PA Congressional Pay Hike Raises Eyebrows

While many Pennsylvanians are struggling to figure out how they can pay their real estate taxes before the end-of-the-year deadline, the PA congress not only votes an extra $11,403 onto their base pay, but those on committee chairs receive an additional $4,050. Speaking in terms of percentage, the pay hikes ranged from 16% - 34%, while most of their constituents are lucky to see a 3% raise. At least the past congressional bodies, in their wisdom, made a congressman's pay increase not take affect until the following election term. But like any enterprising citizen would attempt, lawmakers looked for---and found---loopholes in the law that allows them to take "unvouchered expenses" and thus have access to the piles of tax dollars being shoveled into their waiting accounts.

No one would argue that being a state legislator is a huge responsibility. Nor would many argue that pay raises are acceptable. As a matter of fact, according to columnist John Grogan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, lawmakers have received a cost of living pay raise every year for the past decade. It is just difficult to swallow when their latest raise exceeds some citizen's gross annual salary. It is really sticky business when a governing body is responsible for approving its own raises. Rather an awkward position, don't you think? But cheer up. Many of these legislators have businesses or investments back home bringing in plenty of cash for the family. For those individuals, you might call the legislative salary "pin money".

Grogan reported that the salary deal was "hammered out behind closed doors without public airing or input and passed without discussion at 2 a.m., moments before lawmakers fled the Capitol for summer recess."

Supreme Court Justice Ralph J. Cappy, the state's top jurist, called the raises "reasonable and responsible" as part of a spirited public defense he led against the public outcry. Oh yeah, he forgot to mention that he benefited an additional $22,300 out of the deal cut by congressional leaders. Most of us could get a little spirited if our boss offered that kind of pay jump!

Mr. H. William DeWeese, (D) PA House Minority Leader defended the move by saying it would attract "high minded and intelligent" young people into politics. That almost sounds plausible. But the aftermath of this midnight move will resonate with even the most stupid citizen and remind them that politics is a dirty game; anyone who doesn't conform to the lead players are stripped of power and hung out to dry. Read on.

Every day, some bureaucratic government group blows a few million too much?..on a program, a dumb idea, a failing project, or yes, even on their own pay raises. The public is "ripped up" for awhile, being again reminded of the fiscal irresponsibility, the fatness of government agencies, and the desperate struggle for each group to justify why they should continue to sit at the office desk each day. But it always blows over, because citizens have greater things to worry about: the roof is leaking, the wife's car needs new tires, and the husband's boss just told him that there is going to be a layoff next month. Any one of these problems may be all that your monthly budget can bear, and so in focusing on our own realities, the "unreality show" in Harrisburg soon takes a back seat in the thoughts of the day.

There is a larger travesty taking place with this pocket-filling that stinks worse than the dead groundhog your neighbor left lying in the fencerow. And the opportunity for corrupt actions as a result of these raises looms fierce before the faces of lead politicians.

It is the House Minority Leader's responsibility to oversee the assignment of committee leadership positions. These positions often provide additional power to a legislator, giving him the opportunity to push his/her own agenda forward with more tenacity. It also comes with a significant salary increase. After the vote was tallied for the salary hike, a number of committee leadership positions went through a major shuffle. Fifteen House Democrats were stripped of their committee leadership positions (12 subcommittee chairmen and 3 committee vice chairmen)? AND their pay for those positions. Quite coincidentally, ALL 15 DEMOCRATS that received these demotions were members who had voted against the pay raises!

To borrow Mr. Grogan's line, "oil on ice doesn't get this slimy."

When questioned about the event, DeWeese's spokesman said it was just a "shuffling of positions" and that the reassignments were purely coincidental. The spokesman said that Mr. DeWeese has the discretion to act as he sees fit.

Wow. We're not sure if that is really "seeing fit". It appears more to be "taking a fit".

All of this brings us back to those bright young people that congressional leaders are trying to attract. Well, if you're greedy, and you can play dirty, then politics might be in the cards. But the lesson here is to follow the leader, or be assigned to choosing paint colors for the state's sign posts. Now that sounds like representative government at its finest.

Rep. Richard T. Grucela, D-Northhampton, was one member who was stripped of his vice chairman's post on the agriculture and rural affairs committee after voting against the raise. When questioned by a reporter, Grucela said, "It was probably to be expected. I understand how the institution works."

On the opposite side of the aisle, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Sam Smith stated that the House Republicans had no plans to make similar committee and subcommittee reassignments.

State representative Kerry Benninghoff, R-College Township, Centre County, and representative Mike Hanna, Centre/Clinton counties, both voted against the pay raise. Hanna was one of the casualties who was demoted. Representative Lynn Herman, R-Phillipsburg, and State Senators Jake Corman, R-Benner Township and John Wozniak, D-Johnstown, all voted in favor of the raise.

Mr. DeWeese has certainly received his share of media pressure from the huge coincidence, in his endeavor to do "what he sees fit". It comes with a perk though; DeWeese's salary rose from $100,911 to $134,771 annually.

Perhaps the public needs to follow DeWeese's statements, and do what WE see fit; contact your congressmen and Governor Rendell to express your concerns. Only by becoming active in the business of democracy will people remain in a democracy. The Governor can be reached at 225 Main Capitol Building, Harrisburg, 17120. Phone him at (717) 787-2500; or email his office at governor@state.pa.us .

Internet users can find information for their own (or any other) PA representative by logging onto www.legis.state.pa.us/ . Learn how your representative voted at www.pacleansweep.com/. Log onto the Trees 'n' Turf web pages and view our bulletin board for updates to the story, or email us for additional contact information such as addresses for your representative. Our website is http://www.clouserfarm.net/ .

Tell them you're watching. Tell them you're not impressed. And tell them that after you're done working overtime to pay for the kids' school shoes, you're gonna vote them out of more than just their committee chair.

Tom Clouser is a 38 year old farmer in Pennsylvania. In addition to farming, he and his father publish a monthly 16-page newspaper called "Trees 'n' Turf", which targets subjects of interest to those in land use industries and activities. View their website at http://www.clouserfarm.net

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