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Corbett, others in top Pa. posts to decline raises

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By Timothy Puko
Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

State leaders will get a 2.2 percent raise this year, though Gov. Tom Corbett and 38 members of his executive branch say they will decline the money.

The raises range from about $1,800 for state House representatives to nearly $4,500 for the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

The raises go into effect between December and January for all state judges, lawmakers, row officers and executive branch leaders as part of a 17-year-old law to increase salaries at the rate of inflation — known as cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs.

“Every year we ask the governor how he wants to approach it, and for the past two years, he's said, I'm going to decline these COLAs. And what he says to the folks underneath him is: ‘I'm doing this, follow my example and we're all going to do the same,'” said Dan Egan, spokesman with the Office of Administration. “It's a combination of being asked and being told.”

Spokespeople for the House Republicans and for the House and Senate Democrats said it is too early to tell which members of their caucuses will deal with the raise. Spokesmen for Republican Senate leaders Joe Scarnati and Dominic Pileggi said those senators would give the money to charity, but that they couldn't speak for other Senate Republicans.

Although court decisions have affirmed the legality of COLAs, some believe they violate the state constitution, which calls for “fixed” salaries, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of the Harrisburg reform group Common Cause of Pennsylvania. Lawmakers should have to vote any time they change their salaries, he said.

“As taxpayers see other programs cut and programs that are important to them, and taxes going up in certain ways, I think it'll be increasingly difficult for legislators to justify these huge increases in salary,” Kauffman said.

State House representatives are at the bottom of the salary scale for state leaders, with their base salary rising to $83,801.88, or nearly $7,000 per month. At the top are Supreme Court justices, who will make nearly $200,000 a year starting Jan. 1. The chief justice will make $205,415 annually, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

A 1995 state law adjusts the salaries each year to reflect changes during the previous 12 months in the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. Executive branch officials are giving their COLAs back from all three years of Corbett's term so far; the inflationary adjustments were 1.7 percent and 3 percent the first two years, according to Egan.

Those officials have the increases automatically deducted from their paychecks for refunds to the state treasury, Egan said. State legislators don't have that option and have to write checks or give the money to libraries, fire departments or other charities, officials said.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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