REPEAL Legislators say their vote to increase pay for themselves, state employees and judges in July was fair, but they got the public's message to repeal the raise.

State Rep. Frank LaGrotta isn't expressing any regrets about voting in favor of a pay raise in July.

"I absolutely think it was fair," the Ellwood City Democrat said this week after voting to repeal the raise.

Only one House member voted against the repeal, and the vote in the Senate was unanimous.

Noting the public's negative reaction to the raise, which was approved at 2 a.m. July 7, LaGrotta said, "It was clear that there was no alternative but to repeal the raise."

Because the raise remained an issue for four months, he added, "It did not allow us to do anything else."

"It's over. It's done. We'll get the cost-of-living increase that every state employee will get."

The legislative raises ranged from 16 to 54 percent. Raises had also been granted to judges and administration personnel. The repeal returns legislative pay to $69,647 annually.

State Sen. Gerald LaValle, who had also voted in favor of the increase, said he still believes that the position should be paid half the salary of a member of Congress.

"I would do it again," he said of voting for the raise.

"If the job is done the way it's supposed to be done, then it's worth at least 50 percent of what congressional members receive," the Beaver County Democrat said.

State Sen. Bob Robbins of Mercer County, who had also voted for the raise, said, "Obviously, the public expressed its dissatisfaction with the pay raise. We got the message and repealed it."

Robbins and LaValle said that Gov. Ed Rendell started the ball rolling when he wanted to increase the pay for cabinet secretaries and then was expanded to cover judges and legislators. Leaders of both parties were involved in the pay raise negotiations.

"At that time as being a member of leadership, I supported it," Robbins said.

Robbins is Republican caucus secretary.

"I've always said all along the present system is fine," said state Rep. Chris Sainato, who voted against the increase.

"You get an annual cost-of-living adjustment. There should be no need for a pay raise."

With the repeal, every legislator except for those in leadership positions will receive the same pay. Under the pay raise schedule, subcommittee chairmen received one salary and committee chairmen received another.

Despite opposing the raise, Sainato, a Democrat from Union Township, accepted unvouchered expenses and committed $5,000 for a scholarship fund through the New Castle Playhouse.

In addition to the pay raise, the legislators also repealed the unvouchered expenses. Legislators who received them are not required to return them.

Sainato said he received nearly $2,600 for the scholarship fund, which will last five years. Sainato wants to provide annual scholarships of $500.

He said he may continue to contribute to the fund.

LaGrotta, who said he spent most of his unvouchered expenses on his office and staff, doesn't plan to return the money. He estimated he received about $2,800 after taxes.

Robbins plans to return what he received.

"I think it's the right thing to do."

He said he has asked the Senate's chief clerk on the proper method to return the money.

LaValle said he will do what the chief clerk advises.

"If it's not illegal, I'm not going to return it."

Robbins and LaValle said they state Rep. Rod Wilt of Mercer County was the only local legislator who voted against the raise and declined to accept any unvouchered expenses.

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