Friday, November 17, 2006

Democracy Rising blast and Tim Potts has been on KDKA radio with Marty G
It costs us about $30,000 a day for per diems (on top of salary and catered meals) when the legislature's in session. Today was not a session day, but the House Education Committee held an informational meeting.

This entitles lawmakers on the committee to collect a per diem for today. But as Capitol reporter Michael Race reported Tuesday in several northeastern PA newspapers, there seem to be few days when lawmakers can't collect per diems.

Race reported that retiring Rep. Gaynor Cawley, D-Scranton, in 2005 "claimed 210 per diems totaling $27,666 – more than the annual salaries of lawmakers in 30 other states that year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures."

There were only 80 actual session days in 2005. Not content with more than $100,000 in income, Cawley also voted for the pay raise.

No one begrudges lawmakers reimbursement for legitimate expenses. But since lawmakers don't have to submit receipts in order to get the money, there's no way to know whether these are legitimate expenses or not. That's why the IRS treats their per diems as additional income on top of their already generous salaries, benefits and other perks.

Wouldn't you like to see an online list of lawmakers and how much they collect in per diems every month? So would we. But there isn't one, and don't hold your breath for it. Read on.

Lame (-Duck) Quote of the Day

On Tuesday, House Speaker John Perzel (R-Phila.) and Majority Leader Sam Smith (R-Jefferson), newly re-elected to their leadership positions, talked about those of us, including reform-minded Republican lawmakers, who want higher standards of integrity in government. Smith said, "Their message was heard. But we don't want reform simply for reform's sake."

Really. How about reform for the citizens' sake? How about reform for the sake of democracy itself? How about reform to elevate Pennsylvania's pathetic standing among the states? We sure do need it.

Pennsylvania is the only state whose legislature has exempted itself from its open records law.

Pennsylvania is the only state whose Supreme Court has exempted itself from its open records law.

According to the Better Government Association, Pennsylvania ranks behind only Alabama and South Dakota in citizen access to public records, making it much harder than necessary to find out how government spends our money and makes the decisions we have to live with and pay for.

Pennsylvania is the only state that doesn't have all of its laws available to citizens free of charge on the Internet.

Pennsylvania has one of the worst lobbying control laws in America. Our new law ignores the 66 percent of citizens who want to prohibit public officials from taking gifts, meals, entertainment and travel from lobbyists, according to the Spring 2005 IssuesPA/Pew Poll.

Pennsylvania has the highest payroll for lawmakers of any state in America.

Pick your motive – to honor the citizens, to honor democracy, to end our national disgrace – but even reform for reform's sake doesn't look like such a bad idea to us.

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