Democracy Rising PA – The December Pay Rise Edition

Posted on Fri 12/02/2011 by

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Today’s the day lawmakers get yet another automatic pay raise of 3%, thanks to the 1995 law that was supposed to be the pay raise to end all pay raises. Until the doomed Pay Raise of 2005. And until the next time they think they can get away with another really atrocious raise.

Not that they need it with a base salary of more than $82,000 plus perks and benefits that raise the cost of compensation for the average legislator to somewhere around $150,000 per year. In fact, since 1995 lawmaker’s base pay has increased by nearly 75% while the earnings of those who pay lawmakers’ salaries have increased by only 40%.

Only 253 people in all of Pennsylvania don’t understand that this is an exceptionally bad idea. Those people serve in the House (203) and Senate (50). Actually, Gov. Tom Corbett and the seven justices of PA’s Supreme Court, whose 3% raises kick in on January 1, don’t understand that either. So make it 261. Something less than a majority.

No one is really giving up the raise.
At best, those who say they are rejecting the raise are simply deferring it for a year, and those who give this year’s 3% raise to a charity aren’t giving up a thing. They get a tax deduction at our expense this year, and next year the pay raise is rolled into the base, so they get this year’s pay raise next year.

Only those who return our money to our Treasury are making a sacrifice. But even they are keeping the raise that went into effect last year. Next year, they’ll keep this year’s 3% but give up next year’s raise. And so on, all the while allowing their pensions to become more lucrative while they pretend to ride the white horse instead of doing what is right and repealing the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) altogether. See Gestures insufficient,  Scranton Times-Tribune, Nov. 30

The Constitution
The COLA is a mechanism for subverting the clear intent of the Constitution, which says at Article II, Section 8: “…No member of either House shall during the term for which he may have been elected receive any increase of salary, or mileage, under any law passed during such term.”

The Constitution plainly intends for lawmakers to have to vote for pay increases before they face the voters, and for pay increases not to take effect until after lawmakers have faced the voters. The COLA allows lawmakers to avoid the vote and take the money because the COLA was not “passed during such term.” It was passed in 1995 and renewed when the Pay Raise of 2005 was repealed.

Few recall that the Pay Raise of 2005 itself repealed the 1995 COLA. The 2005 raise tied state officials’ salaries to those of their federal counterparts. Since the federal automatic COLAs would take care of our officials more handsomely than a mere Pennsylvania COLA, the one in PA wasn’t needed. So when they repealed the 2005 pay raise, lawmakers made sure to re-instate the automatic COLA of 1995, continuing to subvert the Constitution.

In any event, the COLA also allows new legislators to get raises without ever having voted on anything. Sweet.

Here is a sampling of the statewide discussion:

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