Monday, February 23, 2009

Can We Really Afford The Pennsylvania Legislature Staffing?

According to a story by John Micek over at the Allentown Morning Call salaries of employees of the Pennsylvania Legislature earn more than their bosses.

He complied a list of all the 2008 Pennsylvania House and Senate salaries.

Seventy-three House and Senate staffers received more than $100,000 last year, well above the lawmaker base pay of $78,314, according to records obtained from the chief clerk's office in both chambers.

At a time the state faces a $2.3 billion budget deficit, the proposed elimination or reduction of scores of programs and the prospect of layoffs for hundreds of state employees, lawmakers and their top aides insist they're doing all they can to stretch the public's buck. They defend the salaries paid to top staffers as just compensation for invaluable experience and expertise.

But critics of big government and other reformers question why the Pennsylvania Legislature needs scores of staffers -- many well paid -- when other states make do with far less.

Over at IssuesPA you can view a chart titled Comparison of State Legislators, Staffing, Days in Session, and Costs. Below are excerpts from their paper:

While legislative salaries draw the most attention, another major factor in calculating the cost of the state’s legislature is staffing and other operational support. The 2005-2006 state budget contains $462 million for Pennsylvania’s legislative branch. Legislator’s salaries and expenses represent only a small part of that total. The total amount for the Senate and House expenses was $462,012,000.

While specific data on staff costs aren’t available for all states, comparing the number of staff provides a general cost indicator. According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, Pennsylvania’s legislative support staff - 2,947 - was the second largest in the nation in 2003 (latest 50-state figures available), trailing only New York.

One might argue that Pennsylvania’s a big state with a big population to support. And Pennsylvania has lots of legislators, so it follows that the legislature would have lots of staff, too. However, Pennsylvania ranks high on staff-to-population and staff-to-legislator ratios. When compared to the state’s population, Pennsylvania has the highest ratio of the 13 big states. And when measured on a staff per legislator basis, Pennsylvania comes in third behind only California and New York (which also have much smaller legislatures by population).

Not only does Pennsylvania hire lots of staff to serve its legislators, the numbers of staff have increased at a fairly high rate. Pennsylvania’s 106% increase from 1979to 2003 was among the highest. Though Maryland, North Carolina, and Georgia had higher rates, their total staff complement remains far below Pennsylvania’s.

According to Micek "The 203-member House had 2,245 employees as of Dec. 31, a ratio of 11.05 employees per lawmaker, records show. The 50-member Senate had 911 employees, or 18.22 staffers per lawmaker."

The real kicker is that businesses or organizations cannot hire these government officials away from the legislature because their salaries are higher than the private sector. Usually it is the other way around. Persons usually use the term "upside down" to mean that your house is worth less than your current mortgage. Pennsylvania is upside down where the legislature staff is concerned.

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