Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pennsylvania's Legislature Needs To Go On A Diet

Back in October, 2009 SOP highlighted a petition drive to reduce the size of Pennsylvania's legislature. In February, 2009 SOP opined in this piece Can We Really Afford The Pennsylvania Legislature Staffing

With the May primary coming soon Robert Swift of the Standard Speaker Harrisburg Bureau filed this report today Pennsylvania near top of lists for largest, most costly legislatures. SOP used data from for its posts but the data was from 2005. Swift brings us closer to today's cost using 2008 data although some are more current.

The NCSL report shows that Pennsylvania, while sixth in population, has a legislative branch of 253 lawmakers and 2,918 support staff, dwarfing those of larger, more populous states.

No other state even comes close to the size of its legislative operation.

And the cost shows.

Only California outspent Pennsylvania on its legislature in 2008-09, said the NCSL, which used 2008 U.S. Census data for its report. Even then, it wasn't by much.

With 120 lawmakers and 2,067 legislative staffers, California spent $336 million on its legislative branch, compared to Pennsylvania's $319 million. But California, the most populous state in the nation, had 36.5 million people in 2008. Pennsylvania had 12.5 million.

And the drop-off in cost after Pennsylvania is dramatic.

The nation's third most expensive full-time legislature, New York, has 212 lawmakers and a support staff of 2,676. It spent $216 million in 2008-09, more than $100 million less than Pennsylvania, the NCSL reports.

The fourth, Florida, has only 160 lawmakers with a support staff of 1,457, the NCSL reports. It spent $175 million in 2008-09. Florida's population was 18.4 million in 2008, the NCSL noted. New York had 19.4 million people.

States with populations closer to Pennsylvania, like Ohio at 11.5 million and Illinois at 12.8 million, spent far less on their legislatures. Illinois spent $71 million; Ohio, $48 million. Illinois has 177 lawmakers and 980 staffers. Ohio has 132 legislators and 465 staffers.

The difference between full-time and part-time legislatures is even more stark.

Texas, for instance, with a 2008 population of 24.3 million, has the largest of all part-time legislatures in the country with 181 lawmakers and a legislative staff of 2,090. It spent $126 million in 2008-09, according to the NCSL.

Officially, New Hampshire has the largest state assembly in the country with a delegation of 424 lawmakers. But it, too, is part-time. With a support staff of only 147 people, it spent only $14 million on its legislature in 2008-09.

Only 10 of the country's 50 legislatures are considered full time.

The NCSL defines a part-time legislature as one in which delegates spend 50 percent or less of a work week on their legislative duties. In Pennsylvania, lawmakers spend an average of 80 percent of their work week in Harrisburg or their home offices, it says.

Legislative leaders took the recommendation and, beginning in the 1970s, the public began electing candidates who promised to be full-time legislators. Part of the consequences is that the legislative bureaucracy swelled from 532 staffers in 1969, to 1,700 in 1984 and close to 3,000 in 2003 while the number of lawmakers remains fixed at 203 House members and 50 senators.

By 2008, the legislative expense involved translated into a cost of $25.40 a year for every man, woman and child in the state. It was the third highest per capita cost in the nation, behind Alaska at $57.72 and Rhode Island at $26.79.

New York's per capita cost, meanwhile, came to $11.11 in 2008 while California, by virtue of its large population, came to $9.19

The base salary for legislators in both houses of Pennsylvania's General Assembly is $78,314 a year, fourth highest in the nation, behind California at $95,291, Michigan at $79,650 and New York at $79,500.

Salaries, however, are only a part of the actual costs. Factoring in health and pension benefits and other expenses, the real cost of the average legislator climbs to $125,000 to $150,000, depending on how much a legislator claims in reimbursements

In 2006 the League of Women Voters testified before the House State Government Committee supporting a reduction in the size of the legislature. The Commonwealth Foundation testified before the same committee in 2008. Newstalk Radio 1240 discussed this issue on its airwaves. This editorial appeared in the Delco Times calling for a reduction in the size of the legislature.

The voters should share some blame for this out of control spending. When will the taxpayer backlash and anger reach a height like the pay raise scandal to toss out the incumbents and force reform to reduce the size of the legislture? If there was only a "Jenny Craig" for government. Maybe the "fat cats" living high off the hog will finally get the message.

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