New Castle News


November 17, 2005

Pay-raise repeal becomes law after four-month journey

HARRISBURG — A somber apology by a top Republican senator and a private bill-signing without cameras or handshakes capped a raucous, four-month storm of anger over a hefty government pay raise approved by the Legislature in the dead of night.

A repeal of the unpopular raises became law Wednesday as the Senate passed, and then Gov. Ed Rendell signed, a measure that lawmakers hope will dissolve intense public criticism and protect their jobs.

Tired of fielding complaints about their salaries, some lawmakers saw the repeal as crucial to repairing their reputations and putting the issue behind them as the 2006 legislative elections loom. Just a week ago, Pennsylvania voters demonstrated their anger at state government by ousting a state Supreme Court justice.

The House approved the legislation on Monday. The final hurdle — the Senate’s 50-0 vote and Rendell’s signature — came 132 days after the Legislature, at 2 a.m. without public notice or debate, raised the salaries of more than 1,300 public officials, including themselves and state judges.

“We are here to correct a mistake,” the Senate’s Republican leader, David J. Brightbill of Lebanon County, said as he introduced the legislation on the Senate floor. “As one of the people who exercised poor judgment, I would like to apologize.”

Rendell later signed the legislation privately, and released a statement repeating his prior pleas for the Legislature to focus on his agenda.

Radio talk show hosts, editorial writers and citizens’ groups had lambasted lawmakers over the size of the legislative raises — 16 percent to 54 percent — and the way the bill was handled. Critics said the controversy also raised questions about whether the courts acted as a check on legislative power.

Much of the anger was directed at lawmakers’ use of “unvouchered expenses” — a legal maneuver upheld 19 years ago by the Supreme Court — to collect their raises right away, despite a constitutional ban on midterm pay raises. As their poll numbers plummeted and opposition mounted, some lawmakers rejected the midterm raises they had initially accepted.

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