Pa. state legislators bend constitution for pay raise

If there?s one thing more bothersome than living in a state whose lawmakers give themselves a hefty pay raise, it?s knowing that the underhanded politicians did it like real criminals ? in the middle of the night.

At approximately 2 am on July 7, Pennsylvania lawmakers raised their own pay by anywhere from 16 to 34 percent of their previous salary. The legislators gave themselves the financial pat on the back right before the Legislature disbanded for the summer, deliberately circumventing the state Constitution by collecting payment early. There was no debate, no public censure. Then they left for vacation, running away like bank robbers who just bought themselves tickets to Hawaii.

It gets better. Over half of the lawmakers are taking the payment as ?expense reimbursement? rather than as actual salary, allowing them to receive the money immediately, and without taxes.

Although the pay hike has been the subject of much condemnation from some lawmakers, particularly due to its categorization as ?reimbursement,? two court cases have ruled it legal. However, as a top GOP lawmaker explains: ?We write the law so if the judges mess with us, they lose their pay raise. So they always find what we do on a pay raise to be constitutional.?

And though Governor Ed Rendell has criticized the lawmakers who took the money as compensation, he also called the July pay raise for his state officials ?good legislation? in a July 17 letter to a York, Pa., newspaper.

How can selfish law-skirting be considered ?good legislation? while so many Pennsylvania residents are struggling to pay property taxes and health care costs?

And since we?re on the subject of property taxes, what about the fact that meaningful property tax reform has failed for the last three decades in Pennsylvania? Just wait until next year?s primary ? such reform will be most likely be at the forefront as lawmakers attempt to distract Pennsylvania citizens from their dubious lawmaking.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, more than 40 legislators are attempting to repeal the July pay raises. The Post-Gazette notes that since the bill passed in the House 119?79 and in the Senate 27?23, at least 23 House members and three Senators would have to switch sides if the repeal is to succeed. However, it also states that ?convincing leaders of both parties to allow it to have a floor vote [in the House] will be difficult.... Historically, legislation that leaders oppose is simply referred to a committee and dies without a vote.?

State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R?Cranberry) offers sobering insight ? some legislators claim they deserve higher pay because they put in long hours. Maybe Carnegie Mellon students should try this approach during finals.

In the meantime, legistators need to swallow their pride and close their wallets.