Pa. legislators prove worth at self-preservation
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.