Friday, November 30, 2007

Russ Diamond on Legislative COLA

Russ Diamond weighs in on the pay raise for Pennsylvania politicians at the PaCleanSweep Web site today. It's worth checking out just for the cartoon. Here's Diamond's take on Pennsylvania's overpaid political class:

Another COLA, please! Incumbo-Cola - in the twist bottle!

In case you haven't heard, legislators and the Governor will be receiving a pay raise as of Saturday, December 1, 2007. The cost of living adjustment (COLA) will add 3.5 percent to the gross pay of these public servants. More than 1000 Pennsylvania judges will receive similar increases in January.

In actual dollars, pay for members of the General Assembly will increase by $2550 to $76,163. That's just the base salary. Some legislators will make much more as committee and chamber leaders. Senate Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati and Speaker of the House Dennis O'Brien will have their salaries boosted to $118,896 each.

Governor Ed Rendell will receive almost $6,000 more in salary. The salaries of the state's attorney general, treasurer and auditor general will increase to $141,565 each. Justices of the Supreme Court will see their salaries increase to $181,000 annually.

The average Pennsylvanian earns less than $38,000 per year. Few private sector employees will receive a 3.5 percent pay increase. Rank-and-file state employees are not receiving these COLAs.

The COLAs were made possible by a law passed in 1995. Every year, the salaries of elected officials in state government are adjusted based on the highest-in-Pennsylvania Philadelphia cost of living index. Whether they need it or not, whether they deserve it or not, the annual pay raise kicks in. While average Pennsylvanians worry about how to pay for the commute to work and heating their homes, elected officials have a hedge against inflation.

We begrudge no one the ability to make a living, but it seems very unrepresentative for legislators to be insulated from the economic effects of their policies. It appears unstatesmanlike for the Governor to take a pay raise when most Pennsylvanians are pinching pennies. And another pay raise for judges feels a bit too much like injustice.

2007 kicked off with the initial Bonusgate revelations. In the Spring primary, Act 1 - the latest attempt at tax swapping to feign property tax reform - was overwhelmingly kicked to the curb by voters who knew better. The budget was over two weeks late and state workers were used as pawns in the negotiations. A dubious transportation bill was passed.

Meanwhile, $360 million in WAMs (walking around money) for legislators was found somewhere. Tax dollars have been used to conduct political polls. Documents have been shredded. A former Representative, a Superior Court judge and a sitting Senator have been indicted. All four caucuses of the General Assembly are under the cloud of an investigation by the attorney general.

There were some internal changes made in the General Assembly, but much ado was made over items that were mostly just common sense. The only real reform they've tackled - open records, which should be a slam dunk - has turned into the legislative equivalent of a tooth-pulling contest at a henhouse.

Did you receive a 3.5 increase in governmental value in 2007? Has government been 3.5 percent more productive? Are Pennsylvanians 3.5 percent better off this year? Did elected officials earn a 3.5 percent raise?

Fifty-five new legislators were sworn into office in January in the aftermath of 2005's pay raise scandal. Many of them hoisted the banner of reform over their campaign to get elected. For them, the 2007 COLA represents a moment of truth. The honeymoon will soon be over. They'll either quietly accept the extra salary and become part of what's wrong, or they'll refuse it to show their commitment to change and moving Pennsylvania in a better direction.

As for the rest of the legislative, executive and judicial branches, this is their opportunity to show they've changed their ways and are now on the side of the people they serve.

Another COLA? Puh-lease.

-- Russ Diamond

By the way, Russ Diamond's new book, "Tip of the Spear," makes a great stocking stuffer. You can find out more about the book at

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