State Legislature is just too big
Pennsylvania labors under the second largest legislature in the country and the largest full-time governing body at 253 members. In the best of times this seems foolish but during a period of economic downturn and years of gridlock preventing eight consecutive budgets from passing on time the notion of restructuring the state house is especially appealing. House Bill 1554 offers partial reform by reducing the legislature to a part-time body meeting only 60 days every two years. While this might sound impossible know that twelve other states already operate a similar format including New Hampshire, the Dakotas, Georgia, Texas and Idaho to name a few.
However, reducing our legislature to a part-time group does not seem to go far enough, we also need to think about shrinking the actual size. Texas provides some inspiration in that it carries the title of our second largest state in both size and population so if a state that big can do it successfully we might want to study how Texans pull it off. Consider that a state nearly six times the size of PA, and 2.2 times the population, rules with a mere 150 House members compared to our 203.
If we would compare that roughly 160,000 Texans are represented by each legislator, matching the population of PA to the same ratio we should be able to manage with about 78 state representatives. While this might be too much change for some it is certainly something to shoot for. Our neighbor Ohio which is nearly equivalent in population governs with a 99 member state house.
The savings from reductions in both size and time spent in Harrisburg will ultimately enhance our government. Salaries alone might be reduced from a base of $78,000 per year to around $15,000 and the number of staff needed to support such a bloated bureaucracy would contract proportionately. Additional savings would occur in office supplies, office space and per diem. Admittedly, the savings would total only in the tens of millions but over the years that adds up to a hefty sum. But a smaller legislature leads to a commensurate decline in power which will aid in reducing corruption; a huge advantage to the people.
The strongest argument against reduction is that individual legislators would be stretched over a larger population theoretically making them less able to serve constituents. However, this ratio does not seem to prevent prosperous Texas from governing effectively and the ratio of US House members to the population is over four times higher than state representatives.
Another obstacle to reform is the requirement for a constitutional amendment which amounts to a significant but not insurmountable hurdle.
The most serious impediment to reform has been that few legislators were willing to vote themselves out of a job. In addition to the brave representatives sponsoring House Bill 1554, we need to elect legislators committed to reducing both the size and time spent working in Harrisburg.
The bottom line is that the time has come for reforming the actual structure of our state government. I am certainly willing to join that forward-thinking group committed to making such a pledge to the people of PA. Let’s demand all legislators and candidates stand and be counted on this issue.