funny that this topic comes up each month but the PA Legislature doesnt talk or do anything about it... actually its not funny at all.... PA Legislature among nation's most expensive
BY ROBERT SWIFT
HARRISBURG BUREAU CHIEF
Published: Sunday, February 8, 2009 4:06 AM EST
HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania has one of the most expensive legislatures in the nation.http://www.citizensvoice.com/articles/2009/02/08/news/wb_voice.20090208.a.pg1.cv08cdstategov_s1.2289334_top6.txt
The total size, 253 members, and cost, $312 million, of the Pennsylvania Legislature both ranked second among the states in recent studies.
At $78,314, the annual salary for rank-and-file Pennsylvania lawmakers is the fourth-highest in the nation. The total cost for taxpayers to support each lawmaker runs higher - from $125,000 to $150,000 annually depending on lawmakers' expenses. As Pennsylvanians struggle through recession and the state government faces its worst fiscal crisis in almost two decades, these eye-opening statistics provide ammunition to outside groups calling for spending cuts or a more dramatic transformation of the Legislature.
In addition to salary, House lawmakers receive an average $11,349 toward health insurance, an average $5,351 for prescription drugs with a co-pay, dental and vision benefits and a number of per-diem payments. Pensions and life and disability insurance benefits also count as individual benefits.
Support costs for House lawmakers include a $20,000 office expense account, a $7,800 vehicle expense reimbursement and $4,000 postage account. House lawmakers can use a car from the state government's fleet of more than 16,000 or be reimbursed for driving their own cars.
Senators receive an average $13,791 toward health insurance and dental and vision benefits. Since 2007, senators pay 1 percent of their salary to participate in the health care plan. They receive per diems, pensions and life and long-term care insurance as well.
Support costs for senators, who have larger constituencies, include a $25,000 expense account and $26,500 postage account. They can use a state car or claim mileage, currently at 55 cents a mile.
House and Senate lawmakers can claim a $143 per diem to cover costs of lodging and meals. The per diem amount fluctuates annually based on federal guidelines. Estimates of total annual per-diem costs are in the $2 million range. House members can claim per diems for voting and nonvoting session days, attending committee meetings, the day after the last weekday of a session and for overnight stays.
One reformer favors creation of an independent commission that would recommend lawmakers' salaries on a three-year cycle and have both chambers vote to accept or reject that recommendation. Tim Potts, founder of Democracy Rising, favors a significant reduction of perks, including tight limits on per diems and bringing health insurance benefits in line with the private sector.
"I'm sympathetic to higher salaries as long as they (lawmakers) give up some of their perks," Potts said. "That is the problem with the compensation - the incredibly good benefits, including the second salary of per diems."
Outside income added
A longtime supporter of cost-cutting, Rep. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, has sponsored a bill calling for a formal study of state pension obligations to public employees, teachers and lawmakers. He is worried that a projected pension-cost spike in 2012 will fall on taxpayers.
Yudichak voted against the 2005 pay raise and refused to accept a 50 percent increase in pension benefits approved in 2001.
"I think you have to make a decision," he said. High salaries should at least allow lawmakers to focus on their public service and not have to earn outside income.
Many lawmakers do earn outside income, which must be listed on annual ethics statements. The recent appointment of Sen. Robert Mellow, D-Peckville, to the board of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania with a salary of $25,000 highlights this practice.
Reformers have called Mellow's board seat a conflict of interest. Mellow has defended it, saying it complements his efforts to support the Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton. He said he will seek a ruling from the Senate presiding officer before voting on any issues involving the Blues insurers.
Size, expense high
With all that spending, it's little wonder that in 2007, the cost to run the Legislature amounted to $25 for each Pennsylvania resident.Pennsylvania's per capita cost is far higher than that of legislatures in neighboring states, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York's legislative per capita cost is $11; New Jersey's $8.89; Maryland's $11.85 and Ohio's $2.75.
Pennsylvania ranked second in 2007 for taxpayer dollars spent on the legislative branch - $312 million. California narrowly made first place with a $321 million legislative budget, even though it has a population three times the size of Pennsylvania's. New York ranked third with a $213 million budget.
With 253 members, Pennsylvania's Legislature also is second-largest in the nation. Lawmakers are assisted by nearly 3,000 staffers. Pennsylvania ranks behind only New York in size of the legislative staff, according to a 2003 NCSL study, the most recent available.
Thirty-nine House employees were paid more than $100,000 last year, according to records. Thirty Senate employees were listed with salaries more than $100,000 as of Dec. 31.
Pennsylvania is one of nine states with a full-time legislature, and the staff supports that operation.
A full-time lawmaker, in states such as Pennsylvania, New York and California, spends an average 80 percent of a work week on the job and enjoys a ratio of nine staffers for each member, according to the NCSL. A part-time lawmaker, in states such as West Virginia and Montana, spends an average 50 percent of a work week on the job and has one staffer to support each one of them.
As Senate minority leader, Mellow oversees more employees than the other rank-and-file members. He said his legal staff is down two positions, to four from six, and losing any more lawyers would undermine his effectiveness.
Rep. David Argyll, R-Rush Township, said individual lawmakers can achieve savings by economizing. At his district office in Tamaqua, Argall recently hired a part-time staffer to replace a full-time staffer who left.
Full-time pay, not work
Despite the Legislature's full-time status, Pennsylvania lawmakers don't put in a five-day workweek at the Capitol. The Senate is scheduled to be in session 54 days scattered through the end of June; the House has scheduled 50 days.
Lawmakers also spend time in their districts engaged in "constituent work," a wide-ranging category of activity without a common definition. It can run the gamut from handling driver's license and vehicle registration applications to guiding major economic-development projects. A key part of their job is making the rounds of civic events in their districts on nights and weekends.
Lawmakers are hearing from more constituents about filing for unemployment compensation benefits and other bread-and-butter issues as the economy worsens.
"For those who work in the trenches every day, the phones are ringing," said Rep. Ken Smith, D-Dunmore. "We get all the tough issues."
Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, said current matters demanding his attention range from UGI Penn Natural Gas' rate hike request to obtaining state aid for a proposed law school at Wilkes University.
"I don't know how anyone who takes this job seriously can have another part-time job," he said. "I'm there from 9 to 6 every day, besides the evening (events)."
As more Pennsylvanians tighten their belts to survive the recession, there will a renewed public focus on legislative reforms and cost-cutting, said Dr. Thomas Baldino, professor of political science at Wilkes University.
The 253 lawmakers received a 2.8 percent automatic cost-of-living salary adjustment this year, but about 40 percent have voluntarily returned it, citing sympathy for the financial pressure on their constituents.
"It (fiscal crisis) does provide an impetus for those who want to make institutional change," Baldino said. "You can get more public support for reform in times like this."email@example.com