Saturday, November 13, 2010
Eddie Day Pashinski "Are You Kidding Me?"
Some people just don't get it. Republicans swept the Pennsylvania House and the U.S. Congress this election cycle(cyclone). Democrats who took over Pennsylvania's House in 2006 quickly saw their advantage dissipate in a hurry. One would think that any savy politician would be in tune with the wishes of the voters after the results of the November elections.
Per diems were a big issue in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's legislative use of per diems has an unanswered question looming over their correct application.
The I.R.S. hammered out an agreement in Massachusetts beginning in 2008, the state would include the per diem income on legislators' W2 forms. The state went further and in 2009 began withholding taxes each pay period on the per diems just as it does on legislators' regular income. The agreement did not include going back to any prior years in which a legislator might not have paid any state or federal taxes on the per diems.
The agreement was part of a broader pact prompted by the state's failure to withhold 2.9 percent in Medicare tax from lawmakers' paychecks since the mid-1980s. In that incident, the state agreed to go back just four years and use taxpayers' money from the general fund to pay the federal government $1.6 million for the deductions that were not taken from 2005 to 2008.
Both errors were discovered by state Treasurer Tim Cahill's office in 2006 when the state comptroller's office took over the handling of the legislative payroll from the treasurer's office.
Dave Kibbe, communications director for Cahill who became treasurer in 2003, said, "Once the state treasurer's office discovered this practice, which appeared to be long-standing, we took the lead in correcting it. The treasurer's office worked with the Legislature, the IRS and the state comptroller to resolve the issue favorably for the taxpayers of the commonwealth."
Here's what smiling Eddie "Day" Pashinski had to say about per diems in today's Times Leader article by Andrew Seder.
Pashinski said that though he’s aware there’s a push to end per diems and go to a straight receipt for reimbursement system, he’s not convinced that would save money as some contend.
He said that it’s likely new staffers would have to be hired to analyze receipts and make sure they’re valid.
I don't know why Pennsylvania legislators feel they are immune from the same action by the I.R.S. Just because they declared their per diems tax free doesn't mean they are on solid legal ground. If legislators are taking per diem for two minutes worth of work in Harrisburg I want to be there when they try to tell the I.R.S. it's a justified expense.
Just to keep the record straight. Pennsylvania's legislature size was doubled in 1873 from 100 representatives to 200.
Pennsylvania's legislative staff more than doubled from 1,430 in 1979 to 2,947 in 2003. There should be more than enough staff for Mr. Pashinski's needs, especially in light of the fact that Bonusgate proved many are hired for political work, not legislative needs.
Pennsylvania is only one of four full time legislatures in the country.
According to the Commonwealth Foundation "At 253 members, Pennsylvania's state legislature is the 2nd largest in the country, trailing only New Hampshire's 424-member body. However, as you know, New Hampshire has the epitome of a citizen legislature, where members receive only $100 per year for their part-time service."
Pennsylvania has gone back and forth with California for the crown of having the most expensive state legislature-the latest numbers put the Keystone State at number two on that dubious ranking. The 2009-10 budget includes $299 million for the legislature, up from $88 million in 1984-85. Pennsylvania ranks third in legislative spending per capita, and first in legislative spending as a percentage of the General Fund, according to NCSL data.
The General Assembly's staff, which has grown from 1,430 in 1970 to 2,919 today, is the largest in the country. For perspective, Illinois and Ohio, the states closest in population to Pennsylvania, have 1,023 and 465 legislative staff, respectively-about one-third and one-eighth as many. Fewer legislators could result in a reduction of the number of staff (and translate into cost savings). However, increasing legislators' constituents would increase their responsibilities and workload, and could lead to more staff per legislator. Many staff are assigned to caucuses, committees, or other support areas-and may not be affected by a change in the number of lawmakers.
At $78,314, the annual salary for rank-and-file Pennsylvania lawmakers is the fourth-highest in the nation, trailing only the salaries of lawmakers in California, Michigan, and New York. However, the total cost of each legislator includes much more than salary. Benefits, including pensions, health care, and mileage, add up to tens of thousands in additional costs per lawmaker. The House and Senate collectively spent almost $4 million in per diems last year, according to Democracy Rising PA. And legislative leadership accounts that can be used for everything from public service announcements and newsletters to-at least until recently-bonuses total tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars.
In terms of compensation, Pennsylvania legislators are the 4th highest paid in nation at over $76,000 in base pay per year (trailing Michigan at $79,650, New York at $79,500, and California at $116,000 in 2008). In terms of support staff, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has the 2nd highest number of legislative staff (after New York, as of 2003) with over 11.6 staff members per legislator (an increase of 106% since 1978).
Given these facts, it is no surprise that Pennsylvania’s General Assembly is the most expensive operating legislature in the nation (even spending more than California’s $260 million and New York’s $220 million). In the current 2008-09 fiscal year, $332 million was appropriated for the operations of the House, Senate, and legislative support services. This is up from $88 million in 1984-85—an increase of 84% after adjusting for inflation.
Yet Mr. Pashinski states it will take more staff.
Pashinski earned a bachelors degree in Music Education at Wilkes University and a Master's Equivalency at Penn State University. Not for nothing but what qualifications does Pashinski hold to pronouce an expert opinion on the need and the size of the staff supporting our Legislature. On this issue Pashinski isn't listening to the voters. Of course Pashinski was a protege of Todd Eachus. Pashinski retired as a teacher and due to his recent relection will qualify for two pensions from the State of Pennsylvania. During last year's budget debacle Pashinski took home $2054.00 in per diems. Must be hard to give that up when you are getting a pension plus $78,314.00 per year.
Pashinski once stated the need for checks and balances. "Nothing will ever replace honesty and good ethics," Pashinski said. "Mankind - it's like water. You put up a dam and water rolling down a hill will always find another way to go. That's why you always need checks and balances."
How do you have checks and balances when a legislator like Eddie Pashinski gets to decide whether he and others are entitled to per diems, the reimbursement amount, and the level of pension benefit for both his teacher's pension and legislative pension? Talk about flying under the radar. Is that Eddie I see?