Trimming the hack pack in Harrisburg

    Surely we should eliminate some legislative seats in Pennsylvania to save money and boot a few craven pols from the capitol. Or should we?

     

    I channel-surfed onto Pennsylvania Cable Network last night and stopped for a few minutes of their coverage of hearings on reducing the size of the state legislature. It’s widely believed that 203 house members and 50 state senators are more than we need.

     

    But Beverly Cigler, a public policy professor from Penn State Harrisburg made some pretty interesting counter-points.

    Sure we have a big legislature, she noted, but we’re a big state. Every state house member represents about 65,000 constituents. In only seventeen states do legislators represent more (see the tables at the end of her testimony, linked below).

    Cut the number of reps in Pennsylvania and districts will get larger. Cigler thinks democracy then becomes less representative. “We certainly wouldn’t want to be like California, where each district is 465,000 plus,” she told me.

    But there’s a more important point here, and that’s about cost.

    “We are the most costly legislature in the country after California, and that’s not because of the number of legislators,” Cigler said. “It’s because of the staff.”

    There are over 3,000 people working in the legislature, and the worst part is that many of them are working for the four legislative caucuses, doing things like research that is duplicative and often partisan.

    “In most of the states around the country, research is considered non-partisan, and it’s a centralized function, and that’s because a fact is a fact,” Cigler said.

    When she worked in North Carolina, a single centralized staff did research which was available to all lawmakers and to the public.

    Pennsylvania’s tradition of funding partisan caucuses with millions of public dollars created the culture that led to the bonusgate scandals. It ought to be abolished.

    Cigler noted that a lonely outpost of non-partisan research in Harrisburg, the Legislative Office for Research Liaison was eliminated this year, while funding for the partisan caucuses increased.

    I always need Maalox when I write about the legislature.

    Two morals to this post: 1. Things aren’t always what they seem. You can check out Bev Cigler’s testimony here.

    2. PCN will make you smarter. Check them out here.

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