When Tom Corbett introduced his first state budget as Pennsylvania governor he argued "If government is here to share the taxpayers' wealth, then everyone needs to share in the sacrifice."
That sacrifice includes a proposed $1 billion in cuts in state education spending and the elimination of hundreds of state jobs. He warned unions that represent 75,000 state employees he will be seeking concessions in salaries and benefits in contract. He argued that unionized teachers and other school employees voluntarily agree to one-year salary freezes to save cash-strapped school districts money.
I agree that cuts are needed but a 3 percent cut in spending is anemic when one considers the states financial situation. But the dollar amount of cuts is not the issue here. It is who is missing from the call to sacrifice.
Consider the following:
Pennsylvania’s Legislature is the second-largest in the nation with 253 members, 50 Senators and 203 members of the House of Representatives. It costs taxpayers approximately $312 million a year. Rank-and-file Pennsylvania lawmakers receive $78,314. The total cost of care and coddling of each lawmaker is between $125,000 to $150,000 annually depending on lawmakers’ expenses.
But that is not all. House lawmakers receive an average $11,349 toward health insurance, an average $5,351 for prescription drugs with a co-pay, dental and vision benefits and a number of per-diem payments. Pensions and life and disability insurance benefits also count as individual benefits. They get $7,800 vehicle expense reimbursement, $4,000 postage account and another $20,000 office expense account.
Pennsylvania Senators receive an average $13,791 toward health insurance and dental and vision benefits. They receive per diems, pensions and life and long-term care insurance as well.
Support costs for senators include a $25,000 expense account and $26,500 postage account. They can use a state car or claim mileage, currently at 55 cents a mile.
House and Senate lawmakers can claim a $143 per diem to cover costs of lodging and meals. (And no documentation such as receipts is required. We just need to trust them that the per diem claim is accurate.) The per diem amount fluctuates annually based on federal guidelines. Estimates of total annual per-diem costs are in the $2 million range.
Pennsylvania ranked second in 2007 for taxpayer dollars spent on the legislative branch — $312 million. California narrowly made first place with a $321 million legislative budget, even though it has a population three times the size of Pennsylvania’s.
Lawmakers are assisted by nearly 3,000 staffers.
Pennsylvania is one of nine states with a full-time legislature, and the staff supports that operation.
A full-time lawmaker, in states such as Pennsylvania spends an average 80 percent of a work week on the job and enjoys a ratio of nine staffers for each member, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
Despite the Legislature’s full-time status, Pennsylvania lawmakers don’t put in a five-day workweek at the Capitol. The Senate is scheduled to be in session 54 days scattered through the end of June; the House has scheduled 50 days.
So Governor Corbett when you said "If government is here to share the taxpayers' wealth, then everyone needs to share in the sacrifice." Did you forget about Harrisburg?