Our hardworking underpaid friends over at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News have settled their contract with the paper's current owners. They are taking a 2-5% wage cut. ("Newspaper Guild ratifies new contract with new owners," by Brian X McCrone, www.philly.com, 2/07). The new contract protects the union against layoffs for a year and guarantees the papers' existence for two years.
Let's contrast that with the folks in the state legislature. A lot of the people who work there are also hardworking and some take a pay cut to work in the public sphere. But there are some that maybe aren't so pure of heart.
Take per diems (please!), the money state legislators are given each day they are traveling on the state's business to cover the costs of doing so. The legislators are not required to provide any receipts nor is the per diem limited to the amount spent; it is simply paid. A system like this is definitely open to abuse. A bill is going to be, or has been, introduced in the State House to limit per diems to days the legislature is in session or committees meet. ("Pa. lawmaker proposes per diem reform," by Dennis Owens, abc27.com, 2/07). There is some information about the bill on the state legislative site. It looks like HB460 and HR50 are the relevant bill / resolution numbers. Given the history of the legislature I do not think it likely these bills will pass, but I do think voters should pressure their elected officials to do something about per diems.
Pensions are a related issue. The governor says the pension system for state workers needs to be overhauled. Here's a bit of history:
The retirement systems were not always in the red. In the late 1990s, the systems were flush because Wall Street was booming. With investment money pouring into the systems, the Legislature voted and Gov. Tom Ridge endorsed a measure to allow the state and school districts to stop contributing their shares. Employees made theirs.
While the state's contributions were frozen, state lawmakers gave themselves a 50 percent pension hike, and a 25 percent hike for state workers. ("Corbett's pension reform plans could face opposition," Steve Esack, Morning Call, 2/05)
Note the workers continued to pay into the system but the state did not. If the legislature changes the pension rules for state workers they will surely have to change it for themselves. Or else face the wrath of the voters (remember the BonusGate backlash?).
While the newspaper reporters might take pay cut to keep their jobs I can't see the legislature doing anything similar. It's no fun being that cynical and I hope they prove me wrong.