Re: Size of the Legislature

It has come to my attention you believe the current size of the Pennsylvania Legislature is fine and dandy and makes for good democracy.

You said so during the final gubernatorial debate last week in Pittsburgh.

Asked about a constitutional amendment to reduce the Legislature, you said, "I don't see how that actually improves our democracy."


Since it appears that, barring abduction by aliens, you're about to be governor, allow me to offer a bit of constructive criticism.

You, sir, are wrong.

Reducing the Legislature would be the best thing to happen in Pennsylvania since William Penn's charter in 1681.

I mean, you've seen how bad these people are. Bad is not good for democracy.

Even modest, phased-in reductions could improve efficiency and save millions.

Our Legislature's size, given the size of our state, the size of our lawmakers' appetites and the dictates of common sense, is completely out of whack.

There's no reason the sixth-largest state needs America's largest full-time legislature.

Taxpayers who are not millionaires question annually spending close to $300 million for the care and feeding of 253 lawmakers and their staffs.

This crowd hordes money, wastes money and continues to eat money.

We give them the second-highest base pay ($84,000) of all states, annual raises, overly generous pension and health-care benefits and tax-free daily expenses of $160-plus - with no receipts required.

You may know this rivals private-sector packages and earnings of most taxpayers (all of whom foot the bill) in a state where median income is $52,267.

The highest-paid lawmakers are in California: $90,500. But then California has more than three times Pennsylvania's population and less than half its lawmakers (120).

The average size of legislatures is 147 members; eight states have fewer than 100.

Our bloated body hasn't brought progress. Its size, which creates redundancy, inefficiency and stagnation, is a significant drawback.

Think bigger is better?

The best-run states, according to annual reviews by 24/7 Wall St., an Internet financial-reporting group, all have legislatures much smaller than ours.

The top five, based on data such as per capita debt, budget deficits and median income, are North Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Nevada and Utah.

The size of their legislatures, respectively: 141; 90; 150; 63; and 104.

And you're a business guy. Six of the eight states with fewer than 100 lawmakers rank higher than Pennsylvania on the 2014 business-tax climate index compiled by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

Three of them, Wyoming, Nevada and Alaska, are in the nation's top five. Pennsylvania's 24th.

Does size matter?

New Hampshire, I'm sure you know since you went to Dartmouth, has the largest legislature: 424. But its members get $100 a year; no per diems.

And the 24/7 Wall St. rankings put New Hampshire as 25th best state in the nation, Pennsylvania 27th - so both in the mediocre middle.

What about efficiency?

In the last two-year session, our lawmakers introduced 5,600 bills. Of those, 370 became law.

My math says that's less than 7 percent. But, hey, you're the one with a Ph.D. from MIT; maybe your math's better.

Now let's set aside our Legislature's record of corruption, ineptitude and affinity for special interests and talk about your notion that a smaller body wouldn't improve democracy.

Fewer members means larger districts, which make for more competitive elections, a/k/a more democracy.

Right now? Sixty percent of legislative races have one name on the ballot. That's the majority. With zero democracy.

Maybe your keep-the-klutzes approach reflects general Democratic Party preference for bigger government. Maybe you think you can woo the woeful with promises of job security.

Here's what I think: I think you're wrong.