This article was published Sunday, August 14, 2005, in The Mercury, Pottstown, PA
POTTSTOWN — One week after The Mercury began a campaign urging Pennsylvania lawmakers to return the large pay raise they gave themselves, nearly 3,000 readers have responded.
Enraged by the 2 a.m. July 7 vote by House and Senate members to increase lawmakers' salaries between 16 and 34 percent, readers have been mailing signed letters in droves to The Mercury office.
Titled Operation Giveback, the crusade aims to have state lawmakers repeal the pay increase and consider the needs of its citizens, many of whom are "struggling to pay property taxes and health care costs."
During the past week, The Mercury has been joined by four other Philadelphia area newspapers: The (Delaware County) Daily Times in Primos, the Daily Local News in West Chester, the Times Herald in Norristown and The Phoenix in Phoenixville.
Letters gathered by the five newspapers will be collectively hand-delivered to the state Capitol building in Harrisburg when the House and the Senate return from a 10-week summer recess on Sept 26.
Mercury editor Nancy March said the letter-writing campaign was inspired by a message left by a reader.
"A woman called and asked if we could print a petition so people could pass it around and let legislators know just how angry they are," she said. "So we thought, ‘Why not invite readers to send letters?’ Taking a huge stack of mail from angry constituents to Harrisburg is one way to let lawmakers see firsthand the furor they’ve created."
The reaction of readers has been gratifying, March added.
"People are calling us and coming into the office to thank us for the opportunity," she said. "In just one week, the campaign has generated a tremendous response, and it has all been positive. The people of the Pottstown area are telling us they welcome this opportunity to send a message to their elected representatives."
Bill Sharon, an employee of the Pottstown Codes Department, made 500 copies of the Operation Giveback letter and has spread them among six friends who are finding people to sign them. Although his letter is similar to The Mercury's, Sharon's goes a step further by demanding tax reform.
"I tell people they have to stop talking, and now is the time to take action," Sharon said. "We have to get out there and really make a statement."
Sharon has also set up a stand in front of his home at 131 King St. in Pottstown where passersby can stop and sign a letter. If people continue to respond, Sharon said he will copy another 500 letters and get more signatures.
"Maybe this pay raise issue is the kick in the backside that we need." Sharon said. "Everybody in the Pottstown area should sign a letter. There's not a reason why we shouldn't have 20,000, and it'd be great if people outside the area sent in letters, too."
Marie Piroschak, a senior citizen living in Pottstown, said she took 50 copies from Sharon and distributed all of them at the Pottstown Area Seniors Center. She said the response was so tremendous that she intends to hand them out again on Monday.
"Everybody wanted to sign, no problem at all, and they all seemed to know what this was all about. I was surprised," Piroschak said.
Although last month's pay increase is still fresh in the minds of constituents, many citizens are hoping that the taxpayers remember this vote during next year's elections when all 203 members of the state House and 25 of the 50 members of the state Senate face reelection.
Henry Flack of Schwenksville said signing an Operation Giveback letter was a no-brainer. The lawmakers' salary raise as well as the failure of the Legislature to enact property tax reform made his decision in next year's election an easy one.
"There isn't an incumbent that I would vote for again. I'm fed up with all of them," Flack said. "If a dog catcher ran against them, I still wouldn't vote for them."
By Don Brensinger
Copyright 2005 The Mercury