Thursday, January 18, 2007

Disband the Pennsylvania Legislature

The price tag for the Pennsylvania Legislature increased by nearly 9 percent in the last fiscal year to a staggering $308 million and there's no end in sight. That's more than $1.2 million for each of Pennsylvania's 253 legislators. I don't know about you, but I want my money back.

The cost of running the nation's largest full-time legislature is growing nearly four times the rate of inflation. The $308 million the political aristocracy spent in fiscal 2005-06, which ended June 30, 2006, is a dramatic increase from the $283 million spent in 2004-05.

Every taxpayer in Pennsylvania should be burning up the telephone lines and typing away at their keyboards today. Contact your local state representative or state senator and ask why it costs so much to support the Legislature. Demand a straight answer. And remind them that they work for you. Remind them that you're not getting your money's worth and are considering massive layoffs.

Ask those newly elected legislators who promised to go to Harrisburg to clean up the place what they're planning to do about the size and cost of the Legislature. In the House, 50 new members, or nearly one-fourth of the chamber, took the oath of office on Jan 2. That's 23 Republicans and 27 Democrats.

But nearly all of the new members fell into line immediately and supported either Bill DeWeese or John Perzel for Speaker, a sign that nothing is going to change. A vote for DeWeese or Perzel is a vote for the status quo. It's also a slap in the face of every Pennsylvania voter who went to the polls last May and November and kicked out dozens of incumbent legislators.

And I'm still not convinced that the eventual selection of Dennis O'Brien as Speaker of the House is a step in the right direction. O'Brien is Gov. Ed Rendell's choice for Speaker, so he's hardly a reformer.

If you're living in Southeastern Pennsylvania, demand accountability from so-called reformers such as newly elected Reps. David Kessler, Mike Vereb, Jay Moyer, Bob Mensch, Barbara McIlvaine Smith, Tom Murt, Duane Milne and Carl Mantz.

Ask veteran politicians like Tim Hennessey, Curt Schroder, Art Hershey, Dante Santoni, Doug Reichley, Tom Caltagirone and Carole Rubley what they're doing for us in Harrisburg besides collecting a big fat paycheck.

The voters managed to get rid of 55 career politicians in 2006, but that wasn't enough. We need to vote out another 200 of them in 2008.

It's bad enough we spend $150,000 per legislator in salary and benefits each year, but the entire cost of operating the legislature had reached $308 million. In addition to the 253 elected legislators (the largest full-time legislature in the country), there are 3,000 legislative staffers drawing a check from taxpayers.

On top of the $308 million in tax dollars the Legislature spent on itself, the Associated Press also reported that the Legislative leaders have $215 million in taxpayer dollars stashed away in slush funds they control. The slush funds grew by a whopping 34 percent in the past year.

I have a suggestion. Let's disband the Legislature.

We save $308 million right off the bat and we can get back the $215 million the politicians have siphoned from the public treasury. That's a half-billion dollars right there. That $523 million could be returned to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania in the form of property tax cuts.

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