John Baer: Lawmakers' toast: Let's raise our pay

Posted: November 30, 2011

IN THE SPIRIT of the season, I feel the need to spread some joy by highlighting the fact that tomorrow our highly regarded state lawmakers get a salary boost.

And who, I ask you, is more deserving during these difficult times?

It isn't much - only 3 percent to bump base salaries to $82,026 for most members, $128,048 for leaders - and I know you join me as a taxpayer in wishing we could give them more.

After all, they're often in session two or three days a week, 25 weeks a year!

But median household income has fallen nationally by 9.9 percent since 2007, and current census data show that Pennsylvania's most recent two-year average declined 5.4 percent to $48,714.

So, you know, we just don't have that much to give.

Not that we have a choice. The annual boost comes because lawmakers share the collective morality and appetites of hyenas and wrote the law to reflect that back in 1995.

It's unrelated to merit or performance.

It's not tied to reforms or progress.

It has nothing to do with passing budgets on time or actions to lower unemployment.

It's automatic. And it's based on Philly's Consumer Price Index because that's always the highest in the state.

And you thought the Legislature didn't like Philly.

But, look, it's not like our 253 lawmakers, the largest full-time legislature in America, are highest-paid.

That's California: $95,291. But then California pays only 120 lawmakers - to serve three times our population.

Gov. Corbett, his Cabinet and the state's judges get raises starting in January. Corbett is freezing his pay and the Cabinet's; judges (so far) not so much.

And even though some lawmakers give raises back or donate them to charity, the extra money still counts toward their generous pensions.

So they get better pensions than you, better health care than you and an automatic annual raise. Do you?

If there was any thought by political leaders - Corbett, House Speaker Sam Smith, Senate President Joe Scarnati - to suggest that Harrisburg is not a selfish, walled-in culture that, regardless of the party in charge, treats itself and thumbs its nose at taxpayers, now would be a good time for one of them to stand up.

But what do we get?

A pay-freeze bill introduced Oct. 31 by Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County, with 23 co-sponsors, all but two Republican, most from rural areas, none from Philly and none in leadership.

It sits in the State Government Committee chaired by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, whose principle interests these days include pushing a voter-ID bill and stopping public benefits to illegal aliens.

"I would have supported it," Metcalfe says of the pay-freeze bill, "but the timing of it didn't leave much room to work with it."

The House wasn't in session last week and isn't in session this week.

But why would it take much time to do? Make it retroactive, move it from committee, put it to a floor vote and let's see who stands where.

It is beyond indecent for lawmakers to take raises, whether they give them away or not, at a time when those they were elected to serve suffer job loss, pay cuts, benefit cuts, furlough fears and more; at a time when teachers and public unions accept salary freezes, and at a time when lawmakers themselves reduce money for education and social programs such as health care for the poor.

They do so only because they can, because their culture calls for it, because they have no shame and because too many citizens pay no attention or just shake their heads then willingly re-elect them to get automatic raises next year.

For recent columns, go to Read his blog at BaerGrowls.

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