Pennsylvania lawmakers are getting a pay bump next month that will boost minimum salaries to about $86,500, a 1.3 percent increase from this year.
Party leaders will make significantly more — between $98,609 and $134,998, depending on their position.
This increase is automatic. It’s tied to consumer price index numbers, so it increases — or decreases — when the cost of living does.
Peverill Squire, a professor at the University of Missouri and an expert on state legislatures, said the system is designed to keep salaries separate from political conflict.
“There have been lots of problems with legislatures setting their own salaries,” he said. “One, it’s politically difficult to do. And second, they tend to pursue devices within the legislature that reflect badly on the legislative process.”
Pennsylvania’s no stranger to such controversy — in 2005 before the automatic pay scale system was in place, a scandal dubbed “Bonusgate” engulfed the Capitol after lawmakers voted in the middle of the night to boost their salaries by more than $10,000.
In the ensuing fallout, public opinion of the legislature dropped, and dozens of the people who voted themselves a raise were either ousted or didn’t seek re-election.
Now, of course, the system is different. And Squire even said there is evidence that higher salaries have some benefit.
“Legislatures that pay more tend to be more productive,” he said. “They tend to have a better ability to connect with their constituents. And they can certainly devote more time and energy to the legislative process.”
And Pennsylvania lawmakers’ pay is particularly high — it’s second only to California, which has a much larger electorate.
The commonwealth’s Legislature is also full-time, unlike many others.
Squire added, though, that higher pay doesn’t stop political corruption.
“You can have corrupt legislators even when they’re reasonably well paid,” he said. “And, of course, you have that same problem when they’re not paid well at all.”