November 24, 2011 | By | Posted in Legislature

Lawmakers to get automatic pay raise; not all support it

Legislation to suspend pay increase dies in committee
By Caleb Taylor | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania lawmakers, who now make nearly double the salary of their average constituent, will receive an automatic pay increase Dec. 1.

But not every lawmaker supports the cost of living adjustment, or COLA, that kicks in for legislators, judges, Gov. Tom Corbett and his top cabinet officials.
Pennsylvania has the second highest legislative annual salary in the nation at $79,613, which will climb to more than $81,000 with the automatic pay increase, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, a bipartisan organization that advocates for the states.
They also enjoy the controversial “per diem” expenses that allow lawmakers to collect $163 for every session day without having to report how the funds are spent.
However, the average annual salary for Pennsylvanian workers is $43,050, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
State Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford, tried to challenge the 1995 law with a bill that would suspend House members’ automatic annual pay increase for one year, but it died last week in the House State Government Committee.
“We had a tough state budget last year, and this year’s is looking difficult again. Nearly everyone else in Pennsylvania has had to tighten their belts during these difficult times. I thought we should do the same,” said Roae.
But the spirit of Roae’s proposal has not been lost on legislators. Although specific totals are not known, at least 15 members of the state Senate and 42 in the state House returned COLAs or gave the extra money to charity this past year, according to the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think-tank in Harrisburg that tracked lawmakers who publicly announced the return of the increase. 
“Almost every member already gives back the COLA,” Steven Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said. “We expect that again this year.”
Eric Epstein, founder of Rock The Capital, a Harrisburg-based political watchdog group, supports repealing the automatic pay increase.
“If judges, lawmakers and senior management (the executive branch) want a bonus plan, then they should either create a compensation Commission or submit a proposal to taxpayers for ratification,” said Epstein in a news release.
Epstein said California’s Citizens Compensation Commission, a governor-appointed group that sets lawmakers’ salaries, would be one option for lawmakers to consider.
The COLAs bring legislative salaries in line with the consumer price index, which is based on the Philadelphia region, the highest in the state. Though it varies each year, lawmakers were eligible for a COLA of $1,600 at the end of last year.

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