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Shapiro purchased automatic dog door, massage sofa and big-screen TVs for Governor’s Residence

A man stands in front of couches and chairs in a furniture store.
Suzette Wenger
LNP | LancasterOnline
Dave Moyer, third generation owner of Benjamin T. Moyer Furniture in Sunbury, speaks with a reporter about purchases made by Governor Josh Shapiro in his store on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

David Moyer was eager to share the news that his Sunbury furniture store received an order from a special client: the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg.

Staff there paid $16,000 to Benjamin T. Moyer Furniture between March and June for mocha-stained maple wood armchairs and a matching table. They also purchased an accent table with two wing chairs, a writing desk with an inlay top and six Adirondack chairs.

Before he could celebrate the sale on social media or in advertising, Moyer said Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office told him to keep quiet about the purchases. He said the governor’s staff told him they would handle any publicity.

But Moyer said he never heard back from Shapiro’s staff. Months later, after trying again to get a response from the governor’s office, he agreed to speak when contacted by a reporter.

“They’re just cautious because, you know, people are backbiting and they’re going to spin things the wrong way,” Moyer said. “They just don’t want to bring bad light on the governor because somebody will spin it that way.”

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The taxpayer money spent at Moyer’s store was just a portion of the total amount spent to refurnish parts of the 28,600-square-foot mansion overlooking the Susquehanna River where the governor and the first family live.

In the first six months of his term, Shapiro spent more than $92,000 in public funds to update the décor, replace appliances and acquire new dishware and kitchen items for the mansion, according to receipts obtained through a public records request.

Spending details provided by Shapiro’s office show that, in total, taxpayers paid more than $1.8 million to keep the mansion running for Shapiro and his family in the first 11 months of 2023, more than Shapiro’s two predecessors spent in their first years in office.

In 2023-adjusted dollars, the amount Tom Corbett spent in his entire first year (2011) was 14% less than what Shapiro spent in the first 11 months of his term. Tom Wolf, who took office in January 2015, spent 21% less in his first year in office than Shapiro’s spending through November.

A brown wooden martini table.
Suzette Wenger
LNP | LancasterOnline
A martini table made by Hooker Furniture, which sells for $499.99 and was purchased by Gov. Josh Shapiro from the Benjamin T. Moyer furniture store in Sunbury on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

Manuel Bonder, Shapiro’s spokesperson, said the mansion needed significant upgrades because no one had lived there full-time in nearly a decade. Wolf, elected in 2014, didn’t live in the mansion during his eight years in office, choosing instead to commute to Harrisburg from his home in York County, but his administration frequently used the property for hosting meetings and events.

Bonder refused to answer questions about spending on the mansion in Shapiro’s first year in office.

“The purchases can kind of speak for themselves,” he said, referencing the receipts and other information LNP | LancasterOnline obtained through a public records request.

Bonder also declined to make Shapiro available for an interview.

TVs, sofa, electronic dog door

In addition to the furniture bought from Moyer, Shapiro bought a $4,600 king-sized Beautyrest Black mattress and a $4,500 “power-reclining” sectional sofa with heat and massage features from Raymour & Flanigan, a New York-based retail chain.

On Jan. 19, two days after Shapiro was sworn into office, one of his staffers was reimbursed for buying three 65-inch 4k smart TVs and one 75-inch TV at Best Buy. In May, Shapiro’s staff bought two more of the same 65-inch sets. The TVs cost taxpayers a total of $6,600.

In June, Shapiro bought a $2,450 PlexiDor electronic dog door — presumably for first dogs Bentley and Bo.

The door functions much like an automatic garage door does for a car: when a dog wearing a sensor on its collar approaches, the door’s panel slides open. Once the dog enters or exits, the panel closes. The door was installed into a wall, which is more expensive than into a doorway. A spokesperson for Shapiro declined to say where the door was installed inside the mansion.

When asked to comment on why these individual purchases were made, Bonder declined.

“Anything purchased (for the residence) is to support staff and the process of having a functional residence, both for living and for events,” he said.

A white two story building.
Suzette Wenger
LNP | LancasterOnline
The Benjamin T. Moyer furniture building in Sunbury. Gov. Josh Shapiro made about $16,000 in purchases earlier this year at the furniture store.

The 2.5-story Georgian-style mansion was built in 1968 on Harrisburg’s Front Street and sits on a three-acre property that includes the West Lawn, Penn’s Woods and several gardens.

Inside the home, there are eight bedrooms, eight full bathrooms and nine half bathrooms, according to the Dauphin County Assessor’s website. There’s also a reception room, a family dining room and various meeting rooms on the first floor.

More purchases by Shapiro, such as $1,800 for an unspecified number of new toilets from R.F. Fager Co. and $35,000 at Reading-based food equipment supplier Singer Equipment Co. on kitchen tools, suggest an extensive upgrade to the mansion.

The receipts also show 30 other purchases under $100, including $19.98 for a dog pail, $34.95 worth of coffee pods and $33.30 for makeup towels.

Eric Epstein, coordinator at government watchdog group Rock the Capital, said the upgrades to the mansion were “a missed opportunity to exercise fiscal restraint” and “a symbolic waste of money.”

York County state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, who serves as the GOP caucus chair, was one of the first state lawmakers to post her legislative expenses online to improve transparency with her constituents.

In response to learning about some of the mansion purchases, she didn’t criticize Shapiro. Instead, she said all government entities, including Shapiro, should make it easier for taxpayers to see how their money is being spent.

“Maybe we need a tighter leash on fiscal policy,” Phillips-Hill said. “Really, at the end of the day, it’s all public money and it should be readily available for people who pay their bills.”

States typically offer homes to governors and their families where they can live while in office. Only five states don’t provide one: Arizona, Idaho, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Pennsylvania used to provide a home for the lieutenant governor, but in 2019 the General Assembly gave the property at Fort Indiantown Gap to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

A blue armchair.
Suzette Wenger
LNP | LancasterOnline
A Sam Moore, Miri Wing Chair that sells for $1389 at Benjamin T. Moyer Furniture in Sunbury is like a chair that was purchased by Gov. Josh Shapiro from the store earlier this year on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

Shapiro vs. past governors

Bonder blamed inflation for the higher total spending for furniture, electronics, bedding and other items for the mansion under Shapiro when compared to past governors.

Adjusted for inflation, Wolf spent about 41% less than Shapiro’s $608,000 in his first year. Corbett, when adjusted, spent only 1% less than Shapiro.

The Department of General Services, which is charged with maintaining the mansion, splits costs into staffing expenses and operational expenses, which includes utility charges, maintenance service costs and day-to-day purchases for the mansion.

In 2023-adjusted dollars, Wolf spent only 2% less on employees in 2015 than Shapiro did this year. Corbett spent about 31% less in 2011.

Bonder said 17 total employees staff the residence, including an executive director, an events manager, butlers, maintenance repair staff, housekeepers and in-house chefs for the family and their guests.

He would not confirm how many staffers fill each role, but their salary ranges are available on the state government’s budgeting website. The executive director makes about $120,000 annually, and the chefs make anywhere from $64,000 to $89,000 annually.

Calls for transparency

Philip Hensley-Robin, executive director of good governance group Common Cause Pennsylvania, said spending money to update the mansion is understandable, given that the last governor didn’t live there. But he said the “lack of transparency” surrounding the upgrades is concerning and purchases should be made easily accessible for the public to decide if they were needed.

“It’s fair for Pennsylvanians to be concerned when tax dollars are used to fund lavish upgrades to the mansion,” Hensley-Robin said.

Epstein said he’d have one question for Shapiro: “Who signed off on these purchases?”

The state Legislature doesn’t approve individual purchases made for the Governor’s Residence, but it sets the budgets for the Department of General Services and the Governor’s Office in its annual appropriations bill. The mansion’s budget is not listed as a separate line item under either agency.

Bonder wouldn’t confirm which purchases Shapiro personally approved. He said the governor is often involved in the decision-making process for costly items but doesn’t sign off on every purchase; that’s the job of the residence executive director.

Moyer said he remembers mansion staff telling him that they had to wait for Shapiro and his wife, Lori, to approve the design of some of the furniture before they could finalize the sale at his shop. He said two of his employees met Shapiro when they delivered some of the furniture.

Overall, Moyer said he enjoyed working with the state and he hopes to do more business with the governor in the future because the experience was “pretty neat.”

“Like how many people get to do that?” he said.

How we got this info

A September Right-to-Know Law request filed with the Department of General Services revealed the date of each mansion expense for the first half of 2023, as well the total amount of the transaction and a brief description of the purchase.

Many of the descriptions for these expenses simply listed the vendor who sold the item. According to the spokesperson from the Department of General Services, this was because the document provided to LNP | LancasterOnline had a character limit for the description box.

A second request specifically asking for receipts and invoices of certain purchases prompted the release of the details about what items were purchased and their costs.

Read more from our partners, WITF.