Tuesday, July 11, 2006

182: "Latest from Democracy Rising"


It is always a pleasure to hear from Citizen-Patriot Hero Tim Potts, no matter how depressing the news. In this case, there is some good news.

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Democracy Rising PA News
July 11, 2006

In this issue:

  • Integrity Pays
  • One Year Later
  • Underpaid Judges?
  • Tick, Tick, Tick

Integrity Pays
To celebrate the anniversary of the pay raise, the state Senate announced that it will make two internal changes. First, it will end the $600-per-month car lease allowance for Senators. Second, it will require all Senators and staff to contribute one percent of their gross wages toward the cost of their health insurance plan.

Defeated Senate President Pro-Tempore Robert Jubelirer explained that, “We want to be more parallel with what the private sector does.”

In fact, however, the Senate plan does not benchmark the private sector, but is keyed to the contract Gov. Ed Rendell negotiated with state executive branch employees. In the private sector, employee contributions are two to four times the amount Senators and staff will pay.

Even so, the Harrisburg Patriot, which broke the story, estimates the health insurance change will save taxpayers $450,000 next year.

Imagine how much taxpayers can save if the same reforms are adopted in the House, which has four times as many lawmakers, far more staff, and a $650-per-month car lease allowance.

Also, both the House and Senate cut their operating budget for 2006-07by two percent, or $6.7 million, from the previous year.

That’s more than $7 million in savings thanks to voters who are demanding better value for their tax dollars.

Questions for House Members:
Do you support the cost-saving changes in the Senate?

Will you raise the ante by curtailing even more perks such as catered meals (on top of per diems) when you’re in session?

One Year Later
On July 6, anticipating the next day’s first anniversary of the unconstitutional pay raise of 2005, eight organizations hosted a news conference in the capitol to review what citizens have done and what their government has failed to do to improve integrity in public service. Here are excerpts from the statement by Democracy Rising PA Co-Founder Tim Potts:

“One year ago tonight, while citizens slept, the three branches of state government conspired in an act of theft that rallied citizens to say in no uncertain terms that they want change. At Democracy Rising PA, we describe what citizens want as a government that:
· Sets the highest standards of public integrity
· Provides the best value for tax dollars spent
· Demonstrates the clearest transparency, and
· Earns the highest level of citizen confidence of any government in America.

“These are goals that unite the left and the right, the idealist and the realist, the casual observer and the conscientious objector. Everyone, it seems, but those who actually have the power to form a more perfect Commonwealth through their service in public office.

“So we’re not here to declare victory. We understand that while we have pulled a few weeds, we have a lot more weeding and planting and cultivating to do before we can grow the government citizens want.

“But we are not disheartened. Pennsylvania didn’t get this bad overnight. We know that it will take a few election cycles to achieve the quality of government people want, and with each election cycle we are definitely making progress. One Supreme Court justice. One partially repealed pay raise. 30 retiring incumbents. 17 defeated incumbent lawmakers, including three members of leadership.”

On the failure to enact a lobbying control law, Potts said, “Getting a good lobbying control law – getting the best lobbying control law in America – does not take an abundance of intellect. It takes a little bit of integrity, and we’re seeing signs that integrity is beginning to bloom. We will know for sure when we see proposals that focus on the needs of citizens instead of the desires of lawmakers and the convenience of lobbyists.

“In the days between now and Election Day, incumbents will demonstrate what they’re made of by the quality of the law they give us or by their continued failure to give us any law at all.”

Eric Epstein, coordinator of
Rock the Capital, recalled statements by Gov. Ed Rendell and Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy supporting the pay raise. He noted that even though the pay raise itself was repealed, 69 lawmakers – 60 in the House and 9 in the Senate – profited from the unvouchered expenses because they were not forced to return them.

Epstein also noted that even after the repeal, lawmakers got a 3.64 percent cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. That boosted rank-and-file salaries from $69,648 to $72,187 – not including per diems and other perks that put tens of thousands of dollars more into most lawmakers’ pockets. Lawmakers will get another COLA on December 1 of this year and every year until the COLA is repealed or declared unconstitutional.

Kathleen Daugherty, co-founder of Democracy Rising PA, provided a status report on the “Roadmap to Reform” that advocacy groups adopted in May:
· Since last July 7, no legislation has been voted on in 9 of our 10 initiatives.
· The one voted on, lobby disclosure, did not achieve final passage.
· Score: 0 for 10.

“Today’s one-year anniversary of the pay raise is the perfect opportunity to remind our public servants that we’re watching and, more importantly, we’re educating, organizing and holding them accountable,” Daugherty said.

Read the Roadmap to Reform
(
click here).

Underpaid Judges?
Last year when PA Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy tried to defend the unconstitutionally enacted pay raise, he made three statements that were, and still are, false according a
Commonwealth Foundation report, “Underpaid Judges?”

The easiest to quantify was the assertion that PA judges are underpaid. Compared to state judges in the rest of the nation, that’s not even close to being true. According to the report:
· PA Supreme and appellate court judges earn $25,000, or 20 percent, more than the average pay of state judges nationally.
· Common Pleas (county level) judges get 15 percent more than the national average.
· This ranks PA judges 6th or 8th nationally, depending on the kind of court.
· Both before the pay raise and today, PA judges are the only state court judges in America who get an automatic cost-of-living increase every year.

Questions for Cappy:
Did you know these facts before you negotiated the pay raise with legislative leaders and the governor? If not, why not?

Do you still believe that PA judges are underpaid compared to judges in other states?

Even if you still think judges’ salaries are low, do you understand why citizens are so upset about the way the pay raise was enacted? How would you approach this issue differently in the future?

Tick, Tick, Tick
With the House and Senate taking another three-month break from session, Daugherty notes that, “There’s not much time left this year for real action on the Roadmap.”
· Session days in the House before October 1: 3
· Session days in the House during October: 8 (one non-voting)
· Session days in the House after the November election when at least 45 members won’t be returning and cannot be held accountable: 7 (one non-voting -- Nov. 27.)
· Session days in the Senate: not listed on the Senate web site
· Days since the pay raise of 2005: 370
· Days until Election Day: 118
· Roadmap reforms enacted: 0

Questions for lawmakers:
What’s the purpose of a non-voting session day as the last scheduled day during lame-duck session? Could it be to give members one last “per diem”?

Tim Potts, Co-Founder
Democracy Rising PA
P.O. Box 618, Carlisle, PA 17013
717-243-8570

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Thanks, Tim. We will do our part to keep these issues before the voters of Pennsylvania. We urge all our readers to pressure their legislators to move on these issues immediately.

You should make yourselves familiar with the
Roadmap to Reform.

Or, click on the purple fingerprint!

Roadmap to Reform




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