By Jared Sichel | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — House and Senate members are scheduled to get an automatic increase in their prescription drug and dental benefits, even while they cut or keep the status quo in other areas.
Gov. Tom Corbett and Republicans in both houses are negotiating the $27.6 billion budget, including a $1.7 million boost in funding for member compensation — $1.4 million to the House’s 203 members and $300,000 to the state Senate’s 50 members. (What were these numbers in the prior budget?, and what’s the total for health care?)
Those numbers are based on increased costs for legislators’ prescription drug and dental insurance plans, along with an expected “cost-of-living adjustment,” which would start in December, according to the Senate Chief Clerk’s Office.
House and Senate members’ annual compensation could increase by at least $6,000.
Eric Epstein, founder of Rock the Capital, a Harrisburg-based political watchdog group, are out of touch with voters.
“The average Pennsylvania family does not get subsidized ‘Cadillac’ health care,” Epstein said. “Until these guys that govern us understand how hard it is to get by day to day, to pay health care, they’re not going to be able to pass legislation that improves the quality of life for Pennsylvanians.”
Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, said Senate Republicans do “understand fully the difficult economic situation that Pennsylvania is in.”
“Much of our work this session has been targeted to improving the economic condition of our state,” Arneson said. “Increased health-care costs are an issue for every employer, whether in the private sector or the public sector.”
The total budget for the state House and Senate will decrease by about $800,000 next year, according to budget spreadsheets circulated by staff this week. (do you mean the money that goes to the house and senate … what was it last year?, and what other things does it cover?)
The reduction is due to ongoing streamlining of other costs, primarily printing costs.
“I think (printing and legislative expense accounts) have decreased considerably over the last three or four years,” said state Rep. Bill Adolph, R-Delaware.
While lawmakers’ compensation is going up, the proposed budget includes nearly flat-funding for basic education and a 10 percent cut for county-level human services.
Although salaries comprise the bulk of lawmaker compensation, benefits—ranging from health and dental plans to per diems of $163 that most members qualify for —significantly increase how much our House and Senate members make. (per diems for what … explain further)
According to a report called “The State of Health” by the Bucks County Courier Times, preferred provider organization, or PPO health insurance plans for House members and their families cost taxpayers between $4,543 and $20,420 in FY 2011-12. Most full-time House employees are enrolled in plans worth at least $6,855. Plans for state senators and their families currently range from $6,969 to $19,311. (Was it a report or a story? A series of stories. I think you need to explain those numbers? What’s it mean, they’re worth? Is this an average for all health costs?)
The average private sector employee in Pennsylvania, meanwhile, is enrolled in a plan worth about $5,000, according to 2010 data collected by the National Conference of State Legislators.
Although the Senate Chief Clerk’s Office says that the planned compensation increases are only for dental and prescription drug plans, not for the PPO plans, legislators risk appearing out of touch with a constituency that earns less than their representatives but pays higher premiums for fewer health care benefits
Lawmakers have not once voted to increase their salaries since they repealed their own controversial pay raise in 2005, but benefit increases and COLAs have allowed House and Senate members to increase their compensation without facing a repeat of the voter anger politicians faced seven years ago. (what happened then?)
Solely due to COLA increases, state lawmakers now make about $82,000 per year in salary. That’s more than they would have made in 2005 if they did not repeal their pay raise. (not including per diem? Not sure I understand this sentence?)
COLAs adjust legislative salaries based on the Philadelphia region’s consumer price index, or CPI. Any compensation increase in the upcoming budget would come on top of a 3 percent, or $2,500 salary increase that General Assembly members received in December 2011 as part of their annual COLAs.
Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, returns his COLA increases to the state Treasury and does not participate in the state’s pension system or the legislature’s PPO, prescription drug, or dental programs.
“Senator Folmer is pleased the overall Senate budget will be cut,” wrote his Chief of Staff Fred Sembach in an e-mail.
He added that Folmer’s position is that according to Article II, Section 8 of the state constitution, “health care for legislators is not provided for.”