Parking state workers in Harrisburg costs taxpayers millions a year

You may never drive into Harrisburg and feed its meters for a coveted parking spot. But you’re likely paying to park other people in the capital city.

If you have ventured into town you know P-A-R-K can be a four-letter word.

“Parking is tough,” said Rock the Capital’s Eric Epstein, a government watchdog who frequently prowls the hallways in the Capitol. “Parking is a premium.”

There are parking garages tucked in and around the Capitol Complex and a local businessman, who parks in the South Street Garage complained to abc27. He said he pays the non-reserved price of $180 a month and has to find his own spot.

He was annoyed that there are 32 reserved spots, listed at $245 a month, with decals declaring “Reserved for H of R” the state’s House of Representatives. He’s been watching since January and said most of those reserved spots were typically empty. He wondered why the state is paying top dollar for spots it isn’t using? So abc27 investigated.

Over a two-week period, we counted the number of cars in those 32 reserved spots every day, at different times of the day, in the South Street garage.

We found:

  • Monday, April 6,  7 of the 32 spots were filled at 11:55 am.
  • Tuesday, April 7, 11 occupied spots at 12:38 pm.
  • Wednesday, April 8, 12 parked cars at 1:25 pm.
  • Thursday, April 9, 10 spaces were occupied at 9:10 am.
  • And at the end of the first week, on April 10, 11 parked cars at 3:45 pm.

The legislature was in session the week of the April 13th.

  • Monday, April 13, 13 cars were parked at 9:30 am.
  • Tuesday, April 14, 16 parked cars at 9:15 am.
  • Wednesday, April 15,  the high-water mark in our investigation, 17 parked cars at 2:45pm.
  • Thursday, April 16, just 9 of the 32 reserved spaces were occupied at  3:30pm.

House Chief Clerk Tony Barbush said the state doesn’t pay top dollar, or the advertised rate, for those spaces. He said he’s paying just $145 per space, reserved or not. He said the House leases 379 spaces for which it pays $54,955 per month.

Proof, Barbush says, that the House is not over-paying.

But what about the issue of under-using?

Barbush insists those spots are needed but concedes he doesn’t check. He turns the spaces over to the two caucuses – Democrats and Republicans. It’s up top them, he said, to assign spots to individual employees.

“The fact that you’re getting that perk and not using that perk is troubling,” Epstein said. “I find it to be a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

abc27 took a more comprehensive look and found that lots of your money is spent to park state government employees.

The Senate leases 247 spots at $145 apiece. That’s $35,815 a month.

The executive branch leases 3574 spots in those garages and spends $518,230 a month. That’s $6,218,760 a year.

We checked on the House, Senate, Executive, Treasury,  and Attorney General and found that combined they spend nearly $8 million a year to park employees in city garages. There may be other state agencies that push the total even higher. The Auditor General eliminated use of city parking garages. The leases are for 30 years and they were part of the deal to bail out Harrisburg. Barbush said negotiators wanted to push even more parking spots on the House but he pushed back and kept it at 379 spaces.

But let’s go back to the House’s unused spots in the South Street garage. On the afternoon of Thursday, April 16  abc27 called seeking comment about our findings. By Friday morning, the reserved “H of R” decals had been removed. Barbush called that a coincidence. Critics say it’s proof that state government can move quickly when it wants to.

“It’s a shell game,” Epstein said. “I think they can park on City Island and walk across the bridge like everybody else.”

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