Reform's return: Lawmakers can cut the state House by one-fourth

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Bigger is not necessarily better.

Fresh evidence of that was on display in Harrisburg this spring as legislators failed to reach agreement on major issues facing Pennsylvania, including funding for vital road and bridge repair and abolition of the state's liquor monopoly. House Speaker Sam Smith, a Jefferson County Republican, thinks the sheer number of lawmakers in his chamber -- 203 -- has made it harder for members to find common ground and reach consensus.

That's one reason he is reintroducing a measure that would cut the size of the House by 50 seats.

The idea is hardly new. Mr. Smith proposed the same thing in 2011 and, last year, it cleared the House by a wide margin. However, after his original bill had been amended to also reduce the size of the state Senate from 50 to 38 members, it died in that chamber.

Numerous other bills that would have cut the number of lawmakers have suffered the same fate, and a state constitutional convention in 1967 failed to change the size. Shrinking the Legislature is a tall order because it requires amending the state constitution; members must pass a bill in two consecutive two-year sessions, which then puts the matter before voters in a referendum.

Like his earlier effort, Mr. Smith's bill would not take effect until after the next legislative reapportionment in 2020. That's far enough in the future that lawmakers should be willing to look beyond their own self-interest in retaining their jobs.

Mr. Smith is smart to limit the measure introduced in the House to that chamber, allowing the Senate to initiate any changes that would affect the smaller body.

The arguments for cutting the size of the Legislature are simple. It's expensive to operate offices for 253 lawmakers in their home districts and in the capital, plus the cost of their travels back and forth. In this day of instant communication -- by computer or telephone -- lawmakers don't need to be within such close proximity to their constituents.

The Legislature is too big, and members now can do something about it.



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