Veon's focal point of the pay raise race
If outrage over the legislative pay raise finds a lightning rod that stands out among all others, it could be House Minority Whip Mike Veon -- the only legislator who opposed repealing the hefty late-night salary hike that sparked angry protests, analysts say.
The Beaver County Democrat's rivals for the 14th Legislative District post are using Veon's role as an unrepentant engineer of the controversial pay raise against him.
"Beaver County values are hard work and sacrifice," said Jay Paisley, 61, of Big Beaver, who is opposing Veon in the Democratic primary, during a debate with the incumbent Thursday night at Geneva College in Beaver Falls.
"Dads and moms go to work every day so they can pay their bills and build a better life. The least their legislator can do is treat their tax dollars respectfully, not like it was his own personal Monopoly money," Paisley said.
Veon, 49, of Beaver Falls, defended the pay raise, saying he still believes legislators in Pennsylvania should make $75,000 to $80,000 a year because of the complexity of the job.
"My parents always said you have to stick with your convictions," he said. "In this job, you have to stand up and take a position."
Should Veon survive what has been a hard-fought primary battle, he would face the winner of the Republican primary between Jeff Harris and Jim Marshall, who both say they would take on the incumbent with the pay raise issue in the general election. Democrats hold a 2-to-1 registration advantage in the district.
The Republicans also debated last night at the event hosted by the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce.
Paisley, a retired public school teacher, said other issues -- such as property tax relief, reducing the size of the Legislature, and improving the region's economy -- are equally important. But the pay raise continues to be a hot issue, especially after Veon became the only member of the Legislature to oppose the November repeal, Paisley said.
"Everybody else is wrong -- and he's right?" Paisley said in an interview. "The vast majority of (Beaver County residents) think it was an obscene pay raise."
People are most troubled by how it was done -- "by shredding the (state) constitution. The constitution says the legislators are not supposed to give themselves a pay raise in the session they are involved in. They did a two-step by saying it was not a pay raise, but 'unvouchered expenses.'"
"What a sham," Paisley said.
Veon said he knows some constituents are upset over the pay raise, but urged people not to vote against him on a single issue.
He called on voters to evaluate his entire record, saying his re-election campaign is based on his 22 years in the Legislature and ability to get things done.
"We can debate the past, but for me what's most important is that campaigns are about the future," Veon said.
Paisley, Harris and Marshall said they would not accept a pay raise as a legislator. They also said they either would not accept some of the perks Veon gets as a legislator or would take reduced benefits.
Paisley said he would accept state-paid health care and a state-paid lease car, although he would limit the rental car to $300 or less a month, instead of taking a higher-priced rental. Paisley said he's not interested in getting a pension as a lawmaker, since he already has a pension as a teacher.
The only way Paisley would accept a cost-of-living raise in his legislative salary would be if the increase was based on increases received by Social Security recipients -- not one tied to the Philadelphia cost-of-living that lawmakers now receive, he said.
Harris, 43, of New Sewickley, said he would opt to ride his own motorcycle to Harrisburg instead of taking a state-paid car. He doesn't want cost-of-living raises and said he doesn't plan to be in Harrisburg long enough to get a pension.
"I don't want to make a career out of it," said Harris, who supports eliminating property taxes on primary residences and restricting use of eminent domain laws. "I want to go up there and try to accomplish a few goals and shake things up."
Marshall, 46, of Big Beaver, said he would rather drive his own vehicle and get only mileage expenses from the state, rather than take a state-paid rental. He would accept cost-of-living salary increases only "if the economic times permitted it and voters of the district make the decision."
Legislators should be required to make a co-payment for their health insurance, like other state employees, Marshall said. He would accept a state pension "if it was part of the package, but I would fight to reduce pension plan costs for legislators," he said.
Marshall would support reducing the size of the Legislature by merging a number of districts.
District 14 candidates
District 14 includes Beaver Falls, Chippewa, Daugherty, part of New Sewickley, Pulaski, Rochester, South Beaver, White, Big Beaver, Bridgewater, East Rochester, Eastvale, Fallston, Freedom, Glasgow, Homewood, Industry, Koppel, Midland, New Brighton, New Galilee, Ohioville and West Mayfield.
Residence: Beaver Falls
Occupation: Member of state House of Representatives
Education : Bachelor's degree in political science, Allegheny College
Political experience: Elected to the House in November 1984 and re-elected in each successive election; Veon is the House Democratic Whip.
Residence: Big Beaver
Occupation: Businessman; retired public school teacher
Family: Married, three children
Education: Bachelor's degree in biology, Geneva College; master's degree in administration, Westminster College
Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for Beaver County commissioner in 1999 and 2003
Residence: New Sewickley
Occupation: Electrical designer
Education: Associates degree from Pittsburgh Technical Institute in industrial drafting-design technology
Political experience: First race for public office
Residence: Big Beaver
Occupation: Field service representative for silver-recycling company
Family: Married, one child
Education: Took courses at Pennsylvania State University
Political experience: Elected member of Big Beaver Borough Council in 1999 and re-elected in 2003; he serves as vice president of council.