Opinion

Their View: Reduce the size of General Assembly

The folowing editorial appeared in The Reading Eagle.

California has nearly 39 million people, making it the nation’s most populous state by a fat 12 million. It has 120 members in its legislature.

Texas is No. 2 on the people meter, with nearly 27 million. Its House and Senate have a combined 181 lawmakers.

Florida, third in the 2014 census with roughly 20 million people, has 140 full-time legislators. No. 4 New York, also with nearly 20 million, has 213 representatives and senators in Albany.

Illinois, fifth on the census chart, has 177 state lawmakers.

And then there’s Pennsylvania.

Our state, which like Illinois has nearly 13 million people, breaks the country’s state-government scale with 253 full-timers in Harrisburg.

Mull that for a moment.

We have less than a third of California’s population, yet more than twice its legislators. We have less than half the people Texas has, yet we have 72 more elected officials drawing formidable salaries, health benefits and pensions.

We have 7 million fewer people than Florida, but 113 more lawmakers. We even have 40 more legislators than notoriously bureaucratic and much-bigger New York.

The General Assembly is the largest full-time legislative body in the country and second largest overall. New Hampshire’s has 424 members, but they are part-timers.

“That statement alone should be enough to persuade you” that Pennsylvania’s legislature is too large, said Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny. “Because that statement is ringing in the ears of our constituents back home.”

Which is why, despite some reasonable arguments against the measure, we support House Bills 153 and 384 to shrink the state House and Senate by 26 percent each.

The House would whittle 52 seats from its current 203, and the Senate would shave 13 from its current 50.

There are legitimate objections to the bills, which is why past measures such as these have failed to traverse the lengthy trail to law (they must pass both chambers, without revision, in two consecutive sessions, then be put to a referendum).

Trimming the House to 151 would add 22,500 constituents to each representative’s expanded districts. Foes say that will make it harder for lawmakers to lend attention to individuals, especially in rural areas.

“In my mind, it will empower the special interests and lobbyists,” said Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon.

Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, said the measure is a red herring.

“Every poll that I’ve seen shows that more than this, they want a Marcellus shale tax more than they care about whether or not the size of the Legislature is 151,” Sturla said.

Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean this issue is meaningless.

It would save taxpayers an estimated $10 million to $15 million per year — a drop in the bucket of the latest $29 billion budget, but still plenty of cash.

But we’re behind the measures mainly because a decrease in lawmakers could mean an increase in the ease with which vital legislation travels through Harrisburg.

“This bill,” said Rep. Jerry Knowles, the bill’s prime sponsor, “is about making our state government run more efficiently by downsizing and streamlining.”

On balance, we agree.

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