Raises should be debated
Several legislators from Northeast Pennsylvania have declined to accept automatic pay raises provided by state law, choosing to return the raises to the state Treasury or donate the money to charities.
Those legislators are well-intentioned and have some public relations sense but, for several reasons, the only true solution is to repeal the 1995 law that created the automatic raises.
This is a matter of accountable governance rather than of compensation alone. Whether legislators deserve raises at any particular time is debatable, but the law exempts them from having to conduct that debate. Thus, there is no defense of their records, no explanation of the proposed compensation increase, no rebuttal. Instead, there is simply an announcement that lawmakers, judges and non-union executive branch officials will receive an increase based on the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers in the Mid-Atlantic states.
Technically, the annual increase is a cost-of-living adjustment, but it's a raise in their baseline compensation. This year it is 2.2 percent, $1,776, bringing a rank-and-file legislator's base pay to $83,802 before benefits.
Regardless of what individual lawmakers decide to do with the increase, the meter is running. Next year's automatic raise will be based on the new baseline. If it again is 2.2 percent, for example, the baseline raise will be $1,843, all without debate or public justification.
The increasing baseline also further increases the unconscionable pension benefits that lawmakers have lavished upon themselves.
And lawmakers have repealed the law of gravity; for them, what goes up doesn't necessarily come down. If the CPI index they have chosen rises, so does their pay. If it declines, their pay does not decrease.
Lawmakers who have declined the decrease recognize that the law is the wrong way to determine compensation. They should lead an effort to repeal the law and replace it with an independent commission to recommend compensation - recommendations that the Legislature would have to debate and vote upon in public.