I am writing this in response to the following article: http://www.plsreporter.com/Home/TabId/56/ArtMID/472/ArticleID/466/Legislators-plan-for-legislation-to-reduce-size-of-General-Assembly-by-2020.aspx#.VJRBsjxl8cI.facebook
Legislators and proponents of this legislation like to talk about the cost saving factor involved in such a decision and history has demonstrated that governmental consolidation, at least when in comes to elected legislative representation, rarely reduces the cost of anything. Consider that prior to 1965 we had 2000 school districts. Just like now the cost factor was argued and then, over the next 20 years, we went from 2000 school districts which were under the under the controls of our local county/municipal government to 500 school districts under the control of Department of Education. While we reduced the number of school districts, this was little more than an excuse to grow the administrative aspect of education and we’ve been watching the cost of education sky-rocket since then.
It is true that we have the 2nd largest representative body in the United States while ranking 8th in population. It is also true that our legislators have the second highest salaries in the United States. Frankly, I would rather see them become a part-time legislative body at a lower salary then to start putting these already powerful positions in the hands of fewer people.
The savings we would see from a reduction from 253 legislators (50 Senators and 203 in the House) to the proposed 198 legislators (45 Senators and 153 House members) would be minimal. The additional 55 legislators are not really the cost driving problem.
The problem is the size of the Administrative branch of government (a branch of government you won’t find anywhere in the Commonwealth Constitution) that came in to being when the legislators enacted the Administrative Act of 1929. What started as growing a body of advisers had morphed into regulatory massive Departments, Agencies and Commissions serving under the executive branch of government.
The Department of Education website (http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/department_information/7203/pde_personnel_telephone_directory_%28alphabetical_by_staff%29/520066) lists 471 staff members. The Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) boasts on their website that they employ more than 5,000 workers in 200 offices statewide (http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/about_l_i/10445).
You see, when we refer to smaller government, we mean a government limited in the authority…one that abides by the Constitutional limitations in their legislative responsibilities. Because they haven’t, government is costing us far more than it should. Consider this:(
The legislative power of this Commonwealth shall be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.
That simply means that the General Assembly is supposed to be the law making body for the Commonwelath. That consists of the Senate and the House only. They take an oath to abide by and uphold the Constitution of the Commonwealth…it’s a requirement for office (Article 6, Section 3). Even the exact wording of that oath is found in the cited section of the Constitution. It says:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth and that I will discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.”
Just because we call something a regulation doesn’t mean its not a law. A regulation passed by an administrative body of government, becomes a requirement that is supposed to complied with. In other words, the regulation isn’t optional. So where does the Constitution provide for the authority of an Administrative body of Government to pass a regulation? It doesn’t!
To add insult to injury, the Administrative body is not in the General Assembly….it’s under the Executive which has no law-making capacity at all. Yes, the executive does sign a law into order and they do have the power to veto a law (which can be overturned with a 2/3 majority vote), but the executive DOES NOT have the power or the authority to write law.
Looking back at the problem we saw with Common Core being implemented through the regulatory authority of the Department of Education. It was the outcry of the people that led a legislative investigation into something that was already being put in motion in our public schools. Many legislators were unaware of what Common Core even was. If it is the General Assembly’s responsibility to provide for a thorough and efficient system of public schools (Article 3, Section 14)…how can something as invasive as Common Core be enacted without the knowledge of our General Assembly?
Furthermore, during the hearings on Common Core, the acting Secretary of the Department of Education said that the implementation of Common Core would not cost the State any money. They were right in that the money would not be coming out of the state budget, but this regulation was going to have a direct impact on School Districts and that would mean the school districts would have to either raise school taxes or make other cuts in order to implement this regulation. Yet not a single legislator questioned them on this regardless of the fact that this is in violation of our Commonwealth Constitution (Article 3, Section 31) which states:
The General Assembly shall not delegate to any special commission, private corporation or association, any power to make, supervise or interfere with any municipal improvement, money, property or effects, whether held in trust or otherwise, or to levy taxes or perform any municipal function whatever. Notwithstanding the foregoing limitation or any other provision of the Constitution, the General Assembly may enact laws which provide that the findings of panels or commissions, selected and acting in accordance with law for the adjustment or settlement of grievances or disputes or for collective bargaining between policemen and firemen and their public employers shall be binding upon all parties and shall constitute a mandate to the head of the political subdivision which is the employer or to the appropriate officer of the Commonwealth if the Commonwealth is the employer, with respect to matters which can be remedied by administrative action, and to the lawmaking body of such political subdivision or of the Commonwealth, with respect to matters which require legislative action, to take the action necessary to carry out such findings.
Common Core was NOT enacted by the General Assembly, it was enacted by the Department of Education. When I talk to School Board members our other Municiapl and County governing bodies, they talk about all these unfunded mandates but when you ask them who they are complying with, the State or one of the Administrative bodies of Government, its most often the Body of government and not an actual state law. That applies to the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, Department of Welfare….you name it….a large percentage of these regulations do not originate with the General Assembly and yet those regulations do, in fact, interfere with municipal improvement, money, property or effects.
Further adding salt to the wound….these Administrative Departments, Agencies and Commissions have been granted the authority to levy Fines and Fees which is generally associated as Judiciary in nature. What we see is a government that, instead of existing at the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary, has added a fourth layer of government and placed that level under the Executive where it has regulatory (legislative) and punitive (judiciary) authority. This is NOT what was intended for our government. The three defined branches of government provides a check and balance that simply does not exist when it comes to the Administrative Branch.
Cutting the size of the legislative body is a distraction to keep us from thinking about the hidden costs of government. Those employees in these Department, Agencies and Commissions, where leadership in these bodies is often through appointment and not elections, that are driving up the cost of our state budget.
Cutting the size of the legislative body WILL put more power in the hands of fewer people and it WILL result in less populated areas having even less influence on their legislators. It will also become an excuse for growing the Administrative bodies just like we saw with the consolidation of the School Districts.
A representative form of government means just that….that we are being duly represented by the people we elect. The further we move away from that, the less power remains in the hands of the people.
The cost factor is an illusion. In the long run it will not save us money, it will cost us, both financially and in matters of our freedoms and liberty. If cost was the issue then lets just go to a dictatorship where one guy runs everything. As much as that notion may repulse us, that is really what the legislators are moving us towards.
As we saw in the last four years, leadership in the House and Senate kept important reform minded legislation from being enacted. When a serious piece of reform minded legislation came forward, it was leadership who was behind pushing alternative bills simply to get in the way of real reform; to distract and create the illusion of doing something about the problems in the state when many of these bills (like HB 1189 introduced to deflect from HB 76 for property tax relief) would have made conditions worse in many parts of the state. On the other hand they pushed some bad legislation that more conservative members of the house and Senate were able to stop. With less elected Members of the General Assembly representing us, stopping those bad bills will be all the more difficult.
The real problem in this state is that we have a government who is not compliant with the Constitution of the Commonwealth and as a result we have bad and intrusive regulations, harmful taxation and runaway spending. Just reducing the size of the legislative body isn’t going to change any of that. When our Constitution says that the right of the people to keep and bear arms SHALL NOT BE QUESTIONED, why do we get so many bills that question this right? It’s not the number of Legislators, it’s not even the number of laws…it’s the fact that most of these laws, particularly when it comes from these Administrative Agencies, aren’t Constitutional and no one at the the local level seems willing to challenge the government but are all to quick to fall into compliance, usually at the promise of some state subsidy or grant to help them balance their budgets that are out of control because of the regulations to begin with.
One final point, we all know that the power of lobbying interests in this state has added to the problems in this state. In spite of the number of times that our legislators try and persuade us that these lobbyists have no “undue influence”, you have to be a special kind of stupid to believe that. No lobbying machine dumps more than a million dollars in to state elections if they didn’t think they were going to reap financial returns on that investment by influencing legislation. Fewer legislators just means the lobbyists will have fewer legislators to influence so its not to hard to figure out why many of them think this is a great move.
Reducing the size of the legislative body is sort of like going to the doctors because you have pains in your stomach and they put a bandaid on your forehead. Everyone can see what the they did and everyone can see that they did something, but the bandaid isn’t going to help the solve the problem with the pains in your stomach and by not really traeting the problem, the pains are likely to get worse. That has been the course of action in our Legislative body for too long; solutions that aren’t solutions to divert from doing what needs to be done to turn this state around. Then they strut around like a rooster patting themselves on the back for what they did and all too often, too many people fall for it. If you have any doubt about that, how’s that gambling relief helping you out? Are the limits on increases in Property Tax from Act 1 actually limiting the increases in your property taxes? (HINT-If you live in the city of Lebanon and you answer yes to that question then you’ll probably think that reducing the size of the General Assembly is a good idea! The School District in the City of Lebanon has consistently exceeded the Act 1 limits with the approval of the Department of Education-NOT THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY!)