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Phoenixville Area State Lawmakers Plan to Return Raises

Not all of their colleagues in Harrisburg agree on what to do with the money after state legislators, judges and the governor got a 3 percent pay raise on Dec. 1.

On Dec. 1, all 253 members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly received an automatic Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) that boosted annual pay for rank and file lawmakers from $79,613 to $82,026.

Salaries for legislative leaders rose from $115,364 to $118,845—a roughly 3 percent raise.

The hikes aren't a function of any action by the current legislature, but kick in automatically when the tri-state area's Consumer Price Index moves.

According to an editorial in the Pottstown Mercury, (which blasts the automatic COLA increases for Pennsylvania legislators, governor, and judges) the average salary for a state legislator in the United States is $34,000.

Pennsylvania currently faces a projected $350 million deficit for 2012.

Local state lawmakers, including Rep. Warren Kampf (R-PA 157)Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-PA 19) and Rep. Duane Milne (R-PA 167) plan on returning the money to the state.

Kampf says he will return his COLA raise, as he did in 2009.

"My own view," Kampf said, "is that other individuals in the state are not receiving raises, and I like my actions to show that I understand the situations they're in."

Dinniman will also be returning his COLA money.

"He feels that given so many families' struggles to make ends meet, and the financial and business climate we're in, it's not the right time for a raise," said an aide to the senator.

Milne told his constituents in an e-mail that he would return it.

"If all state legislators returned their COLAs," he wrote, "it would replenish the state’s coffers to the tune of nearly half a million dollars."

Not all Southeastern Pennsylvania and Philadelphia lawmakers agree on returning the COLA raises.

  • Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17) was the only legislator from the region who explicitly said he plans to keep his raise. The senator said that automatic raises should be available to more, not fewer, people. "I'm keeping the COLA," he told Patch from his district office. "I support policies that give people cost of living adjustments. I support minimum wage and I support COLA increases."
  • Rep. Tim Briggs (D-149) will use the raise to make donations to various Montgomery County charities. "I don't donate to just one charity," he said, "but I get various local charitable requests throughout the year, and that's what I use this money for."
  • Rep. Michael Gerber (D-148) told constituents at a Nov. 30 town hall that he will write a check to the state treasury to cover the amount of his raise.
  • Rep. William Adolph Jr. (R-165) told Patch he will write a check to the Commonwealth, as he has done for the last several COLA hikes that have been instituted midterm.
  • Rep. Kate Harper (R-61) said she will return the money. Harper plans to tack the amount of this most recent raise onto the check she sends to the treasury every month, a practice she began in 2009 when a COLA raise came in the wake of the onset of the recession. "No one in private industry, or most of the public sector, is getting pay raises. So why should we?
  • Sen. Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9) announced on his Facebook wall on Nov. 28 that he will donate the money to charity. "In December, the governor, members of his cabinet, judges and members of the General Assembly will all receive an automatic cost-of-living adjustment," he wrote. "For the past three years, I have donated all of these COLAs to charity, and I will continue that practice with the upcoming COLA.
  • Sen. Edwin Erickson (R-26) said he gives any COLA funds he receives, and then some, to charity. "I donate a lot more than 3 percent," he said. When asked if he gives as a show of solidarity with his financially-addled constituents, the senator replied, "I give to certain charities because I think they are good ones.
  • Rep. Joseph Hackett (R-161) also donates the money to charity rather than the treasury. He explained he thinks the money is better spent locally, "at a street level," than it would be by the commonwealth.
  • Though they didn't respond to an interview request in time for publication, Rep. Greg Vitali (D-166)Rep.Thomas Killion (R-168) and Rep. John Myers (D-201) each returned their COLA money in 2009, according to the Susquehanna Valley News.
  • Freshman Rep. Pam DeLissio (D-194) said via text message that she is unsure of what she will do with the money and "has not yet considered all the options."
  • Sen. LeAnna Washington (D-4) doesn't have plans to return her COLA. "Right now there's nothing in the works," an aide told Patch.

Sen. Cherelle Parker (D-200)Rep. Rosita Youngblood (D-198)Sen. Shirley Kitchen (D-3) and Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-7) did not respond to requests for comment.

Laura Schwartz December 09, 2011 at 05:58 PM
Seems they overlooked this automatic adjustment when they were going over the budget and trying to avoid a deficit. Charitable donations....tax deductible....more loopholes.
Bob Domarasky December 09, 2011 at 06:03 PM
Shame on those who are not returing their raises. Have they thought about the Seniors on Social Security that have not recieved a cost of living raise in 2 years or more? How about putting that money in tax credits for companies that can hire more employees and lower the unemployment rate? This is nothing but greed and it has to stop! Now we know who the true Americans are the ones that return their cost of living raise. Those who do not return their raises better not look to be elected next term!
Bud Horenci December 09, 2011 at 07:48 PM
Very noble of those not accepting/donating these raises BUT.....I don't see anyone introducing legislation to end them. The COLAs should have been stopped when they undid the middle of the night raise a while back. And raises for the judges should have ended then as well. Introduce the legislation now and let's really separate the greedy/entitled from those truly representing us instead of themselves.
Richard A Breuer December 09, 2011 at 08:11 PM
Just recognize that the Pennsylvania Constitution effectively prohibits laws that make pay changes for legislators and judges during their term. Art III Sec 8 and Art V Sec 16.
Roy Hendl December 09, 2011 at 08:47 PM
Returning the raises, while it looks good on the surface, doesn't change the fact that their pensions will be based on these raises. Also, why aren't these COLA increases based on the same factors as Social Security COLA increases? Just PA lawmakers padding their pockets and saying, gee, we can't do anything about it.
AmericanEagle December 10, 2011 at 02:30 AM
Yo Warren Kampf- you weren't in office in 2009!
Joe Melchiorre December 10, 2011 at 03:24 PM
Good idea to return the raises, but how about legislation passed so no raises are given. In a time when the economic situation is the way it is, it would make sense, both politically & economically, to forego them.

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