Time to un-COLA Harrisburg
In 1995, legislative leaders let then-Republican Gov. Tom Ridge know that to open the floodgates for more of his priorities in the General Assembly there'd have to be a legislative pay raise. But former House Majority Leader John Perzel said this would be different: a pay raise to end all pay raises.
The 1995 pay grab established a cost-of-living adjustment for top elected officials' pay, from legislators, to judges, to the governor. But the inflation-hedging raises lasted only a decade until leaders, Perzel included, went for broke by pushing through a middle-of-the-night pay grab that varied by position but boosted rank-and-file legislators' pay by 16 percent to $81,027.
But Perzel, who's now in state prison for felony theft of state resources for campaign purposes, was only one of a cabal of legislative leaders who conspired to jack up the pay of the Legislature, judiciary and top officials in the executive branch.
Taxpayers across the state considered pay-jacking that passed with no hearings and no debate to be theft by any other name. It did an end-run around the state Constitution by allowing legislators to collect the money right away as “unvouchered expenses.” The Constitution holds that legislators can't give themselves midterm pay hikes.
In a rare display of contrition, legislators bowed to public pressure and repealed the raise in November 2005. The state Supreme Court would later restore it for judges.
In 2005, legislators received a 3.6 percent pay raise anyway due to the COLA. There's been a raise almost every year since then. As of Dec. 1 they get another. But this year it is modest, like many of their constituents face. Their salaries will go up from $83,802 to $84,112.
Still not too shabby for 70 to 80 session days a year, two months off in the summer, extended holiday vacations, time off for elections. It's also cushioned by state-paid vehicles or mileage and $160 per night for staying over in Harrisburg (food and lodging) despite many lobbyist-paid dinners.
The COLA is based on inflation in the Mid-Atlantic area, which includes Philadelphia. That's usually a gift for legislators representing less affluent rural areas. They also receive generous health care and pensions heavily subsidized by taxpayers.
Executive branch and judiciary COLAs kick in on Jan. 1. Some officials, including Gov. Tom Corbett, turn it down. Corbett's salary on paper is currently $187,256 but he limits it to the $175,000 when he took office.
It's time, reformer Eric Epstein says, to repeal Act 51, the 1995 COLA bill. It certainly would make sense in the aftermath of a string of scandals that saw eight ex-legislative leaders in prison at the same time until this summer.
Many newer legislators and leaders say things have changed, gotten better. Killing COLAs would be one way to prove it.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
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.
- Liriano, Pirates beat Giants, inch closer to lead in NL Central
- Pirates think Mercer’s defense deserves more credit
- Roundup: Study finds 35 percent in US facing debt collectors; JPMorgan paying $650K to settle CFTC charges; more
- Rayburn businessman honored for charitable work
- Tech giants lead rush for profits in foreign countries
- Woman who stabbed while naked in McKees Rocks believed to be in New Kensington area
- Steelers offensive linemen looking to build on strong 2013 finish
- Pirates inquire about Red Sox LHP Lester
- Starkey: Would one big move kill Pirates’ future?
- Valley resident new CEO at Jefferson
- Fed to keep cards close to the vest