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Local officials voted for repeal of pay raises

November 04, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

The large pay increase the Pennsylvania General Assembly voted itself in July created a public backlash that resulted in an about-face by the legislators Wednesday.

"It's easy to look at it in retrospect ... but ultimately, each of us has to stand by our vote," state Rep. Patrick Fleagle, R-90th, said Thursday. He had voted for the pay raise in July, but joined in the 196-2 vote Wednesday to take it back.

At the time, Fleagle said he thought the raise was justified because cost-of-living increases for legislators had mostly not kept pace with inflation.

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"Sometimes you just don't make the right vote," the 17-year House veteran said.

"The issue pretty much united the public, in a negative way, albeit," Fleagle said. On the positive side, he said legislators can now concentrate on issues such as school property tax reform and reforming the state's medical malpractice laws.

Since returning from the summer recess, Fleagle said the pay raise has dominated discussion in the House Republican Caucus.

"Almost to a person, members wanted to do something about the pay raise," he said.

Rank-and-file legislators saw their base pay rise 16 percent from $69,647 to $81,050. Committee chairmen got an increase of 28 percent to $89,155 and vice chairmen got a 22 percent boost to $85,103. Majority and minority leaders got a 34 percent increase from $100,911 to $134,771 and the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore received a 34 percent increase from $108,724 to $145,553.

"This has been a very consistent position for me from the beginning," said state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-89th. He said he voted against the original pay raise, did not take the money and co-sponsored legislation to repeal the raise.

"It was a personal decision," Kauffman said of his original vote against the raise. "It just wasn't right."

"The overwhelming reason that this ended up happening as it did is that certain political leaders saw their careers in danger," said Kauffman. He pointed specifically to state Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer.

"Sen. Jubelirer saw his political future tanking and decided this might salvage it," said Kauffman, who is in his first term. Jubelirer, whose wife is a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge, is leading Senate efforts to preserve the judicial pay raise, Kauffman said.

"The intent of the House of Representatives is to strike the pay raise for everyone ... including the judicial branch," Kauffman said.

Fleagle said the General Assembly can vote to repeal its pay raise, but the judicial increase could run up against state constitutional problems.

"I don't think we can give them something and then take it away," he said.

The General Assembly will be back in session Monday to try to iron out the differences between the repeal measures passed by the House and Senate, Fleagle said.

Fleagle said he and other members who voted for the pay raise will have to weather the political storm it caused.

"Maybe the animosity is not going to be gone, but the issue is going to be gone," Fleagle said.

Fleagle has not had a Democratic opponent since 1994 and has not faced a primary challenge since his first run for the House in 1988, but that is about to change.

Todd Rock of Mont Alto, Pa., announced Thursday he will run for the GOP nomination in the May 2006 primary. Fleagle said he is ready for a campaign.

"It gives you a public forum in which to discuss the issues," he said. Constituents will have an opportunity to hear his view on the issues, what he has accomplished and his legislative record, he said.

State Sen. Terry Punt, R-33rd, who represents all of Franklin County, did not return two phone calls Thursday. Punt voted for the pay raise in July, but joined in the unanimous Senate vote for the repeal measure Wednesday.

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