Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Psst, Buddy...Want A Pay Raise?

Kudos to The Bucks County Courier Times for keeping the Harrisburg pay raise travesty front and center as a story deserving of a lot of coverage (also to John Grogan in yesterday's Inquirer). The Courier Times editorial was a well-earned kick in the pants to the crooks who capitalized on it. Also, this article from yesterday provided more coverage.

Not all lawmakers take raise
By Alison Hawkes

Most of Bucks County's lawmakers voted against a pay raise and have also turned down the money personally, according to information released on Monday from House and Senate clerk offices.

The exceptions are Sen. Joe Conti, R-10 (Bucks), and Rep. Matt Wright, R-142 (Bucks), who both voted for the pay raise and have started collecting their own raises this month in the form of unvouchered expenses. Conti's salary is going up nearly $20,000, and Wright's salary is approximately $15,000 more.

On the other hand, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-12 (Bucks), and Rep. Kate Harper, R-61 (Montgomery), both voted for the pay raise but have turned down ones for themselves.

Earlier, Greenleaf said his "yes" vote was directed towards judges' salaries - not the Legislature- and he would have preferred the two issues be split. Greenleaf voted against the last pay raise bill in 1995.

Despite Bucks' stance, a majority of state lawmakers have accepted the unvouchered expenses, which allow them to skirt constitutional requirements by collecting the equivalent of a pay raise immediately. The state constitution forbids lawmakers from voting for pay raises and taking them in the same term.

As the information was made public, activist Gene Stilp filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court against Gov. Ed Rendell, Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., and the two top ranking lawmakers, House Speaker John Perzel and Senate Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer.

"The pay raise act provides for large unconstitutional increases in unvouchered expenses to legislators during the current legislative session through a definition change to the word 'salary,' " the lawsuit stated.

Stilp filed a similar lawsuit in 1995 in protest to the unvouchered expenses, but the state Supreme Court upheld the practice.

The Senate clerk released information about the unvouchered expenses as a list of 23 senators who had waived receipt of them. But the House clerk's office made the process much more difficult.

Reporters had to make one-hour appointments to view a monthly report of employee pay and could not photocopy the list of more than 200 lawmakers. A spokeswoman for House Speaker John Perzel, R-172 (Philadelphia), said the viewing policy was common practice under House rules.

"The bottom line is, whether it's a member of the press or a private citizen, this information is available for review," said Perzel spokeswoman Beth Williams. "Taxpayers have a right to know but there has to be some form of organization."
Perzel is a creep. As John Grogan noted yesterday, he made a DVD of his swearing in ceremony after his latest election victory and tried to bill the taxpayers $57,000 for it. Grogan wrote a couple of columns describing his efforts to sell a copy of the DVD on eBay (funny stuff) before Perzel eventually caved and paid the bill himself.

Information about the unvouchered expenses technically only applies to August salaries, since lawmakers can change their minds at any point in time until their terms expire in December 2006.

Meanwhile, with public outrage still seething over the pay raise vote, House Minority Whip Mike Veon, D-14 (Beaver), defended the bill's passage at 2 a.m. on July 7, with no public debate, no advanced notice of its details, and under the suspension of a number of House rules.

At his office in Beaver Falls, Veon said: "I think the obvious reason is, it would be much more difficult to pass it if you had months of debate. My job was to find a way to get a pay raise bill through the Legislature."

Veon said he has no regrets, even as his office has surged with complaints. He has lobbied for a pay raise since November, and is taking the unvouchered expenses bringing his new salary up $31,415 to total of $124,788.

"Some people are upset. Some people say they won't vote for me again. Some are disappointed but say they will vote for me. I tell them I will work harder than ever to regain their confidence," Veon said.

Conti represents Falls, Lower Makefield, Morrisville, Tullytown, Newtown Borough, Newtown Township, Upper Makefield, Yardley, 20 municipalities in Central and Upper Bucks and two Montgomery County communities. Wright represents Hulmeville, Langhorne, Langhorne Manor, Penndel, all but two precincts in Lower Southampton and part of Middletown.

Pay raise glance

Legislators who voted "no" on the pay-raise bill but accepted "unvouchered expenses" so they can collect the extra money immediately:

House: Armstrong, R-Lancaster; Forcier, R-Crawford; Gabig, R-Cumberland; Gergely, D-Allegheny; Habay, R-Allegheny; Haluska, D-Cambria; Hanna, D-Clinton; Mackereth, R-York; Myers, D-Philadelphia; Petrarca, D-Westmoreland; Ramaley, D-Beaver; Reichley, R-Lehigh; Sainato, D-Lawrence; Shaner, D-Fayette; Siptroth, D-Monroe; Stairs, R-Westmoreland; Yudichak, D-Luzerne. Senate: Kitchen, Stack and Tartaglione, all D-Philadelphia, and Logan, D-Allegheny.

Legislators who voted for the pay-raise bill but refused to accept the money early as unvouchered expenses:

House: Creighton, R-Lancaster; Frankel, D-Allegheny; Harper, R-Montgomery; Maher, R-Allegheny; Manderino, D-Philadelphia; Rohrer, R-Berks. Senate: Corman, R-Centre; Erickson, R-Delaware; Greenleaf, R-Montgomery; and Williams, D-Montgomery.
All the Philadelphia Democrats voted for it, though they were probably fearing reprisal from minority leader Bill DeWeese if they didn't (tells you how much the whole rotten mess stinks to high heaven).

These salary numbers I’m reading are truly outrageous. I know Dave Steil (the state House rep in my district) voted against the raise, but I don’t know if he actually took it. I don’t think he did. However, Joe Conti, our state senator, both voted for the raise and took it (as noted in the story).

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