Thursday, August 06, 2009

"Some Pigs Are More Equal Than Others."

As the leaders of the creatures in George Orwell's Animal Farm grow into the human tyrants they had deposed by revolution, they justify their own venality and corruption with this familiar quotation:
"Some Pigs Are More Equal Than Others."
On Tuesday House Democrats, with soaring rhetoric about the need to pay hard-pressed state workers, passed Senate Bill 850, thereby allowing Gov. Ed Rendell to veto most of the budget while keeping the part that allows state workers to get paid.

Apparently foremost in the minds of House Democrats, being more equal than other state workers, were themselves. Even before Rendell put pen to paper with his line-item vetoes, House Democrats took their back pay with this disingenuous argument:

"We have always had the ability to pay our Members throughout this budget impasse, but our leadership team made the decision early on that we would not pay our Members until we passed a bill that would allow state workers to get paid. We passed that bridge bill yesterday, and the Governor just signed it today," a spokesman for Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Luzerne, told the Allentown Morning Call's John Micek.

Their ability derives from their share of more than $200 million in surplus funds sitting in legislators' leadership accounts. It's money just sitting there so that lawmakers can be comfortable while they starve and slash programs that serve citizens - and contemplate higher taxes.
  • Forget that other state workers have done their jobs while lawmakers and the governor have not.
  • Forget that state workers won't actually see any money for another week, while House Democrats have cash in hand.
  • Forget about 2.1 million children ready to attend pre-K through high school in a few weeks.
  • Forget about the parents and students whose college tuition payments are due.
  • Forget about victims of domestic violence, mental retardation and mental illness.
  • Forget about businesses forced to be unwilling lenders as they provide goods and services to the state without getting paid.
  • Forget about local governments whose only lawful option will be to raise local taxes.
One way or another, nearly everyone in PA is suffering from the lack of a state budget. But some pigs are more equal than others.

As of now, news reports say that the Senate Republicans will pay their members but only after the state workers start getting paid again. The House Republicans won't pay their members until the staff of the Public Utilities Commission, the State Employees' Retirement Fund, the Public School Employees Retirement Fund and the Small Business and Consumer Advocates are getting paid. The General Assembly has not passed those appropriations yet. The Senate Democrats haven't gotten paid. They have not announced plans.

Questions:
  • Did the surpluses in leadership accounts provoke the budget impasse?
  • Will there be anything left in the leadership accounts by the time the budget passes?
  • Will individual lawmakers refuse to take their pay while the people they serve are without a budget?
  • Are the Senate Democrats waiting for word from Fumo?
Remember the automatic cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that lawmakers and top political leaders get every December 1? Here's what the law says:
    "...the salary of the members of the General Assembly shall be increased by an annual cost-of-living adjustment calculated by applying the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) for the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland area, for the most recent 12-month period for which figures have been officially reported by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics..."

    Click here for the complete text of the 1995 law. Scroll to the top of page 8.

    But as Joe Sterns from the Commonwealth Foundation asks, "What happens when the CPI-U is a negative number?"

    This is not a hypothetical question. As of now, the CPI-U is a negative number: -0.9% for the first half of this year. If that continues, legislative leaders will have to make a judgment call. (Citizens can only despair at the prospect.) Click here for the Bureau of Labor Statistics and go to "All Urban Consumers."

    At first blush, it appears that legislative leaders have three options:
    1. What goes up must come down. Add a negative number and thereby reduce salaries.
    2. Call it a wash. Take no increase and no cut because the law only allows them to increase salaries, not cut them.
    3. Heads we we win, tails you lose. Increase salaries by a nominal percentage since the law says salaries "shall be increased," not held constant or cut.
    Question:

    When will it be time to repeal the automatic COLA?

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    Tim Potts, Democracy Rising Co-Founder

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    Thank you Tim, for your "as usual" fine work in reporting and analysis of State Government.

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