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Pay grab could backfire on lawmakers in Pennsylvania

September 20, 2005

Elected officials can appropriate millions on a piece of legislation that doesn't accomplish much and the voters often won't react, in part because the bill's wording is so complicated.

But, as Pennyslvania lawmakers are finding out, citizens who are lucky to get raises that cover the increase in the cost of living understand only too well the Legislature's recent pay grab.

On July 7, a majority of the state's legislators voted for a raise that would increase their pay by 50 percent in some cases. And worse, many ignored a constitutional ban against mid-term raises by putting in for the increased amount as "unvouchered expenses."

After the backlash began, lawmakers began to retreat, although The Associated Press reports that during the Sept. 10 meeting of the Republican State Committee, House Speaker John Perzel declared the topic off limits.

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Instead of calling for the repeal of the raise, the committee instead voted a resolution expressing "great concern" about how it was handled.

Whether the Democrats will be so timid when they meet in Pittsburgh this Saturday remains to be seen.

One problem with a Democratic resolution condemning the pay raise: AP reports that Democratic State Chairman T.J. Rooney, a state representative from Northampton County, voted for the raise and is accepting it now as an unvouchered expense.

A resolution wouldn't have much effect, he told AP's Peter Jackson, because citizens are condemning all lawmakers, not just those who voted for the raise.

It may be that both parties will declare a truce and hope that voters don't remember the issue when the next legislative election is held in 14 months.

We believe that's wishful thinking. Most Americans got what amounts to a pay decrease recently when the price of gasoline went up.

Those lawmakers who voted against the raise - and for sharing their constituents' pain - should make that a main plank of their campaign platforms. As for the others, their best hope is that the voters will contract amnesia.

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