Senate committee: Cut lawmakers, judges, lieutenant governor

Posted: June 05, 2014

HARRISBURG - No one quibbles about the size and cost of Pennsylvania's government.

The numbers speak for themselves: With a budget of roughly $280 million and about 2,600 staffers, the state legislature is among the biggest and costliest nationwide.

Proposals to shrink it bubble up every now and then, but none have gone this far before: On Tuesday, a Senate committee passed resolutions to eliminate 55 legislative seats, four judgeships - even the office of lieutenant governor.

The vote was an incremental step on a path that could take years. Still, some saw it as progress.

"This is the most significant and comprehensive legislative action taken by the Senate on this issue in over 35 years," said Sen. Matt Smith of Erie, the ranking Democrat on the State Government Committee, which sent the measure on to the full body.

The resolutions would reduce the size of the House by 50 members - from 203 to 153 - and cut the Senate from 50 to 45 members. The senators also called for cutting the Supreme Court from seven to five justices, and eliminating two judgeships on Superior Court.

Untangling how much could be saved was not immediately clear. Smith said the cuts would "save tax dollars and improve efficiency without significantly altering the level of representative government in Pennsylvania."

Legislators in Harrisburg earn a base salary of $84,000. The lieutenant governor collects $157,765 a year while Supreme Court justices are paid $200,205 and Superior Court judges $188,903.

The resolution to reduce the House passed that chamber in December. Both measures are expected to be voted on by the Senate before the end of the month.

Even if the proposals advance, implementing them could be eight years away.

The legislation would have to pass both chambers in two consecutive sessions and be approved by voters in a referendum.

The chambers would be reduced according to demographic information from the 2020 census and would be in place for the 2022 election.

Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R., Bucks) said that while his district would remain, he was concerned that with the disappearance of rural seats, power would be consolidated in populated areas.

Proposals to shrink the legislature have emerged periodically over the last four decades, but none has got as far as votes in both chambers, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania.

He said his group had no official position on the measures, but he agreed with remarks by some lawmakers at the committee meeting that the process could tip the balance of power toward urban areas and into the hands of leadership and, potentially, lobbyists.

"This triggers a whole large range of other concerns," said Kauffman. For one, he said, larger districts could mean a candidate spends less time going door to door and more money on TV ads, which would drive up needs for bigger campaign war chests.

At 424 members, New Hampshire has the largest legislature, but they are part-timers who make about $100 a year, compared with the $84,000 base salary for a Pennsylvania lawmaker.

The amendment to abolish the office of lieutenant governor and reduce the size of the judiciary was offered by Senate President Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson), who became lieutenant governor under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell following the death of Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll in 2008.

He said that if the interest is saving taxpayer money, the costs of the judiciary and executive branch should be reduced, too.

"We can do better across all branches of government," he said.

The office of lieutenant governor, whose chief roles are to preside over the Senate and chair the pardons board, dates to 1875.

Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre) said the position is unnecessary.

"I don't think the position of lieutenant governor makes sense," said Corman. "Everything the lieutenant governor does, they do at the whim of the governor."


WHAT IS PROPOSED

50

Members who would be cut

from the House, reducing it

from 203 to 153.

5

Members to be cut

from the Senate, reducing it

from 50 to 45.


aworden@phillynews.com

717-783-2584 @inkyamy

www.inquirer.com/phillydawg

www.inquirer.com/commonwealthconfidential

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