The holiday season is upon us and Pennsylvania’s political leaders are receiving their first gift… an annual pay raise from the generous taxpayers.
In 2014, as in eighteen of the last nineteen years, state officials are eligible to receive a raise based on Cost-of-living adjustments (COLA). This practice stems from a 1995 law, Act 51, which gave the state’s leaders a one-time wage adjustment, and set the precedent for yearly raises.
Rank and file legislators will receive $84,012 in 2014, ony $200 more than last year, but up from $47,000 in 1995. Furthermore, eighteen higher ranking members of the General Assembly will take in over six digits this year.
Tom Corbett, who is the highest paid Governor in the country, is eligible to receive $187,818.
But just because they are eligible to this wage increase, a number of officials, including Corbett, are declining them. Every member of the executive branch has stated that they will turn down the automatic adjustment for a lower salary, generally the one they received in their first year in office.
In the state’s legislature, there is some condemnation of COLA, but that sentiment appears to be overridden by complacency and acceptance. Some lawmakers will donate their raise to charity or give it back to the State Treasury, yet there is no significant movement to do away with the annual practice.
There are some calls to repeal Act 51, including an effort by Rock the Capitol, a nonpartisan voter education organization.
“It’s time to fix the mistake,” said Eric Epstein of Rock the Vote. “Repealing Act 51 is an opportunity for the governor and legislature to do the right thing, and put the interests of taxpayers ahead of their wallet.”
Epstein argues that because almost zero legislators are willing to voice support for COLA, there should be no reason why the General Assembly can’t get momentum behind a piece of legislation that would eliminate the automatic raise.
He gives no quarter to those who refuse the raise, noting that they can receive back-end benefits by using the increased salary to calculate their pension benefits.
“Mr. Corbett will decline the COLA on paper, but accept the pension bounce when he retires,” Epstein charged.