Political Hay

Hog Heaven

Pennsylvania's pay grabbers are now punishing those who wouldn't be bought.

By 8.23.05

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"The lawmakers virtually sit on the board of directors of a $35 billion entity called Pennsylvania," House Democrat Leader H. William DeWeese told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

That's how Rep. DeWeese is defending the recent legislative pay grab in Pennsylvania in which the state's politicians voted themselves salary hikes ranging from 16 to 38 percent, by comparing the Legislature to a corporate board that's running a multibillion-dollar company.

The comparison doesn't work -- unless he's talking about Enron. Corporations, except in the few cases where they enjoy a virtual monopoly, are forced to operate in an increasingly competitive environment where they have to be proficient at meeting the wants and needs of the public in order to prosper and survive. If Ford can't deliver the goods, Honda will step in and do the job.

It's exactly that unrelenting battle for market shares and business survival that makes capitalism more successful than any other system at delivering the goods, a fact that even Commie-Dictator-for-Life Kim Jong-Il seems to understand as he rides around collectivist North Korea drinking French brandy in his Mercedes wearing platform shoes from Italy.

The bottom line is that a corporation's $35 billion sales in a competitive market is basically a measure of how it's delivering the things people want -- and a measure of how it's supplying those goods and services more efficiently than the next guy, precisely the process by which the United States has increased its standard of living. To buy a chicken in 1900, the average American had to work two hours. Today, it takes 15 minutes.

In contrast, Mr. DeWeese's $35 billion was not paid voluntarily for services well rendered, but rather the result of taxes confiscated from taxpayers' pockets. In the competitive economy, rising gas prices cut into incomes. In DeWeese's world, an increase in the price of government means he and his cronies should get more money.

For Mr. DeWeese to "virtually sit on the board of directors of a $35 billion entity called Pennsylvania," his new annual paycheck, up nearly 40 percent from last year, is $137,771 -- not counting the free car, expense accounts, free prescriptions, staff money, free parking, fully paid health and long-term care insurance, free gas, defined-benefit pension, dental and vision coverage, "walking around money," and the $128 daily reimbursement for every day the Legislature is in session, even if somebody else is picking up the tab for lunch and dinner.

A 2004 Cato Institute study gave Pennsylvania's politicians an "F" for controlling spending. What happens if the graft, boondoggles, and ineptitude in Harrisburg get even worse and DeWeese ends up lucky enough to "virtually sit on the board of directors" of a $70 billion "entity called Pennsylvania"? Does he think his salary should be doubled? Should he get two free cars?

In his position of House minority leader, Rep. DeWeese removed 15 Democrat lawmakers who voted against the July pay grab from committee leadership posts, making room at the top for 15 pay-grabbers.

Showing how it got even more petty and vindictive, Rep. Greg Vitali, stripped of his position as chairman of the subcommittee on energy, explained that his $3,700 request to cover postage for his quarterly constituent newsletter, approved only days before the vote, also was rescinded.

DeWeese's chief of staff, Mike Manzo, stated that Rep. Vitali wasn't being punished for his "no" vote, along with the 14 others, by way of the loss of his leadership post and postage stamps. It's just that the money grubbers who voted "yes" deserved to have their courage rewarded with more power and a second pay raise, as "leaders," on top of the pay hike they voted themselves in July.

"We recognized those who voted 'yes,'" explained Manzo. "This was not a move designed to punish or single out others." See the difference?

"One of the hallmarks of the severely dysfunctional family, a symptom likely to inflict long-term damage on its members," writes Francine Prose in a recent New York Observer, "is the insidious way in which the profoundly bizarre comes to seem not only routine but positively normal."

Meanwhile, the House speaker of the dysfunctional Legislature, John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, said the hefty legislative pay raise is only getting attention because "it's been a slow news month."

And the instant e-mail response that Bill McIntyre, 72, received from Senate Democrat Leader Robert J. Mellow after he civilly expressed his disapproval of the pay hike: "Why don't you get a life."

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.