Less is more
Even many state lawmakers recognize that the state Legislature is far too large. With 203 representatives and 50 senators, it is the second largest in the land and, by far, the largest full-time legislature.
Lawmakers' base pay is more than $84,000, and they receive a luxurious benefit package including health coverage and pensions that are unheard of in the private sector.
And in the age of instantaneous mass communications, the argument that reducing the size of the Legislature would diminish democracy doesn't fly. California, for example has three times as many residents as Pennsylvania, about 39 million, and more than 3.5 times as much territory, but fewer than half as many legislators - 80 representatives and 40 senators.
It is progress, then, that the Senate State Government Committee this week will consider two bills to shrink the size of the General Assembly.
One, sponsored by retiring House Speaker Sam Smith and passed by the House in December, 148-50, would reduce the House from 203 to 143 members.
The other, an amendment to a bill introduced by Sen. Elder Vogel, a Beaver County Republican, would reduce the Senate from 50 to 45 seats.
The committee instead should take up Mr. Vogel's original bill, which would reduce the House by 82 seats and the Senate by 20 seats.
Action is needed soon because the reductions would have to be in place prior to redistricting following the 2020 census. Change requires a state constitutional amendment, which requires passage in two consecutive legislative sessions followed by a statewide referendum.
The current session ends this year. If lawmakers don't approve the change by the end of the year, the earliest that it could pass would be 2017. If it doesn't pass by the end of 2018, the state will have a bloated Legislature at least until 2032.
Lawmakers should they should embrace the change as a political matter because the public favors it. And, it would not affect most of them, career-wise, because the smaller legislature would not be in place until 2022.
The Legislature also needs to act because it needs to establish a related reform. A smaller Legislature would mandate significant redistricting. That process now is a shameful exercise in gerrymandering for political advantage, under the control of the Legislature itself.
While reducing the size of the General Assembly, its members also should ensure fair elections and better long-term governance by abolishing gerrymandering in favor of a truly independent, apolitical redistricting process.