A freeze would be a gesture of solidarity in a state where so many people are struggling.
An effort is in the works in the Pennsylvania Legislature that would freeze state lawmakers’ pay, along with that of other high-ranking state officials, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the overall context of the economic damage being done by the lockdown that’s just beginning to ease in many counties, it wouldn’t amount to much more than a gesture. But it would be a tangible demonstration of solidarity at a time when so many Pennsylvanians are out of work or otherwise struggling financially.
The legislation, which was moving in the House this week, would cancel a scheduled cost-of-living raise for legislators and hundreds of other state officials. That increase looms as dropping sales and income tax revenues leaves the state facing a deficit that will likely top $4 billion, according to Gov. Tom Wolf.
The economic fallout from COVID-19 is just beginning, in other words. That’s no time for a pay raise for people charged with leading struggling Pennsylvanians and their communities through it.
That’s especially true in this state, which has the nation’s largest full-time legislature. Lawmakers are paid a little more than $90,000 a year here, behind only those in California and New York.
Legislative pay and perks have long been a trigger in Pennsylvania politics. Over the years we have reported on legislators, including some from this region, who have feasted on them in unseemly fashion.
Public disgust erupted in 2005 when legislators, who had been receiving cost-of-living adjustments, voted in the dead of night to award themselves 16 percent on top of that. The Legislature repealed the pay grab nearly unanimously that November, but the bad taste from the bad faith lingered.
Our legislators can send a different message this time. They might even consider cutting their pay some, at least temporarily.
Public labor costs will be a recurring issue as governments at all levels confront the gaping holes blown in their budgets by the pandemic. That’s where the biggest share of spending goes.
That’s evident already at the Erie School District, where its promising financial recovery has been disrupted by the coronavirus lockdown and its effects on tax revenues. Schools Superintendent Brian Polito responded by saying the district would likely seek to negotiate pay freezes with its union employees.
But Polito also did something else. He asked the Erie School Board to amend his contract to eliminate the raise he was scheduled to receive this summer. Polito said he couldn’t “in good conscience” accept an increase when he would be seeking concessions from staff.
As with a legislative pay freeze, Polito’s gesture is but a drop in the bucket. But sometimes serving the public requires leading by example. It would be welcome to see some of that coming out of Harrisburg.