Pa.’s Legislature is too big and too expensive
The idea of reducing the size – and expense – of our state Legislature has surfaced again.
Perhaps this will be the beginning of a momentum leading to that goal.
In separate announcements last week, state Rep. Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, said he is again raising the issue of reducing the House of Representatives, with hope of attracting enough support so a proposal passes the House and the Senate before the current session ends in November 2014.
And state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, also urged lawmakers and the governor last week to finally consider her proposal to reduce the size of the General Assembly by more than a third.
“For too long, taxpayers have had to pay for an institution that, by nearly every standard, is too big,” Schwank said.
With 50 senators and 203 representatives, Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature in the nation, and the cost adds up.
Their salaries, pensions and health care amounts to about $34 million annually.
Plus, the lawmakers collectively rack up an additional $7 million in travel costs and per diems. At a time when budget reductions are everyday news, the size and cost of the General Assembly cannot escape the cost-cutting ax.
Smith, in his recent memo, said he plans to reintroduce a bill that would reduce the House from 203 to 153 seats, and in a separate bill, call for the Senate to be reduced from 50 to 38 seats.
Schwank’s proposal calls for reducing the House to 121 seats, and for the Senate to drop to 40 seats.
While earlier efforts to reduce the size of the Legislature have failed, the timing of this latest interest sounds promising.
Changing the size of the Legislature takes an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution and an amendment has to be approved by both houses in two consecutive sessions.
Afterward, it has to win approval of the voters. So, if the lawmakers can come up with an idea that wins support in the House and Senate by November 2014, that will be a big step forward.
We call on lawmakers to take the same attitude that Schwank has promised.
“What’s clear is Pennsylvania taxpayers want a leaner, faster and more effective governing body that’s much less expensive,” she said in last week’s announcement. “I’m listening and willing to work in a bipartisan manner to make sure this finally happens.”