by Barry Shutt
The Pennsylvania Legislature remains true to its basic tenet: receiving full time pay, while serving only part-time. With an election year budget executed and signed into law eight days early (June 22), Members of the Legislature have disappeared; and will make cameo appearances in Harrisburg for only 10 legislative days between now and the end of the calendar year. Now we can believe that while not in Harrisburg, Members are back in their districts working hard on state business; or not.
Lest we forget, the base salary for Members of the General Assembly is $87,200, unless you are a committee Chair or in another position of leadership, then the salary is measurably higher. And not to mention the “per diems” which are essentially untaxed and unaccounted for expense accounts to pay for lodging and meals while in Harrisburg, even though too many have most of their meals, while in Harrisburg, paid for by lobbyists or special interest groups, or by taxpayer money hidden away in the budgets of the House and the Senate leadership or committee accounts.
Oh yes, and December 1st is an important day on the calendar. All Members making a return appearance for a few days in January and their part-time gig for the next two years, will have their pay increase automatically by function of a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) established (surprise, surprise) by a previous version of the General Assembly in 1995. As one LTL (Legislator Turned Lobbyist) shared, “We were told that if we voted for that automatic and annual pay raise, we’d never have to vote for a pay raise again.” But let’s not forget the “midnight pay raise” of 2005…which fortunately, and only because of a public pressure, was finally rolled back, except, of course, for judges.
And, of course, those who will be newly elected on November 6, who begin getting paid on December 1st even though they do not start working until January, get the very same pay boost.
These are our elected officials, folks. The same ones who just recently killed a measure to reduce the size of the Legislature and to kill a measure to improve the process used to draw Legislative and Senatorial Districts, i.e. having voters chose their representatives, rather than having representatives chose their voters…commonly referred to as gerrymandering.
It’s of interest to note that Pennsylvania’s Legislature, at 203 House Members and 50 Senators is not the largest. New Hampshire has 400 House Members and 24 Senators.
However, those 424 Members receive an annual salary of $200, plus mileage for 45 legislative days! Presiding officers receive $250 plus mileage for those legislative days. And if a “special session” is called, Members get $3 per day plus mileage…but only for a maximum of 15 special session days.
Now it is, of course, arguably unfair to compare a small state like New Hampshire to Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth’s population is nearly ten times larger than New Hampshire, as is Pennsylvania’s economy. But when you realized that 424 Members of the New Hampshire Legislature receive in total…$84,900 annually, and each Member in Pennsylvania’s legislature has an annual base salary of $87,200 plus super health-care and enhanced retirement benefits, it is easy to become nostalgic for the days when Pennsylvania enjoyed a part-time legislature.
As the song goes, “Those were the days” my friend. Too bad they had to end.