That's right: The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday advanced a budget that sets aside funding for legislators' automatic cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. That means that we taxpayers will provide an extra $300,000 for senators' salaries, and $1.4 million for House members'. That's enough for $6,000 more for each senator, and $7,000 for each member of the House (those figures include benefits, like pensions, as well as salaries.)
Bear in mind, this is a legislature that is already very overpaid. A 2010 survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that Pennsylvania's Legislature had the fourth-highest base salary in the nation (it's now $82,026) — and that's before you get to the many benefits and perks our legislators have generously granted themselves, including a defined-benefit pension plan, health care and per diems.
No doubt the Legislature will point out that these raises are statutorily required. But this just begs the question of why Pennsylvania still has this particular statute, which was passed in 1995 and calls for an automatic raise to kick in each year on Dec. 1.
Here's another statute that should make these people ashamed: Pennsylvania does not require kindergarten. We're one of only five states that don't mandate it. Actually, make that four, since the New York Legislature — a lawmaking body so messed up that it makes ours look like a highly efficient body of which Thomas Jefferson would be proud — just passed a bill mandating kindergarten for New York children.
We bring this up because in this budget cycle, with cuts to education and impoverished school districts struggling to survive, a few, including Harrisburg and York, are considering eliminating kindergarten.
Think of it: Raises for lawmakers. No kindergarten for children.
The $1.7 million the state could save if it didn't pay these ridiculous raises wouldn't be enough to reinstate kindergarten or $150 million for the General Assistance Program — not by a long shot. But that doesn't make it a good idea to spend $1.7 million on a raise for overpaid legislators. And, more to the point, it reflects a broader philosophy in the Capitol that everyone has to make do with less these days — except them.
Gov. Corbett's budget proposal this year called for flat funding for legislators' salaries, and an overall cut to the Legislature of about $12 million. Not enough for one of the most expensive legislatures in the country, but a start. The budget the House detailed this week includes the raises and restores $11 million of the cuts.