I got to thinking after posting my last diatribe - about the Pennsylvania Legislature and the ill-fated pay raise debacle - that perhaps I should explain, for those unaware of how our lovely legislators work, some of the other things they said and did that didn't exactly go over too well either with the voters.
Lest you think I am just stingy about what our legislators receive for pay, there's a tad more to that story than meets the eye too.
For openers, their base salary in July of 2005 -for the lowest paid legislators, that is, was a little over $69,000 per year. Ok, granted compared to private industry for those who are members of the bar (and most of them, by the way, are attorneys-at-law - there's a joke too - the "at law" bit) but all of them receive some really hefty benefit packages which would make the average slob drool if they had even a smidgen of these benefits.
A retirement that really can't be beat anywhere on the face of the earth - well, certainly not in Pennsylvania anyway. They get a vehicle and mileage plus a per diem reimbursement package that is really "to die for" - up to $650 per month reimbursement for lease or other expenses in acquiring a vehicle, plus the mileage and then the per diem expenses allowed is $141 per day. Now the per day thing is supposed to be per every day the House/Senate is in session but recently it was reported that one guy actually billed the state a per diem expense for virtually every day - got reimbursed for over $26,000 in per diems for the year he did, at any rate.
Then there is their hospitalization plan - paid for by guess who (hint - certainly not the legislator cause they couldn't possibly afford to pay any portion of this expense out of their "meager" salary, could they) - and this plan, I might add, is also "creme de la creme" of insurance plans too - of course - we wouldn't want it any other way. Oh, and it also covers spouses and family and extends over into coverage after retirement as well - fully paid, no less! WOW! By comparison, the last I heard, the regular state employees who used to get their insurance paid for, now pay a percentage of the premiums and they sure as hell don't all earn at least $69,000 per year to begin with - along with all the other "perks" the legislators get.
Then there is a little clause, I believe it is in the State's Constitution, which says that legislators shall not receive any raise during their term in office - which means if they pass a raise for themselves, it does not become available until after the next election. Soooo - this raise, passed in July of 2005, by all rights (and laws) should not have been dispensed to the legislators until December of 2006 at the earliest.
However, through a little mechanism called "unvouchered expenses" many of the legislators last summer applied for and received the equivalency of their "raise" each month then. When the raise was repealed there was also a big furor over the "unvouchered expenses" and some of the legislators did repay the money they had already received but most just kept it. Does it smell like something is rotten in Denmark- or closer to home, in Harrisburg? If you can't smell the stench by now, your sinus is in much worse condition than mine is at the moment!
There's also a little issue of "Gerrymandering" in Pennsylvania too - districts that are changed, "re-districted" so as to insure that the incumbents have plenty of voters of their own party then in their district to pretty much keep their position in Harrisburg safe from the anger of the voters! Gee, ain't that nice too - career insurance to the fullest!
And, I also failed to mention that the reason the voters were angry with the supreme court justices in the 2005 election was that they too were included in this lovely pay raise as were some members of the Executive Branch of our government.
And, when the supreme courts judges failed to rule about the illegalities that took place - the "unvouchered expenses," other illegal ways the legislature was skirting around or flat out abusing the state's Constitution, is it any wonder why the voters took aim and shot to kill? Actually, that last sentence is phrased incorrectly as it makes it sound like the courts did nothing when in fact they did something - they decided that there was nothing illegal in the way the legislators had operated, in the way they opt to do "business as usual."
Currently, in this fair state, many are clamoring to get the legislature to "reform" - to at least reduce property taxes in the state. (Some are even living in a dream world where they think those taxes can and should be totally eliminated but I'm not so sure the state can find another way to adequately fund the operations without some form of property taxation.) The word "reform" has become a very "hot-button" issue here and became a total farce though in the gubernatorial race that just took place as ad after ad for Gov. Rendell stated how he was fully in favor of "reform" and furthermore, how he has worked for "reform" in state government since taking office. Bah Humbug! The man probably never even heard of "reform" until the voters started screaming about it and he sure as Hell did nothing in his first term that in any way, shape or form qualifies as any type of "reform." So much for truth in advertising, huh?
I'll not go into any further details of how our state government operates except to say that we have one of the largest legislatures in the country as well as one that ranks very near the top in the pay scales too - if not being the highest there!
I post this piece only to clarify a bit more why the voters in this state are up in arms and for darned good reasons too in my opinion.
So now, what's your opinion on this whole mess? Think the voters in Pennsylvania were right in asking for major changes to their elected body or at least, changes to the system that allows some of these things to take place - flaunting their ignoring the rules as set forth in the state's Constititution? Come on - don't be afraid to speak out. This isn't for publication in any newspaper ya know.