Kill the Cola

Posted by By at 15 December, at 09 : 07 AM Print


On December 1, legislators and newly-minted freshman were awarded an automatic pay raises of 1.7% as were the state ‘s top bureaucrats and judges. The annual salaries for backbenchers will increase from $78,315 to $79,623 as compared to a base salary of $69,647 prior to the 2005 pay raise.

Salaries for legislative chieftains will rise from $113,468to $115,364.  The raises are on top of free parking, leasedautos, health benefits, and per diems. The bump also pumps-up pensions even if you donate the raise to charity.  Sometimes less is more.    Legislators were actually rewarded for less productivity. They passed 226 new laws from 2007-2009 – which was the lowest tally in 24 years – and were infamous for missing budget deadlines.

Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. It’s time for the un-COLA  Leadership used to mean you led by example. During hard times, leaders made sacrifices. Lee Iacocca worked fora $1 year while Chrysler paid off its government loan. “I didn’t take $1 a year to be a martyr. I took it so that when I went to Doug Fraser, the union president, I could look him in the eye and say: ‘Here’s what I want from you guys as your share,’ and he couldn’t come back to me and ask: ’You SOB, what sacrifice have you made?’”

After the pay jacking of 2005, our leaders led by bleeding taxpayers for “polling for dollars”, charging for a wardrobe of “high-end vacuums”, and sucking down per diems like Jell-O shooters at a sorority party.

Between  2005-2010, the hierarchy of all three broken branches of government pocketed a 13.54% aggregate COLA. Between 2006 to 2009, per diems spiked from $141 to $163.   In 2005, a legislator’s base salary returned to $69,647 – down from $81,050 – after the pay raise was repealed. But the 3.6% COLA kicked-in a month later and raised base salaries to $72,187. Not a bad magic trick.

House and Senate officials certified a 1.98% increase in 2006 that increased their base pay from $72,187 to$73,614. The following year, the stealth pay raise for legislators, judges, and the governor was 3.46% or a $2,549.69 raise for rank and file legislators. The average base salary was increased to $76,163.69.
The 2.8% COLA in 2008 increased salaries duringa recession, but Governor Rendell led the charge for restraint. Mr. Rendell waddled to the sacrifice buffet and chastened the Legislature and 12.5 million residentsof Pennsylvania: “I also want to remind people that thecuts are coming, and I don’t want to hear any whining.”

Yet, those who work in the “no whine zone” continue to prosper. At a time when working-class families are getting clobbered, and 25.1% of Pennsylvanians are existing at the federal poverty level, the ruling class just returned from their annual political feast at the Waldorf-Astoria.

It’s time to kill the COLA. No one should be rewarded for creating a structural deficit. We need to create an independent compensation commission that should consider:  • COLAs: Act 51 needs to be abolished – or at a minimum - COLAs should be announced one week prior to the general election, so voters can decide if a pay raise is warranted.

• Health Care: The House and it’s staff need to contribute to their generous plan and the Senate needs to increase its annual match.

• Pensions: The Governor and legislature need to stop playing shell games by annually re-amortizing the pension debt and assuming unrealistic returns. A serious pension overhaul means a defined contribution system.

• Per diems: The current system is a legal fiction. Per diems require an accountable and verifiable audit with a ceiling. There must also be a prohibition against using this tax free instrument as a means to invest in a second mortgage.

• Vehicles: The state should reconsider its role as the state’slargest auto dealership. Rather than, lease almost 17,0000 vehicles, we should switch over a to a mileage reimbursement system predicated on IRS rates.

State government is a publicly held corporation with bylaws that specifically exclude perks, benefits and bonuses  (Article III,Section VIII). If lawmakers want a bonus plan, then they should submit a proposal to taxpayers for ratification.

Want to know who has the best track record for securing COLAS — let Rock The Capital lead you to that answer.

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This post was written by:
- who has written 353 posts for Rock The Capital
Eric J. Epstein is RocktheCapital‘s coordinator and a community advocate for good government for over 25 years. Mr. Epstein is also Chairman of the Three Mile Island Alert, Inc., a safe-energy organization founded in 1977; President of EFMR Monitoring Group, Inc., a non-profit economic development corporation established in 1977, and Chairman of the Stray Winds Area Neighbors (SWAN), a smart growth association organized in 2005. Mr. Epstein was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Humanities at PSU-Harrisburg (1992-1999) and co-authored the Dictionary of the Holocaust, which was released by Greenwood Press (1997) - Email Eric Epstein

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