within this year’s budget that is 22 percent smaller than the funding it received in 2007-08.

Along with helping out financially, the cost-saving moves can give the office added credibility when it audits an organization.

“We’re the auditor general,” said DePasquale. “I’m going to school district X and banging away at them wasting money; meanwhile, we’re not doing two-sided printing. Nobody’s perfect. Every day, you wake up and say, ‘I should have done that better.’ But the idea that we’re going to go bang away at something and not do two-sided printing ourselves, it didn’t seem to make any sense.”

While looking to cut costs within his own department, DePasquale has been investigating how money is spent throughout the state government.

DePasquale started auditing the Department of Environmental Protection concerning the burgeoning Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling industry on his first day in office.

“No matter which side you’re on, we need to have clean water, so we’re auditing the Department of Environmental Protection to make sure that their water protection programs are working as they’re intended,” said DePasquale, a former DEP‚Äądeputy secretary. “We don’t want to make the same mistakes we did with the coal industry when we ended up with a generation of polluted water because we didn’t do it right.

“I always said, at the end of the day, we’ve got to get this right. It could be good for jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign energy. A whole host of positives can come out of this, but we’ve got to get it right. The more we do up front to get it right, the less it’s going to cost on the back end to try to clean up the damage.”

His agency has looked into charter schools and state universities. A large jobs audit with the Department of Community and Economic Development is scheduled for next year.

“A lot of what we want to do, in our audits, is raise these issues up to the public’s attention, the media’s attention, so that the public can make a more informed decision about whether they think this is a good idea or a bad idea, or, if it’s a good idea, was it executed right; what needs to happen to make sure it’s executed right,” said DePasquale.

Also, earlier this year, DePasquale watched as Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature worked on what were labeled as the Big 3 issues: pension reform, liquor sales privatization and infrastructure improvements. None was made into law, but they remain important topics of discussion within the commonwealth.

The state has approximately 4,000 bridges and 10,000 miles of road that are deficient in some way.

“The longer we wait to do an infrastructure bill, the more expensive it’s going to get,” DePasquale said.

In terms of pensions, Pennsylvania faces a

$47 billion unfunded liability. Many cities across the commonwealth are struggling to meet their own pension obligations.

DePasquale expressed concern about how some municipalities project their rates of return, which, as per regulations, are allowed to be between 5 percent and 9 percent, according to the auditor general.

He would prefer a maximum expectation set around 6 percent, but no more than 7.25.

“To anticipate 8 or 9 is just ridiculous. I follow a conservative philosophy on investing in this type of issue. I’d rather expect 6 and get 8 than expect 8 and get 6,” said DePasquale.

Concerning the other Big 3 issue, liquor sales, DePasquale said, “We’ve examined how the revenue streams are at the stores that have more expanded hours versus the ones that have less. I would say it leads – to what is generally my belief – that consumers want more flexibility and time. ... I think the state stores are starting to catch up with the idea that people want more flexibility and time when going to buy their wine or their liquor,” DePasqual said.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.

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