$307M to run state legislature is a steal for taxpayers

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 11:28 p.m.

They're worth every penny.

It astounds me to again hear people complaining about state lawmakers, particularly when it's been more than three months since a current or former General Assembly member was jailed for crimes committed in office. That's an unusually long period without an incarceration, and you don't even hear those overly modest legislative leaders boasting about the impressive achievement.

Yet the criticisms have been unrelenting since the Legislative Audit Advisory Committee's disclosure that legislative spending last fiscal year totaled $307 million, an $8 million increase over the previous year. Payroll and benefits for the nation's second-largest Legislature accounted for $249 million of the total.

The grumblers invoke the same tired themes so-called government reformists have mouthed for years.

“We shouldn't be spending this enormous amount to operate what ranks among the country's most ineffective and corrupt legislatures,” they grouse. “That's why there's never any money for programs to help reduce recidivism rates among former House speakers.”

Such knee-jerk reactions are naively incorrect. Our lawmakers are a bargain.

That $307 million is a ridiculously small price to pay for them, considering they provide:

• Meticulously researched legislation that profoundly impacts all Pennsylvanians.

According to the House calendar, upcoming measures to be considered include designating May in Pennsylvania as Crime Awareness Month, Law Month, Egg Month and Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month. Debate on these resolutions will occur after what promises to be a controversial vote on whether to keep Jim Thorpe Day on May 23, or move it this year so it doesn't get lost amid all of the Arteriovenous Malformation Awareness Week festivities.

• Protections for society's most vulnerable

Our legislators are champions for people whose voice otherwise might never be heard beyond the walls of the boardroom or country club sauna: the enormously wealthy. Nowhere is that more evident than a bill being sponsored by Rep. Bill “Compassionate” Kortz, D-Dravosburg, that would eliminate sales and repair taxes on private aircraft.

To you and me, those potential exemptions represent a mere $12 million annual hole in the state budget that people who don't own their own jets would have to fill. Small potatoes, no? But that money could help the very wealthy afford necessities most of us take for granted — such as that Basquiat painting being auctioned by Sotheby's.

• An admirable work ethic

With four months of the year nearly gone, the state Senate remarkably has been in session for 24 days. The state House has been even more impressive, convening an astounding 29 times and completely earning the week off they are giving themselves before returning to Harrisburg on May 6.

You didn't expect them to maintain that breakneck pace indefinitely, did you?

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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