Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

House Has Chance to Think Big, Get Smaller

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

House Has Chance to Think Big, Get Smaller

Article excerpt

Is America's Largest Full-Time State Legislature really about to reform or is it just playing the longest game of charades on record?

The state House voted overwhelmingly last week to shrink itself from 203 members to 153. That would still leave the body far larger than most; the average state house has 108 members, and similarly populated Ohio and Illinois get by with 99 and 118 representatives, respectively.

Sill, shedding roughly a quarter of the representatives would be fantastic. This could be, to paraphrase the old Miller Lite commercials, everything you've always wanted in a statehouse -- and less. There never has been a compelling need to send so many people to Harrisburg to spend so much time not getting much done.

House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, led the charge for governmental liposuction, and the House voted, 148-50, to downsize itself. Then it voted a hair more enthusiastically, 150-48, on a second bill to cut the Senate from 50 to 38 members. Thus the chances for reform look good, right?

Not on your autographed picture of Sen. John "Bluto" Blutarsky. The reason for pessimism has nothing to do with the bills' worthiness and everything to do with mass psychology.

Cutting both houses by roughly the same percentage may look fair, but the Pennsylvania Senate has never been wildly out of whack with those of other states. The average state has 39 senators, but 50 is hardly an outrageous number. Pennsylvania is one of 10 states with that many or more.

Meantime, even after this proposed reduction our House would have more full-time members than California (80 members), Texas and New York (both 150) and, well, every other state. (New Hampshire has 400 representatives, but they're part-timers who earn $100 a year while ours rake in $83,801.)

Mr. Smith knows this, which is why he introduced separate bills so that each chamber's cut can be determined independently. A year ago, when he introduced a single bill that targeted the House alone, his colleagues added an amendment to cut the Senate to 38 members. That was predictably, and probably intentionally, a poison pill. The House passed the bill, 140-49, but the Senate never even considered it. …

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