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Pennsylvania

PA. reform advocates vent their frustration

| Friday, July 6, 2007

HARRISBURG -- Activists gathered at the Capitol on Thursday to criticize many legislators for ignoring the public's call for reform in the nearly two years since a legislative pay raise that outraged taxpayers.

"Our political leaders have told us again and again that they got the message," said Tim Potts, co-founder of the reform group DemocracyRising PA.

Speaking two days before Saturday's two-year anniversary of the pay raise, Potts said lawmakers have passed only one "very poor" law -- a lobbyist disclosure act approved last year -- and have not passed any "best-in-America" laws.

Potts said lawmakers have stymied needed reforms, such as prohibiting lame-duck legislative sessions and gifts from lobbyists.

He said lawmakers have spent $6 million for public service announcements featuring themselves and passed a law on the last day of the 2005-06 legislative session that allowed casinos to serve unlimited free alcohol to slots players.

Potts and Russ Diamond, the co-founder of PA CleanSweep, another government reform group, said the budget impasse that could furlough nearly 25,000 state workers Monday is a prime example of a government that needs to change.

Diamond said lawmakers' inability to pass a budget shows the need to put the government back in the hands of the people. But he thinks that might not be possible through the normal lawmaking process. The state needs a constitutional convention, which Pennsylvania hasn't held since 1967, he said.

Diamond, though, said legislators have failed to act on bills in the House and Senate on a constitutional convention.

Eric Epstein, coordinator of Rock The Capital, said that while the pay raise helped spawn the reform movement, 33 legislators who received a four-month bounce in their paychecks still refuse to repay the money. Worse, he said, many of them are political party leaders, including House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, a Greene County Democrat.

Epstein said the Legislature has at least debated reform, but the changes have been "baby steps."

The challenge, Epstein said, is to keep the public interested in reform as time erodes the furor over the pay raise.

"This is a political marathon," he said. "Voters need to pace themselves, but turn up the rage at the polls."

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