Political hijinks block plan to cut state House size
Pennsylvania has the largest full-time Legislature in the nation.
That means it’s larger than the ones that serve California, Texas, Florida and New York state.
That should be all you need to know about a multi-year effort to shrink the number of state lawmakers in Pennsylvania.
The proposal makes logical sense, given the state’s relative population and geographical size. It makes sense economically, saving costs in a state that desperately needs to save every penny it can. And it makes sense operationally, making the state House easier to manage, gain feedback from, and quicker to react on short notice.
The idea of reducing House size was broached in 2011 by then-House Speaker Sam Smith, a Jefferson County Republican who has since retired.
Reducing the House from 203 to 151 members would require an amendment to the state constitution. Amendments have to pass both the state House and Senate chambers of the Legislature in two consecutive two-year sessions before going on a statewide ballot for voter approval.
Conventional wisdom is that voters would approve this amendment to the constitution overwhelmingly.
A version of the bill cutting the House size passed during the 2015-16 session.
Unfortunately, at a committee meeting recently, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, an Allegheny County Democrat, was able to marshal the votes to get the bill amended to also include cuts in the Senate size from 50 to 38.
That would be a great idea — except that the full state Senate appears to want nothing to do with reducing its size. If the Senate defeats this revised proposal in the final month of the present session, a public vote on the idea to cut the state House would be delayed until 2021 at the earliest.
All Pennsylvanians should see this for what it is — a political gambit by those who want to protect the unnecessarily large state government we have and preserve their seats.
Look around the country. Pennsylvania has the largest full-time Legislature.
And what has it gotten residents?