Our View: Shame on those who blocked Pa. House reduction measure

This file photo shows the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg. - AP Photo | Matt Rourke

The Pennsylvania Legislature, particularly the state House, is a bloated whale.

I dare you to make an argument to the contrary and not have an average citizen laugh in your face.

We’ve used this space to applaud state Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill County, before and we will do it again for his years-long battle to reduce House membership from 203 representatives to a less unwieldy 151.

But it looks like all his hard work will not be paying off anytime soon.

And taxpayers should be disgusted at the political shenanigans that derailed the effort to have voters decide the issue at the ballot box.

A quick recap of the history of this sad tale:

In 2011, then-House Speaker Sam Smith thought shrinking the House would make it easier to manage and perhaps more efficient.

And efficiency is sorely needed with this outfit, considering — this year excluded — how much trouble it has had recently completing its most basic task: approving an on-time budget.

There would be cost-savings as well, since there would be fewer lawmakers to collect salaries, per diems, and other generous benefits.

Smith retired and Knowles took up the fight, building momentum to get this to the finish line.

The only problem is that cutting House membership would have to be done via an amendment to the state constitution, and such proposals must be passed by the House and Senate during two consecutive, two-year sessions before getting on the ballot for voters to decide.

So, the path is much tougher than with ordinary legislation.

The House and state Senate OK’d the House-busting measure in the 2015-16 session, which left approval this session (2017-18) before the question of 203 vs. 151 could be put to voters.

However, the proposal was recently placed in extreme jeopardy by a Rules Committee vote that added an amendment to the bill that would also cut the size of the state Senate from 50 to 38 members.

Senators, who might very well be OK with cutting the number of their House colleagues, have shown little interest in reducing their own ranks.

So, adding what’s sure to be an unpopular change so late in the process certainly looks like a sneaky tactic by those in the House who are trying to ensure their own livelihoods. Especially since they know voters are likely to approve the reduction.

Knowles was upset, and he issued a press release last week to condemn what he called a “poison-pill amendment to blow up the bill.”

“Thanks to Minority Democrat Leader Frank Dermody’s mischief, House Bill 153 may just die this session, thereby denying the people of Pennsylvania the ability to decide,” Knowles said. He also cast blame on three Republicans who joined all the Democrats in Rules for adding back in the Senate reduction.

A spokesman for Dermody, of Allegheny County, offered this lame excuse for scuttling H.B. 153.

“It takes representation farther away from the people we are meant to serve,” said Bill Patton.

Sure, having 52 fewer representatives would mean larger and more populous House districts.

But consider this: Texas has more than double Pa.’s population yet only a 150-member House.

Has that ever proven to be a real problem in Texas? Don’t think so.

A two-thirds vote by all representatives before this session ends Nov. 30 could still save H.B. 153, but an Associated Press report calls that a long shot.

We say our lawmakers should at least bring it to the floor for a vote and see what happens.

What could they be afraid of, other than saving their own skin?

— Times Leader

This file photo shows the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/web1_AP17-438822-cmyk.jpgThis file photo shows the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg. AP Photo | Matt Rourke