New Castle News


April 7, 2012

Legislative cuts draw mixed local reviews

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County’s state House delegation split in their vote this week on reducing the size of the Legislature.

Rep. Jaret Gibbons voted for the measure, House Bill 153, while Reps. Chris Sainato and Michele Brooks opposed it. The measure passed 140-49 and now goes to the Senate.

The bill would reduce the number of House districts from 203 to 153 and Senate districts from 50 to 38.

Because the measure would amend the state constitution, it must be approved in two consecutive sessions of the Legislature and then by the voters.

Gibbons, a Democrat from Franklin Township, called the legislation “a good first step.”

However, Gibbons said the bill fails to produce “the significant cost savings” the taxpayers demand.

He said he believes legislators should go further to reform, and that would be to convert to a unicameral body.

“Returning the state to the unicameral system we had from 1777 to 1790 would end the unnecessary costly duplication of services and legislative functions.”

Gibbons has proposed legislation to create a single chamber consisting of 201 districts.

Sainato, from Union Township, said the House dealt with the issue before in 2007 when the Speaker’s Commission on Legislative Reform considered it. Experts testified at hearings and the commission decided not to recommend a reduction to the full House, Sainato said.

He argues that a 50-seat reduction hurts rural areas such as Lawrence County because “you would lose influence.” Sainato, a Democrat, said the influence of cities such as New Castle also would be diminished by making a district larger.

The proposed reduction would increase the size of a House district from a population of 60,000 to 80,000.

The proposal, he said, “saves very little money” because legislative staff would have to be increased.

“You’re not cutting government,” he said, “you’re cutting representation.”

In a written statement, Brooks commented that the proposal “has the potential to limit the voice of rural Pennsylvania and increase the influence of special interests.”

The loss of votes and representation from rural areas has the ability “to benefit more suburban and urban areas of the state ...”

The legislation’s sponsor said the bill is aimed at increasing the management of the House and may not cut costs, she noted.

“So, in essence, it’s about managing the members,” the Greenville Republican said.

The sponsor is the same leader “that managed members to push through the 2005 middle-of-the-night pay raise that sparked an outcry for real reform. It’s understandable that the major reforms and the independent thinking that has occurred since the pay raise would cause frustration for the old-time power brokers.”

House Speaker Sam Smith is the bill’s sponsor.

The bill, Brooks said, could result in a diminished voice of rank-and-file members.

Brooks added she supports a more gradual approach over a longer period of time so that legislators can see the impacts a reduction has on representation.


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