Senator wants help on pay bill
HARRISBURG — A state senator has drafted a bill to prevent lawmakers from taking the 16 to 54 percent pay raise during their current term, but said she won’t file it unless enough senators step forward to support her effort.
Sen. Jane Earll, R-Erie, said Wednesday that Republican Senate leaders told her that if she files the bill they will bury it in the Senate Rules Committee, a leadership-controlled panel that serves as a graveyard for unwanted legislation.
“What’s that going to accomplish, other than grandstanding?” Earll said.
Erik Arneson, chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader David “Chip” Brightbill, R-Lebanon County, said he had no immediate comment.
To date, no senators have filed legislation to repeal the July 7 pay raise for lawmakers. The House has a repeal bill and partial repeal bill pending. House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, assigned both to the House Rules Committee.
Jeff Coleman, a former Republican state House member from Armstrong County and now vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation, said the Senate needs a bill — whether it’s relegated to the Rules Committee or not.
“It’s important that the Senate join the House effort,” Coleman said. The foundation is a Harrisburg-based think tank.
Pay raise opponents agree, saying a Senate bill would help them work toward potentially putting members of the committee or the full Senate on record with another vote. An assignment to the Rules Committee in effect kills a bill, but House members are working on a so-called discharge petition in an effort to get the repeal bills to the House floor.
The closest thing to Senate opposition to the pay hike was a floor speech last week by Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park. Ferlo didn’t answer questions presented to an aide about whether he will sponsor or co-sponsor a repeal bill.
Former state House member John Kennedy, a Republican from Camp Hill, said he has been working behind the scenes to obtain a commitment from a senator to sponsor a repeal bill. Kennedy, now affiliated with the Commonwealth Foundation, hasn’t yet come up with any names, Coleman said. Kennedy couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.
Earll’s proposal would repeal the so-called unvouchered expenses. That’s a term used in the pay raise law that enables lawmakers to circumvent the state constitutional prohibition against mid-term raises. More than half of the House and Senate are taking the raise now rather than waiting until after they face re-election.
An outright repeal of Act 44, which also raises pay for judges and top state officials, would face even steeper odds.
G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster County, said senators aren’t under as much pressure to act as House members are. “The Senate is much more insulated,” Madonna said.
The state’s 203 House members are elected every two years. Senators serve four-year terms and only half of the 50-member Senate face election every two years. The next legislative general election is in November 2006. Opposition on an issue for House members tends to be more focused because they represent smaller districts, Madonna said.