Thursday, August 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Reducing Our Legislature

The state House State Government Committee is holding a public hearing in the capitol Tuesday on efforts to cut the size of the Legislature.

Reducing Our Legislature

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe

One of the major reform issues facing the PA Legislature gets a formal hearing tomorrow  when the state House Government Committee airs proposals to reduce the size of the General Assembly.

Could be fun.

First, the committee chairman is Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, recently profiled in the City Paper as champion of every hard right cause in America: birther bills, marriage act, tougher immigration reform, expanded gun rights and more. He has said, "I was a Tea Partier before it was cool."

Plus, The Daryl knows how to run a hearing. There'll be no nonsense, and it'll start and end on time.

Second, the issue might actually have a chance to move forward. While it is isn't new and there are several bills, one is sponsored by GOP House Speaker Sam Smith, who's scheduled to testify at Metcalfe's hearing.

Smith's House Bill 153 has tons of bi-partisan co-sponsors, though none (of course) from Philly.

I've long argued for a smaller legislature. We have the largest full-time General Assembly in the nation and we're the sixth largest state. By any measure, the $300 million-plus cost to taxpayers to maintain this monster is wasted resources that could be used for needed infrastructure repairs and more.

Just don't expect such big change to happen overnight. It requires a consitutional amendment, which requires passage in two successive legislative sessions and approval in a statewide voter referendum.

Smith's bill, for example, wouldn't take effect until after redistricting in 2020. It would cut the House by 50 seats, reducing the total of House and Senate from 253 to 203.

Another proposal would cut both House and Senate, leaving 30 Senate seats instead of 50, 121 House seats instead of 203.

Don't bet on the more drastic measure going anywhere. But Smith's proposal, because it's modest, because it's years away and because he's a leader COULD actually stand a chance.

Now a cynic, not that I know any, might suggest lawmakers looking to court reform-minded voters, could pass a reduction bill this session before they stand for re-election, campaign on the accomplishment, then ignore the issue afterward.

I'm not saying that's a plan. I'm saying it's a possibility.

Still, with public pressure and a sustained effort by Smith, cutting the size and cost of the Legislature could actually happen....someday....and on that day, I will be stunned. GRRRR.

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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