Big pay for little work by Pennsylvania politicians
Pennsylvania lawmakers are paid a base salary of $76,163 for what most people would consider a part-time job. When you factor in all the other perks and benefits of the job, it costs taxpayers about $150,000 a year to support each of the 253 members of the Pennsylvania Legislature.
Pennsylvania's per-capita personal income is $34,937. The starting salary of a Pennsylvania legislator is $76,163, which means that lawmakers are twice as much as the typical Pennsylvania resident.
According to DemocracyRisingPA, a government watchdog group based in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania House was in session for a total of 90 days over the past 14 months. The Senate put in 105 voting days over the same 14 months.
That's an average of 98 session days over 14 months when the Legislature could have been in session for a total of 280 days. (Most Pennsylvania workers put in at least five days a week at work, so I multiplied 20 work days in a month times 14 months. You should know that the Legislature rarely works more than four consecutive days in a week and a three-day week in Harrisburg is typical.)
Lawmakers will argue they work full-time, even when the Legislature is not in session, but how hard do they really work? Is attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the mall really work? How about hosting a breakfast meeting for constituents on a Saturday morning? Sure it's time lawmakers give up from their personal life, but it's not exactly heavy lifting.
And if Pennsylvania lawmakers work so hard, why do they need 3,000 full-time staffers when they say they do so much work themselves? The cost of running the Pennsylvania Legislature is $334 million a year.
The point I'm trying to make is that Pennsylvania lawmakers are paid a base salary of $76,163 for what most people would consider a part-time job. When you factor in all the other perks and benefits of the job, it costs taxpayers about $150,000 a year to support each of the 253 members of the Pennsylvania Legislature.
I'm not the only one who sees it that way.
DemocracyRisingPA founder Tim Potts recently put together an analysis of the time lawmakers spend on the job. He called his piece, "Full-Time Cost, Part-Time Work."
"As a few lawmakers know, Pennsylvania's legislature has the most expensive payroll and consumes the largest percentage of the state budget of any legislature in America," Potts writes. "We also have the largest full-time staff except for New York, and our cost-per-citizen is twice the cost of New York and nearly three times the cost of California."
Potts is not your typical citizen watchdog who observes the Legislature from the sidelines. Potts has been described as the "ultimate Harrisburg insider" by The Tribune-Review in Pittsburgh, which profiled Potts after he emerged as one of the leaders of the reform movement.
Potts was a confidential adviser to 12 state Cabinet secretaries in the departments of public welfare, commerce and education before he went to work for the Legislature, where he was communications director for House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, for eight years, according to the newspaper. DeWeese has been the House majority leader since January 2007.
These are the figures Potts came up with after a 14-month analysis of the Pennsylvania Legislature to see "what we’re getting for our money."
Bills introduced: 3,552
Laws enacted: 118 (including 39 budget bills)
Voting Days of Session House 90; Senate 105
Much of the work of lawmakers takes place in committees, so Potts took a look at the 48 standing committees (26 in the House, 22 in the Senate):
More than half of the committees in each chamber have reported out 2 or fewer bills per month in the past 14 months.
Most committees have reported out fewer than one-fourth of the bills they received.
But here's the best part, Potts says. Two committees have received no bills and held no hearings in the past 14 months.
Which ones? The House Ethics Committee and the Senate Ethics Committee, Potts says.
You should also know that committee chairpersons are paid more each year, even if their committees never meet.
Working hard or hardly working?
Pennsylvania voters can have their say on incumbents state lawmakers on April 22 and Nov. 4. All 203 House seats and half of the 50 Senate seats are on the ballot this year. Most incumbents are seeking reelection to their part-time jobs. You can decide if they need to find real work by voting out the political class.
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