Despite promises to reform state government, new lawmakers take advantage of perks and send the bill to taxpayers
So much for reforming the way things are done in Harrisburg.
Pennsylvania legislators are kings and queens of perks.
On top of the $73,000 annual salary for a part-time job, Pennsylvania lawmakers get a pension, taxpayer-paid health insurance for themselves and their family members, life insurance and long-term care insurance. They also get a $141 per diem every day they travel to Harrisburg to cover meals and lodging and they can lease luxury automobiles at taxpayer expense.
Pennsylvania voters finally had enough with the House of Lords when lawmakers gave themselves pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent in July 2005. The following year, 55 lawmakers were voted out of office or forced into early retirement.
There was great hope that the ouster of 1 in 5 legislators in 2006 would send a message that taxpayers were tired of getting fleeced. That message has fallen on deaf ears.
Nearly half of freshmen state House members and one new state senator have signed up for expensive taxpayer-funded leased vehicles, according to the Associated Press. These are the same people who ran last year on a platform to clean up Harrisburg. I guess they need to get to Harrisburg in luxury automobiles before they can start cleaning things up.
Twenty-three of the 50 freshmen members of the House have opted for the leased vehicles, according to a review of House records by The Philadelphia Inquirer. File this under "Do as I say, not as I do." Or file this under, "I told the voters what they wanted to hear to get elected. Now, I'm going to live it up on their dime."
Not everyone succumbed to the perk-mania that strikes legislators when they get to Harrisburg.
Freshman Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, R-Lebanon, chose to drive her own car, according to the AP. She will be reimbursed for mileage.
"The people saw these benefits as excessive and I felt an obligation to do my part to bring it back in line," Swanger told the AP.
Gene Stilp, a Harrisburg activist who unsuccessfully challenged the car leases in court last year, told the AP that the freshmen legislators of "just falling in line with what has been going on for years."
All of the House members below will be seeking re-election in 2008. You might want to save this list until then.
The Associated Press released this list (compiled by The Philadelphia Inquirer) of the state-subsidized vehicles that freshmen members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly drive and the monthly cost to taxpayers:
— Sen. Elisabeth J. Baker, R-Luzerne; 2004 Jeep Cherokee; $244
— Rep. Lisa Bennington, D-Allegheny; 2004 Ford Crown Victoria; $436
— Rep. Joseph F. Brennan, D-Lehigh; 2003 Chevy Trailblazer; $476
— Rep. Eugene A. DePasquale, D-York; 2006 Ford Escape; $442
— Rep. John T. Galloway, D-Bucks; 2005 Chrysler 300; $299
— Rep. Jaret Gibbons, D-Lawrence; 2004 Ford Taurus; $283
— Rep. Patrick J. Harkins, D-Erie; 2005 Chevy Uplander; $382
— Rep. John Hornaman, D-Erie; 2005 Dodge Durango; $370
— Rep. Chris King, D-Bucks; 2004 Jeep Cherokee; $427
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