The voter revolt against the Legislature continues as Pennsylvania prepares for its primary election on May 16. Hundreds of challengers have emerged to take on career politicians who have lined their own pockets at the expense of long-suffering taxpayers.
Much has been written about the Pennsylvania Legislature, one of the highest paid but most under-achieving collection of politicians in the country. This is the group that voted at 2 a.m. last July to give its members pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent. Following months of public outcry and the ouster by voters of a sympathetic state Supreme Court justice, the Legislature sheepishly repealed the pay raise.
The voter revolt against continues as Pennsylvania prepares for its primary election on May 16. Hundreds of challengers have emerged to take on career politicians who have lined their own pockets at the expense of long-suffering taxpayers.
I'm going out on a limb here. I know that none of Pennsylvania's 67 counties can take pride in the politicians they send to Harrisburg, but heres my vote for the worst collection of legislators in Harrisburg.
Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, year after miserable year, I'd say that Berks County is scraping the bottom of the political barrel to find the baker's dozen who represent Berks residents in the state Legislature.
Collectively, the 13 members of the House and Senate whose districts include all or parts of Berks siphon $1,022,016 each year in salaries from taxpayers. When you factor in all the perks and benefits these "public servants" have given themselves over the years, the cost tops $2 million a year. And this is just for the 13 legislators, not the hundreds of staffers who report to them.
The Berks delegation has been feeding at the public trough for a very long time. The 13 lawmakers have been on the public payroll for a total of 141 years. Some of these guys have been in Harrisburg so long, there's cobwebs growing around them.
What are Berks County voters getting for their money? Three of them are in leadership positions, Senate Majority Leader David "Chip" Brightbill, Senate Democratic Whip Michael A. O'Pake and House Republican Whip David Argall but using the word leadership with these hacks is being charitable.
When it comes to "law-making," which one suspects should be priority for "lawmakers," the Berks delegation is AWOL.
An investigation by the Reading Eagle newspaper earlier this year discovered that Berks lawmakers spend very little time making laws. Two Berks legislators Republican Sam Rohrer and Democrat Dante Santoni Jr. have never sponsored a bill that's been signed into law in the collective 26 years they've spent in Harrisburg. Two other members of the Berks delegation Democrat Tom Caltagirone (29 years in the state Capitol) and Republican Dennis Leh (19 years in the state Capitol) have managed to get a grand total of 2 laws on the books (1 by Leh, 1 by Caltagirone) in the nearly 50 years they've been working in Harrisburg.
When Santoni was asked recently to point out his biggest accomplishment in the past dozen years, he mentioned securing a grant to buy $1,500 worth of band instruments for a local school district. I'm pretty sure his constituents are willing to take up a collection for the $1,500 to buy trombones if it means saving the $72,187 a year they have to pay this slacker.
And it's not just the lack of productivity as lawmakers that sends the Berks delegation to the back of the line. When these legislators do get around to casting votes during the 77 days they spend in Harrisburg each year, they tend to make bad decisions on pocketbook issues.
The Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, an independent, nonprofit research and educational group, recently released its mid-term Liberty Index, which grades legislators on votes based on the "principles of limited constitutional government, economic and individual freedom, and personal responsibility for ones actions."
Here are the 2005-06 grades for members of the Berks County delegation and a comparison of how the same lawmakers did in the 2003-04 report card:
Sen. David "Chip" Brightbill: F plus From an F in the first report card
Sen. Michael OPake: F minus Down from an F in the first report card
Sen. John Rafferty: D Down from a D plus in the first report card
Sen. James Rhoades: F plus Also F plus in the first report card
Rep. Bob Allen: F plus From a D minus in the first report card
Rep. Dave Argall: F plus From an F in the first report card
Rep. Tom Caltagirone: F plus Down from an F in the first report card
Rep. Dennis Leh: D plus Down from a B in the first report card
Rep. Sheila Miller: D Down from a C plus in the first report card
Rep. Doug Reichly: B minus From a C in the first report card
Rep. Sam Rohrer: B plus Down from an A in the first report card
Rep. Dante Santoni: F plus From an F in the first report card
Rep. Paul Semmel: F plus Down from a B minus in the first report card
The bottom line is eight F grades and three D grades from the 13 members of the Berks delegation. Not exactly a report card you want to show to mom and dad.
In addition to the middle-of-the-night pay raise they gave themselves last July, consider the failure to pass property tax relief for homeowners, the vote to double their own pensions and their refusal to disclose how much money they take in from lobbyists as more reasons Berks voters should send new blood to Harrisburg.
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas