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Harrisburg waste du jour

Today our blog offers the first installment of examples of waste in the General Assembly, as highlighted by the 28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. We'll keep them coming daily until it no longer amuses us, or until we burst a capillary.

Waste #1: A part-time legislature at full-time prices.

Pennsylvania's legislators are among the highest-paid state lawmakers in the nation, with rank-and-file members being paid $78,314 annually (excluding benefits and other perks, such as per diem expenses). Those in party leadership receive higher salaries; the Speaker of the House is paid $122,254.

The legislature is considered full-time, yet many legislators hold other jobs, and the House was in session an average of only 101 days per year over the past four years. While the grand jury acknowledged that some work gets done when the legislature is not officially in session, "these numbers do not appear to justify full-time status."

Even days spent in session are sometimes, shockingly, pointless. The grand jury found that legislators occasionally would debate a bill that had already passed, for lack of anything better to do. "This procedure was clearly designed to give the appearance of working, when in reality no legitimate work was being done."

Further proof that the legislature is really part-time: the abundance of taxpayer-paid staffers who were assigned to perform campaign work during regular business hours, the subject of the grand jury's investigation in the first place.

Less than one dozen states have truly full-time legislatures. If Pennsylvania returned to part-time status, with corresponding salary cuts, the grand jury found it would save more than $10 million annually in salaries alone.