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Legislative pay rules need to change

Earlier this week, we learned that Pennsylvania’s lawmakers are going to be getting another raise, making them the third-highest paid state legislators in the country.

No one voted on the raise — it comes automatically as part of a 1995 law that ties salaries to the U.S. Consumer Price Index. This year, the raise is 3.5%, going from $102,844 to $106,422.

That comes after a 7.8% bump last year.

The base salary for lawmakers is more than twice the average salary in the state, according to data from the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analysis. And the latest raise comes as the state Senate prepares to take up the question of whether to give the first cost of living increase in more than 20 years to former state employees who retired before 2001.

Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana County, the senate majority leader, said he is sympathetic to the plight of those who retired and he should be. Those retirees have watched the purchasing power of their pensions decrease thanks to the same inflation that has given lawmakers like Pittman big raises two years in a row.

The idea behind tying salary increases for elected officials to outside changes makes a lot of sense. It keeps lawmakers from being able to vote to pad their own wallets at the expense of the public at large.

But this latest raise comes as many Americans have seen far smaller pay increases — if they’ve gotten any at all. The Associated Press reported that the average Pennsylvania worker saw a 2% raise this year.

And the raise comes in a year where the House and Senate failed to agree on a budget until months after the statutory deadline and, after that, failed repeatedly to act on a common sense proposal to move up the 2024 Primary Election so it wouldn’t interfere with Passover.

Perhaps, in addition to the law that automatically increases salaries, it’s time to consider a version of the 27th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prevents lawmaker salaries from increasing until after an election.

No matter what, one thing is clear: Continuing a system that gives lawmakers raises regardless of performance or the state’s financial position is a bad idea.

— JK

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