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PA: Lawmakers get pay increase, salary soars past $83,000

By   /   November 20, 2012  /   No Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania lawmakers will get a 2.2 percent pay increase on Dec. 1, boosting their salaries to more than $83,000.

Russ Faber, chief clerk of the state Senate, confirmed to PA Independent on Tuesday that lawmakers would receive a 2.165 percent increase in their pay at the start of December, after the Patriot-News reported the increase Tuesday morning.  Legislators’ pay is linked to the consumer price index, or CPI, for the Mid-Atlantic States and is adjusted each December.

With the increase, the base salary for lawmakers in both the state House and state Senate will increase by about $1,800 from the current base salary of $82,000.

It pays to work under this dome.

The median household income in Pennsylvania is about $50,000.  Unemployment in the state is 8.1 percent.

Faber confirmed that the new salary for President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, will be $130,820.  Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, and Minority Leader Jay Costa, R-Allegheny, will receive $121,418 after Dec. 1.

Members of the state House will be see the same 2.2 percent bump.

With the increase, Speaker of the House Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, will make $130,820 next year, while Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, will make $121,418.

The Pennsylvania Constitution forbids lawmakers from being able to vote themselves a pay increase during their current term in office, but since the so-called “cost of living adjustment” is automatic and tied to the CPI, that restriction does not apply.

As a result, the 25 members of the state Senate who were not up for re-election this year will still receive the pay bump despite continuing their previous term in office.

Not all members of the General Assembly keep the automatic pay increase.  In recent years, several lawmakers have returned the increase to the state treasury or have given the extra amount to charity.

If all lawmakers accept the pay raise, the increase in pay alone would cost taxpayers more than $450,000 next year.

Only California lawmakers, who receive a base salary of $95,000, made more than their Pennsylvania counterparts in 2012, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

Pennsylvania lawmakers who live more than 50 miles from Harrisburg can also take a $160 per diem for each day of legislative work — which records indicate sometimes includes weekends.  They do not have to provide receipts.

Lawmakers also pay just one percent towards health care benefits, compared to the average of two percent in the private sector.

Eric Epstein, founder of Rock The Capitol, a Harrisburg-based political reform group, said politicians should not be in a position to raise their own pay.  He called for the repeal of the 1995 law that established the automatic annual pay increases.

“Compensation packages need to be pegged to accountability, merit markers and performance milestones,” he said.

This post was updated at 11:20 a.m. to include comments from Eric Epstein and data from NCSL.

Contact Eric Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.

— Edited by Kelly Carson, kcarson@watchdog.org

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Eric is a reporter for Watchdog.org and former bureau chief for Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys great weather and low taxes while writing about state governments, pensions, labor issues and economic/civil liberty. Previously, he worked for more than three years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering Pennsylvania state politics and occasionally sneaking across the border to Delaware to buy six-packs of beer. He has also lived (in order of desirability) in Brussels, Belgium, Pennsburg, Pa., Fairfield, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and elsewhere. He received a bachelor's degree from Fairfield University in 2009, but he refuses to hang on his wall until his student loans are fully paid off sometime in the mid-2020s. When he steps away from the computer, he enjoys drinking craft beers in classy bars, cheering for an eclectic mix of favorite sports teams (mostly based in Philadelphia) and traveling to new places.