Editor: I read with interest the editorial, “Lawmakers: Carpe diem; end per diems” (June 14). There is no argument that employees should provide receipts to cover their actual expenses. Not so with our state legislature.
First, one must look at the flat-rate “per diem” expense payments of $178 a day. The state Constitution states: “The members of the General Assembly shall receive such salary and mileage for regular and special sessions as shall be fixed by law, and no other compensation whatever, whether for service upon committee or otherwise.” Nowhere does the Constitution provide for their per diems.
The issue of the Legislature’s expenses was highlighted in 1995, when they passed S.B. 1074, which increased their “unvouchered expenses” which did not require receipts.
The Constitution states, “No law shall extend the term of any public officer, or increase or diminish his salary or emoluments, after his election or appointment.” The intent is to require lawmakers to face a possible ballot-box challenge between voting themselves a raise and actually getting the money. The Legislature circumvented the constitution by boosting their unvouchered expense accounts in an amount equal to the pay raise and immediately took the pay grab.
The legislation that boosted the lawmakers’ pay also raised the salaries to all of the judges in Pennsylvania.
The legislation mandated that if any part of the pay raise bill is declared null and void for constitutional reasons, the entire law must be struck down. The judges then would be forced to strike down their own pay hikes. The courts rejected a legal challenge, resulting in annual COLAs. The rank-and-file legislator made $47,000 in 1995. In 2023, the annual salary has ballooned to nearly $103,000.
S.B. 1074 has placed an indelible stain on our self-serving legislature. This is government corruption at its worst.
Gary J. English