Heads up! Your Legislature's 'in session' again
Believe it or not, the 2015-16 state legislative session is underway, and already ideas (and your tax dollars) are flying around.
PSST . . . Want a little fun fact about your Legislature?
Get this: The 2015-16 legislative session is underway.
Yep, started Monday. State Constitution says so.
And even though lawmakers aren't sworn in and won't be until Jan. 6, they're already drawing pay - 'cause that's just how they roll.
All 253 House and Senate members, including those newly elected last month, get paid the first of the month, including the first of this month.
Put another way, the nation's largest full-time legislature, legally in session but not actually in session, gets a payday in time for the holidays more than a month before being sworn in to office.
Pretty sweet, no?
Oh, and that first check includes the annual automatic raise provided by taxpayers who pay more each year. One assumes that's to ensure that the stellar service and shiny reputation of your Legislature continues.
And by "stellar service," I mean the opposite: no action on pension reform, liquor reform, property-tax reform, education-funding formula or legislative reforms.
And by "shiny reputation" I also mean the opposite: leaders sent to prison, abuse of expenses, members caught on tape taking cash and the overall ethical consciousness of, well, garden slugs.
This year's raise, linked by law to the federal Consumer Price Index for the mid-Atlantic region, is 1.6 percent.
It hikes rank-and-filers' base salary to $85,356 (top officers get $133,247) in a state with a median household income - according to U.S. Census data - of $53,925.
That household figure is 23rd highest in the nation. Our lawmakers' pay is second highest. Only California pays more (it just went up to $97,197). But it has less than half our number of lawmakers (120) and more than three times our population.
Our lawmakers voted for annual raises (along with an 18 percent raise) in 1995.
Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, who as a candidate pledged not to sign a pay-raise bill, signed it into law his first year in office.
Now, I don't want to leave the impression that nothing's happening during this month in which lawmakers are paid while not in session or even sworn in.
To the contrary. Many are filing memoranda seeking support for bills to introduce next month.
What's on their minds?
Philly Democratic Sen. Larry Farnese wants legal shipment of wine from in-state or out-of-state wineries right to your home. And Montco Republican Sen. Stewart Greenleaf wants to tag beer kegs to catch anyone buying kegs for minors.
But it's not all about booze. There are ideas to punish profligate pols.
Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin County, and Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny County, want lawmakers' pay suspended if the budget's late. And Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County, (bless him) wants to kill lawmakers' automatic raises.
Philly Democratic Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams wants state judges to be appointed rather than elected. And Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster County, has a gift ban for lawmakers and other public officials.
Of course, there's gun stuff.
Philly Democratic Sen. Tina Tartaglione wants to require reporting of lost or stolen firearms. And Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, is drafting a Right to Bear Arms Protection Act to prohibit new federal regulations on guns or ammo.
Much of this stuff is retread, and most of it will fall flat.
But one with - I suspect - public appeal comes from Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester County: Expand our telemarketers' do-not-call list to political candidates, political parties and other political groups.
Don't know if this has anything to do with Pileggi's ouster by fellow pols as Senate GOP leader. Don't care. It's a great idea.
But then, so are campaign-finance reform, redistricting reform, compensation reform, cutting the size of the House and Senate, etc., etc.
There are tons of good ideas.
Just too bad that your Legislature is an ideas graveyard.