Potential Effects of Reducing the Size of the Pennsylvania General Assembly
AUGUST 23, 2006 | Policy Brief by NATHAN BENEFIELD
One of the most discussed legislative reforms in Harrisburg is a reduction in the size of the General Assembly. One version of this proposal, SB 890, sponsored by Sen. John Pippy (R–Moon Township), would reduce the Pennsylvania General Assembly by 40% from 253 members (203 in the House, 50 in the Senate) to 151 members (121 in the House, 30 in the Senate). The general motivation for reducing the size of the legislature stems from the desire to improve both legislative efficiency and effectiveness.
This policy brief considers the potential impact of reducing the size of the Pennsylvania General Assembly in three areas: 1) Cost savings to the taxpayer for the operation of the legislature, 2) Greater accountability in legislative processes, and 3) Different public policy outcomes. The conclusion is that, as a stand alone reform, reducing the size of the legislature would likely have a minimal effect on improving the efficiency and the effectiveness of the General Assembly. Indeed, while it is possible that a smaller legislature could make it easier to adopt and implement more substantive reforms, it could also serve to exacerbate the current lack of openness, transparency, and accountability if other, more substantive reforms are not also implemented.
The most critical reforms of the General Assembly include:
- Lobbyist Disclosure: Pennsylvanians should be able to know who, what, when, where, and how lobbyists are attempting to shape public policy in Harrisburg. Lobbyist disclosure laws crafted by lobbyists should be rejected as unacceptable. There are 49 states that have laws from which we can pick and choose the best practices.
- Over by October: The practice of voting on important legislation during a lame-duck session (sine die) should be discontinued. Both houses of the General Assembly should end the legislative session by October, before elections in November, so voters can evaluate lawmakers’ full voting records for the legislative session.
- Open Records: The General Assembly and each of its members should be required to fully comply with the Open Records law to the same degree and detail as required of executive agencies.
- Voting Records: All votes by individual legislators—including committee votes, procedural votes, and votes on amendments and final passage—should be made available online within 24 hours.
- Level the Playing Field: Redistricting of legislative districts should be placed in the hands of an independent commission to create more competitive elections, rather than gerrymandered boundaries to protect incumbents. Additionally, the legislature must eliminate the use of taxpayer money that only benefits incumbents during election time.
- Limited Terms: Pennsylvania currently limits the number of terms the governor can serve. Similar limits should be placed on the General Assembly. Limiting terms or rotating committee chair positions would be a meaningful first step.
- Limited Sessions: Pennsylvania is among only a handful of “full-time” state legislatures with an unlimited number of session days. Limiting the number of session days, coupled with limited terms, will return Pennsylvania to a citizen-led legislature.
- Compensation and Benefits: The ideals of “public service” should be restored through a reassessment of the compensation and benefits provided to public servants through an independent means. At the very least, public servants’ remuneration should not exceed the compensation and benefits commonly provided in the private sector.
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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.