Cost-of-living raise worries lawmakers

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HARRISBURG -- The holiday season brings something sweet for top state officials: an annual cost-of-living adjustment in their paychecks. But in a time of sensitivity to economic struggles -- and as memories linger of the fallout from a 2005 legislative pay raise -- some officeholders say they will continue to return their increase or donate it to charity.

The adjustment of approximately 2.2 percent -- based on the consumer price index for urban residents in mid-Atlantic states -- takes effect today for members of the Legislature, and on Jan. 1 for judges and for the governor and other top executive branch employees. That bumps the salary of Gov. Tom Corbett to $187,256 in the new year, and the salaries of the heads of large agencies, such as education and public welfare, to $149,804.

Starting today, salaries for the Senate president pro tem and House speaker will rise to $130,820, while the floor leaders in each chamber will earn $121,418. Rank-and-file legislators will see their salaries rise to $83,801.

Mr. Corbett and officials under his jurisdiction have kept the same salary since he took office in 2010, said Dan Egan, a spokesman for the Office of Administration. The adjustments will be deducted from their paychecks, Mr. Egan said, leaving Mr. Corbett with an salary of $174,914 and the chiefs of those agencies with $139,931.

They are not the only recipients to refuse the adjustment. Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, plan to donate their increases to charity. And since late 2008, the state treasury has received checks from legislators repaying their cost-of-living adjustments, a spokesman said.

State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, who will take office in January as auditor general, said he will continue his practice of accepting the salary in place at the time of his election.

The officeholders give different reasons for refusing an increase mandated by law. Some cite the still-disappointing economic recovery, some a sensitivity to the appearance of boosting their paychecks and others a belief that elected officials should face the voters before receiving a raise.

Rejecting the adjustments grew in part out of the freezing of salaries of state management employees from late 2008 until July 2012, Mr. Egan said.

"It's sort of a symbolic gesture," he said. "Certainly these COLAs aren't going to balance the budget or anything like that. It was a way for the governor and the folks under him to show some leadership and -- you'd call it shared sacrifice."

Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said the squeamishness toward cost-of-living adjustments dates back a few more years, to a late-night vote by lawmakers to raise their salaries. Until then, there had been little notice to the adjustments put into law in 1995.

"There was never much complaint at all about that for a decade," he said. "What made the whole issue of pay hikes for lawmakers offensive -- what caused the biggest change in the state Legislature -- was the infamous July 2005 pay hike."

Between retirements and losses in the primary and general elections, 55 legislators were gone by the following term.

state

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.


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