M aybe I shouldn't look this gift horse in the mouth. Any time state lawmakers actually decide to take seriously the notion there are too many of them on the payroll and they should do something to trim the fat, it's a fine day indeed.
Because this is something we've been talking about for 20 years or more. There are 253 members in both houses of the General Assembly. Add to that the 2,918 workers on the various legislative staffs.
Pennsylvania has the second-largest Legislature in the country with the largest legislative staff. And it's the second- or third-highest-paid Legislature. Not bad for a state that is only the sixth largest by population in the nation.
If the word "bloated" comes to mind, it should.
Well, last week, the state House took one giant leap for Pennsylvania taxpayers by voting in favor -- 140-49 -- of reducing the size of its own body by 50 members. That means going from 203 to 153.
It also voted to trim the state Senate from 50 members to 38.
I'd say that's about right in both cases.
Every member of the York County delegation voted in favor of the proposal.
The measure will now move to the state Senate for its approval.
This has been a long time coming, but the focus narrowed considerably in the last five or six years, beginning with the 2005 pay raise controversy and the Bonusgate scandal of the last couple of years. Those two arrived on the back of the 2001 state pension disaster, which hit most of us like a ton of bricks and continues to this day.
Taxpayers are fed up. That's putting it mildly.
A report on the grand jury investigation of the Bonusgate corruption scandal said in no uncertain terms the Legislature is "irretrievably broken and in desperate need of systemic change."
In other words, if it's broken, we'd better fix it. Sooner, rather than later.
And it is definitely broken. Bonusgate resulted in the arrests of 25 people, lawmakers and staff alike, including high-ranking members of both parties, some of whom have been found guilty in a court of law and are already serving jail sentences.
The grand jury also agreed there was no accountability in the hiring process on either side of the aisle. And it was estimated that only 25 percent to 75 percent of the House staff was actually needed to get the job done.
So we're finally headed down a path toward cleaning up our political act in this state.
Emphasize the word "finally."
I couldn't be more pleased.
Except for one thing -- the process isn't going to be completed until 2020, if then.
That's at least eight years into the future.
Too darned long to suit me.
Here's the thing -- the House just approved the measure and it's in the hands of the state Senate, which also must approve it. That could take as little time as a week, if it worked like the rest of the world works. A month at the outside.
That has to happen in consecutive two-year sessions. And the governor must vote in favor of it both times, as well.
So we're locked in to two years, at least.
Then it has to go before voters in a referendum. Assuming voters do what we expect them to do, it's more or less a done deal.
Yes, it would require the redistricting of every House and Senate district in the state. But that's something they could be working on right now, based on the 2010 census.
There is no sense of urgency about this. That's the way government bodies work -- don't do something today if it can be put off until next week or next month or next year.
The feds do it all the time. And so does the state General Assembly.
I don't think it'd be rushing the process all that much to have it done in three years, four tops. And then in 2020, when the census is done again, simply redistrict as they would have done anyway.
There is only one reason why an expedited process won't kick in. And, as usual, it's all about politics.
We have a dozen lawmakers in the York County delegation. In eight years -- probably longer than that because the census will be done in 2020, but the numbers won't be available for another year, which means it'll be 2022 before redistricting will actually be accomplished -- most of them will be ready to retire or move on to other things.
So they don't believe they'll be affected by a reduction in the size of the Legislature. For them, it was an easy vote.
Three or four years, however, might be a different story. A few of them might still want to keep working to goose their pension numbers a little bit.
That's not good enough. As presented, this is not so much a gift horse as some people might have thought. A big step? Yes. But not a quick step.
Why put if off for eight or 10 years when it could probably be done in half that amount of time?
Speed is of the essence in this deal.
I say giddyup, Old Paint. Giddyup.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: email@example.com.