EDITORIAL: Pennsylvanians deserve more bang for their tax buck from their legislators
- The Pennsylvania General Assembly is one of the largest and most expensive in the nation.
- It has 253 members, who each each earn north of $86,000 per year, with generous benefits.
- The assembly passed this year's budget four months late, and with $1.5 billion in borrowing.
The contrast couldn’t have been more stark.
In the Thursday, Dec. 14, edition of The York Dispatch, two articles painted vastly different portraits of the 2017 accomplishments of the Pennsylvania legislature.
On Page A4, Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, wrote an op-ed piece headlined: “Legislature makes strides in 2017.”
Just a few pages later, on page A7, there was a report from The Associated Press titled: “State legislature exits with flurry of votes, defeats.”
Saylor obviously had a markedly different view of the state’s 2017 legislative achievements than the writer of the AP article.
Unfortunately, it’s just as obvious to anyone who has even remotely followed our state’s political landscape that the AP story was much closer to the truth than the rosy picture painted by Saylor.
Our state’s representatives didn't get much done in 2017.
In fact, they accomplished precious little of real meaning.
The 2017 record: Yes, they did manage to pass a budget — four months late, with what the AP described as a “Frankenstein-like assortment of legislation to bail out the state’s finances.” That included $1.5 billion in borrowing.
In essence, the legislators refused to address the state’s structural financial problems, but instead simply kicked the can down the road, and then patted themselves on their backs for their ingenuity. They didn’t have the courage to make the tough decisions that are necessary to provide long-term fiscal security because it would have been politically unpopular.
What else did our legislators “accomplish?”
They passed a bill on abortion restrictions that was sure to be vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.
They couldn’t manage to approve anti-union legislation sought by top Republicans despite a clear Republican majority in both houses.
And they left the possibility of a much-needed tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production in limbo.
It was a lackluster performance by any measure.
Little bang for the buck: Which begs the question: How much bang are we getting for our tax buck from our representatives?
The answer is next to nothing.
We have one of the largest and most expensive legislatures in the nation. Our state representatives work on a full-time basis and earn north of $86,000 per year with an array of benefits that can best be described as “generous.”
It’s a good gig, if you can get it. That’s why nearly all of our legislators work their hardest at keeping their jobs, rather than actually doing their jobs.
The easiest path to keeping your job in our state legislature is the path of least resistance. Don’t rock the boat, don’t make the hard choices and don’t get anyone too angry.
That’s also a recipe for inaction and ineptitude.
Get smaller, get cheaper: That also is why it’s time to seriously consider a pair of ideas that have been bouncing around our state for years.
First, seriously slash the size of our bloated 253-member General Assembly.
Second, return our legislators to a part-time basis for part-time pay.
Those two proposals would certainly give the state’s residents some much-needed tax relief. And part-time legislators can hardly do a worse job than what we’re getting right now from our full-time representatives.
Even more importantly, however, if our state legislators were part-time elected officials, they might not see their positions as lifetime jobs that they are loathe to relinquish.
Instead, they might view their roles much differently. Maybe they’d realize they were elected to get things done for the long-term betterment of all Pennsylvanians. When that is done, they can then return to full-time jobs in their home districts.
Of course, it almost certainly won’t happen. It would be absolutely stunning if our state legislators voted to slash their own jobs and their own pay. It’s simply not in their own self-interest, and if we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that our representatives will nearly always vote in their own self-interest.
Still, we can dream, can’t we?