Pennsylvania taxpayers spend $1.3 million a year to feed, clothe and house each of their 253 state lawmakers and his or her staff. I'm willing to give up my state legislators in the interest of saving money.
After the thrashing the Pennsylvania Legislature took last year from voters (55 members ousted or forced into retirement), surviving lawmakers are eager to show they've mended their evil ways.
Today, the state House of Representatives will begin voting on dozens of internal rule changes recommended by the Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform.
While it's a step in the right direction, the rule changes amount to window dressing.
The Pennsylvania Legislature has collapsed on itself under the weight of greed, corruption and incompetence. But the folks who represent us are busy rearranging the curtains.
Real reform begins with major structural change such as cutting the size of the Legislature and ending the reign of career politicians by imposing term limits. Genuine reform also requires eliminating the lavish perks lawmakers have granted themselves over the years, including access to luxury automobiles, outrageous pensions and lifetime health care.
Those structural changes would require a constitutional convention. Lawmakers haven't been falling over each other to begin the lengthy process of a constitutional convention. Even talk of cutting the size of the Legislature has been mostly rhetoric.
Which of the current 253 incumbent legislators would be the first in line to surrender their regal office?
The argument has always been that Pennsylvania residents would not be represented adequately in the Legislature if the number of lawmakers was reduced. This argument, usually made by politicians, is flimsy and self-serving.
California, which has a population of 36 million -- four times that of Pennsylvania -- has a total of 120 state legislators. That's 133 fewer legislators than Pennsylvania. California has 40 state senators. Pennsylvania has 50 state senators. California has 80 members in its House of Representatives. Pennsylvania has 203 in its House.
Pennsylvania has the largest full-time Legislature in the country. It also has the most expensive, costing taxpayers about $335 million a year. Pennsylvania lawmakers are the second-highest paid in the country, with starting salaries of $73,614. Throw in all the perks and each of the 253 legislators costs taxpayers about $150,000 a year. Then you have 3,000 staffers who work for the legislators.
A budget analysis conducted by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review earlier this month determined that it costs Pennsylvania taxpayers $1.3 million a year to feed, clothe and house each lawmaker and his or her staff.
I don't know about you, but this is a luxury I can no longer afford.
So in the interest of reforming state government and reducing the burden on my fellow taxpayers, I am willing to forgo my state senator and state representative. I know it's a big sacrifice, but we have to start somewhere and since my representatives are not willing to do the right thing, I feel it's my duty as a citizen of the Commonwealth to step in.
I don't need Sen. Michael A. O'Pake, D-11th Dist., or Rep. Dante Santoni Jr., D-126th Dist. They've never done a thing for me. I can live without them.
O'Pake was first elected to the state Senate in 1972 after four years in the House. In nearly four decades, he has yet to represent my best interests. I want property tax relief. O'Pake votes to increase my taxes. I want less state spending. O'Pake votes to increase spending every year. I didn't want casino gambling. O'Pake never asked my opinion. I don't know who he represents, but it's not the people of Berks County. Thirty-nine years is enough. He can take his big fat pension and retire when his term ends in 2008.
Santoni was elected to the state House in 1992. He hasn't sponsored a single bill or chaired a committee in the past 14 years. I keep looking for Santoni's photo on the side of a milk carton. His standing in Harrisburg can best be described as extraneous. Nobody would miss him if he stopped showing up for work. Santoni is still young at 46 and has a degree in accounting. I'm sure he can put his skills to use in the real world. Serving in the state legislator is obviously not his strong point.
Interestingly, O'Pake introduced legislation earlier this year to reduce the size of the Senate to 40 members and the House to 121 members. Don't hold your breath. O'Pake is best known for sound bites and staged photo opportunities rather than achievement.
I want results. I'm willing to have the 11th Senate District and the 126th House District absorbed into neighboring legislative districts if it means cutting the size of the Pennsylvania Legislature.
I'm willing to sacrifice for the common good. What about you? Can you live without your legislator? Would you rather keep the $1.3 million or send it to Harrisburg to support a politician?
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