Downsizing the Pennsylvania General Assembly has been the target of reformers and even the State House recently. The House passed a bill a couple of weeks ago that would shrink the House from 203 to 153 members. The bill would also reduce the Senate from 50 to 38 members.
Why do we want to shrink the legislature? Well, the reformers point out the PA General Assembly is America's largest full-time state legislature. Or as the title of the blog declares, it's "My Big Fat General Assembly." The argument goes that the size of the legislature means exorbitant costs to the taxpayer, an out of touch behemoth, and likely contributes to corruption.
I'm going to go against the "reformers" and popular opinion on this one. Let me say that I like My Big Fat General Assembly. Not the corruption part. Not the lack of backbone sometimes displayed. Not the failure to act on needed legislation such as reducing business taxes, school choice, privatizing the liquor stores and others. No, I like the representation that it gives the average citizen. The good thing about a large General Assembly is we have relatively small house and Senate districts.
I think the call for reducing the size of the General Assembly is the wrong solution to address the cost problem. I understand arguments about the need to reduce cost in state government, and putting the General Assembly on a diet is a good idea. While running the assembly takes something less than two percent of the budget, I'm all for action to reduce this cost. How about reducing benefits and pensions? The pension system is ripe for reforms—the kinds that most businesses have implemented, such as defined contributions instead of defined benefits.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi supports the downsizing and said that lawmakers are asking others to do more with less, so "its important we're seen as doing our part." I would agree and I want to take him at his word. However, after reducing the number of legislators none of the remaining legislators (including Senator Pileggi) will be doing more with less.
The citizens of Pennsylvania are rightly frustrated with the General Assembly's corruption and ineffectiveness. You add in the very difficult economic times and budget arguments and you can understand the bubbling up of calls for reform. However, let's not overreact and reduce our representation to solve these problems! No one really thinks that if there are less representatives these problems will go away. As a matter of fact, reducing the number of members could put more power into leaders hands and lead to even more corruption. (Funny how the leaders are now thinking shrinking the General Assembly is not a bad idea.)
Under the bill passed by the House new districts would have about 20,000 more constituents than they do today There is no getting around your vote being watered down and the distance from your representative growing. And I don't care that California has way more (maybe four times more) constituents per district than we do. Do we really want to compare ourselves to them?
In recent polls, 76 percent of Pennsylvanians said they supported the idea of a smaller Legislature. Supposedly the House-approved bill has broad support from House and Senate members. Please, let's put the brakes on this "reform" and keep our representatives closer to the people.