Legislature Size Is Lawmakers’ Latest Charade
State legislators recently added an exclamation point to their long and sordid history of dangling reforms before Pennsylvania voters, only to keep themselves first at the end of the day. From 11th-hour pay raises, to bogus pensions and health care reforms, to undocumented daily “expense” payments, to luxury car leases, to disclosure and lobbying reforms, legislators in recent years have talked a far better game than they have played. Perhaps the most cynical of all of the bait-and-switches occurred recently, however, when the House voted to kill a constitutional amendment that would have reduced the size of the bloated chamber from 203 to 151 seats in the name of economy and better governance. The House voted Monday, 114-76, to end a two-year charade, killing the effort to create a more compact, efficient and responsive Legislature. To amend the state constitution, a proposal must pass two consecutive sessions of the Legislature, without changes, before being placed on the ballot for a statewide referendum. Polling consistently has shown that voters likely would approve, overwhelmingly, an amendment to reduce the size of the Legislature. Both chambers passed the amendment last year to reduce the House to 151 seats while retaining the Senate’s 50 seats. But this year, the House Rules Committee added a provision to reduce the Senate by 12 seats, to 38. It was a classic poison pill, a provision designed to ensure a bill’s defeat while pretending to advance it. The Senate stripped out the added provision and returned it to the House to die. There is no reason not to reduce the size of the Senate. And since the state Senate does not resolve a representational issue, unlike the U.S. Senate, it would be possible to eliminate it and move to a unicameral, or one-house legislature. But the House is the more pressing case. It made sense for the move towards modern governance to begin there, since it is more responsible for Pennsylvania having the largest full-time and second most expensive state legislature in the land. But nothing agitates politicians like the prospect of unemployed politicians, or politicians cast into the private sector, so the amendment became just another lie from Harrisburg. The amendment likely will be introduced again when the new Legislature convenes following the November elections, but be prepared for another two-year charade.