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Opinion: Inflation means big salary boost for lawmakers, judges, others

Those of us on Social Security will be looking at one of the biggest annual increases in years because of the rise in the cost of living.

Anyone’s salary which is tied to cost of living indicators also will see significant increases in 2022. This includes all 253 Pennsylvania legislators in the General Assembly, statewide and local judges, the governor and members of his cabinet, elected row officers (attorney general, auditor general and treasurer) and others, a total of more than 1,300 positions.

Last year, to their credit, the legislators were smart enough to realize that eliminating the less than 1% cost-of-living increase for 2021 was an important symbolic message to us constituents that would show that they understood the financial pain that many Pennsylvanians have been enduring during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

How would it have looked for rank-and-file legislators to have gotten an $1,175 increase while millions of Pennsylvanians who lost their jobs because of the pandemic either were on unemployment or scrimping to come up with every dollar to provide for themselves and their families? In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the vote in both houses was unanimous.

This year, the employment and salary landscapes are totally different. Employment is approaching pre-pandemic levels, and in the face of businesses being unable to get enough employees to be fully staffed, they have been offering generous incentives that include sign-on bonuses, increased hourly rates, payment of college tuition and other perks.

Although the decision at this time last year saved the state about $3.2 million, according to state Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $39.8 billion state budget. Still, it was a significant symbolic acknowledgment that legislators felt their constituents’ pain.

I have been a harsh critic of the decision that state legislators made more than 15 years ago to give themselves and other state officials an automatic annual cost-of-living bump. This way, they don’t have to go through the messy and sometimes uncomfortable process of voting themselves the salary increases.

This coming year’s 5.6% increase is the largest year-over-year increase in 20 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As he has done every year since first taking office in 2015, Wolf will donate his entire salary to charity. The highest salary increase - $12,000 to $234,000 - will go to Democratic State Supreme Court Justice Max Baer, who will retire at the end of 2022 after he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75.

In addition to the other judges on the Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts, the increases affect local judges who serve on our counties’ Courts of Common Pleas.

Increases take effect today for lawmakers and Jan. 1 for judicial and executive branch officials.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a candidate in 2022 for Pat Toomey’s Senate seat, will earn nearly $179,000 in his last year in office in 2022. Wolf and Fetterman are restricted by two-term limits from seeking re-election to their current posts.

The salaries of row officers Democrat Josh Shapiro, and Republicans Auditor General Tim DeFoor and Treasurer Stacy Garrity will climb to $177,000.

Rank-and-file lawmakers will get an increase of $5,058 to $95,394. State legislators are the third highest paid in the nation behind California and New York.

Members of the legislative leadership will make considerably more, up to almost $149,000 for House speaker, Bryan Cutler, and the Senate president pro tempore, Jake Corman. The floor leaders of the four caucuses will make about $138,000.

I have been a consistent critic of the size of the General Assembly, which includes 203 members of the House of Representatives and 50 senators. This view is shared by Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill and Carbon, who tried for years to get his colleagues to pass legislation to reduce the size of the House.

In recent years, he passed the baton to Rep. Valerie Gaydos, R-Allegheny, who has introduced a legislative-reduction bill twice, including in the current session, but it has languished in committee.

The Gaydos bill, championed by Knowles and others, would amend the state Constitution by reducing the number of legislative districts in the House from 203 to 151. There would be no change to the 50-member Senate.

Even if the bill did pass soon, the change would not take effect until after the 2030 decennial census, because Gaydos’ bill requires the Legislative Reapportionment Committee to establish new district boundaries. There is not enough time for this to happen with the current reapportionment process well underway.

Still, the process needs to start to provide us with a much more streamlined and much less expensive legislative branch of government.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.