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DN Editorial: No more COLAs

OUR STATE lawmakers and other leaders have devised a unique way of keeping us warm this winter: make our blood boil.

OUR STATE lawmakers and other leaders have devised a unique way of keeping us warm this winter: make our blood boil.

That's what happens to our blood, anyway, when we contemplate the outrageous cost-of-living pay increases that members of the Legislature and the judicial branch will be pocketing this year. Gov. Corbett says he will freeze increases for management employees in the executive branch, including himself, his Cabinet and the lieutenant governor. That's a smart move, but it could still leave close to 1,500 employees who will be getting a legally mandated 3 percent pay hike this year.

When Auditor Jack Wagner called for a freeze to COLA payments in 2010, he estimated that halting the then-1.7 percent hikes would save the state $3 million in the first year and $12 million over four years. By our calculation, that means that this years's 3 percent hike could represent $5 million or more, and $20 million over four years. That doesn't include the cost of higher pension payments, which are based on the higher salary figures.

Some lawmakers are returning their raises to the Treasury. Others have vowed to donate their pay hike to charity - Corbett did that with his raise last year - but as gestures go, this is possibly even more offensive than taking the raise to begin with.

For one thing, those donations become self-serving, since they represent big charitable contributions - $2,400 in the case of a lawmaker's raise - that can reap them nice federal tax deductions. That means that while one hand is adjusting the lawmakers' haloes, the other hand is putting money in their pocket after all.

There's further irony in these so-called charitable gestures at a time when the state budget cuts are targeting social services. Let's see if we have this straight: Some social programs are being cut in order to pay higher salaries to public servants, who then may end up contributing to those very programs, or others like it. This is sounding less like a democracy, and more like a monarchy, with dukes and earls practicing their noblesse oblige on the poor peasants.

Is your blood simmering yet?

(If lawmakers really feel guilty taking the raise, they should find one of the thousands of the working poor who lost their state health coverage last year and send them a check, though they'd lose the tax benefit.)

The COLA is legally mandated - which means the Legislature has made sure that this increase is automatic. An automatic pay raise in this day and age is proof that lawmakers are way out of touch. Next thing you know, the General Assembly will be bringing back rotary dial telephones and PacMan games.

State Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, is proposing a bill that would suspend raises when revenues fall short. This is a good start, but not enough.

The COLA should be abolished - plain and simple.