Fifteen Years After the Pay Raise: The Greed Machine Increases Legislators Pay from $69,648 to $90,300

(Harrisburg, Pa) – On July 7, 2005, at 2:00 a.m., the Pennsylvania House and Senate passed Act 44, enacting a dramatic pay raise for officials in all three branches of government without public hearings, public debate, or public knowledge. The action, for which there is no record of debate in the journals of either the House or Senate, set off a political firestorm that led voters to remove a sitting Supreme Court justice from the bench for the first time in PA history in 2005 and that led to dozens of lawmakers either resigning or being beaten in the 2006 elections.

Although the raise was subsequently repealed as a result of public pressure, legislators received four months of payments in the form of “unvouchered expenses” to allow the raise to take effect immediately instead of after the next election, as mandated by the state Constitution. The payments between July 7 and November 16, 2005 ranged from $1,288 to $14,553.32 (before taxes). Lawmakers also kept an automatic cost of living adjustment (COLA) that has inflated their salaries and padded their pensions ever since.

Marking the fifteen-year anniversary of the pay raise, Eric Epstein, coordinator of Rock the Capital, said, “The Governor and the legislature should restore faith in government by repealing the automatic Cost of Living Adjustment (Act 51 of 1995).”

Epstein noted, “The most obscene aspect of the pay raise is that after its repeal, legislators’ ‘minimum wage’ has risen from $69,648 to $90,300. The legislature continues to reward Pennsylvania’s ruling class with an automatic annual bonus.”

After the repeal of the pay raise, legislators received a 3.64% COLA on December 1, 2005. The COLA increased the base annual salary for a legislator from $69, 648 to $72,183. Lawmakers (and the governor, cabinet and all judges) continue to get their COLA automatically. Lawmakers get theirs on December 1. The others get their raise on January 1.

The repealed pay raises would have boosted lawmakers’ salaries from 16 % to 54%, depending on seniority, rank, title, and “leadership.” Without the repeal, rank-and-file legislators would have seen their pay boosted from $69,648 to $81,050, or 16%, after the pay raise.

The General Assembly passed Act 72 of 2005, repealing the pay raise on November 16, 2005. Act 72, however, did not require those who had received four months of constitutionally questionable “unvouchered expenses” to return the funds.

Several pay-jackers continue to benefit from their late-night romp through the people’s bank, and have enjoyed a prosperous political career after refusing to pay back the ill-gotten gains. Sitting pay-jackers include Senator David Argall (R-Schuylkill), Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), Senator Christina Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), and Senator Anthony Williams, A. (D-Philadelphia)

Notable pay raise quotes.

• Former Governor Rendell declared: “It’s legal [“unvouchered expenses”], and that’s all I’m going to say about it.”

• John Perzel, former Speaker, later imprisoned for unrelated corruption, observed: “The people who are milking the cows in Lancaster County are making between $50,000 to $55,000 a year.”

• Former Chief Justice Cappy stated: “I have enormous respect for the legislators who stood up and voted for this. I know how hard these pay-raise votes are. It demonstrated for me enormous courage and significant fortitude. They have grown in stature in my eyes by leaps and bounds during the course of this whole experience.”

Rock the Capital is a good-government watchdog group. Its formation dates to the Pennsylvania legislative, judicial, and executive branches conspiring to enact a pay raise in violation of the state constitution.

RTC tracked legislators who took the pay raise, refused to pay the money back, and profited from a “pension bounce.”