PITTSBURGH — As it turns out, the price tag on the middle-of-the-night pay grab that Pennsylvania legislators voted to give themselves has produced the most expensive state Legislature in the nation, according to an analysis by the Pennsylvania Economy League.
With the new pay hike, ranging from 16 percent to 34 percent, on top of the 5.2 percent cost-of-living pay hike the legislators received in January, Pennsylvania’s taxpayers will pay $20.5 million per year to cover the salaries and benefits of the state’s 253 legislators. That’s nearly double the $11.9 million annual outlay that taxpayers in California, the nation’s most populous state, pay for the compensation of their 120 state legislators.
Note that California, with triple the population of Pennsylvania, i.e., a populace of 35.9 million in California versus 12.4 million in Pennsylvania, manages to operate with less than half as many state legislators as Pennsylvania.
Texas, the nation’s second-most populous state, carries out the business of state government with 181 state lawmakers who are paid $7,200 per year — a total annual cost of $1.3 million to the taxpayers. In New York, the nation’s third-most populous state, the annual cost to taxpayers of compensation to state legislators is $16.9 million — $3.6 million less than the new cost of salaries and benefits for Pennsylvania’s 253 legislators.
Closer to home, Ohio has 132 state lawmakers who are paid $53,707. New Jersey has 120 legislators who are paid $49,000. In Maryland, where the Legislature meets for only three months a year, the state’s 188 lawmakers are paid $31,000.
In Pennsylvania, the base compensation for state legislators after this latest pay grab ranges from $81,050 to $145,553, not counting the free cars, gas, generous defined-benefit pensions, fully paid prescription coverage, free dental and vision insurance, free parking, “walking around money,” fully paid life insurance and long-term care insurance, expense accounts, and the no-receipt $128 daily reimbursement for every day the Legislature is in session, whether the legislator spends the money or not.
And that’s not the end of the self-aggrandizement. By way of a provision that’s built into this year’s pay raise, on top of automatic and inflated cost-of-living increases, lawmakers’ paychecks in Pennsylvania will go up each time the House and Senate members in Washington give themselves a raise.
Additionally, in order to sidestep the section of Pennsylvania’s Constitution that forbids lawmakers from voting themselves raises that take effect during their current terms, the politicians will pocket the new money by use of no-receipt “unvouchered expenses.”
None of the above costs include the price of the legislators’ staffs. Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania is at the top of the pile when it comes to the number of friends, relatives, and other assorted helpers the state politicians have added to their payrolls. With a legislative support staff that’s 2,947 strong, that breaks down to 11.6 staffers per Harrisburg lawmaker. In Maryland and North Carolina, respectively, the state governments manage to keep things on track with 4.5 and 1.7 staffers per legislator. Only New York operates with a larger number of staff members per legislator than Pennsylvania.
In the 2005-2006 state budget, the cost to Pennsylvania’s taxpayers of the legislative branch, i.e., the salary and benefit package for the Legislature’s politicians and staff and other operational support, is $462 million. Based on the 77 days per year the Legislature averages in session, that comes out to $6 million per day. That’s not the cost of roads, welfare, and education per day — that’s just the price tag for those who are passing out the money.
By and large, Pennsylvania’s overblown and overpaid Legislature might be less objectionable (and more affordable) if the state’s taxpayers were rolling in money. Quite the contrary, the nation’s most expensive Legislature is being supported by a state population that ranks 24th among the 50 states in per capita income, 34th in the median value of owner-occupied homes, and 28th in median household income.
Chief Justice Ralph Cappy, of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, has praised the lawmakers for their “courage” in voting themselves a raise (and voting Cappy a 14.4 percent salary boost, to $176,800). State Sen. Patricia Vance has a more down-to-earth take on how the pay raise is viewed by the public. “I have never,” she says, “been called so many names in my life.”
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University and a columnist with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail him at email@example.com.