Thursday, December 4, 2008

What humanitarians

Our state, like the nation, is in the throes of an economic catastrophe, but never let it be said that our elected officials aren't feeling our pain. Lawmakers, including Rep. Tim Solobay of Canonsburg and Rep. Jesse White of Cecil, are lining up to give back their 2.8 percent cost-of-living adjustments. Said White, "It would be a slap in the face if we took this COLA while so many Pennsylvanians are struggling to just get by." Yeah, so they'll just continue slapping us in the face in other ways. Democracy Rising, a watchdog group led by former DeWeese staffer Tim Potts, has an item on its Web site about the per diem payments our lawmakers receive, up to $129 a day. As Democracy Rising notes, if you and I were to travel for work, we would be expected to provide receipts for every penny we spent if we hoped to be reimbursed. But the group notes that our state lawmakers are not like you and I. Here are some examples from the Web site:

- State lawmakers don't actually have to be working to get per diems. Capitol watchers and lobbyists are accustomed to seeing lawmakers show up at committee meetings long enough for a roll call, then leave. For those few minutes, they get a full per diem.
- They don't actually have to have expenses. Many lawmakers go home at night. Many share apartments. Some even buy houses in Harrisburg. Some stay in hotels. Their meals can be covered by lobbyists and their caucus leaders.
- They don't actually have to turn in receipts. Such petty accountability, legislative leaders say, would be a waste of their valuable time.

Democracy Rising says the average lawmaker makes $25,000 a year on per diems, in addition to their base salaries of nearly $80,000. Is it really asking too much of our elected officials to give us a full accounting of how they spend our money? I understand that the lawmakers need a place to stay and a couple of meals a day while working in Harrisburg. But I want to know if they're sleeping in their own beds and using their allowance to buy $100 meals at fancy restaurants. They may tell you they wouldn't do that, but how would we know? And is it too much to ask that the lawmakers actually have legitimate expenses before they get the $129 a day? It's really useless to complain, though, considering we just keep sending the same people back to Harrisburg. As the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different outcome. And our state lawmakers probably think that by giving back a cost-of-living allowance, we'll view them as some sort of governmental Mother Teresas. What a joke.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Almost no one runs and when they do, they lose. The public says they want change in Harrisburg, but they really don't.
There are no primary opponents for White and Solobay ever. The public here rarely votes for a Republican so the result is... same old same old.
There are legitimate issues, like the fact that expenses for legislators from the western part of the state are high to go to Harrisburg, but of course nothing if you live in Dauphin County. A system that reimbursed based on distance and time would make more sense.
Great comments on this Brant.

December 4, 2008 at 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would any rational-thinking human being run against an incumbent, unless of course he just wants to flush thousands of his own dollars down the toilet.

How much change did we get in Washington-Greene with this last vote? None. No one, not Bill DeWeese or the feeble-minded Jack Murtha, who called his constituents racists and rednecks, lost their seats.

Don't you think people who might be good, strong, effective leaders, see this? What would motivate them to try? Can't think of a single thing. They see they can't win.

I was struck by the death of Katherine Baker-Knoll recently, our Lt. Govenor, AT AGE 79. Death, or voting for a legislative payraise, is the only way to get an incumbant out of office.

December 4, 2008 at 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also like that the CEOs of the Big Three think they can make an impression by agreeing to work for $1 a year after making in excess of $20 million this year. Heck, pay me $20 million for one year and I'll work for FREE for the rest of my life.

December 4, 2008 at 3:14 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

That's a good point. I think I can make it the rest of my days on $20 million. Yeah, those guys are really taking one for the team.

December 4, 2008 at 4:19 PM  
Anonymous Hypocrite Says What??? said...

You are being unfair to Solobay and White. If they gave back the COLA, you bash them, and if they don't, you bash them. Do you have any examples of either of them taking excessive per diems or any of the other things you talked about? Although it is easy to lump everyone together and label them evil, it is not a fair thing to do. Would you like it if someone labeled you as a sex offender just because you work at the Observer-Reporter?

And people should also learn some history. In 2004, White challenged Vic Lescovitz in the Democratic primary as the anti-establishment candidate and almost beat him. In 2006, White ran against heavily favored "golden boy" Paul Walsh and pulled off a victory that few expected by beating the Democratic machine. 2008 was the first time ever that White didn't have a primary opponent, and he handily beat his Republican opposition by working his butt off.

Let me ask a better question: instead of demonizing Solobay and White for actually doing something positive, why not go after Daley or DeWeese or Stout or any of the County Judges of Magistrates that have NOT given up the COLA? Did anyone at the OR even bother to ask??? Magistrates make more than legislators for doing a lot less work, but they seem to be immune from any criticism.

To criticize the only ones who have stepped up in any way, symbolic or otherwise, while ignoring those who quietly pocket the money, is just lazy yinzer journalism at its best.

Let me ask this; if you continue to bash people for stepping up and at least trying to do something, what incentive is there for them to even try and do the right thing? You called out Solobay and White specifically because they at least gave a damn enough to make some effort to show that they cared in some way, but all they get is blind hatred in return. If I were them, I'd keep the damn thing since they're going to get blasted one way or another.

Attempting to shame someone who could have just laid low until the heat died down while giving a free pass to those who are laying low is just ridiculous. I totally disagree with you, Brant, and suggest that you get over whatever your bitterness is towards these men and take a more objective view.

By the way, when was the last time you turned down a pay raise? Yeah, that's what I thought.

December 4, 2008 at 11:29 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I'm not specifically bashing White and Solobay. I think it's good that they're returning the COLA. But my point is that we, the taxpayers, are being raped by a bloated Legislature that has next to no fiscal accountability. And you totally ignore the central issue: We don't know if Solobay, White or any other lawmakers are abusing the per diem system because they're not required to account for the money they spend. They might live like monks in Harrisburg, but we can't get the details. Do you like the status quo? Do you see any strong move by the state lawmakers to do something about it by installing strict fiscal reporting requirements, by cutting their own numbers (our legislature has twice the number of lawmakers as California's) and by doing more to cut the influence of lobbyists? No, you don't. Clearly, you're a major supporter of White. That's fine. Are you also a supporter of the current culture of "screw the taxpayer" that exists in Harrisburg? Also, if you think being a district judge is an easy job with excessive pay, maybe you should run for one of those posts. As for any pay raises I might get, they come from a private business, not from the collective teat of Pennsylvania taxpayers. It's a shame you don't care more about how your money is being spent.

December 4, 2008 at 11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brant, there is the other issue. If they lived like monks, then they are taking more of the per diem for themselves. If they are spending it on high priced meals, then they are wasting it. Either way, we don't save money.
Reducing the number of legislators would make it HARDER to defeat them when they act this way. It would accomplish nothing but changing the number and increasing the power of the fewer incumbents.
We need better leaders.
You are dead on right in your article on the problems of Harrisburg. Solobay and White are part of the problem as are Stout (Senator Grease) and Daley.
Actually Lescovitz tried for real reform by ending the state grant system and lowering taxes across the board. The result was his removal from leadership.

December 5, 2008 at 8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How exactly are White and Solobay part of the problem when they were the only two to give back the COLA?

I'm seeing broad generalizations with no facts to back them up.

December 5, 2008 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

ALL of our state "leaders" have to bear some responsibility for the waste in state government, for the uncontrolled spending (WAMs, undocumented per diem spending, etc.). I'm not trying to single out White and Solobay. I don't see them as being any better or worse than the others (actually, they're better than DeWeese, in my book). But previous posters were right in that it's nearly impossible to dislodge an incumbent unless they do something really stupid (like Veon refusing to change his vote on the middle-of-the-night pay raise). DeWeese had the pay raise issue hanging around his neck like an albatross four years ago and won re-election. This past time, he had Bonusgate, and he won re-election. WE are really the problem, because WE don't demand change in Harrisburg. WE think our representative is the good guy and all the other ones are bad. So because of the fact that people all over the commonwealth feel that way, the same people get sent back to Harrisburg again and again.

December 5, 2008 at 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bigger question is why are State Rep. reelected more often than others?
The answer is the use of franking money to promote themselves. No other office holder has the advantage that they do in this respect. County Commissioners are in the news constantly, but they don't have the ability to self promote as these men do. White for example sent out two mailings on the last day possible (60 days from election day). Why? Because it helps his reelection. Anyone in office would do it if allowed. But it should and must change.
Thank you Brant for speaking the Truth!

December 5, 2008 at 3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Cody Knotts, you give yourself away when you capitalize "Truth".

Your boy Frankie Yuvan didn't get creamed because Jessie White sent out mailings. He got creamed because he was a lame candidate who wouldn't even debate. Plus he's a Dungeons and Dragons weirdo.

Nice try though.

December 5, 2008 at 11:45 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

"White for example sent out two mailings on the last day possible (60 days from election day). Why? Because it helps his reelection."

Isn't that the point? To win? I'd send out my message until the last possible minute also.

December 6, 2008 at 7:16 AM  
Anonymous Bernie said...

With all due respect, Mr. Newman, you are a jerk and a hypocrite.

You are focused on whether these guys deserve a government salary for the work they do, and I suspect that you wouldn't be happy with anyone as a legislator except for yourself, because you clearly know everything about everything, and everyone else is a criminal or just plain stupid.

The point is that whether you like it or not, these guys are entitled to a government salary, just like you are entitled to a salary from the O-R. And they have chosen to give back some of what they are entitled to, even though they aren't obligated by law to do so. They presumably did it because it was the right thing to do, and to assign motive to their actions without cause to do so is just wrong.

Do you know either one of these men? Have you ever talked with them?

More importantly, how dare you criticize anyone for giving part of their paycheck back to their employer unless you've done the same? Have you given the Observer back any of your salary? I think we know the answer to that one.

Don't talk the talk unless you're willing to walk the walk, Mr. Newman. You are just an angry, bitter man who prefers to blanket people with your smug hatred because you can't think of anything else to say.

Given the choice, I'll side with the legislators any day of the week. Unlike yourself, at least some of them are trying to do the right thing.

December 6, 2008 at 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ellipses these were taxpayer paid mailings. That is part of the problem, we are paying taxes to help reelect them.

December 6, 2008 at 1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow a legislator or friend of a legislator defending their payraises and their actions. Can we say political insider?

December 6, 2008 at 1:16 PM  
Anonymous Bernie said...

See? That's your problem. Anyone who disagrees with you must be crooked or politically connected. And how am I defending the raises, since they gave them back on their own?

Again, everyone else is an idiot (including all of our elected leaders). The negativity just gets old.

December 6, 2008 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Lot of anger in that post a while back, Bernie. Are you also sucking at the taxpayers' teat? The negativity exists because we have a bloated, non-responsive Legislature that has no fiscal accountability. If you deny that, you're living under a rock ... or making your money off the backs of the taxpayers. And I'm not against all politicians. I think my congressman, Tim Murphy, is a good, decent, dedicated public servant. However, I'm trying to think of something glowing to say about the contingent of lawmakers from Washington and Greene counties. I'll have to get back to you on that one.

December 6, 2008 at 2:49 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

By the way, Bernie, nobody is criticizing the two lawmakers for giving back the COLA. But it's like peeing in the ocean. They did the right thing to give back the cost-of-living allowance, but that's a mere pittance in the grand scheme of things. In 2006, it cost $450 million to run the Legislature, and the lawmakers, I believe, have about $250 million stashed away to fund themselves if they get into a budget showdown with the governor. The Texas legislature manages to get by with regular sessions every other year, unless the governor calls them in. The legislature in California, which has many, many more people than Pennsylvania, is half the size of Pennsylvania's. We are getting bent over by the powers that be in Harrisburg, and not enough people seem to give a damn.

December 6, 2008 at 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim Murphy? What has he ever done beside enable George Bush to run our country into the ground?

Oh and he also got busted using paid staffers for campaign work, but I guess we'll just ignore that.

The agendas on here are just sickening. But keep patting each other on the back and marveling at how much smarter you are than everyone around you.

December 6, 2008 at 4:16 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Wow... look what happened here today!

The last thing I commented on was White's mailing... the response to that was that tax-payers pay for reelection campaigns... Without a publicly funded system, incumbents and the wealthy/well-connected would have an absolute monopoly on government... right now, they have a monopoly, but at least there is a *chance* of someone unseating them... I'd love to consult a newcomer during a political campaign... these guys don't know the first thing about using media...

December 6, 2008 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

A question for the last anonymous poster. In your opinion, what is the "agenda" here? Just curious.

December 7, 2008 at 3:29 AM  

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