Nobody has done a better job than PG columnist Brian O’Neill of hounding that sorry bunch of self-serving and short-sighted barnacles known as members of the Pennsylvania Legislature. His column today titled "Smaller Legislature Would Lead to ‘Better Business’ is another in a long line of his columns holding deserving officials’ feet to the purifying flame.
Hurray for Brian, a wonderful and industrious writer and a good guy to boot. But as much as I recognize the disease, I am not altogether sold on the prescription — to wit, reducing the size of the Legislature. Such a move would surely save some money but probably not as much as people think — and there would be a cost.
The General Assembly is big because the commonwealth is big. People like to have their state reps perform all sorts of services for them — handle minor bureaucratic problems and the like. Fewer reps means more constituents, means fewer locals back home kept happy — and this despite the bigger staffs which will surely come to handle more constituents, thus reducing the savings promised by shrinking the General Assembly.
While I am no political scientist, (I just play one in the paper), I think a smaller General Assembly would change the nature of representation in a fundamental way. The commonwealth is not only but big but also largely rural.
To satisfy the principle of one person, one vote, those rural districts would become even bigger — and might have to take in more towns and even cities.
The rural vote is a conservative vote but if urban areas start to creep in, it’s possible that conservative vote might be diluted. That’s fine by me — so much reactionary legislation seems to come from professionally unsophisticated lawmakers in rural districts — but I wonder what it does to the cause of properly representing the people of Pennsylvania.
So can nothing be done in the way of meaningful reform? Yes, I believe so. I am starting to wonder whether term limits might do more for reform than taking an axe to the Capitol.
I think the problem with state lawmakers is less how many there are than what they do. What they do is a function of the fact that they are in Harrisburg to make a career of politics. Suppose it wasn’t a career but merely a type of public service for just a few years? Un-career lawmakers may not be so protective of all the perks — the cars, the pensions, the health care — that drive people crazy.
What say you, oh great tribe of Reggie-ulors?