The so-called experts keep saying that Pennsylvania voters will forget about the pay raise that state lawmakers gave themselves at 2 a.m. on July 7 by the time the May 2006 primary election rolls around.
Is it possible that 9 million voters will develop a collective case of amnesia when it comes time to deciding if they want to keep the people who broke into their homes in the middle of the night and relieved them of their hard-earned money?
We know the politicians are counting on memory lapses. That’s why they pushed through the pay raise in July — 10 months before any of them have to face the voters. But are Pennsylvania voters that absent-minded?
If you’re worried that you’ll forget that our "public servants" looted the state treasury to give themselves pay raises for 16 percent to 54 percent, I’ve come up with a few memory enhancers to help you out.
* Every time you pay $40 to fill your gas tank, remember that Pennsylvania has one of the highest taxes on gasoline in the country. For every gallon of gas you buy, 31 cents goes to Harrisburg in taxes. Gov. Ed Rendell rejected a call to temporarily suspend the gas tax in the wake of skyrocketing prices because it would reduce the amount of money politicians have at their disposal. And don’t forget that state lawmakers don’t pay for their gas. It’s free, along with the luxury automobile taxpayers provide these "public servants." While you’re struggling to pay for gas to get to work, remember that your state lawmaker can ride around in a Cadillac all day long at your expense.
* The cost of heating your home this winter is expected to rise anywhere from 30 to 70 percent. As you look for another blanket this winter because you’re trying to save money on natural gas or oil, keep in mind that state lawmakers gave themselves pay raises 10 times the rate of inflation. That will cover their home heating needs, with some money left over for a vacation on some Caribbean beach.
* Also keep in mind that state lawmakers — at the request of lobbyists for the utility companies — made it easier for utilities to shut off service for nonpayment during winter months. So when you pick up the newspaper and read about an elderly person found frozen to death in an unheated apartment, remember your state lawmaker who made it easier for utility companies to make their stockholders richer at the expense of senior citizens and the working poor.
* A few lawmakers have expressed concern about the coming winter and rising home heating costs, but so far the party bosses who control Harrisburg have expressed their usual disdain for the common people of Pennsylvania. Take the case of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a federal initiative administered by the state that provides assistance to Pennsylvania’s working poor to pay their utility bills. Pennsylvania is one of the few states that contributes nothing to the program. State lawmakers are sitting on a $135-million slush fund that they diverted from the state treasury. Part of that money will go to pay their salary increases. The rest is controlled by legislative party bosses so they can buy friends and influence people.
* A recent report by the American Bankers Association stated that more Americans are falling behind in their minimum credit card payments. A lot of people are using credit cards to pay for necessities such as groceries, gas and medical bills. As you fall deeper into debt to feed, clothe and shelter your family, remember that Pennsylvania’s legislative aristocracy — already the second highest-paid in the country — also provides itself with free medical insurance for its members and their families, a $129 meal allowance every day they’re in Harrisburg, a $650 monthly car allowance, a lifetime pension (in some cases as much as $50,000 a year), free life insurance and free long-term care insurance.
So, when bill collectors are threatening to ruin your credit or the bank is about to foreclose on your home, remember that Pennsylvania lawmakers are getting paid $81,000 to $145,000 for part-time jobs (legislators spent an average of 77 days in Harrisburg in each of the past five years).
While the Nov. 8 ballot is for local and county offices, there are two Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices seeking retention for 10-year terms. These justices are the highest paid in the country and have given state lawmakers a free pass in the past to violate the state Constitution by giving themselves illegal pay raises. It’s important that you vote "no" to retain Russell Nigro and Sandra Newman to send a message to the Harrisburg Hogs that Pennsylvania taxpayers are not going to take it anymore.
By firing two justices this year and two more next November, voters can change the majority on the seven-member state Supreme Court in the span of one year. That is an important step in taking back the state from the self-serving, career politicians.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at email@example.com