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Pennsylvania’s state legislators will see 1.6% more in their January paychecks, the impact of this year’s cost-of-living increase dictated for the state government by 1995 legislation. The increase goes into effect December 1.
As Penn Live notes, this is less than the 2.8% increase planned for Social Security and SSI benefits in 2019. Still, Lebanon County lawmakers are divided on what has become the nation’s second largest compensation package for state legislators, whose salary will be $88,610 next year with a benefits package including free parking, daily allowances, a generous pension, and ultra nice healthcare (with the option for lifetime healthcare if you make it ten years as a house member or eight as a senator).
State Senator Mike Folmer’s office (R-Senate District 48) noted that he will continue his practice of returning his cost of living increase to the Pennsylvania Treasury with a monthly, personal check.
According to Sen. Folmer’s office, this is a strict interpretation of a Pennsylvania Constitution statute that says, “No member of either House shall during the term for which he may have been elected, receive any increase of salary, or mileage, under any law passed during such term.” This decision effectively puts Sen. Folmer’s compensation a few years behind cost of living increases.
State Representative Frank Ryan (R-101) said he would also continue donating money back to the Commonwealth. In addition to eschewing the state pension plan and state health insurance plans, a tens of thousands dollar value, Rep. Ryan said in an email that he would be donating back more than $7,000 of salary to the state.
Reached by phone, Rep. Ryan noted that he is fortunate to be in a different position than many legislators who may depend on the salary as a sole source of income. His prior business as a CPA gave him the ability to turn down some of these benefits, and also informs how he views the financial status of the Commonwealth. “We need to look at the entire way we approach government,” he noted, predicting that the Commonwealth is headed to bankruptcy.
Earlier this year, he cosponsored HB 2314 which reduce the salary by nearly 75%, turning the position into more of a part-time job.
Reached over email, State Representative Russ Diamond (R-102) noted that he views the act of surrendering the cost of living increase as a gimmick to deflect criticism without solving the real questions of whether the statue is illegitimate or unconstitutional. This is a stance Rep. Diamond has held since he took office. Rep. Diamond has previously cosponsored legislation that would eliminate the annual cost of living increase.
State Representative Sue Helm (R-104) will also be keeping the cost of living increase, noting that this is the most expensive job she’s held in her life. Rep. Helm noted that she does not take reimbursement or mileage as much as she might be entitled.