Pennsylvanians may cheer word that the Legislature is poised to repeal its notorious pay raise.
But this victory would be partial at best. The underlying problem with Harrisburg remains.
The 16 percent-plus pay raise for lawmakers, as well as increases for other state officials, became a highly visible symbol for the failings of state government. Unfortunately, even with the repeal effort, those same failings remain on display.
July's pay raise came in the dead of night, without committee hearings, debates or any of the other trappings of the legislative process known to every civics student. Poof! There it was.
And the same thing essentially occurred with the repeal. Both the House and Senate quickly passed separate versions of the measure. Difference must be resolved before the measure becomes law. However, there were again no committee hearings.
The whole purpose of having hearings and other procedures is to establish a deliberative process when new legislation is crafted. This allows testimony for and against a given idea. It gives the public and assorted interests the opportunity to chime in and offer constructive criticism.
It also gives the Legislature the chance to avoid rushing headlong into something foolish and self destructive, such as the pay-raise debacle.
There is a great deal wrong in Harrisburg. Part of it is indeed lawmakers who thought they deserved a massive pay raise (on top of regular cost-of-living increases), when they mangle so many important measures. We cite the new slot machine law and the accompanying tax reform effort which is now so much political goo.
The Legislature's difficulties stem in part from a system where leaders dominate the process, while the rank-and-file tags mindlessly along. But it's also a consequence of a legislative reapportionment system that protects incumbents, and a state constitution that gives the public absolutely no opportunity -- except elections -- to change the system.
And when most legislative elections are decided before they begin, that means the public is usually powerless.
The Legislature, however, is only part of the problem. The unvouchered expenses included with the pay raise measure are a blatant violation of the state constitution. Yet this practice of accelerating pay hikes has been blessed by the state Supreme Court. Meanwhile, we learn the court's chief justice actively lobbied for pay increases and recommended much of what was eventually adopted by the Legislature.
Pennsylvanians must understand that repealing this pay raise is not enough. Harrisburg needs massive reform, most likely through constitutional amendments or even a new constitution. The pay raise is a symptom of a far more insidious disease.