HARRISBURG - In recent years, many have pushed for cutting the size of the Pennsylvania legislature: reformers, think tanks, candidates for office.

But now the call for shrinking the 203-member House of Representatives comes from an unlikely source: one of those 203 members.

And not just any one - the representative who, come January, is expected to become House speaker.

Fresh off his party's victories at the polls, House Minority Leader Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) on Wednesday said he would like to see the chamber's ranks trimmed - for the simple reason that he believed it would make it easier to get things done in the Capitol.

"I've come to the conclusion that a smaller number of members would make the House more manageable," Smith told a room packed with reporters, lawmakers, and lobbyists as he sketched his caucus' agenda for the next legislative session.

His comments received favorable reviews from a key figure in the state Senate. "It's only a question of how much smaller," Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said Thursday.

But as others who have tried before him can attest, wanting to get this seemingly sensible thing done and actually getting it done are two very different things in Harrisburg.

The idea of downsizing the legislature has, in the last five years, become a kind of battle cry for those who say Harrisburg needs reforming.

Yet time and time again, the idea has failed to gain traction in a legislature deeply divided over whether it even needs to render itself more efficient and accountable.

"That's what happens when you put people with a vested interest in the status quo in charge of trying to make a change," said Tim Potts, a former House aide and cofounder of the activist group Democracy Rising. "Nothing happens."

Potts and other critics of Harrisburg's status quo have for years pushed for holding a constitutional convention to consider trimming the legislature as just one in a long list of changes, including instituting term limits and changing the highly partisan process for redrawing legislative and congressional districts every decade.

While holding such a convention would require legislative approval, noted Potts, the convention's delegates - members of the public, and not legislators - would be the ones making the recommendations for changes.

Those recommendations would then be placed on the ballot for voters to decide. But staging such a convention could open up a Pandora's box of proposals to rewrite parts of the state constitution.

"You can't look at reforms in a vacuum," said Eric Epstein, a Harrisburg activist and founder of RockTheCapital.org. "Otherwise, it just becomes political candy. It sounds good but feels bad at the end of the day."

What Smith, the House GOP leader, is proposing is to have the legislature decide whether the House needs downsizing. (He is not advocating the Senate whittle down its members from its complement of 50.)

Going that route is not easy, either. It would still mean amending the constitution, which in turn means the measure would need to pass both chambers of the legislature in two consecutive two-year sessions before voters would even see it on the ballot.

So the question could get on the ballot - by 2013.

"And that's the earliest," said Potts. "The makeup of the legislature changes every session. What are the odds that they will agree on the exact same language - with no changes - two sessions in a row?"

Pennsylvania's legislature is among the biggest and costliest in the nation, with a staff of roughly 3,000 and annual budget of about $300 million.

Only New Hampshire's state House has more members (400) - but that is a citizen-legislature, with each member paid $200 for a two-year term, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

During his recent campaign, Democrat Dan Onorato promised to cut the legislature's size if elected governor of Pennsylvania. Onorato knew something about trimming government bodies - as Allegheny County executive he has backed efforts to eliminate unneeded row offices.

But the man who beat Onorato on Tuesday, Gov.-elect Tom Corbett, has said he favors a part-time legislature as opposed to a shrunken one. A report by a grand jury investigating corruption in the legislature - a probe run by Attorney General Corbett's office - said Pennsylvania could save more than $10 million a year in salaries by reverting to a part-time legislature. The base salary for a Pennsylvania lawmaker is $78,314.66.

Even so, some observers say Tuesday's election results may have improved the odds shrinking the legislature. That's because in January, one party will be in charge of both chambers, as well as the governor's office. And the leader of the upper chamber seemed open-minded about it on Thursday.

Pileggi (R., Delaware) said: "I don't think there is any doubt, and hearing Rep. Smith say it confirms it, that the House can operate effectively with fewer members. It's one of the largest House chambers in the United States."

Pileggi added: "So it's only a question of how much smaller. . . . I am open to that discussion and I think it's a worthwhile discussion to have."