Monday, August 29, 2005

Pay raise arrogance reaches a new low

Legislators dare you to vote them out

Hey, stupid. Yeah, you. Go ahead. Try to vote me out. Do your best. I’m a member of the Pennsylvania House of Lords (aka state legislature). You can’t touch me. I’m invincible. I can rob you blind any time of day or night, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

That, in essence, is the attitude of many of the people you’ve hired to serve in the Pennsylvania House and Senate. Not only did they vote themselves exorbitant pay raises in the middle of the night, but they believe you’re too chicken to do anything about it.

Sure, about two dozen of the 253 lawmakers have seen the error of their ways and decided not to take the 16 percent to 34 percent pay raises. Some have even pledged to repeal the pay hike when they get back to Harrisburg on Sept. 26. But the vast majority are digging in.

They don’t think you’ve got the brains or guts to stand up to them — to fire them. So they’re going to take the $11,000 raise on top of the 5.2 percent cost-of-living increase they took at the beginning of the year, and they’re going to tack on another cost-of-living increase in 2006 just because they can.

And you’ll continue to pay every penny to maintain Pennsylvania’s royalty in the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to.

Allow me to introduce you to state Rep. Jacqueline R. Crahalla, a Republican from the 150th House District, which includes Collegeville, Lower Providence, Trappe, Upper Providence and West Norriton. What does Rep. Crahalla have to say to her constituents who would rather she not have increased her own pay to $81,027 a year, as well as that of her husband, District Judge Benjamin Crahalla, to $74,566 a year as part of the same pay raise bill?

"I’m staying the course," Crahalla told The Philadelphia Inquirer when asked if she was willing to heed the demands of constituents. "The nastier people get, the more stubborn I get."

Hmmm. Stubbornness. Just the kind of trait we need in a lawmaker. To her credit, Rep. Crahalla has been one of the few lawmakers willing to explain the indefensible 2 a.m. raid on the state treasury. She says she routinely puts in more than 50 hours a week on the job. She says judges and cabinet officers should be paid more.

Rep. Crahalla could make a strong case for boosting the salaries of judges and county district attorneys, but there’s no justification for giving herself an $11,000 raise.
Crahalla conveniently forgets that the state legislature met an average of 77 days in each of the past five years.

While the typical Pennsylvania worker puts in at least 245 work days during the year (assuming three weeks vacation), state legislators go to Harrisburg 77 days, take a 10-week summer vacation, go home for at least a month for a winter holiday and take every government holiday off as well.

I’m guessing Rep. Crahalla finds things to do around her district the 200-plus days the legislature is not in session. On the bright side, there’s no heavy lifting involved in being a state lawmaker — unless you pick up that hefty paycheck in cash. Does any of this justify legislators being paid more than twice what the average worker in Pennsylvania is making?

Has Crahalla given any thought to the thousands of senior citizens in her district who are struggling on Social Security? Their cost-of-living increase this year was 2.7 percent, or $15 a month. If the Crahallas need $20,000 more to get by, what does Rep. Crahalla tell the folks back home trying to stretch that $15 until next month’s check?

Arrogant is not a strong enough word to describe the hundreds of Harrisburg pay-grabbers. Insolent might be the better word. The contempt these "public servants" have shown the people who elected them is palpable.

In addition to the unbelievable display of disdain these politicians have for the people in their home districts, another interesting point in the Inquirer article was the fact that so few politicians were even willing to "defend" the pay grab. The reporter who wrote the story called 25 lawmakers, but only two were willing to talk. Imagine that. A politician who doesn’t want his or her name in the newspaper. That’s a first.

We’re approaching the two-month anniversary of the Great Pay Grab of 2005. The politicians who orchestrated this betrayal of public trust can’t hide forever. Eventually, they will return to the scene of the crime.

Will the 23 legislators who voted for the pay hike but changed their minds about taking the money stand up to the party bosses who run Harrisburg? Will the 79 House members who opposed the pay grab in the first place stand up to the tyrants? Will the 23 senators who voted against the pay hike demand a vote to rescind the pay raise?

Only three state senators need to reverse their vote on the pay hike. And 26 state representatives need to change their vote to repeal the raises. Gov. Ed Rendell, who is getting booed more often than Terrell Owens these days, said he will sign the bill abolishing the pay grab.

Voters in the 150th District will let Rep. Crahalla know if she still has a job in Harrisburg when she faces reelection in May 2006.

What about your state legislator? Have you told him or her in no uncertain terms that their future hinges on whether they do the right thing for the people they promised to represent?

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

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