The Boyertown Area Times
Pa. House gridlock creates a very costly situation
If you couldn’t perform all of your duties, would your boss still pay your full salary? We all know the answer. In the real world, you get paid based on what you can accomplish.
In the world of Pennsylvania politics, you get paid regardless of how little you may do.
I raise the point because on Tuesday, state House Speaker Mark Rozzi had the nerve to declare the House out of session for another entire month, until Feb. 27. That means taxpayers will be paying the bloated salaries of 200 state representatives for two months when they have done diddly squat.
The House hasn’t functioned all year. Representatives named Rozzi speaker on Jan. 3. Since then, the House has been dormant because representatives haven’t agreed on operating rules. Without those rules, bills can’t be introduced. Committee hearings can’t be held because there are no bills to review, and because committees have not been formed.
Representatives can meet with constituents. They can draft bills and write legislative memos. They can negotiate issues privately among themselves. But they can’t fully serve the public in the roles they were elected to perform.
Yet they will be paid as if they did. And paid handsomely.
You might want to grab a drink before reading on and learning just how much of your tax money has been wasted because of the political paralysis.
The House has 203 seats. Three are vacant, leaving 200 representatives. The base salary of a representative is $102,844 — crazy, right? Those in leadership positions earn more — well, at least they collect more. It’s debatable whether they earn it.
For simplification, I’ll use the base salary for all lawmakers. The base salary equates to $8,570 a month. By the end of February, each representative will have been paid $17,140.
Multiply that by 200 and the tab to taxpayers for the two months the House was unable to operate fully comes to more than $3.4 million.
This is why politics stinks. It truly wastes our money.
The state Senate won’t be in session again until Feb. 27, either. But at least senators can accomplish other tasks during that time because the Senate approved operating rules and organized. Senators can introduce legislation and hold committee hearings so that when they do return to session, they can vote on bills immediately.
The Senate didn’t plan to be out of session for so long. It canceled its scheduled session days because with the House hibernating, any bills the Senate approves can’t proceed further.
The cancellation wasn’t necessary. Senators should be working to line up bills for when the House is resurrected. Senators should be fed up with the House, but that’s not an excuse to shirk their duties, too.
Rozzi has put the House on hiatus so he can travel around the state holding a hokey “listening tour” to collect feedback from the public about what rules the House should operate under. And he’s created a bipartisan committee of representatives to negotiate terms. That’s all just a smoke screen. Rozzi is a Democrat from Muhlenberg Township who has pledged to lead as an independent but hasn’t formally changed his party affiliation.
He’s just stalling to delay action until after the Feb. 7 special elections to fill the three vacant seats. Those seats, all in Allegheny County, are in districts that favor Democrats. So three Democrats likely will be elected.
By keeping the House away until Feb. 27, Democrats presumably would have a majority when it returns. Then Democrats can adopt the rules they want.
I won’t be attending any of Rozzi’s listening sessions, but here’s my suggestion:
The first operating rule of the House should be designed to prevent this disgraceful situation from ever happening again.
It should say that in the event rules cannot be agreed upon within a reasonable amount of time at the beginning of a new legislative session, say a week, then the previous session’s rules shall apply until new rules are adopted.
That would allow lawmakers to get to work for the people who elect them and pay them. And it would provide motivation for lawmakers to negotiate better rules if they don’t like the previous ones.