By Konstantine Fekos
Republican state Sen. Bob Robbins will not vote in favor of cutting the size of the state Legislature.
He does not believe the plans will produce the anticipated costs savings and he believes the plans will further disempower rural areas of the state.
The state House approved two bills last week, one which would eliminate 12 seats in the Senate and one to cut 50 seats in the House. Two of Crawford County’s representatives — Greg Lucas and Brad Roae — voted in favor and one — Michele Brooks — voted against.
Only New Hampshire has more state lawmakers than Pennsylvania. But New Hampshire’s 424 lawmakers work part time and are paid $200 a year. State lawmakers in Pennsylvania are paid a base salary of $83,801 a year.
So far, the issue has raised concerns about redistricting and partisan-biased shifts in regional control, two factors Robbins believes are only the tip of the iceberg.
“What this will do is reduce the influence of rural constituents,” said Robbins, whose 50th District includes all of Crawford County. “We are at this time at a disadvantage in number in dealing with issues like agriculture, mass transit, etc.”
Under the bills, the state would be divided into 153 House districts representing 83,421 people, rather than the current 63,000.
Cutting Senate seats to 38 would increase size of Senate districts to about 335,000 people from the current 225,000.
Issues potentially fought over would range from school funding and mass transit to gas drilling and agriculture, according to Robbins.
“People tend to forget that 40 percent of state (residency) is concentrated in two areas, the southeast and Allegheny County,” he said. “They deal with ag hardly at all and that’s our (northwest Pennsylvania’s) number one industry. Those issues would have a dramatic impact on northeast and northwest Pennsylvania and the economy.”
Additionally, the intended cost savings produced by legislative reduction would be offset by compensations by more staff members hired as legislators struggle to handle larger districts, Robbins predicted.
“If you’re really reducing government size, I’m all for it, but when you get down to representation and what it means to different areas of Pennsylvania, it changes the discussion,” he said. “I’m talking rural legislators versus populated areas because they have totally different issues and thought processes.”
One thing is for certain — Robbins’ constituents will have a long time to consider the plan.
As a proposed Constitutional amendment, the measures must pass the House and Senate in two consecutive sessions. It would then be put before the voters in 2015, at the earliest.
Robbins’ term expires in 2014. He has not yet announced whether he will run for office again.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.