PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — During Governor Corbett’s budget address on Tuesday, he made a strong case that state employees, including public school employees, must step up to share the burden that average taxpayers have endured.
But one group on the public payroll was conspicuously absent from the call to sacrifice.
When Corbett addressed the 253 members of the General Assembly, he declared, “We cannot keep asking taxpayers to cover increased salaries and health care benefits for public sector employees when those taxpayers are losing the same.”
But one group of public servants was not asked to sacrifice, says Tim Potts of Democracy Rising, a Harrisburg reform group.
“He missed an opportunity to have the officials of state government share in the pain that is being inflicted on everyone else in Pennsylvania,” Potts told KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano.
While Corbett did cut his office by nearly six percent, he’s paying senior staff 11 percent more than Gov. Ed Rendell did, says Potts, averaging over $129,000 per senior staff member.
But it’s the governor’s failure to ask state lawmakers to sacrifice that angers many.
Comments on the streets of Pittsburgh:
“If he’s going to cut, everybody should be cut.”
“He’s not talking to the legislators at all.”
“No increase in salaries, freeze all salaries.”
A freeze? A pay cut? No, legislators just gave themselves a $1,300 cost-of-living increase.
While the governor called on state workers to pay six percent — instead of three percent — of wages for health insurance, Potts says, “He’s letting the legislature off the hook completely.”
State representatives pay nothing for health insurance right now, while state senators pay one percent – only $796 per year. Potts says taxpayers pick up most of the tab, about $19,600 per lawmaker and family.
And if the lawmaker stays in office for 10 years, he gets health insurance for life.
“Lifetime, top of the line health care benefits for themselves, their spouses, and any children under 21,” adds Potts.
And while Corbett was cutting money from schools and universities, he let the legislators keep their $188 million leadership accounts.
“Nobody else around here has a surplus. You shouldn’t have one either,” notes Potts.
Leadership accounts are a slush fund legislators use for anything like public service announcements and newsletters to – until recently – bonuses.
Supporters of Corbett say: first, the budget speech was not the right time to address legislative reform issues. Second, the governor does not have constitutional authority to use the leadership accounts and, third, Corbett is not backing away from his reform agenda.