Pa. leg­is­la­tors prove worth at self-preser­va­tion

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - OPINION -

They have their is­sues when it comes to pass­ing a bud­get on time.

They have yet to get the state out of the booze busi­ness.

And they con­tinue to ig­nore calls for slap­ping a sev­er­ance tax on the state’s nat­u­ral gas busi­ness – the only ma­jor gas-pro­duc­ing state to do so – as well as re­form­ing the state’s cam­paign finance and nearly nonex­is­tent poli­cies on ac­cept­ing gifts.

But there is one thing this au­gust group – one of the na­tion’s largest and most ex­pen­sive state leg­is­la­tures – has proved more than a lit­tle adept at: Pro­tect­ing their own.

That’s why some­thing that hap­pened in the state Leg­is­la­ture re­cently is so dis­ap­point­ing.

Be­lieve it or not, there are more than a few rep­re­sen­ta­tives who agree with the sen­ti­ment that it’s time to put this bloated, over­priced, un­der­worked body on a diet.

The House voted 109-80 to re­duce the size of their side of the Penn­syl­va­nia Leg­is­la­ture from 203 mem­bers to 151.

But as usual in Har­ris­burg, things are not al­ways what they seem.

On its face, the House vote would seem to be a log­i­cal step in the process to re­duce the size of the Leg­is­la­ture.

But it may ac­tu­ally de­lay things.

Let us try to ex­plain. We salute Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill County, for his leg­is­la­tion to cut the num­ber of seats in the House. But we’re dis­ap­pointed in a ma­neu­ver by Rep. Gene DiGiro­lamo, a Repub­li­can from Bucks County.

He tacked on an amend­ment that also would cut the size of the Se­nate from 50 to 38.

While it may be a good idea in merit, it likely will stop this process dead in its tracks.

That’s be­cause any such ac­tion to re­duce the size of the Leg­is­la­ture must be done so via a change in the state con­sti­tu­tion.

That means that both the House and Se­nate must pass iden­ti­cal bills in two con­sec­u­tive two-year ses­sions.

That will then clear the deck for the mea­sure to be placed be­fore vot­ers in a ref­er­en­dum bal­lot.

The move last week by the House ful­fills their duty. But the amend­ment by DiGiro­lamo means the bill would no longer be iden­ti­cal, in ef­fect let­ting that rock slide back to the bot­tom of the hill and forc­ing leg­is­la­tors to start push­ing it back up the hill all over again from the be­gin­ning.

Amaz­ing how creative our state leg­is­la­tors can be when it’s their own back­sides on the line.

The size of the Penn­syl­va­nia Leg­is­la­ture has not been ad­dressed since 1874. Start­ing salary for a House mem­ber weighs in at $87,180. Those in lead­er­ship po­si­tions stand to make much more.

De­spite our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ claim that they spend count­less hours when not in Har­ris­burg on con­stituent af­fairs, it’s tough to claim these are full-time jobs, con­sid­er­ing the amount of time they ac­tu­ally spend in ses­sion in the state Capi­tol.

Penn­syl­va­nia trails only New Hamp­shire when it comes to the size of its rul­ing body.

And New Hamp­shire’s 424 mem­bers are part-timers who re­ceive a com­pen­sa­tion of $200 a year.

The Se­nate can still do the right thing here. They can get this ef­fort back on track for speedy ac­tion by strip­ping out DiGiro­lamo’s “poi­son pill.”

Once they send it back to the house – without DiGiro­lamo’s amend­ment – the House would have to vote on it without any fur­ther changes.

Of course, faced with the no­tion that there would be no bail-out po­si­tion, that their votes could ac­tu­ally lead to the re­duc­tion in size ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing, some rep­re­sen­ta­tives who backed this po­si­tion might have a change of heart.

So be it.

We think the pub­lic de­serves to know. Re­duc­ing the size of the Leg­is­la­ture has wide sup­port – among the pub­lic.

This would be the log­i­cal next step in the process al­low­ing them to vote on whether to re­duce the size of the state’s rul­ing body.

Af­ter all, it’s their money at stake.

Some­times the folks in Har­ris­burg for­get that.

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