Pa. lawmakers expect automatic pay raises. We should make them earn it

York Dispatch editorial board
FILE - This Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, file photo shows the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Our state lawmakers are on track to receive a $8,300 pay raise this year.

While most Pennsylvanians are struggling to make ends meet, elected officials are about to collect a more than $100,000 annual salary thanks to a 1995 state law signed by then-Gov. Tom Ridge that tied their pay to — you guessed it — inflation.

The Dispatch has opined on this issue before but, thanks to some intrepid reporting by statehouse interns with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association, we've got new reasons to be angry.

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In the past, a few politicians have sworn off the legislatively mandated pay raise. And an even rarer breed refused salaries altogether. But, historically, the vast majority of Pennsylvania's 253 state lawmakers and other elected officials — even the supposedly fiscally conservative ones — pocketed the money without a peep.

The interns, who were working with the investigative reporting outfit The Caucus, called every legislator to ask if they'd support legislation to halt this year's 8.8% pay raise.

Only 20 lawmakers returned their calls and emails.

And the response they got from one of them — Blair County Republican state Rep. Louis Schmitt — dripped with a level of entitlement that's surprising, even from a politician.

"I received your email," Schmitt wrote. "Now piss off."

The hypocrisy of our elected officials gleefully accepting a $8,300 windfall while their constituents scrape by is galling enough. A friendly reminder is due here: The current minimum wage, which these lawmakers could do something about, isn't even double their pay raise — $7.25 per hour or $15,080 per year.

What's even more galling is that so many of these lawmakers routinely say they're looking out for taxpayers.

Schmitt, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a recent Facebook video that it's his duty to "make sure Pennsylvanians — hard-working taxpayers — when they send their money down to Harrisburg, that it's spent in a way that they get the most bang for their buck."

Blair County Republican state Rep. Lou Schmitt explained his commitment to fiscal responsibility in a recent Facebook video. When asked about his automatic $8,300 pay raise, he told a pair of interns to "piss off."

We humbly submit that Pennsylvania taxpayers are not getting any bang for their buck when it comes to Rep. Schmitt. He reflects the absolute worst of what we've come to expect from politicians: an empty suit who belittles interns while collecting a taxpayer-funded salary that could be better spent on, well, virtually anything else.

Of course, Schmitt isn't the only bad apple in Harrisburg. He's simply the most transparently odious one.

Additional reporting by Spotlight PA found that just six state lawmakers — out of the more than 250 who've served in recent years — returned a portion of their annual pay raise in the past four years. (That woefully short list includes York County Republican Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill and Dauphin County Democratic Rep. Patty Kim.)

House Speaker Bryan Cutler and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, Republicans of Lancaster and Centre counties, respectively, could see their salaries increase to $162,000 next year. Under their watch — and the watch of two generations of other, mostly Republican, legislative leaders — attempts to eliminate or suspend the automatic cost-of-living adjustment repeatedly failed to come to a full vote in either chamber.

If any of these lawmakers want to demonstrate their fiscally responsible bona fides, they need to immediately end these automatic pay raises.

Alternatively, everyone else who doesn't get an automatic pay raise could fire and replace them with lawmakers who agree to do just that.