Your recent editorial (“Size matters to taxpayers,” June 1) reviewed the important topic of shrinking the size of Pennsylvania’s legislature. One important point omitted in the editorial is the fact that similar efforts have failed at least 97 times since the 1970s.
Taking these 97 efforts into account, it would be easy to propose legislation that drastically cuts the state legislature, but would have little chance of passing in the House or Senate.
Because reducing the size of the General Assembly requires a constitutional amendment, it requires approval by the House, the Senate in two different years, and then by the voters of Pennsylvania. After listening to many concerns from constituents in the six counties I represent, I introduced legislation to take a realistic approach to gain both the public’s support, as well as support from Senators and Representatives—I didn’t want my bill to become the 98th unsuccessful attempt to resolve this important issue.
The state’s recent financial hardships have created a “perfect storm” of factors that could finally allow us to ultimately reduce the size of the legislature. The Senate has taken a number of important steps to cut costs which reduced our budget by fifteen percent since 2006, but I believe these cost-saving measures do not go far enough. The General Assembly cannot continue to ask state agencies to continue to cut costs unless we are also willing to do more with less and lead by example.
My proposal would make several reductions in the number of legislators over a period of time, culminating in 50 fewer House members and five fewer Senators. I believe it is important to offer a plan that will have a realistic chance of winning legislative approval instead of another more dramatic proposal that will end up dying in committee. Under my legislation, starting in 2013, the House will be trimmed by ten seats, a pattern that will be repeated every ten years until 2053, when the House will be trimmed to an efficient 153 seats. The Senate will shed two seats in 2013, two seats in 2023 and a fifth seat in 2033, trimming the Senate to 45 members.
I will support any bill to move forward on this issue, whether it is my bill or any of the other House or Senate bills. I do believe, however, that if we really want to solve this issue, after four decades of unsuccessful effort, my suggested legislation may well present the best opportunity to move this issue forward. While this is no silver bullet to solve all of the state’s financial woes, this is a significant savings to taxpayers. The people I represent overwhelmingly favor a smaller, more effective and less expensive legislature, and I am hopeful we can now build on this momentum to get this legislation approved in the near future.
Senator David G. Argall represents the 29th District including all of Schuylkill County and parts of Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe and Northampton Counties.
Contact: Jon Hopcraft