Sunday, September 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Legislative dreaming

Yet another attempt to reduce the size of the Pennsylvania's bloated legislature is back on the table, no doubt to be left on table yet again.

Legislative dreaming

Oh, as they say, what dreams may come.

Yet another effort to reduce the size of Pennsylvania's bloated legislature -- 253 members strong, the largest "full-time" legislature in America -- is headed back to the table, according to the online news service capitolwire.com.

The service reports that House Speaker Sam Smith is again introducing a bill to cut the size of the state House from 203 members to 153. This time around, however, Smith is also offering a companion piece that would reduce the size of the state Senate from 50 members to 38.

Smith apparently is playing to sentiment in the House that basically argues, `hey, if you expect us to cut our size what about the upper chamber, why should it be immune?'

Smith in the past has made the case that a smaller legislature would be more efficient, more easily managed and (his words, not mine) better at "building collective wisdom."

Please note my restraint in not directly commenting on the "collective wisdom" in our legislature.

Bills to cut the legislature have been around for decades and there's really no reason to think they won't be around for decades to come.

Meanwhile, the cost of the legislature climbs. The Associated Press reported in April that it went up $8 million last year when your representatives managed to spend about $307 million of your money, including nearly a quarter of a billion dollars on salaries and benefits for themselves and their staffs.

Oh, and they maintain a surplus (read: slush) fund of $140 million, I assume, just in case they feel like a shopping spree.

Smith gets kudos for at least airing this issue on a regular basis, but the lift required is akin to Atlas lifting the world -- and we all know Altas shrugged

Plus, any reduction requires amending the state constitution, which requires passage by both chambers in two successive sessions and a statewide voter referendum.

Still, the slim chance of this happening is better under a Republican-controlled legislature (which we now have) than under Democratic leadership because Republicans mostly want less government and Democrats mostly want more.

Bottom line? Bills such as these give incumbents a chance to vote "yes" on populist issues aimed at change even as they run for reelection to make sure things stay the same.

So go on dreaming, Pennsylvania. And keep those tax dollars coming to maintain the nation's largest "full-time" legislature.

 

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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