Thursday, August 25, 2005

Pay raise outcry continues into week 7

This is the latest editorial in The Mercury (Pottstown, Pa.) on the Legislative pay grab. The newspaper has collected 7,000 protest letters from readers in the past three weeks. They will be delivered to Harrisburg when the Legislators return on Sept. 26.

At the beginning of week seven since the legislative pay grab, few things have changed since the debacle first unfolded on July 7.

The first legislative leader to change his mind on collecting the midterm raise as an unvouchered expense — Rep. Brett Feese, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee — came forward last week. He became the first leader to reverse his earlier decision. Feese’s decision does not apply to his actual raise, however, which he will collect, starting in December 2006.

Most of the leaders, who received the biggest raises, accepted the early payments. Three others in leadership — Sens. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin; Mary Jo White, R-Franklin; and Connie Williams, D-Delaware — refused the special payments from the beginning.

Feese was among the three latest lawmakers to rescind their acceptance of the unvouchered expenses, pushing the total to 17.

At the same time, other legislators dug in their heels in defense of the 16 to 34 percent raises they awarded themselves on July 7, repeating the argument that they work hard and deserve the raise.

“I think this is fair compensation for the amount of hours we put in,” said state Rep. Jacqueline R. Crahalla, R-150th Dist., noting she routinely works 50-plus hour weeks. “This job is tough and every two years, your reputation gets knocked to hell if you are seeking reelection, and there is no job security,” said Crahalla, adding that “municipal administrators” often get paid more and have better job security than state lawmakers.

The pay raise legislation, passed at 2 a.m. on July 7, boosts the base salary of state lawmakers from $69,647 to $81,050, with committee heads and those in leadership posts getting additional hikes. Pennsylvania now has the second highest paid legislators in the country, behind only California.

Throughout the state, voter outrage has continued loud and strong. More than 7,000 people have sent protest letters to legislators as part of Operation Giveback, a letter-writing campaign sponsored by The Mercury to “send a message to Harrisburg.” A Web site and a radio station conducting similar campaigns have also reported phenomenal voter reaction.

Area lawmakers voting against the pay hike were state Sen. John C. Rafferty, R-44th Dist., state Sen. Rob Wonderling, R-24th Dist., state Rep. Tom Quigley, R-146th Dist., state Rep. Carole Rubley, R-157th Dist., and state Rep. Douglas Reichley, R-134th. Reichley, however, took the money as an unvouchered expense.

Voting for the hike were Crahalla; state Sen. Michael O’Pake, D-11th; state Sen. Robert Thompson, R-19th; state Rep. Dennis Leh, R-130th; state Rep. Raymond Bunt, R-47th; state Rep. Timothy Hennessey, R-25th; state Rep. Curt Schroder, R-155th, and state Rep. Robert Flick, R-167th. Schroder reversed himself after initially accepting the unvouchered expenses and announced he would not take the raise early.

Taxpayers are upset not only with the magnitude of the pay hike but also with legislators’ poor track record on property tax reform, jobs growth and schools funding. One legislator ludicrously defended the vote to give themselves a raise as part of a package that ultimately benefitted taxpayers.

Ask taxpayers how much they’ve benefitted from the legislators’ pay grab.
In particular, ask them this week as they try to pull together the money for local school tax bills that have a discount due date if paid by Aug. 31.

We think we know what their answers will be.

Copyright 2005 The Mercury

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