With the carnage of the election over, we can now focus on what's really important. It's that time of year when your favorite charity comes knocking on your door. The Legislature may not seem distressed, but it ain't cheap filling up an Escalade before heading off to the annual political powwow at the Waldorf Astoria. Not to mention the tolls on the Turnpike.
The pay raise -- or the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for Pennsylvania's ruling class will be announced on Dec. 1. Working a part-time job with full-time benefits and the summer off but per diems on is a pain in the wallet.
Remember the pay raise of July 5, 2005?
To recap: Legislators' base pay was raised from $69,647 to $81,050 at 2 a.m. without public debate or public hearings. You may have thought the raise -- Act 44 -- was repealed with the passage of Act 72, but two weeks later on Nov. 16, 2005, a 3.6 percent COLA kicked-in with little fanfare and raised base salaries to $72,187.
Boy how things have changed.
This year the Legislature suspended rules and partied after midnight during the budget process. Legislators continue to suck down per diems like Jell-O shooters at a sorority and quietly slurp up COLAs.
In the aftermath of the pay raise debacle, legislative leaders certified a 1.98 percent increase in 2006 that bumped base pay from $72,187 to $73,614. In 2007, the stealth pay raise was 3.46 percent, or a $2,549.69 increase for rank-and-file legislators. By the end of the decade, the average base salary increased to $76,163.69.
What happened in the "shared sacrifice" zone after the election on Nov. 2, 2010, gave Republicans control of the governor's mansion and the Legislature? One month later, fiscal conservatives and newly minted freshmen were awarded automatic pay raises of 1.7 percent. The annual salaries for backbenchers increased from $78,315 to $79,623. Salaries for legislative chieftains rose from $113,468 to $115,364. Base salaries in 2012 increased by 3 percent.
The pay grab for rank-and-file lawmakers represented a $2,403 hike from the $79,623 base salary in 2011. An incoming freshman's "minimum wage" is now $82,026.
What about the rest of us? In 2010 the median household income of Pennsylvania families was $49,288, or a 3 percent decline from the 2008 median income of $50,713.
How did the Legislature respond? This year's budget included $1.7 million in health care subsidies for legislators' prescription medicine and dental benefits. The House received $1.4 million and the Senate was allocated $300,000. House members and their families cost taxpayers between $4,543 and $20,420 for health care per member, per year. State senators and their families costs range from $6,969 to $19,311. I wonder if legislators need a photo ID when using their government sponsored healthcare?
The raises are on top of pensions, free parking, generous health benefits, per diems, perks and PSAs. The COLA bump also increases pensions even if the money is donated to charity.
It's time to kill the COLA. Act 51 needs to be abolished. Raises throughout state government ought to be pegged to accountability, merit markers and performance milestones. If lawmakers want a bonus plan, then they should either create an independent and nonpartisan compensation commission or submit a ballot proposal to taxpayers for ratification.
-- Eric Epstein is co-founder of Rock the Capital in Harrisburg.