My response to the 253 members of the Pennsylvania House of Lords, our Royal Justices and King Edward (Rendell) I — "Stick It Where The Sun Don't Shine"
Pay raise repeal or no, lawmakers to see fatter paychecks
By Marc Levy
Associated Press Writer
HARRISBURG — If lawmakers repeal the unpopular pay raise they approved in July, a 1995 law will kick in and provide them with a cost-of-living increase this year, whether or not they pay back the extra money they reaped over the past four months.
The 1995 law gave lawmakers an immediate 18 percent boost in pay and introduced an annual cost-of-living adjustment that was supposed to end the uncomfortable practice of giving themselves an occasional pay raise.
Nothing in the pending repeal legislation — which is poised for a Senate vote on Wednesday — will prevent an individual lawmaker from both keeping the pay raise money and receiving the cost-of-living increase that will take effect Dec. 1 for all 253 lawmakers, House and Senate officials said.
The pay raise law in July gave lawmakers a choice. Under it, the Dec. 1 adjustment applies only to the lawmakers who did not take the "unvouchered expenses," a tactic lawmakers used to get the extra compensation right away and skirt a constitutional ban on midterm pay raises.
The state's more than 1,000 judges also would get the cost-of-living increase along with a four-month pay raise, House and Senate officials said.
Some lawmakers are signaling their intention to pay back the pay raise, but it is not clear whether judges will follow suit.
A spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, which provides payroll services for the state's judiciary, said the agency is still reviewing the legislation.
Lawmakers weary of criticism over the pay raise shrugged at questions over whether lawmakers who accepted the extra compensation right away should also receive the cost-of-living increase. Sen. Robert J. Thompson, the
Chester County Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said he believed the pay raise was fair when he voted for it. And besides, he has spent much of his four-month salary increase on charitable contributions, he said.
"I don't really have a lot to give back," Thompson said.
Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, D-Philadelphia, said the monetary expense of the pay raise is minor compared to the loss of time spent on the legislation and the damage the controversy has caused to the fabric of the Legislature.
"In the end, the people of Pennsylvania are going to suffer far more than the pay raise has cost them," Fumo said.
In total, 158 lawmakers at some point accepted unvouchered expenses. House and Senate officials said Tuesday that 21 lawmakers have signaled their intention to pay back the unvouchered expenses.
It is not yet clear how big the cost-of-living adjustment will be.
The adjustment is based on the 12-month change in the price of consumer goods around Philadelphia as determined by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The salary adjustment for lawmakers is based on the October figure, but the bureau has not publicly disclosed it yet. Through August, the latest available figure, the 12-month increase stood at 3.8 percent, but the figure was determined before hurricane damage caused a spike in energy costs.
"That's going to go up," said Matthew Martin, a senior economist for Economy.com, an economic research firm in West Chester. He predicted it would be over 4 percent.
The repeal legislation would return a rank-and-file lawmaker's salary to $69,647. A 4 percent increase would push that up to more than $72,400.
July's pay raise, which nearly half of the Legislature did not take immediately, boosted base salaries by 16 percent to $81,050, but it also delivered larger increases of up to 54 percent for the scores of lawmakers who hold committee and leadership posts.
Judges received pay raises of 11 percent to 15 percent under the July law. It boosted pay for county trial judges to $149,132 and for Supreme Court justices to $171,800.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press