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Corbett thinks voters would support plan to cut state House

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By Brad Bumsted and Mike Wereschagin,
Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011

HARRISBURG -- Speaker Sam Smith's proposal to cut the size of the state House has a good chance of becoming law if voters have their say, Gov. Tom Corbett said on Monday.

Smith, R-Jefferson County, is scheduled to testify today before the State Government Committee on H.B. 153, his constitutional amendment to reduce the size of the House to 153 members from 203. It would leave unchanged the 50-member Senate.

As a proposed constitutional amendment, it would need approval from two successive legislative sessions and the state's voters.

"(If) we get that on the ballot, I'd be very surprised if it didn't pass," Corbett said during an event in Highland Park.

Smith's is one of five bills on reducing the size of the General Assembly that legislators will vet at the hearing.

Lawmakers have for decades offered bills to reduce the size of the General Assembly, and legislative leaders have uniformly ignored them. Corbett indicated Smith's bill is the most likely to pass because the speaker sponsored it.

"If the speaker of the House is introducing it, I wouldn't foresee the Senate saying, 'We shouldn't do that,' " Corbett said. He noted that a long path remains. The governor's signature isn't required for a constitutional amendment.

Smith has said it's not a cost-saving move as much as it is one aimed at improving efficiency.

Pennsylvania has the second largest legislature with 253 members and one of the two most costly assemblies in the nation, along with California's. But the $273 million spent on the Legislature here is only a fraction of the $64 billion in state and federal money Pennsylvania will spend in 2011-12.

In prepared testimony, Bev Cigler, a political science professor at Penn State's Harrisburg campus, said she doesn't believe the public has fully grasped that decreasing the number of districts will increase the number of constituents per district, resulting in "less representative democracy." She said she will offer alternatives that don't require a constitutional amendment, such as reducing legislative staff and implementing campaign finance reform.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, the committee chairman, invited four other lawmakers, including Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon, and Rep. Mike Reese, R-Mt. Pleasant, to outline their bills.

Metcalfe invited lawmakers opposed to cutting seats in the General Assembly, including Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, and Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, he said. Rapp has concerns about effective representation in rural areas with a smaller Legislature, Metcalfe said.



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