HARRISBURG -- Political fallout continues from the Legislature's infamous 2005 pay raises, as U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum criticized Democrat Bob Casey yesterday for signing four months worth of checks containing the pay boosts for legislators.
Mr. Santorum, a two-term Republican seeking re-election to the Senate, assailed state Treasurer Casey, his challenger in the race, for not objecting to the higher checks that legislators received from last August through November.
The 16 percent to 34 percent pay raises were finally halted when the General Assembly, under pressure from the public and the media, voted in mid-November to repeal the action it had taken just after midnight on July 7, 2005.
"He sent out the checks with the raise for four months and then he claimed the raise was unconstitutional," Mr. Santorum told a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon here yesterday. "Where was he when it counted? Why didn't he say the pay raise was unconstitutional and refuse to sign the checks?"
Critics contended the raises were unconstitutional because no public notice was given about the bill and no public hearings were held before the early morning vote.
"If I think something is unconstitutional, I'll tell you right away," Mr. Santorum said. "That's the big difference between my opponent and me."
Mr. Santorum also responded to a written question from the audience about whether he, as a senator, had "voted for a pay raise three times."
What happened, he said, is that three times during his 16 years in Congress he had voted for modest cost-of-living adjustments in congressional pay, about 2 percent each time. He said the congressional COLA was less than a cost-of-living boost given to Social Security recipients in each of those years.
Mr. Santorum said the COLAs for Congress that he supported totaled only 6 percent for the three years, far less than the onetime 16 percent to 34 percent pay raises that state legislators voted themselves in July 2005.
Casey campaign spokesman Larry Smar said the state treasurer "was constitutionally bound to sign legislators' paychecks. He was doing his job, and now Sen. Santorum is criticizing Bob for doing his job. He would have been thrown out of office if he had refused to do his constitutional duty."
Mr. Smar said that Mr. Casey had spoken out against the pay raise action as early as September 2005 but said Mr. Santorum "to this day hasn't taken a position on the legislative pay raise. He said it was a state issue and hasn't spoken out against it."
Mr. Smar said Mr. Santorum's pay has risen about $30,000 since he first took office in 1990. Mr. Santorum spent four years in the U.S. House before being elected to his first term in the Senate in 1994.
In his remarks yesterday, Mr. Santorum also drew parallels between World War II and the current war against "Islamic fascism," saying both require fighting a common foe in multiple countries.
"Were the Japanese imperialists with their mind set and their ideology the same as the Nazis? Obviously not. Were they the same as the fascists in Italy? Obviously not. But they were still a common enemy," he said.
"We're at war with Islamic fascism. Afghanistan and Iraq and southern Lebanon and every country around the world is a front."
Mr. Santorum, who has trailed Mr. Casey in the polls in his bid for a third term in office, said high oil prices help U.S. enemies in the Middle East. He called for a major federal commitment to promoting alternative fuel technology, like converting coal into low-sulfur jet fuel for military planes, and a relaxation of environmental restrictions to allow expanded oil drilling in Alaska.
"We need to get the best minds all over the country working on producing new energy sources," he said.
The Associated Press contributed. Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at email@example.com or 1-717-787-4254.