Monday, January 23, 2006

‘Nice guy’ legislators need to be kicked out

If your boss gives you an assignment and you don’t get the work done for days … weeks … months … even years, how long do you think it would take before the boss fires you? What’s so different about the men and women we hire to serve in the state legislature?

How much longer are voters going to tolerate the abysmal record of failure from these elected officials? The voters have given these politicians a job to do: eliminate property taxes. It’s been 16 weeks since Gov. Ed Rendell called a special session of the legislature to deal with the property tax issue and nothing approaching substantial property tax relief has emerged from Harrisburg.

Some of the people employed in the state House and Senate have been on the job for 20, 25, 30 years and have been asked repeatedly to complete one task. When he was a candidate in 2002, Gov. Rendell promised to deliver property tax relief if we elected him. It’s 2006 and we’re still waiting.

Nobody said restructuring the state’s tax system is an easy job. But that’s why legislators make the big bucks. If they want to collect more than $150,000 a year in salary and benefits, they need to earn their pay. So far, not one person in the 253-member legislature (or the governor, for that matter) has earned their pay.

Anyone who’s ever been a boss knows the hardest part of the job is firing someone. Especially someone who is likable but just can’t do the job. But it has to be done. Pennsylvania voters must send a clear message to Harrisburg that we’re the boss. We pay the bills and we expect results. If you can’t do the job — and the current crop of state legislators has demonstrated repeatedly it cannot do the job — it’s time to replace them and give someone else a shot.

In the past two weeks, I’ve been a guest on two radio talk shows — WEEU in Reading and WPAZ in Pottstown. One of the topics discussed on both shows is the fact that voters tend to like their local legislator even though they think the legislature in general is doing a lousy job. I’m here to tell you that your local legislator, the "nice guy" that you like so much, the guy or gal who has helped you with paperwork in dealing with the state bureaucracy, is part of the problem. There’s entirely too many "nice guy" politicians in Pennsylvania who can’t do the job we hired them for.

If you think that the main job of a lawmaker who is collecting $150,000 a year from the state treasury is to help you renew your driver’s license, you would be doing the rest of us a big favor by sitting out the next election. Here’s a clue for you. The state senator or representative didn’t actually do the work for you. He or she has a secretary who made the call to Harrisburg to get your problem solved. You could have made the call yourself. And the next person who is elected to represent your district in the House or Senate will help you out, too.

You cannot forget that the majority of incumbent legislators betrayed the public trust by voting themselves a pay raise in the middle of the night. You must not forget that you hired these people to provide tax relief for homeowners and they have failed you miserably.

That’s why the majority of legislators in Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties must be voted out of office in the May 16 primary or Nov. 7 general election.

This is not a partisan issue. I’m tired of the hypocritical county and state party bosses defending a bunch of second-rate politicians who won’t do anything except line their own pockets. Forget for a moment that you are a registered Democrat or Republican. At 2 a.m. on July 7, 2005, 119 members of the House and 27 members of the Senate — both Democrats and Republicans — agreed to increase their salaries. No public debate. No justification. And they took the vote after most Pennsylvanians were asleep. Then they adjourned for a 2½-month vacation. Rendell signed the pay raise into law and defended it.

Why can’t we get this kind of bipartisan cooperation for property tax relief? The answer is the politicians don’t want to cut your taxes. Politicians are good at one thing: spending other people’s money. They can’t justify their existence unless they’re spending your money.

While most Pennsylvania workers are struggling, the legislators are living the lifestyles of the rich and famous. They voted four times in the past 20 years to increase their pay on top of annual cost-of-living raises. They doubled their pension. They’ve given themselves all sorts of benefits (free cars, free health insurance, $140 a day meal allowance) not available in the private sector. They don’t want to give any of that up by cutting your taxes.

In the best of all possible worlds, all 146 pay-jackers would be voted out in 2006. But that’s not going to happen. Some of them are "nice guys" who will fool enough voters into sending them back to Harrisburg. Others won’t face opposition in the primary or general election.

If we, the voters, don’t exercise our prerogative to fire these lousy workers, we have nobody but ourselves to blame when the politicians continue to pick our pockets.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

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