New Castle News

John K. Manna

April 14, 2012

John K. Manna: Plan to reduce size of Legislature a work in progress

NEW CASTLE — The Pennsylvania House has seemingly taken one small step toward eliminating some of their jobs.

Seemingly is the operative word because it’s too early in the game to predict where a bill to reduce the number of legislative districts will lead.

The measure, passed by the House on a 140-49 vote last week, would cut the number of House seats from 203 to 153 and Senate seats from 50 to 38.

Interestingly, the bill has bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition. Rep. Chris Sainato of Union Township voted against the measure while Rep. Jaret Gibbons of the Ellwood City area supported it. Rep. Michele Brooks of Greenville, who represents a small part of northern Lawrence County, also voted no.

Sainato and Gibbons are Democrats and Brooks is a Republican.

While the Senate has yet to consider the bill, Sen. Elder Vogel, who represents part of Lawrence County, spoke in support of it because he has authored legislation to reduce the size of the Legislature.

Gibbons also has sponsored a reduction plan, but one that eliminates one of the chambers and creates a unicameral legislature.

The bill needs to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions and then be approved by the voters. If it were to pass in two sessions, it would be a couple years before the proposal gets to the voters.

For that reason, I don’t believe I’m being cynical in thinking that some House members voted in favor only to please the folks back home. But in their heart of hearts — meaning self-preservation — some of them won’t support it when push comes to shove.

The fact is that the measure wouldn’t take effect for another 10 years, so many of the current members wouldn’t be affected anyway.

It’s debatable whether this is a good or bad bill. House Speaker Sam Smith, the chief sponsor, said on the House floor just before the vote that it’s not really about saving money.

Even though the number of legislators would be reduced, the districts would be enlarged. As a result, each legislator would probably have more staff members who obviously would want to be paid for their efforts. So, it’s hard to determine at this point what the savings might be, if any.

Smith said reducing the number of districts would make the legislative process more efficient. Efficiency, in effect, theoretically should save money in the long run.

However, at this point, it’s hard to determine whether there is a majority of legislators who are thinking along those lines, or just how the bill may affect them.

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