Saturday, September 16, 2006

195: Grand Theft Judicial

Let’s review the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision on last year’s pay raise for you.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Ralph Cappy, the architect of the unconstitutional pay raise (or “payjacking” passed in the wee hours of an early July morning during last minute efforts to pass a state budget) of 2005, took under review the constitutionality of the entire pay raise of 2005 issue. Cappy recused himself, but still led the court, much as an ejected manager of a baseball team still manages from the runway behind the dugout. [Note: Cappy was also the creator of the “unvouchered expense” which allowed legislators to grab their raise immediately, thus inflating their salaries and their retirement funds at the same time!]

In short, the court found [in a single decision]:
  • The Pay Raise was unconstitutional
  • The Unvouchered Expense was unconstitutional
  • The repeal of the pay raise was constitutional
  • The legislators do not have to give the unconstitutional unvouchered expense money back
  • The portion of the unconstitutional pay raise that raised judicial salaries for all state judges was exempt from the constitutional repeal of the raise, passed after voters threw out a Supreme Court justice in the November Election
So, the raise and the unvouchered expense were unconstitutional, and the repeal was constitutional, except for the part dealing with the raises for judges, and the unvouchered expense money doesn’t have to be returned.

Is this unlike the child who buys his Mom a box of chocolates for Christmas and then eats most of them?

This ruling has Cappy’s greedy finger prints all over it.

But the worst of it is this: all the money previously returned by most legislators who took the unvouchered expense was never turned over to the state treasury – it was held by the clerks of the House and the Senate. Which means, our greedy legislative leadership can (and will) return the money to the legislators, since the Supremes have said they can keep it and also allow it to pad their retirement accounts.

Pardon me, dear taxpayers, but I would also point out this latest ‘BOHICA’ comes without benefit of any lubricant whatsoever.

Have you had enough yet?


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Tim Potts said...

Two factual problems, though.

1. Unvouchered expenses were invented long before Cappy got on the court. They were invented for the pay raise of the mid '80's. The Consumer Party case upheld them, which is why Saylor said he would have overturned Consumer Party. The difference between then and now is that each lawmaker then got $5,000, so they could argue that it really was for expenses and not for salary. This time, the amount of unvouchered expenses varied to that it exactly equaled the amount of the raise for each lawmaker. Even our Supreme Court couldn't look the other way at that, but they left the door open for future unvouchered expenses that are not identical to salary.

2. The court did not rule that the pay raise was unconstitutional -- exactly the opposite. That's the most damaging part of the decision. We now have two of the three branches of government who refuse to obey the plain language and historically unambiguous intent of Article III. As a result, the legislature will continue to enact stealth legislation on any subject on any day they wish. See the comments of Rep. Phyllis Mundy in Sunday's Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader.

In my mind, this makes it imperative that we get the next governor to refuse to sign any legislation that does not strictly adhere to Article III's requirements.