Push to repeal lawmakers' pay raise gains new support
GOP committee leaders circulate rollback petition
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- Pressure on Republican leaders to repeal the 16 to 34 percent legislative pay raises is escalating within the state Republican party.
A group of Republican officials from Allegheny, Butler, Westmoreland, Greene and Dauphin counties is circulating a petition to all 355 members of the GOP state committee seeking support for legislation that would repeal the raises.
The officials called the pay raise, approved by the Legislature early on July 7 without public notice, hearings or discussion, "a reprehensible violation of the principles of our party." It called for GOP legislative leaders to "restore integrity and accountability to the legislative process."
The petitions will be given to General Assembly Republican leaders such as Sens. Robert Jubelirer of Altoona and David Brightbill of Lebanon and House Speaker John Perzel of Philadelphia in November. All of them strongly support the pay raise.
Butler County GOP Chairman Jim Powers, who is leading the local effort, said yesterday that GOP state committee members who dislike the pay raise had wanted the full committee to take a strong stand against it at a meeting in Harrisburg on Sept. 10.
But when they arrived at the meeting, Mr. Powers said, they were told that a contingent of GOP committee members from southeastern Pennsylvania, including Mr. Perzel, would defeat the anti-pay raise measure unless it was watered down.
As a result, the wording was weakened to have the GOP committee merely express "concern" over the raise, which really has had no effect, Mr. Powers said.
Mr. Powers complained that GOP legislative leaders "have ignored'' the watered-down resolution passed a month ago.
GOP legislative leaders have "placed the Republican majority in the Legislature at risk of further public outrage," reads the petition now being circulated.
Mr. Powers said, "This petition calls upon the party leadership to do the right thing. This stronger statement [demanding repeal of the raise] is desperately needed."
Mr. Perzel already has sent one bill to repeal the raise to the House Rules Committee, which he controls. He has said the bill is dead unless there are at least 102 House votes -- a majority -- for repeal.
At the same time, two Republican state senators, Jane Orie of McCandless and Jane Earll of Erie, said they will support legislation in the Senate to repeal the pay raise.
They also want to stop the "unvouchered expenses," the method that 134 incumbent legislators are using to take the higher compensation immediately, rather than waiting until the pay raise officially starts on Dec. 1, 2006.
Ms. Earll has drafted a pay raise repeal bill for the Senate but hasn't introduced it for fear that it will simply be sent to die in the Senate Rules Committee, which is controlled by Mr. Jubelirer and Mr. Brightbill.
Mr. Jubelirer and Mr. Perzel (whose salary has risen from $110,000 to $145,000) and Mr. Brightbill (whose pay rose from $100,000 to $134,000) are staunch defenders of the increases, saying legislators work long hours, both here and in their local districts and have justified a higher salary.
Ms. Orie told Ms. Earll in a letter last week that she voted against the pay raise on July 7 and would support Ms. Earll's efforts to rescind it.
"I would urge you to introduce [the repeal bill] regardless of ... the anticipated action to 'bury' the bill, as was done in the House," Ms. Orie told Ms. Earll.
Ms. Orie said she hasn't taken the extra money, and "would be honored" to co-sponsor Ms. Earll's bill.
-------------------------------------- (Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at email@example.com or 1-717-787-4254.)
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