Pennsylvania lawmakers give themselves 2.2% pay increase, Gov. Tom Corbett declines

As of Dec. 1, 2012, legislators in the state of Pennsylvania will see their salaries increase 2.165 percent to more than $83,000.  Pay for lawmaker is linked to the consumer price index (CPI) for the states in the mid-Atlantic and occurs each December.  This is known as the annual automatic cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) law.

The average pay increase for both the state House and state Senate, judges and those in the executive branch will go up by approximately $1,800.  The current base salary for Pennsylvania legislators is $82,000, while the median household income in the Quaker State is around $50,000 and the unemployment rate stands at 8.1 percent.

Due to the increase, Republican Governor Tom Corbett will now be eligible for a salary of $187,256, Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille can now earn a $205,415 salary and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Sam Smith would both earn $130,820 per year.

However, the Associated Press reports that the Pennsylvania Governor has already confirmed that he will not accept the pay hike.  Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley has also rejected the $157,293 and will continue to earn his 2010 salary of $146,926.

Kevin Harley, the spokesperson for Gov. Corbett, told The Patriot-News of Harrisburg (via Leigh Valley Live) that cabinet secretaries will still receive 2010 salaries ranging from $125,939 to $139,931 (salaries depend on the size of the department or agency).

Watchdog.org notes that if all 203 representatives and 50 senators accept the more than two percent increase then it could cost the state taxpayers more than $450,000 next year.  This figure doesn’t include the $160 per diem that lawmakers can receive for each day of legislative work if they live more than 50 miles from Harrisburg – receipts are not required.

Some members of the general assembly have already announced what they intend to do with the cost-of-living increase.

Democratic State Representative Thaddeus Kirkland told Montgomery News that he will accept the pay raise because it will benefit his constituents and the community as a whole.

“I will take my pay raise and I appreciate the opportunity to take that pay raise,” said the state representative.  “When I get an increase in pay, the more I do for my community. The more I get, the more I give.”

Meanwhile, Republican State Representative Nick Micozzie said he will donate the money to charity and specifically the Schoener Fund, an organization under the umbrella of the Upper Darby Arts and Education Foundation.

In recent years, many lawmakers have decided to return the extra funds to the state treasury or have donated the money to charity.

Residents in Pennsylvania were outraged in 2005 when the general assembly passed pay increases at 2 a.m. without public awareness.  It was later signed into law by Democratic Governor Ed Rendell and lawmakers’ base pay raise went up from 16 percent to 34 percent.

After a couple of grassroots groups were established and many threatening to vote out the incumbents in the next election, Gov. Rendell signed a repeal of the pay.  A lot of incumbents were kicked out of office and the defeats were attributed to the pay increases.

The state of California maintains the highest paid legislature with lawmakers earning $95,291 per year in addition to $141.86 for each day they are in session.  Pennsylvania is the second-highest, while New York is third with $79,000 salaries plus $171 per full day in session and $61 per half day in session.

Legislators in the states of New Mexico do not earn an annual salary, but rather receive $154 per voucher day tied to the federal rate and constitution.

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