A small group of state lawmakers is renewing the push to eliminate public officials’ annual cost-of-living adjustments, commonly referred to as COLAs. Every year lawmakers and a variety of other public officials receive a pay raise that’s tied to the consumer price index, but first-term state Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) says it’s time for the General Assembly to lead by example.
“There’s about a $1,700 dollar increase every year for a salary that is above average for the family median and it’s unnecessary,” says Kim, “and I think it would just be a great message – along with savings – to cut it out, build the trust back and save money.”
Rank-and-file lawmakers will earn $83,800 this year.
Kim and 2nd term state Rep. Gerald Mullery (D-Luzerne) are leading the charge this session. So far, seven of 203 House members have signed onto their bill. Only three members signed onto an identical bill last session, which died in the House State Government Committee.
Some lawmaker and Corbett administration officials already donate their COLAs to charity or return them to the commonwealth, but eliminating the annual pay raises would ensure the money stays in the public treasury and prevent it from counting toward officials’ pensions.
Each winter state lawmakers cash in on a pay raise thanks to a 1995 law that grants legislators, judges and the governor annual cost-of-living adjustments. Multiple bills have been introduced to block these pay raises over the years, but none has seen the light of day. This year State Rep. Brad Roae (R-Crawford) hopes to change that with a bill so narrowly focused, he believes it can pass. “My legislation would stop that COLA for state House members just for this year,” Roae tells Radio PA.
“I just think that as state House members we should lead by example and help save a little bit of tax money by doing the same thing that a lot of other government employees are doing.” Roae’s referring to the new state worker union contracts that call for a one-year pay freeze and the voluntary pay freeze that some school districts accepted this year. Non-union state workers, meanwhile, haven’t seen a pay hike in several years.
HB 1952 has been referred to the House State Government Committee, where Roae thinks it has enough votes to advance. If the bill can pass the House, Roae doesn’t foresee any problems with the Senate or administration, since it only affects state Reps’ pay. Pennsylvania state lawmakers currently earn just under $80,000 a year, before pocketing any per diems.
The COLA’s, which are tied to the consumer price index, would take effect on December 1st.
“On what legal, moral and/or ethical basis has the administration decided not to provide pay raises for approximately 13,000 non-union State Employees for going on 4-years while providing approximately 14% in pay increases for Unionized State Workers, Legislators, and some Non-Unionized (on ST Pay Schedules) over this same time period?”
The wording has been identical as the emails on this particular topic pour in for Governor Tom Corbett. Even the improper capitalizations have been copied letter-for-letter. Yes, the non-union state employees are livid, and there’s an organized effort to get their message to the Governor.
Now, these are folks who work hard and are legitimately frustrated as they watch union employees (often subordinates) get pay raises through their union contracts while their own salaries remain stagnant in these tough times. It’s been going on for several years and some managers now say they’re making less money than some of their employees. They’re mad, and they’re emailing us at PAMatters.com demanding an answer from the governor.
As regular visitors to PAMatters.com can tell you, we’ve been in front of this issue and have already discussed it with Governor Corbett. As such, we don’t plan on devoting more time in the coming programs rehashing a subject we already covered. For those who missed it, here are the Governor’s comments on this subject from July 12th. Of particular note, the Governor said he’s hoping to see this situation begin to resolve itself next year, but as we all know, there just wasn’t any money for non-union pay raises (and a bunch of other things) in his first budget this year. There’s nothing that can be done for now, so the issue will likely remain on the side burner until the Governor’s next budget address in about 6 months. For the angry and organized masses, that should be your next email rally point.
Until then, all I can offer is a “misery loves company” answer. For those who have suffered through several years of frozen salaries and wages, you have to know that you’re not alone. Many people are just barely keeping their heads above water, but others all over Pennsylvania are still drowning. There is something to the sage advice about appreciating what you have rather than focusing too much on what you want. Many people out there would do anything for a well-paying job with benefits, and future pay raises wouldn’t factor into their happiness quotient one bit as long as they could put food on their family’s table now.
While we won’t be spending much more on-air time with the Governor on this matter this year, I will promise to personally place your emails in his hand when he is here for his next scheduled taping on August 11th, and yes, this will be an issue we dive back into when the time is right.
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