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By: Daylin Leach
December 22, 2005

People can be for or against the recent legislative pay raise but the debate should be a fair one. Thus far, the press’s obsession with this issue has seemingly blinded them to their obligation to report the facts fairly and in context. Instead I feel they have been misleading in a number of material respects, and I am grateful for the opportunity to respond.

I voted for the pay raise. I did not do so for personal gain. I am not even accepting the “unvouchered expenses” that make the pay raise effective immediately. Further, there are other aspects of the pay raise that I am not personally comfortable with, the alleged punishment of members who voted “no”. I am not defending these. I voted for the raise because several days after our deadline, we had not reached an agreement on the budget, Growing Greener, restoration of Medicaid cuts, etc. When the final deal was struck, the pay raise was part of it. I agreed to vote yes because of the good the package does for the people of Pennsylvania.

That said; I would like to clear up the following misimpressions created by the press:

# 1 – Pennsylvania has the second highest paid legislature in the nation. Technically true but very misleading. What is not reported is that there are only 4 full time legislatures in the nation. Before the recent pay-raise, Pennsylvania was the lowest paid of the four. We are now second, but next month New York will vote to pass us. Being third out of four puts us right in line with other full-time states. These facts are necessary to put the story in perspective, but are almost never reported.

# 2 – This was passed in the middle of the night in an effort to sneak it through. This is simply not true. We typically end every session, even those without any controversial votes, after midnight. This is the result of the marathon attempt to wrap everything up and the fact that it takes time to draft and print actual legislation once it is agreed to. This year we also passed Growing Greener, a very popular program, in the middle of the night. The idea that we scheduled the vote on the pay raise so no one would notice is just ludicrous.

# 3 – 16% was an unusually big raise –If a raise is ever appropriate, it should be for a reasonable amount. This was the first actual raise in 10 years. It is likely the last for at least that long. We don’t vote raises every year or every other year. Historically we pass raises that are larger, but much less frequent, than other professions. If you were to assume a 16% pay raise once per decade, that would average 1.6% per year. This is below national averages for professional workers. You may oppose it, but it is hardly outrageous.

#4 – There was no opportunity for public feedback – Also, not true. The pay raise had been discussed for months. It was almost passed in December. There were editorials, constituent letters to legislators, etc. The exact amount was unknown until a few hours before the vote, but that amount was in line with what the predictions had been for over half a year.

#5 – Legislators only work when they are in Harrisburg. – Simply false. You can disagree with policy decisions, but most members on both sides of the aisle work 50 or more weeks a year, including most nights and weekends. When not in Harrisburg, we go to work in our district offices all day, and then go to events in the district at night. People should know that. The press can write about the pay raise without dishonestly denigrating the hard work that legislators do.

Finally, I would just say a word about the quantity of the press coverage. I have received more press inquiries about this than I have regarding health care, redistricting reform, growing greener, education and crime combined. There are many issues on which I’d like to write an editorial, this is the first time the Inquirer has invited me to. While this is an interesting story, it doesn’t actually affect people’s lives like the other issues I mentioned do. Despite all the hard political lessons I’ve learned in my life, I’m still naïve enough to hope that someday the press will become as obsessed with…say…people living in poverty or the flaws in our criminal justice system as they are with legislative salaries.