Saturday, March 10, 2007

Take my legislators, please

As activist Russ Diamond stated so aptly recently, Monday is when the rubber meets the road.

That's the day when the Pennsylvania House of Representatives votes on dozens of reform measures recommended by the Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform.

While long overdue, the rules changes the House will consider are basically window dressing.

Substantial changes in the way Harrisburg does business won't happen until a constitutional convention is called and the citizens of Pennsylvania -- not the politicians -- get to change the way state government operates.

The most obvious change needed is the size of the Pennsylvania Legislature, which is the largest full-time legislature in the country and the most expensive.

The argument against reducing the size of the Legislature is that Pennsylvania residents won't get the same representation they do now. That argument comes from the 253 incumbent legislatures who don't want to give up all the money and perks they've granted themselves through the years.

I'm still waiting to see which lawmaker will be the first to stand up and voluntarily give up his or her seat in the interest of a more efficient government.

To that end, I'd like to step in and offer to give up my state senator and state representative. I don't need them. They've never done a thing for me. I'm willing to give them up.

Ironically, my state senator, Michael A. O'Pake, recently announced that he wants to introduce three reform bills, including one to cut the size of the Legislature. O'Pake's bill would call for a constitutional amendment to reduce the Senate to 40 members from 50, and the House from 203 representatives to 121.

Notice that O'Pake, a Democrat who represents the 11th Senate District in Berks County, didn't volunteer to be one of the legislators to give up his seat.

O'Pake, who has served in the Legislature for nearly 40 years, is big on rhetoric, but short on results. He is the master of the sound bite or newspaper quote, but has little to show for four decades in Harrisburg.

This is one of my favorite comments about O'Pake came from blogger Al Walentis when O'Pake couldn't be found to comment on the legislative pay raise furor:

"Funny thing, some of our fat-walleted lawmakers aren't too quick to get on the horn and communicate with their constituents through the media. Stop the presses! Mike O'Pake clamming up!

This is a guy who can sniff out a camera crew from two counties away. He's like the Forrest Gump of the 11th District -- whenever there's a photo op to be found, Senator Mike's visage somehow finds its way therein.

Perhaps our normally garrulous lawmakers are being replaced by distorted duplicates from the Bizarro world out of the Superman comics, where they can legislate for the wacky, cockeyed county of Skreb. Or maybe there's something that's just too shameful to talk about anymore.

I'm also more than willing to give up my state representative, Dante Santoni Jr., a Democrat who has held the 126th House District seat since 1993.

Santoni is so far down the food chain in Harrisburg that nobody would miss him if he stopped showing up. The guy has never sponsored a bill or chaired a committee in 14 years. What's the point of having a lawmaker if he never makes any laws?

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review did a budget analysis of the Legislature earlier this month and found that it costs $1.3 million a year to feed, clothe and house each legislator and their staff. Are you getting $1.3 million worth of service from your state legislator?

I see a quick way to save my fellow Pennsylvania taxpayers $2.6 million a year. I'm willing to have O'Pake and Santoni sent into retirement with their big fat pensions. I don't have a problem with their districts being absorbed into neighboring districts.

I know it's a sacrifice, but it's one I'm willing to make for my fellow taxpayers. So, take my legislators, please.

It costs $335 million a year to pay for the Pennsylvania Legislature. If we cut the Legislature in half, we could save at least $150 million a year. I'd like to see that money returned to taxpayers.

What about the rest of you? Are you willing to give up your overpaid, underworked lawmaker in the interest of saving some of our money?

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