Pennsylvania lawmakers find it’s not easy to thin their ranks

By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

HARRISBURG, Pa. — An idea to reduce Pennsylvania’s Legislature started simply in the state House, which approved two clean bills last year that would cut the General Assembly by about 25 percent.

It’s been a little more complicated in the Senate.

That’s largely because a Senate bill that would reduce the 50-person chamber was amended to also make cuts to the judiciary and eliminate the position of lieutenant governor. State Sen. President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, put forth the amendment, but it hasn’t been embraced wholeheartedly.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said there hasn’t been enough public dialogue about a plan that “impacts the democracy of this commonwealth.” And state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, said while she supports reductions to the House and Senate, the bill wasn’t ready for “primetime.”

“There’s a lot of unreadiness,” Hughes said.

SCALING BACK: A proposal to reduce Pennsylvania’s costly legislature could get gummed up in the state Senate because an amendment that also cuts the judiciary and the lt. governor position.

The bill would eliminate five Senate posts. Scarnati’s amendment would also reduce the Supreme Court by two justices and the Superior Court by four judges. He contended voters want a smaller, more reactive government.

“Who are we to sit here and say we need all this government?” Scarnati said, adding that the courts and the lieutentnat governor’s office would have time to make their cases to voters.

The bill cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, but there’s no guarantee it will pass in a floor vote.

Even if it did, change would be a long way off. Reducing the size of the Legislature would require that an amendment to the state constitution be approved by lawmakers in two consecutive sessions and then by voters in a public referendum.

Scarnati said lawmakers, despite their concerns, should let that happen.

“Give the voters a chance,” he said.

Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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