|January 16, 2019 03:44 PM
|Representative Paul Schemel
|All House members
|In the near future, I plan to reintroduce legislation to create a part-time legislature (Prior HB 2314).
The National Conference of State Legislatures lists Pennsylvania as one of only three states with a full-time legislature (i.e., highly compensated with large staff). With full-time salaries of $88,610 and opportunities for additional compensation through per-diems and other benefits, Pennsylvania’s legislature also has the dubious honor of ranking among the nation’s most expensive.
Pennsylvania’s legislature became a full-time body in 1967. The rationale for the change was to provide Pennsylvania with a “modern” government that fought corruption. Since 1967 our Commonwealth has lost nine congressional seats, we have amassed a pension liability in excess of $75 billion (which the “landmark” pension reform of 2017 does not address) and we resorted to borrowing $1.5 billion to close this year’s budget. In return for a significant annual investment of taxpayer dollars, the political website FiveThirtyEight lists Pennsylvania fifth worst in the nation in political corruption. Satirist Dave Barry quipped that his home state of Florida’s legislature, being among the least costly in the nation, provides taxpayers with ineptitude and corruption for a fraction of the cost of other states. Pennsylvania cannot even claim the distinction of low cost ineptitude.
There are many ways to make Pennsylvania’s legislature more efficient and less costly. We can and should look to the examples of other states for guidance. Streamlining the legislative process by compressing session calendars is a model we should consider, and one which also pays dividends in the demands on our state budget. By reducing legislative salaries to $25,000 annually we would limit both the time which legislators will tolerate being in session and reduce the opportunity for political corruption which comes with Members’ financial dependence on their elected positions. It is no mere coincidence that lobbying firms maintain their most significant presence in the few states with full-time legislatures.
Some of our colleagues will argue that they would not be able to serve in a part-time legislature because of the financial demands created by extended time away from outside employment. Undoubtedly that is true, but the measure of good policy should not be whether a particular system works for particular individuals. There are also highly competent Pennsylvanians who do not serve in the legislature today because they are unwilling to accept full-time positions away from their occupations. For those in disbelief, look to our sister states whose part-time legislatures are filled with competent and willing elected officials. That would be most states actually.
Another common defense of the status quo is that it affords non-professionals the opportunity to serve. The argument continues that we would have only doctors and lawyers if we were a part-time body. However, a comparison with other states reveals that part-time legislatures manage to attract a wide variety of occupations. And, to repeat an earlier argument, you cannot look to a list of legislative accomplishments in Pennsylvania as a defense of our full-time status.
The intent of this legislation is not to disparage those who work hard and serve honorably in our General Assembly, but rather to begin the conversation of bringing our legislative body into the 21st century and giving Pennsylvania a “government that works”. There are many avenues which we may consider, this is only one. I invite you to offer ideas and to join the conversation by joining me in co-sponsoring this transformative legislation.
Previous Cosponsors: MACKENZIE, BERNSTINE, CUTLER, McGINNIS, ROTHMAN, CORR, ENGLISH, BLOOM, GROVE, PHILLIPS-HILL, ORTITAY, RYAN, GILLEN, LAWRENCE, KEEFER, NELSON and SIMMONS
Introduced as HB455