New Castle News

Editorials

April 10, 2012

Our Opinion: Shrinking state Legislature has real advantages

NEW CASTLE — Slowly but surely, a move to reduce the size of Pennsylvania’s Legislature is taking shape.

There is, however, a long way to go in this process and many opportunities to derail it.

Last week, the Pennsylvania House voted 140 to 49 in favor of a change to the state constitution, cutting the number of members in the House from 203 to 153, while the Senate’s size would be trimmed from 50 to 38.

The proposal now moves on to the Senate, which is free to approve, amend or ignore it. But any changes would require it be sent back to the House for further consideration.

As we have noted in the past, this sort of reform is open to a scattershot legislative approach. Different proposals can crop up in Harrisburg, creating cover for lawmakers who want to thwart it, while still acting as if they support reform.

If legislators pursue different versions of reform, and refuse to compromise, nothing will happen.

Plus, there continues to be steadfast opposition over any move to cut the size of the Legislature. Two House members who represent Lawrence County, Democrat Chris Sainato and Republican Michele Brooks, both opposed last week’s measure.

Their rationale: A smaller Legislature would mean less representation for smaller communities. And they don’t see much in the way of savings with this plan.

While we agree that any savings — primarily in terms of fewer legislative salaries — would be minimal, we disagree with the notion that smaller communities would have less representation under this proposal. Districts would continue to be based on population. Lawmakers indeed would have more constituents in their districts, but that impact would be felt across the board, not just in rural areas.

And we believe having fewer lawmakers would make it easier for citizens to keep track of what their individual representatives are doing. This would improve public accountability. The larger the crowd of politicians, the easier it is for them to get lost in the shuffle.

There is nothing magical about the current size of Pennsylvania’s Legislature. And smaller districts might benefit lawmakers, we’re not so sure the same can be said for citizens.

One of the down sides of small districts is that they are easier to carve out when it comes to reapportionment and gerrymandering. These tactics go a long way toward explaining the power of incumbency and the increasing unwillingness of lawmakers in both parties to seek constructive compromises to difficult issues.

When legislative districts are larger, it becomes more difficult to carve them up for purely partisan purposes.

We continue to believe that reducing the size of Pennsylvania’s Legislature has far more advantages than shortcomings. We think voters need to convey that message to local representatives.

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