The past several weeks saw much action, but little advancement, on proposals to reduce the number of seats in the state House and Senate.
Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature in the country, with 253 state lawmakers. Efforts to thin the ranks ground to a halt over the past several weeks.
Opponents argue that membership cuts will lump more constituents in each district, leaving them with representation of lesser quality. They say a big shrink would concentrate legislative representation in more populated urban areas.
Even the prospect of cost savings is waved off by skeptics who anticipate a greater need for legislative staff. As of 2009, Pennsylvania’s 2,918 permanent legislative staffers outnumbered New York’s 2,676 and California’s 2,067 according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
But Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana) said there’s a more compelling argument for cutting legislative seats.
“It’s not going to save billions of dollars, but there’ll be a little bit of cost-savings along the way, and I think, most importantly, it will hopefully increase the efficiency of the legislature,” Reed said.
“Getting 203 people in the House to agree on any particular item is difficult,” he added. “Perhaps if you’ve got a few less cooks in the kitchen, per se, you know, some of these bigger items can perhaps be tackled a little bit quicker.”
Enter House Speaker Sam Smith (R-Jefferson), who has proposed reducing the 203-member House to 153 seats.
Smith’s plan met common pitfalls: linkage and tampering.
“It became intertwined, no surprise, with the concept of shrinking the size of the Senate,” said Drew Crompton, chief counsel to Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati.
The Senate proposal then became more controversial when Scarnati added language to reduce the size of the judiciary and eliminate the office of lieutenant governor. Scarnati had been a staunch opponent of shrinking the Senate, for fear it would pool power in urban areas.
Scarnati’s language was later stripped out of the Senate-focused bill, saving the judiciary and executive branch from cuts. Both House- and Senate-related measures await votes in the Senate. But support appears to have “diminished,” said Crompton, for anything beyond a reduction of the House’s membership.
“I would hope they would at least pass the reduction in the size of the House of Representatives,” said Reed of Senate lawmakers. “I mean, it does not even impact the Senate in any way, shape, or form. So it would be nice if they could at least pass that proposal, if they don’t want to pass a reduction in their own size.”