Friday, July 07, 2006

1st Anniversary

Today is the 1st Anniversary of what will be remembered as a key date in the history of the Pennsylvania Legislature. It was around 2 a.m. on July 7, 2005 (in the final minutes of the session), that the Legislature voted to give itself a 16 percent to 54 percent raise (less for back-benchers, more for committee chairs and leaders). The provision included the unconstitutional move to receive the raise prior to the next election (as "unvouchered expenses"). The raise was approved without a single public hearing.

The raise was in addition to the legislators' automatic annual cost of living adjustment -- based on inflation rates in Philadelphia. It was in addition to their approximately $140 per diem. It was in addition to the free state-owned or state-leased vehicle of which each legislator may avail themselves.

The voters of Pennsylvania responded with justifiable outrage. Last November, the majority of voters chose to not retain state Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro -- the first time in Commonwealth history that a state-level judge was not retained. (In an earlier instance, Nigro had voted on the court to allow the "unvouchered expenses.") Had it been left only to the voters of the 46th District, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Shultz Newman also would have been thrown off the bench. A week after Russell Nigro's ouster, the PA Legislature repealed the pay raise and hoped to put it behind them.

But that was not to be. In the primary election on May 17, the voters ousted 17 legislators (including the two highest-ranking Republicans in the State Senate). That's in addition to the 30 legislators, including the 46th District's Victor Lescovitz, who chose to retire this year.

In the end, I believe that all of this has been healthy for democracy in Pennsylvania. In 2006, we have more people running for office, more people campaigning, more people telling their friends and neighbors about the workings of state government (which many probably often forget exists). The pot has been stirred.

For my part, the pay raise fiasco of 2005 motivated me to sign up with PA CleanSweep, the grassroots organization dedicated to changing the culture of Harrisburg through the 2006 elections. As a PA CleanSweep-recommended candidate, I have pledged to uphold the following declaration:

I, the undersigned, hereby declare my commitment, upon election to the Pennsylvania General Assembly by the citizens of my legislative district, to sponsor and/or vote to enact legislation to specifically meet the following goals:

1. the repeal of Act 44, effectively returning compensation for members of Pennsylvania's legislative, executive and judicial branches to pre-Act 44 levels;

2. establishing a policy whereby all future compensation changes for Pennsylvania's legislative, executive and judicial branches shall be subject to voter approval by referendum;

3. and establishing a policy whereby no legislation in the General Assembly shall be considered for final passage until the citizens of the Commonwealth have been given no less than ten business days to review such legislation and provide comment to their respective legislators.

I also declare that while my party affiliation and/or personal ideology may differ from others who have signed or will sign this declaration, those differences are far less important than the primary need to reform the Pennsylvania General Assembly into a body which is more responsive and accountable to the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Separate from this declaration, I have also pledged (in my campaign announcement press release and in several public forums) that, if elected, I will not accept a free state-owned or state-leased vehicle for my use. This is just a small way I can show my commitment to cutting back the perks granted to our legislators. If I am elected on November 7, look for me to be driving my own car to Harrisburg.

1 comment:

Detlef said...

We need more people like you in government.

My best wishes to you.

Detlef von Berg