Thursday, August 06, 2009

Pa Lawmakers (House) Paid Themselves First (state workers must wait another week)

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported the following on August 6, 2009.

Lawmakers pay themselves first

But state workers must wait another week to get paid

By Tracie Mauriello, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

State workers will have to wait another week to be paid for days they have worked since July 1, but House Democratic lawmakers have checks in hand.

They paid themselves first.

Their paychecks were issued Tuesday as they voted on a $27.3 billion budget, which Gov. Ed Rendell yesterday chopped to $11 billion through line-items vetoes. He left intact funding for such items as public safety, state parks and employees' pay.

Some 77,000 state workers will have to wait a week or more for their checks to be processed, while lawmakers have their money.

The money was available even before the governor signed the straw budget because the Legislature has a reserve fund to fund its operations in case of a budget impasse in which the governor cuts off funding, as Mr. Rendell did yesterday while retaining full funding for his own office.

Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, criticized the Democrats' pay move.

"They're paying themselves when we have all these valuable state services that aren't being funded [in the governor's partial budget]. I think what they're doing is even worse than the 2005 pay raise," which outraged many Pennsylvanians.

At least one House Democrat -- Matt Smith of Mt. Lebanon -- says he won't cash his check until state workers are paid, too.

Legislative leaders have always had the ability to pay members but decided not to until a budget bill was passed.

"By tradition, once we pass a budget bill that gets employees paid, members also get paid," said Brett Marcy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Luzerne.

Senate Democrats have not been paid and caucus spokesman Charlie Tocci could not say yesterday when they would get checks.

Republicans in the House and Senate, meanwhile, will wait until state workers get their checks, spokesmen for the caucuses said.

"We were not even going to consider that discussion until after state workers received their checks," said caucus spokesman Steve Miskin. "We've been at the forefront fighting for state workers and they should never have gone through this instance of not being paid."

Republican lawmakers have argued that tax dollars never stopped flowing during the impasse, so the governor could have authorized payments to workers.

Some state workers have applied for food stamps and loans to make ends meet, while others have turned to food banks.

"We agree that it's unfortunate and regrettable that state employees and their families were caught in the middle of this, and that's why we passed this bridge budget yesterday," Mr. Marcy said.