One legacy of Pennsylvania’s 2015 budget gridlock may prove to be the wave of retirement announcements from longtime state lawmakers.
More than a dozen House and Senate members are calling it quits, most of them with more than a decade of service under their belts.
Their reasons vary.
“Let me put it this way — the impasse didn’t convince me to stay,” said Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, elected in 2006.
“The art of compromise needs to be revisited in the Capitol,” Vereb said, “and I think the art of the deal — someone should read up on it.”
When asked if he was speaking generally, or referring to the Donald Trump book, “The Art of the Deal,” Vereb replied, “Actually both.”
Across the aisle, Rep. Nick Kotik, D-Allegheny, is retiring after serving in the House since 2003. He said many of the departing lawmakers have distinguished themselves as people who value pragmatism, something he said has been in short supply during budget negotiations.
“Some of the retirements on the Republican side are an indication that those members would be more receptive to doing things, but they’re throwing their towel in, because they’re in the minority within the Republican caucus,” said Kotik. “That’s my assessment of the situation.”
Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland, is stepping down at the end of the year after serving in the Senate since 2005, and before that in the House since 1991. She considers herself a moderate, and sees many of her fellow retiring lawmakers as fitting the same mold.
“Many of them are totally frustrated,” said Vance. “There’s nothing wrong with compromise. It’s not a bad word.”
There’s reason to be concerned about an exodus of lawmakers who are principled but ideologically flexible, she said.
“If they are replaced by more hardline people, it will be a very, very difficult job,” said Vance.
“It depends on who gets elected in their places,” said Rep. Chris Ross, R-Chester, who’s leaving after serving 19 years in the House. He was the committee chairman tasked with forging a consensus on liquor store reforms, once considered a key piece of a budget compromise. Ross said he didn’t see a way to secure liquor store changes in 2015, though he’s hopeful there can be an agreement in the next year. In the meantime, he’s holding out hope for a finalized state budget.
“I hope we’ll find a conclusion really in the next few months,” said Ross.
The current state budget impasse has broken the Legislature’s modern-day record for longest stalemate. If veteran lawmakers keep dropping like flies, some wonder if the next budget process is destined for the record books.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Kotik.