Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Cautionary Instruction: Lawmakers more ambitious with government reduction bill

Matthew T. Mangino
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
June 6, 2014
Pennsylvania has one of the largest and most expensive legislatures in the country. The General Assembly’s annual budget exceeds a quarter of a billion dollars. Those dollars go to pay the salary of 253 legislators and about 2,600 staffers.
New Hampshire has the largest legislature in the country with 424 members, but they are part-timers who make about $100 a year, compared with the $84,000 base salary for Pennsylvania lawmakers.
Proposals to reduce the size of the legislature come up in nearly every legislative session. In 2011, there was a proposal to reduce the House from 203 members to 121 and the Senate from 50 to 30 members.
However, this year some senators were not satisfied with just reducing the number of lawmakers.
“There’s also two other branches of government that need to be reduced also, in my opinion,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati.
This week, a Senate committee passed resolutions to eliminate 55 legislative seats and several appellate judgeships. Even the executive branch of government was not exempt. The proposed legislation would eliminate the position of Lt. Governor. Proposed constitutional amendments to shrink the size of government across the three branches have been sent to the full Senate for consideration.
Scarnati’s plan would reduce the state Supreme Court from seven to five seats and cap the Superior Court at 11 members. Without a Lt. Governor, Scarnati’s plan provides for a special election to replace a governor who leaves office, with the Senate President Pro Tempore filling in.
Scarnati currently holds that position in the senate and filled the Lt. Governor’s office after Lt. Governor Catherine Baker Knoll died in 2008.
Pennsylvania attorneys and political observers expressed shock and disapproval over Senate bills. “I think it caught a lot of us by surprise that the judiciary was included in that mix,” John J. Hare, chair of the appellate advocacy and post-trial practice group at Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in Philadelphia told The Legal Intelligencer. “I had no idea that they were going to bring the judiciary into this and I think [cutting judgeships] would be really unfortunate.”
Both reduction measures passed unanimously out of committee -- one bill addressed the House, the other addressed the Senate, judiciary, and lieutenant governor.
Senators said their concerns could be debated without slowing down the lengthy process ahead. A constitutional amendment must first pass the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions, and then clear a voter referendum.
Not everyone is enamored with idea of reducing the size of the legislature. Opponents say the dangers include moving access to state lawmakers farther away from constituents, diluting the representation of rural areas, and the overstated cost savings projections.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States is now available from McFarland & Company publishers.
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