HARRISBURG - The state's unemployment rate may be spiking, but that hasn't affected former lawmaker Dan Surra - yet.

Although the voters kicked him out of office in November, the onetime Elk County state representative didn't have to go far to find a new gig, at least a temporary one. And he has his former Democratic colleagues to thank for that.

For the month of December, Surra is serving as a consultant to House Democrats and is helping with the transition of another lawmaker into the leadership role he once served - Caucus Administrator.

The monthlong contract calls for Surra to be paid for what he was making in base salary as a legislator, $6,333.

Surra is believed to be the only state lawmaker to leave office this year who has tapped into a practice long derided by critics as a taxpayer-sponsored job-placement service.

For decades, both parties in the House have made it a standard operating procedure to give departing lawmakers a soft landing by extending, when needed, a government job, often created just for them.

As part of Surra's job, he has for several weeks been helping Rep. Ron Buxton (D., Dauphin) the new Caucus Administrator, set up the office space, parking spots and telephone lines for dozens of returning House Democrats as well as the caucus' 15 freshmen members.

Buxton said yesterday that he couldn't have done all the work, which needed to be completed by next month's swearing-in, without the help of Surra, who in some cases helped move desks himself.

"If you think I am down here with my feet up, smoking cigars, you are mistaken," Surra said.

Nonetheless, what makes Surra's job unusual is that it comes at a time when newly elected House Majority Leader Todd Eachus (D., Luzerne) - who signed the contract - is publicly promoting his efforts to cut fat, including trimming the use of outside consultants.

Eachus said hiring Surra, who had served 18 years in the House, probably saved taxpayers money because, with his help, the caucus was able to do a better job completing the bureaucratic tasks.

"They did this faster and more efficiently than any time in the past," he added.

Surra, who will be out of a job on Thursday, isn't sure where his next paycheck will come from.

He's gotten offers to lobby, and is discussing possible job prospects with Gov. Rendell. There's just one problem: In a cost-cutting move, Rendell recently imposed an administration-wide hiring freeze.

"It's not a good time to be looking for work," Surra acknowledged, "no matter if you are a deposed legislator or a laid-off tool-and-die worker."