The struggle to rightsize the Pennsylvania Legislature
HARRISBURG — While Pennsylvania continues to have the largest “full-time” state legislature in the nation with 253 members, Ohio somehow manages with 132. West Virginia gets by with 134. Among larger states, California has only 120 members and Texas has 181. In Florida, it's 160.
“Full-time” is in quotes because rank-and-file lawmakers — with salaries of $83,802 — actually are in Harrisburg 70 or so days a year. “Full-time” is a joke.
There's an outside chance that the Pennsylvania General Assembly, most likely the House (with 203 members), might get a trim if pending legislation passes. Such measures, however, usually are doomed because of lawmakers' self-interests.
Sponsored for the second session by House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, the bill can't be dismissed as easily because of his position. Last session, the House took Smith's bill to reduce the House to 153 and gave it what turned out to be the kiss of death with an amendment to drop the Senate from 50 to 38 members.
Anticipating similar moves this year, Smith introduced two separate reduction bills for the House and Senate. Both bills were approved last week by the State Government Committee.
The idea of sponsoring separate bills is based on the hope that the Senate could at least move the House bill to the governor's desk.
The notion of cost savings is an ongoing debate. Some believe it's a slam-dunk that a smaller Legislature will mean fewer salaries and per diems, which of course it will. Others suspect that the size of the legislative staff, already one of the largest in the nation, will grow with larger districts and overshadow other savings. The size of House districts would increase from about 62,000 constituents to 83,000.
Taxpayers could save at least $8 million in salaries, benefits, travel and lodging for lawmakers by reducing the size of Pennsylvania's Legislature, the Trib found in a study this year. But that does not factor in the unknown increases that might come with a larger staff.
Smith doesn't sell it on cost. He sees it as a way to have a “more efficient” Legislature.
What's clear is that House members would not be the familiar figures they now are in small communities. That also would increase the cost of campaigns.
If Smith's latest bill gets out of the House (a very likely proposition), don't hold your breath. It must clear the Senate, then go through the same process again next session, starting in 2015, because it is a constitutional amendment. Amending the Constitution requires passage of a bill in two consecutive sessions. Then voter approval would be required in a statewide election. Given the popularity of this type of proposal, there seems to be little doubt voters would adopt it.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.