Out With the Old, In With the New

Member Group : Democracy Raising PA

In the General Assembly. Sometimes it’s helpful to take a long view. Thanks mostly to voters, only one of the top legislative leaders who were responsible for the Pay Raise of 2005 remains in a leadership position in the General Assembly. On Tuesday, Rep. Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, will become Speaker of the House. In 2005, he was majority leader. As for the rest:

• Then-Speaker John Perzel, R-Phila., was indicted in the Bonus Scandal and awaits trial scheduled for August. Voters didn’t wait and removed him from office in November.

• Then-Minority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, was removed from leadership when he was indicted in December 2009 for his alleged role in the Bonus Scandal. Re-elected in November, his trial is predicted for early in 2011.

• Voters in the primary election of 2006 dispatched former Sen. President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer into retirement, at least from the legislature.

• Voters also dispatched former Sen. Majority Leader Chip Brightbill, R-Lebanon, in the same election.

• Former Sen. Minority Leader Bob Mellow, D-Lackawanna, retired in 2010 after coming under investigation by the FBI and IRS.

New leadership creates new opportunities. In the case of Smith, so does old leadership. In a sign that some lawmakers have finally gotten the message, Smith is seeking some savings in the House. The changes include phasing out car leases and requiring representatives to pay 1% of gross wages toward health insurance as the Senate already does.

While the health insurance contribution is better than nothing, it also is far from what ordinary citizens have to pay. Using round numbers, a lawmaker’s base salary is $80,000, and 1% is $800 per year. People who have to purchase their own health insurance can pay nearly twice that much in one month for similar coverage, if they can get it and afford it.

Smith also seems intent on promoting a broad-based integrity agenda. Introduced in the last session as PATH, Pennsylvania’s Agenda for Trust in Harrisburg, it contains a dozen ideas for raising standards of public integrity. Click here to see what PATH included when first announced in April 2009. We’ll keep you posted on the version that is introduced in 2011.

Finally, Smith is asking for private donations to reduce taxpayers’ costs for the swearing-in ceremonies next Tuesday:

House members seek donations to pay for swearing in, Scranton Times-Tribune, Dec. 29

One question, as always, is what the donors may expect in return. Another is why lawmakers can’t simply do without all the pomp and circumstance for once. Citizens have had to do without far more important things for the past several years. Call it batting practice for the budget cuts to come.

In the Governor’s Office. If you want to see some of the challenges Gov.-elect Tom Corbett will face, the Associated Press provides a glimpse. Here are excerpts from the transition documents prepared by the executive agencies Corbett will oversee:

Excerpts from PA government transition reports, Centre Daily Times, Dec. 27
Finally, there are old things that haven’t made much progress. Here are three of them. Perhaps the new spirit of austerity will bring about change in 2011. We’ll be watching.

• The legislature’s surplus: Stashing cash for rainy year? Washington Observer-Reporter, Dec. 17

• Legislative productivity and priorities: Legislators caught up in holiday spirit, Allentown Morning Call, Dec. 29.

• Legislative pensions: Taking a turn onto Easy Street, Washington Observer-Reporter, Dec. 29

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