Worthy change: Resuming the long march to cut the Legislature

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The state House last week took a step in the right direction toward shrinking Pennsylvania’s bloated Legislature, but it’s too soon to get excited about the prospect.

On Tuesday, the House voted 148-50 to cut the chamber from 203 members to 153 and by 150-48 to trim the Senate from 50 to 38. But changing the size of the General Assembly requires an amendment to the state constitution. That means the bill must pass both chambers in two consecutive legislative sessions and then win approval in a statewide voter referendum.

The long process is worth pursuing because reducing the number of members makes cents and sense. Each lawmaker costs taxpayers far more than his or her own salary — staffers must be paid, office space both in the Capitol and in the districts must be rented and run, and legislators are reimbursed for traveling back and forth from Harrisburg, too.

The benefits of a smaller body may go beyond cost. House Speaker Sam Smith, a Jefferson County Republican, has said repeatedly that he believes lawmakers would find more common ground with their colleagues, and reach broader consensus, if they represented larger districts.

So why not greet last week’s vote with glee? Because the House did the same thing 20 months ago when it passed a downsizing measure, and nothing came of it in the Senate.

After that vote, which won by a margin almost identical to the latest vote, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi expressed support for reducing the size of the nation’s largest, full-time Legislature. Last week, too, the Delaware County Republican said he is optimistic about passage, saying he believes differences between the House bill and a similar one in the Senate can be worked out.

Then let’s see him deliver. It’s time for his chamber to act. Mr. Pileggi and his fellow senators should commit to this necessary change as soon as they return to session in January.

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