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Thin the Harrisburg herd: Slash the size, pay and perks of the Pennsylvania General Assembly

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Reducing the size and cost of the state Legislature would go a long way in ending the sense of entitlement and privilege, driven by lavish pay and perks, that defines the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

A Trib study found taxpayers would save $8.2 million in legislative salary, pension, health-care, travel and per-diem costs if the Legislature were 20 percent smaller. House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, has reintroduced a bill to do just that. Shrinking the House from 203 members to 153 would reduce lawmakers' ranks from 253 to 203 overall.

But that should be just one of Pennsylvania's steps away from having America's largest full-time legislature and toward having a part-time “citizens' legislature,” one that would meet just a few times a year and require fewer staff members than the 2,700 now burdening taxpayers, as the Commonwealth Foundation's Nate Benefield suggests.

Pennsylvania needs to not just thin its legislative herd but to make lawmaking less lucrative, too. State lawmakers' $83,802 base salary, pensions averaging $31,314, health insurance premiums that cost them 1 percent of their salary, taxpayer-funded personal transportation and $160 per diems that require no receipts largely explain why the Legislature is full of career politicians protecting their power, pay and perks.

It all fuels the legislative mentality that has made Pennsylvania the State of Corruption. And it's past time to begin reining in that mindset by reducing the size of what to many truly is a corrupt criminal organization.

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