State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

House Speaker takes another run at the great shrink

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Aug 9, 2013 12:04 AM
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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

Downsizing isn't easy for anyone - least of all the state Legislature.

The state House Speaker is reintroducing plans to shrink the size of the General Assembly, after his plan last year to scale down just his 203-member chamber morphed into a bill that would also reduce Senate membership. It passed the House, and landed with a thud at the feet of the Senate.

Drew Crompton, spokesman for the Senate President Pro Tem, said it's the size of the House of Representatives that is, as he puts it, "kind of off the charts" when looking nationally at state governments.

"Usually you'll see a House that is either two or three times the size of a Senate," Crompton said. "I don't know if there's any equivalent of four times as large."

But leaders in both chambers agree that the Legislature should be smaller. The Senate Majority Leader supports a Senate plan to chuck 20 of the chamber's 50 seats.

Proponents say shedding members would make for a more efficient Legislature.

In last year's House debate, opponents said fewer lawmakers would mean diminished representation for constituents. They voiced fears a smaller Legislature would mean the upper echelons of the body would have more power.

Others say shedding lawmakers would only save money if legislative staff were to be cut accordingly. Crompton uses his own boss by way of example: Sen. Joe Scarnati's district includes eight counties, a number Crompton said would likely change if the Senate's membership were reduced.

"If his district [were] to include 12 counties, I think there would be some pressure to add at least one more district office," Crompton said. "And therefore, it would be staffed, and therefore some of the reductions that are assumed may or may not actually occur."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Pennsylvania is in a small class of states (four in all) that require the most time of their state legislators and have the largest legislative staffs.

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