Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Taxpayer dollars will be used to defend Legislative pay raise

This editorial was published in The Mercury on Tuesday, September 6. Talk about rubbing salt in the wound.

Where else but in Pennsylvania would taxpayers have to cough up the money to pay the lawyers hired by state lawmakers to defend themselves against a lawsuit challenging the middle-of-the-night pay raise legislators gave themselves?

No wonder thousands of Pennsylvania taxpayers are fighting so hard to take back their state government from a group of self-serving politicians who consistently vote to line their own pockets without a word of debate -- without any justification -- and then used a loophole to circumvent the state Constitution in order to collect the money early.

Pennsylvania law says that the state attorney general is responsible for defending the constitutionality of state laws, but the party bosses who control Harrisburg have hired outside law firms to defend them in a lawsuit brought by Harrisburg-area activist Eugene Stilp, who is seeking to overturn the controversial July 7 pay raise. The legislature also employs a large in-house legal staff at taxpayer expense, but those lawyers must be busy working on another pay-raise bill to represent their bosses in the lawsuit.

As long as they’re spending your money, the party bosses are willing to go hog wild with legal fees. The House has hired Philadelphia-based Stradley Ronon, while the Senate employed Kirkpatrick & Lockhard Nicholson Graham LLP, a law firm from Pittsburgh. Neither outfit comes cheap, but as the legislators would say, "It’s only taxpayer money, so just write a blank check."

Stilp was incredulous when he heard the news that House and Senate leaders had hired private lawyers to help them defend the pay grab. "It’s beyond belief that the defense of the illegal pay raise is being paid for by the people of Pennsylvania," Stilp said.

One of the problems with the pay raise -- in addition to the fact that lawmakers have done nothing to earn it and it’s repugnant to give yourself a pay raise -- is the fact that the attorney general, every judge in Pennsylvania and many members of the Rendell administration, including the governor, are included in the pay raise legislation. There is no place taxpayers can turn to in Pennsylvania to get an impartial hearing.

Regardless of how many lawyers the legislators hire, the judges who will end up hearing the case would have to give up their own pay raises if they rule against the legislature.

The deck is stacked against taxpayers. So don’t hold your breath waiting for justice in Pennsylvania. But don’t forget who brought us to this juncture in the first place -- the largest, costliest state legislature in the country. A group of 253 men and women who earn two to three times more than the average Pennsylvania worker doing a part-time job that requires them to be in session about 77 days a year.

Stilp, who is not a lawyer, will be representing himself as a citizen of Pennsylvania and a taxpayer when this case goes to court. Stilp won’t be alone. He has the moral backing of 12 million beleaguered Pennsylvanians who have been betrayed by their own lawmakers.

If the citizens of Pennsylvania lose this court case -- and the odds are long that justice will prevail -- they will have one more opportunity to restore rule of law to this state -- at the ballot box in 2006, when they can fire most of the legislators once and for all.

© Copyright The Mercury 2005

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