Pennsylvania's legislature has racked up some impressive national rankings, but the impressions created by those rankings are not necessarily good.
The state ranks second for the total amount of money spent on its legislature, trailing only California, which has triple the population. Pennsylvania is also second in legislative spending per resident, behind oil-rich Alaska. And the Keystone State ranks second, behind only Nevada, among states spending the largest percentage of their general-fund budget on running the legislature.
Supporting the Pennsylvania legislature last year required a budget of $300 million - more than $1 million for every member. The legislature maintains a staff of 3,000 workers. That means one of every 11 state legislative employees in the country works in Pennsylvania, even though the state has only 4 percent of the nation's population.
With 203 members, the Pennsylvania House is the second largest in the country. In many other states, the House is only twice as big as the state senate. Applying that standard here, Pennsylvania's House would have only 100 members, less than half its current size.
All that information helps to explain why there's growing discussion in Harrisburg about shrinking the number of seats in the General Assembly.
House Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) is pushing to cut the House by 50 members, to 153, starting after the 2020 census. Last week, a House committee held hearings on Smith's proposal and similar ones.
Passing any of the measures would take a constitutional amendment, which has to pass two consecutive legislatures and be ratified by voters.
Urban Democrats and rural legislators are generally skeptical of the idea, whose proponents are mostly Republicans. The skeptics say lawmakers will have a harder time representing more people, and the extra work will cut into any savings.
Under Smith's plan, the expanded Pennsylvania House districts would be no larger than those in other big states, including New York, Michigan, Texas, Ohio, and California. To guard against legislative budget-padding, any change will probably have to include some kind of cap or mandated cut in spending on legislative operations.
The Pennsylvania legislature has not exactly distinguished itself with a House that has 203 members. With a 150-member House, it's unlikely to do any worse making laws, and it could save some money in the process.