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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Dispatches from the pay raise battlefront

Here’s a roundup of news from the front lines of the people’s revolution against the corrupt and arrogant political aristocracy in Harrisburg.

1 down, 252 to go

One of the pay-jackers has waived the white flag! State Rep. Sheila Miller, a Republican who has been collecting taxpayer checks for the past 13 years, has announced she won’t seek another term in 2006.

Miller, who represents the 129th District in northern Berks County, voted in favor of the July 7, middle-of-the-night pay raise and has refused to give the money back. Miller, a 53-year-old, part-time legislator and full-time beef farmer, has easily won reelection in her heavily Republican district every time she ran so her sudden surrender took many by surprise.

Miller wouldn’t say why she’s giving up the money, the perks and a lifetime membership in the exclusive Harrisburg Hogs Club. “It is time for me to move forward with future endeavors, focusing on family and farming, and applying my time and talents in another role as I wrap up 25 years in the policy-making arena,” Miller wrote to Speaker of the House John Perzel, the pay raise mastermind.

Maybe the anti-pay raise pressure got to Miller. Maybe she got religion. Doesn’t matter. Miller tainted her seven terms in Harrisburg as a champion for agricultural issues by participating in the Great Pay Heist of 2005. Her name will be added to what should be a long list of casualties as the people battle to retake Harrisburg from the larcenous legislators who run the place.

Don’t shed a tear for Sheila Miller. She will receive a lifetime pension courtesy of taxpayers as well as health benefits for her and her family, again courtesy of taxpayers. Berks County residents now have an opportunity to send someone who knows the meaning of public service to Harrisburg next year.

Time to call in the Feds

I was watching “The Untouchables” on TV the other night and kept thinking about the Pennsylvania legislature, especially when Robert DeNiro appeared on screen as Al Capone, the arrogant and defiant Chicago mob boss.

Capone had intimidated or bought off every official in Chicago, including the judges. The only way to stop him was to bring in the Feds. That’s where Elliot Ness and his “Untouchables” come in. They finally brought down Capone’s criminal empire. It might take a similar effort to fumigate Harrisburg.

The legislature made sure everybody enjoys the spoils of the July 7 raid on the public treasury, including Gov. Ed Rendell and state judges, who are now the highest paid in the country. Ralph Cappy, chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, saw his salary rise from $154,448 to $176,800. This is the same Ralph Cappy who billed taxpayers $36,894 in expenses over the past year. Does he buy a new robe every day?

A Harrisburg-area man filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the pay raise, but the lawsuit will be heard by the very same judges who are now enjoying fatter paychecks thanks to their legislative confederates. Judges who rule against the pay raise would be giving up enormous pay raises for themselves. The best hope for beleaguered Pennsylvania taxpayers may be the federal courts.

Common Cause of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizens’ group that works to make government more accountable to the people, is planning to file a federal lawsuit this month challenging the pay raise. While we’re at it, we might want to ask President Bush to send federal troops to surround the state Capitol. Perzel’s raiders are preparing for a long siege.

Want Democracy? Try Iraq

As many had feared, the warlords who control the state legislature will not allow a vote on bills to repeal the pay raise and the unconstitutional practice of collecting the pay raise early as unvouchered expenses.

Two bills were introduced in the past month to reverse the pay raise and abolish unvouchered expenses. The bills have been sent to the Rules Committee by John Perzel. And guess who decides when those bills leave the committee? You guessed it. None other than John Perzel, the GOP warlord who will not allow an up or down vote on the bills to repeal the pay hike. This is why it’s important to continue to put pressure on your state legislators, especially House members.

The legislature is made up of a few warlords and about 200 lawmakers who mindlessly follow orders from the warlords. As we get closer to 2006 and the opportunity to oust the entire 203-member House and 25 of the 50 state senators, you need to put the fear of God into your legislator. Right now, they’re more afraid of John Perzel than the voters. But without your vote, they won’t get the opportunity to go back to Harrisburg to grovel at the feet of John Perzel.

That’s the message you need to send to your state legislator. Remind them that they work for you. You can fire them. You will fire them on May 16, 2006, when you vote in the primary election.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com

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